October 14th, 2011


Autumn Leaf Trip, October 7-9, 2011

For ten years, we had a tradition of going to Cook Homestead Bed and Breakfast for a weekend in autumn. That stopped for the last few years, because the B&B closed down and then we started going on the fall Roadfood tours. This year, we wanted to go again. But we no longer had a loyalty to a particular place that required reservations a year in advance. So I proposed that we should just pick a date and choose a destination based on where the leaves were best.

So we checked the leaf reports on Wednesday, and this line from the New York report leapt out at me: "Foliage spotters in Cattaraugus County are predicting that conditions will be at peak by the weekend with 65 percent change and bright yellows and reds dominating." And the weather forecast for Cattaraugus looked beautiful, so we set our course for there.

We got off late on Friday, so we aimed for a fast trip since it would be dark for most of our drive. This meant that we needed to find dinner near Erie, where we haven't found great food before. Based on recommendations from Yelp, we went to Pie in the Sky Cafe. From the exterior, I expected it to be a diner-ish place, but it ended up being a bit more upscale.

For an appetizer, we had the excellent house bruschetta, topped with olives, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella. (We sat in a high-walled private booth with a light just overhead. The booth actually had a dimmer for the light, and perhaps I should have used it for these photos; they show a very harsh overhead light.)

I had the gnocchi in the vodka sauce, also very good. Lori quite enjoyed her glazed pork chops.

One quibble with the restaurant: I felt a place named "Pie in the Sky Cafe" should have a substantial pie selection, but of six desserts they offered, they only offered one pie. I chose the apple crisp over the apple pie; it was very nicely cinnamony, but the topping-to-filling ratio was slightly off; there was a lot of crunch per bite of apple. The crunch was good, but not quite what I wanted. The whipped cream, though, was very nice - I think it was just cream, but it really added to the flavor.

Lori chose the cinnamon bread pudding, which was not as strongly cinnamon-flavored as my apple crisp.

We ended with an enjoyable chat with Mike, one of the proprietors. He recommended Chautauqua (source of the Chautauqua movement) and Lily Dale (home of American spiritualism), but we didn't manage to visit either on this trip.

Saturday morning, we went off to Sprague's Maple Farm for breakfast. It's a pretty place, with a great view of so-so fall leaves and a little pond with swans.

We both ordered hot mulled cider. It was very flavorful, with strong clear flavors of apple and spice, but it wasn't hot at all, nor even lukewarm. But it was a warm day and we weren't sure that hot cider would be really the thing, so we didn't complain.

We both ordered the two-pancakes-and-a-meat special, which had a cutesy name that we've both forgotten. I ordered the maple sausage, Lori ordered the bacon. The maple-buttermilk pancakes were pretty good, but well within the ordinary scope of pancakes. Lori ordered one maple-buttermilk pancake and one pumpkin spice; the pumpkin spice pancake was so mild of flavor that it took several bites to decide that it really was a different flavor from the other pancake. The maple sausage was a sturdy, tasty breakfast patty, but I tasted no maple at all. The bacon was really good, though - very thick cut, and very meaty and smoky. The standout of the meal, though, was the maple-cinnamon applesauce. It was intensely flavorful and as rugged as one might want applesauce to be; there were small cubes of diced apple in the sauce, even though it was fully cooked.

From there, we drove over to Ellicottville for the Ellicottville Fall Festival. Some leaf pictures from the drive over:

It was quite a big festival and very crowded; the precise answer to "how big was it" says that there were vendors along seven blocks, but the version to gesticulate with says that it was soooo big that even Lori got overwhelmed with all the shopping possibilities. It was also very crowded, and we were often vexed by smokers.

My big food yearning from the festival was for Cornell chicken, which I'd enjoyed at the 2009 Buffalo-Rochester Roadfood trip. But no vendor was selling Cornell chicken, and the folks at the information booth shrugged in ignorance when I asked about it. I guess Cornell chicken hasn't reached Cattaraugus county, even though it's reached Orleans County eighty miles north. (Salt potatoes were available from multiple vendors, though. I'd formed an impression that Cornell chicken territory was coextensive with salt potatoes territory, but this proved me wrong.)

Lori felt it would be most convenient to attend Mass in Ellicottville. (She said that at the time for the homily, the priest looked at his notes, said "this sermon sucks", tossed the notes aside and talked for just a couple of minutes before racing to the end of the Mass.) While she did that, I went in search of glorious leaves. The folks at the information booth had said that the leaves were before peak colors, but the best around were on highway 242 to the west of town. So I drove out there. They were a bit better, but not as glorious as I'd hoped:

For dinner, we drove up to Buffalo to visit Schwabl's, a favorite place for beef on weck from the 2009 tour.

I'm still impressed by the man carving roast beef in a silk necktie.

For an appetizer, we had poutine, which neither of us had ever had before. It's not too far from Quebec, so maybe this was fairly authentic; I can't judge. Lori considered it a total guilty pleasure; I found it not quite what I had expected–I think I had expected the cheese curds to be just a touch more melty.

Lori ordered the beef on week, medium rare, with mashed potatoes and pickled beets. I ordered "the same thing", and the waitress checked every detail, then said "you're the first person who's ordered 'the same thing' and really meant it!" However, I didn't quite get the same thing: when she brought out the plates, the waitress explained that they had run out of mashed potatoes, so she'd given me french fries to keep the plate from being naked, but she had an order of mashed potatoes in for me. The beef on weck was as good as the last time we'd been here, with succulent roast beef on a fiercely salty kummelweck roll. I actually quite enjoyed my french fries, and I was getting full from the meal, so I asked someone to cancel the order of mashed potatoes. "Oh no you don't," the waitress said as she brought out the potatoes, "I just got them ready for you!"

For dessert, we went to Antoinette's, an ice cream shop that was another favorite from the Buffalo Roadfood trip.

Lori ordered a sundae with pumpkin ice cream, caramel sauce, and whipped cream (whipped fresh and piped from a bag as before), and decreed it "perfect".
I was a bit thwarted with my order, because they've changed up the menu. When we went to Antoinette's in 2009, I had been intrigued by some of the sundae combinations on the menu; I had ordered the pineapple mint sundae, but I remember that there was some other equally exotic combination that was almost as intriguing. But now, Antoinette's has narrowed their sundae menu from thirty or more combinations to fewer than ten, with a note that they can make any sundae that was a customer's favorite from the old menu. Which disappointed me, because I can't remember what that other exotic combination was, and both it and the pineapple mint are no longer on the menu. I even did a web search to see if I had mentioned it online in conjunction with the discussion of the pineapple mint sundae, but I see no sign that I did. So I got the pineapple mint sundae with vanilla ice cream. It was very nice, with a nice interplay between rich vanilla, tart pineapple, cool mint, and nice unsweetened whipped cream–but having it fall off the menu makes it feel like an eccentricity of mine instead of an exotic local combination.

We got off very late on Sunday morning, so late that the first restaurant we visited was no longer serving breakfast. Lori likes to begin the day with breakfast food no matter how late, so we went back to Sprague's because they serve breakfast all day.

Sprague's had a huge line, though, long enough that the line to get on the waiting list stretched out the doors. So we gave up on pancakes to look elsewhere. By now, we were hungry enough to choose based on proximity over everything else, so we went to Red's and Trudy's, which turned out to be a cute little diner with a heritage tracing back to 1941. (For background information, I've found this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/19/travel/driving-halfway-there-a-family-stops-to-eat.html)

The cover of the menu said "famous for barbecue beef, loose hamburgs and salted hardtop rolls", so I ordered the beef and Lori ordered the "hamburg".
The beef was far from barbecue as I understand it; it was shredded roast beef, served with mustard and onions. It was fairly tasty, but I enjoyed it more because even the waitress said it wasn't really barbecue.
Lori's hamburg was indeed a pile of loose ground meat topped with cheese. It wasn't a phenomenal burger, but it was a curiosity, because I'd only heard of loose-meat sandwiches as an Iowa specialty. I have no idea how similar this is to Iowa loosemeats, nor how loose meats came to this little New York restaurant.
We also got some excellent onion rings, nicely crispy and with that special property of good onion rings that lets you bite a ring and cleanly sever the onion, instead of dragging the onion out of the breading. (I did not, however, get a good picture of the onion rings.)

For dessert, pie, because they had half a dozen fruit pies and even more cream pies on their menu. I ordered apple and Lori chose chocolate cream. Lori's pie was very nice, with a very tender crumb crust; mine was a good pie, but the crust wasn't good enough to make it great.

In the course of searching Yelp before going to Red's and Trudy's, I'd seen a good review for Cummins Cider Mill. It sounded great, but I was skeptical about whether it existed, because neither our GPS nor Google Maps had any knowledge of it. But the purported location was nearby, so we decided to check it out. I'm glad we did, because it existed and was excellent.

We got a pint of apple cider and an apple fritter to share as we drove. The apple cider was wonderful, really bright and intensely fruity. I wish we'd had a way to bring some home safely.
The apple fritter was huge. I normally wouldn't include such a blurry photo, but I have no better photo and I want to show how big it was by comparison with my hand. It was fried very crisp, so it was easy to break off pieces to nibble on as we drove.

We had a moment of panic on the way back to Bradford as Lori thought she had lost her keys. Panic was relieved after we ransacked our bags in a parking lot, when I discovered the keys hiding at the bottom of our purse. On the plus side, we got some nice leaf pictures from the parking lot.

We drove through the Allegheny National Forest to Warren, Pennsylvania. We saw pretty trees en route, but on the whole, I didn't quite get what we wanted from the weekend's leaves. In Cattaraugus, where the report had said "65 percent change and bright yellows and reds dominating", what we saw was more like 40 percent change and semi-bright colors. And the photos we took seem even duller than the leaves we saw, and my editing attempts generally make the greens look garish and unnatural. I want to see (and photograph) leaves like I see on the cover of tourist magazines–I guess I'll have to keep practicing my photography and keep looking for better leaves.

We did get a few leaf pictures that I'm happy enough about to include at a larger size:

We stopped at Kinzua Dam to walk around a little and take some more photos.

We got a couple pictures that I'm really quite pleased with:

That one red tree was very bright, but I couldn't get it to show up so brightly in other photos. Apparently I haven't mastered all the lessons about exposure I have been trying to learn.

Our destination in Warren was a miniature golf course. I am fond of miniature golf, because it makes me nostalgic for visits with my grandparents. This course was fairly simple and inglorious, but we still had fun. I shot two over par; Lori shot nine over par, but she managed to get a hole in one on #9.
Behind the course was a wooded hillside. The leaves were really pretty, but the evening sun over the hillside made it hard to take good pictures. If only I could ask the hillside to pose where the light would be better…

We decided to go through Cook Forest for nostalgia's sake. South of Sigel on 36, we stopped at one of the most Halloween-decorated houses we know of. Ten years ago, they had a phalanx of about thirty plastic jack-o-lanterns and a few dancing ghosts, but they've been transformed by the advent of inflatable decorations, and now they've added about six large complex inflatables. It is extremely eye-catching.

Our plan was to stop for a nostalgia dinner at the Gold Eagle, a restaurant in Brookville where we've had some very nice dinners (though not all of our dinners there have been nice). The Gold Eagle was closed, though. Yelp searches for towns on our way home turned much less promising once I realized that I needed to search for New Bethlehem, and the promising restaurants in Bethlehem were on the far side of the state. So we ended up at Plyler's Family Restaurant without great expectations. We chose the buffet, which was better than most buffets, but not hugely notable–except that it included some extraordinarily good kielbasa, brawny and smoky and full of flavor. The kielbasa was so good that when we discovered that it was for sale, we bought some to bring home for a special treat.

The buffet included a dessert with a wide variety of pie. The pie I chose was a cream pie, topped with cherry pie filling that was probably from a can and meringue. It was not a splendid pie, but there's one extraordinary thing about it: no cherry cream pie like this appears of buffetbuster's big list of pie photos.

Overall, this confirms my maxim that when we go seeking Roadfood, we tend to find it, even when we don't stop at Roadfood-listed places. But I still need to figure out how to see perfect fall leaves.