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Ask Casey: Weekend Food Trips

Ask Casey: Cooking and Kitchen Questions Answered

I’m in desperate need to get out of this city and as with any other trip, I’m planning the destination and activities around food. But it seems restaurants in the woods of upstate NY are sparse, and if you’re not near a relatively big city you are out of luck. Do you have any good weekend food trip itineraries to share? (Good restaurants, farm visits/apple picking, interesting cuisines or groceries, etc.)

Well, I’m a country mouse and a city mouse, so here are two options. Readers, please feel free to share your recommendations in the comments!

If you have a car:
Take a tip from our salad correspondent Natalie and spend a weekend in Northampton, Massachussetts—as she says, “Western Mass knows good food.” Less than three hours from New York, Northampton and its sister city Amherst will allow you to get your hiking fix on in the Berkshire mountains (or skiing/snowshoeing if you’re going later in the year) and sample some seriously good eats. Natalie recommends:

The Green Street Cafe (64 Green St., Northampton; 413-586-5650) is a greenmarket bistro with seasonal delicacies (they grow a good amount of their own produce) and great wine. Perfect for a chilly fall or cold winter’s dinner.[UPDATE: Green Street Cafe is closed as of January 2012.]

The Blue Heron (112 N. Main St., Sunderland; 413-665-2102) is truly a killer food experience – they catered Natalie and Robby’s wedding last year, and many of us are still obsessed with the sublime smoked trout spread. Blue Heron holds its own against any top-rated, established Manhattan restaurant, without the attitude or the price. If you’re looking to extend your weekend trip, the restaurant offers cooking classes with Chef Deborah Snow on select Monday nights. And as an added bonus, the building was formerly the Sunderland Old Town Hall and wears its history proudly.

The Black Sheep (79 Main St., Amherst; 413-253-3442) should be your must-stop if you’re gathering sustenance before your outdoor excursions. You could pull together a serious picnic basket with their made-from-scratch baked goods (including fresh bread for their deli sandwiches), quality coffee, and a few of the dense, fudgy chocolate Whopper cookies for good measure.

Finally, it’s not food-related, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite shop in Northampton, Essentials. The proprietors always have a lovely, eclectic selection of items – I’ve bought everything from a charm made from a printmaker’s letter “C” block to a wind-up plastic bison to psychedelic melamine serving platters.

If you’re a public transportation gal:
Athletics aside, Philadelphia is a wonderful town for food and art. You can splurge a bit and get there via Amtrak for about $90 round-trip (during off-peak hours) in an hour and a half, or spend about $25 and another 45 minutes on the train to travel via New Jersey Transit (my method of choice, because I am CHEAP.)

If you’ve got the stamina, you can walk across the city from the Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers, from Independence Hall in the Old City neighborhood up to the Philadephia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Along the way, you’ll find so many things to munch on that you won’t have to eat a cheesesteak unless you really want to.

Tria (123 S. 18th St. at Sansom or 1137 Spruce St. at 12th) is my unabashed favorite in town. A cafe/bar devoted to the tastiness that comes through fermentation, it features cheese, wine, and beer prominently throughout its well-edited menu. Small bites offer lots of opportunities for snacking on new and unusual ingredients, although even with the copious plates, you could still easily get drunk trying all the beers and wines that catch your eye. Most of the cheeses come from Murray’s, my favorite NY cheesemonger, so if you see something you like, it’s easy to replicate your meal at home.

DiBruno Brothers (1730 Chestnut St. or 930 S. 9th St.; 215-665-9220) is a wonderfully-stocked grocery and specialty store, one location of which happens down the street from the 18th St. location of Tria. After sampling an insane mole-flavored chorizo one night at Tria, we were able to trot over and pick up a log (or three) the next day at the store. Fresh sandwiches, frittatas, and coffee are available at the front cafe for a great breakfast before you hit the road, and you can always grab some more items for your pantry or the train ride home.

However, the big deal is the Reading Terminal Market. An indoor public greenmarket in the tradition of Quincy Market or Pike Place, you’ll find hundreds of vendors here (check out this PDF) with flowers, seafood, produce from Amish farms in the area, and even an outpost of Rick’s Philly Steaks to get an authentic cheesesteak.

Straw poll: do you want me to start letting you know who is writing these questions? They are all real people, I swear! Cast your vote and send your queries to Ask Casey at caseyATgoodfoodstoriesDOTcom.

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  1. Great article. As a former Philly resident, here are a few more winners:

    Standard Tap (901 N 2nd Street) – great bar fare that was a “gastropub” long before the cliche’d term existed. I love the rabbit and mussels with sausage.

    James (824 S 8th St)Inventive dining, with a fresh menu – Try the hand cut tagliatelle, duck ragu, shaved chocolate & orange http://www.jameson8th.com/

    RIM Cafe (1172 S 9th St) On the south edge of the Italian Market, Rene, a fabulous Frenchman, runs the most wonderful cafe I have been to in Philly. Best espresso drinks in town, and handcrafted Italian chocolates. He captures France and Italy in the 60’s and bottles the magic into a cafe.

    Cheers! – max

  2. The Hudson Valley offers a lot of beautiful scenery plus great food places, including the CIA

  3. On a return trip Albany, we were outside of Woodstock and desperate for a delicious, well deserve fancy meal. We sure got one at The Red Onion,http://www.redonionrestaurant.com, a beautiful new American/ethnic tinged establishment. The old New England house with balcony provided perfect quaint atmosphere, and the thai mussels, linguine in clam sauce & incredible argentinia wine recommended by the waiter made the evening worth the drive to our state’s unpleasant capital.

  4. Sai, I’m glad you got something out of your trip to Albany! That trip sounds exactly like what Kristin feared when she asked the original question.

  5. Nice tips on getting around and about! I second the recommendation to try the CIA in Hyde Park…. they have 3 restaurants, all with a different focus and menu, plus a cafe that’s great for something to tide you over on the ride home! Nearby sites are wonderful to explore– from FDR to wineries. If you want a CIA restaurant experience, make a reservation– check out their website! And be prepared for a leisurely meal and enjoy chatting with your waitstaff as they are all in their final year of training– great fun!

  6. nice post lady – very glad you included philly as it is one of my favorite food cities. but i have to say i think you were remiss in not pointing out philly’s amazing BYO restaurant culture. when i lived there i was able to eat some great meals at BYO joints for a fraction of what they would have cost in new york (or boston for that matter).

    i dont think i should go into a list of recommendations because i havent lived there in quite a while but one of my favorite go-to spots was audrey claire at 20th & spruce. havent been there in several years but i remember it being fantastic and affordable. http://www.audreyclaire.com/ac/achome_flash.html

    also monk’s cafe at 16th and spruce is great for belgian beers and pommes frites

    okay, now i’m hungry and have to go find some lunch….

  7. Thanks for the recommendations, Ms. Hammett! I’ve actually never gone to any of the BYO places in Philly – maybe we should try some out when you’re back east?

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