In and Around Fitchburg, Massachusetts

This blog was created to discuss some of the positive aspects of living in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, that are often overlooked by outsiders and residents alike.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Monument Grill

As is the case with any move to a new area, one of the most frustrating things for me when I first came to Fitchburg was trying to find new places to eat. Fortunately, I already had a few friends living around here who were able to offer some suggestions, but I've had to do a lot of experimenting on my own to track down some new favorite restaurants. I met a friend for dinner last night at one of the best dining establishments I've found, The Monument Grill in Leominster.

This particular friend and I have a habit of ordering salads or appetizers rather than entrees so we can save room for dessert. Typically, the quality of the service provided to us declines dramatically when our intentions become clear to our server! Our server last night, however, was very kind and continued to treat us well despite the fact that the restaurant was actually surprisingly busy for a Tuesday evening. She was even nice enough to allow us to substitute rum caramel for the creme anglais that normally comes on the Warm Chocolate Cake (highly recommended!). We were also pleased that the staff wasn't bothered by the fact that we lingered for more than an hour after dessert.

I plan to include more restaurant reviews in this blog, so as a start, here are my general thoughts on The Monument Grill based on several visits over the past two years. The Fitchburg/Leominster area could use more restaurants like this! The atmosphere is warm and relatively upscale, with outdoor dining also available in the summer. The menu offers a variety of delicious options, including creative appetizers, fresh salads, and a plethora of entrees. In addition to poultry, seafood, and steak dishes, a few vegetarian pasta dishes are available. The wine list is decent, and I would highly recommend the chocolate espresso torte for dessert. This is a great location to celebrate a special occasion, impress a date, or simply enjoy some wonderful cuisine. Overall, I'd give it a top rating in all regards (quality, selection, service, and atmosphere).

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Friday, September 22, 2006

My Commute - Farmstands and Foliage Galore

Fall is by far my favorite time of year for commuting - aside from the increased traffic associated with the start of the school year of course! I work just outside of Boston. In the mornings, I follow Route 2 east until just before the rotary, and I then get off and cut over to Route 117 east for the remainder of the way. In the evenings, when there’s less school bus traffic, I’m fortunate enough to be able to follow Route 117 west nearly the entire way home. My route takes me past more than twenty farm stands, orchards, and nurseries. Some of my favorites include Derby Orchards for peaches, Bolton Spring Farm for fresh bread, Great Brook Farms for fresh sandwiches, and Romano Greenhouses for hanging plants.

My ride generally takes about one hour. Unlike past commutes I’ve had that took a similar amount of time to cover a much shorter distance, I’ve found that this commute is almost relaxing. One of my co-workers lives in the city of Boston - she requires an hour to get to work, just as I do! When people talk about coming out “my way” for the Bolton Fair in the fall, I just smile to myself and think of how I literally drive through the fairgrounds every night on my way home. They speak enthusiastically of rare trips to go apple-picking, while I think of how I stop at various orchards en route to home on many evenings to pick up groceries. I feel fortunate to have discovered an area that combines rural charm with modern conveniences!

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Garlic and Arts Festival

This weekend, I attended the 8th annual North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival in Orange. I always thought of Orange as being so far away, but it only took about a half hour to get there! (I suppose that parallels what people often mistakingly think about Fitchburg.) We decided to hike in from Bullard Farm in New Salem, which was just under 3 miles each way. The route we followed was part of the Chestnut Hill Trail system. It was a bit difficult to locate the start of the trail, but thanks to the help of the kind owner of the Bullard Farm Bed and Breakfast, we had no problems after that.

The premise of the Garlic & Arts Festival is to celebrate the two eponymous products of the region. Unfortunately, my ability to sample the garlic component was limited by a larger-than-anticipated crowd that led many of the food venues to run out of menu items. But at least the garlic spread I found for my veggie burger was very good! I also brought home some fabulous “garlic lover’s pesto” from Linabella’s Gourmet Garlic Farm.

The arts component of the festival far exceeded my expectations. Patrick Zephyr’s photography was truly astounding, capturing both vivid landscapes and tiny wildlife with striking clarity. James Kitchen’s work was also impressively unique, combining found scrap metal objects to create sculptures with a strong sense of personality and implied motion. And when the time comes to finish off my basement, I now intend to incorporate the offerings of Royalston Arts Foundry into my design - some of their bronze tiles were such works of art that I was tempted to purchase single tiles to simply frame and hang on my walls! The afternoon was capped off with a performance by Dar Williams, who is quite a well-known folk artist.

Throughout the festival, there was a strong emphasis on recycling. Last year, they reportedly created only two bags of trash! This year’s goal was to reduce that to zero bags of trash, which is a significant accomplishment considering that nearly 10,000 people were in attendance. The entire event was run using solar power, and there were environmentally-friendly education booths scattered among the agricultural- and arts-themed booths. Combined with the perfect weather, it really was a great day overall!


Friday, September 15, 2006

Comedy Show at Fitchburg State College

Last night, I attended a comedy show at Fitchburg State College with my husband and a friend. Dennis Donohue (who’s been featured on Howard Stern) opened, Steve Hofstetter (of fame, among other things) delivered an impressively lengthy set as the main act, and Theo Von (from Road Rules and Last Comic Standing) rounded out the evening. All three comics put on an amazing show. These were real first-class acts, comparable to those you’d pay a fortune to see at Comedy Connection in Boston.

But unlike at the Comedy Connection, where you fork over at least $20 per person and keep your fingers crossed that the comic isn’t absolutely terrible (which happens to me about 25% of the time), last night’s show at FSC was FREE, with the college picking up the entire cost of the comedians! When my friend first told me of the event, I thought it was rather unlikely that it was open to the public and assumed that if it was, there would be a fee for non-students. He emailed the event organizer for clarification and received an immediate response that the general public was more than welcome to attend, and for free.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a number of references in the local media to the fact that FSC hopes to do its part to improve the quality of life in Fitchburg. I tended to dismiss those comments as PR rhetoric, but last night’s show was a great example of how the college is reaching out to Fitchburg residents. I hope to take advantage of my proximity to FSC as much as possible in the future and would encourage others to do so as well. For a schedule of upcoming events, Social Web is a great resource - clicking here brings you to the FSC events page.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Berkshires one evening, Boston the next

I have become completely addicted to The Smokin’ Hippo in Erving. As the name implies, BBQ is their specialty. They make their own thick, tasty sauce and slow cook the meats in their smoker. The result is an unbelievably moist, smoky flavored dinner. There’s also a lot more than BBQ to offer. The salads consist of farm-fresh veggies (no pale iceberg lettuce here!), the corn-on-the-cob is from a local grower, and the jalapeno cheddar cornbread is a creative treat. There are many other items on the menu, including vegetarian options and seafood. Eight BBC offerings are on tap, with a sampler tray available for those not familiar with the brewery (or for those who can't pick just one brew!). It recently occurred to me that since Erving is less than 45 minutes from my house, why limit myself to weekend trips there? So I headed out for dinner on a weeknight, leaving home at 6:30 p.m., eating a relaxed dinner (with dessert), and making it home around 9:00 p.m.. Heck, that’s about the amount of time I’d be gone if I decided to wait for a table at the Outback Steakhouse two miles from my house!

The following day, I learned that there was a big sale happening at one of my favorite boutiques in Boston at Copley Plaza. I left home again around 6:30, purchased a great dress, grabbed some dinner at the Prudential Center food court, and was home before 10:00.

So what’s my point? Well, other than “try The Smokin’ Hippo!,” my message here is that Fitchburg is VERY uniquely situated. I’m really enjoying the opportunity to live within an hour of Boston as well as in close proximity to all that the Mohawk Trail region has to offer.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


My 88-year-old neighbor came by yesterday while I was out working in my yard. He has the most astounding backyard garden and offered to share some of his crop with me, just as he did last year. It’s amazing to wander into his backyard to find endless vines full of fresh grapes...the scene is just as picturesque (albeit on a smaller scale) as vineyards I’ve visited in Europe and Australia! My neighbor’s tomatoes came out particularly well this year, and I look forward to trying some of the soon-to-be-ready butternut squash.

This elderly man is just one of many kind neighbors I’ve encountered since moving to Fitchburg. I previously lived in a rather wealthy MetroWest town where no one seemed to have the time to be friendly. It’s great to now live in a place where one neighbor loans me gardening books, another leaves homemade “Scotch Kisses” (a caramel and marshmallow candy I was told was once a Fitchburg tradition) on my porch, and a third helped clear our driveway when our snowblower died in the middle of a blizzard.

Our neighborhood is made up primarily of middle-class working families of different ethnic backgrounds living in older, modest-sized homes. Some people have lived on our street most of their lives, while others (like my husband and me) are young couples new to the area. Although our backgrounds are varied, we all seem to share an underlying pride for our homes and the neighborhood, which has created a sense of community that I’ve not experienced in other places I’ve lived. It’s just another of the unexpected perks I’ve found living in Fitchburg.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Riverfront Park

When I first moved here in fall 2004, there was a lot of coverage of Riverfront Park in the press. Unfortunately, despite actively trying to locate the park, I was never able to find it! This Saturday, after stopping at The Daily Bagel to pick up some sandwiches (highly recommended!), my husband and I decided to try again to find the park. Since I'm posting this, that tells you we found it. Access is via Commercial Street - there's no parking allowed on Commercial Street, but we had no trouble parking along Boulder Street and were pleased to see there's no parking meter charge on weekends. The park spans from Putnam Street to Commerical Street. Hopefully this information is enough to help anyone else looking for the seems that the city assumes that we all know where it is!

What a beautiful spot. The park was a lush expanse of soft green grass, bordered on one side by the Nashua River and on the other side by railroad tracks. Looking up towards Main Street reveals a classic New England downtown, with brick buildings, Victorian homes, and a forest backdrop. A number of benches are available, but we instead chose to picnic in the grass. I was surprised that despite the perfect weather, our only companions in the park were a mother and her children, who were driving around the paths in PowerWheels. If you go, be sure to wander over the old iron bridge for the best river view. Of note, handicap-accesible restroom facilities are available.

A number of activities are held in the park throughout the year, including free Friday night movies in the summer. Check out the event schedule for more information.

I have contemplated starting a blog such as this for some time now. After finally making it to Riverfront Park (to me, something of an epitome of realizing that Fitchburg truly does have much to offer but that those offerings are sometimes difficult to find), I decided that now was the time to get started. I certainly hope that this blog can begin to serve as a forum for those who want to share why Fitchburg is a great place to live, as well as for those who are considering coming to the area.