Thursday, November 8, 2012

Western Massachusetts Sugar Shack Review

Adam’s Sugar Shack Review

Here is my impartial sugar house review. I thought others would benefit from my years of Shackin' Up.  For many years now I have gone to a sugarhouse at least one weekend every week between Valentine’s day and the end of March. You can go to for addresses and directions.

Going to a sugarhouse has traditionally been the beginning of the spring riding season for me. There is something so wonderfully beautiful about the fact that water is beginning to rise up out of the ground into the leaves of trees. Usually it’s my first two up motorcycle ride, and my first ride of consequence.  It really is difficult for me to express the degree to which we anticipate shack season. From about Christmas we keep an informal countdown of days till the first shacks open.

God Bless the People’s Republic of Western Massachusetts.

The Red Bucket: Worthington, MA At the end of dirt Kinney Brook Road in in the first real hilltown going east. This is Priscilla and my favorite sugar house. There is an amazing view down the valley it's in with tap lines running this way and that. There is a huge assembled topographical map on one wall and a giant plexi window makes up the other. There is some preposterous effect in the boiling room where you wait whereby the steam seems to stratify in the air. I cannot explain this property, but it's amazing.  The coffee is lousy but everything else is good.

High Hopes: Worthington, MA Folksy and fun, it's a real Hilltown favorite, just up off RT112 it's easy to find. Some tables overlook the creek out back. If you're hungry it's an all you can eat bargain.  100% of the income at High Hopes goes into the owner’s kids college fund. It’s a nice place with plenty of decomposing snowmobiles for local color.

Strawbale Cafe AKA Hanging Mountian: Fun little place in Westhampton. It has a super nice boiling room with lots and lots of steam. It's in a very old building that's partly sunk in the ground. The restaurant itself is straw bale construction. If the weather is just right they have a fire pit and serve cider doughnuts outside.  Maybe the best coffee of any sugarhouse. It’s the place most likely to have gluten free pancakes.

Davenports: Shelburn, MA The 900 pound gorilla of sugar shacks. So authentic it pains the heart. My favorite thing, besides the old man that sometimes wears traditional Finnish costume, is the old barn window filled with maple syrups samples of years past. It makes a lovely stain glass window of amber hues you never knew existed. Beautiful views, appropriately hard to find.

Ikoa: Way out in Hancock MA. They have cows and stuff and a petting zoo. There is something nice about this place but I cannot recall what it is.

Goulds: The one everyone knows about. Gould's has a lot of history, the food is good and they make fritters. It's a bit too accessible to tour buses to be truly awesome.  This is the Official Sugar House of the Yankee Beemers.   This place has sugar and snow, which is worth a lot.

Maple Corner: Blandfield MA. It really is on a corner and they do have maple. it's really a cross country ski place that's also does maple. You can kill two birds with one stone and go skiing and have pancakes. As just a sugar shack it's not too shacky.

North Hadley Sugar Shack: Hadley, MA  Concert floors. Generic feeling, very unshacky. Plenty of parking. With petting zoo, it's where people with kids need to go and stay away from the Red Bucket so I can get a table.

Pomeroy’s: Westfield, MA  This sugar shack can be good bad or indifferent depending mainly on my mood. It’s a working dairy farm but the area around it has grown into a kind of appalling suburbia. It scores OK on shackieness by virtue of it’s unpaved and muddy parking and the general squalor that most working farms not owned by Robert Redford (or the equivalent) have. IIRC breakfast is served in a barn with a cement floor.

Windy Hill: Worthington, MA If this place is open again then you may proceed to the shackiest sugar shack of all times. Welcome back to the 1930s, the depression is back on, interior plumbing is limited. There isn't much parking; best to go early in the season before the outhouse hole fills up. You won't forget your trip to Windy Hill, but that's a good thing.  This is the polar opposite from the Olive Garden.

South Face Farm: Ashfield, MA  If you want to run into the who's who of Northampton proceed no further than South Face. In beautiful Ashfield, MA with lovely Routes 112 and 116 nearby it's a riding paradise. Frankly their corn fritters rock when compared to Gould's. Housed in a hundred plus year old barn it's really what Gould's could be were it more obscure and better.

Gray’s Sugarhouse: Ashfield, MA Gray’s has been closed about 10 years now, but it was the best. I tear up thinking about it. Frankly, I am angry that Gray’s shut down and want David Brooks to write an op ed piece in The Atlantic about the injustice of its closing down.

Steve's Sugar Shack:  Westhampton, MA Get ready to eat with the after church crowd. From what I can make if it they must be some sort of Protestant because they don't seem ethnic enough to be Catholics. At any rate a strange feature of this Westhampton shack is the boiling room inside the restaurant! Though most sugar shacks kind of remind me of a 4H project gone out of control and taken over by the adults I would have to say this one may have that effect even more.        

These are all the Sugar Shacks worth mentioning. If it’s not on this list, it’s crap.