The Rattlesnake Cafe, located in Bennington, is a great alternative to typical New England fare. Its specialty, spicy Mexican food, is excellently balanced against a homey, laid-back atmosphere. Located directly off Route 7, not only is this restaurant accessible, it has a pleasing eclectic southwestern atmosphere.
Decorated with animal skulls, blinking lights, lava lamps and sombreros, the interior of the Cafe is charming. The detail of the interior decoration is admirable: there are red chile peppers stenciled on the turquoise wall trim, small candles in colored cubes of glass on the tables and perfectly sized wooden tables.
Upon being seated, my friends and I were immediately served a large basket of tortilla chips and a small dish of salsa. The homemade chips were hot and crispy, but with very little grease; the salsa was properly spicy. The chips and salsa were quite addictive, and we had to refill our basket almost immediately.
We began our dinner with an order of cheese nachos, with sides of guacamole and sour cream. They came relatively quickly. Presented on a huge platter, they were steaming and smothered with jalapeno peppers. I have rarely had better nachos. There was so much cheese that when I pulled a chip toward me, it would literally bounce back.
The guacamole was obviously freshly-made, which was commendable, but it was not as good as it could have been. Although it had plenty of vibrant lemon flavor, the guacamole by itself tasted a little bland. It could have benefited from the addition of some more salt, fresh pepper or cilantro. Also, there were large, tough chunks of avocado in the guacamole that were difficult to eat. However, guacamole is not meant to stand on its own. When eaten with chips and sour cream, it was definitely good enough.
While one may compromise on guacamole because it is eaten with chips, that same compromise cannot be made with, say, black bean soup. Black bean soup is a particularly fascinating food since it manages to combine delicate and subtle flavors with a thick and hearty consistency. I have long been enamored of black bean soup served in a bread bowl, so I get it wherever I can.
The black bean soup at the Cafe appeared to have all the right components (fresh sour cream and chopped green onions on the side), but it was disappointingly bland. Its texture was a little too watery. However, in the soup’s favor, it was filling and hot, and while not spectacular, surely adequate.
The main dishes arrived in good time. In the name of detail, tortilla chips had been cut out in the shapes of coyotes, stars and cactuses to garnish the dishes. Overall, the main dishes were delicious and the portions large.
The best dish was the grilled chicken quesadilla. Too frequently, Mexican restaurants do not pay enough attention to the fillings of their shells, spending more time on covering them up with sauces and the like.
The Cafe, however, is meticulous about its food, right down to the filling. The sliced grilled chicken in the quesadilla was cooked perfectly with just the right amount of seasoning. The chicken was folded inside a soft shell with vegetables, and served with several sauces, namely a pico de gallo and a green, creamy sauce flavored with cilantro. The pico de gallo was appropriately fresh, although a little more citris flavor could have been added. The real prize, however, was the cilantro sauce. Coupled with the quesadilla, every mouthful was a treat.
Also excellent were the cheese and onion enchiladas. Having once been on dairy restriction, I reveled in the incredible amounts of cheese I was served. The enchiladas were served smothered in sauteed onions, which added a subtle flavor to the rich and smooth melted cheese.
I ordered the green enchilada sauce over the red; the green sauce was deliciously spicy and sweet with its freshly cooked green chiles, onions and cilantro. The dish was also served with refried beans and rice. While the rice was a little dry and too heavily flavored with tomato, the refried beans were surprisingly smooth in texture.
The two other dishes, the beef tacos and the shredded beef tostadas, were also good choices. While the shredded beef was a little stringy, the spiciness of the meat made up for the dryness. Both dishes were covered in mounds of fresh vegetables and cheese.
For dessert, the Cafe offers a menu of delectable items. We ordered the flourless chocolate cake and the flan. The chocolate cake was decadent to an extreme. Flavored with raspberries, it was amazingly rich. The cake is so rich that some may not be able to stomach it. On the other hand, the flan was cool and tasted fabulous. It was the perfect ending to a delicious meal.
The Rattlesnake Cafe is really a find in the Berkshires. It offers quality Mexican and Southwestern food in a fun atmosphere. If ever you need to be cheered up by a good meal, the ambiance and the food at the Rattlesnake will do you good. The prices will not get you down either: the appetizers run about $3-6, and the main dishes average around $10. I would even venture to say that it is an ideal place for a date: no stress, good food, moderate prices. Go impress someone.
Take Route 7 to Bennington. Drive through downtown Bennington on North Street until you reach the Cafe at 230 North St.
The Cafe is closed on Mondays; plan accordingly.