Updated: Mar 8, 2019
It's a Tuesday, and I don't know about you, but I want some tacos. Thankfully Cantina 229 has a special taco menu on Tuesdays to satisfy that desire. So we drove from our home in Lee to New Marlborough and it was such a beautiful drive. Rolling hills, mountain views, horses and cattle dotting the landscape. Yup, I love the mountain life. I was perfectly content taking in these views while listening to Blues Traveller that I kinda drifted off and started daydreaming (don't worry Chris was driving).
As we pulled in to Cantina 229, we could immediately hear the bustling of conversation and good times emanating from inside. The entryway was warm and welcoming, with giant natural cut wooden beams beckoning you in, crisscrossing through the space waiting for you to gather beneath. Towards the far end of the restaurant there's a small bar (maybe 10 seats max), quaint and inviting. Behind it, was perhaps one of the most talented bartenders I personally know, Billy! With cocktail shakers in hand, he turns mixing cocktails into a performance, as his customers watch in awe at his perfectly choreographed (and measured) dance. On the left side of the room are the chefs, working in an open kitchen, allowing them to experience the night in this cantina as well (rather than be trapped in a hot stuffy kitchen with harsh fluorescent lighting, which nobody enjoys). On the other side of the room, large floor to ceiling windows took over the wall, spilling light all over the space. And big french doors, spilled out onto a great big lawn, with a few tables outside overlooking a garden. Inside, there were plenty of seating options
available from dueces, to large hightops, to sharing tables so you could have a group experience. For such a small space, they managed to squeeze a good number of tables in without feeling cramped at all (and I hate feeling cramped). In the center of the room, toward the entrance, is a large spiral staircase, adding a bit of mystery. It seemed like a giant corkscrew going down into the bottle that is Cantina 229, ready to open it up and welcome their patrons and start this party. But I think the main attraction in the restaurant was the giant oblong feather lamp that filled the center of the room, I couldn't help but stare at it. So large and soft (yes I petted it) like a giant pillow, it makes the interior space just a little bit cozier.
So that was inside, outside there were very few tables as I mentioned (possibly too early in the season?), but we were lucky enough to get one. The scenery was the perfect backdrop for a relaxing night out. A huge green field stretched out as far as the eye could see. Out near the center of the field was the cantina garden where they grow a lot of their own produce and herbs (can't get much more local than that). Chickens and children alike roamed the backyard, filling the evening air with clucking and laughter. The music selection they had was spot on too, authentic Mexican music, that was upbeat yet still relaxing and catchy (I still got a song stuck in my head, and I don't even know the words!). The kids were even kind enough to let us use their bug spray, which worked fantastically.
We ordered our first round of drinks, Chris got some beer, but I went for a cocktail since they all looked out of this world. They had a classic margarita, a spicy mezcal margarita, and the 'Ginger B. Cricket'. I dove right in and went for the Ginger B. Cricket: Pelton de la Muerte mezcal, Intense Ginger Liqueur, lime, spiced honey, and get this; cricket salt—yes, cricket salt. And you know what? I LOVED it, I even had a second after I finished my first one.
It was Taco Tuesday so they had a limited menu: four appetizers, four tacos, and two desserts. We got the Poke Tostada, shoyo marinated ahi tuna, avocado, cumin slaw, sriracha aioli and sesame—yum! Chris was hesitant at first to order it since the Ratatouille Quesadilla was speaking to him more (I'm sure it's just as delicious), but I was putting on the peer pressure. I'm glad he relented because my god, what a beautiful appetizer. Seriously it was like every food photographers dream. It made my job, to make people's mouth water from just a photo, that much easier. It was the kind of dish that was so pretty, I felt bad for eating it and ruining the chef's presentation. But we managed. Next up were the Mexi-fries; crispy cantina fries, melted cheddar, pickled banana peppers, pickles, chipotle aioli, and cilantro. Again, another beautiful dish—but obviously Chris didn't feel bad ruining the presentation, he grabbed a fry before I even turned the camera on (I guess it's payback at me after inhaling all the Bistro Box fries about a week ago). As I gave him my infamous 'Hairy Eyeball' (coined by my mother when I was only two), I started taking some shots before I noticed something that I haven't seen before: pickles on french fries. I put down the camera and took a bite for myself, and couldn't help but wonder why I've never seen this before. I wouldn't think they would go together, but after trying it for myself, I have to say that it was such a great pairing. We inhaled both of them, I was even trying to lick the chipotle aioli off the plate with my finger.
Now the moment was upon us, the whole reason we drove out to the middle of nowhere (sorry New Marlborough, it's true though): TACOS! They offered 4 different tacos, braised beef, chipotle chicken, blackened fish, and the hilariously named veggie taco, vegetarians are people too. To make things easy (and because they were $5) we got one of each, which was easily the right thing to do. And we were glad we did, the tacos were amazing, each so different and flavorful than the next. I think the braised beef was our favorite, so tender and it pulled apart so easily. One taco in hand, and drink in the other- yes, this is the way life should be. Marinated beef, dirty beans, red onions, salsa verde, and melted cheddar. Taking a bite of each one I could taste the local ingredients, the specialty and the care that is put into each one- even though they were only $5! Now that's a deal! The blackened fish was my next favorite- I'm a sucker for a blackened fish taco- give me all the spice! The fish was so tender, yet juicy and I just wanted to get another round of 4 tacos.. but I need to save room for new things, like there tequila sampler... I mean mezcal.
Now their mezcal samplers are something this place does not skimp on. Even drinking and eating in Mexican restaurants in Boston.. I have NEVER seen a selection of mezcals period, let alone one this long. They had several different mezcal flights to choose from, whether you're a seasoned mezcal drinker or a couple of fools like us, they had a carefully selected sampler for you to try. We went with the intro flight of four entry-level mezcals, since the two of us have never really had any before. Josh, the owner, served us our flight and even gave us a quick crash course on mezcals, including some common misconceptions (like mezcals aren't all smokey like we assumed, but rather toasted) He had just come back from Oaxaca, Mexico and shared with us some of his experiences there. Some of the mezcals we were sampling had actually come from the regions he had visited, which made the tasting that much more special. The flight was served with orange slices and a spiced salt mix made with crushed agave worms (they really love their salty bugs). Josh also let us know on the proper way to drink it, which isn't shooting it, but rather to sip it and savor it, as you would with whiskey, using the fruit and salt as a palette cleanser. At this point, the sun had set, and the bugs were out in full force, so we made our move inside with the help of the friendly staff, who snagged us a couple of seats at the bar.
Like I mentioned, Billy (our bartender) is the best. He was stirring up some drinks for the other customers sitting at the bar when we approached and greeted us with smiles. We were looking for another beverage to drink, or perhaps another sampler??? We wanted the full experience so we had Billy choose what mezcals we should definitely try. He asked us what price range we were looking for and picked out some of his favorites as well as the more different and interesting mezcals he had. Billy poured us Nuestra Soledad mezcal, two from El Jolgorio, their Pechuga and Cruixe mezcals, and Mezcales de Leyenda Grandes Leyendas Don Anastacio. That last Mezcal was incredibly smooth, criminally so. All the mezcals were surprisingly good! We seriously had no idea that they could all have such different and distinct flavors and profiles to them. At this point, a good number of different Mezcals have passed our lips, and I think it was beginning to show. Just as I was starting to feel it all get to my head, Billy popped in asking about desserts. Well since we had ordered all the different tacos, it only made sense to order all of the desserts, granted it was only two: the Linny flan and a brownie sundae.
These desserts were the perfect ending to a perfect evening, and the day, just like our dessert, was gone before we knew it. At the end of the night, Josh checked in with us again and we talked about our night here at his cantina, and he shared us more stories from his trip to Mexico. You really got this sense of pride from Josh about what he's doing here at Cantina 229, and his passion can be found in any of the staff. From Billy and his drinks, the chefs with their food, even the waitstaffs' service reflected the passion Josh brought to the restaurant. And from our end of things, It all works in beautiful harmony, every aspect comes together, from the music playing to that giant fluffy lamp, it all creates a wonderfully warm environment that welcomes you in with mezcal in hand. Cantina 229 is one of the most authentic Mexican restaurants you can get this far away from Mexico, from drinks as well as food. Me and Chris fully enjoyed our experience and will be having many dates night here in the future. I will be telling everyone (from friends and family to random people at my bar) to come to Cantina 229 to take in this beautiful cantina out here in the boonies of the Berkshires.
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