Wednesday September 19, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- With its row of barstools at the counter, booths lining the back wall, and a few tables on the side, The Chef's Hat looks the part of a brunch diner that's been around a while. However, it hasn't even been six years since the current owner, David A. Rock, began managing the Chef's Hat in January of 2007.

"I worked for Friendly Ice Cream for 17 years," Rock said in an interview some time after my meal there. "That ended in 1989, and I started work at Mead Paper Mill in Lee."

When the mill job ended, Rock found himself considering a return to the restaurant business.

"I've always enjoyed this type of work, so I decided I'll see if I can buy myself a place," he said. "I didn't know a lot about the business side, so some has been a little surprising, how expensive things are at this level, but as long as I'm not closing the doors like some places, I figure I'm doing OK."

Thankfully, Rock has continued to enjoy the work itself.

"I just blend right in with my employees," he said. "I wash more dishes than anyone here, I scrub floors, I clean the grease traps ... I don't expect anyone to do anything I wouldn't do. We have a lot of fun when we're working, which is why we've kept employees. Your business is only as good as the people working for you and the customers that come in. I value both of them."

In fact, it was input from his customers and employees that has spurred Rock's plans to start opening on Mondays at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, the current offering about which he is most excited is the turnip muffins.

"If you like turnip, it's often hard to find or prepare," Rock said. "And we have them every day. It's our little thing."

Alas, I was unaware of this specialization when I dined at the restaurant, so I simply ordered a Monte Cristo ($7.50), a delightful combination of ham, turkey, and melted cheese on French toast, with maple syrup for dipping. It was served with a pickle slice and some crinkle-cut sweet potato fries ($3), which were a bit bland for my taste.

The sandwich itself, while smaller than I'd expected, was sweet and had good flavor. Parts of it were a bit too chewy, but the combination of tastes all together was still very satisfying, the melted Swiss and meats providing the salty, and the French toast and syrup providing the sweet, resulting in a combination that I certainly enjoyed. Indeed, when I finished the last quarter of my sandwich, I was sorry there wasn't more.

The eggs Benedict ($8) was a pair of English muffin halves with Canadian bacon, eggs covered in the hollandaise sauce that makes the whole dish work, and dotted with sliced black olives. The Canadian bacon had good texture, satisfyingly substantial without being tough, and the hollandaise sauce was a good consistency, rich and tangy enough to hold the dish together, without drowning out the other flavors. All in all, a very satisfactory dish.

Sadly, the home fries ($1.50) were not at all crispy and were devoid of flavor. This is definitely a side dish to be skipped, in favor of either the fairly standard curly fries ($2), or the aforementioned sweet potato fries. And while the sausage gravy ($6.50) had a little spice in it, the texture left something to be desired, with too many lumps in the gravy. Still, the salty gravy covering mushy biscuits and bits of spicy sausage is a comfort food, and I'm glad that it can be ordered, because a diner just isn't the same without sausage gravy as an option.

The tuna melt ($7.25) was a pair of encrusted cheddar circles melted atop some tepid tuna fish on English muffin halves. It was a fairly standard tuna melt just like the type one might make at home, and it falls squarely into the "unexciting comfort food" category.

Luckily, dessert was a bit more exciting; many signs implored me to try the peanut butter fudge bar ($1.50), a brownie topped with a layer of peanut butter and a layer of chocolate. Served with whipped cream and some fudge drizzles, it was a fairly dense brownie that was a fine end to the meal.

What: The Chef's Hat

Where: 905 Simonds Road, Williamstown

Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Monday

Handicapped accessibility: No

Price range: $5-$10

Information: (413) 458-5120

Rating: 2.5 chefs' hats

Chefs' hats rating system

1: Avoid

2: Decent

3: Good food, no reason not to try

4: Worth repeat visits

5: Impress visiting friends here