The Ugly Duck offers a rotating menu of bar-friendly foods at Thistle & Mirth

Tacos are always on the menu

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When Austin Oliver moved to the Berkshires, part of what made him feel at home was his neighborhood bar, with rotating craft beer, good vibes and good friends. Now, he's bringing the food along with it.

The Ugly Duck is an independent eatery that operates out of the bar Thistle & Mirth at 44 West St., Pittsfield. Open for about a month, Oliver is offering on-site dining options to the craft beer loving patrons.

"I lived here for four years and I've loved this spot since I've moved here, and I want to keep that feeling," said Oliver one afternoon before the bar opened. "It's great to be a part of it now."

After talking with owner Joad Bowman for two years about working together, Oliver got the text message that the timing was finally right.

"I came down and we chatted for an hour. A week later I was at City Hall filing paperwork," he said. Oliver had been playing around with the idea of a nested restaurant — more than just a pop-up eatery — for some time and the opportunity to build and open a kitchen at Thistle & Mirth came together quickly, opening in early January.

A separate operation from the bar, The Ugly Duck works as a contractor. Oliver rents out the spot and markets and promotes it on a separate social media feed from the bar. The kitchen for The Ugly Duck is located at the back of the bar and went through a complete update prior to the kitchen's opening. The small kitchen allows for a tailored menu of six items max, with Oliver having a close eye on what dishes are working and what can easily be changed out.

"People generally like what's new. If there's something that's popular, I can work it back into the menu from time to time," he said. "I can keep rotating ingredients and dishes out without worrying about spoilage and other things."

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Similar to placing an order at a dim sum restaurant or oyster bar, patrons fill out a small order form and pass it to bar staff who walk orders back to the kitchen where the food will be prepared and delivered. Gluten-free options are available, as well as adjustments that can be made for vegetarians and vegans.

The Ugly Duck features a variety of bar-friendly foods, pulling inspiration from some of Oliver's favorite dishes as well as what's in season. While the menu rotates weekly, there always will be tacos on the menu. The Ugly Duck is open for service from 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday. Friday through Sunday there will be a reduced snack menu available,which will include "everything but the bagel," popcorn and other easy finger foods. The taco menu features a reasonable three tacos for $10. Past offerings include a chicken taco with spiced chicken, queso fresco, a Pork rib taco and a black bean taco.

Items that have previously been featured on the menu include Oliver's take on banh mi: the chorizo banh mi(ish), and eggs on toast. One of Oliver's goals is to keep the price point as accessible as possible.

"I really would rather not have anything over $15 with most things being between $8 to $10." The menu is posted on the restaurant's Facebook and Instagram accounts on Mondays for the week.

This is the Chatham, N.Y., native's first business. Prior to The Ugly Duck, Oliver was a long-time fixture as chef at the Italian eatery Mario's in New Lebanon, N.Y.

Future plans for The Ugly Duck include creating dishes that pair with the bar's extended tap list. Oliver really sees the possibilities in the space, but is also "feeling it out" and seeing what the clientele responds to.

"I just want to make people to be happy," he said. "Things need to be made with love, from scratch. That's the most important thing to me."


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