Perhaps you’re headed west of Boston to see an art exhibit at Smith College, or to go leaf peeping along the country roads, or to visit Amherst College for a football game versus longstanding rival Williams College. Maybe you’re heading to the Emily Dickinson Museum or the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to enjoy some of Western Massachusetts’s favorite cultural attractions. Whatever the occasion, the region offers an incredible food scene to complement your travels.
Western Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley, in particular, is an attractive destination for food enthusiasts. If you’re visiting one of the schools of the Five College Consortium — Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, or UMass Amherst — you are in the Pioneer Valley. The nickname encompasses towns and cities such as Amherst, Northampton, and Hadley, which embody New England charm. With plentiful farmland throughout the area, the Pioneer Valley is a buzzing hub not only for students but also for excellent food and drink with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
From Boston, drive under two hours west for a perfect day of dining and drinking. Here’s a recommended itinerary.
Coffee and Breakfast
To kick off a day in the Pioneer Valley, Share Coffee Roasters is a first stop for ethically roasted and locally brewed coffee; there are cafe locations in Amherst and Northampton and a roastery in Hadley.
Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters is another popular coffee house with multiple locations throughout the area. It’s known for offering a bevy of flavored coffees both in house and as whole beans for sale; favorite blends include Christmas morning, toasted coconut cream, and sugar maple nut.
For an adventurous morning, go for a hike at the Notch at Mount Holyoke Range State Park; next, get doughnuts at Atkins Farms Country Market. In the fall, the apple cider doughnuts are the quintessential New England treat. Cushman Market is another gem, beloved by students and locals alike, that offers groceries as well as fresh baked goods.
In an area teeming with this many colleges, brunch deserves its own category. For a leisurely (and perhaps hungover) meal in Northampton, Jake’s and Sylvester’s Restaurant vie for the best brunch. The egg dishes at Jake’s, which also has a location in Amherst, reign supreme, while Sylvester’s offers a large menu accompanied by an in-house bakery. Since you’re already in Northampton, walk off your meal by exploring the town, which is rich with early American history and eclectic shopping.
Or, head to Hadley. Along Route 9, Johnny’s Roadside Diner provides classic diner fare. The ideal meal might include an omelet or eggs Benedict, pancakes, a milkshake, and even a cocktail; it’s impossible to leave hungry.
For lunch, head to the town of Amherst for sandwiches and salads at the Black Sheep Deli. The Black Sheep’s sandwiches are unique creations, such as the Southwest chicken (Buffalo chicken, bacon, pepper jack cheese, spicy mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion on a baguette), green monster (grilled chicken, basil pesto, lettuce, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers on a baguette), and c’est la brie (brie, roasted red peppers, spinach, and raspberry mustard on a baguette). Don’t sleep on the baked goods, either; they’re also made in-house.
Alternatively, Esselon Café in Hadley is an all-day cafe that suits any mood or meal, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare, as well as pastries and desserts. The large beverage selection includes coffee roasted in-house, an extensive tea list, beer, and wine.
The Montague Bookmill is another great spot to enjoy all day long. Set in a scenic location on the Sawmill River, it’s home to a delightful cafe and used bookstore where it is easy to lose track of time browsing and reading.
When dinnertime approaches, the options are plentiful and offer a range of dining experiences. Local Burger is a fast-casual spot in Northampton for a burger, fries, and a milkshake. In Amherst, the bustling Johnny’s Tavern serves upscale casual American fare; the truffle fries are a must.
Or head to the Inn on Boltwood in Amherst to try 30Boltwood, which offers an elegant and seasonal menu with locally sourced ingredients. (Note: As of press time, 30Boltwood is temporarily closed to the public in order to support operations at Amherst College but is set to reopen on or before April 1, 2022.)
About 10 miles north of Amherst in a former town hall building in Sunderland, Blue Heron is one of the more fine-dining options in the area. It’s worth the extra driving.
Dessert and Late Night
Wind down a perfect Pioneer Valley day by hanging out with cows and enjoying ice cream at Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley. It’s a fully operating dairy farm, so the ice cream is made right onsite.
But save room for more, because without a doubt, Antonio’s Pizza in Amherst is the last but most crucial stop on a Pioneer Valley food tour. Visit at the end of the night, perhaps after bar-hopping in Amherst from Monkey Bar to Stackers Pub to McMurphy’s Uptown Tavern. Antonio’s is beloved for its late-night slices; must-try pizzas include the chicken bacon ranch, beef taco, and tortellini pesto.