If you ever should find yourself in North Adams – and if so, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re probably lost – take heart, because despite your isolated location there’s an unexpected treat: a very good fine-dining establishment called Gramercy Bistro, which (conveniently for me) is about a ten-minute walk from the ballpark. Gramercy boasts a pretty substantial wine list, which of course is lost on me, but the food itself was excellent. I started with a green salad with champagne vinaigrette and fresh local goat cheese; the cheese was excellent, creamy with just a little bit of tang, and the dressing was very good but needed salt (remember that). For an entrée, I went with a seared halibut fillet with French lentils and asparagus, topped with a saffron beurre blanc. The fish was outstanding – very fresh, which is impressive given how hard it must be to get fresh fish in a place that’s a solid two hours from even a medium-sized airport. The saffron beurre blanc was also excellent, as were the sides – but again, we were a little light with the salt, especially on the fish, which I think always needs a heavy hand with the NaCl. Total cost, including a small bottle of sparkling water and a 20% tip, was $39, and I was in and out inside of 45 minutes.
The next morning I found myself in Brattleboro, Vermont – not sure how I got there – and went to Chelsea Royal Diner for a classic Vermont breakfast. They get massive points for their menu, which offered the sort of combo plate I always want when I’m having breakfast somewhere for the first time. Their Royal Feast comes with two eggs, bacon, ham, hash browns, two pancakes, and half a Belgian waffle. The waitress asked if I wanted real maple syrup – I said yes, because I couldn’t even believe this was a question – and it turns out that that costs extra ($1.25 for about a half-cup), which wouldn’t have deterred me from ordering it but struck me as really weird. Anyway, the rundown: the eggs (scrambled) were fine; the hashbrowns and bacon were excellent, with the bacon not overcooked and the hashbrowns still soft in the middle; the pancakes and waffle were fine, nothing spectacular, and both definitely needed the syrup for flavor and also because they were a touch dry. (I told them to skip the ham, because I can’t stand it.) That with a cup of tea (Lipton – meh) ran about $11 plus tip.
Next stop was Keene, New Hampshire, where I went back to a Thai restaurant on Main Street, Thai Garden, that I’ve been to several times before. I’d liked it in the past – nothing great, but solid-average, a 50 on the all-purpose scouting scale – but was really disappointed this time. They had pad see ew on the specials menu, so I went with that, and found the dish too sweet, and the chicken tasted a little past its prime. Main Street’s pretty hoppin’, at least by NECBL standards, so I’ll pick another place next year.
I stayed in Hanover the next two nights and ate two meals at Lou’s, a bit of a local legend and the kind of greasy-spoon place I really fall for. Their lunch menu is very heavy on hamburgers; I didn’t want to go that way, and my meal was so-so. I ordered a special, the “Chicken Philly Bomb,” a sandwich served on a warm ciabatta roll with marinated chicken, onions, peppers, and mushrooms (I had them hold the cheese). Everything was clearly fresh, but the sandwich tasted completely unsalted. I have no idea if there’s some law that says restaurants in tiny New England podunks have to hold the salt, but it was a recurring problem. I was tempted to stop by a McDonald’s and stuff my pockets with the little white-with-red-printing salt packets, fearing there might be an unreported shortage of sodium chloride plaguing the region. These fears were only partly assuaged the next morning at breakfast; I went with another special, the “Southern Country Breakfast,” which was a simple plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, a corn muffin that had been split and grilled, and grits. The grits had no taste, and, as you might expect, no salt, but I don’t like grits anyway so this was no loss. The muffin was delicious, and splitting and grilling a corn muffin is something I intend to try at home, but serving that sugar-filled corn cake anywhere south of Baltimore will get you shot. The eggs were clearly made to order, and only required a tiny bit of additional salt.
My lunch visit to Lou’s included an interesting run-in with two loonies. I was seated next to a professor and a grad student, who were bloviating in only the way that Ivy League professors and grad students can do. My personal favorite tidbit was the assertion that because the Microsoft Word spellchecker does not recognize the words “heteronormative” and “neoliberal” (I can now confirm this, as I now have two red squigglies mocking me for, as it were, making up words), the program clearly represents a right-wing bias on the part of the programmers and/or Microsoft. The grad student had a friend who was writing his dissertation on this very subject, which did little to restore any faith I might have left in American higher education. This silliness degenerated into a diatribe by the professor on how liberals are smarter than conservatives and therefore they use longer words in their works – setting E.B. White spinning on his axis at 800 miles an hour. (Oddly enough, Firefox’s spell-checker doesn’t recognize “heteronormative” or “neoliberal” either, so apparently I’m using a right-wing browser. It also doesn’t recognize “squigglies.” I’m not sure what that means.)
Torrington, the last stop on my tour, was a culinary dud. An Ecuadorian restaurant that used to be a five-minute walk from the ballpark has apparently closed, and its replacement wasn’t open for dinner. (The Ecuadorian place was an offshoot of a still-extant restaurant on Winsted Street, Northern Galapagos, so if you end up stuck in Torrington, you might not starve.)
One final note: At the Vermont Mountaineers’ stadium in Montpelier, there’s a concession stand that serves some pretty good barbecue – so good, as one local put it, that nearby residents will call in take-out orders during games without actually watching any baseball. I had a pulled-pork sandwich with their homemade “medium” sauce, which I thought was a little on the hot side. The portion was generous, and the meat was pretty tasty; the pork was finely shredded, so it got a little bit dry. I’ve had better Q down south, but this definitely wins the prize for the best Q I’ve ever had at a ballpark.