*Editor’s note – Once fired from a Burger King for not being a team player, freelance photographer Matthew Cavanaugh went on to bigger and better things with his life. After spending years working in Washington D.C. and covering the White House for the European Pressphoto Agency, Matthew and his family moved to Massachusetts where he now eats burgers and freelances for The New York Times and a host of other publications. See more of Matthew’s beautiful work at Matthew Cavanaugh Photo.
When I was growing up in Western Massachusetts, to escape the boredom of our bland suburban lives, my friends and I would often head to Northampton. Nestled in the heart of The Pioneer Valley and surrounded by colleges (Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, UMASS, Mt Holyoke), the small city was very different from what we were used to. There were cool looking punk kids everywhere, scribbling in journals and drinking coffee. Cool stores too. The legendary (and long gone) Main Street Records was always our first stop. They had real food there too. I grew up in a culinary black hole. Crappy public school lunches and chicken nuggets for dinner. On special occasions, we went out to Burger King. The idea of eating Mexican food, for instance, just about made my head explode. I ate my first real burger at Fitzwilly’s on Main Street in Northampton.
I recently returned home to The Valley after 7 years in DC and I now find myself shooting freelance assignments in and around Northampton fairly often. Several new eateries have opened up in the last few years. One of my favorites is Local Burger. The brainchild of brothers Jeff and Chris Igneri, who got help from their father Joe and brother Steven, Local is a family burger joint. The menu is pretty simple: burgers and fries but with a few nice additions on the menu like fried pickles and a home-made veggie burger offering. Many of the ingredients come from the small family farms in the area, like the grass-fed beef from Easthampton and the hand cut fries from Hadley. Three beef choices are available: Black Angus from Meyer Farm in Nebraska (all natural and certified humane), the aforementioned grass-fed from Chicoine Farm, and dry aged from River Rock Farm in Brimfield, MA is available on weekends only. All served “pink” or “no pink.” The signature burger is the aptly named “Local Burger” a 12oz patty topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, mushroom, onion, and red peppers.
On a recent visit, I chose the Westhampton Burger with Black Angus (pink.) This one consists of a 6 oz hand-formed patty, bacon, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing plus lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion ($6.89) and a small order of hand-cuts ($1.99). I was worried about the BBQ and Ranch being a little much, I like to keep it simple with my burgers, but this thing was amazing. They dressing and sauce we’re part of the show, yes, but only in a supporting role. It’s the meat’s show and it did not disappoint. Perfectly flame broiled, this was easily one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted. Very juicy, but not dripping – as if the perfect amount of fat was left behind. The outside had a really nice crispy flavor and texture that I really liked, but inside was cooked just enough – not dense at all.
I actually love the taste of burned stuff in general. Not burgers of course, but those little stubby fry pieces that get over-cooked? YUM. I eat those first. Mushrooms? Onions? Burn them, and bring them to me. Speaking of fries. The hand-cuts at Local are ridiculous. Nearly stole the show. They tasted so good, it made me wonder if the peanut oil had been used just once to cook my perfect little fries and then converted to bio-diesel fuel for a 1985 Mercedes-Benz station wagon with Kucinich for President 2012 stickers on it.
Local is a great spot and serves really great burgers, but it’s not without flaws. I once waited 30 minutes for my burger during a very busy Saturday lunch hour, but it was still worth it. The counter / ordering system seems a little nutty too, but the staff are very friendly to deal with. Which is good, because serving high end burgers in the middle of a very hip town, Local could easily get an attitude – especially given it’s popularity. We’ve all seen this phenomenon many times before. Stupid hipsters ruin everything. But the people and the place have a very unpretentious vibe which, like the simple hamburger, is a welcome addition to downtown Northampton.
16 Main Street
Northampton, Massachusetts 01060
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:30AM – 10:00PM
Friday & Saturday 11:30AM – 3:00AM