Owner James Boland says he saw opportunity when the former Paddy's Pub space opened up late last year.
DALTON, Mass. — PortaVia is bringing a taste of Italy to Dalton with fresh ingredients and generational recipes.
The eatery opened in the former Paddy's Pub in August, offering pizza, comfort appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and curated alcoholic beverages.
The Italian word "porta via" translates to "takeaway" in English.
Owner James Boland and his wife, Donna, have embarked on this venture while working full-time jobs largely for one reason: family.
"This is for my son and my grandson," he explained.
"He is 28 years old, this is a very tough industry and I'm not sure anyone was going to give him the break that I could. I've been fortunate enough and I'm grateful for what I've gotten and I needed to help him take a step. That's it. That's what keeps us working."
Boland said his son, Cameron Taylor-Boland, is "the flavor" of the kitchen and has been woodfire cooking for about a decade. His mother is a baker by trade, working as a kitchen manager for the Pittsfield Public Schools.
Boland's younger children Max and Lila also work at the restaurant.
The pizza is a crossover between Napoletana and New York style, meaning it is on the thin side with a substantial crust.
One of the best-selling pies features black garlic, ricotta cheese, and a black truffle balsamic drizzle. This garlic is fermented for three to four weeks to remove the bite and preserve its sweet taste.
The top-selling item has been the wood-fired wings that come in six different flavors.
"People always ask, 'Where's the pasta?'" Boland said. "I say I did 20 trips in Italy on business and amazingly enough, there's a lot of restaurants with just small plates that don't have pasta and they're still Italian restaurants."
Two menu staples come straight from Boland's family recipes.
"The sauce is mine from my grandfather's recipe — I've been personally making it for 30 years with tweaks — and then the meatballs, which have been going weirdly crazy. That's the only two things I'm responsible for," he said.
"It's a fully fresh menu, salad dressings, the wing sauces Cameron reduces in-house. Everything is fresh right down to the final piece, which was the mozzarella product."
Not wanting to buy the cheese frozen, Boland acquired a mozzarella recipe from the former owners of The Pillars restaurant in New Lebanon, N.Y., Paul and Patricia Bock.
The Bocks helped design the flow of PortaVia's kitchen as a favor and as family friends. Before they left, Boland told them he loves their Mozzarella en Carrozza and asked for the recipe.
Bock agreed and told him the ingredients off the top of his head while imitating the motions of making it.
"My wife and I went to the store, grabbed all the ingredients [Bock] mentioned, and tried them at home that night and my wife knocked it out of the park. I couldn't believe it," Boland said.
"It felt like being a kid because when your parents bring you to The Pillars for a nice dinner, the kids got the Mozzarella en Carrozza, which means mozzarella in a carriage."
Longtime friend Matt George came on as front-end manager, bringing what Boland describes as almost a lifetime of restaurant experience to the eatery.
"He's been managing since breathing, I think, and he has had such a good taste. He curated the entire bar, which we carry not one bottle of beer," he explained.
"Daring. Not only in Berkshire County but in Dalton, Massachusetts, it's a stretch and we're killing it because we're offering a little bit of a different idea. He curated the taps, every beer on tap has a reason. The bars are identical on each side, the bottles are completely identical so that a bartender can shift from left to right and have the same mechanical motion. This is the kind of detail that Matt George brings to this game."
George also brings his family's recipe for grappa, a pomace brandy, that is a part of the bar lineup.
Boland saw that the space was going to be on the market late last year. He wrote a 30-page business plan and secured the spot in March.
Though he had never owned a restaurant, he worked at Papa Joe's through school and had always been interested in the idea, it just never worked out.
Per his son's recommendation, an ilFornino wood-fired oven replaced the kitchen's convection oven. The front of house was transformed to emulate an Italian villa, complete with photographs that were taken by a friend in Tuscany.
Near the grappa behind the bar is a photo of an anonymous, cheery older man that is lovingly called "Pappa Grappa" by the staff.
"We want you to walk in here and feel like you're stepping into an Italian villa," Boland said.
He was happy to report that the town of Dalton and customers have been very supportive of his venture, already having a few established regulars.
"Dalton is extremely business-friendly," Boland said. "Really, all of the folks at town hall couldn't have been more helpful."
PortaVia is open on Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m, Friday and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m., Sunday from noon to 8 p.m., and Monday from 4 to 10 p.m.
pittsfield.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.