‘Worst food anywhere’? Amherst leaders quick to crack back at dining diss

Dinosaur Jr., formed in Amherst in 1986, features the original lineup of Lou Barlow, left, J. Mascis and Murph.

Dinosaur Jr., formed in Amherst in 1986, features the original lineup of Lou Barlow, left, J. Mascis and Murph. CONTRIBUTED

 J. MASCISDinosaur Jr. leader

J. MASCISDinosaur Jr. leader

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2024 8:45 PM

AMHERST — Chicken cordon bleu pizza and slices topped with tortellini are among the food offerings J. Mascis, an Amherst native and founder of the rock band Dinosaur Jr., says he can get when dining in town, likely a reference to what is available at Antonio’s Pizza.

Though Mascis doesn’t name the restaurant that Amherst Business Improvement District Executive Director Gabrielle Gould refers to as “world renowned” — and where actors Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart dined during a 2018 visit to town — pizza is one of the few positives about the Amherst dining scene mentioned by the musician as part of a recent 53-minute interview on the “How Long Gone” podcast, hosted by Chris Black and Jason Stewart.

“My kid loves that chicken bacon ranch (pizza). That’s the one my kid likes the most,” Mascis said in the podcast posted online last Friday.

But when asked if there are any good places to eat, with the hosts quipping that a college town must at least have a Jimmy John’s sub shop, Mascis responded by contending there is not one good restaurant in Amherst, calling them all horrible.

“It’s a vortex for food,” Mascis said. “It’s weird — I’ve traveled everywhere, and it’s the worst food anywhere, pretty much, that I know of.”

Now, with his comments amplified in a Jan. 29 article in the Boston Globe, the Amherst Business Improvement District is taking steps to defend the reputation of Amherst’s eateries, especially those downtown, through the launch of a 10-week campaign, “Take a Dino to Dinner.”

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Gould was quick to fashion the promotion, which will run through April 15.

“Downtown Amherst has some of the best food, most authentic global dining and remarkable restaurants, even if they don’t tend toward fancy,” Gould said.

Specifically, she cites Lili’s Restaurant, recognized by Eater Boston magazine as the best Asian cuisine in the state, the oysters and hot dogs made by Mukunda Feldman at Amherst Coffee and Rachael Moran’s piccata at Pasta E Basta. Gould also references the smashburger and cocktails at Protocol, the soft pretzels at Coronation Café and the farm-to-table Italian menu overseen by Jonathan Welch at Osteria Vespa, along with the “off-the-charts amazing and authentic” cuisine at Chinese restaurants Oriental Flavor and Lao Hu Tong.

Gould also notes in the message she is disseminating that Amherst does have Vietnamese and Thai restaurants, which Mascis said the town lacks. In the podcast, Mascis said his favorite entree is lobster roll.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman, who has patronized restaurants throughout the United States and who lived for many years in Somerville, said Amherst’s restaurants should not be dismissed.

“Going out to restaurants in town at least once a week, I can attest that the food is of the highest quality,” Bockelman said. “I would back it up against any other community our size in the country.”

Alden Peotter, operations manager at Protocol, said the restaurant features a chef who makes all menu items from scratch, building on the idea of having a “high-end, low-brow restaurant” with a metropolitan feel and in a walkable downtown.

“Amherst is on its way up, it’s up and coming, and we’re trying to boost the food scene,” Peotter said. “We’re offering things that aren’t found in a lot of small towns.”

With the opening of the Amherst Oyster Bar, a sister restaurant planned where Judie’s had been located, Peotter said the hope is to continue appealing to both residents and students, as well as academics and others visiting town.

Welch, at Osteria Vespa, said Mascis and his wife, Luisa, have dined at his restaurant, located next to the Amherst Cinema.

“I have never heard a complaint about our cuisine from them,” Welch said, adding, “maybe we should add an Italian lobster roll on the menu.”

During the promotion, diners are encouraged to stop in at the Visitor Information Center, where they can grab a toy dinosaur and then take it on a date to any downtown restaurant. On Instagram, people should post a picture of the meal with the dinosaur, explain what there is to love about the downtown business and then be entered into a pool for a weekly $50 gift certificate to a downtown restaurant.

Gould is careful not to bash Mascis or Dinosaur Jr., who helped open the Drake performance venue with a concert in 2022, and those who participate in the promotion should also avoid doing so as well.

“Let’s have fun, support our small businesses and enjoy the incredible food we are so very lucky to have in downtown Amherst,” she said.