Once Upon a Table in Stockbridge, Massachusetts revived by server Avie Maloney

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Once Upon A Table really feels like the start of a story. Except that it’s a story that has been going on for 23 years. That could have ended when the Stockbridge, Mass. restaurant closed in November 2021 after original owners Alan and Theresa O’Brient retired and their chef stepped down before Avie Maloney , a longtime waiter at the restaurant, cannot properly take the reins. But, although the chef’s departure was unexpected, Maloney closed the doors, took the time to renovate and regroup, connected with Alexandra Chisholm, an experienced local chef with the same farm-to-house vision. table as hers, and prepared to write the sequel. .

Afraid of romanticizing the tale too much, Maloney speaks in a matter-of-fact tone. She had worked at the Red Lion Inn, Castle Street Cafe, Blantyre and the Kripalu Center for EcoTechnology, and later as an administrator at the Montessori School of the Berkshires in Lenox while a waitress at Once Upon A Table . When the owners presented the opportunity to take it over, allowing her to repay the purchase over time, she stepped in. But it wasn’t until the sudden closure and outpouring of support that she realized how popular the restaurant was. “I never planned on owning a restaurant,” Maloney said. “It wasn’t on my vision board. But I want to take care of it and bring it to life, to make Alan proud.

Located in The Mews, a stretch of alley next to The Red Lion Inn, the storybook setting is small, outdoor tables separated by planters overflowing with herbs you could smash and munch on like the contraband “Alice in Wonderland” . Inside, the space has 30 seats around tables set with mismatched vintage plates and a collection of teapots. Chisholm, whose experience spans restaurants in Great Barrington, Williamstown and Ketchikan, Alaska, has crafted a tight menu based on seasonal offerings from farms and bakers on the menu, or through connections offered by Marty’s Local, a distributor for local farms. . Although she calls it “New England comfort food,” I find it lighter and more intriguing than that description allows.

To start, we share the Mussels Hollandaise, a Monday night special that takes advantage of the end of the restaurant’s service week, when ingredients are scarce and they have room in the fridge. The mussels are half-buried under finely grated celery and finely sheared garlic with a mustard cream broth bursting with flavor into which we dip crusty bread. At the other end, we are lucky enough to be directed to fresh Klein Kill Farm peaches cut into juicy, haphazard chunks under bright freshly whipped cream with curls of lemon zest. Its simplicity is striking, like something to serve on the farm, but with a body close to the syllabub, a foam of whipped cream thickened with lemon juice and wine.

Chisholm’s borscht is a deep magenta, as thick and creamy as velouté, less bubbly than traditional but subtly buzzing with citrus oil and a tangle of beetroot-tinged sauerkraut alongside a quenelle of mascarpone. Not content with the mussels and soup, we steal the beluga lentil and yogurt stew from the appetizer list for an extra entrée to share, and delight in the combination of grilled carrots and scallions with chilli oil and a fried farm egg. The subtle hints of cinnamon in the five-spice powder lend a savory flavor to yogurt and hazelnut lentils – a great dish anytime.

The remaining entrees cover steak, chicken, pasta and fish – something for everyone, no matter your story. Each is molded in character: Roast chicken with summer squash stew; a beautifully tender flat iron steak dressed in blue cheese butter over savory oyster mushrooms with mild aged balsamic. Rainbow trout, its skin crisp from searing in a searing skillet, lies on fregola with shaved fennel, with jolts of flavor in every bite of parsley, capers, juicy Sungold tomatoes and creamy dill aioli. There is no disappointment in the peloton.

Beyond the plates, it is a palpable ease in the middle of a busy service. Mondays are their Fridays, I am told. Our server, Shanique, Maloney’s daughter, weaves between the tables offering smiles and friendly sass, asking guests if they’re working hard or barely, which brings on a laugh every time.

Seeing hibiscus (sorrel) iced tea on the menu is a telltale sign of Caribbean culture where the ubiquitous drink is made from the sabdariffa hibiscus flower. Maloney is originally from Grenada and moved to Brooklyn with his father. In addition to chilled sorrel, Maloney offers Mexican Coca-Cola, Woven Roots Farm tea and a superb short list of largely European wines, from Weingut Später-Veit Piesport dry Riesling to Les Hauts Plateux rosé, as well as a selection of local craft beers.

Some sequels fall short of the thrill of the first book, but in the quiet hands of Maloney and Chisholm, Once Upon A Table feels effortlessly charming with its own story.

Once upon a time there was a table

Address: 36 Main Street, Stockbridge, Mass.
Hours: 4 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. from Thursday to Monday, closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Reservations recommended.
Price: Food, $5 to $36; wines by the glass, $10 to $14; by the bottle, $26 to $75
Etc: Outdoor seating available. Street parking. Wheelchair accessible, but the toilets are upstairs.


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