My parents visited Amherst this past weekend, but my ma didn’t even know that it was parents’ weekend until she noticed the multitude of cars parked haphazardly along the freshman quad drive. Although she certainly confirmed that I am the youngest of four in a busy and distracted family, she also pointed out an aspect of parents’ weekend that can make life difficult when trying to eat out: Amherst gets packed. Thankfully, I guessed correctly that late on a Sunday morning, I could find my favorite corner bakery ready for business and blissfully peaceful, even when more lively than usual.
Now, I realize the implications of rejoicing in the relaxing atmosphere of Wheatberry amidst prime brunch time during Amherst’s family weekend. As every brunch place bustled and achieved full capacity, Wheatberry maintained a steady but meandering flow of customers that managed to fill the café but begged the question of whether Wheatberry is good or simply the best kept secret in town. I will opt for the second choice as I attest to the quality of Wheatberry’s food in flavor and ingredients used. Furthermore, Wheatberry is a little secret that I don’t have to share with Amherst; this petite café and bakery sits one block from Amherst, near Bruno’s and the Emily Dickinson Museum, but I rarely see an Amherst student there on my occasional visits.
As I ponder Wheatberry’s less than hectic atmosphere, I can recognize certain contributing factors that may make this special bakery less popular among college students, or more so, depending upon the audience. I must start with the warning that Wheatberry is not cheap. It cannot be visited often if I am to stay afloat, so Wheatberry is for special occasions. Secondly, the café demands this premium because of the quality of their ingredients; Wheatberry uses grains from a grain cooperative in the Pioneer Valley, milk from Mapleline Farm in Hadley and eggs from Granby. All products involve locally sourced, fair trade and organic ingredients, forcing Wheatberry to charge more as they pay extra for environmentally-friendly foods that support local businesses. Finally, I find no problem with the portion sizes because I do not eat as much as a starving college boy, but I do know that some students might find the ratio of food to dollars less than satisfactory simply because they prefer greater quantity than quality. However, this food is all homemade, including the bread and pastries.
So, I understand why Wheatberry is not that favorite spot everyone wants to visit everyday but fears will be too busy; the café appeals to a certain type who may want to spend a bit extra for a special meal. This decision hints that the diner enjoys high-quality food at the expense of experiencing that surprisingly satisfying sensation of being incapable of movement after bolting down a massive plate of cheap food. This diner may also have a few extra minutes in his day and wants to treat his or herself to that leisurely meal. Or maybe he or she simply wants to veer from the popular track and find that awesome, unknown, hole-in-the-wall spot that tastes great and supports higher aims than simply serving as many people as possible.
That last comment probably sounds snooty. However, from a small, organic farmer’s perspective, I love the thought of supporting local business that, in turn, helps other organic farms and sustainable operations in the area. And so, I visit Wheatberry when I can and appreciate this opportunity to see one aspect of the organic farming community situated in the Pioneer Valley.
And so, late Sunday morning, I stepped into Wheatberry anticipating a wonderful meal that could also result in having to eat on campus for a good while after. Since my first visit, I think I have only ever ordered one dish, the Locavore ($8.95) on a homemade everything bagel. I love this breakfast sandwich because everything about it is homemade and fresh. The bagels are baked at Wheatberry, and the soft eggs are freshly scrambled. The cheese sags and overflows the edges of the bagel as the fresh butter drips down the sides. I have to sit and eye my food longingly as I wait for it to cool down enough for me to rush that first bite and breathe deeply as I try to ventilate my steaming mouth. I should maybe try some other options, like the Herbivore ($8.10) — a bagel with beets, carrots, pickled celeriac, pickled onions and thyme; the Rooster ($12.05) — toast with pork sausage and scrambled eggs; or the Happy Hen ($12.75) — eggs with vegetarian sausage and toast; but I adore the Locavore and never regret my decision.
My second favorite aspect of Wheatberry has to be their drinks. I am a beverage lady; I adore trying all those interesting concoctions. When I step into Wheatberry, I may plan to only have coffee with my meal, but I know that I will end up with a second drink. On Sunday, I enjoyed their honey steamer — steamed milk with local, and wonderfully flavorful, honey. My usual variation is a maple steamer — steamed milk with real maple syrup. And if asked about their chai tea, I would say that Wheatberry has one of the best iced chai teas I have ever had.
By this time, you may have guessed that I love Wheatberry. You are correct, but I must add some caveats to this recommendation. First, I have already mentioned that it does not fit well into a college student’s tight budget. Second, although the food is nutritious, local and can cater to vegetarians and vegans, I must warn you that Wheatberry only uses full-fat ingredients. You cannot order that Starbucks-esque skinny chai latte because Wheatberry only has whole milk, and your toast will be slathered in butter. Thus, I understand why Wheatberry does not draw the largest of crowds, but I like to think that those who do visit understand the significance of their supporting local business and that they appreciate the quality and indulgence of their food. At the end of the day, I hope that you try something out of the norm and see what Wheatberry is all about because I love their food and I feel good about eating it too, particularly while I am using their compostable plates and silverware.