Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Review: Northampton Brewery Bar and Grille

Right in the heart of downtown Northampton, Mass, the Northampton Brewery Bar and Grille at 11 Brewster Ct. is one of the best places to go when you're looking for classic American cuisine with a twist. It is the oldest brewpub in the northeast that's still in operation and it prides itself on serving up some of the most outstanding food to go along with one (or many!) of their home-brewed fine ales and lagers.

The setup of the restaurant includes an outdoor, rooftop beer garden as well as a sunroom. It's made up almost entirely of windows, and where there isn't glass, the walls are made of beautiful wooden plank framing. Although often times there is a wait to be seated, the customers are encouraged to walk right up to the bar and grab a drink while waiting for a table. Once you grab a seat, feel free to ask your server for a game (like dominoes, checkers, or cards just to name a few) to play while you wait. At night, the Brewery's dim-lit interior, coupled with the warm glow of the two giant fireplaces, is a great place to get cozy with a significant other at a small table for two. But don't worry, because once the food is served, the night will only get better.

The Brewery is known for having a wide selection of menu items, all at reasonable prices, which include things like freshly made soups, sandwiches and Black Angus burgers on locally-baked breads, and entrees that range from plates of slow-roasted pork prepared with their own beer, to a heaping bowl of chicken and tiger shrimp jambalaya complete with smoked andouille sausage, vegetables, and long-grain white rice.

They also have a chef's page, which changes seasonally and includes items like roasted vegetable quesadillas in the early fall and an akara and hummus wrap in the winter which includes Nigerian bean cakes in a spinach tortilla with roasted red pepper hummus, mesclun greens, carrots, tomatoes, and red onion. Still, among all of these delicious options, the Brewery is famous for one thing on its menu, other than the beer and that's the chili. Unlike the normal ground beef and bean chili that is often found at other restaurants, they slow-cook generous chunks of stew beef with a variety of spices, plump red beans, and their very own amber beer. Serve it up with some tri-colored tortilla chips and you could very well turn your starter into a meal.

As for dessert, you can choose from one of many classic items such as homemade apple pie, "baked with love just like your grandma used to make," seasonal cheesecakes, or their specialty, the Black Cat Chocolate Stout Cake, made with their very own Black Cat Stout. No matter what you order, the servers are friendly, always ready with drink refills on hand, and willing to answer any questions you might have. The Northampton Brewery is a great place to go if you want great food, great beer, and great food that's prepared using their great beer all together in an eclectic and warm environment.

*All of the Northampton Brewery's menus are available at their website listed above.

Review: Black Sheep Deli

As you first walk up to The Black Sheep Deli of 79 Main St. Amherst, Mass you feel invited by its little hole-in-the-wall nature and its charming atmosphere with the shelves of bakery items displayed neatly in the windows and the crowd of customers waiting to indulge in one, or a few, of the many delicious items on the menu.

They bake all their own breads and pastries, using all natural ingredients and real butter, they offer a variety of side dishes made fresh daily (the Caramelized Cauliflower with garlic, olive oil, and parmesan is a great and healthy alternative to some of the heavier, yet equally delicious sides like Potatoes Dauphinoise, a potato dish layered with garlic, nutmeg, asiago cheese, and cream), as well as entrees such as deep dish quiches and macaroni and cheese. From the specialty sandwiches (3.95/half, 7.95/full) to the incredible selection of bakery items, as well as many other things, there is guaranteed to be something on the menu for everyone. The establishment also offers catering services with a wide selection of choices fit to please every palate.

When you go, be sure to try the specialty sandwich, the ”European,” which is chock full of black forest ham, brie, tomatoes, lettuce, and red onions, all on pumpernickel bread. Or, for a vegetarian option, the “Great Garlic” is to die for. They take a french baguette, spread it with a layer of incredibly creamy local goat cheese, then spread on whole caramelized garlic cloves, grilled portobellos, roasted red peppers and lettuce. They also offer the option to design your own sandwich by choosing your ideal freshly-baked bread and fillings at half sandwich and whole sandwich prices. And don’t worry…if there’s an ingredient on a specialty sandwich that you don’t like, or if you want it all just on a different type of bread, they’d be happy and willing to make any and all alterations to make sure you enjoy every last bite.

If you’re in the mood for something a little dangerous, opt for the Bittersweet Chocolate Espresso Torte, a melt-in-your-mouth, flourless chocolate torte with a hint of espresso flavor, that is covered in seasonal fruit (raspberries are the best) and home-made whipped cream. The great part about the cakes and pastries is that they can be bought individually, by the slice, or in larger quantities or whole cakes for events like parties.

They also offer a variety of iced teas and natural juices and soft drinks to wash it all down and, if in the winter months you’re looking for something to warm you up, they also carry a wide selection of freshly roasted coffees, various teas, as well as Chai and Mulled cider. They get very busy around lunch time, being nestled right in the heart of downtown Amherst between two colleges, so plan ahead if you only have a certain amount of time for a lunch break. If this is the case, you can call in your order ahead of time, and they will make it for you and have it ready as soon as you set foot in the door.

If you’re looking for a great place to eat, with an eclectic environment and a sprawling menu filled with only the best in homemade and local ingredients, the Black Sheep Deli is a must.

*All of the Black Sheep’s menus are available on their website listed above.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Where we're going...

My mom always used to tell me that growing up, I was never a fan of shows like Sesame Street or Barney. All I wanted to watch was Food Network. It is because of this, I believe, that I have developed a love for all things culinary. I love to eat, try new things, experience new cultures, and experiment with recipes, tastes, and flavor profiles of my own. I come from a large family, half Greek (and food-loving) and half Irish, and I know that this is something that has shaped my passion for food and the various ways in which food can bring people together. As a journalism major at UMass Amherst, I am in a great, diverse area that has a number of really fantastic restaurants just around any corner. So…my plan for this blog as of yet is to be able to take viewers to various restaurants all around Western Massachusetts, specifically in the Amherst and Northampton areas without them actually having to go! This way, all they’ll have to do is read a review, and allow it to help them make or break their decision to try out an eatery. As for myself, I hope that this blog will be an outlet for me to publish my work in an environment where everyone can see it...so that one day, when I'm applying for a job at Gourmet or Bon Appetit, I will be able to say, "Well hello Mr. or Ms. 'Super Important Editor-In-Chief' of my favorite magazine ever, I invite you to take a look at my blog, where you can get a feel for not only my writing style, but also for my personality and my passion for food." We’ll see how it works…it’s an experiment in the making, but I hope that it will prove to be a way to open many doors to many great opportunities.