Coco + The Cellar Bar
Years ago it took us way too long to try Coco & The Cellar Bar in Easthampton for the first time, but ever since it’s become a regular need. Yes, need. Like one of those, “when was the last time we had sushi?” or “I’m dying for BBQ” kind of needs. This particular compulsion is exclusive to Coco though, for more reasons than I can probably explain.
But explain I will, because everyone must experience what this “patron saint of the Easthampton Dining Renaissance” (trademark) has to offer.
First, let’s talk about the staff
From the owners to the servers and bartenders to the full crew in the back of the house, everyone we’ve interacted with has been exemplary. We wrote this little review years ago, and now that we live in Greenfield we only get to Coco three times a year (according to my expense reports). The phenomenal thing is they recognize and remember us. They suggest things they know we’ll like because they seem to remember what we loved in the past. It’s British-Airways-First-Class type treatment. Between the people at Coco and the FedEx driver who loves our obnoxious dogs, we’ve decided we have to do Holiday cards this year, because we appreciate both so much.
Cocktails + Beer
Our first trip we met our friend Patty on a busy evening so it was pretty packed upstairs. Thankfully in addition to making some exceptionally-inspired cocktails, the full menu is available at the Cellar Bar downstairs. We like it so much we didn’t eat upstairs until a few months ago, always content in the cozy confines of the cellar. We love the open brightness of the main dining space, but there’s not a thing wrong with the moody lighting, exposed brick, and intimate low ceilings below.
The tap selection at The Cellar Bar is all craft and mostly local. I’m always happy to see Western Mass favorites and they regularly get top-shelf New England picks from places like Maine Beer Company.
Molly is all about the cocktails. Now that her favorite bartender left Alvah Stone (to work in construction? Please, come back!), the mixology game at Coco is the top of her list for best in the area. She started her long-term love of Coco cocktails with a bourbon-based special with fresh peaches and Cynar, and has yet to have a “just okay” drink there. She still fondly remembers The Coco Blossom, which had tarragon-infused white rum, elderflower, red apple syrup, and fresh lemon. Our most recent trip she had the Heavy Weather, which is mezcal, allspice dram, pear liqueur, and Falernum. I’m very anti-pear, and even I thought it was amazing.
When we had dinner with Patty she had ribs with polenta and string beans. The ribs were fork-tender and the sauce was sweet, tart, and though not very spicy, was a keeper for sure. I thought the polenta was a perfect compliment to the sauce. Coco’s menu is usually only 5 or 6 entrées, but they always do something carnivore-pleasing like the ribs.
It’s worth noting we’ve been with friends with dietary restrictions. The FOH staff is very knowledgeable about the ingredients in everything being served, and the kitchen is accommodating if you need something off-menu to meet your needs.
My first trip I had honey miso noodles with greens, roasted chicken, carrots, and toasted sesame seeds. It was better than what I’d been craving, sort of a top shelf version of the Chinese Restaurant favorite appetizer of chilled noodles. The sauce was both lighter and more flavorful than expected, which was a theme apparently if you go by Molly’s dish.
Molly’s inaugural meal was pan-seared salmon with tempura sushi, cucumbers, and pickled shiitake mushrooms. I’m not a huge fan of salmon, but this was my favorite dish of the evening. The little tempura rice rolls were delish and the salmon’s light sauce was impressive: delicate but with a wide and dramatic flavor profile. The tiniest drop imparted so much to everything.
Our most recent discovery was suggested by the host, and now we dream of it weekly, papas veracruz. There’s something that sounds so simple about crisp potatoes, salsa macha, cotija cheese, roasted peanuts, lime crema, and cilantro (okay, maybe it doesn’t sound that simple) but it’s a journey of complex and complimentary flavors. We can’t for the life of us figure out what witchery is performed on the potatoes to make them so crispy and yet so elegantly flavorful and delicate inside. Everything they’re served with is fab, but if the tots flew solo we’d still be blown away.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention one menu staple: the fried chicken. How can we improve on the phrase whispered over the table by every living soul who has taken a friend to Coco for the first time? We can’t, so we’ll just repeat: The chicken is to die for.
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If you like Peeper on tap they often have it across the street at Galaxy as well. Also you may be interested in the story of Coco’s chefs/co-owners. Unmi Abkin has a history in the area as the proprietor of some great restaurants (most notably Cha Cha Cha in Noho) and I believe she met her husband out in San Francisco after moving there. Then they came back to the area with their daughter and opened Coco. Many of us were glad to have her back!
Thanks for the recommendation and the history, Laura. Galaxy! I honestly thought that place was an upscale furniture store, can’t wait to check it out. I never got to try Cha Cha Cha, but I can appreciate anyone who moved to the Bay Area, turned around, and came back to the Pioneer Valley. We did the same thing:)