Take a bite of Craig Bero’s planked brook trout in wild mushroom sauce and you’ll know why his Pleasant and Main café in the small village of Housatonic is worth taking a slight turn off the beaten path. What makes the food coming out of his kitchen so memorable is that Craig not only embraces the idea of using local ingredients in the food he creates, he often sources it himself. By that I mean he carefully picks it by hand, from the Berkshire landscape.
Craig is a forager. See that plank under your fish? It’s a piece of dried apple wood that he found on a foray in the woods while picking the wild morel mushrooms that are in the sauce. The sweet, crunchy coating on the fish is made from shagbark hickory flour. That sprig of aromatic lemon thyme garnishing the plate may have been grown in the lush garden he tends behind the restaurant.
“When something comes into season,” Craig says, “it completely changes my mindset about what I’m making.” In spring, he digs up horseradish roots and turns them into a sauce for thinly sliced beef or a spicy cocktail sauce for the fish fry. He puts wild ramps in a frittata or adds them to a teriyaki sauce made with orange and a little bit of wild ginger. In fact, Pleasant and Main’s menu of traditional comfort foods is skillfully layered with a distinctive Berkshire flavor year-round, imparted from plants, berries, herbs, and wild edibles found either by Craig or other local foragers. He also draws culinary inspiration from the area’s cultural and food traditions, updating them for a modern palate.
Craig has been foraging since his childhood days on a Wisconsin farm. He mentions the importance of picking selectively and sustainably. “You don’t want to ravage the crop,” he says, adding that it’s just as important to know how to pick responsibly as it is to know what you’re picking and what to do with it. “I might just take a sprig of something to add a flavorful accent and leave the rest intact for nature,” he says.
If the idea of hunting for food in the wild sounds like something you’d like to try for yourself, it’s wise to learn more about foraging from an expert before you venture out on your own. The Berkshire Mycological Society is a great resource for mushroom hunters and you can also find educational nature hikes guided by foragers at Tamarack Hollow.
As you explore Berkshire byways and backroads, you’ll discover many restaurants serve wild edibles and other Berkshire-grown foods in season. If cooking with wild edibles is something you’d like to try at home, visit local grocers such as Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Berkshire Co-op Market, and Berkshire Organics or roadside farm stands and farmer’s markets throughout the region.
As Craig says, the flavors of the Berkshires are unique. If you’re a food lover, you’re going to love what you find here!
Nancy Macy is a freelance writer and editor based in the Berkshires.