Good eating in Western MA
November 15, 2008 10:36 PM   Subscribe

Northampton/Western Mass filter: I'm going to be in nearby Ashfield for six days. Can you give me a crash course on the area?

I'm going on a writing retreat in Ashfield shortly and I'd like to get my bearings fast with the help of some locals.

I know there are two places in town to get food (I have to self-cater) but I figure that'll get old easily and since Northampton is only 1/2 an hour away, that's where I'll likely be heading for dinner every night and for groceries beyond what I can get in town.

I've written down a bunch of places from Yelp which seem obvious (Haymarket Cafe, Amanouz) but what else do I need to know? What would be a good distraction or two in the area (besides the Emily Dickinson house)? Good grocery stores? Great bookstores?

My filter is that I don't want to have to drive more than 30 mins one way from Ashfield.

The most important thing: I will be spending Thanksgiving there on my own and I assume that everything will close up tight that day - true or false? If true, where can I get some basic, prepared Thanksgiving provisions ahead of time? It doesn't need to be fancy, just edible. For Thanksgiving stuff I will drive more than one hour.

Many thanks.
posted by micawber to Travel & Transportation around Massachusetts (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Here are some places in Northampton to check out while in town (I don't know about thanksgiving dinner accessibility, but there is a whole foods, and you really can't beat a burrito from Bueno y Sano):

Montague Bookmill: books your don't need in a place you can't find. They have a bistro / cafe type thing going on now. Worth the trip either way.

Bueno y Sano, some of the best burritos I have had, period.

Herrell's Ice Cream is phenominal, along with Raven's Used Book.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:31 PM on November 15, 2008

Atkins Farms, a much loved farm stand and specialty grocery store will prepare you an incredible Thanksgiving dinner.

Sylvesters is my favorite breakfast spot in the valley, followed closely by Jakes (on King St).

Osaka has great Sushi.

Make sure you stop into Faces.

Northampton Coffee beats the Haymarket hands down for good coffee, great tea and natural lighting.

As for distractions:

the Smith College Botanical Garden is gorgeous

the Eric Carle Museum is a wonderful place to let your mind wander

and, while I haven't been there myself, I've heard great things about the new natural history museum at Amherst College.
posted by a22lamia at 2:39 AM on November 16, 2008

Best answer: If you're in Ashfield already, the pizza at Country Pie is great, and breakfast at Elmer's will become a habit quickly (if your retreat is at the Wellspring house you'll be able to walk to either of these).

Don't just go to Northampton -- head to Greenfield for dinner at Hope and Olive as well, or Shelbure Falls for a meal at Cafe Martin or some fudge at Mo's Fudge Factor. Shelburne Falls is much closer than 'Hamp, so you'll spend less time driving. I live in the next town over from Ashfield and tend toward Greenfield much more than Hamp because it's much easier to get around (less traffic, easier parking, more useful stores rather than nuthin' but Sushi).

McCusker's in Shelburne Falls will have all of the Thanksgiving stuff you want. If it's not big enough for you, though, there's a Whole Foods right across the bridge from Hamp in Hadley.
posted by Framer at 4:03 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Smith College art museum is really awesome for a small collection. I've heard that the Eric Carle Museum is underwhelming, but it's right next to Atkins market - which, yes, is where you should definitely get the trimmings for a T-Day feast. Atkins is a bit pricey, but wonderful. Their deli makes a pretty mean sandwich as well.

Judie's in Amherst is great. They're known for really incredible Popovers, which is a pretty unique distinction. I don't believe I ever had anything there that wasn't awesome. I went to college in the area, and Judie's is usually where I'd have my parents treat me when I was sick of eating take-out burritos.

(Speaking of, Bueno Y Sano in Amherst really is the best for burritos. Holy hell, they're good.)

Siam Square in NoHo is really, really amazing. Good Thai food, and also amazing green tea icecream.

Amanouz, which you mentioned, is good. They really have the best tea ever. Be sure to get a pot of tea with your meal - it's minty and sweet and fantastic.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:06 AM on November 16, 2008

Best answer: If you'd prefer not to cook on Thanksgiving, Spoleto's on Main Street used to be open for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It's a little pricey, but good. Also, Packard's, at 14 Masonic Street, used to open up at 5PM on holidays and serve a pub-style Thanksgiving dinner (I used to work there, and can't see the owner, Bobby McGovern, really shutting down that tradition). As for things to do, my favorite when I lived in Northampton (for ten years, but that was almost ten years ago) was to simply wander aimlessly around Main Street, popping into shops and whatnot. Thornes Marketplace used to be good to wander in, and while you're there, you can check upstairs to see if there's anything playing at the Iron Horse-Calvin Theater-Pearl Street trinity of music spaces you want to see. Also see if Pleasant Street Theater has any good movies showing. I'd also just take a walk around the Smith College grounds -- it's quite lovely. Pick up a copy of the Valley Voice when you get in to see if there's anything going on in the Five College area. For groceries, there's a Trader Joe's at the Hampshire Mall (halfway between Northampton and Amherst) and a Super Stop & Shop out on King Street in Northampton.

Have fun. Northampton's a great place to visit.
posted by lassie at 6:52 AM on November 16, 2008

You can also head west to explore Mass MoCA in North Adams, (although that's a bit beyond your 30 minute radius).
posted by beagle at 7:17 AM on November 16, 2008

Did you see the New York Times article about Ashfield two weeks ago? ("Cellphone reception is spotty to nonexistent.")
posted by Dave 9 at 8:03 AM on November 16, 2008

Fresh Pasta Company on Main in Noho. I second Montague Book Mill, if you manage to find it. Bueno Y Sano (this is a potentially divisive choice).

Also: The Moan and Dove in Amherst has the best beer selection in the area, and is pretty friendly for a bar of it's type.
posted by Arquimedez Pozo at 8:03 AM on November 16, 2008

I've been living in Northampton for forever and I spend too much of my money on eating out.
Sylvester's is good, but overrated, in my opinion, but there's always a wait so obviously others disagree. The new popular brunch place is Green Bean on Main Street -- the food is fantastic, and they have some of the best bacon I've ever tasted, though they also have vegan offerings.

Williamsburg is a little closer to Ashfield, and they have the Williamsburg Tavern, which serves big portions of comfort food (nummy and huge open-face turkey sandwich on really good bread). My friends call it "pilgrim food" because of the general vibe of the place. The town also has a creole place called Chef Wayne's which I've never been to but I've heard very good things.

Bueno Y Sano (there's one in N'ton and one in Amherst) is good for Americanized Mexican food. For the real deal, go to La Veracruzana. Get the fish tacos, the enchiladas, or the tamales. (This is a divisive issue, but I do like both!)

In Northampton: The Dirty Truth (which has no real sign -- it's between Fitzwilly's and Veracruzana) is an offshoot of Moan and Dove, and is the place to go if you're into beer. (We had a Metafilter Meetup there last spring.) They have a gazillion on tap, and the people who work there can help steer you to something you might like. The mussels and fries are great, too, but stay away from the way-over-seasoned catfish sandwich.

Places my friends and I go out to eat most often, besides the above: Sierra Grill, Zen, Osaka, Thai Garden, Pizzaria Paradiso. If you're eating alone, the vibe at the sushi bar at Moshi-Moshi is really nice; the head chef Rocky can be a character.

I agree with the Smith botanical garden suggestion. Just walking around campus can be a nice break. And I think lassie means the Valley Advocate, a free paper you can find in newspaper boxes all over town.
posted by chowflap at 8:31 AM on November 16, 2008

As if my post wasn't long enough: Woodstar is a fantastic coffee shop with incredible baked goods and sandwiches. Lots of people come in alone and read/study.
posted by chowflap at 8:34 AM on November 16, 2008

If you want to stay within 30 minutes of Ashfield, Amherst would be a little far to go. I'll second Shelburne Falls. And if you want a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I've heard good things about T-day at the Whately Inn, though I've never eaten there myself.

Deerfield is about half an hour from Ashfield (depending on where you are in Ashfield). El Jardin bakery's café sells fantastic bread. You can visit Historic Deerfield, or for something completely different, the Magic Wings butterfly conservatory. If you take 116 east from Ashfield to routes 5 & 10, you can go north for antique shops or south for a couple of good bookstores: the Whately Antiquarian Book Center and Troubadour Books. South Deerfield is home to Sienna, one of the best restaurants in western Massachusetts.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by brianogilvie at 8:43 AM on November 16, 2008

Just piping in to second a preference of La Veracruzana over Bueno y Sano. Definitely better.
posted by explosion at 8:46 AM on November 16, 2008

I live half-time in Ashfield. Elmer's Store (one of the two places you referenced) is definitely the best place to eat in town, for the record. Despite retaining its ancient name and building, it's basically a gourmet place now.

I know you listed it already, but do not miss Haymarket. Seriously. I also must recommend Bread Euphoria right on Rt. 9 in Williamsburg, which means it's on the way to almost everywhere from Ashfield. They have amazing bread, yes, but equally awe-inspiring pastries and pizza. Speaking of pizza, Luna Pizza in Northampton is probably the best in the region (they make everything with fresh mozzarella--what a difference), excepting Pizzeria Paradiso, which is pretty high-end (about $18 for a large). Also, make sure you do not miss Herrell's. They are widely regarded as one of the best ice cream places in the nation, possibly the world.

Wrt. bookstores, to be honest, the Borders in Holyoke is probably the best new-books bookstore in the area, though note that I'm surely in a minority there. Though there are tons of local bookstores in Amherst and Northampton, I feel like local bookstores in any area are only in their element with used and rare books. The Raven is the only used bookstore Northampton that I'm highly familiar with, though there's also a hole in the wall called "The Old Book Store," which is aptly named. The best place for new books in Northampton is Broadside. There are a whole bunch of both kinds in Amherst, but I haven't gone to any of them enough to get a lay of the land.

Hope you have a good time. There's more than enough to fill six days here.
posted by abcde at 8:48 AM on November 16, 2008

Oops, linked to the wrong Raven. Don't blame me, even the logo is simiar ;)
posted by abcde at 8:54 AM on November 16, 2008

Response by poster: all hail the power of the hive mind! this is all awesome and exactly what i was looking for. i could mark all of you as best answer. many, many thanks.

(and the first thing i did before booking the trip was check the tmobile coverage map. it'll be just fine with me if no one can call me, actually.)
posted by micawber at 9:33 AM on November 16, 2008

Hungry Ghost Bread!
posted by clockwork at 10:27 PM on November 16, 2008

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