Firehouse Café Opens in Adams
Hottest New Restaurant in the Berkshires
By: C & A - 01/26/2014
The Firehouse Cafe in the heart of Adams.
Busy on the third night of its first week.
Starting with the spinach and artichoke dip.
Split pea soup with ham is featured on Mondays.
The grilled zuccini appetizer is simply divine.
On Wednesday the soup is fresh minestrone.
The Chicken Marsala had the right sweetness.
The Surf and Turf combines steak tips and grilled shrimps.
Pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon.
Thai Stir Fry.
Shane Morris had the concept for the Firehouse in dialogue with Bill Kolis and the young chefs.
Shane discussed variations on a traditional Puttanesca.
The young chefs Joe and Erica are enjoying the launch of a successful restaurant.
A fun night out for Astrid, left, and Gail under the fish tank.
Astrid table hopping during her Birthday Brunch at the Firehouse.
Toasting the occasion with Pennie Brantley looking on.
Conventional wisdom would consider that mid January, in the midst of a bone snapping cold spell, is less than an ideal time to launch a restaurant in the Berkshires.
With our neighbors, Gail and Phil Sellers of River Hill Pottery in North Adams, we arrived on a Wednesday at 6:30 PM. Looking about the packed Firehouse Café we were fortunate to find the last table for four in the corner under a large fish tank.
Gail grew up in Adams as did her brother, Bill Kolis, an attorney from Cleveland. She recalls that driving by the Firehouse in the heart of town, ages ago, he stated that one day he would own it and start a restaurant.
Since purchasing the building, following two prior attempts to establish a restaurant, Kolois became active in efforts to revitalize Adams and bring back foot traffic to Park Street. He has become involved in grant writing and fund raising for Topia Arts Center which needs a lot of money for development.
He teamed with Shane Morris who shared ideas of how to create a workable concept for the restaurant. Part of the strategy was to be a good neighbor with no duplication of items on the menus of several other restaurants in Adams. That meant, for example, no fish and chips or deep fried food.
The resultant menu is diverse with offerings of Asian fusion, Surf and Turf, Italian and Greek as well as seafood and American comfort food. Most importantly the restaurant is focused on fine dining at affordable prices.
There are ten sandwiches at the flat rate of $10. So the Café is doing well for lunch. Omelets are served all day.
On the dinner menu there are six appetizers from $4 to $9. Soup at $4 is fresh and changes daily. The twelve entrees range from $11 to $16. Bottle beers are about $4 and Phil likes the hard cider.
To adjust the menu there was a week of soft launch dinners for family and friends. We celebrated Astrid’s birthday with a fabulous Sunday brunch buffet. That entailed three salads, three appetizers, as well as Lasagna, Sword Fish, Chicken Marsala, wild rice and vegetables. It was, well, incredible and a great introduction to Shane and his young chefs Erica Hansen and Joe Henderek.
The décor of the traditional firehouse is great fun. Looking above is the hole down which the firefighters slid to race to their vehicles. For now there is seating for 48 but by June the plan is to open up the second floor with a very different ambiance and concept. That’s where the bar will be located with beer on tap and wine. It projects a more informal snack/ tapas menu and hopefully will evolve into an after work local hangout.
Instead of prints or paintings Shane has installed several, large, flat screens. They are programmed with changing vintage images of arts, history, and politics. Among diners they are evoking a lot of memories and table talk. Shane will add more images over time so you get a constant variety of nostalgia.
There has been a palpable sense of anticipation about the Firehouse. For Gail, of course, it has been a family affair. She talked about the busy, festive night when Bill hosted the clan. There was another gathering of Shane’s tribe. Phil raved about the Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin ($14) which has become an instant hit with diners. It is definitely what I plan to order during our next visit. Everyone is asking about the recipe for red cabbage which comes with it.
We ordered two appetizers to share; Grilled Greek Zuccini ($8) and Spinach Artichoke Dip ($8).
As Gail commented “Everything that’s grilled comes with that special rich charred flavor.”
The zucchini was sliced lengthwise. It was topped with a balsamic/ lemon reduction, fresh Roma tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and red onion. My only complaint was having to share it. My portion was simply divine. The dip which is a winner comes with multi color corn and pita chips. I had a spoonful of Phil’s minestrone soup which was fresh and flavorful.
Both Gail and Astrid ordered the Surf and Turf ($16) which combines steak tips and grilled shrimp. Gail asked for and got the tips done rare. I tried one of Astrid’s tips which she liked but commented that she would have preferred it a bit more charred.
For an entrée Phil had the Chicken Marsala ($13) which comes with green beans and wild rice. ‘It has just the right sweetness” he said. “The chicken was perfectly cooked and moist. The rice had a bit of parmesan cheese added. I would definitely order it again.”
With so many enticing items on the menu it was agony to decide. We have heard raves about the Thai Peanut Stir Fry (with tofu $11, chicken $12, and shrimp $13). There’s good buzz on the Firehouse Stuffed Burger ($10) which we will try for lunch. The Swordfish and Salmon (both $15) are getting great word of mouth.
I made a fine choice in the Chicken and Pepperoni Puttanesca over penne ($12). It’s a dish I like to make so I'm a fussy judge.
After a hard day on her back the Putta doesn’t have time to simmer the sauce. The idea is for a quick, fresh, and tangy topping for pasta. The classic recipe calls for cubing fresh tomatoes (in season). Added to fried garlic in olive oil with anchovies and capers (that’s a lot of sodium) the fresh tomatoes are quickly sautéed.
“That’s my favorite item on the menu” Shane commented while stopping front of house to chat a bit with guests. The grilled chicken and pepperoni were unique. I like to add fresh mushrooms and asked about the touch of heat which is not traditional. That comes from the pepperoni and a bit of flaked red pepper.
The dish was finished with feta cheese. It seemed odd to have Greek cheese for an Italian dish. I asked for and got some shaved parmesan which for me made it just perfect.
At home we are trying to be gluten free and stay away from starch. So on this night I was a bad boy but loved the delicious fun of hanging with the Puttas. Before bed I said Three Our Fathers, Four Hail Marys and prayed for forgiveness.
We all stayed away from the tempting desserts. Gail suggesting sharing one but that didn’t get very far.
At the end of a long day the young chefs Joe and Erica greeted us.
Right now they are thrilled with the successful launch of the restaurant which offsets those grinding twelve hour days. They are both trained chefs. Erica from New Hampshire College and Joe from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. After six months of trying to raise a baby in the city they came back to the Berkshires.
Being a part of a startup restaurant Bill, Shane, Joe and Erica all shared in the development of the menu. Shane derived the concept but the young chefs had input. For the Pork Tenderloin, for example, they wanted a Wow factor and not just another pork chop. A side of sauerkraut was considered until Erica contributed her red cabbage recipe which she won an award for some time back. It entails a bottle or red wine in each batch, as well as pears instead of apples, a bit of sugar and a dash of balsamic vinegar and lemon.
Astrid discussed growing up in Northern Germany with red cabbage as a staple. “It was always sour with just a bit of sugar for balance.”
Table hopping on a busy night the restaurant was filled with locals. Gail knew and talked with everyone. I spoke with friends, there for the first time, who just loved the food and plan to come back.
With the launch of a great first week there is bound to be a lot of repeat business particularly as word gets around. The busy time seems to be after work from 5 to 7. After that the restaurant thinned out with no problem for finding a table. The Firehouse seats its last diners at 8.
Right now for a combination of service, quality, flavor and price The Firehouse Café is the best deal in the Berkshires.