There is a stretch of tarmac in Mass., Route 32, that is magical. Along this road lie the towns of Ware, Barre, Petersham and numerous other quaint villages with middle-English sounding names. They are relics of a bygone era, time capsules from the days when mill towns were bustling and dominated the landscape. While driving through, you will encounter numerous brick buildings that used to house textile spinners and enormous water wheels; wonderfully preserved artifacts of our state’s history. There is a sense of sleepiness that pervades these towns; they appear removed from modernity. But then, a surprise. In the tiny town of Hardwick, there is a bakery, Rose32, and its parking lot overflows with cars.
It is a geometrically eye-catching building painted red, white and yellow; easily discernible amid its gray landscape. Inside, you will find some of the most exquisite baked goods in the entirety of Mass. Behind glass cases sit cheesecakes and tarts so expertly constructed that they beckon customers to reach through the partition and take them. A group of women bustle behind the counter and into the kitchen, taking fresh baguettes and boxy loaves of whole wheat bread out of a massive oven. Further along down the case lie smaller baked goods: macaroons, peaches and cream scones, cheddar and onion biscuits, sticky buns. Various loaves of bread sit in baskets on the back wall, each one boasting a perfectly caramelized crust.
Each one is supremely pretty and photogenic, and I almost felt some shame in knowing that I would have to actually eatwhat I order.
In addition to filling the role of a pastry powerhouse, Rose32 doubles as a splendid lunch spot. An around 30-item menu subverts expected notions of bakery food, containing sandwiches and salads that take these often-tired dishes into new realms. The Baked Italian – mortadella, salami, mozzarella, provolone, tomato and arugula sitting in between two fluffy and herbaceous slices of focaccia – transports diners to a Roman panineria.The sandwich that captured the pure essence of Rose32 is the French Ham: nothing more than ham and arugula on two buttered slices of baguette. Although it is composed of a mere four ingredients, the end result is nothing short of perfection. The baguette is a wonder to behold. The crust shatters like a thin layer of glass, but the interior is soft, containing thousands of tiny little air bubbles. It is truly an exemplar to which other bakers should aspire.
The best, however, is yet to come. For dessert: the lemon butter crunch tartlet lives up to its name, a compact treat with a creamy curd adorned with crumbles of buttery shortbread. A flaky sticky bun ringed by toasted and glazed pecans that are neither bitter nor cloying. A raspberry danish filled with a syrupy compote that is crosshatched with lines of light icing. A pecan pie tartlet that carries muted notes of citrus and stone fruits. It is impossible to pick a poorly made sweet item here. Order to your heart’s delight.
Despite how this all might sound – artisan-bakery-and-coffee-house-opens-in-once-bustling-mill-town – Rose32 comes off as neither pretentious nor a participant in any sort of gentrification. It is operated by two natives of San Francisco, the de facto sourdough bread capital of the world. Judging by the near impossibility of attaining a seat in the dining room during my multiple visits, it appears that the communities within Rose32’s vicinity have rallied around its sheer deliciousness. It is an absolute pleasure to see such support.
And it’s no wonder why: service, food, drink – Rose32 impresses in all around and then some. If you find yourself driving on Route 32 on your way to the University, you’d be mistaken to not stop inside. Rose32 truly sticks out like a vibrant flower along its eponymous road.
RATING OUT OF FIVE STARS: *****
Jacob Abrams can be reached at [email protected]