Every day this week I'm sharing highlights from my road trip to Western Mass. with the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council. Our morning was spent noshing (apple cider doughnuts at Atkins Farms Country Market, brunch at Esselon Cafe) and our afternoon was spent shopping (Ellie's Oils, Essentials, Artisan Gallery), so by the time we hit 3:00pm we were ready to rest our feet.
We perched at ConVino Wine Bar, the newest addition to Thornes Marketplace in downtown Northampton (more on Thornes in a minute). The entrance to ConVino is on Armory Street. Though the day we arrived the sidewalk was bare, in the summer ConVino has outdoor tables.
Inside, the space is wonderfully warm and inviting. The lounge area is a mix of tables and chairs and plush arm chairs. If you look closely, you can see the piano against the far wall.
ConVino has a large U-shaped bar, illuminated by tear drop light fixtures.
We decided to sit in one of the booths with windows overlooking Armory Street. Once we were seated, we were introduced to ConVino's owner, Caroline McDaniel. In chatting with Caroline we learned she opened ConVino just over a year ago on January 31, 2015. She joked that opening a new restaurant in the middle of the worst winter in Massachusetts probably wasn't the best idea, but she clearly survived!
Caroline graduated from Smith College and went on to spend many years in the restaurant industry. In fact, she has consulted on the creation of over 90 restaurant menus across the country. When I asked how she learned so much about wine she said, "I came to wine from food. For me, it's all about which wines enhance the food experience."
At ConVino Caroline has built a wine list with over 100 varieties with an emphasis on small wineries. She explained, "I really try to select wines that you can't find in a store."
Excited to sample some of her personal selections, we asked for her advice based on the types of wines we typically like to drink. My friend wound up with a glass of Fouassier Sauvignon Blanc and I tasted the Durigutti Malbec.
In addition to the excellent wine list, Caroline has also put together a delicious food menu with everything from small bites to large entrees. All of the food has a Mediterranean influence. We ordered two appetizers. The first to arrive was the gougeres.
We also nibbled on the spanakopita. Everytime I order this dish I feel badly because nothing compares to my aunt's version, but I must say, this was a valiant contender.
ConVino's rendition had a flaky crust and a great ratio of spinach to cheese. Caroline let us in on her spanakopita secret - she layers uncooked rice into the dish so that when it cooks in the oven, the rice soaks up all the water from the spinach. Brilliant!
While we were sipping and snacking, the marketing director for Thornes Marketplace came to join us. Her name is Jody Doele and she gave us a great history lesson on downtown Northampton and the Thornes building. She even brought props!
The building that now houses Thornes Marketplace used to be a department store called McCallum's.
Over 30 years ago, the building was transformed into Thornes Marketplace. The owners wanted to pay homage to the original McCallum's, so designed the storefront to mimic the old look and feel.
Jody very sweetly gave us a guide to all four floors of the marketplace, putting a smiley face next to the merchants she felt were not to be missed. Her strongest recommendation was to visit Heavenly Chocolate. Who are we to say no to chocolate?
After we finished our delicious glasses of wine and said goodbye to Caroline, we headed up two flights of stairs in search of this famous chocolate.
Heavenly Chocolate already had a line so long that the entire treat case was blocked! I waited not so patiently to take these snaps.
We got right up to the glass and started scanning. We were both drawn to the beautiful presentation of these fruit jellies. As you know, I don't do fruit, but even I could appreciate what a pretty gift these would make.
We knew we wanted to get chocolate to take home so we squinted to read the descriptions in front of every single square and truffle. They were offering festive Valentine's Day boxes, so of course we opted for those.
My friend picked out a few pieces for her fiance - one peanut butter, one caramel, one coconut.
I went with the Valentine's Day special, a box of love bugs and hearts! I can't get over how cute these little buggers are!
I tried to wait until February 14th to eat these, but I failed miserably. The love bugs were calling my name! In case you're wondering, one is raspberry flavored and one is strawberry flavored. They are super yummy and I would definitely get them again.
With our heart-shaped boxes in tow, we continued shopping at Thornes. We found amazing cards in Noteworthy, swooned over home decor in Cedar Chest and browsed baby books for a friend's shower in Booklink Booksellers.
If you're spending time in Northampton or any of the surrounding towns, you have to set aside a few hours to explore Thornes Marketplace. The shopping is excellent and there are food options on every level. When you're ready to rest and recharge, be sure to have a glass at ConVino. It's great for pre-dinner drinks or just to warm you up from the freezing cold.
A big thank you to Caroline and Jody for having us!
*This post is sponsored by the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council. All opinions are 100 percent my own.