Wrapping Up New England: Deerfield & Stockbridge (Massachusetts)
20 Oct 2012 - We’re still seething from last night’s outrageously expensive, albeit “just OK” dinner at a Bennington restaurant that we knew nothing about. How did we find ourselves in this situation, you ask? Rewind to our dinner at Allegro restaurant on our first night in Bennington. Peter asked our server, “You’re a local. Where would you suggest that we eat on our second night in Bennington.” On hearing this, our server wasted no time in writing down for us the name of a restaurant in North Bennington (which will remain unnamed).
“Can you tell us about the food?”, Peter asked.
“Oh the food’s great!”, she declared, all too vague for my liking in retrospect.
What we should have asked her was to specify the cuisine of the restaurant and what price range it was. What should have tweaked our intuition was that our server was prepared to make the booking on our behalf because the owners of Allegro had an affiliation with the restaurant at North Bennington. Smelling of a vested interest, we nevertheless didn't react.
Arriving at the restaurant at 7:30 the following evening, we ducked into what appeared to be a bistro/ bar, a chaotic symphony of wood panelling and people. It was packed to the rafters and positively jumping. “No, your booking is at our dining room next door.”, the barman yelled over the crowd. Going back out the door and stepping through a separate entrance for the dining room, the vibe was austere and formal - white walls and ceilings, starched white tablecloths, silverware and crystal, and original oils on the walls. And silence except for subdued background music playing. No chatter or laughter coming from the other tables. Peter and I were the only one of three couples dining there that night. Bad sign. After we were shown to our seats and looked at the menu, we saw that the main meals were complicated creations that started at US$35 and went north. Uh ohhhh.
To be fair, our waiter was pleasant enough and did all that he could to accommodate us. But my overcooked organic salmon creation, stacked on the plate over copious other layers of which I could not identify, looked every bit like a homage to the Empire State Building. Peter thought his duck over a risotto was “OK”, but not worth the amount we were charged. Add to that a couple of glasses of wine each, and the bill at the end of the evening was very substantial indeed. Thank God we passed on dessert. Paying the bill begrudgingly, we would have been far happier with a steak and salad. While we have nothing against fine dining - my son happens to be a fine dining chef - we prefer to choose the restaurant ourselves after careful consideration and splash out when we have something to celebrate.
On a happier ending, tonight we dined in-house at the Four Chimneys Inn. Peter and I shared a Bouquet of Tossed Greens Salad for starters, followed by an 11 oz strip steak with mash and asparagus, which the kitchen were happy to split for us. The salad was sensational and the steak was done to absolute perfection. Enjoyed with a Californian Chardonnay (me) and a Californian Malbec (Peter), we were in heaven. And all we had to get to our beds was cross the driveway! Sometimes the best experiences are at the tip of your nose. I cannot recommend Four Chimneys highly enough, both as an Inn and a wonderful local restaurant.
Moral of the Story: Ask more questions! And if the restaurant doesn’t feel right, think nothing of apologizing graciously to your server, explaining that this was not the dining experience that you were looking for, and head out for a pizza instead. It’ll save you the indigestion.
Deerfield (Mass), a Place Of Continuity:
Today was our last full day in New England before driving down to New York City tomorrow, so we had earmarked Deerfield and Stockbridge in Massachusetts to visit on our last day. In retrospect, I should have booked us only for two nights in Bennington and one night in Stockbridge, which would have made our transit to New York shorter and a little easier. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Deerfield is an hour and a half’s drive south of Bennington and is a town unlike any other. An authentic 18th-century English settlement in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts, Old Main Street in Deerfield is lined with perfectly restored homes from the 1700’s - 1800‘s. With 11 historic house museums, and the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, visitors can get a firsthand look at what life was like in early America by viewing the clothing and textiles, the tools, the furniture, and, of course, the buildings themselves. The whole town feels like it’s been in a time capsule for hundreds of years, waiting to be discovered. The landscape itself completes the idyllic picture. With trees lining the main street in all their autumnal glory, shedding their leaves on the perfectly manicured lawns and quiet roads, this truly was the best of New England.
Note: If you can’t afford to spend too much time in Deerfield, just grab a illustrated map of Old Main Street from the Visitor’s Center and walk up one end of the street and down the other, reading the plaques in front of the historic homes and taking pictures from the outside. By the time you go to the Visitor’s Center, pay for your ticket, listen to the volunteer give you a lengthy introduction into the area and the homes, visit one or two of the homes and the Flynt Center (a local museum of early New England life), you’re looking at at least two to two and a half hours of your time. And because all the volunteers that conduct the tours are locals, they will want to share the history of their town with you in all its detailed glory.
Stockbridge (Mass), Norman Rockwell Country:
I had told Peter that Stockbridge was only a 20-minute drive from Deerfield, just to get him off my back. Uh ohhh, bad move. It was more like 45 minutes. And you already know how much he hates long distances in the car. Not that 45 minutes was anything major, but we had already driven for an hour and a half to get to Deerfield, we were about to spend another 45 minutes on the road from Deerfield to Stockbridge, then another hour and 10 minutes driving back to our Inn at Bennington. After our 6 hour driving debacle two days ago, Peter was feeling a tad sensitive about long-distance driving so I took control of the wheel for the rest of the day.
Arriving at Stockbridge at approximately 3 pm, we were taken by the charm of the town. A lovely village in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, it is peacefully situated in the heart of a quiet and beautiful valley. Since its incorporation as a town in 1739, Stockbridge has grown from an Indian mission to a quiet village of gracious living to multifaceted town that serves as a resort for tourists and a country retreat for many well-to-do New York urbanites.
For lunch at Stockbridge, we wandered into the Red Lion Inn, one of the few American inns in continuous use since the 18th century. The dining room has the kind of elegance reminiscent of your grandmother's days. Quaint and extremely popular, we only managed to get a table as most people had had their lunch by the time we arrived. But time was of the essence so we couldn’t linger. After all, the Norman Rockwell Museum, which was only a 7-minute drive up the road, was closing at 5 on the dot and that was the main reason why we were in Stockbridge in the first place.
For those of you who don’t know Norman Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978), he was one of the most renown American 20th-century painters and illustrators. His works enjoyed a broad popular appeal for their reflection of everyday American culture, and he is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios that he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine for more than four decades. The Norman Rockwell Museum presents the world’s largest collection of original Norman Rockwell art, including his beloved paintings from The Saturday Evening Post and the Four Freedoms. While Peter and I may have been tired when we arrived at the Norman Rockwell Museum after a day’s sight seeing, Rockwells original oils and illustrations uplifted us in a way that few artists works’ have done over the years. Decades after his death, his work is still doing what it always did, reach into people’s hearts and uplift them.
Thus is the life and legacy of a great man. And what a wonderful way for us to complete our New England journey.