slides: New England’s 25 Best Food Towns
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
What are the best food towns in New England?
New England's restaurants are among best in the country, and New Englanders are passionate about their food. Which cities and towns combine the best of those two worlds? For the first time, GoLocal has a ranking of the Top 25 in the region.
Ranking culinary hotspots
How to put a city or town's foodiness into numbers began with restaurants. To find those places where great food was the centerpiece, GoLocal's researchers uncovered the highest-rated restaurants in New England, and used their hometowns as a base for analysis. We looked at James Beard awards, Diamonds from AAA, Stars from Mobil/Forbes, and "best ofs" in national press such as Food & Wine and Bon Appetit.
For local food culture, we gave points for culinary programs, cooking schools, and even access to regular cooking classes. In-town farmers markets earned points, as did local food events that seriously spotlighted food and wine. For more on GoLocal's methodology, go here.
With a proprietary formula, we crunched the data and emerged with the ranking. See which cities and towns celebrate great food, day in and day out. Love food? Here's where to go.
#25 Bedford, NH
Southern New Hampshire
New England is filled with remarkable inns and restaurants that are nestled away from big cities and suburban sprawl--which means that many of the region's food towns are more like oases thriving on the wellspring of one or two incredible places to eat. Such is the case here just 10 minutes from busy Manchester, NH, where the luxurious Bedford Village Inn holds an award-winning restaurant that makes the town a true destination.
Eat at: The BVI Restaurant, which features high-end contemporary New England cuisine taking advantage of local purveyors, boasts a 8,000-bottle wine cellar, and plays host to Chef Invitational Dinners.
Extra points: You have to love that a state-run liquor store hosts NH Wine Week, featuring visiting wineries from around the country. Bedford's local plays a role. Don't miss it in January.
#24 Carroll, NH
White Mountains, New Hampshire
The historic Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods has hosted dignitaries for decades, and the restaurants on these glorious grounds lure food-lovers from far and wide to this small White Mountain town, whether they come to play or negotiate treaties.
Extra points: The Mount Washington Culinary Apprentice Program partners with The New Hampshire Culinary Institute at White Mountains Community College to offer a way for student/apprentices to work in professional kitchens and receive college credits.
#22 Lincolnville, ME
What distinguishes this small and beautiful coastal outpost near better-known Camden are two great destinations: Salt Water Farm and Maine's first vineyard, Cellardoor Winery. Cellardoor serves as a real food and wine lovers magnet for Lincolnville, hosting tastings, classes and chef's dinners for locals as well as tourists. Salt Water Farm hosts incredible cooking classes, full-moon feasts, and provides a great culinary heartbeat to the whole coastal region. (Note: Salt Water Farm will be opening a cafe and market in Rockport, ME in spring 2013.)
Eat at: Bay Leaf Cottages and Bistro is not just a fun destination for its Saturday night lobster dinners, but hosts great cooking classes as well.
Extra Points: Make the Inn at Ocean's Edge a destination to take advantage of its sumptuous breakfasts, shown here.
#22 East Harwich, MA
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
It's the Cape's most honored restaurant, and it creates a culinary destination unto itself in the beautiful village of East Harwich. Twenty-Eight Atlantic at the Wequassett Resort is what food-lovers travel for--the only Four Diamond AAA and Four Star Forbes restaurant on the Cape. Bonus? Beautiful Cape Cod village life, fresh seafood, and those Pleasant Bay oysters.
Eat at: Twenty-Eight Atlantic, not just for the upscale New American cuisine from executive chef James Hackney (shown here), but also for those eight-foot-windows that look out over Pleasant Bay.
#21 Ridgefield, CT
Fairfield County, Connecticut
Just one hour north of Manhattan, Ridgefield offers a perfectly delicious, remarkably low-key culinary destination. The centerpiece? The Stonehenge Inn's critically acclaimed restaurant
Eat at: The Stonehenge Inn's Restaurant has been winning Four Diamonds from AAA for 20 years, capturing acclaim from the New York Times, among other honors. It's classic continental, and it's done beautifully.
Extra points: Bernard Bouisseau (shown here) and his wife Sarah do great cooking all the time at their Bernard's Restaurant and Sarah's Wine Bar in an historic inn, and they also offer terrific cooking classes.
#19 Warren/Waitsfield, VT
Mad River Valley, Vermont
This Green Mountain ski getaway is an up and comer in the culinary landscape, and much of it is fueled by the food culture that springs from some excellent local dining as well as The Kitchen at The Store, a cooking school in a side room of a popular local gift shop. The schedule is packed with classes on everything from knife use to after-ski panini making, to classic sauces. Custom classes are available as well.
Eat at: 275 Main, the house restaurant at the luxurious, one-of-a-kind Pitcher Inn in Warren, a Relais & Chateaux property. Local beef, quail and rabbit, heirloom tomatoes and handmade cheeses, tender greens from nearby farms, locally gathered wild mushrooms and native apples are some of the elements used by executive chef Sue Schickler and her team (shown here). They're calling it Vermont's culinary True North.
#19 Ledyard, CT
Foxwoods Casino has put Ledyard, CT, on the map in many ways, and one of those is culinary. The destination casino has developed a deep bench of restaurants (38 in total), two of them AAA Four Diamond honorees.
Eat at: Paragon, Foxwood's classic gourmet French restaurant, has been snagging Four Diamonds for 6 years running. Craftsteak, acclaimed chef Tom Colicchio's restaurant on the property, puts steak worship front and center--and garnering Four Diamonds for doing so (shown here).
Extra points: Casinos really have put serious capital into becoming culinary destinations, and Foxwoods goes the extra mile by hosting food and wine festivals, including the Extraordinary Eats, an entire month devoted to special events.
#18 Old Saybrook, CT
This old-fashioned coastal Connecticut shoretown has a surprisingly gourmet scene, perhaps inspired by the confluence of the oceanic inspiration of Long Island Sound and the nearby Connecticut River.
Eat at: Fresh Salt, the newest and most interesting culinary star on the local scene. Right on the banks of the Connecticut, this casual but culinarily assured restaurant offers a varied menu with local provenance as well as creative events. Don't miss their Sunday Suppers.
Extra points: Fun and casual cooking classes and workshops at HomeWorks, a houseware shop in town.
#16 Rockland, ME
If you host the Maine Lobster Festival, you've got to be a food town. Rockland, this jewel on Penobscott Bay, is yet another wonderful coastal Maine community that loves its cuisine and puts out plenty of it.
Eat at: Primo, where Chef Melissa Kelly and Price Kushner are wholly committed to the entire cycle from farm to table. With two greenhouses and acres of produce, each day they harvest honey, fruits, veggies, eggs, edible flowers, micro-greens, fresh chicken and house cured & smoked meats. Keep an eye on Kelly, who just made the James Beard Awards Semi-Finals for Best Chef/Northeast. Note: Primo reopens for the Maine season in May 2013.
#16 Greenwich, CT
Sophisticated, urbane, and preppy, this upscale American enclave is keeping pace with great food and several award-winning restaurants that make it a dining destination.
Eat at: For luxurious minimalism, don't miss Rebeccas, the touted collaboration of husband and wife team Rebecca Kirhoffer and Chef Reza Khorshidi. For a second local indulgence, tuck into Thomas Henkelmann, the eponymous New French restaurant at Greenwich's famed Homestead Inn. (Henkelmann shown here.)
Extra points: The Greenwich Food & Wine Festival a weekend-long celebration, will be going into its 3rd year in Fall 2013, and is a great upgrade in the city-wide culinary scene.
#14 Ogunquit, ME
South Coast of Maine
It's a big deal to be nominated for a James Beard award, and it's a very big deal to win one. This little outpost on Maine's southern coast is home to not one but two such winners--Best Northeast Chefs of 2010 Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (shown here). Pioneers of the Farm to Table movement, these gentlemen set the tone for Ogunquit's reputation as a pilgrimage any food-lover wants to take.
Eat at: Arrows Restaurant, where Gaier and Frasier continue to innovate and delight. Arrows also hosts creative culinary events, so check the online calendar for inspiration. Note: Arrows will reopen for the season in April 2013.
Extra points: Little Ogunquit has its own Restaurant Week. Talk about culinary commitment.
#14 Watch Hill, RI
Coastal Rhode Island
Watch Hill has always been a getaway for the sophisticated New Yorker, and now, the beautifully restored Ocean House has made this enclave a dining destination. Boasting AAA's Four Diamonds as well as Mobil/Forbes' Four Stars, the resort's Seasons restaurant has set a whole new standard.
Eat at: Seasons, to enjoy Modern cuisine and impeccable service. Ocean House also hosts regular culinary events that draw chefs and vintners from around the country to Watch Hill.
#12 Stowe, VT
Unlike the destination ski resorts of the Rocky Mountains, New England ski resorts are not necessarily known for their food. But Stowe, this Northern Vermont ski town, enjoys what must be the effect of being so near the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier. Stowe boasts two Four Diamond AAA restaurants and a very lively dining scene. You might even forget to rent your skis with all the choices.
Extra points: The Stowe Wine & Food Classic is a marquis culinary event, and this year will feature an appearance by Providence's own Matt Jennings. Also, check out the wide variety of cooking classes offered at Stone Hill Inn.
#12 Newport, RI
Coastal Rhode Island
Talk about a makeover. This longstanding getaway for the rich and famous has completely revised its once-stodgy culinary reputation. With award-winning restaurants, fashion-forward small joints, and even its own gourmet tour company taking visitors behind the scenes, Rhode Island's City By the Sea is definitely upwardly mobile on the New England culinary social ladder.
Eat at: Don't miss Muse, the elegant restaurant created by Jonathan Cartwright for the Vanderbilt Grace hotel. For some of the most creative work in town (shown here), stop in at Tallulah on Thames, Jake Rojas' brilliant eatery.
Extra points: Newport is home to a remarkable string of food, wine, and restaurant festivals. Keep an eye on things here. Finally, watch for Castle Hill Inn's culinary events--they are some of the best in New England.
#11 Morris, CT
Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
Yes, this beautiful corner of Connecticut has always been known for its antiques and beautiful getaways. But when Winvian came to Morris, everything changed. The exquisitely creative luxury inn has created a culinary culture that ranks among the best in the region.
Eat at: The Winvian Restaurant does it all--from growing beautiful produce and herbs in its gardens, to culinary craftsmanship, to an expansive wine cellar. It's worth saving up for Winvian's Ultimate Gourmet Experience package, which includes special prix-fixe tasting menus and cooking classes. Not to mention staying in its remarkably appointed cottages. (Winvian chef at work, shown here.)
Extra points: If you can stand to leave the grounds, check out the SILO Cooking School in nearby New Milford.
#9 Nantucket, MA
This far-flung fishing and whaling outpost has become world-famous as a luxury travel destination, and the dense pack of Zagat's highly ranked restaurants both in its resorts and along its cobblestoned streets is testimony to the culinary power of Nantucket.
Eat at: The most lauded single restaurant on the island is Topper's, nestled luxuriously at the Wauwinet Resort. To sample more of Nantucket's wares, consider booking time during Restaurant Week, an incredible showcase.
Extra points: A destination Wine Festival doesn't hurt. Set aside several days in spring to make the most of it.
#9 Kennebunkport, ME
The word around town in Kennebunkport is that it's the next great food town in New England, as chefs are decamping from Boston to start new restaurants in a small town where they can also raise families. No wonder this town made the Top 10.
Eat at: For the grande dame of Kennebunkport dining, pay a visit to the White Barn Inn Restaurant, the only Five Diamond AAA and Five Star Mobil/Forbes restaurant in Maine. For small plates with the best artisan cocktails in the region, head straight for Old Vines Wine & Tapas Bar.
Extra points: Artisan ice cream has never been more deliciously realized than in the handcrafted small batches at Rococo Artisan Ice Cream. Every flavor, from pure vanilla to Guinness Stout, is better than the previous.
#8 Jackson, NH
White Mountains, New Hampshire
It's not just your parent's cross-country ski getaway any more. With two award-winning restaurants and a cooking school, this lovely White Mountain town places in the first Top 10 with ease.
Eat at: The Inn At Thorn Hill not only boasts award-winning cuisine, but hosts wine dinners and tastings. It's a perfect first stop on the Jackson culinary pilgrimage. Another stop: the equally honored restaurant at The Wentworth, an elegant country inn with every amenity (shown here).
Extra points: A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School, tucked away at the Bernerhof Inn, is the brainchild of writer/chef Steven Raichlen, and the course offerings are as varied as a winter's batch of snowflakes.
#7 Lenox, MA
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Whether you came for the classical music at Tanglewood, the yoga at Kripalu, or the iambic pentameter at Shakespeare and Company, you've discovered the tremendous food in tiny Lenox, Massachusetts. From great brewing at Lenox Coffee to Five Diamond dining at Wheatleigh, it's a feast. Plan at least a week, even without the arts. (You know how Hamlet ends, anyway.)
Eat at: Wheatleigh (shown here), for a consummate dining experience, from assured cuisine at the hand of Chef Jeffrey Thompson to flawless European service. For the new guard, check out James Beard 2013 Best Chef Semi-Finalist Bjorn Somlo's Nudel, a knowing and creative spin on the pasta restaurant.
Extra points: Culinary weekends at the Gateways Inn combine luxury accomodations, sumptuous meals, and immersion kitchen instruction.
#6 Bar Harbor, ME
No Mount Desert jokes needed. This Down East enclave is a bonafide culinary hotspot that combines gourmet dining with a low-key zeitgeist in perfect balance. With top-flight restaurants, cooking classes, and rich festivals, Bar Harbor is a food-lover's dream escape.
Extra points: Ambrosia Cooking School, right in Bar Harbor, holds classes on Maine classics such as blueberries, chowder and popovers, and the regional cooking of Maine.
#5 Camden, ME
Second only to Portland in the New England rankings, this Maine town possesses an amazing wealth of top dining, creative chefs, and passionate locals. Amid also-ranked Rockland and Lincolnville, Camden is the culinary heart of coastal Maine's remarkable string of small and mighty food towns.
Eat at: Any one of Camden's AAA Four Diamond restaurants will set you up for starters--the Hartstone Inn (calling itself, rightly, a fine dining B&B) or Natalie's Restaurant at the Camden Harbour Inn, Meanwhile, how could you miss the work of James Beard 2013 Best Chef Semi-Finalist Brian Hill at Francine Bistro?
#4 Portland, ME
Talk about a food town. There is no city of its size that contains so much independent cooking and notable dining than this beautiful city just two hours from Boston. Walking the streets of Portland's Old Port district is like walking any street in New York City's West Village or Soho, and without the attitude and high prices. Portland is a food-lover's pure pleasure, and its Top 5 standing in New England is proof.
Eat at: Where to start? A must-stop has to be Hugo's, then Eventide Oyster Company, one of Food & Wine's best restaurants for 2012 (shown here). Next? Fore Steet, a semi-finalist for the Best Restaurant 2013 James Beard Award. Don't miss Krista Kern Desjarlais, a Northeast Chef semi-finalist as well, at Bresca. (See what we mean?) In between, snag a basket of Maine potato fries done in duck fat at, yes, Duckfat.
#3 Providence, RI
This beguiling restaurant city has built on a mighty foundation of immigrant cooking from Italian to Central American and Asian, and layered in creative, upstart chef-driven restaurants nestled in the city's downtown neighborhood and West End. Providence hums with culinary activity, as it's the home of Johnson & Wales, the internationally renowned training ground of chefs of every stripe. The culinary culture permeates every neighborhood of the capital city, making it one big buzzing culinary hub.
Eat at: Begin at the beginning--the award-winning restaurant that put Providence on the map--Al Forno (shown here). From there, it's an abundance of riches--New Rivers, Farmstead (chef Matt Jennings is up for a Best Chef Northeast from James Beard this year), Chez Pascal, Gracie's, Nick's On Broadway, and Loie Fullers. Better yet--ask a local. Everyone has a passion for food, and for which restaurant does it just right.
#2 Cambridge, MA
All we can say is watch your back, Boston. Cambridge's culinary scene, like everything in this city just across the Charles River from culture-dominant Boston, is on the move. Smart chefs are opening award-winning restaurants all over town here, taking what has always been a fun food town to a next level.
Eat at: Cambridge has 5 chefs or restaurants that are semi-finalists for a James Beard 2013 award--Boston only has one more than that. Which of these to check out? You have to start with the exquisite, Mediterranean-infused Oleana, which gets much press and much deserved. Then jump to the upstart, Puritan & Company, up for Best New Restaurant, and Hungry Mother, where chef Barry Maiden is up for Best Chef Northeast. Finally, don't miss Craigie On Main, one of the city's most lauded restaurants.
Extra points: There's also the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Take that, Harvard and MIT.
#1 Boston, MA
You don't get to be the hub for nothing. Boston has led New England on every front, from finance to technology, from food and wine to arts, and although many smaller cities challenge from every corner, this self-proclaimed Center of the Universe continues to dominate the food and wine landscape. Home to dozens of award-winning restaurants and chefs as well high-voltage food events, Boston is the #1 Food Town in New England. Now, if you can just find parking.
Eat at: For culinary bucket listers, don't miss L'Espalier in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Menton, both Five Diamond AAA honorees among many other accolades. Make a point of getting to James Beard semi-finalist Jamie Bissonnette's Coppa Enoteca. For a treat, check out Joanne Chang's Flour Bakery + Cafe--she's also up for a Beard award. Clio and O Ya are on everyone's food radar, so don't miss those either (bar food from Clio, shown here). Feeling overwhelmed? Head to the Hawthorne for an artisan crafted cocktail and a rebooting.
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