Pleasant and Main brightens a winter day

My first impression was that you couldn’t get more essentially New England than this. My second was that I didn’t know anyone in New England could make this cup of coffee.

I first came to Pleasant and Main in Housatonic on a winter evening after a snowfall. It was tea-time and dusk, and the café door held a paper sign: Am splitting wood in the garden out back …

Out back holds a cabin just large enough for a stove, bookshelves and a chair. When I called in December, looking for real, thick hot chocolate, the owner, Craig Pero, told me he had just heated a cup on his wood stove while late oak leaves were falling and blowing past. Now I knew where he sat to drink it.

When I came back (coincidentally) on a morning soon after, he recommended a caffe latte. It came in a glass cup with steamed milk as rich as cream, and it tasted like dark chocolate, rich and warm. It reminded me of the South of France on a trip long ago, sitting at an outdoor table in the sun and stirring an oblong sugar cube into a palm-sized cup.

But here I sat at a table by a window, waiting for a friend. Inside, the place is half restaurant and half antique shop — one large, open room with long wooden tables, shelves of old glass behind the bar and a canoe in the rafters. With the coffee I sampled a croissant, soft and buttery and, most memorably, spread with a golden marmalade, lightly sweet and intensely flavored.

When breakfast came, the two of us began to laugh spontaneously at the generosity of it. Eggs Florentine with spinach and a deep yellow cheese sauce. Pancakes with cherries — heated to a deep red, not too sweet, gently thickened — and real maple syrup. Friends of mine have joked about carrying a hip flask to bring maple syrup to restaurants that only serve that flavored table syrup at brunch, and the real thing always warms me.

We tried a sweet crepe with lemon curd, a thick, tangy custard filling, and I asked for a second cup of coffee, something I almost never do. But this morning had become a festival without my noticing. An ordinary meeting over coffee had become sparkling clear, as though the sun had come out.

Vermont and Berkshire Bakeries warm up

At the A-Frame Bakery in Williamstown, Sharon Sutter is preparing pies — apple, pumpkin, cranberry and blueberry, pecan, maple apple mincemeat … and tarts, pumpkin rolls, and maple-glazed cheesecake. Later she will make Hanukkah treats, often for families wanting to send a holiday memory to students away from home. Christmas brings cakes, she said —…

Elizabeth’s restaurant warms a cold night

“Somebody in a red suit of mackinaw cloth and a wool hat is on the pond, fishing through the ice for pickerel. In winter pickerel tend to lose their somewhat muddy taste.” On a winter night some time ago, friends gathered at Elizabeth’s in Pittsfield for a celebration, and as Tom Ellis, the proprietor, began…

Sharing a Winter weekend

Polenta smooth as softened butter with sausage crisp, tender and sharp. Thick-sliced ham with collard greens, biscuits and pickled cabbage. An apricot scone, somehow soft, warm and lightly dry, with butter and honey on the plate — we broke it into pieces with  our fingers and dipped it in. On a Sunday afternoon in January, I…