I've passed Esselon Cafe many times, as it sits right on Rt. 9 between Hadley and Northampton. But I didn't realize they served breakfast until we recently went by earlier than usual and I saw parking lot full of cars. To me, a line out the door or a packed parking lot is one of the best signs of a good restaurant, so I knew we had to check it out.
As I entered the cafe, I thought I'd stepped into a Moroccan bazaar with the heavy fabric drapes around the front door, the dark walls interspersed with bursts of playful color in the artwork and the gold-gilded ceiling. I knew we were in for something more than your basic pancakes and eggs.
It took us a minute to figure out what to do because there appeared to be a hostess stand, but there was no hostess, nor a sign telling us to seat ourselves. But then we noticed an "order here" sign at the coffee counter, so we figured it must be a seat yourself/cafeteria kind of thing. We grabbed a couple of menus at the hostess stand and looked over the specials on the board, too. I was really surprised at the variety they had - everything from omelets to pancakes to breakfast tortillas. And they had quite a few vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options.
I went with the Challah French toast and Mr. ValleyWriter picked the blueberry pancakes. We also ordered 2 Costa Rican coffees, which they roast right there on the premises. We got our coffees at the counter when we ordered and were told to pick a table and someone would bring out our order when it was ready.
We chose to sit in the main dining area, but there was also a porch area (closed in for the winter). I imagine it would be a beautiful place to have breakfast on a nice spring or summer morning. We sipped our coffee, which was excellent by the way - well balanced and smooth - just like I like it. As we waited, we noticed a lot of people on laptops and then saw the sign that advertised free wi-fi. This definitely seems like a cool place to sit back and browse online while sipping a coffee or cappuccino (they have those too).
Our order came out within about 10-15 minutes. I was really impressed at the careful presentation, with both the pancakes and French toast lightly dusted with confectioner's sugar and topped with a small piece of fruit and a sprig of mint.
My only negative comments are that the seat yourself/pick up your own dishes when you're done atmosphere is a bit out of sorts with the overall decor of the restaurant and presentation of the food. It almost makes it feel like a high-end cafeteria. And for $23 (before tip) for 2 breakfasts, I guess I expected a bit more. A bit more what you ask? I can't quite put my finger on it, but it felt like something was missing. Maybe it was the interaction with a server or hostess or at least someone. I felt like if the person running the register hadn't told us the total, we might not have been spoken to at all.
Nonetheless, Esselon Cafe makes a decent breakfast and can accommodate a wide variety of dietary needs. So if you're in the area and looking for something different, vegetarian, vegan or even gluten-free - why not give it a try?