Massachusetts isn’t a very big state, though it does pack a punch for its size. Traversing it, however, isn’t as easy at it seems. One can go south along the Massachusetts Turnpike, which is the fastest way to go. Another option is to travel along the northern side via Route 2, also known as “The Mohawk Trail,” which is a bit slower but has some great views and hairpin turns. Finally, you can cut right through the middle of the state on either Massachusetts State Route 9 or US Route 20, both are slower routes, though they are easily the most historic and present numerous opportunities to step out and experience some local character and history.
After a recent visit to the towns of Lee and Lenox in the Berkshires, we opted to take Route 9 back to Eastern Massachusetts. Route 9 runs from Pittsfield, MA into Boston, winding through historic towns and hamlets along the way. Historically, Route 9 is an amalgam of old roads, including the Berkshire Trail and the Worcester Turnpike. We left Lee (which happens to sit on the MA Pike) and headed north to Pittsfield and began our journey along the slower route.
Many of our trips are punctuated with the requisite coffee stops, which usually means Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. Since we’re localvores, we feel we’ve hit the jackpot when we find an independent coffee roaster. While driving through the town of Williamsburg, MA, which lies west of the Connecticut River between Pittsfield and Northhampton, we accidentally passed an unassuming coffee roaster in a small building set back from Route 9. Realizing our mistake, we quickly turned around and headed right to Elbow Room Coffee.
Inside, we met Melissa Krueger, the owner, an eastern Massachusetts ex-pat who proudly calls this section of Pioneer Valley home. She proudly shared her technique and sourcing. In small batches of no more than 20 pounds, she roasts fair trade beans from Africa, Indonesia, and the Americas. After a couple of nicely brewed samples, Melissa had us hooked. As taste-driven coffee fans, we were thrilled and purchased several pounds of beans roasted that morning, including an amazing Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and an aromatic Flores Green Dragon.
Each sip of Melissa’s coffee will not only give us a great taste sensation but will also conjure up pleasant images of Williamsburg and our trip along Route 9. There’s nothing like taking the slow road for the maximum travel experience.
OK, full disclosure (in case you haven’t read our story): The Two Palaverers was the name of a tavern in colonial Boston. Though The Two Palaverers is no longer with us, more than a few colonial taverns still dot the New England landscape. Many of the remaining ones are tastefully preserved, but their taps have run dry.
Fortunately, the contemporary New England brew scene is far from running dry. Recently, we had a chance to visit the American Craft Beer Fest at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. Our intent was to taste every New England brew we could find. Though we’ve been hunting down craft beers for years, we had the pleasure of being chaperoned by our brother-in-law from Vermont, one of the most passionate craft beer guys we know. We used to think he came down to visit us because he enjoyed Massachusetts, but soon realized it was all a front as he was really just looking for an excuse to get to Andover Liquors, one of the better craft beer retailers in New England.
Here’s the summary: all six New England states are brewing – and brewing well. There is, fortunately, no uniform style. We found IPAs, porters, stouts, lagers, wheat beers, summer ales, etc. If you like your hops beyond the level of an IPA, you’ll have choices there, too. New England beer is like New England herself: historic, diverse, and never boring.
We’d also like to call-out and thank fellow New Englanders Jason and Todd Alström, founders of BeerAdvocate. These brothers, in our opinion, are doing great things not just for New England brewing but for beer in general. In addition to running an informative web site, BeerAdvocate hosted the American Craft Brew Fest. They also wrote one of the best pieces on New England beer that we’ve read. Thanks guys.
-The Two Palaverers
Here is a sampling of New England brewers at the Craft American Brew Fest:
Historic city. Esteemed seafaring heritage. Some say she has seen better days. A pretty girl with a dirty face. Very proud people.
The description could apply to either Naples, Italy or New Bedford, Massachusetts. Having spent time in both cities, we see the similarities even though thousands of miles separate them. Both, in our humble opinion, are worthy destinations and offer far more to the visitor than may be apparent on their often tired facades. They also have an intoxicating vibrancy, fed by well-needed renewals. That’s why we keep going back.
Recently, on a beautiful, spring Saturday, we headed down to Massachusetts’ South Coast for some research and relaxation. For those of you not familiar, South Coast is the term used to describe the non-Cape Cod coastal section of Massachusetts that extends from the canal to the border of Rhode Island. Like much of coastal New England, this region blends natural beauty, hardscrabble living, local rituals, and rich American history. It doesn’t have the crowds or the kitsch of the Cape, but offers travelers a rewarding, yet accessible experience to explore New England. On this particular day, we covered the entire length from Wareham to Westport and included our regular, requisite stop in New Bedford.
Our destination in New Bedford was Travessia, an urban winery in the heart of the city. Travessia is run by Marco Montez, whose love for the vine flows as beautifully as his wine. Marco is reinstituting the ancient tradition of vinification in a city, rather than in a remote, rural setting. He chose New Bedford and frequently uses locally-harvested grapes for his array of wines. Though he does business sixty miles from the capital of Massachusetts, Marco is well-known by the Boston wine community and justifiably so: he’s a passionate New Englander who cares deeply about his product and his ties to the South Coast. But we digress. Travessia was our expected destination, but another place in New Bedford became our unexpected destination.
On the way to Travessia, we passed what appeared to be yet another, undifferentiated pizza establishment. Laura grabbed my arm, pulled me to a stop and pointed me to the name, “Brick Pizzeria Napoletana.” I tuned out immediately, which is normally uncharacteristic for me (and Laura), except when it comes to pizza. We’ve had so many lackluster pizzas over the years despite searching endlessly for great ones. For some bizarre reason, we take our pizza seriously – very, very seriously. I’m trying rather hard not to turn this into a pizza post because that one is already in the works. Nonetheless, being too often disappointed, I find that the Naples designation applied to pizza only exacerbates my angst because it’s almost always not like real Naples. Hence, we moved on to Travessia for a pleasant tasting with Marco.
After sampling some great wine and purchasing some nice bottles, we headed back to the car. Again, Laura stopped me in front of Brick. “They’ve got a real wood fired oven in there!” she exclaimed. “Wood-fired bad pizza is still bad pizza,” I responded. She was undeterred and dragged me in. I’ve been married too long and know when resistance is futile. Once inside, my nose reacted to the aromas immediately. They registered “Naples, Italy.” Wow. Interesting. I thought it was fluke and fought what my senses were telling me.
I saw the Caputo Flour in the kitchen, so I instantly knew they took their dough seriously. Then I saw the fresh mozzarella, the San Marzano tomatoes, and the sprigs of fresh basil. I started a conversation with John Goggin, the pizzaiolo, who was kind enough to give a skeptic like me history of the restaurant, a description of the ingredients, and a review of the baking process. In fairness to John, I did tell him that I spent many years in the North End of Boston in a famed pizzeria, so we had some common ground. John informed me that his son Jeff, whom we just missed by a matter of minutes, was the owner.
I capitulated to both Laura and John and ordered a classic Margherita pizza. Though one of the simplest of pizzas, the Margherita is the true test of a pizza establishment. More ingredients only serve to mask imperfections. And that was the challenge because there would be no room for error and it would confirm my anticipated disappointment.
Then the pizza arrived.
It was visually stunning. It was cooked to perfection. It was delicious. I was wrong – dead wrong. And I admitted it to Laura. (Another reason we’ve been married for 20 years.) This pizza was Naples, Italy-caliber. No kidding. I wanted to give John a hug. This was an unexpected experience. Right away, I wished I lived nearby so I could stop in regularly, perhaps pairing a great Margherita from Brick with a nice red wine from Travessia.
In the meantime, Laura and I will continue our trips to the South Coast, somehow knowing there will be more visits to New Bedford, to Travessia, and to Brick Pizzeria Napoletana. And what about Naples, Italy? We’ll head back there as well. It’s a jewel like New Bedford. Fortunately, we can now experience some Neapolitan pizza without the hassle of a long flight.
Are there take-aways here? Absolutely. In fact, there are several.
Great things are happening in older New England cities like New Bedford.
Entrepreneurs like Marco Montez and Jeff Goggin infuse life into our historic cities.
New Englanders like John Goggin make a huge difference for customers.
Massachusetts’ South Coast is a rich and evolving destination with no canals to cross.
The key to a happy marriage is listening to your spouse and admitting when you’re wrong.
Life is too short to eat bad pizza and drink lousy wine.
-Rob Ciampa, Palaverer
Photos credits: City-data.com (Wikipedia Commons), Travessia Urban Winery, Rob & Laura Ciampa
We love a great beer or ale, but finding an equally-great venue that serves them up properly is often a challenge. That’s why the Armsby Abbey in Worcester, MA had been on our radar since we heard about its opening in 2008. They are serious beer connoisseurs. Unfortunately, our schedules over the past couple of years only permitted a few quick stops in “The City of the Seven Hills.” Last week, after a recent run through the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, we had a window of time to explore Worcester in greater depth. Stopping at the Armsby Abbey was the obvious choice for some light fare and some extraordinary brews. Several years back our expectations of a specialist pub were set by one of the finest in the country: The Brick Store Pub in the Atlanta, GA suburb of Decatur. They knew their Belgian ales; they knew their other European brews; and they knew their American artisinals. We soon discovered that our new place in Worcester did too – and then added some New England flare.
The Armsby Abbey, though a relatively small establishment, boasts a rich selection of American microbrews and craft European offerings. Beer enthusiasts will find many things to savor, but novices need not worry because the staff is quite generous with their assistance. We ordered Malheur 10 and Malheur 12 Belgian ales. Joe Scully, or any of the other talented members of the Abbey team, freely offer direction and recommendations. We spent time chatting with Joe during our visit about the selection and pairing processes. He is passionate and knows his beverage and menu offerings in great detail, something we’ve come to expect from better destinations in New England. Many of the Abbey’s brew selections change regularly, with current draught choices posted on a large, prominent black board across from the bar. The Abbey catalogues bottled beers separately, many with impressive pedigree and others lesser known, but equally good.
Beers and ales are not the only things the Armsby Abbey knows well. They also specialize in boutique distilled spirits and limited-production American wines. On the dining side, their “Farmhouse Menu” consists of fresh, artisan products, many of which are locally sourced and organic. Rather than make a substitution of lesser quality, the Abbey will simply not serve an item should they run out of a small purveyor’s ingredient. We were impressed by the menu’s variety, categorization, and especially taken by their “slates,” which are carefully chosen selections of farmstead cheeses, meats and various condiments. The “New England Slate” is a cornucopia of New England products from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, that also includes local honey from Princeton, MA along with mustard from Worcester.
It was great to find a world-class pub like the Armsby Abbey in Worcester. Their bias toward locally-sourced, New England fare made it even better.