This week it's all about Western Mass. here on Pop.Bop.Shop. Yesterday I shared with you my visit to Atkins Farms Country Market in Amherst, MA and today I want to let you in on a secret. The best place for brunch isn't in Boston's South End, it's in Hadley, MA. It's my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Esselon Cafe.
We arrived to Esselon fresh off our sugar high from the cider doughnuts at Atkins. We each had just one doughnut (well, one of each kind) to be sure we left plenty of room for brunch.
Esselon is located on the Common in Hadley. Remember in "Gilmore Girls" how they had a center of town where all the big events happened? It's like that.
Esselon has it's own free parking lot with ample space for hungry customers.
Just as we were about to open the front door, I shouted, "Wait!" I noticed the cafe's moniker spelled in tile under our feet.
Inside, the cafe is beautiful. Just beyond the front door is a large, round table that is normally a communal spot, but it can also be reserved for big groups. The table is illuminated by a stunning chandelier.
The main dining room has a Parisian feel. In fact, I am pretty sure I sat on those same exact chairs countless times while in Paris.
What really takes your breath away is the gilded ceiling. It's opulent, but not overpowering. My camera could not even begin to capture it's true magnificence.
The dining room leads to what is normally the patio. In the winter months, Esselon is able to close it in and heat the space.
I was drawn to the floral shaped light fixtures warming the multi-season space.
In addition to the patio, Esselon also has a backyard with tables, benches and Adirondack chairs. Esselon's owner, Mark Krause, told us that in prime season, the backyard has over 1,500 tulips in bloom. I can't wait to go back and see that myself.
In addition to the food they serve (lots more about that in a minute), Esselon roasts all their own coffee - over 2,000 pounds per week! Wanting to share their passion for coffee, they teach barista classes and they even sell coffee roasting equipment and machines.
After Mark spoke so energetically about their coffee practices, we couldn't pass up tasting a few of their signature drinks. My friend started with a latte, which came with quite the pattern! After a few sips she commented, "The coffee was strong, but not as strong as espresso, and it blended really well with the milk."
Though I rarely drink coffee, when in Rome, am I right? I ordered an ice mocha which came topped with a mountainous swirl of whipped cream.
This mocha was the ideal ratio of coffee to chocolate and gave me a serious jolt!
When Mark was giving us a tour of the space, he explained that all of Esselon's baked goods come from a fellow Hampshire County business, Woodstar Cafe in Northampton, MA. He insisted we try their chocolate croissant.
This croissant was flaky, buttery heaven! And once you got to a piece with chocolate? It tasted like an entire candy bar was melted inside. It's a good thing I don't live closer! I'd be popping in here every morning just for the croissant.
Buzzing from our coffee drinks and grinning from the unexpected sweet treat, it was time to get down to business. We had studied the brunch menu when we first walked in and we had narrowed it down to one savoy dish a piece. Just as we were about to order, we were introduced to the chef, Dennis, and he inisted we add one more item to our order.
About ten minutes later, this feast was placed before us:
I had selected one of the brunch specials, a version of eggs benedict.
It came with two poached eggs, garlic spinach and green chickpeas, all on top of grilled polenta and drizzled with Esselon's house hollandaise sauce.
I know that I often speak in superlatives, but I kid you not when I say, this was the best eggs benedict I have ever had. Period.
The eggs were cooked perfectly, the hollandaise sauce was creamy but not too heavy, the spinach was super fresh and the green chickpeas added a great color to the dish and a surprising pop to every bite. I also loved the grilled polenta in place of the traditional English muffin. It made it so that you could enjoy every element of the dish without getting painfully full. Similarly, the benedict comes with a side salad instead of home fries, still keeping it light.
My friend went with a classic breakfast - two eggs, bacon, a potato pancake and toast. She asked for her eggs "over easy" and was thrilled with how they were cooked. They plate was topped with two pieces of multigrain toast, an excellent vehicle for eating the eggs.
I forgot to snap a picture of her side of bacon, but she raved about that too. In fact, at one point she said, "Honestly, if we lived here, we'd be here every weekend." She also wanted me to note that having the small potato pancake and the side salad instead of a big pile of home fries allowed her to really enjoy every component on the plate, rather than feeling stuffed right away.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Clearly they have eaten enough. Wrong!
Chef Dennis recommended we also try the sweet potato pancakes with bourbon whipped cream and who are we to say "no" to the chef?
The plate comes with three oversized pancakes, a generous spoonful (more like ladle size) of the bourbon infused whipped cream and a sprinkle of nuts.
The pancakes were so unbelievably light! You could taste the bourbon in the whipped cream, but it wasn't overly boozy. Just a hint. If you shared these with a table of friends, they'd be gone in 30 seconds.
Once we'd devoured all three plates, we got to chat more with Mark (the owner) and Dennis (the chef). Mark has owned Esselon for nearly 10 years. He took over just about a year and a half after the place first opened. Since then, he's moved into a house down the road with plenty of farm land. On that land he grows all kinds of things for the cafe - tomatoes, kale, spinach, arugula, lavender and even sunflowers (for decor). What he doesn't grown on his own, he procures from local farmers. He and the team shop exclusively at local markets and feel very strongly about supporting the community that they live in.
Chef Dennis, who just came on board a few weeks ago, shares that local-first philosophy. He grew up in Western Mass. and really loves the area. He had previously worked at Osteria Vespa in Amherst, MA and The Farm Table in Bernardston, MA, before starting at Esselon. Now he and Mark have joined forces to bring exceptionally fresh and delicious food to their neighbors.
Ever the amazing host, Mark refused to let us go without offering us cookies for the road, chocolate chip for me and ginger molasses for my friend. We didn't wind up enjoying the cookies until the next day, but they were both exceptional.
Esselon Cafe is hands down one of the best brunch spots I've ever been to, and as you know, I eat brunch. A lot.
The food was so good that I would happily drive the 90 minutes from Boston to Hadley just to dine there and then turn around and go right back.
A huge thank you to Mark and chef Dennis for the unparalleled hospitality.
*This post is sponsored by the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council. All opions are 100 percent my own.