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Heading out | amherst

Epicurean adventures in a college town

AMHERST -- This university town offers much more than student fare. On your way into Amherst, grab a bag of soft, sugary cider doughnuts at Atkins Farms Country Market. The doughnuts are made with cider from their own orchard, and one taste will make you forget that ''Atkins" ever meant low-carb. Then head for the town green and park the car. The other stops on your culinary adventure are within blocks of one another.

Martin Carrera opened his first La Veracruzana Mexican Restaurant across the river in Northampton in 1989. The Amherst shop opened more recently. The name is taken from his birthplace in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, and the original menu featured only greatest hits: tostadas, burritos, and quesadillas. Since, the offerings have expanded to include the most popular item on the menu, tacos de pescado, fresh cod nestled in two small corn tortillas and topped with cabbage, tomato, and the house ''secret sauce," mayonnaise with lemon and lime juices and habanero sauce. This dish was his brother's suggestion; he lives in San Diego, ''where fish tacos are the thing to have."

Also here are aguas frescas, refreshing beverages in popular Mexican flavors, from the sweetly sour tamarindo to the flowery jamaica with hibiscus. Most sought after is the milky, cinnamon-y rice drink called horchata, which, says Carrera's sister, shop manager Estela Carrera, is ''what babies are raised on in Mexico, minus the sugars."

Enfrijoladas, fried tortillas with black bean puree and cheese, are not Mexican but remind Carrera of his aunt's cooking. All menu items, he says, are ''things my mother would recognize."

Across the green and down a street is Fresh Side, serving pan-Asian cuisine with a twist. When Kent Chu opened nearly 10 years ago, the menu included everything from fettuccine Alfredo to Hungarian goulash. Then he overheard a customer ask, ''What kind of chef do you have back there?" New tastes emerged. Now Chu and his wife and restaurant co-owner, Claudia, feature foods they enjoyed throughout Asia while they were living in Taiwan before coming to Amherst.

The Chus' pad Thai trades bean sprouts for sliced onions and shredded carrots and forgoes cilantro. Instead of eggs cooked with the noodles, there are thin slices of omelet on top. Many of their salads incorporate an Asian ingredient, such as cellophane noodles.

Tea rolls are a cross between wrap sandwiches and spring rolls, and they are the shop's bestsellers. Filled with ingredients such as crushed peanuts, cilantro, bean curd, bamboo shoots, and teriyaki sauce, the rolls are sliced in half and propped on end to reveal their colorful contents; some, like the spicy curry tea roll with carrot, spring onion, and tofu or chicken, are served warm.

At Bart's Homemade, the first thing you notice is the cow. She's lying on her side under Plexiglas, licking contentedly on an ice cream cone. Tina Harding, the cafe owner, says the cow used to be eating a strawberry cone but it's faded to vanilla over the years. Named Bartalina, the cow sculpture has been around for decades, appearing first at the original shop, which opened in 1976 at a smaller location directly behind the current one. There are other cows, on tiles made by local artists and eating ice cream and drinking coffee in paintings on the walls.

Besides sandwiches, soups, and salads, Bart's is best known for ice cream, made from natural ingredients at a factory in nearby Wheatfield.

Chunky chocolate mousse with raspberry is the most popular flavor, but Harding prefers turtle, a chocolate base with caramel swirl and turtle-shaped chocolates. Barbara Fingold, who co-owned the shop with her husband, Gary Schaefer, until last May and still co-runs the company producing the ice cream, likes vanilla and coffee Heath crunch the best. That last flavor has been scooped here since 1976.

Atkins Farms Country Market, 1150 West St., Amherst, 413-253-9528.

Bart's Homemade, 103 North Pleasant St., Amherst, 413-253-9371.

Fresh Side, 61 Main St., Amherst, 413-256-0296.

La Veracruzana Mexican Restaurant, 63 South Pleasant St., Amherst, 413-253-6900.

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