Massachusetts

Where to Eat in Northampton, Massachusetts

Among the forward-looking options in the old-school town of Northampton, Massachusetts, is farm-to-table with a French accent.

By Amy Traverso

May 30 2017

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Bistro Les Gras

Photo Credit : courtesy of Bistro Les Gras
Bistro Les Gras
Bistro Les Gras
Photo Credit : courtesy of Bistro Les Gras

Northampton is the perfect college town: a charming, walkable cultural hub with a great art museum (at Smith College), boutiques, used bookstores, and indie bookstores—not to mention the ghosts of the new age, socialist, and women’s bookstores that thrived when I attended college there. Amazon’s tentacles now reach all the way into west-central Massachusetts, alas, and the bell tolls for quirky retailers just as it does for thee. Still, a little modernization has been a good thing for the town’s food scene: Once mostly tied to the whims of the 18-to-22-year-old crowd, it has so fully embraced the “eat local” ethos that it’s nearly impossible to find California produce anywhere, at least during the growing season.

One noble example: Bistro Les Gras, an ambitious French farm-to-table restaurant owned by husband-wife team Beth and Daniel Martinez. Everything from the condiments to the charcuterie is made in-house, and chef Peter Bunce draws on local produce, seafood, and meat for his creations. There are terrines and oysters, tartare and pommes frites, but the menu isn’t rigidly French: Fried pickles spice up the appetizer menu, and mussels come not in the classic marinières style but rather in a fragrant yellow curry broth. It’s just the right blend of earnestness, good technique, and worldly sophistication to please the high-minded locals.

Spring parsnip-filled agnolotti, ramps, and sweet peas.
Spring parsnip-filled agnolotti, ramps, and sweet peas.
Photo Credit : courtesy of Bistro Les Gras
Shellfish bouillabaisse with grilled baguette.
Shellfish bouillabaisse with grilled baguette.
Photo Credit : courtesy of Bistro Les Gras
A salad of warm roasted carrots, pickled raisins, watercress, pepitas, and buttermilk dressing.
A salad of warm roasted carrots, pickled raisins, watercress, pepitas, and buttermilk dressing.
Photo Credit : courtesy of Bistro Les Gras

Also Of Note:

Hungry Ghost Bakery Let’s not mince words: The prospect of being able to buy fresh loaves, pastries, and pizza from Hungry Ghost on the regular is enough to make us consider moving to the Pioneer Valley. Owners Jonathan Stevens and Cheryl Maffei and their bakers turn out richly flavored, crusty-chewy loaves in a range of flavors, from French to rosemary to spelt to anadama. They have also become leaders in the American grain revival (most of their breads incorporate some local flours; others are entirely local). hungryghostbread.com

Sylvester’s Sylvester Graham was a 19th‑century physician and health guru who advocated a vegetarian diet, cold baths, and, his most famous prescription: the graham cracker. Here, in his former home, Peter St. Martin and Maureen McGuinness have been serving Northampton’s best breakfasts since 1983. The banana bread French toast—made with homemade bread—is well worth the drive, but then you’d miss out on the corned beef hash. Bring a friend. sylvestersrestaurant.com

Local Continuing the local theme, this burger-and-fries joint takes grass-fed, mostly Massachusetts-raised beef and serves it American-, teriyaki-, southwestern- and build-your-own style. For vegans, there are two meatless and vegetarian options, and for the abstemious, a fine turkey burger. House-cut fries and onion rings are the crowning glory. localnorthampton.com

Amanouz Cafe Every town should have a Mediterranean eatery this good, where a broad menu (kebab and shawarma; tabbouleh and tagine) doesn’t sacrifice quality. There’s even a tuna salad sandwich, only this one comes accented with harissa. Don’t miss the sweet-savory bastilla, a filo pie with chicken, almonds, and cinnamon. amanouz.com