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Amherst, MA


stickmoon
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Amherst, Massachusetts is a college town, which in some sense limits the dining options. You got your burrito places, your falafal places, delis and pizza shops. But beyond the college students and their parents are a core group of locals who live here year round, are fairly affluent, and politically liberal. These are the typical customers at one of the nicer places in town, Tabella's. Tabella's has been open 4 years, in a restored, old brick building that also houses a coffee shop, an art gallery, and a small cinema. This restaurant takes local and sustainable food seriously. On the small, focused menu, they list the names of all their farms where their produce, dairy and meat come from. Most of their menu is small plates, but in recent years they have added some larger dishes. Last night I started with a small salad of mixed greens from two local farms ($6) that came judiciously dressed with a simple orange vinaigrette. The greens were extraordinarily fresh and had a pungent, earthy quality that I enjoyed. Then I had a hearty, elevated comfort food type of dish - a grilled, italian spiced sausage from Vermont Smoke and Cure. It was butterflied open and properly cooked, placed atop a mound of slightly lumpy mashed potatoes and aside a small side of greens ($11). I enjoyed it. It's not out-of-this-world amazing, but it is a solid, upscale restaurant choice in a town chock full of standard-issue college food. And they do a lot to support local farmers. They have a small wine list and five or six craft beers on tap, but I really like their red sangria, made last night with raspberry brandy, fresh lime, and strawberry. If you're ever in Amherst and looking for a libation and a bite to eat, particularly if you like to sit at the bar, this is the place I'd recommend.

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I stop by Antonio's Pizza about twice a week for a quick lunch. Pizza by the slice is a beautiful thing, especially from Antonio's, which has won the local prize for best pizza every year since the early 90's. A well-known fixture in downtown Amherst - their pies can be topped with a huge variety of ingredients that piiza purists would probably consider obscene. Case in point: the "black bean and avocado" pie...it's got a mashed black bean base and is topped with slices of avocado, chopped fresh tomato and crumbly feta cheese. It's actually pretty good. The crust is nothing to get excited about, but it is a suitable vehicle for the toppings that the shop is known for. I've never had their most popular slice, known as "chicken bacon ranch" which has...wait for it...chopped chicken breast, bacon, and a swirl of ranch dressing on it. They also have various styles of "quesadilla slices" which have tortilla chips and sour cream on them. Not for me. The sicilian slices, however, are much more traditional, and actually remind me of the slices I used to get at New Park Pizza in Queens, NY.

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I will stick this review here:

Along Rt. 9, also known as Russell street, (maybe a 5 minute drive off I-91), between Hadley and Amherst, sits a small, no name, storefront strip mall...and is home to at least two great places.

Banh Mi Saigon - No décor, a little dirty, maybe 20 seats, home to one of the better Banh Mi sandwiches I've had the pleasure of eating. The grilled pork was succulent, stuff with fresh veggies, but really, they nailed the bread, which I often find lacking in DC area banh mi.  The fried spring rolls were good, pho was solid, my brother endorses the bun dishes.  If you are in the area, definitely stop in for a banh mi.

Unknown International Food Store - To the left of Banh Mi Saigon is the generically named International Food Store, primarily Indian, but with a good selection of Asian/SE Asian supplies.  The store is medium sized, mom & pop style, and the kind of place that is stacked to the gills with interesting foodstuffs.  If you like to wander aimlessly through international grocery stores, this is a good one.

Also in the strip mall was a halal market, a bakery, and a tattoo parlor.  I would skip the tattoo parlor.

Grilled Pork Banh Mi:

post-44-0-28544400-1376410412_thumb.jpeg

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