Baseball Roadtrip 2007: Pennsylvania/Western NYS
Baseball Roadtrip 2007 is complete!
Due to life interfering with play, this year’s trip was the shortest one in our 14 year history. We still had tons of fun, drove too many miles, watched some great baseball, saw a new slice of America, and ate a lot of great food.DAY ONE- New York City to Syracuse 334 miles
We didn’t leave NYC until 2:00pm on Saturday. We only had 5 hours until game time in Syracuse, but thanks to Roadfood.com, we had two off-the-beaten-path spots directly in our path. The first:GIANETTO’S- Moosic, PA.
Moosic was a few miles off our path, but the pictures on Roadfood looked so good, we had to stop for a slice. Our first problem was the fact that there are TWO Main Streets in Moosic! The one that Google points to (as well as the GPS in the car) was a dirt road in the middle of a trailer park. That ain’t the right one. We doubled back and found the correct Main Street, we found Gianetto’s. The second problem was this:
Turns out, they only make pizza on weekdays, but the gal behind the counter was just pulling a fresh pie out of the oven, just to have some on hand. Lucky for us!
I totally agree with Michael Stern’s review: this pizza is about as un-Italian as pizza can possibly be (which is fine!). The sauce and cheese are fine, but the crust is totally different than any Pizza I’ve had before. It was more like fresh baked and toasted white bread. It was so airy, it kind of disappears in your mouth as you eat it. Very good stuff, but not really worth a special trip out of your way. The pizza definitely tastes like something someone would make in their home kitchen. The atmosphere is odd. Kind of half-convenience store, half-abandoned convenience store:
I wish I had the opportunity to sample the crazy combinations that they serve during the week, but such is life. Back on the road…Cortland, NY was due north of us:DOUG’S FISH FRY- Cortland, NY.
We only had time for a quick take-out order so we went for the “fish dinner” which is a fish sandwich, fries and cole slaw. Here’s a photo of that meal plated on the dashboard going 50 miles per hour (the way good food is meant to be served):
Everything at Doug’s is cooked in peanut oil and I think that makes all the difference. This might have been the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had. Crisp, flavorful and fresh. They had malt vinegar at the condiment bar, which is the perfect accompaniment to fried fish. The cole slaw and fries are also outstanding. They were also serving frozen custard with fresh pick blueberries, but sadly, we had to pass on that. We still had Dinosaur BBQ on the horizon and needed to save room.
Next stop was Alliance Stadium in Syracuse to see the Sky Chiefs vs. the Buffalo Bisons. The stadium is bland, concrete and totally forgettable, plopped down on the outskirts of town by the interstate. Only two things stood out: one was the dreadful artificial turf:
The other thing that stood out was a local gem at the concession stand- Salt Potatoes. I generally never eat at a ballpark, but we had to try these. Basically, they tasted like boiled potatoes with some salt:
The moment the last out was recorded, we ignored the fireworks show and made a bee-line to our next stop, and what a stop it was:DINOSAUR BBQ: Syracuse, NY.
I’ve been kind of avoiding the Harlem location until I could make it up to the original. We arrived at about 10:00, and surprisingly, there was no wait. I’m sure the wait at the same restaurant in NYC on a Saturday night is over an hour. Since it was late, we limited our feast to three items: a half-slab of ribs, a plate of wings (two sauces) and some fried green tomatoes. First the ribs:
I’ve been all over, and I’ve eaten a LOT of ribs. These were my favorite of all time.
For me, ribs should “come” off the bone, not fall off. They should be tender, but still have some tooth. These were cooked to absolute perfection. They’re moist, but not dripping in sauce. They had spice to them, but they weren’t dusty. They had a slightly caramelized crust without having a burnt taste. PERFECT. The wings were great too, but next to those ribs, they were an afterthought. We had two kinds: honey mustard and garlic chipotle. These are not fried, but smoked then grilled. Really quite good.
The fried green tomatoes and all the other sides were passable, but nothing to rave about.
Next stop was our motel in Farmington, NY (about 70 miles west) for some much needed sleep. DAY TWO- Farmington, NY to Erie, PA 175 miles
After rising early and eating some crappy oatmeal and bad fruit for breakfast at a diner in Farmington, we lit off to Erie to catch a 1:00 game. Jerry Uht Field is a nice little AA stadium in Downtown Erie. Nothing there is overblown (unlike 99% of all new stadiums). It’s a pleasant place with great sightlines.
It was Negro League Appreciation Day and the Sea Wolves were wearing the jerseys of the Erie Pontiacs. Nice day at the ballpark.
I was still stuffed from all the roadfooding we did the day before, so I skipped lunch altogether and headed straight for the beaches of Presque Isle State Park (really a peninsula into Lake Erie). I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was really pleasantly surprised to find one of the nicest non-ocean beaches I’ve ever seen:
We finally checked into our hotel, had a quick dip in the overly-heated pool and started asking around about local restaurants. Erie is the kind of town that’s sadly becoming the norm in this country: a depressed old downtown, with every big-box store and chain restaurant imaginable thriving out by the interstate. You can really see how great downtown Erie must have been in its heyday. Now, like a thousand other cities, most of the old stores and restaurants are gone, driven out of business by local economics, competition by mega-stores, and the constant lowering of standards. It’s very sad.
We were able to find a local, family run Italian restaurant called Serafini’s in downtown Erie (left the camera in the hotel). It turns out it’s been in operation since 1938. Very typical red-sauce Italian. We split a platter of chicken cacciatore (excellent) and a combo platter of meatballs, sausage and manicotti over spaghetti drenched in marinara (not so great). After that, we caught a movie (The Simpsons) and got some sleep. DAY THREE-Erie to New York City 515 miles (!)
With a LONG day ahead of us, we grabbed some coffee and donuts for the road at Tim Horton’s (after failing to find a local coffee shop in the area of our hotel). What’s with all the hype about this place? Absolutely nothing special. Very commercial tasting coffee and donuts.
Our first destination was Penn State for ice cream, but our crappy corporate breakfast left us hungry for something substantial for lunch. Somewhere on Route 322 between I80 and State College we saw this sign:
How could we pass on “Award Winning BBQ” in a gas station??? GIOVANNI’S FOOD EXPRESS- Route 322, Somewhere in Pennsylvania
(sorry I didn’t grab a menu with location info). Giovanni’s is a lot of things: a gas station, a convenience store, and a genuine roadside BBQ joint. As you can see by the hand-written menu, they try to do an awful lot:
I got the BBQ chicken. It was very good, nice and moist, but a little saucy.
They served all the typical side dishes, but one stood out: Haluska. The gal behind the counter informed me that it was a German delicacy and described it as “cabbage, noodles, sausage with just enough butter to cook it”:
It was delicious, but had WAY more butter than was needed to cook it! Nice balance between the noodles and the cabbage.
With a belly full of BBQ and haluska, we continued our drive towards State College. THE BERKEY CREAMERY at Penn State University.
Located in the Food Sciences building on the Penn State campus, this place is like a dream. The freshest, most flavorful ice cream I’ve ever had:
On the left is Vanilla with Peanut Butter Swirl, made with real vanilla beans. On the right is Death By Chocolate: chocolate ice cram with pieces of fudge and a chocolate swirl. It’s even better than it looks.
I had no choice but to buy a few pints and pay the extra $10 to have it packed on dry ice for my wife.
At this point, we decided to forget the trip to Philly and Campbell Field in Camden, NJ. It was just too much driving for one day. I had always been curious to see Centralia, PA. It’s a kind of a ghost town in Pennsylvania that was destroyed by an underground coal mine fire back in the 1960’s, and the fire still burns to this day. I had done some research on the town before the trip, so we decided to go see for ourselves. One thing’s for certain, it’s no tourist attraction. If you don’t know about it, you’ll never know Centralia ever existed. Route 61 north of Ashland makes an abrupt turn around what used to be a thriving town. The old road is just cut off:
There’s only one marker to let you know something happened there:
It’s very sad and creepy as to walk around and see all these driveways that used to lead to homes, and now just lead to smoldering rubble:
The mine has been burning for 44 years, with no signs of it ever being extinguished. The government bought out most of the homeowners and relocated them back in the 80's, but one or two have stayed. I only saw 2 homes that looked like they were inhabited. One of them is bolstered on both sides with giant I-beams to prevent them from collapsing. I think it once stood in the middle of a series of row houses. The beams are covered with a brick-looking veneer, I suppose to make it appear cozy?
The story of Centralia is a very sad one, but it’s part of American history, and really pretty fascinating.
By this point we were exhausted, and started heading for home. We made great time though the rest of PA and into the great state of New Jersey, so we decided to drive into the Ironbound section of Newark for a Portuguese dinner. We picked the first place that looked busy and sat down for an awesome feast of fish, potatoes, bricked chicken, black-eyed peas and broccoli rabe. I have no idea the name of the place or the exact location (sorry!), but if you’re in the Ironbound area, just head for the gigantic Pathmark, and check out the restaurants on the main drag around the edge of the shopping center (right by the post office- Ironbound station). Great ethnic food to be had there.
Next stop, my own bed. Nice short trip (if you can count 1,100 miles in 3 days as “short”). We caught only 2 games in 3 days, but we saw some great country and ate a lot of great food.