Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lisa's Pane Di Casa (Cortland, NY)

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Light at the end of the tunnel

This might be the best week ever: I am working on local projects; The US Men's National team clinched their spot in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and I got to eat at the best little bakery in Central New York for lunch yesterday. I can't believe I haven't devoted an entry to this place yet!
This place is such a hidden gem that my crew didn't even believe me that I knew where I was going while I dragged their questioning, soggy, sniffling, incredulous butts through the hallway from the front of the building on Main St to the back where the bakery faces the rear parking lot. I never remember to park back there, since the main street in Cortland is Deathrace 2000.
I can recommend everything they make. No, really. Crispy oatmeal scones (with or without cinnamon glaze), cookies of all types, fresh artisan breads, three daily soups, a few Green Mountain Brews, and even some simple sandwiches. The dining room is small, but inviting, and the atmosphere makes you really think you've found the best new secret place to eat, even if the line is 20 deep, snaking out the door and down the hallway. The best bet is a cup of the tomato soup, which has a brilliant tangy wine finish, and a slice of soft white bread to boot.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Silo Restaurant and Country Store (Queensbury, NY)

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The Silo Restaurant and Country Store
Queensbury, NY

The hungry archaeologist rarely turns her nose up at a free hotel breakfast no matter what the menu. But sometimes the same stale starch gets a little humdrum. Fortunately, for guests of the Quality Inn in Queensbury, The Silo restaurant and country store is steps away.

Hooray for adaptive reuse!
The building looks out of sorts on this strip of common stores and chain restaurants. This structure was created from the framework of two barns and a 19th century silo relocated from Saratoga County. The National Park Service has noted that silos, which only became regular features in the last decades of the 19th century, have become so closely associated with barns that they have lost their separate identities. Looking around the restaurant area, diners will see several hand-hewn timbers. While no specific information surrounding the history of the silo was readily available at this time, the restaurant is currently updating the “history” page of it’s website: http://www.thesiloqueensbury.com/index.php. Here you can find some images of the silo move and restaurant (re)construction – more detail is promised in the near future.

The food was delicious, creative and plentiful. While their menu offers a fairly standard (yet oversized) selection, our waitress revealed that The Silo’s chef goes all out to create inventive daily specials. On this day’s menu I found the Farmer’s Crepe with Chipotle Hollandaise: a perfectly crafted crepe stuffed with fluffy-light scrambled eggs, ham, cheese, peppers and onions accompanied with hand-cut, perfectly seasoned potatoes. Although not having quite the same appetite, we were lured back the following day for a lighter breakfast and we brought friends. And from the bakery case a triple berry apple muffin cried out to be grilled. Yum.

Ten dollars for a full breakfast can seem a bit shocking, but the portions provided a more than adequate breakfast as well as satisfying dinner that evening. Together with the bottomless quality coffee – which included a very large cup to go – The Silo breakfast is a decent value. I was truly enamored with the paper place mats. Printed with over a dozen illustrations of barn varieties and brief descriptions for each, they were effective in both absorbing coffee rings and evoking a sense of time when “the farmer was king and barns were the palaces of America” (as one description states). This, I found to be a quote from An Age of Barns by Eric Sloane.

With three floors of trinkets and treasures in addition to the restaurant, The Silo experience lies somewhere between The Vermont Country Store and Cracker Barrel. Cleverly located between the restaurant and its exit, the candy counter offers a selection of handmade candies and favorites. This reviewer recommends the monstrous cashew caramel turtle (note scale).

As for the spaces beyond the candy counter of the country store, you’ll have to find out for yourself. However, The Silo claims, “Our products are as unique as the history of the Silo itself!” I anticipate the posting of this Saratoga County silo’s elusive history . . .

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Kebab's (Aviation Mall, Queensbury, NY)

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Dr. Besom's Haiku Revu

yummy lamb kebab
with tasty basmati rice
served up with a smile

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Common Man's Bistro (Lake George, NY)

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No Instruments on the walls, thankfully.

I am not sure why this restaurateur thinks he can draw in the common man by joining the words "Common Man" and "Bistro." I know a few people, food-lovers even, who would never eat in a self-described Bistro. Though I have a hatred for anything described as sumptuous, decadent, sinful, or classified as Tuscan, a bistro is ok with me, as long as the food is good. This place serves some pretty good food, and I can recommend it without reservation.

Inside the place, it seems to be a mix between an authentic bistro and a Panera Bread, and I couldn't figure out if this were one of a few semi-local chain establishments. Research on google maps shows it is one-of-a-kind. I usually wouldn't say much about the finer points of a restaurant's decor, but I have to say, it looks like it was finished by one of the teams from Trading Spaces. On the surface, it looks like a classy place, but upon closer examination, it looks a little low-budget and cobbled together. That's all the negative, I promise.

Beer, wine, co-opted Starbucks coffee, fresh-baked goods, Panini, and full entrees can be found here. They serve breakfast on the weekends, and lunch and dinner every day. Prices are very reasonable for such a tourist trap as is Lake George, and most plates come with CMB's homemade chips, which are quite excellent. They brought to mind the eating of McDonald's fries when I was very young, when nothing in the culinary world could bring more joy to my heart. They must use an oil and cooking temperature similar to the old ways at McD's. This might seem like a negative comparison, but I really mean it in the most complimentary of ways, I assure you. I ordered the veggie sandwich, which came on a choice of fresh baked breads (I chose sourdough, and correctly) with cucumber, lettuce, tomato, onion, grilled portobello, a cucumber-wasabi dressing, and a little hit of Balsamic Vinegar. Truly it was the best thing I ate last week, and it came after two annoying interactions with pizza-centric salespeople down the block.

Sad is the town that is abandoned by the summer crowds, and many people have written essays about the end of summer, the lonely winds of fall, the twilight of an age, etc. I will just say that if you are stuck looking for a place to eat in Lake George late in the evening, go to the Common Man's Bistro for some faux-chain restaurant good eats.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Union Hall Inn (Johnstown, NY)

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Old Building, Good Food

Yes, I admit we snickered at the date posted on the building as we entered. It was built in 1798, but has the bold roof-line styling of the Italianate, which would date to mid-19th century. That makes us jerks, and nerds, at the same time. Looking at the building from a distance, though, and it's definitely solidly Federal style, and at a grand scale, too.

these people look excited to respresent the rich history of Johnstown.

Six newly washed archaeologists walking into a fine establishment, we were a little self-conscious, and rightly so. The inn is well preserved and appointed, and we almost didn't belong. Thanks to a small tap-room to the side, we felt comfortable enough to stay. Seated along the bar was a foursome of well-to-do locals, fresh off the links. Thankfully they looked upon us with interest and not disdain, and even engaged us with some friendly drunken banter. The prices on the pub menu were a little shocking, and out of our usual range, but we had already walked around town for 45 minutes and could not suffer another minute without dinner.

Sometimes it is frustrating when everything on a menu looks like a winner. Beet salad, Macaroni , Cheese and Crispy Prociutto (or was is Pancetta?), Sirloin Stew with Root Vegetables, some tasty application of Gnocchi. I ordered the Sirloin Stew and spent 30
happy minutes picking through sirloin tips, beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, and asparagus bathing in a brilliant gravy. With positive reactions from the rest of the table, I knew we picked the right place, even if our bank accounts cried out in pain from the funds withdrawn to cover the bill. The most remarkable thing came at the end, when most of the table ordered strawberry-rhubarb crisps, served fresh-baked in tall ramekins, resembling a muffin, with a scoop of ice cream on top. It was the best dessert I will ever get the chance to enjoy, hands down.

Some other local distraction. . .

Before dinner, we stopped by the town father William Johnson's home, a massive Early Federal built in 1762 to reside in and host the regional chapter of Freemasons. Johnson, the British liaison to the Native American people, hoped to extend the network of Freemasons westward into the Mohawk Valley. The first thing I noticed about the massive slab of a house as we approached from the parking lot was that none of the clapboards overlapped. Actually, there were no clapboards, but a flat-fitted siding that was grooved with lines to approximate the look of a stone-block house, as was all the rage in Albany. According to one of the Historic Preservationists that was on hand to chat, the wood was even prepared to look like weathered grey stone. Whether it was due to lack of local material, or lack of the financial means to acquire it, Johnson felt he needed to keep up appearances with his rich social equals in the capital. To me, it stinks of 1970's wood paneling, or faux brick tar panel siding.

One of the more interesting things, other than the painstakingly restored interior of the house (which you can learn more about), the director of the park delighted us with a peek at the interior of one of the stout stone outbuildings. Among the intact and stalwart wood framing and the tantalizing peek into the partially filled cellar, we got to see a section of the main house's original timber frames. As they were restoring the house (which had seen some very bizarre transformations in the Victorian Style, and in the early 20th
century) they found a beam from the side of the house with an intact gutter carved in one piece! What was really interesting is how much this gutter from the 1760's (we presume) looks identical to the shape of the plastic gutters we hang on our homes today. The beams were probably half a ton each, which would be a lot harder to replace. One can imagine how easily organic matter would have built up and started the rot. If you are ever looking for something to do, give them a ring at Johnson Hall, and try to stop by from Thursday to Saturday to get a look inside the house and outbuildings. The collection of personal effects (including an arsenal of muskets, wigs, wall hangings, clothing, toys, and more) in the house is mind-blowing, and was collected and purchased over many years by the director of the park.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rubbin' Butts (Cobleskill, NY)

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A Place By Any Other Name Would Be Less Smoky and Good

I won't get too much into my thoughts about this place, as it's a simple little barbecue joint with some picnic tables, a big smoky cookin' drum, and a pile of meat to serve up with tasty sides and a huge wad of napkins. I have said too much already.

Drive into Cobleskill, go to the east side of town across from the Price Chopper plaza, you will see a little stand at the end of a tiny little string of businesses. Go. Now.

I will say this: We were investigating the possibility of a return by the famous, and really frickin' old restaurant, the Bull's Head Inn, which is in historic downtown Cobleskill. It's still dead, which is pretty unfortunate, since it had been in operation as an inn and restaurant since the year 1800. Please, if anyone has information, let us know. That was a sad day when we found out they had ceased operations.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cohen's Bakery Internet Cafe (Monticello, NY)

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There are still internet cafes?

The Monticello Miracle Part 3

Back when the interwebs were just getting spun, there were these places where folks went to drink lattes, eat biscotti, and surf the burgeoning mega-thu-way of information. This bourgeois phenomenon and business plan has all but disappeared from the landscape. McDonald's, Jiffy Lube, taxis, porta-toilets, and even my great aunt's tea room offers wi-fi these days.

I will admit to scoffing a bit at the sight of an internet cafe on Main Street in a run-down upstate town. So often while traveling to small towns upstate, it seems entrepreneurs still employ this outdated idea of an arty coffee house with cushy chairs, twenty-somethings munching on scones, talking about indie-whatever, yet failing to provide a good cup of coffee or adequate food, and still charging some exorbitant fee for the internets.

That was all forgotten once I sat down to eat. The place is stocked by a Jewish Bakery (Cohen's) run by a couple that may be Arabic (please correct me if I am wrong!) and staffed in the kitchen by a confirmed Peruvian. Together it all works! The chef prepares a few fresh soups each day, which was appreciated in cold cold November when we first started eating here. The Jewish Bakery items are of fine quality, the bagels are top-notch, and the coffee, though a national brand (Seattle's Best), is brewed perfectly and kept fresh. Best coffee in town, indeed. The long list of Panini-style sandwiches includes the excellent Cuban, the California (chicken, avocado) and a Chicken Pesto. The sandwiches are huge, cost around 7 bucks, and include a side of slaw or mac salad. Service goes above and beyond for such a simple walk-up counter. After a few days of us eating breakfast and lunch there, the server took a liking to us and provided bagel chips for our soup and a big plate of cookies for dessert! I think she actually gives most people cookies with their meal, which is really endearing. We really love this place now, and whenever we're within 15 miles of downtown, I find a way to get in.

Where are the people, the frappuchinos, the future?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Bakery / The Cafe (Newark, NY)

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A bakery, a cafe, a scone in my belly.

Depending on which way you approach this brand-spanking new food joint, you could find yourself walking up to a bakery or a cafe, and you'd be in for a treat either way. For the first time in a long time, I have been to a place that has promised two things and completely succeeded. The baked goods are excellent, the coffee is fresh and varied, the cafe menu is simple and tasty, the service is friendly, and the prices are criminally low for the quality. I ordered the scone plate, which includes a freshly baked scone, a bowl of fresh fruit with a blob of homemade whipped cream, and a cup of yogurt with granola. The plate is well under $6. Some places charge that much for just the fruit! So many places serve scones and so many of those scones are muffin mix in a pile. These scones are worth making the drive for, from Rochester, Syracuse or Ithaca. Take that Ithaca Bakery. They also have sticky buns, freshly made every morning, as I was told by a big table of locals munching on the last of them. I have been told they are more of a brioche in composition. I am not really bake-smart, so I will just say it was good. The next morning I ordered the eggs, toast, homefries and sausage. Really damn good.

The building is just outside town on Main St. amid some of the very handsome homes in Newark, and seems like it's been a local favorite for years, even though it's only been there for about a month.

We ended up moving operations to Geneva the next week, and though there's a lot more going on down here, we really miss our morning breakfast at the Bakery/Cafe in Newark.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sullivan’s Diner (Horseheads, NY)

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“What’ll it be, Hon?”

The American diner. Who doesn’t love these 20th century icons?

On a very cold day in March after a morning of punching through hard-packed road fill (not finding much more than recent roadside trash), the PAF staff headed to Sullivan’s Diner on Old Ithaca Road in Horseheads. One is drawn not only to the diner’s classic narrow, streamlined appearance, but the delightful smell of grease and seared animal flesh as well. The tripadvisor.com listing describes “an Irish-named diner serving great Polish and American food in a real 1940 made-in-New Jersey diner with 35 seats and most of the original equipment.” While the exterior could use a little TLC, the interior’s generous amount of stainless steel, tile and other shiny materials is well kept.

Sullivan’s owner-chef-waitress-clerk greets customers as they enter the diner through a sliding pocket door. Yes, menus are provided, but she will likely take your order without turning away from her position at the grill. The diner has obviously built a loyal customer base, which is evident by the friendly banter and familiar report.

In several locations throughout the diner there are small signs marking the water level from Elmira’s 1972 flood, the worst in its recorded history. The PAF crew on this particular visit agreed that the restroom end of the diner – the furthest from the delightful aroma of the grill – did indeed smell as if were flooded 3 decades ago.

Abandoning much of my more than adequate bag lunch, I was lured in by the suggestion of chocolate cake and coffee. With an expectation of the kind of coffee that helps your spoon stand straight in the cup, I was pleasantly surprised by a quality cup of joe – served in the ubiquitous heavy, cream-colored ceramic mug (dinerware?). As for the chocolate cake, it was unmistakably a Sam’s Club Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake. Although not homemade, this is the stuff of chocoholic dreams and Sullivan’s offers up a four serving-sized slice.

To sum up the Sullivan experience: good eats at GREAT prices, all to be had in a wonderful venue. Somehow food is more satisfying when you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth (or better). I whole-heartedly recommend this establishment as a worthy travel stop!

I appeal to others who have dined at Sullivan’s to further comment on the variety and quality of food . . . from pancakes to pierogi.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peck's Market (Livingston Manor, NY)

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Pipe and Smoking Jacket Not Required

There's not too much to say about Peck's Market in the misleadingly, snobbishly named town, Livingston Manor (formerly called Purvis, a much more apt name!), save for its excellent deli. The best thing, other than the fresh ingredients and lively staff, is that they tell you to go to the bakery aisle and pick out your own roll, which is great! I don't think I have ever been in command of my own roll choice, and as many sandwich connoisseurs know, it's all about the bread. The other thing worth mentioning is the sign for cultural food, which states boldly, "Ethnics." They're not too worried about semantics.

Livingston Manor is a fusion of typical beat-up Catskill town and an arty, fly-fishing retreat for City Folk. The school in the middle of the village is quite a centerpiece, with really beautiful architecture and carefully laid stonework walls and bridge over the creek that runs alongside the main street. Bonus review: The bookstore in town is one of the only independent new book sellers within 100 miles. If you are in town, you have to stop in.
the well-appointed school

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Glaciers Have Receded, the Floods Have Abated.

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We can see the soil again, we can smell the earth, so now it's time to get out there and dig, and eat! It's time to knock the dust off of this moldy blog and share our gastroarchaeogical triumphs and failures with the world! In our first few weeks back in the field, we have already found some great new places, so check back often to read and revel in our repasts.

image from mythings.com

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oh my.

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La Comida Gordo

Inspired by the Bandeja Tipica, Mike R. sent me a link to www.thisiswhyyourefat.com. I am ashamed to say I would eat a few of these gems, but for the most part, my soul died a little bit knowing there was someone salivating off-camera waiting to dig in.

The national dish of Quebec. No, seriously.

Bonus Link!!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rancho Del Gordo (Monticello, NY)

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So it's not just a clever name.

As stated below, Monticello has made a name for itself in a number of ways, most recently for marketing a brand of heroin named for our new president. One thing we thought we could find was a Mexican restaurant, knowing the large number of people from Mexico and central America living in this part of the state. The only one on the map was Taco Bell. It never hurts to ask the front desk, so we did and were given directions to a Mexican place on the other side of town. What seemed like a common roadside bar with only the faintest hint of latin flair ended up being our salvation that week. That's not to say that lunch at the new Chinese restaurant, Dao, was not a positive experience. They served us heaping piles of food for less than the price of a cafe mocha at Starbucks, and gave us some pretty sweet t-shirts. They looked at our muddy boots, Carhartts, and windburned faces and assumed we were in the construction industry, hoping that the shirts would provide some advertisement for their fledgling establishment. Unfortunately for them, the advertising potential consisted of squirrels, deer and the occasional black bear.

We sat down and realized that although we had indeed found an authentic latin restaurant, what we were about to eat was not Mexican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan or Cuban. It was something entirely unexpected: Columbian. Certainly, the menu listed many familiar sounding items, including tacos, tamales, and red beans and rice. What grabbed my attention was the signature plate of Columbia, La Bandeja Tipica, or 'Typical Platter." Start with a base of beans and rice in a 'fat sauce,' pile on a skirt steak and fried egg, avocado slice, sautéed banana, hefty link of chorizo, and top it off with a shimmering slice of Chicharron, or fried pig's skin and fat. My readers, this plate provides the building blocks of life. What more could one want in a plate of food?

Finding such a unique place brought us right back there again the next night and we discovered the best two things on the menu. The first were the tacos, listed as an appetizer, but with three tacos, it can fly as a light meal. The tacos are chopped steak with onions and cilantro; simple, fresh, ridiculously amazing. The other dish that blew our minds was the tamal. One tamal, in a corn husk, filled with parts of several animals, cooked to sublime disintegration in a delicious corn mash, or whatever it is that tamales are filled with.

Out of curiosity, I asked our waiter why the place was called El Rancho Gordo. He pointed to the small bar area, where sat a man balancing his significant heft on a barstool.

-the real Rancho Gordos

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lincklaen House (Cazenovia, NY)

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Take your muddy boots off at the door.....

As archaeologists working on cultural resource management projects we are often placed in cruddy, run-down motels, because budgets won't support much else. However, when the opportunity arises when we can do a little scouting and haggling we can turn a terrible week in a post-war travel lodge on NY 20 into a pleasant stay at a 19th century historic landmark. We leave the haggling for overnight accommodations to you, reader . . . and please leave your muddy boots at the door!!

For more than 170 years the Lincklaen House has been an operating hotel and a center for Cazenovia community activities and private functions. After passing through some lean years in the 1970s, it is once more a popular retreat for formal and informal dining. The Lincklaen House was considered to be a “grand hotel” when it was built in 1835 by a group of local businessmen. To create a need for the new hostelry, one of the older hotels on the public square, the Madison County Hotel, was purchased and subdivided into four pieces and moved to various sites in the village.
In addition to the hotel proper an attached business block containing two store fronts was built on the east side of the property. Originally the bar was located in the southwest corner of the main floor where the lobby sitting area is now located. Two businesses occupied the spaces in the basement.

Over the years various structural changes took place. By the late 19th century two large plate glass windows were installed in the bar area. However, in 1918, a fire damaged the interior of the structure and a complete renovation resulting in the colonial revival interior that still marks to main floor was installed (and the picture windows removed as well. The attached commercial blocks were also disassociated from the building when new late Victorian facades were added around the early part of the century. Known businesses in the basement area included various barber shops where the Seven Stone Steps is located. The adjoining dining area at one time housed a combination shoe repair shop and Italian grocery store run by the father of my first boss Gene Barilla.
The Seven Stone Steps tap room was probably built during the 1918 renovation, although the Merrill Bailey paintings were added in 1942 or shortly after. The bar was a popular hangout for Colgate students coming to town to find dates at Cazenovia Junior College, newly formed from the old Cazenovia Seminary in 1945. Sixty years worth of initials can be seen on the tables and wood paneling. The current owners reintegrated the attached commercial buildings into the hotel, renovating the two storefronts into another dining facility now used primarily for private parties. The apartments in the floors above were renovated into more hotel bedrooms. Finally, the basement bar was enlarged and the adjoining dining room integrated into a full time eatery with its own tavern menu.
The Seven Stone Steps, has its own entrance on the south side of the building from Albany Street. The menu is unlike most pub fare. After drinks are ordered you can expect to receive a piping hot popover served with honey butter. I have been several times for a nibble and can not resist a bowl of the lobster bisque. The hand tossed personal-sized pizzas are just the right size (I have had the BBQ chicken pizza). The wait staff are generally local students from Cazenovia College, who plan on working in the hospitality industry after school, so they are attentive and easy going. After your meal take a leisurely walk down to Lakeside Park and enjoy the sunset over Cazenovia Lake (Lake Owaghena). Check it out. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Lighthouse (White Lake, NY)

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Greasy Wood Paneling, Cigarette Machine, just like mom used to have.

The Monticello Miracle (part 1 of 3)

Monticello is famous for a few things, including a Racino, a decaying urban center, a disturbing number of boarded-up summer camps in the nearby woods, a proximity to the site of the original Woodstock. It didn't seem likely to be famous for it's food, based on the abandoned 1960's Italian restaurants and strips clubs lining every road in and out of town. Having taken the back road home one week, we drove by a very promising BBQ joint in White Lake, just west of Monticello. Unfortunately, it was closed. Thank goodness, there was a very promising tavern in the same town claiming to have more than 50 beers on tap...also closed. The only place not closed was The Lighthouse. I wish I could say it was like a beacon in the dark of night reaching out to our vessel van. I think one of the crew members was sharpening the machete in the back, so I wisely pulled over.

The prices on the dinner menu suggested we were in downtown Manhattan, while our surroundings suggested we were somewhere between 1973 and a bad mobster movie. I hate to be so negative about a place that I ultimately enjoyed, but I am just trying to paint an accurate picture for you, readers. My crew were putting on their coats (actually, they were still on, since the temperature in there was around 55 degrees) and pushing in their chairs when I managed to get a much more affordable bar menu. Always ask if there's a bar menu, readers.

Personally, I feel the best indicator for a good pub menu is the hamburger. No cheese, no bacon, no BBQ sauce, no steamed asparagus. LTO, some ketchup. We all ordered hamburgers, save for one regretful, remorseful diner. The menu simply stated: hamburger with steak fries. What it didn't say was that the burger was a double-fistful of the highest quality chuck and sirloin, cooked to medium (real, pink, delicious medium) on a perfectly soft and seasoned wick-type roll, with romaine, tomato and red onion. Service was competent, attentive and friendly, and they put up graciously with the chaos and annoyance of 5 people trying to pay separately. We need to work on that as a group, I must admit.

If you don't mind taking in most of your daily allowance of calories, protein, and fat, please go to the Lighthouse, enjoy the greatest, most unheralded burger in the county, and bring back some memories by pulling the knob for a softpack of Newports.

The Lighthouse Restaurant
White Lake, NY

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Last Restaurant Standing

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This might seem like an unsolicited advertisement, but I just have to dish about the follow-up season to last year's Last Restaurant Standing on BBC America. Yes, it's yet another elimination reality show. Yes, it features yet another high-profile chef doling out criticism and advice. Yes, their accents are British. Yes, there are contrived "challenges" that the contestants compete in.

What is truly great about the show is a marathon of the back-of-house trials, frustrations and small victories of running a fledgling restaurant. One thing is clear after watching a few episodes is that running a new restaurant is insanely hard. Even with the [financial] support of the BBC and built-in buzz of a locally filmed television show, it is tough to get people through the door and seemingly impossible to get a good staff.

The most compelling and surprising part of the show is the personality of Chef Raymond Blanc. Where other shows would try to bank on the bombastic, abrasive, combative, or sensational behavior of a high-profile host, our Chef Blanc is even-tempered, honest, professional, kind, and always willing to impart his vast knowledge to all of the contestants. Some of the conversations he conducts with the contestants are riveting, as he really gives them a chance to make their case for survival on the show. His personality is in stark contrast to that of Chef Gordon Ramsay, though Ramsay really is no less helpful in his consultations on Kitchen Nightmares.

Whereas Ramsay maintains a maverick posture, Blanc employs a team of culinary spies, each providing Blanc with intel from the field. Each of them are employed by Blanc in his various culinary enterprises, and their rapport and professional relationships are interesting to behold in this arena. Respect goes both ways, which is another thing lacking in reality shows.

If you are interested in the art of restaurants, food, or business and can get past the forced format of elimination and challenges, watch this show.

The show starts up again this Tuesday at 8pm on BBC America.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mike's Seafood (Fulton, NY)

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Shoals of Haddock as far as the eye can see.

"Addle-pated lumps of anthracite! Anthropophagus! Anthropithecus!!"
- Captain Haddock

While working in downtown Fulton last year, there came a certain smell wafting through the alleys, rolling through the yards that an old Mainer like myself can never mistake: fresh, fried Haddock.

Even though most of the time you will find field Archaeologists eating lunch from a brown-bag or a cooler, in certain situations, one has to consider the fleeting opportunity to eat someplace uncharted. The crew and I ditched our lunches like a bad halibut habit and went to Mike's.

The sign out front hinted at a certain modern, clean, hipster-industrial vibe, but it was all business inside. Ten or so tables, a cooler full of Cole-Slaw and Tartar (or Tahtah if you are getting the fish closer to the source) Sauce and soda cans, and a counter. Behind the counter on the left stretching back along the wall were fresh haddock, seasoned and floured, and fries, ready to drop into the fryer beyond. There might have been some other items on the menu, perhaps some clams, maybe some fried shrimp. I am sure they are quite edible. I just couldn't pass up a fresh fried haddock filet on a simple soft bun, a little diced coleslaw (I know diced is not everyone's favorite...) and some shoestring fries for about $5. I think the haddock sandwich is listed for $3.50. Next time, I think it will be 2 sandwiches, hold the fries.

[Mr.] Mike's Seafood
123 W Broadway
Fulton, NY 13069
(315) 592-4386

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Knapp Farm Products, Lowman

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The Knapp family has been very helpful to us during our research in the Lowman area of Chemung County. They sell jams, jellies, and other fruit products from this web site:


If you are interested in these for yourself or as gifts, think about helping these local farmers.


P.S. They have started a new line of "Newtown Battlefield" products!