In the late nineties, I lived in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, sheets of gorgeous farm land known as the less chic region of the Berkshires. Most are very familiar with the rustic hipness of Lenox and Great Barrington, but I spent a few glorious years enjoying the impeccable beauty of lesser-known Williamstown, a small college town, and the rugged mill town known as North Adams. They were and still are juxtapositions of each other – Williamstown is pretty and perfect while North Adams is edgy, raw and artistic.
Boutique restaurants typically sought home in the finer Williamstown, and I was a regular at all of them, including a spot called Mezze. Co-owned by local entertaining guru Nancy Thomas, Mezze was the epitome of hip with light wood banquets and a sultry deck overlooking a shallow river. It was wildly successful and became the star of Nancy’s local empire. She’s since opened three other businesses and caters some of the biggest fetes in the region. (If you’re ever invited to one of them, go.)
I left the area in 2001 and missed out on the opening of Cafe Latino, Nancy’s modern Latin cafe that grabbed a choice spot in the mishmash of mills that became the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I went back this weekend and made a priority of dining on this fresh, fun cuisine devised by Chef Omar Montoya.
The filling in the empanaditas, pictured above, reminded me of the seasoned ground beef my Honduran-born Mom would make to fill those hard-shelled tacos she’d find at our local American supermarket. These were yummy and filling, topped with piles of a type of salsa fresca, and layered on top of a wasabi-flavored crema.
My husband and I were stuffed after our appetizer course which also included a pile of tender, fried calamari. We ordered a half-order of the calamari, as a full-order would be an entire meal. The next course was even lovlier. While my husband stuck with a traditional burger made with beef from Northeast Family Farms, I went with the lively fish tacos. I couldn’t place all the ingredients nestled in those corn tortillas, but lime juice, cabbage and sour cream suit fried haddock just fine by me.
Suffice it to say, the food was delightful. But as you know, good food alone does not make a great boutique dining experience! Thank goodness, Cafe Latino had all the other goods. The restaurant was fairly empty as we arrived well past typical lunch time and while staff was prepping for an evening event, our server was friendly, upbeat, attentive and seemed to read our minds, always ready with more water or our next course at the perfect time.
The restaurant design added to the refreshing atmosphere. Being right next to the gorgeous modern art on display at Mass Moca, Cafe Latino has some big shoes to fill and did so very stylishly. Blanketed in browns, blues, creams and grays, the straight lines, wide chairs, soft curtains and round stools worked beautifully. Nancy has always had a tremendous, current aesthetic, but this spot felt fresh and comforting equally, and invited me to sit for hours.
Lunch (and likely dinner) at Cafe Latino is the perfect companion to an afternoon at Mass Moca. We strolled the wide galleries, stared at some fairly funky art and enjoyed Jenny Holzer’s latest artistic statement in the second floor projection room.
After all that, the husband wanted to return to Cafe Latino for some of those thin, hot, crispy tortilla chips and small dish of herby crushed tomatoes, but we were late for our next dining appointment and I had a feeling Nancy’s little ode to Latin cuisine would be there for our next visit, even if it was several years out. That said, you shouldn’t wait that long though.
Eat Boutique was an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista – an author, business guide and alignment seeker. After hosting retail markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie now supports entrepreneurs as they create values-based businesses through We Are Magic Studio. Follow Maggie Battista on Instagram.