Left at the Fork

the road | the food | a new direction

Pho Tan, Trenton NJ

REVIEW

What brought us to Pho Tan was not the pho but the banh mi which were recently touted in a local publication as the “perfect sandwich” that will “change your life.” Our lives remain as they were but the sandwich has all the right flavors, and would make a pleasant appetizer to a bowl of pho. The problem is the almost comical paucity of filling. We haven’t seen sandwiches this under-filled since our days in ’70s London. The banh mi is only $4, and perhaps what else could you expect at the price? Continue reading

Checking in at: Pocono Brewery Company, Swiftwater PA

The centerpiece of Pocono Brewery Company is a gorgeous wood-burning pizza oven imported from Naples. Our brief stop was only for drinks, not pizza, so we have nothing to say about PBC’s kitchen. The 570 Oatmeal Stout we sampled was rich with mouth-filling flavor. A RiseBall raspberry-infused cider, made not here but at Hardball Cider about 25 miles away, was the polar opposite of the stout – crisp and refreshing.

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Doug’s Fish Fry, Cortland NY

REVIEW

Upstate New Yorkers love their fish fry, especially on Fridays when every restaurant of every type, from diner to tavern, Chinese restaurant to Indian buffet, offers up some version of fried fish and potatoes. Given the local love it’s a little surprising that there aren’t more restaurants around here that specialize in the fish fry. Perhaps it’s that very ubiquity which makes the fish fry specialist so unnecessary. One exception is Doug’s Fish Fry.

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The Original Candy Kitchen, Williamson NY

REVIEW

Pay attention to the name: they call themselves a candy kitchen, not a candy store, and with good reason. Every piece of candy, from the coconut clusters to the fudge meltaways, the ribbon candy to the peanut brittle, is made right here. Over a thousand 19th-century candy molds are used to produce the fantastic array of molded chocolates, including a chocolate carousel complete with chocolate horses.

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The Peppermill Restaurant, Rochester NY

REVIEW

Every good-sized town, in the Northeast at least, needs a dependable diner. Not one of those new-fangled upscale diners with real-restaurant culinary aspirations (though those are fine in their own way), but a regular Joe kind of place, where one can enjoy burgers and club sandwiches, meatloaf and liver and onions, and, best of all, breakfast all day. The food need not dazzle; all that’s necessary is competence and reasonable cleanliness. It’s not, admittedly, a high bar, yet you might be surprised (or not) at how few diners measure up.

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Mother’s Cupboard, Syracuse NY

REVIEW

Ever hear of a frittata? Of course you have! Who hasn’t? It’s an Italianish open-faced omelet. Wait a second, though. We’re not speaking of THAT frittata. We’re talking about the frittata as served in and around Syracuse, New York. Also known as a fretta, a Syracuse frittata is a jumbled amalgam of eggs, potatoes, peppers, onions, sausage, pepperoni, and broccoli, or some subset of those ingredients. Cheese is optional. The other distinguishing feature is that it’s usually a massive plate of food, so much so that, unless the diner is accepting some sort of challenge, everyone orders a half or quarter portion.

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Consol’s, Endicott NY

REVIEW

If you ask around in Endicott for the best Italian restaurant in town, you’ll hear about two restaurants repeatedly: Oaks Inn and Consol’s. It’s local sport to debate the relative merits of the two restaurants. Both are many decades old, both serve old-time Italian/American food, and they are just across the street and down the block from each other. If you dine in both to see what’s what for yourself, however, things become less, not more, clear. Why are these two restaurants compared at all? They don’t even play in the same league.

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Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant, Blairstown NJ

REVIEW

We ordinarily restrict ourselves to the liquid refreshments at brewpubs. It’s not that we think brewpub food is bad, per se, it’s just that there’s usually more interesting things to eat elsewhere. We’re glad to have broken free from our usual habit at Buck Hill, however, as we were afforded the opportunity to indulge ourselves with the Fat Buck Fries. This poutine cousin tops fries with beer-braised brisket, cheddar and mozzarella, and beer gravy. Not only does it supply you with your minimum daily requirements for calories for the day, it’s also dizzily delicious.

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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

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