Berkshires After Dark: Art Deco diner, tradition with a twist
MILLERTON, N.Y. -- On Friday night, I picked up my girlfriend, Amy, and her friend, also Amy, from the Wassaic train station. They'd ridden in from Grand Central Station after each working through a busy and demanding week of professional obligations in the city, and I'd spent that time laboring tirelessly to place the final touches on my new home in Stockbridge. The guest room came together on Thursday. I was only able to move my new bed in at noon on Friday. Finally, driving north on Route 22 in a warming car, the three of us unclenched.
"Shall we pick up some groceries so I can make a quiet dinner for us at my place?" I asked, seeing my own exhaustion reflected in their usually exuberant faces.
"Don't you guys have any late night diners around here?" asked my girlfriend, henceforth referred to as Amy 1. I hereby dub her friend Amy 2. As I began to initiate a well-rehearsed, but still impassioned, rant about the closure of Diesel Dan's 24-hour diner in Lee, I realized that we weren't in the Berkshires. We were driving north through Amenia, N.Y. We could stop here; this was diner country.
"Oh!" I said. "Millerton's coming right up. The Oakhurst Diner is a gorgeous Streamline Moderne building. It's beautiful."
"Is it a gross American fast-food diner, or would they have things that Amy and I will like?" asked Amy 1. She and Amy 2 are conscientious eaters, as I've become in recent years as well, and have at times followed vegan, gluten-free and macrobiotic diets.
"No," I said with a confident smile. "I don't know who runs the place, but the last time I ate there I was struck by the menu's creativity and how many of the ingredients were local and farm fresh." Amys 1 and 2 joined in my excitement as we turned right onto Route 44. Millerton's Main Street is a living tattoo marking past periods of booming industry. The Oakhurst sign shone red light over the stone town like a beacon of warmth, something we all could have used.
The diner is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday through Thursday and Sunday. They are closed on Tuesday, but on Friday and Saturday keep the skillet hot until 10 p.m. The building is a sculpture made of gleaming metal and glass, placed atop stone steps and beaming the harmonious geometry of America's industrial peak into the bitter night air like a ziggurat erected to commemorate a time of simplicity, satisfaction, boundless possibility, even if those achievements have always felt just out of reach.
Amys 1 and 2 possess discerning palettes and a combined breadth of food knowledge that humbled mine. Both grew up in New York City and live there as adults, and they've tried it all. To earn not just their approval but also their genuine satisfaction with one of the very few dining options available to us within a half hour's drive was my goal. The Oakhurst's menu and atmosphere kicked the ball through the posts for me. I'm not gushing or sentimentalizing here; I'm merely grateful.
Ample and comfortable booth and bar seating is available inside the long, jukebox-lit diner exposed to Millerton's Main Street through wraparound windows. We sat at a booth around 8 p.m., just two other tables were occupied; one by four older men and the other by a group of teens. By 8:30 six more tables were full and the joint's social atmosphere had risen from subdued to fully bustling with diners' animated conversation and the staff's efficient and largely invisible motions, all set to a Motown soundtrack.
The food's ingredients and preparation seem to be the sole trait separating the Oakhurst from any other clean, well-run, authentically retro family diner. Even the menu prices were traditional, closer to what you'd encounter at Joe's Diner in Lee than at other farm-to-table eateries in the Berkshires. "Sandwiches & A Side" range in price from $7.99 (Tuna salad with sliced egg, lettuce, tomato) to $12.99 (Herondale Burger made with 100 percent organic beef from Herondale Farm in Ancramdal, N.Y., and all the fixings. Make it a double for $4.50 more).
Entrees run the gamut from Eggs Benedict ($8.99) to New York strip steak. ($17.99). Wines by the glass, all $7 or $8, hailed from Argentina, Italy, and the U.S. draught beers hovered around $5 with old favorites like Guiness and PBR and treats like Dog Fish Head IPA. They've got a full bar, too, and some classic cocktails at the ready.
Our chummy and efficient waitress greeted us with a description of the nightly special, a vegetarian chili with cheese and toasted bread for $7.99. Amy 1 was sold. Amy 2 went for "Andrea's Cheese Ravioli," freshly prepared with house-made marinara for $12.99. I could have eaten a whole stockyard animal, but was replenished by "Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes, red cabbage, broccoli & gravy" for $14.99. We shared a plate of crispy sweet potato fries ($3.50), and passed plates and forkfuls around the table communicating with variations on the closed-lip, "Mmmmm!"
Those seeking a cheap and fast greasy spoon, $1.50 hamburgers and cheese whiz on freezer burned fries may find the Oakhurst's menu overpriced and not enough like that of a classic diner. But those out for the full experience of locally sourced, fair trade, pesticide free, organic, free-range, wind powered, seasonally changing cuisine served to the sounds of the Metropolitan Opera might not find their dream dinner at the Oakhurst, either. But for those who appreciate both traditions and like munching great fries to Smokey Robinson, check it out. And stop at Saperstein's first; I find durable and stylish winter wear and work clothing there at discount prices. And the café across the street is worth a look. So is The Moviehouse, and Little Gates Wine and the antiques shops spotting Main Street.
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