Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Road to Pocono Downs

Champion butchers, Victorian beer barons, a lazy river ramble and some dreaded Yankee youngsters.

Up above Allentown, Route 309 is an on-again off-again two-lane blacktop that winds toward the Wyoming Valley. Shiny diners, one-horse patch towns, practitioners of taxidermy, small family farms and the aftermath of coalmines dot the landscape.

The valley is shaped like a croissant. It was carved by the Susquehanna through the folded Appalachians. And pretty much without warning, as 309 splits into a divided four-lane, a granite marker that pays tribute to a comic-strip boxing hero rises up along the shoulder. It’s Joe Palooka, known to previous generations as the “Champion of Democracy,” a cartoon pugilist created by native son Ham Fisher.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss the Joe Palooka monument along the shoulder of Route 309.

Actually, the marker tells us that this particular Pocono foothill has been named Mt. Joe Palooka, a pretty fair indicator as to the scrappiness of the area. People around here are used to gettin’ ‘er done by taking matters into their own hands.

Our destination is Pocono Downs, the racetrack home of actual living champions. Also home to a mighty fine array of local beers, summer ales, sloppy joes, shrimp po’boys, cowboy ribeyes, cheesy sliders, hummus and tzatziki, Buffalo wings, tuna rolls, pot stickers and one amazing pizza called (appropriately enough) The Italian Stallion. Yup, we can take matters into our own hands quite nicely round here.

Lest we forget, the magic of a roadtrip is what we find around the corner and over the next hill. And there are plenty of happy pastimes up ahead before the first exciting post time at the Downs. Perhaps it’s best to simply offer the intrepid racetrack roadtripper an itinerant array of activities, eateries, scenery and all matter of spontaneous whatnot – all within a few clicks of Pocono Downs. Let’s buckle up and click the hotlinks to dig in deeper. Download the map, grab the wheel and head for the hills. In the meantime, we’ll look for you around the bends and back roads.

Hartman’s Grand Champion Butcher Shop
Pull over; it’s pork!

Roadtrip rule #4: Pull over whenever we see a pig statue, because, with any luck, it means local home-smoked pork. At Hartman’s Butcher Shop, heading north on 309 in New Tripoli, the mouthwatering collection of tasty butchery treats is no baloney. Heck, they’re national champs for the beef jerky! But the real surprise is the party in our mouth they call the cheesy beef sticks. Sound advice: keep a cooler in the ragtop’s trunk.

An endless collection of pickled tripe, hot bologna, jalapeño dogs and hillbilly jerky, just to name a few deli case masterworks.

Behold: The Blue Comet Diner!
Getting closer to Wilkes-Barre along rugged Route 309, we can’t pass up the beautiful Blue Comet. As we chow down on eggs over easy and golden home fries ($1.45!), we lose count of the cars of a big old freight train as it rumbles on past. (Overheard from a confiding waitress with a fabulous beehive hairdo: “I’ll never, ever, never get married again. Now, who gets these beautiful stuffed peppers?)

A painting of the original Blue Comet,
whose tracks still run right past the diner,
hangs in the back room.

Check into a Victorian masterpiece residing in a beer baron’s mansion

Old man Stegmaier turned his German beer-brewing chops into a 19th century fortune. (And no, the place is definitely, probably not haunted. We slept like Victorian beer barons.)
Every nook and cranny of the Frederick Stegmaier Mansion is chock-a-block with gilded paintings, woven tapestries, brass fantasies, ornate wazoos, Tiffany everything and sudsy memorabilia from the Stegmaier beer fortune.

It took Joe Matteo nine obsessed years to restore this downtown Wilkes-Barre B&B into a stunning experience of true Victorian splendor. A night here in 600-thread count luxury is living as well as one possibly could in the late 19th century. Of course it doesn’t hurt to discover a luscious 21st century selection of pastries outside our bedroom door in the morning.

On tap: great food and plenty of beer at Bart & Urby’sAbout a couple dozen beers are on tap at Bart & Urby’s in downtown Wilkes-Barre, from local hero Stegmaier (their Oktoberfest is awesome) to Victory Storm King Stout. A better-than-bar-food menu with the likes of sushi-grade seared tuna, homemade empanadas and hand-cut sweet potato fries is icing on the cake.

Outlet Army and Navy sells good things cheap

How about a six-pack of “sox” for 2.99? Camo t-shirts and canvas rucksacks at bargain prices. Or sturdy Dickies workwear for a song. Also, stock up for the end of the world with a tasty variety of MRE’s said to stay fresh for 9 or 10 years. (We found the spicy penne to be not terrible at all.) This place is a hoot.

Just maybe the best chocolate milk in the entire free world.
Just outside of town is The Lands at Hillside Farms. It’s a dairy farm with a store and restaurant across the road. Cheese and yogurts and chocolate milk that’ll make you feel like a 7-year old again. A very lucky 7-year old.

Does this horse make us look fat?
We take a slow ride in the woods on the biggest horse we’ve ever seen.

John Mertz has been putting people up on gentle horses at Dear Path Stable for more years than he’d care to count. He put us up on Baron, no doubt the largest animal we’ve ever had the honor to sit upon. (John said this was the one animal on earth that might handle our girth without complaint. A hint we should drive on past the next barbecue joint we happen to see?) Old Baron paid us no mind, and seemed to enjoy his routine stroll through Deer Path’s meandering, sun-dappled trails. Our ride was a very good 45 minutes or longer – just $28 cash money well spent.
High atop Baron, we can’t help wonder what kind of conditioner he uses to keep his mane so silky smooth.

John Mertz is a very funny guy. He’ll put you in a good mood and in a good saddle at Deer Path Riding Stable. Riding our own horse is a great warm up for watching ‘em run at Pocono Downs.

In spring, the river is high and the rapids are, well, rapid. Summer waters are shallower, slower and mighty peaceful.
Down the lazy river with a paddle sure beats up the creek without one…
Off the horse and into a kayak. It’s a whole other kind of trail ride. The good folks at Susquehanna Kayak & Canoe are a short ride from Wilkes-Barre along a beautiful winding road that hugs the shoreline of the Susquehanna River. We take a van a few miles upstream and climb into a kayak and let the lazy current push us back down. Along the way we watch bass jump, hawks circle, minks slink and a gigantic bald eagle soar overhead. It’s so relaxing and quiet here, we forget to hear ourselves to think.

Youngster Yankees in a beautiful mountain bandbox.
As we’re mighty partial to the Phillies and Pirates (yup, we’re National Leaguers all the way), it’s a little weird to walk into beautiful PNC Field where the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees play ball. It’s like watching dreaded rivals of the future earn their pinstripes. Lucky for us the Pawtucket Red Sox take it to the Yanks this afternoon, but in deference to the home team fans surrounding us, we don’t holler too happily. (We reserve our vocal chords for the horses later on tonight.)
There ain’t a bad seat in the house
where the young Yankees learn their craft.
The hot dogs go down with a cold draft, too.

Tony’s in Kingston: Sandwiches and omelets with extreme personality.
Roadtrip rule #7: Avoid eating anything that’s bigger than your head. Every rule has its exception, however, and in this case it may be Tony’s Fat Bastard omelet. Many eggs envelop homemade sausage, meatballs, onions, cheese, hot peppers - all topped with some red gravy and a side of sausage. Good luck with that.

Tony’s grill master and owner: “I’m a porketta patriot.”

For our money (and for our tummies), we stick with the tried and true porketta hoagie. Owner Jimmy Zambito (son of Tony) is a madman with a spatula. The secret: grilling the long rolls inside and out. A masterpiece for your mouth. (Caveat: if you’re offended by extreme Tea Party sympathies, you may wanna order for take-out. The joint is decorated the way Rush Limbaugh sounds.)
“Probably the best
Roadfood destination
in Northeast Pennsylvania.”

Is it a garage or a coffee shop? Yes!

Right around the corner from Pocono Downs we find Lispi’s, the weirdest and perhaps most beautiful old coffee shop/lunch counter ever. It’s attached to an auto repair shop so we might get our car inspected, our oil changed, maybe even arrange a tow. Then enjoy a cup o’ joe and maybe a cruller. Where Rt. 315 meets Fox Hill Road.

Life on the upside at Pocono Downs
There are all sorts of strategies on how to pick a horse.
We happened to like the name of this one.

It's better in groups at Pocono Downs.

When we finally make it to the track – just in the nick of post time - we meet a whole gang of friends who have the beer buckets chilled and the wings ordered extra hot. The track at Pocono Downs is a splendid oval, with a gorgeous backdrop of mountain foliage. We have a ball watching the horses’ pre-race parade and one of our railbirds is absolutely convinced that we should peel our eyes for a horse that’s pooping. (“That’s the one to pick,” he argues. “It’ll lighten the load!”)

Well, we don’t see that kind of action, but in the sixth race the number 5 horse speaks to us: Urbino Hanover, out of Pennsylvania’s own Hanover Shoe Farms. The best pacers in the world come out of that farm, so who are we to argue with success? To make a 2-minute race story even shorter, thank you, Hanover Shoe Farms. Urbino comes in like he should and we fill up the beer buckets again and still have pocket change for the roadtrip home.

Here’s to the road (and racetrack) ahead! Let us hear from you as to where you been, what you've seen, who you've met, and what you've eaten - before it's too late.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The road to The Meadows: 16,000 years of rock shelters, cherry pies, trolley cars, trail rides and a beloved father of harness racing

Our roadtrip begins 16,000 years ago, after a lovely winding ride along a very rural Route 50 toward the West Virginia border. We’re en route to the last homestead of local hero Delvin Miller, known around here as the father of American harness racing. His story’s worth telling, but it’s what his brother Albert found on the family farm that drives us forward into the past.

Some years back Albert was walking his dog along the Cross Creek when Ol’ Blue chases a groundhog down its hole and digs up ancient Indian arrowheads, tools and other artifacts of social activity in the process. One dig leads to the next and – eureka –the oldest continually habitated spot by human folk on the North American continent.

The archeologists tell us people have been coming to this spot called the Meadowcroft Rockshelter for nigh on 16,000 years. (“It was like a Paleo motel,” says one of our guides.) That’s 1,600 centuries of fishing trips, hunting parties, family picnics, campfires and every manner of post-ice-age barbecues. All now protected by a dramatic wooden enclosure more Frank Lloyd Wright than pre-Clovis paleontology.

Even for us lay folk, who think the patched denim jacket we just found balled up in the back of the ragtop trunk is old, this place is a certified jaw dropper. They’ve been digging around here with tiny little razor blades since the ‘70s – which seems long enough – and they’ve gotten through about a third of the sandstone that’s given up countless prehistoric treasures.

A couple stones throw away, on this same piece of property, is the Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life. We stroll through a frontier town, check out the squash growing in a 400-year old Indian village garden and land inside two galleries that tell the stories of the Miller brothers who put this spot on the map.

Albert was a gifted photographer, and his chronicles of old-time rural living fill a beautiful gallery. Next door, a story of one of the great sportsmen of any archeological era comes to life. Albert’s brother Delvin Miller drove his first racehorse when he was a teen, and kept at it till he died at the age of 83. The room is chock-a-block with sulkies, loving cups, regal proclamations and amazing memories. It’s a one-man hall of fame from the most romantic era of sports.

After gawking through a few generations of geological and harness racing ephemera we put images of flint arrowheads and riding silks in our rear view. We have a desire to hop a streetcar at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum down near The Meadows Racetrack, our feature destination. (Did we mention that it was Delvin Miller himself who founded that beautiful racing oval back in ’63?)

Alas, like the best laid plans, ours is interrupted, this time by hungry happenstance along the two-lane. We do a double take at an art deco filling station now reborn as a bakery with the tastiest pies this side of the Wellsboro Diner. Their aroma fills the air, so of course we bang a uey to have a looksee.

The Pie Place has rolled ‘em out for more than 15 years now, and we cannot tell a lie: the crimson cherry pie with the lattice-work lard crust is so tempting we don’t make it out of the parking lot. We devour the whole enchilada right off the ragtop’s trunk.

Wipe the last speck of cherry filling from the corner of our smile and we finally make it to the Trolley Museum. Yup, there she is, the very same streetcar named Desire made famous onstage by good ole Stanley Kowalski. To this day it inspires cries of “Stella!” from many who happen upon this big old trolley barn.

Desire is part of a collection of more than 40 antique trolley cars, most of ‘em painstakingly restored and gleaming with nostalgia. Motorman Walt Copland welcomes us aboard for a trundle through the nearby woods and meadows. He tells stories of the bygones and answers every question with a wink and a smile.

By now the light is late-afternoon lush, and we hop off the trolley just in time for the first post at The Meadows, where our potential fortune (and a couple cold trackside brews) awaits our arrival.

This place is beautiful and bustling. Gentlemen sport Irish caps and chew pencils while they study racing forms. Kids ride on dads’ shoulders up and down the rail, pointing at one splendid horse after another. It’s colorful; a carnival atmosphere festive with families who keep Delvin Miller’s equine vision alive and trotting.

Aha! A pacer from Pennsylvania’s great Hanover Shoe Farms is listed in the first race. So we plop down two bucks on Big Time Hanover to win and then claim a spot with the railbirds down where they finish.

The bugle calls the horses to the post and the reverie raises back-neck goosebumps. The thrill never gets old, especially when Big Time Hanover comes thumping from the outside to take the lead at the ¾ mark with just enough oomph to hold on past the wire. We hop and holler and wave our winning ticket. The Hanover horse pays $4.20; the next cold beer is on the house.

We stay through the 8th, the big feature race, where we put our faith on another pacer from our favorite place. This time he’s a big fella by the name of Dagnabit Hanover. He’s won two in a row, but this evening, dag nabit, he can’t make it three. All in all, though, we did alright.

Turns out watching all those horses run around in ovals pushes our hungry and thirsty buttons. So we find happiness in the tavern room at Palazzo 1837 Ristorante, a new-school Italian in a beautiful old-school brick building just down the road apiece.

Matt Sager holds court at the bar here and mixes a varied menu of mean vintage cocktails. (His wife Susan manages their downtown Pittsburgh outpost; we make a mental note to stop and say hello.) We quaff one of Matt’s speakeasy Lime Phosphates (caution: they go down too easy) and savor a mélange of sautéed sea scallops and oxymoronic jumbo shrimp. Roadtrip dinners seem best eaten at the bar, where conversation with locals usually digs up tomorrow’s unexpected treasures. No exception this time, as Matt boasts of a wood-burning pizza oven just up Route 19 in Mt. Lebanon.

Lucky for us Il Pizziaolo is just a few clicks from bucolic Rolling Hills Ranch, where a gentle saddle horse named Forbes takes us for a morning ride through the woods. We clip=clop beneath the forest canopy and dream of driving a Hanover champion to the winner’s circle at The Meadows. After a very pleasant hour or so, we prepare to chow down on Neapolitan pizza topped with baby arugula and oh-so-thin prosciutto.

The itinerary is tight. We’ve still got a barn full of Alpacas to discover, a tour of a dairy farm to take (and their ice cream to scream about) and a night to spend at yet another working farm where we’ll help pitch hay, milk a cow and sleep like 16,000-year old rocks. But that’s a whole other story yet to tell.

In the meantime, we’ll look for you around the bends and back roads.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The road to Harrah’s: Riverfront racing, buttered burger buns and royalty-related fainting goats

Listen carefully. When the horses round the first turn on the other side of the infield, the thundering hooves take on a slightly different tenor. That’s because this riverside racetrack is so close to the Delaware that the southeastern turn is actually over the riverbed, on a trestle of steel. It’s one of the idiosyncrasies that delight us about the horse course at Harrah’s in Chester.

We sail the ragtop through Boeing defense plant country to find it. Past what look like enormous centrifuges and helicopter gunship factories. And down along the waterfront ports and just this side of the looming towers of a state pen is the purple Harrah’s logo, big and bright as luck itself. We bang a left into the only racetrack where standard-bred railbirds are next-door neighbors with workaday shipyard river rats.

Upstairs beyond the whirl of the slots parlor we enter the world of the horseplayer. Big flat screens take us to exactas and trifectas the world over, and opposite this media Mecca is the great grandstand overlooking the river. Out in the sunshine a gravel oval and green infield spreads out beneath us. Chocolate brown horses pull sulkies as drivers get a feel for the surface pre-post time. A huge Shanghai freighter glides past the backstretch to unload its mystery cargo next door.

Nice to sip a cold one, ponder the program and watch the river flow. Hard to believe, but a horse named Riverboat Captain is going off 12-to-1 in the third race so we can’t help but plop down two bucks and hop on board. Turns out a good group of the grandstand faithful are with us, and they stand to holler him home to a thankful third.

“There’s pride in third place,” calls out one of our grandstand friends, brandishing his show ticket. In line to cash out, we hear scuttle among the victors of steamed dumplings, roast pork and applesauce, and perfect pink prime rib over on the casino buffet. Heck, we’re still feeling the onion/relish aftermath of a mushroom burger and junior malted from Jake’s, down off Route 202. The legendary grill joint sits right smack on the PA/Delaware border, and it’s an insurmountable temptation if you’re heading to the track from that direction. (Even worthy of going out of your way for the grilled buttered buns alone.) But that Harrah’s buffet calls to us. We find green Thai curry and butterscotch pudding that tucks in perfect between the fourth and fifth races.

By the time we collect the ragtop from the valet, our pockets feel deeper and our bellies a bit fuller. Glad it’s a quick ride over to Chadds Ford, where we walk off some buffet with a guided tour at the Brandywine River Museum.

Settled in nicely along the banks of the Brandywine, this may be the world’s perfect art museum. Certainly the most relaxed and comfortable. We mosey lush trails and hum along with the burble of the creek. It’s mighty quiet after the rumble of the riverfront trestle track. Inside the brick barn of a gallery, the life work of Andrew Wyeth, his family and other local painters offers an illustrated history of this neck of the woods.

Andrew’s effervescent granddaughter, Victoria, takes us on an insider’s journey through the paintings she knows so well. Through her unique perspective, we really get to know the cronies and characters that populate these canvases – and the rolling green neighborhood. (Imagine strolling around Giverny, gossiping about Monet in his garden with his grandkid.) It’s intimate, utterly fascinating and we feel like family.

A stone’s throw and we’re wandering about Chaddsford Winery, where we load the ragtop’s trunk with a new release of blushing rosé, perfect for our weekend brunch. Then north toward America’s Route One, and the back roads to Glen Mills and a gentlemen’s horse farm called Sweetwater. There’s a guest cottage the size of a small condo reserved for us there, with a queen bed and a king’s breakfast included.

Chris Le Vine runs Sweetwater Farm, and knows a thing or two about horses. His grandfather was Jack Kelly, legendary bon vivant, oarsman and horseman. (AKA brother to Grace Kelly, star of Hollywood, Princess of Monaco.) Jack was one of the founders of Atlantic City Race Course, where 35,000 fans would once convene to spend afternoons on the edge of their seats. It’s kinda cool to swap horse tales with the grand nephew of a princess about the sport of kings.

Chris’s father Don was a champion thoroughbred trainer, so he grew up along the backside rails of the greatest racing venues in the world. Today, his 18th century farm is home to horses, sheep, and some oddball fainting goats. One mean look or sharp sound and the goats simply fall over from surprise. Sweetwater’s our home, too, for 24 hours or so. But we see nary a mean look and hear nothing to make us wanna faint.

In fact we fall asleep to a gentle rain tapping our cottage roof and a happy little blaze dancing in our fireplace. We have visions of the coming breakfast feast: ham scones, cranberry muffins, fruit parfaits, home fries and eggs-anyway conjured up by Sweetwater cook Farrell Leo, whose morning smile is pure sunny-side-up.

We can’t stay as long as we’d like, as there are horses to saddle up for ourselves just down the two-lane at Ridley Creek State Park. And then a proper English lunch at The Whip Tavern, way out in Chester County’s horse country. But not too far out to keep us from some more afternoon harness action back at Harrah’s. As the old honky-tonk song reminds us, “Ew whee, we feel lucky today!”

Until post time, we’ll look for you around the bends and back roads.


Here's where to stay, what to eat, what to see. (Hit us with your own ideas, won't you?)

Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack
The cool industrial architecture reflects the working heritage of the riverfront, and the racetrack runs so close to the river, part of the backstretch was built right over the water. The harness racing features some of the best drivers in the country, and the family atmosphere welcomes horse lovers of all ages. And the valet parking is free!

Jake’s Hamburgers
Does it taste so good because they grill the buns and hand pack the patties? Or because the grill jockeys still wear paper hats. One thing’s for certain: the burger of the month is a must, no matter what it is. And grab a shake that tastes as good as your 7th birthday. It’s right on the border, so you might eat your burger with one foot in Delaware and the other in PA. 16 West Chester/Wilmington Pike, Chadds Ford. 610.358.5810.

Mickey Vernon Sports Museum
This little oddity is a baseball lover’s treasure. Mickey Vernon grew up in these parts and became a legend with the Boston Red Sox. Wait till you see the horsehide on which Mickey collected the autograph of every ALer who played at Fenway in ‘57. Hidden inside the Brandywine Visitors Bureau, this little hall of fame honors local stars from baseball, football – even the Olympics. It’s a fun freebie, but a donation is always ‘preciated.
One Beaver Valley Road, Chadds Ford. 800.343.3983

Brandywine River Museum
Spend time with Andrew Wyeth’s portraits and landscapes and NC Wyeth’s timeless paintings for Treasure Island, Kidnapped and other classic adventure tales. Visit NC’s house and studio. And by all means ask about granddaughter Victoria’s effervescent guided tours. 1 Hoffmans Mill Road, Chadds Ford

Chaddsford Winery
A tour of this successful winery whips up a fine thirst for a delicious wine tasting. Enjoy a picnic lunch, smell the grapes ripening on the vines and take home a case or two of the good stuff. 632 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford. 610.388.6221.

Sweetwater Farm
A gentleman’s farm owned by the grand nephew of Princess Grace Kelly is a romantic retreat for a night, a weekend, a wedding. Innkeeper Meghan Feeney welcomes you in a house full of Kelly family memorabilia, and the 18th century barn has been restored with marble slabs originally part of Independence Hall. Wait till you get your hands on Farrell Leo’s home-baked scones. 50 Sweetwater Road, Glen Mills. 610.459.4711.

Ridley Creek State Park
Inside one of the most beautiful state parks is Hidden Valley Farms. Saddle up on a trail ride through the woods for a morning horseback experience before the afternoon post time at Harrah’s. No matter how much a newbie you are, there’s a horse to carry you at Hidden Valley. 610.892.7260., or

The Whip Tavern
The décor is pure horse country. The menu is English pub fare and the taproom pours local brews and UK ales. Don’t miss the Scotch egg; the most sophisticated bar food you’ve ever put in your mouth. 1383 North Chatham Road, West Marlborough. 610.383.0600.

The Blue Pear Bistro
Small plates, big flavor. This is the casual wing of the amazing Dilworthtown Inn “gourmet compound.” Sit at the bar and chow down with the locals on smoked salmon ravioli and curry crusted lamb. And by all means have your way with the value-priced wine list. 275 Brintons Bridge Road, West Chester. 610.399.9812.

Let's hear your tales of the two-lanes: write us a note to Here's to the road ahead.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ride a horse, wolf a dumpling.

Take a gander at a map of the Commonwealth and you can’t help but notice that Bucks County, like Italy, is shaped like a boot. (Looks like it’s about to kick Philadelphia into Delaware County.)

Today we’re right above the densely populated toe, riding an asphalt ribbon defined by the usual suspects of suburban sprawl. Fast fooderies, muffler and quick-lube parlors, strip centers and filling stations. And drive-thrus of every stripe. This is Street Road, its redundant moniker suggesting an overeager PennDOT employee. Or a byway so pleasant and essential it had to be named twice. Today, in this case, it leads to truly greener pastures.

Up ahead is Philadelphia Park, the verdant racetrack home to the annual $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. Also to the great Smarty Jones, who before running away with two thirds of the Triple Crown, ran away with the hearts of the Philly Park track pack by winning every race here, including his first by 7 ½ lengths and his second by 15.

We like the sign that points to free valet parking. The valet likes the ‘76 Caddie ragtop and is happy to take her off our hands for the afternoon. Inside, the casino floor whirrs and jangles. We navigate aisles of slots temptation and find our way to the track outside. Before us lies a great oval raceway, its infield graced by lush, green grass and two big ponds. Ducks are in the ponds and opportunity is in the air.

We grab cold ones and appetizer hot-dogs to go with our programs, and then join the curious at the paddock. Here, jockeys consult with their mounts on the upcoming race card, and a few fans call out to their favorites. We chew the fat with one of the regulars and he offers an odd observation, quiet and out the side of his mouth.

“The number-six horse has been coming in a lot lately.”

That’s all we need to hear. The number six is a good-looking chestnut named Diamonds No More, and sure enough, our dumb-luck bet comes in. We pocket enough to head upstairs to the clubhouse restaurant. (“Upstairs, with the aristocrats,” our tipster says.) Nothing like eating on the house. Or is that on the horse?

On the menu, aristocratic crab cakes, “mile-high” fries and luscious roast pork. From our table, sweeping vistas of the track interrupted only by a 12” hi-def TV so we never miss a race while chowing down.

Second race on the card is billed “Mrs. H’s Kindergarten Classic.” Seems a whole tot class is there for the day, enjoying the green expanse of picnic grounds that run along the home stretch rail. The kids holler for their horses and join the triumphant jockey for a winner’s circle photo op. Get ‘em started early.

We end the day with a close call. A horse named Gotta Cadillac Car is running in the 10th, and with the El Dorado waiting outside for us, we just have to pick that Cadillac to win. Hopes high, he runs a solid second for about ¾ mile, and then runs outta gas on the final turn. C’est la guerre.

Time to head north, to a more bucolic Bucks County, where horses spend more time lazing around meadows than running round in circles. We’re off to Perkasie, with reservations at a B&B called Stone Ridge Farm. We cruise US 611 through Doylestown to Route 313, which laces up the Bucks County boot. In the village of Dublin we find the tiny factory where they put up the legendary Kelchner’s Horseradish. On a horse-powered roadtrip, we pull over for a no-brainer of a pit stop.

A red wood-framed building is home to Kelchner’s, where the Slaymaker family maintains the family recipes that have put this premium jerknose in a bottle since 1938. They’re a little surprised when we walk in and ask for a tour. “Oh there’s not much to see here,” says a shy employee at the counter. “But you can buy some really fresh horseradish!”

We canter back to the ragtop with a bag full of $2-bottles: classic horseradish, tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and rosy-red horseradish with beets. We can’t help but smile. Two bucks a horse at the track, two bucks for horseradish in a bottle.

Stone Ridge Farm was the dairy of Pearl S. Buck, author of novels like “The Good Earth.” What a fitting inspiration for what has become a beautiful 10-acre horse farm and B&B. Innkeeper Jackie Watson makes us welcome with amazing homemade brownies. Death by chocolate; this is living. Jackie’s a pretty well known painter, and her work – vivid impressionist oils and water colors – hang throughout the restored barn that has been transformed into a unique artistic inn.

Our room opens on a boardwalk porch rising above grazing horses gathered in the meadow below. When called to supper by a ranch hand, they stroll single file past our rocking chair perch. Not a bad place to sit with paints and a canvas.

We wake up to the smell of freshly mown grass and the sound of a few happy whinnies. (Not to mention some freshly baked scones.) Today we ride. Haycock Stables is a stone’s throw away from Stone Ridge and Lake Nockamixon State Park. This is where Joanne Moore carries on a 70-year family tradition of raising and riding beautiful Pennsylvania horses.

“Say howdy to Sam,” Joanne introduces us to our morning steed. Jeekers, he’s a big fella; we need a set of wooden steps to get up in the saddle. Sam seems happy enough to carry us for a good walk along the lakeshore, but the tastier leaves on the tree-lined trail compete for his attention.

“Just yank the reins back,” Joanne yells. “Otherwise Sam’ll eat trees all day.”

She asks if our little mounted group wants to trot, and most of us nod in wary assent. Whoa! No one warned our more delicate parts about how hard we hit the saddle on the down stroke. OK, the slow poke is fine enough for a rookie jockey.

Turns out a morning trail ride along the Nockamixon shore is the perfect lunch inspiration. And we’re oh-so close to a local favorite called Emil’s. “Don’t go to Perkasie without eating Emil’s oyster pie,” we hear more than once. So here’s a tip from experience: Emil bakes his legendary oyster pie in months that have an “r,” which we miss by 23 days. But what do we spy in a glass case on the counter but golden apple dumplings big as softballs and just out of the oven. Flaky homemade piecrust enveloping baked Bucks County apples. We take ours swimming in warm milk.

“That’s Dutchy style,” says our happy waitress. “That’s all you need.” Lesson learned: If the month has no “r,” an Emil’s apple dumpling is the next best thing. Maybe better.

So with dumplings in our bellies and horseradish in the cooler, a few saddle sores remind us of how much fun we’re having. The ragtop pulls us along US 313. We’re heading for the great Quakertown Swamp and we pass a cross street called Elephant Road. Makes us wonder what a pachyderm ride might be like, and whether Bucks County has any hidden elephant racetracks.

Maybe we’ll have a look-see next time. Until then, we’ll see you along the bends and back roads.

Ok, get out your map and scout these joints, then let us know what you've seen, where you've been, what you've eaten.

Philadelphia Park
Great horses run the Bensalem Oval. Fun people gather in the Circle Bar and chow down in the Clubhouse Restaurant. And the Picnic Grove draws families for cookouts and horse watching. Oh yeah, there’s a mighty big casino there, too. G’luck!
3001 Street Road in Bensalem, PA 19020 (

Bucks County Visitors Center
Right next door to the track is the gateway to your Bucks County roadtrip. Especially cool are the interactive exhibits inspired by creative geniuses who have resided here, such as Dorothy Parker, Henry Mercer and James Michener.

Kelchner’s Horseradish
Since 1938 this premium jerknose has been the bomb on roast beef, shrimp and, of course, in our spicy Bloody Mary. They don’t do tours, but you can meet the folks who put this genie in the bottle and buy a few right where they do. Stop by and say hello at
161 South Main Street in the village of Dublin. Call ahead if you want: 800.424.1952 or stop in virtually at

Stone Ridge Farm Country Inn
Jackie Watson will make you comfy on her fabulous, relaxing and very romantic horse farm. Ask for a tour of her studio and check out her impressionist oils and watercolors. Then sit on the boardwalk porch outside your room and watch the horses graze below. (Jackie’s breakfast is delicious, too.) 956 Bypass Road, Dublin. 215.249.9186.

The Country Place
This is roadhouse tavern offers terrific food, warm and happy welcomes and incredible value. Our steamed clams were buttery and fresh and our top-shelf martini was just $4.50! Check out the ribs and steak combo for less than $10. It’s hard to spend much money here, and impossible to leave hungry. 1007 Route 313 in Perkasie. Call for directions: 215.257.5994 or check ‘em out online at

Emil’s Restaurant
A great country diner in big old white house. Emil makes oyster pies only when the oysters are truly fresh. We fell hard for the homemade apple dumplings served “Dutchy style” with warm milk. Perfect for lunch after a trotting trail ride. 1710 N, Ridge Road in Perkasie. 215.257.9552.

Haycock Stables
Abe and Joanne Moore bought this farm in 1961. It’s now a popular stable for boarding and riding horses. Ideal for novices and experts alike. We love the trail along Lake Nockamixon. Western saddles make us feel like Hop-along. 1035 Old Bethlehem Road in Perkasie. Call ahead for a horse: 215.257.6271.

Nova Thrift Shop
We’re incurable thrift-shop scavengers. This one on the road from Doylestown to Perkasie is a dandy, and supports a great charitable cause. We found a big old oak rocker for $15 that just fit in the back of the ragtop. 1628 Swamp Road, Fountainville. 215.249.8000.

Send us a note, won't you? Here's to the road ahead.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Road Trip With Happy Horsepower

From Hanover to Hollywood (Casino) @ Penn National

The southern stretch of Pennsylvania Dutch Country actually lies beneath the Mason-Dixon Line. So we whistle Dixie as we head southwest toward the Susquehanna on a blacktop byway that goes by the name of Route 372.

We’re heading into horse country, to Hanover Shoe Farms, where the finest standard horses in the world are born and bred. These are the great Pennsylvania harness racers that pull sulkies better than most and win big bucks on tracks around the world.

But first, other kinds of buggies remind us that we’re still riding through Amish farmland. Endless rows of corn and farmhouses slide by surrounded by flying flags of fresh-hung laundry, all below the Mason-Dixon.

Hand-painted signs advertise brown eggs and assorted produce. And here’s the one we can’t resist: “Homemade root beer, turn right.” A few surprise stops are always mandatory on a roadtrip, including spontaneous barbecue shacks and homemade root beer.

We bang the recommended ralph and find ourselves pulling into one of those idyllic farms. Tall corn on one side of the road and a white-fenced driveway on the other lead us to a smiling young girl in full Amish regalia. She gives us a shy grin and a half-gallon of root beer. We buy smaller 12-ounce bottles too, and take happy pulls as we wave goodbye and get back on the road to horse country.

The Susquehanna is huge and wide where we cross. We leave the shore that was once protected by the Union Army, and at once coveted by General Lee’s advancing forces. If the Susquehanna had been any narrower, or saddled by a few more bridges, rebel troops would have headed east instead of being turned back toward Gettysburg. It’s a lot to think about with root beer in the ragtop, and it’s a beautiful day for a roadtrip.

Hanover’s up ahead and we’re eager to park the car and stretch our legs. This old burg makes for a good stroll. Big trees shade sidewalks and redbrick storefronts take us back a ways. Hanover’s a machine-shop town. Cigars and gloves and furniture were once all made here by Hanover hands. And of course famous Hanover Shoes, worn by the hoity-toity the world over. Today Hanover’s machinery makes pretzels and potato chips and all manner of munchies. As one sign says, “Welcome to the snack food capital of the world.”

But right now we’re hankering for horses, so we head south outta town on Highway 194. Just a few clicks and we find Hanover Shoe Farms. Pull down the lane and head toward row after row of beautiful horse barns. We tie up the ragtop and stroll through stables that smell like hay and, dare we say it, victory. Just last year Hanover horses won more than 2,100 races and pocketed nearly $25 million. See a Hanover horse running in the next race, you best think twice before betting against him.

Hanover Shoe Farms sprawls over 3,000 acres, with 40 barns and 1,200 horses at peak season. The best time to get up close and personal with the mares and foals is springtime, but the barns are open for self-guided tours year round, every day of the week. We’re amazed that we can just walk right in and stroll through this harness racing legend. It feels old-world and all right.

This horse-breeding kingdom was the brainchild of local businessman Lawrence Sheppard, who was also running the Hanover Shoe Company back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. (Hence the name, Hanover Shoe Farms.) The old family mansion still lords over the town, and has been meticulously reborn into a posh inn with a grand kitchen jockeyed by Chef Andy Little. He’s nuts (and knowledgeable) about turning local food into great cuisine. The guy loves to cook. Which works out well for us, cause we love to eat. Book a “tasting menu” and he pairs great wines with course after course of the best-of-the-fresh from what he calls the local “rock star” farms.

Maybe best of all, there’s a big old clawfoot tub with our name on it upstairs. Oh yeah.

Next morning, after some local free-range eggs and homemade wheat toast, we’re at the Utz Potato Chip factory. It’s another self-guided tour that strolls a catwalk hallway high above thousands of pounds of rolling potatoes. Now they’re taters, now they’re peeled. And zip zap, they’re sliced and fried and salted and bagged before our eyes. Men prod the produce and women bag ‘em up. Forklifts pile boxes of bags as high as they can go, and trucks pack ‘em up and hit the road to satisfy America’s hungry snackers.

We gawk and gander and can’t help but smack our lips. Lucky there’s a factory outlet a couple doors down where fresh chips go for peanuts. We load up the back seat with a couple cans of kettle-cooked and we’re off.

From Utz’s we zoom north on194, en route to Penn National, the venerable Central PA racetrack that’s now a part of the bawdy Hollywood Casino in tiny Grantville. Not too long out of Hanover and we find East Berlin, a wonder of a little crossroads with great restaurants (BBQ!) and inns and boutiques. And just the thing for a horseback road trip.

Tackroom Treasures is on the south end of town, an equine oasis full of halters, bridles, saddles, boots, bits and brushes and whatever it takes to keep a horse and rider happy. The tack shop smells like rich leather, and the hand-tooled saddles stop us in our tracks. These are high-end fashionables with real horse sense.

Just when we feel the need for a souvenir we spy the shampoo and conditioner. Sure, it’s meant for manes, but a sign above the display lures us: “For man and beast.” We go with the EQyss Avocado Mist Conditioner and Detangler, for “mane, tail and body.” Our hair’s curly and this stuff turns out to be the perfect leave-in conditioner. We whinny in delight and hit the road.

Post time is still a few hours out so we stop to claim our reservations at The Inn at Westwynd Farm. Its 30-some acres of horse farm is a little bit in the middle of nowhere, yet it’s right on the way to the racetrack.

Carolyn Troxell makes us feel like bonanza in her stylish ranch house. She points us to our own fridge stocked with cold beer, wine and sodas, and a dining room table that’s loaded with cookies and brownies she’s just pulled from the oven. “Help yourself,” she says. “I’ll make more.”

Outside, rolling fields and a big red barn are home to a couple dozen horses, an alpaca or two and at least one stubborn mule. We poke around the barn and say hello to all of them. We’re in the mood to play the ponies.

Just a short gallop later and we stride into Penn National at the Hollywood Casino. It’s a cinematic slot parlor, a warren of cavernous rooms with colossal statues and movie icons from every golden era. Gable and Monroe, DeNiro and Pacino loom over the chattering slot machines from murals and jumbo-trons.

We skip the slots and make beelines to The Mountainview, Penn National’s trackside restaurant. Yup, it has a view of the mountains, and a view of the track. And a buffet that makes us wish we had skipped Carolyn’s brownies. (Almost.)

Our table has a video screen that posts the lineups and latest odds. With two-dollar bills burning holes in our pockets, we rush to place our first bets. We’re not "track touts" by any means, but we try our best to negotiate the day’s Racing Form. We look at past performance and track conditions and jockey records. But we end up picking the horse whose name we like. We bet on Smokey Rose and Rubbernecker and Whistle Pig and yell our lungs out as they come down the stretch.

For the last race of the night we head outside, and squeeze right up by the finish line. Our last two-dollar bill rides on More Cowbell and for once we’ve picked the odds-on favorite. So naturally More Cowbell comes out the gate dead last and stays there until the far turn when he hears us screaming his name and suddenly decides to get his giddy up.

Here comes More Cowbell on the outside! We holler like crazy. (This horse is making us hoarse.) He blasts past every thoroughbred except the winner and loses by a neck. We toss our tickets in the air and shrug and grin. So close, but so much fun.

The valet brings up the ragtop and we mount up back to our king-size bed and the promise of apple pancakes in the morning. We hope for riding lessons tomorrow, but we’ll leave the racing to the pros. Until then, we’ll look for you along the bends and back roads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. For a complete map and photos of everything, stop in at

J& E Homemade Root Beer
Look for the signs and follow your nose to a pristine farmhouse and root beer brewery. Here’s a tip: add a little half-and-half and make yourself a “poor man’s float.” Stop by 100 Haiti Road in Quarryville. (No Sunday sales.)

The Texas Hot Weiner Lunch 38 Carlisle Street, Hanover; 717.637.7075.
The Famous Hot Weiner 101 Broadway, Hanover; 717.637.1282.
These two chilidog parlors are just blocks apart. The Texas Hot Weiner may have a finer chopped onion; the Famous Hot Weiner ladles out a kicking chili. But don’t take our word for it. Conduct your own taste test.

Hanover Shoe Farms
The best harness racers in the world start their careers on 3,000 beautiful rolling acres. You’re welcome to tour the horse barns at your leisure. Look for the sign just south of town on Route 194. 717.637.8931. Details at

Sheppard Mansion
Wine, dine and make a night of it in one of 9 sumptuous guest rooms. Live like a horse breeding baron in the heart of Hanover. Kathryn Sheppard Hoar will welcome you home at 117 Frederick Street in Hanover. Call 717.633.8075 or reserve online at

Utz Potato Chips
William and Sallie Utz started cooking potato chips in their summer kitchen back in 1921. See how they do it today and grab a bag of free samples while you’re there. 900 High Street in Hanover. For tour information visit

Tackroom Treasures
Everything you need to horse around from head to tail. In beautiful East Berlin at 424 Abbottstown Rd. (Rt. 194) (717) 259-0571.

Hog Wild BBQ
It’s a converted garage with a wood-burning BBQ smoker out back. Tuck into Rick and Tina Gulan’s pit beef, pulled pork and hand-cooked fries. Grab extra napkins and laugh along with Rick’s jokes and Tina’s comebacks. Where there’s smoke, there’s flavor. 507 W King St. in East Berlin; 717.259.6203. Check out the review at

Mummert Sign Company
Know those cool “antique” signs in your neighborhood bar and grill? They probably come from here. Custom made retro, with a fun showroom. Worth a looksee at 1665 Rt. 194 in East Berlin. 717.259.8055.

The Inn at Westwynd Farm
32 acres of horses and happiness. Wake up to a great country breakfast and take a walk around the barn. Not far from Penn National at 1620 Sand Beach Road in Hummelstown. Tell Frank and Carolyn Troxell that we sent you. 877.937.8996.

Hollywood Casino at Penn National
They say it’s the most exciting two minutes in sports. And it’s still just two bucks to bet on a thoroughbred. Penn National’s a beautiful track and it’s now part of one huge casino. Dine, dance and try your luck in 10 thundering races a night. Ten minutes north of Hershey in Grantville. 717.469.2211. Get your giddy up at

Ok, now it's your turn. Let us know what you find out there with an email to

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Lehigh Valley

Strumming Martin guitars and strolling Jim Thorpe

We’re north on PA 191, a short stretch of working-class two-lane alive with trucks and tractors, flatbeds and four-by-fours. They rumble past stainless diners and glazed doughnut shops. Uniform and janitorial supply houses share the road with farm stands and car lots. It’s a patchwork cocktail of rural and retail filling up the Lehigh Valley.

With us are Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. Eric Clapton’s in the backseat. And we’re all riding with the King. All manner of guitar slingers are in and out of the ragtop’s CD player as we highball into Nazareth and on to the hallowed ground where they make C.F. Martin guitars.

Here’s where Woody Guthrie’s guitar was born. As well as Paul Simon’s, and Ernest Tubb’s. No matter what kind of music, it sounds better when it comes out of a Martin flattop. Been that way for 175 years.

We meet up with a small group ready to tour the guitar works. They still make ‘em by hand here, and we gawk in awe as patient craftsmen bend and carve Brazilian rosewood just so.

One fellow holds up the most beautiful thing we’ve laid eyes on. Mother-of-pearl weaves to and fro in flowering, lacy filigree from the pick guard all the way up the neck. The edges of the instrument glitter with woven silver and gold. “It’s taken me 3 months,” he says with pride. A tourist asks, “Who’s it for?” “Can’t say,” the fellow smiles.

“How much?”

“$55,000,” comes the answer with a soft strum. The guitar sounds like golden warm honey.

We spend another hour in the Martin Museum, drooling over dreadnaughts and 12-strings. There’s Clapton’s gorgeous all-white D-28. And of course, Johnny Cash’s black one. In a room set aside for spontaneous jamming, fellow travelers break into old-timey standards. As the bumper sticker says, “It’s finger-picking good.”

Back in the wood shop, the lunch whistle sounds. We recall passing Potts’ Doggie Shop on the way through Nazareth, and head back for a couple of chilidogs with pickles and slaw. Locals love to kibitz about their dogs. Potts versus the venerable Yocco’s. Some say Yocco’s grills the better wiener, but Potts’ chili wins hands down. All we can say is they’re so good (and cheap) we grab two Potts with cheese and bacon to walk with. And peel our eyes for Yocco’s for a proper taste test.

Bethlehem is on deck, the old steel town re-imagined and alive with new energy. The historic Hotel Bethlehem is a grand dame, restored and resplendent and a very welcome home after a day on the road. Across the street, The Moravian Bookstore is one of the nation’s oldest and best indy bookshops. Voracious readers laze the day among the stacks and re-fuel at a coffee shop just beyond Nonfiction. Up the block, thank heavens, we find the Bethlehem Brew Works, with beer-battered onion rings and a righteous Belgian lambic on tap. Ah, just in time for late afternoon.

A night on the town features a picture show at the huge-screen Boyd Theater. What’s better than a fistful of Goobers and a good old shoot-em-up. Next morning grab a copy of The Morning Call and revel in huevos rancheros at Billy’s Downtown Diner. Then, top down, we hug the Lehigh River to Jim Thorpe and a different world altogether.

Back in the day, Jim Thorpe was East and West Mauch Chunk, two towns separated by the river, united by prosperity. Once thriving with natural resources, Mauch Chunk fell on hard times as the coal and timber plunder dwindled. So the Mauch Chunks bought the rights to build a memorial tomb for Jim Thorpe, the legendary Native American Olympian. And two Mauch Chunks came together and adopted his moniker. Today Jim Thorpe, “the world’s greatest athlete,” spends eternity in an enchanting town that bears his name. Charming streets, unique boutiques, oddball museums and a grand little opera house surround his unlikely resting place.

Check out the stunning Dimmick Library, opened in 1890. A sunny atrium sheds light on a collection of rare books and historical archives. Stroll across the street to the Mauch Chunk Museum and we’re back in time with a 30-ft model of the old Switchback Gravity Railroad. The old cars once carried the first tourists through these mountain passes. (Tomorrow we see for ourselves with a ride on The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway; the station’s at the foot of Jim Thorpe’s main street.)

Now up Broadway to the Old Jail, cool and creepy. Imagine raising a family in the warden’s quarters, just a doorway away from the cellblock. And the dungeon. And the gallows. Peer into cell #17, seared with a spooky handprint made by an innocent man hanged with the Molly Maguires. Get goosebumps. Get outta jail.

Back in bright afternoon we shrug off the prison heebie-jeebies with a sunny stroll down Race Street, narrow and cozy and old-school Europe. Mountains jut on either side to show us why Mauch Chunk was called “The Switzerland of America.”

This little street is a wonder. Tidy homes snuggle the mountainside. There’s a cute café and a restaurant called The Black Bread. The Big Creek Winery pours free sips of good reds, whites and rosés. And a little bit of heaven called The Country Cottage is home to the Blue Ribbon Pickle. Lori, “The Pickle Lady,” says howdy and tempts us with crunch from her kitchen. Wow! Garlicky burpless kirbies, pickled zucchini, dilly pole beans, and home-jarred jams and marmalade give us the grins. But look out, here comes a militant jalapeño salsa that kicks tourist butt first and takes names later. We buy a jar of everything (and two of the salsa).

Lugging jars of pickles and a bottle of sangiovese, we mosey to our room in the Broadway Guest House, tucked quiet off the main drag. Perfect for a catnap before we wake up with our mouths watering.

On the advice of a wise townie, we have reservations with Mary Macaluso and her Italian grandmother’s recipes at the ristorante that bears the family name. Macaluso’s is a favorite local haunt, nearly hidden next to a motel called The Lantern. We tuck away wild mushroom ravioli, grilled loin of veal and a rack of lamb to beat the band. Wash it down with the tasty house red and try to save room for the homemade gelati.

Tomorrow we promise to work it all off with a bike ride through the mountain trails. Maybe a white water hoot-and-holler through the Lehigh Gorge. And a nosy browse through The Emporium of Curious Goods, one of the weirder wonders in Jim Thorpe. Until then, we’re mighty happy, hunkered down with Mary Macaluso, double espressos and after-dinner cordials. Too soon it’s time to leave, so we’ll look for you along the bends and back roads.

For an illustrated map of our cruise through the Lehigh Valley strum on over to In the meantime, look up these great joints along the way:

C.F. Martin Guitars and Martin Guitar Museum
For 175 years, the most beloved guitars in the world. Watch as they’re still made the same old way. 510 Sycamore St., Nazareth, PA. Find out about tours and hours at

Potts’ Doggie Shop
Good enough to eat two. Cheap enough to eat four. Load ‘em up at 307 S. Broad Street in Nazareth. 610.759.6600. Also at 114 W. Fairview in Bethlehem. Taste the Lehigh Valley rivalry over at Yocco’s in Allentown. Info at

Hotel Bethlehem
Big city luxuries at small town rates. Simply superb, in gilded age splendor. 437 Main Street in Bethlehem. 61-.625.5000. Check in at

The Jim Thorpe Memorial
On Jim’s tomb, King Gustaf of Sweden, host of the 1912 Olympics, is quoted: “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” Cross the bridge from the main downtown of Jim Thorpe over to what was East Mauch Chunk. Take North Street (Rt. 903) about a mile and a half. You can find a good map at

Mauch Chunk Museum & Cultural Center
A great place to the get the whole story of Mauch Chunk and Jim Thorpe. Watch the video, explore the history. 41 West Broadway in Jim Thorpe. 570.325.9190;

The Old Jail
Dig the dungeon, saunter along the cellblock, see the lingering hand print of a condemned innocent man. (It’s shudderiffic.) 128 W. Broadway in Jim Thorpe. 570.325.5259.

The Broadway Guest House
This is the annex of the beautiful Inn at Jim Thorpe, just down the street. We like the Inn, but we love the Guest House hideaway. It’s at 44-46 W. Broadway. 800.329.2599.

The Country Cottage
Home of The Blue Ribbon Pickle and some heart-pounding jalapeño salsa. Plus a shop full of crafty knick-knacks and quaint geegaws. Say hello to Lori, the pickle lady, at 37 Race Street in Jim Thorpe. 800.304.8522.

Macaluso’s Restaurant
Ask Mary what’s special tonight. If she recommends it, don’t miss it. One of the better ristorantes in the Commonwealth. Reservations are suggested, although we love eating at the bar and conversing with the locals. 570.669.9433. Just a couple miles outside of Jim Thorpe on Route 209 in Nesquehoning, PA. Start your mouth watering at

Ok, now it's your turn. Let us know what you find out there with an email to

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Up The Lazy River Road

Bucks County, from the muses of New Hope to the music of Ringing Rocks

Charlie Parker blows Scrapple From The Apple through our radio as Route 32 carries us into the artists’ and antiques colony of New Hope. Fitting, as the bebop pioneer once made a home here in this lazy river town. It’s the heart of what some folks still call “the genius belt.” Hammerstein, Buck, Meade, Michener, Perelman and Dorothy Parker are just a few of the artists who lived in these parts. Along with a portfolio of painters: impressionists and modernists and every genre of brilliance.

We see for ourselves at the Michener Art Museum, where we gaze over beautiful landscapes and watercolors of canal barges and the steam trains that still take passengers over the hills and through the Bucks County woods. Just outside the museum, a mighty locomotive begins to pull four restored luxury cars full of gawking day-trippers along the New Hope/Ivyland Railroad.

A few blocks ahead is Gerensers, the ramshackle ice cream parlor that once boasted “exotic” flavors such as Wild Rhubarb and Cherries for George. We settle for butterscotch and find the Coryell Ferry ready to cruise the Delaware River just out back.

“Welcome aboard,” shouts our river pilot, not for the first or last time today. His long flatboat pulls away from the ragtag dock, through dozens of ducks scrambling for a few tossed crumbs of ice cream cone. We’re off on a half-hour cruise, past a shoreline of sunbathing turtles and a doe and her three fawns. Looming osprey keep eagle eyes peeled for bass just below the Delaware’s surface.

Our pilot offers the mandatory life-jacket advice. “In the unlikely event that you fall overboard, we’ll toss you one of these,” he says, pulling a strap tight around his waist. “Or,” he winks, “you can simply stand up and walk carefully to the most convenient shore.” Turns out the Delaware’s no more than 3 feet deep around here, and clear as gin.

Next morning, after a good night at The Logan Inn (whose legendary ghosts fail to disturb our sleep, thanks no doubt to a couple gin-river inspired martinis) we’re heading upriver on 32, then north on 263 to a slight diversion at the old-time Rice’s Sale. Rice’s is a humongous open-air flea market, and spans acres and acres every Tuesday morning the year round. Historically an antiques and collectables market, Rice’s now may be the world’s largest dollar store. Table after table, tent after tent loaded with handbags, t-shirts, tube socks, perfume, all manner of mops and brooms and household necessities at bargain prices.

We chew fresh hot pretzel braids and window-shop al fresco on a beautiful morning. There’s just the enamel percolator we’ve been looking for. We pocket a silver sugar bowl and 12 tube socks for a fin. Then we get back to the river while the gettin’s good.

Route 32 is called the River Road for good reason. From where Washington crossed the Delaware that cold Christmas night, all the way toward the broad-backed city of Easton, 32 hugs the river shore with the sharp twists and turns of history. It keeps a lazy Delaware canal between our ragtop and the river.

Lunchtime turns up at Dilly’s Corner, a riverside shake shack where we dally over sweet little burgers and grab chocolate malts to go. Point the ragtop north, past 18th-century inns, cozy general stores, campgrounds and boat ramps where busloads of “tubers” slide into the gentle river on giant rubber doughnuts for a sleepy current cruise. We spy one group with an extra tube bobbing with a cooler of cold ones. Our kind of river rats.

Past tiny Erwinna, with its covered bridge, and past Uhlerstown, home to another. Past canal locks and waterfalls and signs warning of falling rock from the cliffs above. Our destination: weird geology.

Just past the bridge to Milford we bang a left onto Bridgeton Hill Road, then a right onto Ringing Rocks Road to a county park unlike any we’ve ever seen. Sturdy climbing shoes and a strong hammer are a must here, as Ringing Rocks Park is a moonscape of boulders, nearly a dozen acres worth, lying in stark contrast to the surrounding Bucks County woods. Good shoes help us scamper among the rocks and the hammer lets us discover the weird charm of these rocks.

They chime like church bells.

Some are chipped nearly white; a sign of popularity among swinging hammers and tire irons. Clang! Bong! We find three good ones that sound the old NBC jingle: ding-dong-ding.

Beyond this odd rock festival is a woodsy trail to a tumbling waterfall. We imagine stealthy Delaware Indians, the first humans to revel in this beautiful sight. At least three stories tall, the falls pour with a teeming head into the glen below. Reminds us that we have reservations just up the road apiece, in a country inn whose happy taproom calls our name.

The late afternoon finds us dreaming bells and boulders during a porch doze at the Indian Rock Inn. Here’s a beauty of an inn, just across from the canal. And with a suppertime river view we chow down on Chef Val’s perfect escargot. We wolf lamb chops and wash ‘em down with a bottle of red from a wine list priced as far from the city as the Indian Rock itself.

The Inn’s taproom – The Barking Dog Saloon - lures us for a nightcap, and it’s here where our arts and oddball music journey comes full circle. Local fingerpickers line up at the open mike and the evening whirls with feisty fiddle tunes, Irish jigs and bawdy parlor sing-alongs. Glasses fill for us on the house and new friends with big grins slap our backs in welcome. Goodnight Irene, goodnight.

Life is good along the river, where tomorrow there’s more to come as the ragtop looks further north. Along the way we’ll look for you around the bends and back roads.

Here's where to eat, sleep and what to see along the way. When you find something great, please share it with us. For the whole maps and a slew of photos, check us out at

The Logan Inn
Chef Pete Gialias runs this 16-room inn dating from 1727. Sixteen rooms, a fine restaurant, happy tavern and great outdoor dining. Plus a central location that lets you park free and walk everywhere. 10 W. Ferry St. New Hope. 215.862.2300.

Coryell’s Ferry
Make like Washington and cruise the Delaware! You’ll find it out back of Gerenser’s Ice Cream at 22 S. Main St. 215.862.2050.

Michener Art Museum
A real treat, especially for $4. Rotating exhibits of great painters and a cool tour of the creative minds of Bucks County’s “genius belt.” Union Square on Bridge Street. 215.862.7633.

Zoubi Restaurant
Andre Le Noble’s eclectic menu is a fusion of his native France, Asia and Latin America. Sounds confusing, but it’s muy delicioso. Beautiful patio dining, too. (We had fabulous politically incorrect foie gras.) 5 W. Mechanic Street. 215.862.5851.

Rice’s Sale and Market
If you can’t find it here, you don’t need it. Tuesday mornings only, no matter what the weather. Off the beaten track at 6362 Greenhill Road on the outskirts of New Hope. Directions at

Dilly’s Corner
Every day along the river is a beautiful day for a Dilly Dog and a chocolate malt. Where Rts. 32 and 263 converge just north of New Hope. 215.862.5333. Learn more at

River Country Canoes and Tubes
Channel your inner Huck Finn with an inner tube. “River Dan” hauls you up river in a bus and sends you floating back to base where great barbecue’s waiting on the grill. Maybe the laziest day you’ll ever spend. 2 Walters Lane in Point Pleasant, 8 miles north of New Hope. 215.297.5000.

Ringing Rocks Park
Bring a hammer or swing a tire iron and ring them rocks! A beautiful spot for a hike through the woods and a picnic lunch. On Ringing Rocks Road, just west of 32 in Upper Black Eddy. Check out this site for more info:

The Indian Rock Inn

Tom and Beverly Schweder make us feel right at home. No phones, no tv, just a lazy river view and great food from Chef Val Gerischer’s kitchen. Bring your guitar or banjo and sing along with the jam session at the Inn’s Barking Dog Saloon.
2206 River Road in Upper Black Eddy. 610.982.9600.