A little bit of everything: Our indelible eats from 2019

  • Special Combination Beef Noodle Soup at Pho Boston in Florence. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Pie Bar in Florence, getting ready for the 2019 holiday rush. Must try: Their lemon chess pie. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At Henion Bakery in Amherst, glazed donuts have deeply browned outsides that give way to pillowy insides, according to Amherst resident and donut enthusiast Bennett Hazlip. SUBMITTED PHOTO/GABI KENNEDY COSTA 

  • Left, Dave Clegg, Dave Schrier, and Jessica Pollard, all owners of Daily Operation, a restaurant in Easthampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Terry Ragasa, owner of Sutter Meats, breaks down a heritage breed pig from Sage Farm in Montague during a butchery class at the Northampton business in 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Iya Sushi and Noodle Kit chen in South Hadley. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Homemade tomato galette with tomatoes picked from Crimson & Clover Farm in Florence. SUBMITTED PHOTO/SOPHIE MAKI 

  • Tomatoes from Crimson & Clover Farm in Florence. SUBMITTED PHOTO/GRETA JOCHEM

  • Strawberries from Crimson & Clover Farm in Florence. SUBMITTED PHOTO/GRETA JOCHEM

  • The meatloaf sandwich from Daily Operation in Easthampton. SUBMITTED PHOTO/DOMINIC PERRI  

Published: 1/3/2020 1:45:01 PM

Last year, the Gazette covered plenty of comings and goings on the Valley’s food scene — from the arrival of Vietnamese restaurant Pho Boston in Florence and the reboot of the Chesterfield General Store to the closures of downtown Northampton restaurants like ConVino Wine Bar, Viva Fresh Pasta and McLadden’s. (The longtime Irish pub will soon be Wurst Haus, a spinoff of the iconic Springfield German restaurant the Student Prince.)

We also wrote about the new cookbook, “Curry & Kimchi,” from the couple behind Coco and The Cellar Bar in Easthampton, the buzz around the idea for a pop-up Jewish deli called Lichter & Levin, and what one writer dubbed “the best donut in western Massachusetts,” at Henion Bakery in Amherst.

Along the way, we experienced some of the Valley’s best offerings ourselves. This is by no means a comprehensive list; it’s just a sample of what some of us staffers enjoyed in 2019 in our little corner of the world, and beyond. What were some of your most memorable meals from last year, and what do you look forward to trying in 2020? Let us know at opinion@gazettenet.com.

Brooke Hauser, editor in chief: The meatloaf sandwich at Daily Operation in Easthampton. I split the sandwich with a girlfriend, and I wish I’d gotten my own. I remember after the meal going up to the counter and telling Chef Dave Schrier how much I loved it, but it’s only recently that I learned more about what goes into it. Basically, the meatloaf, part beef and part pork, is made in the style of a French country pâté, flavored with garlic, ginger and scallion, then seared, brushed with a sweet-and-sour glaze and served on a buttery bun made in house. Topped off with Kewpie mayo, pickles, cilantro and sweet onion, it’s ridiculously delicious. Order a slice of black bottom maple pie made by Dave’s wife, Jessica Pollard, and worry about calories some other day.

Kyle Grabowski, staff writer:Daily Operation’s kung pao cauliflower kept me returning for more. It seems healthier than it is because of the vegetables; frying the cauliflower and tossing it in the sauce provides a rich texture but not too much to slow you down. The sauce, thick and tangy, spills from the cauliflower to the brown rice bed and celery slices, expanding the smoky flavor. I got mad when spring came because they took it off the menu.

Greta Jochem, staff writer: Many of the best dishes I ate in 2019 were made by my friends from our farm share from Crimson & Clover Farm in Florence. We ate sweet potato fries, tomato galettes, strawberry shortcake, pumpkin pie, kimchi, and blue hubbard squash bisque soup. Can’t wait until they reopen this spring!

Jacquelyn Voghel, staff writer: While it’s not a food, I’m very appreciative of the creative seasonal tea lattes offered at Haymarket Cafe — it’s hard to find many places that go beyond the standard chai latte. My favorite is the “Log Lady,” which is made with lapsang souchong tea (known for its smoky pine flavor), maple syrup and steamed milk. The very apt “Twin Peaks” reference is a bonus.

Bera Dunau, staff writer: Oh, man, this has been such a great year with such amazing food. But I think the one thing I’m going to highlight are the bulgogi tacos at Kisara in Easthampton. Bulgogi meat, sushi rice, avocado, lettuce, eel sauce, cream cheese and crunch, all wrapped up in corn tortillas — they’re pretty much the perfect appetizer and a must-have if you go there.

Steve Pfarrer, staff writer: Probably the potato-tomato casserole my wife occasionally makes, from an Italian vegetarian cookbook. You slice potatoes very thin and layer them with diced, seeded tomatoes, mozzarella, rosemary and a bit of basil (I think). Bake it until the top layer of spuds is just a bit crusty. We never seem to have leftovers, as it gets gobbled up in one sitting.

Luis Fieldman, staff writer: On a recent trip to Mexico City, my family and I discovered a restaurant near the Palacio Nacional where I had some of the best chicken mole that I can remember — aside from my mother’s and grandmother’s, of course. I went with the poblano mole, which is a dark red sauce made from mulatto peppers. Spicy and flavorful, it paired well with my mango margarita. 

Chris Goudreau, staff writer: One of my favorite culinary experiences this year has been ordering the Classic Tokyo Style Ramen at Iya Sushi and Noodle Kitchen in South Hadley. It’s my go-to place before going to perform at the Thirsty Mind Thursday open mic where last winter I often went with a friend to try out some new songs. To me, there’s nothing better in the winter than spending time with a friend over a bowl of spicy and hearty ramen. Humbug to chicken noodle soup — there’s a better alternative. 

Nicole Chotain, designer: A pumpkin crisp dessert square from Herrell’s Ice Cream & Bakery in Northampton; it was the perfect treat after a night out enjoying Northampton’s Jazz Fest.

Dave Eisenstadter, features editor: Sutter Meats in Northampton has this amazing stuffed, deboned chicken with some kind of sausage inside. Is it linguica? Whatever it is, it is hard to imagine a better combination of chicken and sausage together. If you head into Sutter and there’s only one left, hands off! I’m calling dibs on it right now.

Brenda Nelson, calendar editor: Some perch, lightly coated in cornmeal and pan-fried at home by my partner, Jim, and served with delectable crab cakes. Both were purchased at the seafood counter at Atkins Market in Amherst and were honestly so delicious, I can’t remember what I ate with them. Probably some kind of potatoes! But the matcha cookies my daughter Rachael made at Christmas … it’s a good thing I went home from a family gathering with only two of them. They looked unusual, with a light green color, and tasted just delicately of tea. I’m still thinking how delectable they were, and if I had more I’m sure I would eat them all. 

Dan Crowley, managing editor: The carpaccio, raviolis and wine I experienced at a small Italian restaurant deep within the French Alps set an extremely high bar that ultimately became the gold standard in 2019. Honorable mention goes to the oysters one summer day at Red 36 in Mystic, Connecticut and to the famous roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone at DiNic’s in Philadelphia that rounded out the year. 

Blaise Majkowski, page designer: Love the burgers at Dot’s Beaver Brook in Haydenville. They have that smoky grilled taste that reminds you of a backyard BBQ. Also like the burgers at the Look Park snack shack in Florence. Nothing special about them, but you can’t stop eating them. Have to give a nod to the baby bok choy lunch special at Tong Sing in Easthampton. The bok choy just melts in your mouth. 

Michael Connors, staff writer: I spent a few summer evenings eating pulled pork sandwiches on the picnic tables outside of Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland. Now, I know I’m pretty late to the game here (Bub’s first opened in 1979,) but I had never been to the restaurant before this past year. Plus, the unlimited buffet-style sides are reason enough to take a trip.

Ken Heidel, night editor: The spare ribs from B.T.’s Smokehouse in Sturbridge, part of a smorgasbord of smoky, charred delectables that we shared with my wife’s brother and his wife over the summer, marked a sort of dark pinnacle of decadence, from the bark to the bone. The brisket’s fabulous too, although I wouldn’t recommend what I heard one guy order: “Can I get that extra fatty, please?” The line is always out the door, but order ahead and you can go straight to the counter for your primeval meat fix.

Peter Stilla, night editor: I’m going to go with a shellfish feast I had this summer at a beachside shack across from Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, Rhode Island. Steamers, clams, quahogs, scallops — it was ridiculous but now indelibly in my mind and digestive tract. 

Jerrey Roberts, staff photographer: We live in Westfield, so we go south as much as we go north for our dining experiences. My tastes are simple and I often tell my wife, “All I ever really want is a burger, fries and a beer.” I found heaven this year at Plan B Burger Bar in Simsbury, Connecticut. In addition to having a thick, juicy burger (“Our certified angus, fresh, never frozen, chuck is hand-cut by our butchers and ground in-house within hours of hitting your plate”), you can choose from truffle fries, sweet potato fries, sriracha fries, parmesan fries, green fries or just plain, old regular fries. An enticing list of regional beer choices always meets my needs. I also like the atmosphere, a renovated train station. 

Josh Walfish, sports staff writer: When I think about the best things I ate in any given year, my mind always drifts to the home-cooked recipes of my mother, my grandmother or myself. But in 2019, I had the opportunity to go back to Northwestern this year, and that meant a trip to Bat 17 for a sandwich. I’d had at least 10 or 12 different sandwiches at the restaurant during my college years, and none of them ever disappointed. I’m glad the experience lived up to my memories as the waiter served me a sandwich that lived up to its name — Takin’ Care of Business. It’s half a pound of steak with Vermont white cheddar cheese, fried onions and a chipotle mayo on a sourdough bread, and it was hands down my most memorable meal of 2019 outside of my own kitchen.

Kevin Gutting, staff photographer: “The best?” Really? I don’t think I’m alone when I say, “I ate a lot last year.” That aside, one recent home-cooked dish that comes to mind is pear dumplings. According to the expert (not  me!), start with whole-cored pears, poach in wine (you’ll need a big bottle) and mu lling spices. It only gets better. Halve the pears and add cinnamon, sugar and butter. Wrap in pie crust and bake. Note: If you’re a potter and  “tend to overwork pie crust,”  opt for a pre-made one. No shame! Reduce the remaining poaching sauce, which is quite yummy, and drizzle this over the pears, served warm … with ice cream.

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