the road | the food | a new direction

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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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Chesapeake Bay Farms, Pocomoke MD

REVIEW

Have you noticed how dairy farms have taken to making and selling ice cream on site to the public? It’s part of their struggle to survive as small farms, like much of America, participate in the gig economy to make ends meet. From an ice cream lover’s perspective, it’s a welcome trend, bringing not just the chance to sample homemade ice cream, sometimes even made from the milk of the cows grazing on that farm, but also the opportunity to get out and enjoy rural life for a few hours. Continue reading

The Original Steaks, Seaside Heights NJ

REVIEW

Philadelphia cheesesteaks are traditionally served on long rolls. While it’s rare to encounter one on some other kind of bread, it’s not unheard of. One of the best cheesesteaks in the region is served on a round hard roll, just across the river in Camden’s Donkey’s Place. And here in Seaside Heights, the dueling cheesesteak joints known as The Original Steaks and Steaks Unlimited, across the street from one another, employ pizza bread as the absorbent vessel for the thinly sliced beef, goopy cheese, and well-cooked onions. Continue reading

American Legion Post 1 Restaurant, Wheeling WV

REVIEW

Have you served at least one day of active American military service during wartime? No? Not a problem! You can still join the American Legion for a meal, at Wheeling Post 1, said to be the oldest American Legion post in the U.S. Step inside and you find yourself in what appears to be a bar with a few tables to the right. We arrived a bit late for lunch on a Saturday. The bar was well-attended but we were the only dining customers. Continue reading

Schwalm’s Cleona Restaurant, Cleona PA

REVIEW

Good country cooking is becoming ever more scarce in eastern Pennsylvania Amish country. We keep searching but the results have been lukewarm at best. Schwalm’s feels right but, based on a first visit, we’re just not yet convinced. There were decent things to eat (in a couple of cases, more than decent), but most of what we tried, while all perfectly edible, was simply standard issue luncheonette food. Continue reading

McPartlan’s Corner, Amherst NY

REVIEW

Western New York often seems to have more in common with the upper Midwest than with downstate New York. For instance, walk into almost any restaurant on a Friday night and, regardless of the sort of food the eatery normally serves, you’ll probably find a dining room filled with people eating fish fry, just like in Wisconsin. Local wisdom says that it’s difficult to find a bad fish fry in the Buffalo area. That might be true, but it’s also true that if you value fresh, not frozen, fish, then there are choices to be made. Continue reading

The Rathskeller, Indianapolis IN

REVIEW

Visit just about any Midwestern city and you’ll find at least one 19th-century German restaurant still operating and thriving. German cuisine may have been the most out-of-fashion food in the country for ages (although, lately, it’s showing signs of life), but we find it hard to resist a visit to these great old dining halls. The Rathskeller is Indy’s oldest restaurant (open since 1894), and can be found in a building originally known as Das Deutsche Haus, a German social club. Continue reading

Danny’s Diner, Binghamton NY

All things considered, we think Danny’s Diner is the most Binghamtonian place for breakfast in the Southern Tier. Staffed almost completely by women, this Depression-era Sterling diner is remarkably gleaming and shipshape. These folks serve basic diner renditions of eggs, hash, potatoes, toast and coffee at low, low prices and dish out a warm and friendly rendition of diner sass. Continue reading

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

The Trailer Park Lounge & Grill, New York NY

REVIEW

We were faced with a tricky proposition: a bunch of us would be spending the day in Chelsea (a neighborhood in Manhattan) and wanted somewhere to hang out and get something to eat around 7:30 p.m. Oh, did we mention it was Valentine’s Day? Not only is that holiday the ultimate amateur night for diners (special menus geared toward those who dine out once a year), but every table at every restaurant that could even remotely be considered romantic had been booked weeks in advance. We had to find the sort of place that no couple in their right minds would even consider visiting on the most romantic evening of the year. And so we did. Continue reading

Runza, Lincoln NE

REVIEW

One of the problems we have with fast-food chains is how the food’s had all traces of regionality wrung out of it. To a large extent, the success of national or global fast-food chains depends on their ability to serve the same burger and fries in Maine that’s served in New Mexico. So we think it’s interesting when we encounter a local fast-food chain serving something unique to its region, like Runza does in Nebraska. Continue reading

Esposito’s Pizza & Restaurant, Mahwah NJ

REVIEW

We found Esposito’s, not far from the NJ/NY border, to be a thoroughly ordinary New Jersey pizza joint with one exception: service is unusually attentive and caring. Nothing we sampled was less than OK, mind you, but neither did anything rise above that level, although the food looked particularly good. Better ingredients would do wonders for the place. As it is, if we lived nearby we might stop in on occasion, but it doesn’t rise to LAF levels. Continue reading

Vermont State Fair, Rutland VT

REVIEW

The Vermont State Fair’s origins go way back to 1846, when it was known as the Rutland State Fair. Thirteen years later the fair moved to Rutland County Park, where it’s been held ever since. It didn’t become known as the Vermont State Fair until 1972, 126 years after that first fair! The owner of the fair property deeded it to the fair under the condition that an agricultural fair be held every year on the grounds. Otherwise, the property reverts to the heirs of the original owner. But the Vermont State Fair has been in trouble lately. Continue reading

Don & Millie’s, Omaha NE

REVIEW

The cheese frenchee (on some local menus you’ll see it spelled frenchie) might be the quintessential bar food: a salty, fatty, gooey, thirst-inducing snack. Invented at a now-defunct regional chain named King’s Food Host, it shows up on the fast-food menus of a few eastern Nebraska restaurants, including Don & Millie’s, a mini-chain with about half a dozen locations between Omaha and Lincoln. Continue reading

Green Mountain Smokehouse, Windsor VT

REVIEW

We were a little surprised by the Green Mountain Smokehouse. We’d read about it elsewhere and were expecting something more than what we found. The smokehouse has a small retail room, but they’re really geared towards their wholesale business. Oddly, we found very little selection among the smoked sausages. Most of what they offered were fresh, and frozen at that. The aroma was truly intoxicating, however. The kid manning the retail area told us he couldn’t even smell it anymore! Continue reading

Clay’s Family Restaurant, Fremont IN

REVIEW

Two words: bluegill and pie. That’s what you need to know if you’ll be visiting Clay’s Family Restaurant, just outside of Fremont, Indiana. Continue reading

Diner Grill, Chicago IL

REVIEW

Molecular cuisine, it’s not. Chicago does offer three Michelin stars at Grant Achatz’s cutting edge Alinea, but does Alinea offer a slinger in a repurposed trolley car? No, for that you’ll have to travel ten minutes north, to the neighborhood of Lakeview, and the notorious Diner Grill.

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