One of the perks of living in a place for a while is that you start to learn where some of its treasures are hidden.
On any given evening, Northampton's downtown might be teeming with visitors trying to decide between the many culinary options available here, but in some cases, it's on the city's fringes or other neighborhoods that the best eats can be found.
Despite all the Asian-influenced restaurants on Main Street, for instance, many locals feel the best Chinese dining can be found at Great Wall, a sumptuous culinary experience strangely squirreled away in an unlikely strip mall in Florence. Similarly, while there are many restaurants that offer fine dining on the Paradise City's main drag, until recently, arguably the finest was tucked away in an old Victorian house near Smith College on Green Street.
While the Green Street Café closed its doors earlier this year, another French-influenced café remains on that street, just a few doors down, also offering unique delights.
Unlike its predecessor, which, despite its more humble name, was really a high-end restaurant, No. 40 Green Street is an actual café, and it fulfils this title to a degree not commonly found on this side of the Atlantic. Though large letters over the front door loudly announce that "LUNCH" is served, the place is bustling from six in the morning until eight at night, offering baked goods, sandwiches, salads, elaborate snacking platters and a wide array of beverages, including coffee, juices, beer and wine.
Located in a small storefront nestled between two bigger buildings and set back from the tree-lined street, No. 40 Green Street has the feel of a favorite hidden nook. Inside, despite the large windows facing the street, the sconce-lit space is intimate. Circled by small tables, a bustling staff offers up a range of lighter fare from behind a counter. The menu hangs from the ceiling, listing a blend of local produce and exotic imports (Shetland gravlax, Marcona almonds, sopressata and prosciutto, for instance), but the moment you step inside, central to the experience is the smell of the buttery, the aromas of baked breads wafting in from the ovens out back.
By the center of the counter are the fine specimens themselves, displayed as beautifully as you'd see in any foreign boulangerie—a faggot of baguettes and a pyramid of golden crispy croissants.
Another advantage local diners have over the out-of-towner is that we get a chance to learn an eatery's menu and make amends when errors in ordering occur. Though my wife and son have made a habit of visiting No. 40 Green Street on their way home from work and school at the end of the day, I went at lunchtime. While they have repeatedly told me I need to try the croissants, I'd recently decided to try to limit my bread intake. I went for the Hana Sesame noodle salad.
It was a fine salad, but I had a bad case of restaurant remorse: everyone else's choices looked better.
A few weeks ago, returning home one morning from errands, I stopped by No. 40 Green Street again and ordered up one plain croissant to go. It was still warm when I sat down and began to apply a smudge of butter and a dollop of jam.
American croissants (if that's not an oxymoron) all overdo the light and airy thing. Sure, you need the center to melt in your mouth, but not like cotton candy and not every step of the way. True croissants have firm, chewy hides that offer delicate resistance as you work on them and which keep the light pastry inside warm and manageable. When you're done, you shouldn't have a plate full of flaky scales left over.
The croissants served on Green Street are honestly wonderful. While they may not be what my doctor ordered, they make good neighbors.