At the beginning of our relationship, I traveled with Amy a lot. In my mid-twenties, and freshly removed from the backwoods of East Texas, the opportunity to explore and experience the subtle regional diversities of where ever she was working was extremely exciting for me at the time. Over time, the opportunity to just drop everything and take off with her became more and more rare, especially while fostering and since my cat adoption habit has now peaked at six fur-babies. Finding a pet sitter is far less difficult than securing Respite, however, and so a couple weeks ago I actually found myself packing up luggage for the second time in less than two months.
Driving shotgun on the Jersey Pike is like watching a docu series from the 90’s, with bad lighting and an even worse filter. It’s boring. Once you’re finally into the mountainous regions of the Berkshires, the grandeur of the rolling New England hillside studded with its Puritan stone fences, quaint cobblestone downtowns, red door churches built in the 1800’s, fancy boarding schools, and farm house mansions makes the mind numbing concrete drive across the Pike worth it. There’s no way to deny how stunningly breathtaking the scenery is up there. I spent eleven days touring England for my senior trip in high school, and honestly, all New England needs is a few more fields littered with wooly sheep and you would hardly know the difference between the two.
This trip, I had two nights and one full day to explore. Great Barrington is an odd little ski town begrudgingly caught between yesteryear and hipsters. The downtown is quaint of course, with specialty shops, art galleries, and upcoming restaurants such as The Well, which is the fine dining establishment we chose after the long drive up from Ceciltucky. The menu is “All American”, with everything from nachos to meatloaf. We decided to share our meal again, and so ordered the eight piece Crazy Chicken Wings as our starter and split the The Well Burger with a side of Truffle Oil Fries. Look, I know truffle oil is a hideously hated ingredient by self-respecting chefs the world over, but damn it I love it on fries! Well, usually I do anyway. Let’s start with what I found underwhelming, which surprisingly enough was the burger and fries. The burger was cooked exactly as we ordered it, a perfectly bright, juicy pink medium, and the fries were freshly cut, light and crispy BUT there was absolutely ZERO seasoning. No. Salt. At. All.
What made the salt’s absence even more obvious? The colossal wallop of fresh ginger in the Crazy Buffalo Wings. OMG! We both unapologetically devoured those tangy ginger wings down to the bone and then wickedly licked the sauce right off our fingers! The fresh ginger was impeccably piquant and complemented the (Frank’s) hot sauce, a surprising mash-up between the typical Americanized tailgating wings and fresh Asian ingredients. The flavor was absolutely explosive, as the ginger was so fresh and grated so finely that it took on a horseradish effect, that intensified with each bite. Yum-freaking-o! Looking back, I wish we had just stuck with wings and cocktails. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to start the meal with, what I suspect, may be the only menu item seasoned to perfection, if the bland burger and fries weren’t a specific-to-our-experience fluke, that is. It’s just a “kick in the balls”, as Gordon would say, to have an enticing plate of food set in front of you, just to discover on first bite, that it’s blander than a Piccadilly buffet. The salt shaker on every table should have given me a clue I suppose, but call me a snob, as I do not want the task of salting food I’m paying for. Admittedly, I am a persnickety eater, especially when dining out. My expectation is that the dish I ordered will be placed in front of me just as the chef intends for me to eat it. No tableside salt needed. On this, The Well fell short, with their signature burger and fries anyway. So, my recommendation is to order a huge portion of their Crazy Buffalo Wings and shamelessly annihilate them over cocktails with friends. Oh, and make reservations, as seating is limited.
The following morning, Amy took off to her account in Schenectady, which meant I had the day to roam about solo. I decided to skip brunch and stop in at a Mexican restaurant conveniently located across the street from Theory Wellness, the secondary reason I’d agreed to go tag along. You may be unaware that Massachusetts, the Blue Law Puritan State, is now one of ten States that has fully lifted the prohibition on marijuana. You can enter into a bud shop just like walking into your favorite packi now, albeit with a cop patrolling the parking lot. Also, if you plan on any future purchases, be prepare to pay Mass taxes at a whopping 20%! Not to complain, as I’m just grateful to have a bright, airy, wellness-focused retail store available within driving distance. After making a few new friends in the ever snaking queue at Theory Wellness, I trotted across the busy street and stopped for lunch at Donjai Mexican Restaurant. Upon entry, the place was empty and every table was stocked with a salt shaker (again!). Grimace. However, the hostess greeted me with a warm Southern style smile and so I left my salt shaker reservations at the door.
I ordered the Baked Stuffed Jalapenos to accompany the chips and salsa, as I was banking on the impossibility of a bland chorizo stuffed hot pepper. While waiting for my lunch, I sipped on an incredibly delicious Mezcal cocktail. Mezcal anything, with its flirtatiously smokey flavor, is fastly becoming my newest obsession. If you don’t know what Mezcal is, do a quick Google search, and then order it the next time you dine out. If you happen to know where it’s sold, please let me know, as I’ve yet to find Mezcal anywhere but well stocked restaurant bars. So, with excellent cocktail established, on with the rest of the meal. The basket of chips was generous, and the freshly made style char marks on each fried tortilla, which I’m particularly fond of, added a boost of flavor. The salsa? I can’t remember it. Bland. The chorizo stuffed jalapeno peppers? B. L. A. N. D. BLAND! Jalapenos are spicy! Chorizo is spicy! How in the hell do you stuff a spicy chili pepper with spicy pork sausage and create a BLAND dish? Thank the spice heavens the Mezcal was able to save the day. At this juncture, the idea of eating another meal in Great Barrington was making me feel cranky.
So, I decided to take a walk after my disappointingly flavorless lunch to help brighten my mood back up. A quick Google Map search revealed the hiking trails were just a bit too far from the hotel to walk there, hike, and then walk back again, but there wasn’t a park for miles either. The closest option? A cemetary. Hey, don’t knock before you try it. Cemeteries are exquisitely maintained little pockets of peaceful escapes, which usually back up against uninhabited land of some sort. They’re definitely quiet and large enough to get a good walk in. If you are ever caught in a rural town, or lost in a sensory overloading city, and can’t find a place in nature to escape just check out the local cemeteries. Bring a book or pack a lunch even, as they are littered with really nice park benches and rarely experienced views of nature.
After my walk, I headed back to the hotel room and still had an hour to indulge in daytime cable TV (that we don’t have at home) before Amy got back from work. Once she arrived, I went for another windy walk down to an antique store she wanted to check out. The sign read, “closed for the season”, so we meandered the other direction towards a book shop I’d noticed earlier that morning. Don’t tell Marie Kondo, but we already have more books on our shelves at home than we can read. Despite that, we popped in the book shop anyway and yes, made additional book purchases, along with a few nerdy Star Wars composition books and Shakespeare themed candles I just had to have. Hey, it sparked joy! It was a fun little shop, except for the disapproving look the store owner gave us at checkout upon discovering Amy’s from Springfield, MA, which we had a good laugh about 0.1 seconds outside of earshot. Aahh, the Berkshires! So accidentally pretentious. Ha! We left the bookstore in stitches after our “Southern shaming”, and with little else to do until dinner, made our way back to the hotel room. Amy kept attempting to engage me in making dinner plans with her, but I was feeling rather oh-hum about dining out at another Salt-Shakers-R-Us restaurant. She was on her own, and finally chose Cafe Adam, because her first choice, The Prairie Whale, was closed due to seasonal hours. Luckily for me, the curse of the salt shaker would soon be remedied.
The food at Cafe Adam is delicious! We started with their “overly spiced +ADDICTIVE” potato chips, and yes they were very addictive! Yum! For dinner we ordered the Confit Quebec Duck Leg and Hanger Steak. Each dish was excellent! It was my first experience with the luscious self basted duck in all its gloriously crispy and succulent glory! I may have fallen in love. Eye. Rolling. Delicious. Seriously, I will travel to GB again just for that confit duck leg! Drooling! Thankfully, our last impression dining in Great Barrington was a well fed one. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse after a long, grueling day of Jersey Pike/I 95 travel than a disappointing dinner. It’s nice to know whenever we are in the area again, Cafe Adam will be there offering a welcoming reprieve from the open road, with comforting cocktails and satisfying food. No salt shaker required.
The following morning, we hit the road a bit early to ensure we made it to Beacon, NY before lunch. We decided we had to have breakfast crepes from Royal Crepes and Cafe and Amy, of course, needed a cup of pour over to-go from Bank Square Coffeehouse. The crepes were surprisingly hearty, and paired with the side of fresh assorted spring greens made the perfect brunch. I decided to take a risk and ordered a Turkish coffee too. Honestly, I really sort of hate the coffee shops Amy loves and usually stand in some distant corner (if said shop is big enough for corners) somewhere and impatiently wait to leave without ordering. The small European style cafe feel at Royal Crepes is much more my vibe. Plus, the Turkish coffee was absolutely fantastic! I’m super picky about coffee. Once you’ve had a cup o’joe in a place like Manhattan, it becomes really difficult to swallow mediocre bla. From the dainty cup and saucer, to the golden self serve carafe, to the anise flavored candy on the side, Turkish coffee, like they are doing it at Royal Crepes, is something I will never pass up again.
Also, I can’t forget a very noteworthy cheesemonger we happen chanced upon, as we crossed the street from Bank Square Coffeehouse. Please be sure to stop by Beacon Pantry for their brilliant selection of cheeses, gourmet speciality items, and/or a bite to eat from their cafe. Among dried pasta and cheese twists, I also decided on a healthy wedge of Alp Blossom cow’s cheese. Look how beautiful it is! So, yummy too. Beacon is a cute little town that makes you want to relocate there. Be sure to park for a spell, if you are ever driving through the area.
Overall, and salt shakers asides, I very much enjoyed our quick trip through the Berkshires. It felt nice to get out of Ceciltucky for a couple nights and stretch my legs out in the big, beautiful elsewhere for while. Plus, it’s so much freaking fun to arrive back home, pet and love on my little pride of kitties, and plan out all the amazing meals we will prepare with our supply run of goodie bags.