I’m fairly myopic in my interests. When I travel, I focus on which restaurants to visit. I like to read cookbooks. And for weekend activities that don’t involve driving a child to some sort of sports practice, I like to have a food theme. Without summer's easy access to farms, markets, and picking opportunities, I am challenging myself to find creative foodie entertainment near Arlington in the cold months.
A great outing for all ages is the Taza Chocolate Factory in Somerville’s Union Square. It’s a “bean-to-bar” chocolate factory that creates chocolate confections from cacao sourced and imported directly from farmers. There’s a store with numerous sampling opportunities, but you can also take a tour of the factory (kids really dig wearing the hairnets). I love the traditional Mexican grooved stone mills Taza uses to grind the cacao nibs, and the stream of chocolate liquor coming down a conveyor belt is way cool. Afterwards, you can have a great sandwich at Sherman Café and peruse the local foodstuffs at its partner Sherman Market.
If you don’t feel like heading east, then go west. While a bit farther than Somerville, there are several food destinations out Route 2 in the MetroWest area (it's not just for apple picking). We found a gem of a restaurant in Stow called Nancy’s Airfield Café. It’s got delicious food, sources many ingredients locally, and bonus—comes with built-in kid entertainment since it is located on a working airport. The interior décor is a bit chintzy, but I was too busy wolfing down my Monte Cristo sandwich to notice.
In nearby Acton, tucked into a strip mall, is Kitchen Outfitters, an independent and well-stocked shop for kitchen wares. If you don’t spend all your money there, go next door to the Acton Coffee House, a nice alternative to the ubiquitous chains for a coffee break. Idylwilde Farms is nearby, and although it’s a lot like Wilson Farm and perhaps not worth a special trip, I did find Baer’s Best Beans there—a local product for which I’ve been searching mightily. I picked up some beautiful calypso beans which I plan to cook like this, a good winter stick-to-your-ribs side dish with a hefty dose of bacon. On your way home, you can stop at Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord to take home one, or two or three, loaves of bread (their whole wheat is a mainstay in our house). If you need to entice the little ones to commit to getting in the car at all, nearby bribery is available with the Acton Discovery Museum or snow tubing at Nashoba Valley.
If you are hard up for something to do and you have no desire to venture outside in the cold, you can always check out the on-line gallery at Arlington’s Burnt Food Museum. I had no idea it existed, but a friend recently shared the site with me. I must say, it's impossible not to giggle at the photos of burnt ”Kruncheroni” and the shriveled oranges.
We've still got a lot of winter left, and I will soon be out of ideas. What are your favorite foodie destinations?