Long an Amherst cult favorite, the Black Sheep is all about attitude- but it's the harmless, alterna-Pioneer-Valley sort of attitude. This deli is a definitive microcosm of town life. A diverse and devoted clientele pours into a couple of rooms bearing an overwhelming barrage of colors, sights, smells, and sounds. Students come on a quest for dessert and coffee, highlighters and photocopied packets in hand. Locals gather inside for a sandwich and a newspaper, chatting politics, books, and film (not movies). The regulars settle into the highly visible sidewalk seating with books or guitars. All of this might just make your meal, or coffee, into a sociological study. As for the food, this short-order deli is best for a picnic, with a great selection of easily packable cold salads with a diverse array of ingredients. None are showstoppers, and many need a bit of salt, but most are acceptable. Meanwhile, colorfully chalked boards display the sandwich options. The large selection of meats, cheeses, breads, and spreads makes the sandwich combinations nearly endless. Sandwiches are packed to exploding, but can also be disappointing, especially after what is sometimes a 15-minute wait. The hyper-popular baguettes are often too durable. The Humongous Fungus is a hefty, grilled portabella mushroom sandwich with lettuce and tomato; the mushroom's natural flavor is uninhibited, but a whole sandwich (most sandwiches are available in large half or larger whole sizes) can get monotonous. The Black Sheep Baguette, with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, and balsamic vinegar, is standard but clean and refreshing. The vegan fruit bars, which are sweet and moist when fresh, are packed with shaved coconut, apricots, chunks of cherries, and other dried fruits. Chocolate cupcakes (a dairy-free option lacks the M&M topping) are better versions of the Hostess cupcakes you used to get in your lunchbox. Boring croissants and big, dense, overly sweet brownies don't fare as well. The chairs at The Black Sheep resemble patio furniture. The tables are ciose-set and the booths rickety. But the deli is never in need of a
crowd. Across Main Street is a grassy common and fountain, but sit inside to absorb a rewarding cross-section of academic, alternative, and earthy Amherst life.