Route 7 Grill

Interview by David Vartanian

Lester Blumenthal opened Route 7 Grill seven years ago, with the idea of using local meat and produce from area farms to better connect diners to local farmers. Lester and his wife, Robin, decided to feature barbecue because they wanted to do something American, getting back to the basics by using slow cooking methods. They're always looking for what’s available from local crops, and in addition to serving produce fresh, they pickle and freeze: corn and tomatoes, rutabaga, peppers, beets, and more.

While there are lots of area restaurants to choose from, Lester (pictured above) finds there’s a nice sense of comraderie among the chefs and restaurateurs "trying to improve the food experience for people. We’re developing a local, Berkshire food culture."

In keeping with idea of using what's fresh and available locally, Lester and his chef have created the "Butcher’s Choice" menu option. The selections vary all the time – usually it’s beef, pork, chicken and lamb – and it opens the door for the creative process for the chef. The menu has evolved, but it’s based on the idea of simple, classic American grilled food. An American tradition, they slow-smoke the BBQ, seasoned with their own rubs, and use local hickory and hardwoods. The meat is served with Route 7 Grill's own BBQ sauce, unless other options are requested. They do a lot of spit roasting outside in Summer and Fall – pig roasts mostly – grilled steaks, burgers and pork chops and braised beef.

In addition to all the BBQ on the menu, daily specials offer choices like fish over lentils with butternut squash hollandaise, pork roasts, pot pies and fried chicken. The specials are inspired by what's fresh, with a creative appreciation for available ingredients.

 In the Grill's third year, they introduced a catering menu, enjoying it since they get orders prior to an event so they know exactly what they’ll be preparing – the smoking takes time.

Route 7 Grill's BBQ sauce is popular, so Lester's begun bottling it and selling it in local stores. He's also developing a line of meat rubs and salad dressings.

The bar features local brews, spirits from Berkshire Mountain Distillery, and wine from Millbrook Vineyards. Appetizers are another opportunity to celebrate ingredients, such as shrimp and grits (a frequent special); mushrooms and roasted garlic on Berkshire Mountain ciabatta; and the award-winning house smoked chicken wings.

Route 7 Grill has become a magnet for local community events such as the annual Sprout Pig Roast on Memorial Day, where as many as 300 people come together to fundraise for the local Sprout initiative at Monument Mountain High School (students growing vegetables for school lunches.) An event like that inspires live music and outdoor spit roasting as many as four pigs.

Salads are grown by Ted Dobson at Equinox Farm, half a mile down the road in Sheffield. The "Cobb Salad", a favorite, has local lettuce and mesclun, smoked chicken, hard-boiled egg and the Grill's maple bacon dressing (they smoke all their own bacon.) "We get a weekly list from several local farmers so we know what’s available, and always have fresh veggies of the day. What’s seasonably available always tastes better, so that’s what we feature."

Route 7 Grill has received press recognition and distinguished awards over the years. They've been mentioned in Gourmet magazine's as one of "America's Best Farm-to-Table Restaurants" (2007); Saveur magazine listed Route 7 Grill in their "2008 Saveur 100" for Whey-Fed Pork; Yankee Magazine listed them as "Best Barbecued Ribs" in their Travel Guide to New England in 2010, and The Boston Globe was the first to feature Route 7 Grill with their 2007 piece "Off the Land and into the Pan."