In New England, no one gives directions to where something is, only to what used to be there. At the Lumber Yard Restaurant in Amherst, you don’t see Fenton’s, the sporting goods store that used to be there. Instead, you see a well-appointed and very calm restaurant that you’d never guess opened barely a month ago.
I’d read one review and heard some good things, but mostly people were asking each other if they’d eaten there. I did hear they had a good wine list, so while her husband and my wife were together at a UMass basketball game, I met my former business partner Kitty for dinner. Kitty appreciates wine and is one of the people most likely to understand the wine list.
Without reservations, we waited for a short 15 minutes on a comfortable couch beside the bar. The Lumberyard is not a college hangout; the couples and foursomes were generally older, with some experience, some money to spend, and nary a single baseball cap kept on inside the restaurant. I had a glass of Prosecco and Kitty had a glass of white, while we waited.
You can eat in one of two ways at the Lumber Yard, from the smaller bar menu with appetizers and smaller entrees or you can opt for the full dinner. The entrees are in the low $20s and wines by the glass are around $8, so if you go the entrée route, two things happen: you know you’re going to spend a little money and your expectations are raised. Kitty selected an Australian Shiraz and a California Rhone, both good choices.
The menu is on-line—entrees of salmon, lamb, a burger, a pan-roasted chicken breast, bolognaise sauce, and a pork chop. There was a New York Strip special, so we decided on the chicken breast and the steak, and ordered the steak “slightly past rare.” We split white bean crostini and some braised fennel as an appetizer. The white beans were smooth and creamy, but needed more seasoning, salt and definitely a little more garlic. They came with three rolled white anchovies which provided the salt, but we still wanted more garlic. A lemony salad—frisee I think—was a nice counterpoint. The fennel came topped with bread crumbs which added a nice texture to the fennel, which had a good licorice undertone.
The steak arrived on a bed of spinach, sided with some duck fat roasted fingerlings and topped with sautéed tomato chunks. A steakhouse on a plate. The steak was flavorful and cooked as ordered, and we both enjoyed it tremendously. I didn’t get much duck fat from the potatoes, but they were also well-cooked with a nice crust. The chicken was an airplane breast, the frenched first wing bone sticking straight up out of a salt-crusted and juicy breast. One continual battle between my wife and I is that my wife likes her chicken much more well cooked than I do. I don’t know what she would have thought of this one, but I thought it was juicy, flavorful, with not a touch of pink. Since I avoid chicken breasts like pork chops because they are both usually dry no matter how much brining they undergo, this was a surprise. The chicken came with feathery light gnocchi, which I am not sure were the right side, but were very well executed.
For dessert, I had a yoghurt panna cotta, topped with some pistachios and sided with some ripe berries and a really flavorful flowery honey. Someone in the kitchen really likes textures because each dish had a noticeable play of smooth and crisp.
I haven’t eaten at the new Chez Albert yet, but I’d say this is the best restaurant in Amherst. Make a reservation. Even in January.
383 Main Street | Amherst | (413) 253-4200. Open for dinner and closed on Mondays. Plenty of parking in the lot behind the restaurant.