Every year in the Pioneer Valley, The Valley Advocate, a local newspaper, does a "Best of the Valley" reader poll. They gather everything from reader's favorite bars to their favorite bank to their favorite auto parts store. My favorite category, of course, is the dining section. It includes categories like best bakery, best Indian restaurant, best micro brew beer, etc.
For the last few years that I've been living in the valley, Sylvester's in Northampton has always won for best breakfast. We've eaten at Sylvester's several times, especially early on in our valley life, when we didn't know any other breakfast places. Now that I've expanded my breakfast horizons, I decided to go back to Sylvester's to see how it really stacks up.
First, a little background. The restaurant is housed in the former home of Sylvester Graham, hence the name Sylvester's. But who was Sylvester Graham? Believe it or not, he was the inventor of the graham cracker! And to this day, the restaurant serves an incredible Sylvester Graham cappucino complete with a chocolate covered graham cracker on the side - yum!
OK - the next thing you should know about Sylvester's is that you have to time your visit just right if school (college) is in session. If so, plan to get there before about 9am on the weekend - or plan to wait in line. Of course, if school's not in session, there's usually no wait. In this visit, we were able to walk right in and choose our booth. And while you wait for your server to come take your order (or for your order to come out), be sure to take advantage of the old Trivial Pursuit® cards on the table to quiz your dining partner.
As far as breakfast offerings go, Sylvester's has a wide selection. They have omelets, several different kinds of eggs Benedict, pancakes, French toast (including banana bread French toast - yum!), homemade granola, bagels and more. They also have a full list of specialty drinks, like cafe mocha, cappuccino, mimosas, etc. On this visit, Mr. ValleyWriter ordered the classic eggs Benedict:
And I went with the huevos rancheros:
The eggs Benedict was done just as you'd expect - English muffin on the bottom, topped with ham, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce, sprinkled with a little paprika and served with a side of home fries. The eggs Benedict itself was very tasty, but the home fries were fairly bland and a little on the mushy side. I like my home fries nice and crispy.
The huevos rancheros is a bowl of black beans covered with cheese, topped with fresh salsa, 2 fried eggs and sour cream, served with 2 large pieces of freshly made cornbread. It is absolutely delicious from start to finish, if you can finish it. (I usually can't - but that's where Mr. ValleyWriter comes in.)
Just as important as food - how's the service? Fair, I'd say. In general, the servers are pleasant and efficient. Though if they're busy, it can be a long wait to spot your server to get a glass of water or the check. And if you order a speciality coffee drink, which comes from their cafe in the next room, plan to wait a while for it. On this last visit, when they really weren't busy at all, my cafe mocha took at least 15-20 minutes to come out. (In fact, it came just after my meal.)
So what's the verdict? Well, for creativity, Sylvester's definitely gets a gold star. They have more unique breakfast offerings than some of the other restaurants in town. But, not everything they do is terrific - the home fries above being one example of that. Also, their prices are on the high side. For 2 meals, a cafe mocha and a regular coffee, the total came to about $25 (before tip). And their kids breakfasts seem way too expensive - 1 pancake and a small juice for $4.95??? That's kind of crazy.
So would I give Sylvester's my vote for the best breakfast in the Pioneer Valley?
Taking into account both taste and value, probably not. I think I'd have to give it to The Stables in Hadley. Their breakfasts are hearty, their waitresses friendly and their prices down to Earth. But I wouldn't rule Sylvester's out entirely. Just like I have dinner restaurants that I save for special occasions, Sylvester's is my go-to for special occasion breakfasts.