Restaurant, bar, concert venue – these are some of the many descriptions that have been attached to the newly revamped Log following a multi-million dollar renovation. [How could it simultaneously be all these things? I wondered.] What actually is the Log? Last weekend, for the third installment of “Epicurious Evan,” (see “Pad Thai or Die,” May 7, 2014 and “Winging it in the Berkshires,” Feb. 18, 2015) I set out to answer this seemingly simple question and see for myself what the new Log’s much-anticipated return to the campus’s social, culinary and nightlife scenes was all about.
Entering with high but unsure expectations, I left with strong feelings of what I wanted the Log to be and the realization that the current conception is far from my ideal. The reimagined Log is first and foremost a restaurant – and a good one at that – but it does not feel like the storied and casual campus institution of yore. Instead, the Log appears as if it should be renamed “Hops and Vines at the Log.” The popular Water Street restaurant that has undertaken management and operation of the Log, Hops and Vines, has merely been transported into a luxurious lodge with its menu dumbed down to cater to students’ tastes. The trendy designer plates and cloth napkins are nice touches that fit into the Log’s new “upscale casual” aesthetic. However, they clash with the original Log’s supposed informality and collegiality inspired by former President of the College Mark Hopkins. So, too, do $6 “mocktails,” $8 beers and $27 fried chicken.
Overlooking its apparent identity crisis, the Log’s food is quite good and, with the 30 percent student discount, more affordable for the frugal-minded college student than many other Spring Street establishments. The NoCo meatballs ($10), dusted with parmesan, were a tasty starter, though the sauce that resulted from tomato, ricotta and pesto garnishes may have been better than the meatballs themselves.
The fish tacos ($12) were solid but pedestrian and the accouterments once again upstaged the main protein. The thin piece of fried cod, slightly mushy and bland, was boosted by a flavorful cabbage slaw and a simple, tangy mixture of hot sauce and vinegar.
The best meal of the night, and the best bargain, was the Logburger ($13), served with duck fat fries and topped with caramelized onions, gorgonzola, bacon jam and arugula. While not cooked to the requested medium-rare temperature, the patty was still juicy and flavorful. In addition, the sweet and salty cheese, bacon and onion combination of toppings proved to be a winning one. The thick-cut, skin-on fries, meanwhile, while addicting, could have been crispier especially given their menu price of $7.
Food options at the Log are plentiful and also include soups, salads, small plates, pizzas and family style meals that maintain the menu’s consistent theme of pretentious pub fare. These range from grilled flank steak ($29) and mushroom, truffle and ricotta pizza ($14) to mini chili cheese dogs ($7) and wedge salad ($11).
The service was attentive and amiable, despite it being a busy night on the Log’s opening weekend. And given these circumstances, I expect the food preparation to improve and stabilize in the coming weeks. The Hops and Vines management team is made up of experienced restaurateurs, with the Log being its third restaurant operating in the Northern Berkshires following the opening of NoCo Pastaria in North Adams last spring.
Despite the solid food and service, I found myself unsatisfied and longing for more at the end of my meal. One of the best ways I can think to describe both the successes and failures of the Log is its easy familiarity. The food and atmosphere are strikingly similar to Hops and Vines’ flagship restaurant as well as area competitors including The Purple Pub, Public and others in the crowded upscale pub scene. While this may appeal to some people, in its current form, the Log fails to differentiate itself save a 30 percent student discount on food. This redeeming factor may be enough to cement the Log’s place in the homogenous Williamstown dining scene, but for me, it’s not sufficient.
I hoped for the Log to rise as a dynamic reincarnated College landmark, a place to study, eat, drink and create lasting relationships and memories. If the College truly wants to recapture the spirit and identity of the Log, major changes and soul-searching are still in store. In the meantime, attracting people through good food and a pleasant atmosphere, which the Hops and Vines team provides, isn’t the worst place to start.