Food in Western Mass

Before moving here I had only been here maybe three times and didn’t get to experience the food as much as I would have liked to. Sure I tried a few things like Tom’s Long Dog on the special New England bun and clam strips at the now defunct Webster’s Fish Hook, but after moving here I got to try more of the food and was really surprised.

The Pioneer Valley I was happily surprised to find is quite a foodie paradise, much like San Francisco, except the lines are a lot shorter. OK, there isn’t dungeness crab here, but I never really liked that and the crab here somehow is more acceptable to me, especially when it’s made into crab cakes.

We pretty much have a hugely diverse food culture here that covers Asian, Hispanic, Jamaican, Indian, German, French, Italian, Middle Eastern,  I’ll just stop there because you can pretty much cover any type of food here. [side note: I still haven’t found any Filipino food and I do miss my lumpia.]

There is such a diversity in the food here that in the two years I’ve been here I haven’t actually be able to try it all yet, but I’ve been happy with what I’ve had so far.

In San Francisco, I lived in the Sunset District which is on the Western side of the city and the population is about 60% Asian, which is really 60% Chinese. I could find three to four Chinese restaurants within a block there. Here the difference is, as an example, Downtown Florence where I live that has four pizza places in a block. The restaurants here cover all the bases in that they have Chinese and Japanese with a touch of Korean thrown in, so they’re really more Asian restaurants. Their food at all that I’ve tried is amazingly good and I don’t feel I’m missing anything. Places I’ve ordered from that I enjoy are Dynasty Gourmet, Westlake Gourmet, and Pho Boston.

When I told people on some of the San Francisco Facebook boards that I was leaving San Francisco I got a response from a San Francisco Native, who for some reason her high school was Wellesley High School, Bye Felicia, good luck finding a burrito in Massachusetts. Sorry girl, found it the first day and it was just as good if not a little better since the meat was smoked brisket. There are several Mexican restaurants here and their food tends to move a bit away from the more traditional into more of a fusion style, but you can still get a really good burrito here. I actually was a bit taken when I ordered an al pastor burrito and thought it was weird that it was sweet. For some reason in San Francisco most of the places that serve al pastor use very little if any pineapple in them and here they’re more traditional. I’ll say that I am not receiving any pay back for this, but I’ll mention Bueno Y Sano, La Veracruzana, El Comalito and Mission Cantina. There are others, but these are the ones I have eaten at and I have not been disappointed.

OK, let’s talk about seafood. It’s bloody well everywhere here. You can go to Stop and Shop or Big Y and find a good selection of seafood, but there are other places like Northshore Seafood for getting fresh seafood that doesn’t stink and is surprising a different smell than many of the seafood stores in San Francisco. If you want your seafood cooked, pretty much every restaurant has some form if it’s as simple as fish and chips or fried clams or scallops and of course we have roadside stands like Captain Jack’s that are…wicked cool. We were down in Holyoke one day and were near Schermerhorns Seafood restaurant and decided to try it. Honestly, the $5.95 lunch special that I got of fish and chips along with a side of clam chowder was off the hook. I had clam chowder in San Francisco which is the same as here and no, it wasn’t that red Manhattan clam chowder. San Francisco serves New England clam chowder, but for some reason Schermerhorns had me going back for more.

In general, the food here is pretty awesome and the portions are huge and inexpensive. I learned that if the price was over $10 it was going to be more than I would be able to eat.  Even going out for breakfast was a treat. It seems like if you go to a place a couple of times they’ll remember you when you walk in the door.

One of the things that is big here are the roadside stops. These are the burger places or clam shacks that are just by the side of the road that you pull up and grab your food and either eat in the car or they usually have a few picnic tables to sit and eat at. Our favorite stop is Scotti’s in Leeds. It’s a golf driving range, but the food there is always awesome. The only problem with a lot of the roadside stops is that they close down sometime around October and don’t open up again until April. My daughter loves Scotti’s and is always bummed when they’re closed down for the season.

The food choices here are so numerous that I apologize for leaving out any that some of the local would want me to mention, but if you send me a message I’ll probably mention them in their own article further down the road. Let’s just say you won’t get bored or go hungry here in Western Mass.

So We Left San Francisco

Just to give you a little bit of background, I had lived in San Francisco my entire life. There were only four places I lived in San Francisco that started with my family home and ended there as well when we sold the house and decided to leave for Northampton. BTW that’s my old house in San Francisco.

It was hard for me because even though I had moved out of the house I grew up in, I still have family living there and was constantly going back several times a week. I kind of didn’t feel like I ever really moved out sometimes. It had become a necessity though as things for us were getting worse and worse in San Francisco. Raising a family was something for the rich in San Francisco as many of the kids at our daughter’s school kept disappearing each year as they couldn’t afford to live there anymore. My Wife was a member of a Mom’s Club that dwindled quickly because even though many of those families had money it was tough for them.

Wife and I had talked about it several times in the past and when we finally decided early on in 2017 and started going through stuff in the house we didn’t really need anymore we started looking online at houses here. While it was a long time since I had been back here I always liked Florence and had this feeling we’d end up living there.

I found a mailing list from Only In Your State that covered Massachusetts and signed up and loved the daily updates I’d get. We were looking at places to live and with the e-list we saw things we wanted to do. When I was telling friends about wanting to sell and move a friend of mine jumped in and said that he had just started in real estate and would be interested in give it a shot. My friend Eric Janson helped us to sell our house in San Francisco and we found an agent back here, Lisa Palumbo to work with. They did the work for us while we packed and threw out stuff.

Within a month of having the house on the market it was sold and done. We were out of there with cash in hand and flying off to New England with no idea what we were going to do next other than stay in a hotel.

As it turned out the day after we dropped down here we had things set up with Lisa to finally meet her face to face for the first time and look at a few houses.

The first house we looked at in Florence we liked a lot and we ended up making an offer and got the house. It took us a month before we could actually move into the house, but we started planning from there. We still had lots of work to do and things to plan.

The longest I had ever spent anywhere outside of California was a two week trip to London I had done in the 90’s and while I was still kind of feeling like I was in tourist mode here with all the places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do, I knew I wouldn’t be running back to my home in San Francisco because we sold it.

Honestly, while things were a lot nicer here there was still a feeling of loss at leaving San Francisco, but at the same time what the City by the Bay had become wasn’t what I grew up with. It took me awhile to get over and I can still watch 4k YouTube videos if I feel like I’m missing out and the good thing about the videos is they don’t have a smell like some parts of San Francisco do.

Once we started to get settled into our new house and fixing up a few things around it I started to notice a few things that I hadn’t noticed before or if I did I had forgotten about. Most of this probably was because now I was actually having to do normal things like grocery shopping and getting gas:

  • People are really nice here: I never thought about it, but the people are pretty helpful and will say hi or wave at you as you drive by. Our first week in our house I met one of our neighbors Barbara who later that day came by walked into the house and gave my wife a banana nut bread she had made as welcoming gift. She and my wife talked for awhile since my wife grew up here Barbara was wondering if they had a connection. Most of the people on the block came to introduce themselves to us.
  • People rarely seem to hate their jobs: Everyone has a smile when you buy something from them in a store or restaurant. I wasn’t used to that. In SF most people just wanted to tell you how awful it was working where they were regardless if it was a deli and you were going in to pick up a sandwich they’d tell how much it sucked to work there. Here it’s not like that. It was kind of creepy at first being in a place where so many people were friendly and happy.
  • Gas Prices: My jaw dropped when I saw the gas prices that have only come down since then. Gas in SF was between $4-$5/gallon when we left and I think it was around $2.45/gallon here when we first arrived. It used to cost me $50-$60 to fill up my tank which I’d have to do twice a week in SF. Now I rarely pay over $25 to fill up here and I get about 50% better gas mileage because of less stop and go traffic and less hills.
  • Traffic: This is a good and a bad thing. On one hand your traffic is pretty light here in comparison, but on the other hand people are serious tailgaters here. I’ve even seen several people with the bumper sticker that says, The Closer You Get, The Slower I’ll Go. It took me awhile to get used to and yes, I do slow down if people get too close, but they usually slow down and back off as well. I’ve only had angry drivers go around me and honk at me about three times so far. You also don’t seem to have as many traffic accidents here as we did in San Francisco probably because all of Western Mass has less population than San Francisco. I would pass by a couple of car accidents daily in San Francisco on a regular basis.
  • Food: I honestly don’t feel like I’m missing out on much that I had in San Francisco. Here pizza places seem to be like Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. Downtown Florence has four pizza places within a block and in San Francisco you’d have four Chinese restaurants within a block. The Chinese food here isn’t too much different than in SF, except for chicken fingers which you’d never find in San Francisco and crab rangoon which was created in San Francisco, but you’ll never find it in San Francisco. The Mexican food is pretty good as well, but I was never a burrito snob like many of the people in San Francisco. I just order my burritos here without lettuce or rice.
  • It’s pretty diverse here: People in San Francisco would say to me, yeah, but it’s really white in New England isn’t it? and I’d have to say think less Asian. The part of San Francisco I lived in that was near the beach was close to 60% Asian and the majority of that was Chinese [probably why we had four Chinese restaurants on a block in shopping areas.] There’s much less of a territorial/tribal thing going on here than there was in San Francisco and everyone seems to have less problem living together. It’s kind of the way San Francisco used to be actually. The diversity is a bit subtle here, but people don’t seem to be as cut and dried White, Black, Hispanic, Asian here and I like that.
  • Wildlife: OK, we had raccoons and the occasional skunk in San Francisco, but wildlife was pretty much pigeons, rats and mice and now coyotes that moved in from Marin by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. We have squirrels and chipmunks that are always walking up to our kitchen door to say hello everyday [even the vermin here is cute!] I’ve had had to stop my car several times so deer, turkeys or a rather large snapping turtle had to cross the street. We currently have a family of foxes living in my neighbor’s yard that come to visit and we did have a bear come into our yard a couple of times which was kind of funny when you’re in the backyard and your wife yells at you turn around slowly and you realize you’re about 10 feet away from a black bear. We also have bunnies and lots of woodpeckers and bluejays that like to come and eat the crab apples on our tree. It’s like we’re living in a mini kind of zoo some days.

I really appreciate our new house that has a backyard we can use unlike the 100 ft. terraced backyard we had in San Francisco that we could only use the first 25′ and you’d usually get hit with cold air from the beach. Here we actually get enough warmth to want to go out in the backyard and do things. My daughter just likes to run around in the backyard because, well, she can. It is fairly quiet here except for the pistol range that’s about a half mile away. It’s really quiet though in comparison to San Francisco and where we used to live was referred to jokingly as the Suburbs of San Francisco even though it was still in San Francisco.

We were lucky that we got to move here before the whole Covid-19 pandemic hit so we at least got to see some things. It’s going to be interesting to see where I can go out and about to capture some video, but I promise you it will be in 4k and hopefully won’t be boring. We’ve already had some friends move here and I won’t be surprised if I have a few more friends moving into the area in the future. The Exodus from SF is just getting bigger and bigger every day.