Thursday May 3, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- The quartet of salads (most using local greens) notwithstanding, Route 7 Grill is a tough place to eat light.

As one might expect from the name, the raison d'etre is large hunks of meat, slow-smoked with one of the house barbecue sauces.

On the drink side, beer seems to me to be the obvious accompaniment, though the restaurant boasts a surprisingly thorough wine list as well.

One enters the place from the bar area, which is dominated by the horseshoe-shaped bar that leaves some room for standing, but the point is clearly to pull up a seat. There's one television screen, which tends to be tuned to sports, as expected.

There are eight beers on tap, with a few tap lines occupied by standards like Sam Adams, Guinness and Har poon seasonal, and room allocated to explore some less-expected, but not-quite-exotic options like (on a recent beer menu) Portland, Maine's Allagash White, a rotating selection from Penn sylvania brewery Troeg's and, from Brooklyn brewery Six point, a blonde called Sweet Action, available by the pint or, for an extra dollar, in 22-ounce large format. (Pints are priced at $5 and $5.50.)

A small selection of specialty cocktails includes a house sangria (available by the glass for $7 or pitcher for $17), bourbon lemonade and twists on the margarita, Manhattan and martini for $10 apiece.

A stone fireplace frames the separation between the bar and the dining room, which is a wide-open space and tends to get very loud on a busy night. (When we visited for dinner, I had trouble hearing our server.)

This is not a destination for a romantic evening, or for a dainty eater.

The vibe here is accessible and anything but precious. The bar is frequently filled with cozy regulars, and plays host to Orion's monthly Green Drinks gathering for environmentally minded folks.

The dining room often features a mix of couples, families, and groups of friends; on our most recent visit, a party had lined up several tables and seemed to be having a quite merry time.

The twist on barbecue here is to feature lots of local meat and produce, from the Equi nox Farm greens in the house salad to the "local organic pickle spear" available as an add-on to the hamburger, to the rotating sausage selection, featured in a daily bangers and mash special.

Breads from the Berkshire Moun tain Bakery are offered, and local hickory factors into the smoking process.

Homemade soup specials rotate, and there's a generous selection of sides, all made from scratch. They range from the expected french and sweet potato fries to roasted beets, glazed carrots, fried onion strings and mushrooms from Zehr Farm over in Burt, N.Y.

Kale chips are served as an appetizer with chipotle mayonnaise, The kale got as a side order seemed inspired by this dish. Though it was over-salted, it had a crispiness to it that was unexpected but pleasant, and when our server told us it was simply sautéed, I had a feeling she was incorrect.

The end result of this melding of Berkshires and barbecue is a host of favorites like pulled pork, baby back ribs and beef brisket, with accents (and prices) drawing from the locavore movement.

It's all but impossible to have dinner and a beverage for under $20, and since you're probably going to want to make the most of the experience by sharing an appetizer like the roasted garlic head or ribs-and wings combo, dinner here is a treat rather than a bargain. (The exception is the exceptional hamburger, which starts at $11 and attains that prized combination of charred outside and juicy inside.)

To kick things up, you can ask for your meat to be prepared with the habanero version of the house sauce; I've found this pairs very well with the pulled pork. (A mustard-cumin dressing is available as well.)

I'm a particular fan of that range of saucy items that go under the name buffalo wings, and the Route 7 Grill variation is an immediate favorite. The wings seem particularly plump and tender, and the sauce is a wonderful combination of flavor and heat.

Route 7 Grill has remained a popular South County dinner option since it opened under its present auspices in 2006. In four or five visits, from that first summer to last month, I've had mixed experiences; I get the feeling I keep going on the wrong night.

I've had mixed experiences--the meat has sometimes been dry but saved by the sauce, and on our last visit the Cobb salad arrived under-dressed and with curiously distasteful apple slices. But my other, positive impressions, combined with the general good will surrounding the place in the community, has inspired me to return.

But the positives have been encouraging enough that I'm still planning on checking out one of the pig roasts or other special events that enliven the outdoor seating area during summer.

The word of mouth here continues to be strong, so it's clear they are doing something right.