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Make Connections: Travel The High Road Through Berkshire County

All photos courtesy of BNRC.

By Amy Krzanik

As walkers, hikers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers know, the Berkshires is one of the best places to work up a sweat while you “bathe in nature.” Unfortunately, you’ll have to carry your own cold water or hot drink and snack with you, because you’ll be far away from any amenities. And you’ll have to have a car to drive to the trailheads. There’s planning that needs to go into even a casual outing. But those inconveniences might not exist for long if Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) has anything to say about it.

Just this month, BNRC launched The High Road capital campaign to the public with the hope of raising the $5 million needed to create a system of linked trails that covers the entirety of Berkshire County and lets users hop on and off in more places. Two hundred miles of trails will traverse the ridge line (“the high road”), but will also dip into towns, where hikers can grab a coffee, meet up with friends for dinner and even stay overnight at one of the area’s inns or B&Bs.

Excited donors already have committed $4.25 million to the campaign during its “quiet phase,” says BNRC President Tad Ames. He says that being able to walk from one town to the next has captured people’s imagination. “This is a vision for all of Berkshire County,” he says. “Anyone who’s lived here for a while knows that things tend to be divided into north, central and south parts of the county, but our organization covers all of the Berkshires, from Florida Mountain to Mount Washington.”

The BNRC, for those who are not familiar, conserves and keeps land open for public use and enjoyment, with a special focus on public access to land. They also protect wildlife habit, farmland, and land that has scenic value.

“Wherever appropriate, we encourage people to get out and use the land,” says Ames. “We want conservation to be part of people’s daily lives.” To that end, the organization runs about 50 free, guided hikes a year. Sometimes the purpose will be to track wildlife in the snow, says Ames, or to bird-watch, but mostly the purpose is to introduce people to new places.

The High Road funding, which the organization hopes to have completed by its 50th birthday in September of 2017, will go to help the BNRC fill in the gaps or “missing pieces” between the 10,000-plus acres it owns and the 11,000 it preserves through easements. This will create a fully connected trail system that can provide lunchtime walks of 30 minutes or a 30-day vacation excursion through every town.

By building The High Road, with its paths through both wilderness and town centers, the BNRC hopes to connect the natural, social, cultural and economic lives of Berkshire County’s residents.  And the organization isn’t content to simply protect what it already has, but wants to add to the area’s reputation as a first-class destination for both natural beauty and cultural experiences.

Ames hopes the project will encourage locals and tourists alike to visit parts of the county they may not have explored before. “Berkshire County is one place and one people,” he says. “Having our bigger towns do well is good for all of the Berkshires.” And soon it’ll be easier to start there and explore even more of them.

Donate to The High Road campaign.
Take A Hike with BNRC.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/25/16 at 10:49 AM • Permalink

Along The Clay Way In Northern Conn. and Nearby N.Y. State

Alison Palmer in her studio.

By CB Wismar

For the three days that comprise Columbus Day Weekend, from Saturday, Oct. 8 through Monday, Oct. 10, 18 area clay artists will present an inaugural studio tour – Clay Way. Visitors are encouraged to tour as many of the western Connecticut and nearby New York State studios as they can.

Clay Way is the inspiration of potter and tile maker Linda Boston, who saw the popular pottery weekends held by studios in Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota and thought “Why not in Connecticut?”

And, why not, indeed. A quick survey of the artists who live and work in the hollows and valleys from Woodbury to Cornwall Bridge, and from Bantam to Wingdale brought an immediate, jubilant response. Fifteen studios will be open for weekend, attended by 18 artists who will all have works on display and ready for sale.

Vessels by Kathy Wismar.

The range of work is stunning. Linda Boston specializes in tiles that reflect her international travel and study while Todd Piker’s wood-fired tableware is classic, gaining inspiration from the traditions of great English and Japanese potters. Joy Brown’s clay figures are wonderfully accessible and serve as maquettes for the much-larger-than-life bronzes she has been commissioned to create in China. Alison Palmer’s imaginative pieces are shaped with reverence for the animal kingdom. Will Talbot creates elegant tableware and Kathy Wismar creates both functional and decorative pieces.

Clay Way is scheduled to run during American Craft Week, the national celebration of every form of craft and craft-as-art. By joining with organizations and affiliations across the country, the tour enjoys a wider reach that can bring avid fans of clay work to Southern New England to enjoy autumn.

Figure by Joy Brown. Tile by Linda Boston.

The 15 studios on the tour will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during each of the three days. In many of the studios, the artisans will be on hand to answer questions, participate in demonstrations and invite guests to understand “the ways of clay.”

A full listing of the 18 artisans, a useful map that shows where each of the studios is located, and photos of the potters’ work are all available on the Clay Way website.

Clay Way Ceramic Studios Tour
Western Connecticut and nearby New York State
Saturday, Oct. 8 – Monday, Oct. 10 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/03/16 at 09:22 AM • Permalink

RI-Region Bike Trails: Explore The Beauty On Two Wheels

Ashuwillticook Rail Trail

By Amy Krzanik

You’ve driven through miles and miles of stunning RI countryside, and have taken the train into our area along the picturesque Hudson River, but there’s a way to get even closer to the view and get your heart rate up, too. Tune up your bicycle (or rent one — links are included below) and don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the colors, as well as the bunnies, toads, turtles, deer and other animals you’ll meet on your ride. Although this article is focused on biking, most of these trails allow walking (including the walking of dogs), running, cross-country skiing, inline skating and even fishing. Check individual websites for parking and wheelchair accessibility information.

Berkshire County

Hard to pronounce, but easy to love, the 11-mile paved Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extends from downtown Adams to the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough. Taking its name from the Native American word meaning “at the in-between pleasant river,” the trail passes by the Cheshire Reservoir and through its surrounding wetlands.

For mountain bikers, the area’s many state forests offer a plethora of options. These include Beartown in Monterey, October Mountain in Lee, Tolland State Forest in Otis, Savoy Mountain, Mt. Washington, Pittsfield State Forest, Windsor State Forest and Mt. Greylock State Reservation. 

This Sunday, Sept. 25, join a group for a leisurely 19-mile Housatonic Heritage ride through Tyringham.

Rent A Bike:
Village Bike Rentals in Adams
Berkshire Outfitters in Adams
Plaine’s in Pittsfield
Berkshire Bike & Board in Pittsfield & Great Barrington
Arcadian Shop in Lenox

Harlem Valley Rail Trail photo by Caitlin O’Brien

Columbia County

You can catch the Harlem Valley Rail Trail in Hillsdale, Millerton or Wassaic and choose how much of its 15-plus miles to tackle. Still a work in progress, the trail, when completed, will span a total of 46 miles and end in Chatham.

Check out more Columbia County road bike routes or take a ride in Lake Taghkanic State Park in Ancram.

Rent A Bike:
Steiner’s Sports in Hudson
Bash Bish Bicycle in Copake Falls

Dutchess County Rail Trail photo by Fred Schaeffer

Dutchess County

Visit Walkway Over The Hudson in Poughkeepsie and hop on the Dutchess Rail Trail, a paved 13-mile ride running through mostly green space, that connects to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail

Forest lovers will find 20 miles of wooded trails in the 909-acre Taconic-Hereford Multiple Use Area located in Pleasant Valley.

Rent A Bike:
Leisure Ride Bike Rental in Poughkeepsie

Litchfield County

Although short in length, clocking it at just 1.7 miles, the Railroad Ramble is long on beauty, passing through woodlands and wetlands on its way through Salisbury and Lakeville.

Railroad Ramble photo from Trail Link

A slightly longer trail, just shy of 3 miles, the Sue Grossman Still River Greenway is a paved trail that runs through Torrington and Winchester.

The Billings Trail, which runs through Canaan and Norfolk, is slightly over 3 miles and unpaved. You can choose to follow the length of it or use it to link up to the forest trails in Barbour Woods.

The Housatonic Covered Bridge Trail (Houbike Trail) links the Berkshires (Ashley Falls, Mass.) to Connecticut (New Milford) along the Housatonic River. Unlike the rail trails, the 45-mile Houbike runs along existing roads and is not recommended for beginning bikers.

Rent A Bike:
The Bicycle Tour Company in Kent

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 09/20/16 at 12:27 PM • Permalink

Walk & Roll: Rhinebeck Jams Out At Porchfest

Some of the porches on the festival lineup.

By Andrea Pyros

If you’ve ever wanted to get up close and personal with Rhinebeck’s lovely historic homes, the first inaugural Rhinebeck Porchfest music festival on Saturday, September 17 is your chance to walk right up to the front steps. The rocking chairs may be removed for the day, but they’ll be replaced by bands of all kinds. Organized by Rhinebeck resident Elizabeth Mazzarella with the goal of creating “a wonderful day of celebration” for our area, Porchfest will feature over 45 musical acts, performing free on 18 different porches located on Platt, Livingston and Chestnut, from Route 9 to Mulberry Street.

Mazzarella visited her daughter, then a first year student at Ithaca College, on the same weekend as Ithaca’s Porchfest. Seeing how fun the free outdoor music festival was inspired her. “It was an amazing community event, with all ages strolling the streets and listening to music, and everyone was just so happy,” says Mazzarella. Afterwards, she decided that Rhinebeck’s walkable village with “all these historic homes with gorgeous porches” would be the perfect community to export Porchfest.

Setting out to create the Hudson Valley’s own version, she worked with Rhinebeck’s village board, police and fire departments, local-area vendors, and her own neighbors to make the day happen. “I went door to door and asked [residents] if they’d be willing to donate their porches for the day and people were really excited. It’s been amazing,” she says.

Assorted approvals set, not-for-profit status secured, Mazzarella and a team of Porchfest committee members (including Mazzarella’s music-loving husband,  Allen Decotiis) then brainstormed musical acts, reaching out to local artists and bands. Genres range wildly, so whether you like jazz or rock or classical or a crazy mash-up of all three, Mazzarella assures us that there will be performances for you, including eagerly anticipated sets from Gilda Lyons & Ruth Cunningham (folk/neo-baroque), the jazz combo of Ann Osmond and Dennis Yerry, and a kids’ group (as in, kids performing) called Chalk. All the musicians are donating their time to the day.

Making it even easier and more pleasurable to roam the neighborhood freely for the afternoon, the streets will be blocked off, the Dutchess County Fairgrounds will offer free parking, and in addition to the music, local food vendors, including Frites of NY, Carol’s Hot Dogs, Spacey Tracy’s Gourmet Pickles and The Cup Takes the Cake will sell food. With the event ending at 5 p.m., the hope is that people will then stroll into the village and visit Rhinebeck’s shops and restaurants afterwards. 

Planning Porchfest has been a ton of work, Mazzarella admits, but the organizer says planning the day has been fantastic and a great way to meet new people (“Isn’t that what this is all about?” she enthuses). “We’re hoping for a great day, and for people to have fun, and for this to become an annual event around Rhinebeck.”

Rhinebeck Porchfest
Saturday, September 17, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Check the website for map and music lineup.
Free music all day long, food available for purchase at select locations.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/09/16 at 03:20 PM • Permalink

Weekend Of Wheels At Lime Rock (And A Parade, Too)

Photos courtesy Lime Rock Park.

By CB Wismar

For some, they are exquisite rolling sculptures – the finest representation of the designer’s art. For others, they’re nothing more than a necessity, like electricity and cable TV. Then there’s the group that just finds them a nuisance — members of the “it was better in the horse and buggy days” school of thought.

Whatever your particular perspective, from September 1-5, in and around Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., this is the weekend when incredible automobiles comes to visit.

The Lime Rock Park Historic Festival 34 starts on Thursday, as it should, with a parade. Through the valleys of the Salmon Kill and the Housatonic River, through Salisbury and the loop around Noble Horizons (tough to get a seat, there) then down to Falls Village for a street fair and a concert with the incomparable Wanda Houston filling the village green with song.

That’s just Thursday.

Friday is practice day at Lime Rock Park, and the vintage race cars will be out in force. Don’t know the difference between a 1953 Nash Healey Le Mans and a 1929 Bentley Blower 4.5? This is the weekend to find out.

The drivers of these miraculous machines don’t just come from a few miles away to show off their beautifully restored machines. They come from places like Diablo, Calif. Essex, England. Duffy’s Forest, New South Wales, Australia. Bogota, Columbia. And “On a Boat in the Caribbean,” all to drive in the 34th Historic Weekend at Lime Rock Park.

Sure, Lou Timolat will be there from Falls Village, and Art Herbert will make the short drive from Monterey, Mass. Frank Filangeri will be there, as well, from Lake Ronkonkoma, NY. (We know that Lake Ronkonkoma isn’t all that far away from Lime Rock Park; it’s just fun to say out loud.)

Racing is on Saturday and Monday. There are different classes of racing so that Peter Ross’s 1932 MG J2 doesn’t have to try and keep up with Robert Mirabile’s 1963 Shelby Cobra. In all, 263 cars will be ready to race for cups and trophies and ribbons and the delight of the fans scattered on the hillside.

On Sunday, the Lime Rock track is quiet. It’s a good thing, because there would be no room to race. This is Sunday in the Park … the “Concours” of historic automobiles and great marques parks on every straightaway and hairpin turn of the track. 

Sunday is the day when hundreds of rolling sculptures stand still long enough for everyone to stroll around the track, meet Honored Guests racecar driver John Morton (who will be racing on Saturday and Monday) and designer, author, photographer and former racecar driver Peter Brock. You can get close enough to both see and appreciate these amazing automobiles.

The 34th Historic Festival has invited TV star (the host of Chasing Classic Cars on the Velocity Channel) Wayne Carini to bring some of his very private collection of carefully restored automobiles and motorcycles to be on display. 

This is a rare moment. Carini doesn’t show his cars in public, much. But this Festival is different. “I am pretty private when it comes to my collection,” admitted Carini. “But it feels right to bring some of my favorites to Lime Rock.” 

Part of this weekend will be rich with memories for Carini [left]. “It was in the early 1960s. I had just turned 10, and my birthday present was a trip to see the races at Lime Rock.” That trip was not in the Carini family station wagon. “We went up in my Dad’s 1928 Lincoln Touring Car.” The history lives on.

Festival Chairman Murray Smith, himself an internationally respected automobile aficionado, and Sunday Concours organizer Kent Bain invited Carini to be this year’s “Honored Collector,” a designation endorsed by Skip Barber, Lime Rock Park president, who also welcomed the Presenting Sponsors of this year’s Festival, The Prestige Family of Fine Cars.

“This is a wonderful weekend,” affirmed Barber. “Since 1983, Lime Rock Park has held this annual celebration. It’s an event unique to North America in that the racing and the concours are all on one property during one major vintage and historic event.”

And, if you’re still looking for something special to watch on this celebration weekend, we noticed that Simon Kirkby, the Director of the Lime Rock Driver’s Club, is bringing one of his cars to race. It’s a 1963 Hillman Imp. Who can’t root for a car called an “Imp?”

Lime Rock Park Historic Festival 34
Sunday in the Park, Concours, and Gathering of the Marques
Sept. 1-5, 2016
Lakeville, CT

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/29/16 at 10:30 AM • Permalink

There Are Options To Packing A Picnic At Tanglewood

Yes, we know that the picnic culture at Tanglewood is one of the great joys of the season, something many of us wait and plan for all year. But if on occasion schlepping all that stuff through the parking lot to the lawn feels like too much, you should know that there are tasty and convenient alternatives to the bring-your-own food fest.

In fact, there are more this year than ever before. Enough that Tanglewood has a name for its lineup of restaurants, beverage and ice cream purveyors: Taste of the Berkshires. These local favorites join the Tanglewood Café and concessions stands that have been mainstays of the campus.

The Taste of the Berkshires at the Tanglewood Grille, located just inside the Main Gate next to the Glass House 1 (gift shop), offers items from the Meat Market (all natural grass-fed burgers and hot dogs), Mad Jack’s (ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and various side dishes), Rubiner’s (cheese boards and grilled cheese sandwiches) and Firefly (fresh salads and soups). You can sit at tables outside the Grille, or have everything packed to transfer over to your chosen space on the lawn.

Back again this summer is No. Six Depot, with its cold brew cart, and there’s ice cream from The Scoop and Blondie’s dotting the grounds. Craft beer drinkers can choose from Wandering Star Craft Brewery, Big Elm Brewing and Berkshire Brewing Company. Berkshire Mountain Distillers is on site offering its gin and vodka. Local vendors supplying ingredients include Cricket Creek Farm, Hilltop Orchards, Farm Girl Farm, Mill River Farm, Taft Farms, Pittsfield Rye, Equinox Farms and BerkShore Fish.

The vendors are doing a great business, and for good reason: It’s the Rural Intelligence trifecta. “Taste of the Berkshires is successful because it allows Tanglewood patrons the opportunity to experience a music festival and the local food and beverage scene simultaneously,” says Kyle Ronayne, the director of event administration.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/18/16 at 02:52 PM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About New Lebanon

The Kendall House

By Lisa Green

In 1787, the Shakers settled in New Lebanon, NY and established a thriving community that today is still a pretty bustling scene, sans the Shakers. If you’ve only thought of the town as the place you pass through as you make your way to the Interstate or Albany, it’s time to slow down and look around. There’s a lot to see.

1. The History
This town has a diverse backstory, and the more you delve into it, the more fascinating it becomes. There’s the Shaker side of it; Mount Lebanon was the largest and most important Shaker community (more on that follows). And there’s a second chapter that brings in Lebanon Springs and its healing properties, which ushered in its era as one of the most fashionable spas in the United States between the 1860s and World War I. Opulent spa hotels brought in high society; these were followed by the emergence of local hotels that catered to the middle class. Other businesses emerged, most notably the first thermometer and barometer factories and the first U.S. pharmaceutical firm, an outgrowth of an existing herbal medicine business that used the medicinal herbs grown in the warm spring feeds of the Shaker Swamp. Though many of the landmarks have been torn down, there are still plenty remaining and it’s worth a drive to explore them.

Photo by Markley Boyer.

2. Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon
We love the Shaker heritage in our region, and one of the largest communities settled in Mount Lebanon. They’re no longer here, of course, but the Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon tells their story with a collection of over 56,000 Shaker items, the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world. With more than 6,000 acres and 100 buildings, this village, a National Historic Landmark, lets us imagine the daily lives of one of the most successful utopian communal societies, which ran from 1787 to 1947. Explore the grounds and exhibits on your own, or take a guided tour of various parts of the site. A highlight is the Great Stone Barn, believed to be the largest stone barn of its kind when it was built. It’s currently undergoing renovation due to a 1972 fire that left just the masonry walls, but the guides can tell you of the Shakers’ advanced systems in dairy processes and what the complete renovation will look like. The current exhibit, “Wash: There is no dirt in heaven” brings to life the day-to-day work of the Shakers as they carried out the chore of weekly communal laundry — in typical ingenious Shaker style. 

3. Behold! New Lebanon
We wrote about the town’s newest venture: Behold! New Lebanon, in its inaugural season. Now in its third, Behold! is the first living museum of contemporary rural life in America, and the guides are the townspeople of New Lebanon who invite you to experience rural life as they live it. Created by Ruth Abram, the founding president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in NYC (and a New Lebanon resident), Behold! New Lebanon goes beyond being just a window into country life with its immersive activities. More than 50 townspeople introduce visitors to their farms, studios and workspaces, where they practice cooking, farming, cattle raising, automobile racing and mechanics, woodworking, foraging and much more. Events take place every Saturday through October 15. A Visitors Center in a historic house located on Route 20 is the rendezvous point for all tours, on-site ticket sales, a gift shop with items from local artisans and a depot for information on Columbia County attractions.   

In memoriam: Nikolai, Christian Steiner’s pup, who loved music, sat in on all rehearsals for 14 years, and greeted the audiences at Tannery Pond. Photo by Christian Steiner.

4. Tannery Pond Concerts
The music presented by this concert series is world class, but the hall it’s emanating from makes this 26-year-old concert series extra special. Founded and directed by Christian Steiner, a concert pianist and professional photographer, the concerts are held in the barnlike Tannery, built by the Shakers in 1834 (it’s part of the Darrow School campus, the only school in the country located on the site of an historic Shaker Village). The Shakers were known for the beauty and simplicity of their design, but whether they intended to or not, they created a structure that’s as acoustically superb as the music. Think of the biggest names in classical music and chamber groups and they’ve probably performed here. Concerts run between May and September and this season include pianist Stephen Hough and the Miro and St. Lawrence String quartets, among others.   

5. George Rickey Sculptures
World-famous Rickey was one of the two major 20th-century artists to make movement a central interest in sculpture (the other being, of course, Alexander Calder). In 1960 he moved to the East Chatham/New Lebanon area until the end of his life, in 2002. Although his home and studio are strictly private, you can see some of his famous works from the road. Or you can take advantage of a rare opportunity to tour Rickey’s studio and outside sculpture garden offered by Behold! New Lebanon on July 16 and August 6. Philip Rickey, son of the artist and a sculptor in his own right, will be the guide.

6. Meissner’s Auction Service
Friends introduced us to this weekly country auction when we first moved here, and I fell in love — with the family who runs it, the serio-comic auctioneer patter, and the history lessons imbued in the merchandise, much of it gleaned from estate sales that turn up furniture that they just don’t make today. The auction starts at 5 p.m. every Saturday, but you have the whole day to preview the enormous selection of furniture (period, oak, pine, mahogany and Victorian walnut), glassware, pottery, quilts, stoneware and artwork. I’ve seen buyers walk away with entire bedroom sets for $100, but prices run the gamut. One of my favorite parts is the boxlot auction, tables of boxes offering a curious jumbled mix of books, glassware, prints, frames, costume jewelry and things that make you say “huh.” Go to furnish your place or enjoy some free, edifying entertainment. Food is available for sale and I’m told the macaroni and cheese is pretty delicious. 

7. Blueberry Hill Market Café
When this breakfast/lunch place and small market (primarily locally made items), opened four years ago, our reviewer wrote that owner Melanie Hunt “hoped the market would attract folks on their way home from work and that both the café and market would suit the needs of those just passing through.” It’s more than done that, evidenced by the busy parking lot. It still oozes “ample charm” (what is it about mismatched tables and chairs — handsome wood tables and ‘50s dinette sets — that make a sit more inviting?). The offerings of creatively executed soups, sandwiches and locally roasted coffee have expanded, and the desserts that pull you in to the pastry case like a magnet still include Hunt’s famous slab pies — double-crusted squares bursting with fresh fruit (on the day I visited, sour cherry, apple and blueberry-peach). The chocolate croissant bread pudding rendered me speechless.

8. Kendall House Roast Beef Sandwich Shop and Antiques/Uniques
If the name of this shop doesn’t draw you in, the front yard of The Kendall House will catch your eye. A whimsical arrangement of furniture and vintage curiosities welcome you as you drive up to the former home of Thomas Kendall Jr., the inventor of the thermometer and its namesake factory. The building is festooned with old-timey signs announcing that there is food and more fun going on inside. (The town’s Zoning Board is insisting on removal of supplementary exterior signage, whether decorative or directional, for this and other businesses, which seems short-sighted in a town that’s dependent upon traffic streaming by, but I digress.) Glen and Pat Farnan opened an antiques business about five years ago, then added the deli with a knockout rotisserie-cooked roast beef made on premises. “You won’t get a better roast beef sandwich around here,” he says, and I believe him. There’s a full menu of other sandwiches, burgers, soups and Perry’s ice cream, and before or after you’ve shopped you can enjoy your lunch in the café among the collectibles or at the picnic table down by the creek in back. 

(Note: There’s another unusual pairing of food and commerce just down the road at the New Lebanon Minimart and gas station, which offers, along with Boar’s Head products, Indian takeout made by the owners.)

9. Mario’s
Every town needs a restaurant that feels like it’s been there forever, and Mario’s is that one in New Lebanon. Mario and Julia Soldato opened a restaurant devoted to authentic Italian cuisine in the early 1960s, and their children now run it, with some updates to the fine dining experience. Today the menu is more “Italian-inspired” and seasonally appropriate, and the CIA-trained chef (and son) Mickey Soldato uses local ingredients whenever possible. Mario’s is celebrating 50 years in business, and the soul-satisfying food, the to-die-for popovers and friendly atmosphere insure that it might be there another half century. It can get crowded on the weekends, so we suggest you make reservations. 

10. The View
Technically, you approach the breathtaking vista from the Berkshires side, but why quibble? The ride into New Lebanon is a treat in itself. If you’re heading out of Pittsfield going north on Route 20, you pass the other Shaker site, Hancock Shaker Village, and begin ascending the mountain (Pittsfield State Forest is on your right). Just as the terrain starts its descent, almost directly above the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, there’s a scenic overview on the left where you can pull in and park. That’s when you hear the angel chorus; the entire valley is spread before you, verdant and peaceful as if a distant kingdom, an open-arms welcome to Columbia County.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/28/16 at 10:42 AM • Permalink

Roads Less Traveled: Out of the Way Places We Love, Part 2

By Jamie Larson

Last week we explored some of our favorite out-of-the-way main streets on the New England side of the RI region. This week we’re over in New York, giving due credit to some less-talked-about town centers in Columbia and Dutchess counties. One of the things we love most about the area is how agrarian heritage and a growing metropolitan cultural influence have blended (even if not always easily) to build communities that support all types of enterprises, from farms to art galleries. The binding thread seems to be a passion for quality.

Columbia County

Philmont

Philmont is the little village that could. Climbing along the sides of Philmont’s steep Main Street are businesses supported by a community that has been keeping the town chugging along with an admirable amount of civic tenacity. Philmont Beautification is a grass roots organization that has been working hard on major revitalization plans, hosting events, cleaning up the town and promoting business growth. They host the Farmers Market, one of the best around, and the Philmont Market Co-op and Cafe is coming soon. Though the store isn’t open yet, its mobile, bright green Curbside Café offers some simple, delicious food that reflects the local farm fresh values of the future Co-Op.

Philmont is also home to the highly praised Local 111 restaurant, helmed by Josephine Proul. Her kitchen manages to create a heightened dining experience while letting the quality of local produce and meat shine through. Just down the hill is The Main Street Pub, run by Proul’s mother, Elizabeth Angello. The pub has been around for generations and is in many ways the social hub of the village. You can also grab a slice at Gabriel’s or eat and get a room at the beautifully restored Vanderbilt House, which is now back in the hands of the ancestors of the family that originally ran it.

Old Chatham

The center of Old Chatham is less of a main street and more of a crossroads where Albany Turnpike and Route 13 meet. Jackson’s and The Old Chatham Country Store and Café sit cattycorner from one another. Jackson’s is a county institution, old and cavernous with an ambience that somehow encapsulates vintage Columbia County. It has a great old bar and a dining room offering road house classics done right. The Country Store is as much a historic landmark but has undergone a bit more modernization. Its farm-to-table menu is as fresh and beautiful as the light that pours in from the big old windows. Make it a breakfast and lunch destination, and keep in mind that they offer a Sunday dinner-to-go (you need to order it by Wednesday night).

The name Old Chatham may be known to you because of the much-loved and widely distributed sheep cheese and yogurt produced at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Creamery just outside of town. If you’re in the mood to pick some up after lunch, they have a self-serve, honor-system shop at the farm. You can also go shopping for all your alpaca wool needs at Spruce Ridge Farm. The happy alpacas themselves surround the barn and shop, and make for a really cute place to visit (kids love it). And finally, if you need to work up an appetite or are just looking for some native birds to peep, the Wilson M. Powell Wildlife Sanctuary has a really enjoyable trail. It’s just long enough to make you feel like you’ve done something productive without knocking you out and the trail peaks at a splendid overlook. Afterwards you’ll have earned your lunch and/or cocktail back at the crossroads.

Dutchess County

Amenia

Amenia feels like a distant border town where the edge of two kingdoms meet. It sits in the beautiful southern foothills of the Berkshires, yet is also home to the last train stop on the Metro North Harlem line from New York City. The tracks literally end a few yards north of the station. This convergence of cultures and socioeconomic classes has caused some chafing over the years (as evidenced by the fight over the creation of a massive gated resort community for the super rich). But Amenia is also home to some fabulous restaurants and attractions that appeal to both locals and train commuters alike.

One successful new addition is the Four Brothers Drive-In Theater next to the regional institution Greek restaurant and pizzeria of the same name. The family-run drive-in has been drawing in the crowds with blockbusters, classic movies, daytime events and a modern concession stand. And you can get anything from the restaurant next door brought to your car, which is so cool it feels like you’re doing something against the rules.

Amenia has a number of top-notch restaurant options as well. Serevan, in a historic farmhouse, uses local ingredients to craft dishes as delicious as they are beautiful. Monte’s Kitchen and Tap Room is a transplant from Brooklyn, run by the family that brought you Monte’s there, but offering a menu that’s more “Hudson valley farm to table” than red sauce over spaghetti. They also run the health food and specialty store, Monte’s Heath Nut Hut. Amenia may look sleepy, but there’s a lively current running through town that’s fun to ride.

Pine Plains

We spend a lot of time shopping and partying with the great folks at the Hammertown Barn, just a little down the road from Pine Plains’ Main Street. More than just a furniture and lifestyle store, Hammertown and its founder Joan Osofsky have been great champions of local businesses, farms and charities for nearly three decades. 

Another town institution you may already know is the Stissing House. Built in the 1700s and a way station for the likes of Presidents Washington and Roosevelt, the Inn is the historic heart of Pine Plains. The restaurant is perhaps the best French restaurant north of Yankee Stadium, thanks to Chef Michel Jean.

Church Street is where the action is. Along with the Stissing House there’s also the seriously good Schapira Coffee and Tea Co., Johanna’s Raw Foods and The Pine Plains Platter. One of the most interesting goings on other than food is the restoration of the historic Pine Plains Memorial Hall. Aiming to spur community development through arts and other civic programing, boosters of the project are extremely active. The hall, they say, will be a centerpiece that will draw even more attention to the town. They’re holding a benefit concert upstairs at the Stissing House featuring the Jacques Thibaud Trio and flutist Eugenia Zukerman on July 3 — yet another reason to pile into the car for a good old-fashioned day trip.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 06/20/16 at 08:35 AM • Permalink

Roads Less Traveled: Out of the Way Places We Love, Part 1

The West Cornwall Covered Bridge

By Jamie Larson

Over the years, we’ve crisscrossed the Rural Intelligence region highlighting the best our towns, villages and cities have to offer. But we have to admit that sometimes we wonder if we’re missing out on some hidden treasures as we’re driving through. So, while we may have touched upon some of these towns before, we thought it time to spotlight some of the main streets and town centers off the more beaten paths. This week we look at a couple of wonderful spots in Berkshire and Litchfield counties, and next week we’ll hop the New York State line to visit a few more less-publicized localities in Columbia and Dutchess. If you live in or frequent the places we visited, their virtues will come as no surprise, but the rest of you are in for some new discoveries the next time you’re out for a summer drive.

Litchfield County

West Cornwall

Cornwall Bridge Pottery

Let’s start our trip by crossing the Mill Brook on the historic West Cornwall Covered Bridge, where you’ll find yourself in its namesake village. The restaurants and businesses in West Cornwall are few, but are of high quality. It seems to be the theme of the area to blend comfortably into the surroundings, then wow you when you look closer. Just beyond the bridge you’ll find the Cornwall Bridge Pottery Store. The store’s well-known workshop down the road houses the kiln, built off a traditional Chinese design in the 1970s, which has been making some of the most beautiful and functional pieces you’ll find anywhere. Nearby, the Wish House has a wide assortment of gifts, clothes and a gallery that often hosts events. It’s a great place to wander if you’re looking for something but don’t know what it is.

There are two restaurants in town. The Wandering Moose Cafe is warm, rustic and authentic, with a long menu that’s extremely affordable. You’ll find everything from chicken fingers and burgers to duck confit and wild rice risotto. Then there is RSVP French Kitchen, a prix fixe BYOB place that the New York Times called “some of the most brilliant but simple country French food this side of the Atlantic.” Though you may not have heard of it, chef Guy Birster and co-owner Charles Cilona have been running the quirky 20-seat, informal, reservations 24 hours in advance, cash or check only, no vegetarian options, casual dress, no menu and much-praised restaurant since 2001. They get away with their eccentricities and inconveniences because the food is just that good, even if you won’t know what’s on the menu until you come in for dinner that weekend (they assume you’ll bring a bottle of wine and there’s no corkage fee). The $80 includes four courses. Why you’ll find it across the street from a former train station in West Cornwall, we don’t know, but be glad you have.

Bantam

The Housatonic Trading Company

South of Cornwall, along route 202 is Bantam, technically a county borough. Surrounded by many fabulous homes and a beautiful lake, Bantam has an interesting and approachable variety of quality businesses and restaurants that range from the casual Wood’s Pit BBQ to the James Beard Award-nominated Arethusa al Tavolo. The care that goes into the quality of products there, at Arethusa’s dairy shop (next door to the restaurant), Mockingbird Kitchen and Bar, and other establishments like the Bantam Bread Co., is emblematic of a happy community. Between the above-mentioned, Zini’s, Jackie’s, La Cupola, The Market and more, Bantam is a real food destination just outside Litchfield.

Before or after you’ve eaten, head over to the Housatonic Trading Company, a former carriage factory filled with antiques and decorative items from all eras and parts of the world. We visited it last year, and love the diverse selection and the fact you can shop or relax with a cup of coffee and a pastry from the in-house café. The town also has a great capital “C” community theater. The inconspicuous Bantam Cinema, open since the 1920s, is not just a great place to catch a flick but also serves as a gathering place. It has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operated moviehouse in the state. It also hosts events featuring actors and filmmakers who give talks after screenings. Daniel Day Lewis, who lives not far away, spoke at Bantam after a showing of Lincoln.


Berkshire County

Lee

A High Lawn Jersey inspects her ice cream.

Lee isn’t exactly as small a town as the others, but as you buzz by it on the turnpike or just pop in to go to the Lee Premium Outlets, it’s all too easy to forget that just north is a great Main Street. One of the things that Lee embodies is how diverse in sensibility a small business district can be, especially when it comes to food.

There’s terrific Indian at Mint (formerly Bombay) up on Laurel Street and Peruvian at Alpamayo, California fare at Baja Charlie’s and the area’s best crepes at Starving Artist Creperie & Café  (also a great place to just hang out). And there’s the reliably wonderful French offerings at Chez Nous Bistro. On Railroad Street, Moe’s Tavern is a popular craft beer bar and Pho Saigon is another local favorite.

Lee also offers a representation of New England-style modern and classical cuisine, with Cork ‘n Hearth, The Morgan House and Salmon Run Fish House. And High Lawn Farm, along Route 7, is making spectacular ice cream from some seriously happy cows. You can’t buy the ice cream there, but you can see the cows from the road above and that view is the very definition of “bucolic.”

West Stockbridge

Bisected by the Williams River, West Stockbridge has until recently been a bit overshadowed by Stockbridge proper. Now, the big draw is art and coffee. Award-winning National Geographic photographer John Stanmeyer counts the Stanmeyer Gallery and Shaker Dam Coffeehouse as his home base when he’s not globe trotting. Stanmeyer seems to be as committed to pouring the perfect cup of coffee as he is to taking spellbinding photographs. The intimate coffeehouse uses only responsibly sourced coffee and a unique range of brewing techniques. The space, which houses the gallery upstairs and the café downstairs, hosts art and cultural events that reflect Stanmeyer’s globally informed social consciousness.

Concert in the gallery at Six Depot.

Just a few steps away is another acclaimed coffee house and artistic venue. No. Six Depot Roastery and Cafe is a stylish modern beans-to-cup operation in a hip contemporary setting. Also selling artisanal foods and apothecary items, Six Depot is already both a local treasure and a destination. Its concerts, art shows and live performances (including the very popular Inkless live storytelling Series) are often packed to overflowing. Right around the corner, step into Hotchkiss Mobiles to admire the arresting kinetic art, and across from Six Depot in the green cottage is Shaker Mill Books, which focuses on used, rare, discounted and out-of-print books as well as a good selection of books by local authors.

If you’re venturing out for an overnight, consider staying at the Shaker Mill Inn. Locals love to eat at Rouge Restaurant and Bistro (which hosts frequent wine dinners) and Truc Orient Express for Vietnamese cuisine. Don’t leave before checking out Truc’s meandering gift shop filled with Asian lacquerware, baskets, home furnishings, clothing and garden pottery.

At Rural Intelligence we are constantly in awe of the gems that await the curious. Perhaps this will inspire you to create some new destinations for yourself. Next week: the Hudson Valley.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 06/13/16 at 12:43 PM • Permalink

Learn And Taste At Maplefest (Plus Bake Sale) In Sharon

Just because this isn’t much of a mud season doesn’t mean there won’t be a maple sugar harvest to enjoy this year. In our region, you don’t need to go far to find a sugaring operation, and this weekend, Sharon Audubon Center in Sharon, Conn. hosts its annual Maplefest — and, new this year, adds a maple bake sale to sweeten the deal.

“All of the products will be made with our own maple syrup harvested and produced right here,” says Sharon Audubon’s director Sean Grace. “Our employees and dedicated volunteers will be the bakers. It’s a real community effort.”

Visitors will be able to tour the Center’s sugaring operation by hiking along the trail appropriately called “Maple Way,” lined with beautiful, aged trees — some more than 300 years old. A setup displays the traditional methods of sap collecting used by Native Americans and methods used by early colonials.

The sugar shack (formerly a traditional ice house) that holds a large evaporative stove gives visitors the opportunity to witness the process that turns sap into the center’s 50 to 80 gallons of syrup each year. That fresh syrup will be available for purchase – as long as supplies last.

The hiking trails will be open, as will the raptor aviaries, which house bald eagles, hawks, falcons and other birds of prey that wouldn’t be able to survive on their own in the wild. Interesting fact: as an emergency bird care facility, Sharon Audubon cares for about 350 birds a year.

“We recommend visitors wear boots,” Grace says. “It’s not bad, but it’s still a little ooey-gooey in some places.”

Maplefest and Maple Bake Sale
Saturday, March 19, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sharon Audubon Center
325 Cornwall Bridge Rd. (Route 4), Sharon, CT
(860) 364-0520
Admission: $6 Adults, $4 Children 12 and under

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/14/16 at 07:01 PM • Permalink