Best Bites: Eat up Shelburne Falls

  • Patrons enjoy craft beers in the cozy and comfortable Floodwater Brewing Co. on State Street in Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Chef Michaelangelo Wescott inside the Gypsy Apple Bistro on Bridge Street in the village of Shelburne Falls. The intimate eatery is the unofficial fine-dining champion of Bridge Street. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Besides having the hamlet’s swankiest bar, the Blue Rock Restaurant & Bar on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls has a great old sweeping porch overlooking the river, and locally sourced food including an extensive vegetarian options. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Michaelangelo Wescott of Gypsy Apple Bistro on Bridge Street in the village of Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Patrons enjoy craft beers on the deck overlooking the Bridge of Flowers at The Floodwater Brewing Co. on State Street in Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Blue Rock Restaurant & Bar on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls with porch seating with views of the Deerfield River. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For the Bulletin
Monday, August 22, 2022

The hamlet of Shelburne Falls, cradled in the gently rolling foothills of the Berkshires, is a rustic spill of 1800s mill buildings and even older wooden barns along an elbow bend of the Deerfield River. It’s my favorite easy day trip or overnight getaway from the Five Colleges area, just over a half-hour’s drive from Northampton or Amherst.

Shelburne Falls is actually a neighborhood, not a town. It covers parts of two Franklin County towns, Shelburne and Buckland, that sit on opposite banks of the river. In between, the river is dammed to create a rushing waterfall that sets a soothing background soundtrack, day and   night.

On the Shelburne side, the main drag is  Bridge Street, a quaint time-frozen row of local shops, cafes, and restaurants. On the other side of the river sits Buckland, with a similar vibe and gorgeous views from its side of the riverfront.

The best way to cross the river is via Shelburne Falls’ most famous attraction, the Bridge of Flowers, first built as a trolley passage in 1908. In 1929, after the trolley company went under, the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club planted the narrow 400-foot bridge full of hundreds of flowers and turned it into a pedestrian wonder.

Ninety-three years later, the same Women’s Club still lovingly plants and maintains the Bridge of Flowers, which is open to the public every year from April 1 to Oct. 30.

For me, what turns Shelburne Falls from a place for a pretty stroll into a whole mini-vacation is its small but distinctive collection of places to eat and sip.

My favorite of all is Blue Rock. Here you can sit and enjoy fantastic views of town and the river from the wide, gracious front porch of a big old house. Indoors, a wooden paradise awaits, with giant beams that evoke the old building’s history.

Blue Rock’s kitchen relies heavily on Vermont ingredients — Boyden Farm beef, Vermont cheddar — and turns out great starters (including seared shishito peppers), reliable burgers, and more ambitious dishes such as coffee-rubbed baby back ribs with Berkshire Porter BBQ sauce.

Vegetarian options are also extensive. Blue Rock also has the swankiest bar in town, with a fun cocktail program, local craft beers, and an unusually well-curated wine list.

Just down the street, where the main iron bridge meets the Buckland riverfront, is the West End Pub. All the nooks and crannies inside this inviting red clapboard haunt make for cute, cozy seating, but the real prize are the tables next to floor-to-ceiling picture windows that hang over the river and overlook the whole Bridge of Flowers.

Burgers take center stage on West End’s menu. They’re made with grass-feed beef from right down the road in Shelburne. I love the “basic burger” with bacon and cheddar, but a few designer recipes also integrate ingredients including Gorgonzola, kimchi, and chipotle. Pub classics such as spinach and artichoke dip, ground-beef chili, and fish and chips hit the spot, and steak frites rings in at a reasonable $20.

For classic Americana, you can’t do better than Foxtown Diner. This is a throwback to the 1950s that serves a brilliant breakfast at delightfully old-time prices. You can get lovingly prepared eggs with homemade corned-beef hash or blueberry pancakes. For lunch there are great-value burgers, wraps and club sandwiches, and for the earliest of early risers (or the latest of all-night partiers), it opens at 5 a.m.

Mocha Maya is a beloved local coffee shop and breakfast nook with a warm, red-walled interior. Their espresso drinks and drip coffee have true geek pedigree, but the feeling is totally unpretentious.

Mocha Maya’s short breakfast menu focuses entirely on breakfast sandwiches, which also work well as light lunches. Various combos of eggs, meats, veggies and condiments are snuggled between homemade English muffins that are baked using einkorn wheat, an ancient un-hybridized variety. Pastries beneath a glass counter also deliver on their lusty promise.

Mocha Maya’s fabled live concerts on weekend evenings, accompanied by local craft beers, were paused during COVID, but they’re expected to return to their full glory this winter.

An exciting 2019 arrival to Shelburne Falls was the Floodwater Brewing Co., an easily overlooked gem with a humble entrance and an open-air balcony over the river.

Time stands still in this lazy beer lounge, where you can chill out all afternoon at a pillowed couch or table with a book or a board game. You’ll be well looked after by the friendly staff, who might pour you a silky choco-rye porter; or an IPA in a double, normal-strength or lighter session version. I love the look, feel, and convenience of Floodwater’s 32- and 64-ounce growlers, which let you take fresh draft beer to your home and then re-enter service as stylish water jugs for your fridge.

Gypsy Apple calls itself a “bistro” but reigns as the fine-dining champion of Bridge Street.

It’s a small dinner-only space, done in a distinctly Parisian style, that seats barely 20 people. Your evening will start with warm, crusty French bread with a crock of spiced butter and another of tapenade.

The menu changes frequently, but at a recent visit, rack of lamb with romesco sauce, charred scallion, and lentil salad was so delicious it justified its $39 price tag. Mashed potatoes (a fish side) were studded with generous chunks of lobster. A much more affordable Caesar salad was also executed with unusual care. The interesting, amply portioned, French-inflected desserts are also worth exploring —  even for dessert deniers.

Robin Goldstein is the author of “The Menu: Restaurant Guide to Northampton, Amherst, and the Five-College Area.” He serves remotely on the agricultural economics faculty of the University of California, Davis. He can be reached at rgoldstein@ucdavis.edu.