New restaurant moored to long tradition

CANAAN–Some people think of it like an old friend who’s come back to town, having changed a bit for his travels. It’s the feel Joseph Massero, the new owner of the Backwater Bar & Grill, is shooting for. Under different owners and by different names, the restaurant/tavern that has occupied the site has been a local dining experience. Then it was vacant for two years until August 3, when the restaurant re-opened under the former Backwater name.

Tammy Flaherty, a life-long Canaan resident, was one hoping the restaurant would re-open. She has fond memories of what was then the Red Inn, where, as a young child, she would see friends and neighbors. “It was very family-oriented,” said Ms. Flaherty.

Apart from the Cottage and Crow’s Nest at Magpie, both on Route 295, the Backwater is the only other restaurant in town and the only one on the east end. Ms. Flaherty can recall when local residents had several restaurant/tavern choices, including the Queechy Lake Motel Restaurant, the diner at the B3 truck stop (most recently Lily’s), Poppy’s and the Pyrenees. In this economy where the threat of a double-dip recession looms, the fact and the timing of this re-opening is a pleasant surprise to people here.

Re-opening the Backwater was not a turn-key operation. A contractor by trade and previous owner of a Pittsfield sports bar, Mr. Massero knew what he would be facing when he was approached about purchasing the business over a year ago. Work, some of it extensive, was required to the building structure, septic system and well. The building work that Mr. Massero either completed or supervised included the gutting and rebuilding the kitchen, removal of carpets and installation of the floors in the dining area, converting the former wait station into a recreation/entertainment area and restoring two fireplaces in the dining areas to working order. In addition, the septic system and well were modernized to bring them both back to code.

At the same time, it was necessary to continually monitor the process for the completion of various approvals. After an anxious wait of several months, Mr. Massero recently received the establishment’s liquor license.

But he sees much yet to do, including window and roof replacements, completion of renovations to a second private room and, longer term, the construction of an outdoor dining deck on the north side of the building.

Helping Mr. Massero achieve his vision for the restaurant and tavern is long-time friend and head chef Vernon Kohlenberger Jr. Mr. Kohlenberger, a self-proclaimed “restaurant brat” grew up working in the three Pittsfield area restaurants owned by his father, and by age 15 was an experienced line cook. He also spent summers at his grandparents’ farm in East Chatham and remembers the Backwater’s predecessors. Mr. Kohlenberger’s brother Lee is the tavern manager. The restaurant’s “family-run” feel is further bolstered by the fact that Mr. Massero’s adult children take shifts waiting and busing tables and that the remaining wait and tavern staff reside locally.

Much will be familiar to those knew the old Backwater. The books still fill the shelves, the ceiling beams remain exposed and Marinated Jack Daniels Steak is still on the menu.

Mr. Massero seeks to fulfill the expectations of former patrons while adding his own mark. He has introduced a more extensive array of broiled and fried seafood dishes, inspired by the restaurant’s location on Queechy Lake. The “close-to-the-water” theme is further emphasized by the availability of dock space for up to 10 boats, which, with more direct access between kitchen and dock area, permits dockside dining. The docks are being used every night, according to Mr. Massero. On one recent evening, boaters tied their boats together to enable wait staff to more easily serve directly on them.

Another new touch is the introduction of entertainment. A vocalist performs in the dining room on several evenings and the newly expanded space adjacent to the tavern area is suitable for small combos.

The Backwater Bar and Grille is open seven days, 11am to 11 pm weekdays to 1 am weekends. Space is available for private parties and group functions.


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