SHEFFIELD – Interested in truly southern barbecue but turned off by the 13-hour drive or the $300 plane ticket required to get it? Don’t worry – just make a pit stop along Main Street.
There, in a squat building with red bottle cap emblazonments, nestled between a liquor store and a church, sits Bash Bish Brew and ‘Que.
The barbecue joint’s menu hangs in the glass front just above a black pig cutout that shows if the restaurant is open or not. And the menu, one of which is taped next to the pig, is littered with southern favorites: pulled pork platters, behemoth brisket, succulent sausage, melty mac and cheese and creamy collards. The place even offers pizza, burgers, nachos and loaded fries for those with a barbecue aversion.
Available sauces are also listed on the front of the menu. There’s an “Ol’ Fashioned,” which, from its name, its taste can be deduced. There’s a “Habanero Maple,” a sweet and spicy taste bud attack, and then there’s “Hot Carolina Vinegar,” a two-state classic.
The inside of the restaurant is warm and has a sense of fuzzy energy. Beer brand signs dot the eatery’s walls. An original wooden floor – ash, to be exact – extends back to the kitchen. Handcrafted tables eat up the restaurant’s floor space, and exposed brick walls give the restaurant a bit of a gritty, outdoor feel. A collection of quotes chalked onto blackboard gives the supporting beams and corners of the place some neon character.
Overall, Brew and ‘Que brings bombastic barbecue – and not the grilling-out kind – to an otherwise barbecue-barren, and restaurant-sparse, area.
The restaurant’s three owners, Jim Olivieri, his wife Ana, and Jesse Watkins can be thanked for that.
The beginnings of Brew and ‘Que are complex – and admittedly odd. The Olivieri’s are originally New Yorkers and Hamptonites with a knack for sailing. Watkins is a Great Barrington native – “born and raised,” as he proudly put it. But somehow, the three got their hands into barbecue.
The owners explained how, and why, in an interview June 5.
After moving from the Hamptons in a post-9/11 suburban escape, Jim Olivieri bought a building and business in downtown Sheffield, which ultimately turned into the Blue Door Market and Café, just blocks from Brew and ‘Que.
“These things just happen,” he said. “That was our first break in into the food business up here.”
Two years after establishing Blue Door, Jim Olivieri made another purchase: the spot that is now Brew and ‘Que. And, according to Ana Olivieri, the purchase came as a complete surprise.
“I drove up in the middle of the night from New York and saw it for the first time,” she said.
After that, Jim Olivieri met Watkins.
At the time, Watkins was a bar manager at Mario’s, the former Great Barrington eatery on Railroad Street that is now undergoing luxury apartment reconstructive surgery. Jim Olivieri became a regular there, and the two soon developed a connection.
Between discussing beer – Brew and ‘Que’s true catalyst, according to Jim Olivieri – and future business ventures, Brew and ‘Que was born.
Initially slated to be an Italian or pizza place, until Jim Olivieri and his wife “realized how many Italian places were around here,” Brew and ‘Que went through several stages before becoming what it is today. But, ultimately, it is the child of the Olivieri’s travels.
“Barbecue has always been a main thing for me,” Jim Olivieri said, mentioning the time he has spent in the Carolinas and New Orleans. “Basically we just decided to go with barbecue, you know? After years of just living down south, we just threw it together.”
After the barbecue decision came the formulas: how food would be cooked, where it would be cooked and with what.
Recipes for the restaurant, Jim Olivieri explained, were worked out “basically” between Watkins and Ana Olivieri. All the recipes were created in-house, Watkins added.
“I run the kitchen,” Watkins said. “I run the pit. I prefer pit-master over chef.”
And although Jim Olivieri balked at Watkins calling himself a pit-master, Watkins said he had the chops to back it up. Watkins flaunts a year’s worth of experience and “intense self-studying and research” as his creations’ inspiration.
“I took the science approach to barbecue,” Watkins said.
“That’s what he does well,” Jim Olivieri said, chiming in.
Watkins continued: “It’s been my thing. I figured out what’s happening scientifically with barbecue and I make it happen and encourage it to happen.”
The food at Brew and ‘Que, according to Jim Olivieri, was tasted, tweaked, tested and tried before ever hitting the menu – “We just basically grinded out and listened to the people,” he said.
Despite no decided style of barbecue at the restaurant, neither Memphis nor Carolina nor Kansas City nor Hawaii, one thing is clear. Barbecue is a passion for these people.
“I’m a barbecue nut,” Jim Olivieri said. “We have extensively travelled the south.”
Their dedication to the craft shows. The brisket is smoky and tender and juicy and pink. The pulled pork is bursting with flavor, moist and far from stringy or chewy. The three co-owners credit this to “simple recipes within reason.”
“I’ve always had a knack for flavor,” Watkins said, “and always cooked.”
Flavor is everything to Watkins and Jim Olivieri. They were quick to bring the topic up and slow to move off of it.
Jim Olivieri flaunted the two smokers Brew and ‘Que utilizes – no liquid smoke is used anywhere in the business.
One time for dinner service, crawfish, harvested in Louisiana, were flown in and picked up the same day, the two explained with enthusiasm.
And the business churns through approximately 200 pounds of meat – chicken, pork, beef respectively – per week, according to Watkins.
“Everything is natural, we’re not using any chemicals in our recipes,” Watkins said, admitting that farm-to-table is not necessarily possible because of the sheer volume of meat Brew and ‘Que demands. “But we have happy chickens, as I say.”
But what would good food be without good drink? What would a cook-out be without a good beer? This was something Watkins thought of before the doors even opened in August.
“Beer is so important,” Watkins, who has numerous published beer reviews to his name, said.
Brew and ‘Que has a selection of more than 80 beers, mostly craft or small batch. The restaurant offers 12 different wines, too, “all constantly rotating,” according to Watkins.
“That’s without the major commercialized ones, either,” Jim Olivieri said. “We’re not bringing them in.”
“We’re tasting all the time, trying to find the new thing, trying to match the flavors with the meats,” Watkins said, clearly excited. “We even have a zinfandel aged in bourbon barrels.”
In the future, the three owners said they plan to brew their own beer.
“We have a vision, we have a dream,” Jim Olivieri said. “We want to get that beer list up… We’re working on it now.”
The restaurant’s reception, according to the owners, has been phenomenal.
Jim Olivieri said recent customers have told him they travelled from North Adams and Hartford, Connecticut just for the food.
“If I could tell you how many people tell me ‘I’m from Texas, I live in the Carolinas,’ and said ‘you guys hit it,’” Jim Olivieri said, “we really did hit it.”
“Honestly, people have really said ‘you’re the best in South County. You’ve got the best barbecue around.’”
“There’s blood sweat and tears in that place, and there will continue to be,” Watkins added. “The word’s out there on the barbecue circuit.”
Bash Bish Brew and ‘Que is located at 113 Main St. It is open Monday and Wednesday from 5-9 p.m.; Thursday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; and on Friday and Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. They are closed Tuesday.
Wine and beer served at Brew and ‘Que can be purchased at the Blue Door, as well.
This story first ran in the Berkshire Record.