Using Route 2 as our map, we set out for a day of dining and attractions in search of falls budding foliage
The fiery display of oranges, reds, yellows, and even purples that make up New Englands glorious autumnal foliage is breathtaking, and this month is prime time for it. You can zoom along the interstates admiring the whoosh of color as you hurtle down the highway.
But a much better way to relish nature is to take a slower route and dawdle, detouring here and there to enjoy food and drinks on the way. Route 2, which stretches from Boston Common to the New York state border, is one of the most beautiful urban escape routes to get in touch with Mother Natures swan song, as the green growing season slowly dies in bursts of brilliant color.
As it winds past towns and hamlets and up and down hills, Route 2 home to the first scenic highway in America (the Mohawk Trail) switches between two and three lanes and even narrows to a single trail in some parts. Its peppered with quaint diners, country restaurants, and kitschy dives.
In Gardner, youll find one of Massachusettss newest brew pubs: the Gardner Ale House (74 Parker St., 978-669-0122). The Ale House had its grand opening this past Saturday but enjoyed a successful soft opening through the summer. Now Gardner not only has its very first brew pub, but also a good, progressive restaurant, too: Its rare to find organically produced wines in Boston, yet the Ale House has a selection at around $20-$25 per bottle.
Most of the brew kettles are housed in the basement, with just a couple for show in the bar. A brick wall, broken up by large window peepholes, separates the main restaurant from the open-plan kitchen. The food is casual American (pizza, sandwiches, entrees) with real offbeat fare, including the fiery four-alarm spicy buffalo wings ($7) and an imaginative pub-grub version of Coquille St. Jacques, which laces sweet scallops with a creamy beer sauce ($8).
The Ale House has five brews, ranging from the dry, smoky Naked Stout to the amber summer ale Summers End, which is made from German kolsch yeast. Or try the excellent X-IPA, which has a great hoppy flavor and a bold bitter kick and notches up a whopping 7.5 percent alcohol. The Ale Houses Oktoberfest perfectly captures the seasons transition with its light, refreshing traditional lager qualities.
Nearby, in Westminster on Route 2A, sits the 1761 Old Mill Restaurant (69 State Road, 978-874-5941). This picturesque old saw mill has a pond that several ducks call home and an open porch running alongside. The interior is a maze of rooms sectioned by old wood walls, one of which is the Cracker Barrel Pub and another a gift shop. The menu, which is served in both the pub and the restaurant, is moderately priced (entrees around $15). A portobello mushroom-stuffed pasta in a roasted tomato sauce ($12.95) was flavorful but nothing special; a Caesar salad was perfectly fresh and nicely dressed. But its the Mills quaint setting among big old trees with the pond falling into a stream thats the real draw.
As Route 2 winds past Erving, youll find the cheery-looking roadside barbecue diner the Smokin Hippo (20 French King Highway, 413-423-3220). The interior is plain, but bluegrass plays gently in the background. And the musty smell from the smoker meats are in-house smoked; the barbecue sauce is homemade taints the air. This is the place for lovers of perfect jalapeño poppers ($5.95), pulled pork ($4.95) and barbecue brisket ($5.25) sandwiches, each served on a fresh roll.
Farther out west, a short diversion south off Route 2 onto Route 9 lands you in the Pioneer Valleys hip, cultural mecca of Northampton, home to a low-culture museum: Ye Ol Watering Hole and Beer Can Museum (287 Pleasant St., 413-584-9748) is pure kitsch.
With barfly-friendly dim lighting and wood-pattern Formica that screams the 70s in the worst way, this dive is the antithesis of the gentrified, bohemian Main Street. For all the hundreds of blue-collar beer cans collected around the walls no bottles, those are far too highbrow the bar serves craft beers from South Deerfield microbrewery Berkshire Brewing Company and Westminster-based Wachusett Brewing Company ($4.25) and squeezes oranges on the spot for an excellent screwdriver.
Pop around the corner to the Lhasa Café (159 Main St., 413-586-54272), a Tibetan restaurant on Northamptons main drag, and enjoy Yaksha Gyathuk, a spicy yak sausage served with noodles in a vegetable stew ($17). At the other end of the bustling street, the Amanouz Café (44 Main St., 413-555-9128) offers a similarly gentle bohemian atmosphere and one of the best falafel sandwiches ($5.50).
Nothing follows a night at any watering hole quite as perfectly as pancakes. Back on the Mohawk Trail, Goulds Sugar House (Route 2, 413-625-6170) in Shelburne, has the look of a tourist trap. It is impossibly twee, with all sorts of bric-a-brac and gifts, including Goulds own maple syrup products. But its also just the spot for a pancake breakfast with homemade maple syrup. Goulds is open only from Labor Day until Halloween, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then again in the spring. Pancakes and waffles range from $6 to $9, and theres apple pie, too.
One of the best-known restaurants on the Mohawk Trail is the Golden Eagle (Route 2, 413-663-9834), which sits on the treacherous hairpin bend in North Adams. Its advertising rhetoric boasts a million dollar view, and certainly, the restaurant and lounges windows and decks overlook the spectacular, tree-carpeted Berkshire Hills.
The food is less impressive, though. The dinner menu includes such haute aspirations as escargot, but a lunchtime visit turned up a simple classic turkey club sandwich ($6.95) stuffed with sliced smoked turkey with all the character of supermarket-bought (i.e., none). Standard casual fare burgers, sandwiches, and salads ($6-$9) round out the lunchtime offerings. Great crispy fries, too.
For a beautiful mountain view, head to the remote Warfield House Inn (200 Warfield Road, 413-339-6600), which is set on a working farm with bed-and-breakfast facilities, in the hills above Charlemont. Dine in the restaurant or the Hawks Nest Pub, all of which have views of, well, trees and pastures, but pretty trees and pastures.
Dense, spicy pan-fried crab cakes ($8.95) and a baked stuffed haddock ($17.95), which flaked at the touch of the fork, were fresh from the stove. Gratis homemade scones and maple syrup made in the farms sugarhouse were a nice touch.
For some real top-of-the-world mountain vistas, head to Mount Greylock, which, at 3,491 feet, is Massachusetts highest peak. On a clear day, the panoramic view takes in five states: Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
Hiking or driving up Greylock is a stunning experience. It goes on and on and on, and theres really nothing but glorious trees (hey, this is what foliage is all about, right?) until you reach the summit. There sits the observatory and Bascom Lodge, which offers B&B-style accommodations and a snack bar serving burgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, etc. ($5-$8).
Speaking of mountainous, the pretty hamlet of Ashburnham, just off the eastern stretch of Route 2, has little more than a coffeehouse and a pizza shop. But Ashburnham Wine & Spirits (3 Memorial Drive, 978-827-5872) also houses an ice cream window. Now, the ice cream is excellent its made by Middleton dairy Richardsons but the sizes are astounding: small ($2.20) is large, medium ($3) is enormous, and large ($4) is nearly impossible. There is a kiddie size ($1.49) and also sundae toppings.
Still, the Maine Black Bear raspberry ice cream with chocolate chips and chocolate-covered raspberry truffles is so good, whos complaining? Especially as the stores patio has chairs and tables set under amber-colored trees. Perfect for soaking up falls magnificence.