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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.