When people think of western Massachusetts, they often picture the Berkshires with their bucolic towns, picturesque mountain views, and abundant recreational activities. But just east of the Berkshires is an often-overlooked area of the state called the Pioneer Valley, which basically runs on either side of the Connecticut River and which can be accessed by Route 91.
Farmland, universities and colleges, and an array of historic cities and towns can be found here. For road-trippers and locals alike, some of the state’s most interesting restaurants and bars also call this area their home. A sampling of some of the dining and drinking options are given here (going from south to north), most of which aren’t too far from the highway.
The city of Springfield has some outstanding restaurants, and few are better than Chef Wayne's Big Mamou (63 Liberty St., Springfield), a local institution that features Creole and Cajun fare. Not too many New England places serve crawfish quesadillas, blackened catfish, and chicken etouffee, but you’ll find all of these (and more) at this tiny eatery.
Heading north out of the city, Tavern On the Hill (100 Mountain Rd., Easthampton) is only 10 miles from downtown Springfield but feels a world away. It’s a mountainside restaurant with jaw-dropping views of Easthampton below and the Berkshires beyond.
Expect new American and classic American fare at this casual upscale spot, along with some excellent wood-fired barbecue including ribs and brisket—and during the warmer months, the patio is the place to be, especially at sunset.
As you continue north through the Pioneer Valley, you begin to hit the university towns, and with it, lots of places with leanings toward healthy options. One such spot is a laid-back bohemian-style place called Dobra Tea (186 Main St., Northampton), where you can enjoy rare teas from around the world along with locally-sourced vegetarian dishes.
Dobra is a quiet and serene place, making it a good option for those trying to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Northampton. But if you’re looking for something on the other end of the spectrum, head on over to the nearby Packard's (14 Masonic St., Northampton).
A slightly dive-y feeling decades-old pub that caters to a mix of locals and college students, Packard’s is an escape of a different kind, where you can belly up to the old-school bar and grab a drink or two or head into the back-dining area and order some of the best wings in the city or their ever-popular stuffed potatoes.
Heading east to Amherst, you’ll find another institution of sorts, as Antonio's Pizza (31 N Pleasant St., Amherst) is a favorite of UMass students for its tremendous thin-crust pizzas that can be ordered by the slice for little more than pocket change. You don’t want to overlook their marvelous Sicilian pizza, either.
Heading north from Amherst will bring you to the tiny towns of Sunderland and Montague, the latter of which is home to one of the most interesting sites in the region—the Montague Bookmill.
This former gristmill sits along a scenic river and is home to a wonderful bookstore and a few other businesses, including The Alvah Stone (440 Greenfield Rd., Montague), an award-winning casual upscale restaurant with one of the truly great outdoor decks in New England. New American and classic American fare can be found here, along with beer, wine, cider, and cocktails.
If your focus is more on beer, continue north a few miles to Greenfield, which is where you will find. The People's Pint (24 Federal St., Greenfield). Part brewpub, part restaurant (the daily sausage plate is a must, by the way), and part community center, this is about as friendly a place as you will find.
It has a rustic farm-to-table vibe and a Vermont feel to it, which makes sense since you’re only 15 minutes from the border here. And just before the border is a downright romantic spot called The Farm Table (219 South St., Bernardston), which happens to be on the grounds of Kringle Candle in a gorgeous part of the state.
The rustic restaurant resides in a renovated farmhouse that dates back more than 200 years, complete with fireplaces and open-hearth oven. Options run the gamut from oysters, to pizza, to cheese boards, to fried chicken and steak—and as you might expect, ingredients are locally sourced here.
It is easy to overlook the Pioneer Valley as you head to places like Stockbridge, Great Barrington, or Lenox in the Berkshires, but if you feel like going to an area a bit closer to Boston that has a lot to see and do, jump on Route 91 and get yourself lost in this fascinating area—and enjoy some of its great restaurants and bars along the way