Left at the Fork

the road | the food | a new direction

Checking in at: Apple Dumpling Cafe, West Chenango NY

Apple farm. Apple season. Apple pancakes on the menu. Guess what we ate? The twist? The apples are raw and shredded, folded into the batter. Not served as a goopy apple pie topping. With local New York State maple syrup, it was good enough to finish, which is saying something. A short stack of pancakes at the cafe consists of two, which may not sound like much but they are thick and broad, hiding the plate below. We’d never before finished a pair.

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Checking in at: Phil’s Chicken House, West Corners NY

Through the decades Phil Card’s version of Upstate NY’s famous Cornell chicken had remained a culinary highlight of the state, but it did seem, at times, that the rest of the eatery needed some attention. Now that Phil has turned over the operation to the next generation of Cards, we’ve noticed a distinct improvement across the board. The salad bar and buffet area is kept much tidier and everything seems to be in tip top shape. There’s clearly more attention to detail. Even the chicken, always superlative, seems to be better than ever. We’re not certain but it seems to us that prices have gone up a little. Not that we care; it’s still a bargain considering the great chicken.

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Craylee’s, Utica NY

REVIEW

Signs of life in downtown Utica! Craylee’s, just down the street from the old Hotel Utica (now a Doubletree) has been open for three years, serving breakfast and lunch till 2PM everyday except Monday. Breakfast at Craylee’s is a Utica highlight, especially on Sundays when the off-the-menu fried dough is offered. We tried to nab a serving but, damn, they’d just run out. Almost every other table had a basket of these sugared, roughly hewn doughnut cognates; we were tempted to beg sweetly from a neighbor but thought better of it.

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Checking in at: Florentine Pastry Shop, Utica NY

We can’t visit Utica without stopping in at the Florentine in the old Italian neighborhood for our pusty fix! For the uninitiated, pusties are what Uticans call pasticciotti, which are small filled tarts. They’re a Utica passion. The fillings are usually some kind of pastry cream or ricotta cheesecake. The crust is gently sweet and the cream fillings are exquisite, especially when fresh.

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Top of the Morning Cafe, Utica NY

REVIEW

Apparently, the New Jersey/metropolitan NY diner tradition of a late-night sandwich or burger with a plate of onion rings doesn’t exist in Utica. Oh, there are diners, alright, plenty of them, in fact, but try finding one that’s open past 7PM. Seems most of them close after lunch, while a few push it to early evening. We searched hard for a diner open past 8PM on a Friday and were led to Top of the Morning Cafe.

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Checking in at: Woodland Farm Brewery, Utica NY

Utica, NY is not a hotbed of microbrewery and brewpub activity, no doubt due to the long-time (since 1888) presence of  Saranac Brewery, formerly known as the F.X. Matt Brewery, originally known as the West End Brewing Company, perhaps most commonly known as the Utica Club brewery. The only other brewer in town is Woodland Farm Brewery, open since 2015. The joint was jumpin’ on a Friday evening, both inside and out on the patio.

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The Cider Mill, Endicott NY

REVIEW

The Cider Mill has been an Endicott fixture for as long as we can remember (our local memories extend as far back as 1974). In fact, the current mill is a 1972 model constructed after a fire destroyed the original 1926 cider mill. Unlike most cider producers in apple growing country, The Cider Mill is not a farm; they do not grow apples. They buy New York State apples, primarily from Wayne County, for their cider, and also for selling fresh.

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Checking in at: Sharkey’s, Binghamton NY

Through the decades we still maintain that the charcoal-grilled pork spiedies served at the 1947 Binghamton tavern Sharkey’s are the Platonic ideal of the Italian-accented skewered meat dish. Yes, it doesn’t hurt that Sharkey’s almost looks like it’s still operating in 1947, and it’s hard not to love what, to be perfectly frank, can still be described as an old man’s bar with a dining room in back.

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148th Oyster and Pork Dinner, Carversville PA, October 19th 2019

REVIEW

We love church suppers and we love enduring culinary traditions, but the annual autumn dinner hosted by the Carversville United Church of Christ, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is in another category altogether. This year marked the 148th edition of the oyster and pork feast. They missed a year for various reasons here or there over the centuries (a church fire, a pastor who didn’t like the tradition), so we’re not certain of the date of that first church dinner but our quick math puts it soon after the Civil War. How’s that for enduring!

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Oaks Inn, Endicott NY

REVIEW

“Which way EJ?” That’s the question, perhaps apocryphal, Italian immigrants were said to have asked when they arrived at Ellis Island in the early 20th century. Word in Italy was that there was work to be found in Endicott, NY at Endicott-Johnson, the shoe manufacturer. By the start of the new millennium the company was gone but Little Italy, on the north side of Endicott, remains.

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Checking in at: Waterman’s Distillery, Apalachin NY

Waterman’s, open since 2017, is the only distillery in the Binghamton area. What it is they produce isn’t exactly clear to us. They call their signature product, Waterman’s White, a white corn whiskey. In other words, unaged corn whiskey, or moonshine. On the other hand, they also say Waterman’s White is grain neutral spirit. To the best of our understanding, it can’t be both. So is it vodka? Vodka can be made from corn – Tito’s is one example of a corn vodka. We didn’t taste the White straight, but we did sample it in a cocktail and there’s was no mistaking the subtle but distinct moonshine flavor.

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Miss Monticello Diner, Monticello NY

REVIEW

If you find yourself motoring through the Catskills in New York when hunger strikes, we suggest locating a diner and settling in for a quick meal of American classics. We like to think that much of the appeal of diners is their fungibility and predictability, but in all honesty that probably overstates the situation. Yes, if all you want is an omelet or a burger, just about any diner will do, but some diners really do a better job than others. One of the most reliable of the breed is the Miss Monticello. Continue reading

Terrapin, Virginia Beach VA

REVIEW

Calling all Deadhead locavore herpetologists! Here’s your restaurant! Owner/executive chef Rodney Einhorn named his restaurant after the Dead’s Terrapin Station while also paying tribute to the local diamond-back terrapins. Terrapin has long been “the best restaurant in town,” but they recently underwent a makeover so that today’s edition is a more casual and accessible place, while retaining the uncompromisingly fresh and creative food. Continue reading

Checking in at: Smartmouth Brewing Company, Virginia Beach VA

Porter Hardy, former home brewer and attorney, began Smartmouth in Norfolk’s Chelsea district, on the west side, in 2012. It’s still their home base today, and it’s there you can learn more on a Saturday tour. They call the branch in Virginia Beach, which opened three blocks from the ocean at the end of 2017, the Pilot House. While most of the brewing is still done in Norfolk, the Pilot House is set up with a small-scale brewing system to produce experimental and limited edition brews. Continue reading

Charlie’s Cafe, Norfolk VA

REVIEW

The omelets are fluffy, the neighborhood is vibrant, and the restaurant has character. Reasons enough for Charlie’s Cafe’s success. How do they get those omelets to billow as they do? They run the eggs through a milkshake blender. It’s not clear who originally thought of doing that, although some think it may have been Charley himself, three owners ago.

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Steinhilber’s, Virginia Beach VA

REVIEW

If you spend some time in Virginia Beach, and local cuisine interests you, you’ll probably do a little research. The name Steinhilber’s will come up repeatedly, touted for their fried shrimp. So you do a little more digging on Steinhilber’s and discover this is no beachside fried seafood shack. Rather, it’s an expansive, old-school restaurant from 1939, on the grounds of a former country club, popular for weddings and anniversaries. If that dissuades you from paying Steiny’s a visit, you will have made a huge mistake. Continue reading

Checking in at: Wasserhund Brewing Company, Virginia Beach VA

Microbreweries tend to produce ales. Many brewpubs begin as home brewing hobbies, and the exacting requirements and cold temperatures required for the brewing of quality lagers are just not for beginners. This means that craft breweries rarely specialize in German brews. Oh, sure they’ll mix a few hefeweizens, weissbiers, and the occasional gose and kolsch in with their IPAs, but you can’t really be said to specialize in German beer without including some lagers. Continue reading

Taste of Smithfield, Smithfield VA

REVIEW

When you’re in Smithfield, Virginia you’re in the heart of ham and peanut country. Sure, times have changed, as they always do – the giant pork processor in town, Smithfield Foods, is now Chinese-owned, and the last Smithfield ham smokehouse in town was shut down last year. Hogs no longer graze on harvested peanut fields to fatten up, but the law still requires the hams to be produced, and smoked, within the town limits to be called Genuine Smithfield Hams. (What Smithfield Foods plans to do is still up in the air; they have a large backlog of aging Smithfield hams available to carry them for a while.) Continue reading

12 Farms, Hightstown NJ

REVIEW

We’re keeping our fingers crossed. Restaurants like this rarely open in our neck of the woods, and even more rarely do they stay open very long. Yet 12 Farms, the farm-to-table eatery in Hightstown, has been up and running for over four years and, as far as we can tell, is thriving. Yippee! Continue reading

Smithfield Inn, Smithfield VA

REVIEW

The Smithfield Inn was built as a residence in 1752. Seven years later it was converted to a restaurant and inn. Like any restaurant over 250 years old, it’s obviously gone through many owners and had its ups and downs. For a long time in the 20th century it was well-known for traditional home-style Southern cooking. It was eventually even owned by Smithfield Foods, the giant pork processor and home of the world-renowned Smithfield Ham. Continue reading

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