Did someone say 'absinthe luge'?

Botanica cafe opens with oyster bar, dinner, brunch - and, yes, an absinthe luge


GREAT BARRINGTON — The bartender here has an "ice program."

He freezes his own blocks and carves custom chips on the spot for cocktails of his invention. The young new chef has Michelin three-star chops but loves to cook for people who can't afford that sort of place.

"I love making accessible food, something that doesn't cost $500 a person to eat," said Nicholas Browne, who began his career at age 14, two doors down at the former Verdura, under the tutelage of chef William Webber.

Welcome to Botanica — the cafe on Railroad Street that has, since it opened in April, slowly rolled out longer hours, more locally sourced food and now dinner, reservations, weekend brunch and a new bar that features oysters, tapas and an absinthe luge.

Yes, an absinthe luge. The gift from resident Robin Norris sits across the room, competing with a Maserati-like espresso machine made by Seattle-based company Slayer. That's right — its name is Slayer.

Owners Carla Blades and Adam Medina are about to face their second weekend of dinner and bar service, after a soft opening last weekend. Brunch is likely to begin next weekend, with a menu that will merge their breakfast and lunch fare with some new dishes.

Blades said that, with family and friends all working together, the cafe has a spirit of collaboration among people who are passionate and creative in their own realms of expertise.

"We have connoisseurs," she said. She gestures to brothers Ian Dick and Olen Dick. Ian Dick is in charge of the restaurant's wine list. Olen Dick is Botanica's bar manager, who has worked for years in restaurants and managed bars in New York City and the Berkshires.

"Olen is an amazing shaker," she said.

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Olen Dick said he is focusing lately on spirits infused with botanicals, as well as aperitif-style cocktails that are "light, refreshing and stimulating." The "Rum Diary" he's working on is a kind of punch that incorporates Harney & Sons teas.

There is his "Lazarus," which is "our take on a 'Corpse Reviver.'" Both contain a dash of absinthe, which contains wormwood, considered a psychoactive.

Another rising star at Botanica is Blades' son, Sebastian, 17.

"Here comes our star barista," she said, watching him walk through the back door.

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And then there is Browne, 27, who in 2016 won the Food Network's cooking competition "Chopped."

Browne has cooked for many Berkshires institutions, including The Old Inn on the Green and the former Fiori. For the last four years, he's worked as a private chef, while also teaching qi gong. He trained and taught at the former French Culinary Institute, worked for chefs in Brooklyn and got open-kitchen experience in Copenhagen, where he worked at Michelin greats Noma and Umami. He said working at Noma honed him for high-pressure chef work.

"Everyone who worked there was just nuts," he said. "Nobody slept."

Botanica also has an open kitchen, with counter seating. This sort of arrangement, he said, changes the eating experience.

"I like that people can see where the food comes from," he said, "so food doesn't just float out of this magical room in the back."

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Browne said fish from Massachusetts or Maine coastal waters will feature most prominently on the menu.

Ian Dick, who has extensive experience in the wine business, will work on good pairings with Browne.

"We're offering mostly fish in an area that mostly [offers] farm-to-table," Dick said, adding that he's thrilled for this opportunity to curate his own list.

Dick noted to the way that Blades and Medina have pulled together a collaboration of passionate people with "experience in their little field," which includes local caterer Austin Banach, who really knows oysters. Dick said the restaurant supports local farmers and businesses like the Pittsfield-based Assembly Coffee Roasters.

Olen Dick said Blades and Medina do not budge from their standards or vision for Botanica.

"They don't want to compromise and cut corners," he said. "It's been a slow building process to get to their vision."

Botanica's dinner and bar hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Regular hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and the business is closed on Wednesdays.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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