The northwest suburbs of Boston have some terrific communities to head to for food, including Arlington, Winchester, Lexington and Burlington, though once you get beyond Route 128, you’ll start heading into such unspoiled small towns as Lincoln, Westford and Boxboro, with relatively few options for dining.
Carlisle is another rural spot whose narrow, winding, wooded roads and Vermont-like village center make it seem like you’re better off heading to neighboring Concord, Bedford or Billerica if your stomach is starting to growl.
And while there is almost zero commercial development in Carlisle, it happens to be home to the types of roadside places that you wouldn’t expect to find so close to Boston, including a country store, a farm market and a couple of ice cream stands. Because of its lack of development, it’s relatively easy to find peaceful areas where you can take your food.
Carlisle’s town center wouldn’t be out of place on the legendary Route 100, a tremendously scenic road that cuts down the middle of the Green Mountain State, and much like the communities along that road, you won’t find much more here than a church, a village green and a country store along with some beautiful old homes.
Country stores are pretty tough to come by in the Greater Boston area in general, but Ferns Country Store (8 Lowell Street) is front and center here and has a very authentic feel to it, with its front porch with rocking chairs and benches and its one-stop shopping where people can get everything from bread to beer to coffee to sandwiches and so much more. Ferns is a popular stop for bicyclists who travel the little-traveled roads around Carlisle and the surrounding towns, and you’ll often see them out on the porch sipping some water or juice and noshing on baked goods, and you’ll also find folks sitting on the attractive little patio off to the right side of the place, which is a perfect spot for a quick (or leisurely) lunch.
A somewhat more pastoral experience for people looking for food can be found a short distance east of Ferns Country Store at Clark Farm Market (201 Bedford Road), a classic farmstand that includes a greenhouse area, rows and rows of flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, an outdoor section with seats and tables and plenty of fields and woods for wandering. The farmstand itself tends to focus on organic foods, and you’ll find a variety of goods here, including meats, eggs, bread, cheese, maple syrup, produce, pasta, condiments and so much more. If it’s a nice day, sitting outside of the farmstand in an Adirondack chair with some crackers and cheese and maybe an apple cider will quickly make you forget that you’re less than 20 miles from Boston as the crow flies.
You might guess that a tiny rural town such as Carlisle should be a good place to get ice cream, and you would certainly be correct. One of the best ice cream stands in the entire Greater Boston area can actually be found here in Kimball Farm (343 Bedford Road), a destination spot for many who live in the northwest suburbs, as half of the fun of getting to Kimball’s is the picturesque ride out there. This old-school ice cream stand comes complete with picnic tables and benches to the left, right and out back; a petting zoo of sorts to the left where you’ll see goats, chickens, ducks and other animals; a two-section parking lot out front that is just right for sitting in the bed of a pickup truck or the wayback of a station wagon, SUV or hatchback with an ice cream cone; and, oh yes, some truly outstanding homemade ice cream that includes such flavors as black raspberry, maple walnut, peppermint stick, pistachio and mocha chip. By the way, as is the case with so many local ice cream stands, be aware that the “small” is actually quite large, so it may be best to go with the kiddie size, which is big enough for most adults.
There’s another old-fashioned option for ice cream in Carlisle, hidden away in a beautiful conservation space north of the town center. The Great Brook Farm ice cream stand (247 North Road) sits right in the middle of Great Brook Farm State Park, which is popular with hikers in the warmer months and snowshoers and skiers in the colder months. when the weather is warm, those in the know come flocking to this remote-feeling spot for ice cream that rivals that of Kimball Farm a short distance to the south. (By the way, if you’re the adventurous type, there’s a way to hike from the Great Brook ice cream stand to the Kimball ice cream stand, but more on that a bit later.) Much like Kimball’s, you’ll find some regional faves for ice cream flavors at Great Brook, and you’ll also find some animals on the premises, including cows, sheep, alpacas, goats and pigs. Generally, Great Brook Farm’s ice cream stand is open from April to October from 11 a.m. to sunset, but it is worth calling in advance in case they’re closing down early (or completely closed for the day) due to the weather or other circumstances.
All four of these places have areas where you can sit and enjoy food while also soaking in the laid-back ambiance of Carlisle, but if you’re looking for even more solace, there are a number of places to take your food, including the aforementioned Great Brook Farm State Park (984 Lowell Street). For a small fee, you can park in the main lot a bit west of the ice cream stand and traipse around on the many paths, through vast areas of fields and woods, perhaps enjoying a picnic along the way. The conservation area is quite large, with approximately 1,000 acres of land and more than 20 miles of trails, and there are plenty of water views, including some gorgeous vistas along Meadow Pond, which is pretty close to the ice cream stand. Speaking of which, as mentioned earlier, you can hike southward from the ice cream stand, eventually emerging from the park and walking on a few side streets where you can pick up a trail that leads right to Kimball Farm for even more ice cream – if you try this, make sure you have a good hiking app where you can see exactly where you’re going. (Getting lost looking for ice cream might make for a good story, however!)
Just west of Great Brook Farm State Park (and more or less connected to it) is a much smaller but equally beautiful area simply known as Cranberry Bog (parking and trailheads along Curve Street), and yes, if you haven’t already guessed, you’ll find working cranberry bogs here, along with a number of trails with stunning vistas of the bogs, plus ponds and wooded areas. This is a particularly nice place to go to at sunset, but any time of day is fine and there are some spots here and there where you can spread a picnic blanket or perhaps sit against a tree and eat some of the food that you got at Ferns Country Store or Clark Farm Market a few minutes to the south (ice cream from Kimball’s or Great Brook Farm might not travel quite as well unless it’s cold out).
Carlisle isn’t exactly a destination spot for dining, but it is certainly a destination spot for those who might want to escape the city for a few hours, and these four options for food are all memorable places in their own ways, especially since all of them feel like they might be three or four hours from Boston rather than only a half hour or so, traffic willing. The next time you want to head to the country but don’t have a whole lot of time in which to do so, definitely consider heading to this pristine little community northwest of the city for fresh air, some peace and quiet, and some very good food that is just meant to be enjoyed in the great outdoors.