The Lantern: There's a new burger in town ...
PITTSFIELD — There is a lot that hasn't changed at The Lantern Bar & Grill since Pittsfield's iconic eatery reopened: you can still grab a seat at the counter; a lot of the art is still in place. You can even get a burger! That's where the similarities end. There's a new burger in town.
New owner Bjorn Somlo (also the owner of Nudel in Lenox) reopened The Lantern, on the corner North and Linden streets, in January with Raymond Stalker at the helm as head chef.
Looking back on the first few months, Stalker, during a recent interview, reflected on what's worked and what's next for the city's landmark diner. "It's been going pretty well, We're working out some kinks, but it's been pretty smooth."
Originally from Kinderhook, N.Y., Stalker developed a love of cooking at an early age, cooking his first meal for his grandparents with a recipe found in the back of a Boy Scouts of America book. He got his first cooking job at 16, and he spent a year cooking at the former restaurant, Jonathan's Bistro in Lenox, before heading to the Culinary Institute of America. He went on to cook in farm-to-table restaurants in New York City and the Hudson Valley, before coming back to The Berkshires to work at Nudel, where he was the chef de cuisine for five years. He and Somlo wanted to have a location in Pittsfield, so when the opportunity came up, it was a win-win.
Customers who have come in since they opened the restaurant in January have been a mix — some were longtime fans of Nudel, some came in out of curiosity and many were excited to support the new location. Ultimately, Stalker is thrilled to have a spot where he can offer something to both the summer crowd and for locals.
"We both want it to be somewhere where we can have regulars say, 'Hi' and come in often; come in after work for a beer and a burger," he said.
Speaking of burgers
The Lantern's burger was a big draw for locals who were regulars when Mark Papas and his family owned it. The former burger — charbroiled, grilled on the flat top at the front of the restaurant — is a memory for many who ate there years prior. Many wondered:"Would there be a burger?" and "Would it be the same?"
The Lantern's opening menu featured only the twin bacon cheeseburger, grass-fed burgers sitting on a Martin's potato bun and topped with pickles, onions and special sauce with a side of fries.
After customers requested a bigger burger, Stalker decided to test one out as a special. The "grilled bigger burger" with cheddar, mayo, lettuce, onion and tomato jam.
The goal, Stalker said, was to have a burger that was in concert with the rest of the menu.
"It's not the same burger, but it is a bigger, grass-fed burger. It sold well as a special, so we left it on [the menu]," he said. "Over time, we saw that both the twin burgers and the bigger burger were neck-and-neck in popularity and were the most popular dishes here. Even the employees are fans of both burgers."
What's on the menu
Stalker describes The Lantern's food as "Americana with twists and bends in the road." Much of the menu are elevated versions of dishes he grew up eating.
The menu features dishes such as a fried pickles with ranch dressing for $7, a house corned-beef Reuben for $14, roasted beets (with pickled cabbage and carrots with sour cream) for $10 and an egg and beef patty melt for $15.
Diners can finish their meals with the old-fashioned chocolate cake for $7 or the banana cream pie for $8.
The menu displays food at different price points, and diners can mix and match, whether they are looking for a quick bite after work or a night out with friends.
Stalker recently updated the menu. While there will always be a core menu, he said, there are plans to make adjustments to reflect seasonal changes in produce.
While there are some selections for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-sensitive diners, many of the dishes can be adjusted to accommodate dietary sensitivities. One dish, the carrot a la flat top with white bean stew, parsley and roasted garlic, at $9, is a favorite of vegans and gluten-free patrons.
The Lantern also offers eight American craft beers on tap and over 40 beers and ciders are available in bottles and cans. Customers can order wine, as well as a selection of classic cocktails, featuring local purveyors, such as Berkshire Mountain Distillery.
Seating includes the iconic long counter, as well as tables for small groups and large parties.
What's next for The Lantern?
Getting ready for the summer season and gearing up for the lunch crowd.
"We are currently staffing up to open for lunch during the week," Stalker said.
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