Thursday October 16th, 2014
- My friend Doug called me a few weeks before this trip and offered to give me a ride up to Syracuse, NY as he was driving up this weekend to visit family, head back to our old campus at Utica College for Homecoming weekend and run the Empire State Half Marathon in Syracuse. Initially, I WAS going to go up with him but he wasn't heading out until after work on Friday. Thursday and Friday are my days off so I figured I'd have an extra couple of days with my family. Doug ended up getting delayed at work and didn't leave until early Saturday morning and we had to head back Sunday afternoon so it was a pretty short, but very packed and fun-filled weekend for him (and for me). Amtrak was fine getting up there and I ended up getting off in Rome as I met my mom there and we drove up to Syracuse. ***I must apologize in advance for the poor quality of all the photos in this installment. I had forgotten my camera and was stuck using my cheap (read: non-iPhone) cell phone camera. However, I stumbled upon some really great finds and felt that I needed to share and wasn't sure when I could go back and have an opportunity to re-create these shots.
On our way to lunch, Mom and I passed this sign saying that in 1846 North Syracuse was home to the first plank road in the United States. It was originally called Centerville until the name change to North Syracuse in 1880. The plank road was about 16 1/2 miles long and primarily used for salt transportation. Syracuse's nickname is "Salt City" and sits atop many salt deposits.
We stopped for lunch at Jo-li-me Cafe (closed as of December 2014)
. We've been here a few times before and had really good food. I love the use of recycled wood for the entryway.
And they are pretty conscientious about using recycled materials from the old building. It's like all of those decades of history are still living and creating new memories.
And a self-portrait in a mirror made from an old saddle. At least I THINK it was a saddle. Any thoughts, Michael Stern
I had the very same sandwich I ordered on my first visit back in May 2013, the "Ham Off the Bone" with ham, brie, sliced apples and raspberry mayo on grilled marble rye. The ham has a nice saltiness to it, while the crisp, tart apples and the cream brie and mayo really made this sandwich pop for me.
I knew that they made most, if not all of their breads and baked goods, so a homemade half moon cookie was a shoe-in for dessert. I'm not normally a big fan of the vanilla/yellow cake base version but this was a phenomenal half moon. Really tender, good flavor and the whipped frosting on top was clearly homemade. So glad I found one I really like outside of Utica/Rome so I don't have to travel far if the craving strikes when in 'Cuse! I managed to find yet another, but more on that later. Friday October 17th, 2014
- I'm so glad I came up early as Mom and I were able to spend some quality time together. We had a few errands to run and I even managed to find some of the elusive cookie tins at a Christmas Tree Shop (I had been searching fruitlessly all over NYC!). Mom suggested breakfast at Panera Bread and while I like it, I was hoping for something more local and independent and honestly, I wanted to knock another Fretta off of my list. Luckily, we drove right by Julie's Diner
which has been in my sights for some time.
As is the case with many diners in the area, they are only open for breakfast and lunch.
Lots of business cards for local merchants and flyers for fundraisers and community events. Like a neon pig on the roof of a BBQ parlor or a table with a boomerang pattern, I view this as a sign of good food to come.
Here at Julie's they call them Frittatas and offer a few options. Thankfully, they do offer a half size!
I went with the half-size Traditional Frittata (with Swiss cheese) and raisin toast. This one came together quite nicely and with the addition of some ketchup and a dash of hot sauce I was really diggin' it.
Mom's coffee. I also feel that diners with coffee mugs that advertise local businesses usually have pretty good food.
When I found out that they had homemade pie I ordered a slice of chocolate cream pie which the waitress described and rich and intense. This is really more like a chocolate ganache than a light chocolate cream. I'm usually disappointed because I really prefer the lighter pudding-like cream but given her description I had a feeling it would be just like this. It's a very good pie and unmistakably homemade, but too rich to eat more than half in one sitting.
Love this t-shirt. Our waitress was great, gave me a lot of sass and let me put in my pie order, "Buffetbuster-style
", before I ordered my breakfast (lest they run out!).
Our next stop was at the Franciscan Villa on Buckley Road in Syracuse. It is the local home of The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, a congregation of vowed religious women dating back almost 800 years. Our Uncle Sam's (who passed away in March of this year) sister, Sister Walter Marie, was a Sister prior to her recent passing at age 99 and was very involved with them and even instituted a weekend nursing program for women who had families and couldn't attend school on weeknights. On a more personal note, she would visit my Dad in the hospital after had suffered his first heart attack in 1985 and provided my mom with a place to stay in Syracuse close to the hospital so she wouldn't have to drive from Rome every day and made sure to check in on her as well as have someone walk her to her car each night. A pretty special woman.
We have some dear friends whose 12-year old daughter is struggling with some very serious health issues and Mom thought that asking the Sisters if they would start a prayer chain for her might be a good idea. The more help, prayers and good wishes, the better. We met with the receptionist and she said she knew exactly who to talk to about it. Mom gave her all of the info and background story.
When we drove in, I saw a sign that said NunBetter Chocolates & Custom Gift Baskets
and asked what is was. She said the Sisters have their own chocolate and candy business located at the Franciscan Villa. I told that we HAD to stop in! Mom was concerned about my taking pictures but I figured if the Sisters could come up with a name like that I'm sure they would be okay with a few pictures. Nevertheless, I would ask first and respect their wishes.
The chocolate shop is just off the front lobby of the main entrance and the volunteer and one of the Sisters inside were very nice, helpful and were happy to answer any questions that I had and gladly allowed me to take pictures. They have hundred of different molds such as Tools...
They also make a great snack called "Heavenly Trash", a mixture of different kinds of Chex cereal, Cheerios, pretzels and mixed nuts, covered in white chocolate. Love, love, love that name! It had that salty/sweet combo that I have craved ever since eating my first chocolate covered pretzel at age 5.
I also pocked up a mixed box of various barks and handmade truffles. Good stuff that I shared with the family and actually lasted long enough to share with Dayna back in NYC a few days later! Saturday October 18th, 2014
- Doug called and said he would be getting into town and we could get in nice 3-mile run along Onondaga Lake, so I got up early to fuel up with a half size of Big Anthony's Frittata at Mama Nancy's
at the Cannon Truck Stop. I had been reading about this place for months and between the good reviews, homemade desserts and so many things I wanted to try, I knew I'd HAVE to come here on this trip.
Once again channeling Buffetbuster
, I chose a seat at the counter and quickly spied the many cakes under glass on the counter. Right as the waitress put the menu in front of me I made sure to order one of the last slices of the most excellent pink strawberry cake with fluffy pink frosting. It's not just for Pretty, Pretty Princess Birthday Parties any more, is it? It's what's for breakfast!
Chocolate milk to wash it all down. I'll never outgrow this beverage! NEVER!
And the half-size Big Anthony's Frittata (with Swiss cheese) and thick cut Italian toast. He scores again with the bread! This one was really amazing and I actually ate the whole thing. And they call it a half size. This three mile run coming will be real fast...yeah right!
Spend a few minutes in here and it's clear that this a locals hangout and the waitresses have known customers a long time. I might have been the only non-local in here. I saw an unusual thing in the booths that perhaps some of you have seen before (in truck stops?). Each booth had a box attached to the wall with a tiny TV screen and a slot for quarters. My waitress said that they were little TVs for each booth. I've seen jukebox selectors in booths before but never TVs.
I also had the luck (or misfortune, depending on your point of view) of sitting next to a guy who apparently viewed me as a surrogate Sigmund Freud/ Isaac Washington because he spent our entire tenure at the counter regaling me with all of the problems in his 25-year marriage and why he should have D-I-V-O-R-C-E-D his thankless wife many years ago. I replied with a few half hearted maxims, (That's life!" "Women! Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em! Pass the hot sauce") until he eventually paid his check and was mercifully on his way long before I was finished.
Doug & I logged a tough run on a cold, wet day along Onondaga Lake. Always good to run with my friend. After, we stopped for lunch at the Utica Pizza Co
Doug went for the Buffalo Chicken sandwich which he said was pretty good.
I ordered a local specialty I haven't had in over 20 years. Hats with broccoli. After eating this, I'm kicking myself for having waited so long to try it again. A very rich and filling dish, the "hats" and thick and chewy, almost like gnocchi and the olive oil, parmesan and garlic makes for a wonderfully light sauce that when mixed with the tiny bits of broccoli on the bottom, become sort of a broccoli pesto. The big stalks and florets have a great crunch to them. As much as I love it, I couldn't finish it and brought about 1/3 home. We swung by the race expo, ran into our friend from college, Shawn, who was running her first ever marathon the next day and was awesome!
After a about a 1-hour drive to Utica, NY, we found ourselves on the campus of Utica College. I'm not sure if Doug has been to these before but this was my first time back on campus in close to 20 years! Kinda trippy! UC was connected to Syracuse University when we attended so the orange & blue were school colors.
Walking around campus we recalled days gone by when we might have secreted a keg into a dorm, pulled pranks on our friends and engaged in general silliness. I guess some things haven't changed!
When I first met Doug, I was totally prepared NOT to like him at all. After a lot of bad luck with roommates (the two guys in a triple suite my freshman year who hated each other and forced me into a "Mean" Gene Okerlund role to my 2nd roommate, who didn't believe in pockets (literally!) and was always losing his key and/or asking my to adjust my schedule so that I could be there to let him in so he wouldn't have to carry a key to Roommate #3, whose student aid fell through, I was starting to understand how "Murphy Brown" felt with her revolving door of secretaries!) I finally had a double room all to myself. I duct taped the beds together and my girlfriend and I had our very own suite...that is until someone dropped a dime on me to the Resident Director and I was assigned a new roommate. When Doug walked in he was running my awesome set-up!! I came back from classes one day and found he and some friends drinking 40oz bottles of malt liquor in paper bags, smoking cigars and playing cards. What was next? Dice games?
However, Doug has become one of my very best friends, like brother to me and has had my back on many occasions. Countless moves, road trips, nights at Tom Cavallo's or Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and he has pushed me farther than I could have imagined by coaching me and inspiring me to take up running over the past 5 years. Lucky for me, he has the Roadfood fire inside him and we've made it to a number of great RF spots. To many more adventures, my friend!
We made our way to Strebel Hall, the student center on campus and it really was like going back in time. We browsed through the bookstore, picked up our free GO UC sunglasses, had a few beers with some old classmates in the Pioneer Cafe (the Pioneer was our school mascot and looked like Davy Crockett). I mentioned that one of the volunteers that my first play ever was on stage in the auditorium. She said I should check it out and they would be opening in a bit, however, I couldn't resist so we snuck in to get some action shots on stage.
This was the very first place I had ever worked up the nerve to audition for anything and the very first time I had ever performed on stage. To say that opening night of "What The Butler Saw" was an epiphanic moment for me would be the understatement of the decade. My life definitely changed from that moment on and I knew performing would be a part of my life in one form or another. I got a bit misty standing on that stage again and remembering how much Profs. Jerry Weiss and Jane Metzger meant to me and gave me that first chance.
It was quite a rush and a trip back in time to visit UC but Doug had a race to run early the next morning so we hightailed it back to Syracuse and found a not-very-good pizza shop near Heids of Liverpool
. Should've gone with the hot dogs! However, I did score a very fine Byrne Dairy strawberry milk from their cooler so it wasn't a total loss. Sunday October 19th, 2014
- Race Day! Doug's BIL Mike picked me up and we headed over to the race. We watched Doug take-off and then made our way over to the CNY Regional Market, located just across the street from the William Walsh bus/train station and the NBT Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs (AAA) baseball club. I had always wanted to check it out but I had wrongly assumed it was just produce and prepared foods, baked goods and such.
It really was so much more. Vendors selling everything from items from their homes: old farm equipment, VHS tapes, Star Wars actions figures, incense, toboggan sleds, copies of 1960s BOXING magazines, you name it.
Hail to the KING, baby! How awesome is this clock?
In my wildest dreams I never imagined I would find a box of records with both Strawberry Shortcake AND The Rolling Stones!
The toy trucks of my youth. They don't build 'em like THAT anymore.
One of Mike's friends was running this sock stall and he had plenty of great brands at great prices. There are a number of "sheds" that house countless stalls and one could spend all day there and score some great bargains. Just a few steps away was a cookware stall with cast iron pots and restaurant sized vessels for making sauce and all manner of cooking gadgets.
Just when you though it was safe to go back to the market...dun dun dun!!! FRIED DOUGH!!! "Billy, you're gonna need a bigger napkin." Excellent fried dough and I had also inhaled a pair of cinnamon sugar cider donuts, fresh off the line but I was having camera phone issues. Sorry.
I misjudged how quickly Doug would finish and we missed him crossing the finish line but we found him as quick as we could and got out of the cold.
Back to Mike & his wife's house to hang with them and their son, Dre and relax for a bit with some killer buffalo wing dip and some homemade spicy grilled chicken wings and to give some love to their sweet dogs Mollie and Sweet Pea (Sweet Pea is pictured below and LOVES attention!).
Before heading out, we popped into the Fayetteville Wegmans to get some snack for the road. They have beef-on-weck there too! Awesome! However, too heavy and I was driving. I did find a pair of in-store baked chocolate base half moon cookies that were outta sight and this tub of Sponge Candy which was just right.
That's it so far. I hope to add more to this when we go up to Syracuse for Christmas and maybe even make this an ongoing thread. Til then...!!
post edited by billyboy - 2015/09/11 09:35:36