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!