A Delicious Berkshires Weekend
Leave time to savor the views, on the trails and in the museums.
BY JENNIFER TRAINER THOMPSON / ILLUSTRATION JESSIE HARTLAND
It used to be that folks in the Eastern part of Massachusetts thought that the Berkshires were part of Vermont (or was it Ohio? we could hear them asking from Route 128). That’s changed, especially since J.K. Rowling touched down on the peak of Mount Greylock (the highest mountain in the Commonwealth) and established a new wizarding school, spreading the magic that locals have known about for decades.
The secret’s out: Eating, hiking and great art are a way of life in northern Berkshire County. It’s a perfect place for an edible escape in the autumn.
Start at the top. The views from the peak of Mount Greylock are unbelievable, with the winding eight-mile drive up to the summit a thick alpine forest reminiscent of Maine or Alaska. (Don’t worry—the bears and bobcats have more interest in hiding than in pursuing you on the dozens of trails spread over 50 miles of forest.) At the summit, you’ll want to hang out (there’s hot chocolate and board games by the roaring fire) or enjoy a meal at Bascom Lodge, the rustic 79-year-old stone and timber mountain lodge so quaint you’ll be convinced Teddy Roosevelt is lurking around the corner.
Spectacular views are matched by an ambitious menu (the chef cut his knives at Duane Park Café in Tribeca) that goes out of its way to highlight regional ingredients from family-owned farms. Dogs are welcome, and everyone eats family style—you may be sitting next to a hiker on the Appalachian Trail or a curator from the Clark Art Institute—with the prix fixe dinner changing nightly.
Save time for a hike. Mount Greylock State Reservation was created in 1898 as the first public land in Massachusetts for the purpose of forest preservation, and is just beautiful. Or maybe you’d like to bike up to the summit; ascending Mount Greylock is considered a badge of honor, especially for the packs of MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) you see on the roads.
Descending into the post-industrial city of North Adams (the smallest city in the Commonwealth), be sure to visit MASS MoCA, certainly one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world, and perhaps the quirkiest. With art ranging from playful to inspiring to provocative, you’ll find exhibitions that entertain kids and adults, at multiple levels, be it Sol LeWitt’s psychedelic work (don’t miss Loopy Doopy on the third floor), Anselm Kiefer’s solemn pondering of war, or the riotous post-post-Pop world Alex Da Corte has imagined. (Think a bejeweled boa constrictor made out of red fake fingernails.)
If all that art makes you thirsty, stop by Bright Ideas, a new brewery on campus started by Orion Howard (an oncologist in his spare time) that serves excellent ales. When The National came to town to play, Bright Ideas advertised the fact that their freshly minted National(e) was so good that a band named itself after their beer. A sense of humor helps. Across the 19th-century mill courtyard is Gramercy Bistro, a place for a grown-up artisanal cocktails and a menu specializing in Berkshire-grown organic ingredients.
While you’re in North Adams you might also want to duck into Sanford & Kid Antique Co-op, a two-story building down the street that has multiple vendors selling everything from ’60s wallpaper to ’50s linen dishtowels to Burger King toys. (Hey, this is a foodie weekend.) The building hasn’t seen a renovation since the ’50s, either, and the prices reflect that: Think flea market-cum-tag-sale with excellent prices and wonderful treasures. Food stylists have been known to travel from Boston to hunt through the stalls. Call ahead—it’s usually open just on weekends, and not every one at that.
You might also want to stroll a few blocks downtown to Public, a friendly, industrial-edged restaurant that serves comfort food, craft beer and a lively crowd. (With its extensive menu of sides, Public is a godsend if you’ve got fussy kids, too.) Carnivores won’t want to miss Jack’s Hot Dog Stand on Eagle Street, where not much has changed since this joint was opened in 1917. Dogs start at $1.30, small fountain drinks are a buck and you can rub elbows with locals who remember the days in this Italian city when the trucks delivered grapevines to the end of people’s driveways after the fall harvest so they could make their own grappa.
Heading five miles west on Route 2 to Williamstown, swing into Wild Oats, a community co-op that has a good assortment of local cheeses, sausages, spreads and breads, along with salads, prepared foods and daily specials, which you can eat at small tables in the front of the store or take with you on a picnic.
Picnic. That’s a lovely word. There are many picnic spots around town, approachable either on foot, bike or kayak, and the best place to start is by looking at a map of trails and forests, which is posted downtown at the foot of Spring Street in Williamstown. One lovely picnic area is on Stone Hill behind the Clark Art Institute. Over 140 acres of lawns, meadows and trails look down on Williamstown and the Green Mountains of Vermont, not to mention the Clark’s sleek new Tadao Ando wing. Save time to visit the extraordinary Clark, built in the ’50s by heirs to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune who, having seen the atrocities of cities bombed during World War II, wanted to build a museum far from the madding crowd, or urban areas. In a pastoral setting, this gem of a museum has strong holdings in European and American painting (especially French Impressionism), sculpture and decorative arts from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. By all means, go.
For a coffee break and Instagram-worthy latte, walk or drive to Tunnel City Coffee, a scene spilling out onto the Spring Street sidewalk with professors, students, award-winning authors, millennials with strollers and the merely curious. The counter’s staffed by local celebs—everyone from the school principal to the town manager—who dish up slices of seriously delicious desserts made with pure butter. If you’re visiting on Saturday mornings, stop by the farmers’ market across the street, where you’ll find hard cider from Bear Meadow Farm, maple syrup from Sweet Brook Farm, beef and pork from East Mountain Farm and truffle cheese and ricotta from R&G Cheese.
While in town, you’ll also want to drop by the Williams College Museum of Art, a noteworthy (and free!) teaching museum that emphasizes modern and contemporary art from the late 18th century to the present. Warhols, Pendergasts, LeWitts and temporary exhibitions are all there.
For a meal in Williamstown, you might want to experience The Log, a hail-fellow-beat-Amherst kind of place owned by Williams College that was a social gathering place for decades, and has been recently reopened with a $4.5 million renovation that makes it look… well, rather old. This place serves up nostalgia without irony; you’ll still find the bottle of Olympia Beer that your brother’s friend from Palo Alto put on the wall when he was a freshman in ’79.
Just south of town, in South Williamstown, is Cricket Creek, a grass-based dairy farm that makes delicious baked goods, and has a little store where it sells its own grass-fed beef, whey-fed pork, raw milk, cheeses and other produce from the farm. You can also pick up baked goods (or yarn spun from local llamas), enjoy a sandwich or have an espresso at the Store at Five Corners down the road.
For dinner, the fanciest place in town is Mezze Bistro + Bar, which draws loyal fans for its commitment to locally sourced food, always artfully prepared and paired with small-batch microbrews, locally distilled spirits and seasonal, small-production wines. There’s also Hops & Vines if you’ve got a hankering for oysters, craft beer and a fireplace.
At the end of the weekend, you’ll find yourself inspired, tired and well fed.