Summer in the city is a strange animal. On the one hand — drinking on patios! On the other — having to cram in with way too many sweaty bodies on a bus with faulty AC to get to those patios. Well, you could always lounge on the Common and soak up the sun! But then there’s that screeching trash truck, belching ripe fumes in your face as you lay there. Many of us urbanites have a love-hate relationship with a city summer, one that necessitates a few evenings away from it all to keep the romance alive.
While you could take off for the Cape with everyone else in town (a pleasant venture foiled by the hours spent boiling in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 3), we’ve got a better idea. Hit the road in the opposite direction and hike up to North Andover for one of Smolak Farm’s annual Whim dinners. A quickie drive up I-93 lands you smack in the middle of fragrant, breezy orchards, with strawberry fields a mile or so to your right and a pond where a few placid ducks chill out to your left. The air is clean and smells like hay, fresh fruit and dirt and will erase every trace of the armpit that was shoved unceremoniously into your face on the T the day before.
Whim dinners, a result of owner Michael Smolak’s desire three years ago to make the most of the season’s bounty, bring a bunch of like-minded folk together in Smolak’s Pine Grove to chow down on a three-course meal under the stars. Chefs have unlimited access to everything grown around them, bringing unbeatable immediacy to the term “farm-to-table.”
The series kicked off with Harvest’s Mary Dumont, and will round out the balmy midsummer nights with a line-up of über-talented New England chefs — among them Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, Brian Rae of Rialto, and Kevin O’Donnell of The Salty Pig, whose dinner will close out the season.
“To me, having a meal outside is almost more special than being in a dining room,” O’Donnell says. “Some of my best food memories are at places on the side of the road leaving a buffalo mozzarella factory, or a farm in the countryside that has a small trattoria.
“It may not have been the best mozzarella I ever tasted or the best bowl of pasta I ever had,” he continues, “but dining intimately close to where your food comes from creates an experience that cannot be matched by any restaurant's dining room, no matter how grand it is.”
If you go
Every Wednesday until August 21, rain or shine.
Cocktail reception at 6 p.m.; dinner begins at 7 p.m.
315 South Bradford St., North Andover
$69; does not include beverages or gratuity