Couple's mission: Plug BBQ gap in North Adams
NORTH ADAMS — Every Friday, Aaron Oster gets cooking at 2 a.m. He has a lot of hungry mouths to feed.
In September, with his wife, Alex, he opened A-OK Berkshire Barbeque in what once served as the guardhouse at the former main gate of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
The mission is simple, according to Aaron Oster: "Put better food on the tables of people in the community as much as we can. It has to be accessible, simple and delicious. And it turns out, there's a lack of barbecue in North Adams."
Customers order at a front window, pick up from another window around the corner and make off with what might be a rarity in the Berkshires — slowly cooked and lightly seasoned brisket of beef (East Texas style), by the pound or by the sandwich, with sides like vinegar-based coleslaw and baked beans.
Then there is the sausage (pork andouille with jalapeno and cheese), slow-smoked chicken, "Guardhouse Ham" and other sides, such as barbecue carrots, potato salad, mac and cheese and barbecue chili.
Oster said the couple spends a lot of time creating and testing food items and devising their menu. And while he starts working in the wee hours, Alex starts not long after, baking all breads used in the operation.
The couple met while working in New York City about 10 years ago — he in the restaurant business, she as a corporate executive.
"Cooking is something that was always a big part of my life," Oster said. He cooked in a variety of restaurants and learned the trade from chefs and sous-chefs in the city's restaurant scene. He also learned about butchering.
"I found I liked food that was more simple, less frilly," Oster said.
After a while, the two escaped the big city and moved to Las Vegas for a business opportunity. But Vegas wasn't their cup of tea. After a couple of years, they heard about an opportunity in North Adams and moved to the Berkshires. And while the business prospect didn't work out, they wound up tending bar at Bright Ideas, the nearby brewery.
"They made us feel like we were home," Oster said.
At Bright Ideas, with the input of brewery partners Orion Howard and Eric Kerns, the Osters started exploring the idea of opening a barbecue place, a genre that had largely disappeared from north county.
"I remember chatting with Aaron over a beer out in front of the brewery and just musing, `Hmm, someone should open a barbecue shack right there in the old guardhouse,'" Kerns recalled. "And here they are. I'm so proud of the work they've done and am thrilled every time I walk past and smell the smoke."
Soon, the couple got permission to begin work in the guardhouse, now the headquarters for a slow-cooking, bread-baking, barbecue-packing bonanza. When the weather is mild, customers use picnic tables outside. Bright Ideas allows its patrons to bring barbecue into the saloon and to outdoor tables. Bright Ideas beer migrates to tables of the new barbecue joint.
Oster referred to it as a "great symbiotic relationship."
"Aaron and Alex were such an amazing addition to North Adams when they moved here," Kerns said. "They were a huge part of the early days of Bright Ideas Brewing and really helped Orion and I shape the spirit of that place. There was always a little voice in the background that there would be an opportunity for them here to really showcase their meat and breads skills — and it's awesome that A-OK has come to fruition."
The restaurant at 2601 MASS MoCA Way is open from noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday. For more information, call 413-398-5079.
Scott Stafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-629-4517.
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