Weekend In The Berkshires

I had a long overdue visit to the Berkshires recently.  The drive up from Northern New Jersey was longer than expected, thanks to thick, unrelenting fog that made the landscape dreamlike and milky.  Passing children ice fishing with adults on a frozen lake, frigid meadows shivering and chimneys in farms houses wafting steadily into barren skies created a postcard like view.

My plan was to meet a friend, who had spent many summers as a resident in the area, for lunch in Great Barrington, dine at Chez Nous in Lee and spend the night at The Cranwell, a resort in Lenox.

Nestled in a valley with a bustling downtown, Great Barrington is charming and with a several shops worthy of visits, all within walking distance.  I’ll start with lunch.

Prosciutto and veggie topped pizza at Baba Louie's in Great Barrington, available in traditional, sour dough and gluten-free options
Prosciutto and veggie topped pizza at Baba Louie’s in Great Barrington, available in traditional, sour dough and gluten-free options

This charming restaurant, like many in the Berkshires, is gluten-free friendly, meaning gluten-free options are readily substituted in traditional pasta, pizza dough and bread-anchored menu items. Portions are quite generous and prices are reasonable. My salad entree could have easily fed two as an entree or four as an app.

Walking off lunch is a treat in this charming town. Head for Railroad Street which has several shops worth visiting.

First stop, Karen Allen Fiber Arts at 8 Railroad, a treasure trove of beautiful knits from around the world. Unusual, one-of-a-kind items that are more like artwork.

Shelves at Karen Allen hold hats, scarves, sweaters and other fine knits
Shelves at Karen Allen hold hats, scarves, sweaters and other fine knits

Across the street, at number 7 Railroad Avenue, you’ll find Mistral’s Home, a shop which offers an elegant selection of house wares, linens and table top items from the Provence region of France. The items in this shop are thoughtfully curated and merchandised.

Mistral's Home, table top and more
Mistral’s Home, table top and more

Who can resist beautiful French linens, particulary these beauties that are generously sized to do double duty as dish or tea towels. Well-priced at $20 each.

Dish towels, $20, imported from Provence
Dish towels, $20, imported from Provence
Elegant utensils from Mistral's Home
Elegant utensils from Mistral’s Home
A lovely dish, a good catch all of small objects
A lovely dish, a good catch all of small objects
Hand painted dinner plates
Hand painted dinner plates
Buddhas and other relics on Railroad Street in Great Barrington
Buddhas and other relics on Railroad Street in Great Barrington
Crystals and messages to inspire along Railroad Avenue.
Crystals and messages to inspire along Railroad Avenue.

After strolling, you may need some sustenance. Check out Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers on the main drag, 264 Main Street. Old world style with a Brooklyn vibe.

Rubiner's
Rubiner’s
Cheese on display, much of it local
Cheese on display, much of it local

If you have youngsters in tow and need something to perk them up, a visit to Robin’s Candy Shop is worthwhile. A few doors down from Rubiner’s at 288 Main Street, this shop has the kind of selection that will make it a must-stop for parents making an annual visiting day pilgrimage to kids at sleep-away camp.

Sugar frenzy at Robin's Candy Shop
Sugar frenzy at Robin’s Candy Shop

I had to fight my way past 20 pound gummy bears and worms.

Gummy bear
Gummy bear

But I did find some grown-up goodies:

Remember malt balls?
Remember malt balls?

My friend gently reminded me of what I might need if I became a serious patron of this shop. (See image of large briefs.)

Big briefs for patrons with big...appetites
Big briefs for patrons with big…appetites

We pressed on, knowing that there were more delights to explore and rest before dinner. We zigzagged through Lenox and Lee, making our way to the Cranwell Resort. This estate has a spa and golf course. On our cold winter weekend, we visited the spa, which was nothing special although I did enjoy a wonderful gentle yoga class there, courtesy of an instructor from nearby Kripalu (which you can enjoy by the day, about $100 or for an overnight package.) Check out Cranwell’s website for periodic promotions. The rooms are spacious and nicely appointed. The spa was extremely crowded on our visit and felt rather frenetic.

After a short nap, I readied myself for dinner at Chez Nous in Lee, a short drive from Lenox. There are several dining options in the region and Chez Nous was chosen for its reputation as a locals-only, low-key bistro. Chez Nous is as delightful as it is unpretentious. Owned by Rachel Portnoy, pastry chef, and classically trained chef Franck Tessier, this restaurant is a gem. Rachel warmly greets guests as they enter and the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. Gluten-free rolls were offered immediately when I mentioned I was wheat-intolerant, baked and served within five minutes.

Braised chicken
Braised chicken
Cod with tapenade
Cod with tapenade

Like a number of other restaurants in the area, the chef was very accommodating, noting items on the menu which could be prepared in a gluten-free format. While the delicious peanut butter and chocolate dessert wasn’t one of them, there’s a delectable sticky toffee that is. House made pates are served with house made pickles. Everything is from scratch. A lovely wine list offers selections by the glass or bottle. I had a light gewurztraminer with my fish entree that was perfect. If you are tempted by the food to spend the night, the restaurant offers lodgings as well.

After a good night’s sleep and yoga class, we made our way to Haven Cafe & Bakery in Lenox Basin. Freshly made breakfast staples with locally sourced eggs, syrups and pork products are offered in a counter service format. This caterer has a loyal following so go early to get a table. Yes, the food is good. But what blew me away was a wheat-free fruit and nut bar, which is prepared in the style of a shortbread and topped with a gooey layer of minced nuts and fruit. It’s chewy, crunchy, sweet, salty and wonderfully buttery.

Haven Cafe & Bakery's Wheat Free Fruit & Nut Bar, $3.25 for a slice of heaven
Haven Cafe & Bakery’s Wheat Free Fruit & Nut Bar, $3.25 for a slice of heaven
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2 thoughts on “Weekend In The Berkshires

  1. Thanks for including us in your blog…all the more special since I’m “Robin-the red-head…. with a sweet tooth!” Hope to meet you on your next visit to the Berks–or our newest “Robin’s in Boston at 253 Newbury Street .–am thinking of hosting a “red-head reunion” for candy and cocktails at one of our shops–will keep you posted. Thanks again,
    Kind Regards,
    Robin Helfand (red-headed Sweet Chief, ROBIN’s candy Shops)

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