Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pennsylvania Wilds

Where country roads lead to oil booms, simpler times and skydiving Aussies.

A roadtrip through the Pennsylvania Wilds is best plotted with county maps. We’re driving old logging roads, dirt highways through 100-year forests, navigating by the direction of sunlight through stands of black cherry hardwood. We’re dappled in the ragtop, on the way to the world’s first oil well, and looking for oil-boom echoes from the 19th century.

We find our first petroleum ghosts at a pit stop called Pithole. There’s not much left of the boomtown that was once roaring with 15,000 hard-living speculators. Pithole, appropriately, was a muddy, smelly and completely unsavory place created in a flash of oil-fueled fantasia. Hotels, saloons and yes, any number of ill-reputed houses appeared overnight in what was then and still is pretty much the middle of nowhere.

We make the short hop from Pithole’s bleak memory to the pride of Titusville: the Col. Drake Oil Well, the world’s first to bring “black gold” out of the ground. The well’s still there, 150 years later. And so’s plenty of oil, to hear the clanking pump tell it.

Our local docent, Jerry, hollers to be heard. He takes us past great oilrig parts and ancient mammoth trucks. There’s even an old nitro wagon with painted warnings of its dangerous cargo.

“They blasted rock with nitroglycerine,” Jerry tells us. “Nitro’s skittish and hauling it’s a suicide job. Any little bump in the road and boom. Never lend money to a nitro man,” Jerry chuckles.

This place is a hoot worth the holler, and we’re glad the ragtop hauls souvenirs instead of explosives as we head into Titusville proper. It’s a sweet old town, with bustling breakfast joints, a great old sporting goods store where we browse ammo and arrowhead, and a cheery motel of painted railroad cabooses. We sleep like Casey Jones in an old Pennsy rail car and wake up to whistles. Across the way the Oil Creek & Titusville tourist train steams off on a fall foliage run.

After eggs over easy we highball towards Tidioute, a dreamy village on the edge of the Allegheny Forest. Burning break pads make our nose wrinkle and the ragtop limps with luck into Chris McLaughlin’s garage. He and his pop are Tidioute’s very own Click-and-Clack, and they keep locals in well-tuned cars. Today they help a couple of strangers with smelly breaks and don’t want money.

The right front wheel comes off with a “hmmm” and an “I thought so.” A wrench turns, an oilcan squirts and our breaks are judged good to go. We tell Chris we’re lucky to find an honest mechanic so far from home, and he laughs. “Aw, we take care of each other up here. It’s still the way life used to be everywhere else.”

The whole roadtrip’s a reflection of happier, simpler times. And to prove it, Chris points us across the Allegheny River, up Route 62 a couple miles to The Simpler Times Museum. A hand-scrawled sign says “Out back, honk horn,” so we do. Soon enough, Mr. Ziegler, octogenarian founder, curator and ticket-taker ($4 each) strolls down from out back and shows us into his amazing museum.

Mr. Ziegler’s collection is a sculpture garden of beautiful antique gas pumps, oilcans, Model-T’s, cast-iron tools, decades of road signs and license plates. The gas pumps stand like palace guards at attention, with antique clock faces on heads of Disneyland colors. Paraphernalia from when gasoline seemed to come right out of these Pennsylvania woods.

We ask our antique host if they really were simpler timers. “Simpler, maybe, but not easier,” Mr. Ziegler says. “We had to work hard to sit pretty.”

Sage wisdom in our rearview, we cruise a dirt highway through the Allegheny forest. We rumble toward Kane, where we find homemade sausage and smoked cheese at Jack Bell’s old-time country store and produce/meat market. Jack’s been making homemade sausage (love the “leak log”) and canning beets and pickles and spicy marinara for 37 years. We grab some picnic goodies that marry quite nicely with a bottle of “Route 6” Chardonnay from the Flickerwood Wine Cellars down the road a piece. A little bit of tastebud heaven in the noonday sun.

With happy bellies and a winery tour, we find King’s Run Road, yet another gravel byway on the county map. We’re on the edge of the Commonwealth, up hill and down dale. We actually have to cross into New York and then down a long driveway that takes back into PA and right up the front door of Oz’s Homestay.

Some years back Ashley Easdon-Smith came here from Australia, fell out of the sky and into love with Celeine. They’re a couple of smiling skydivers, and their Homestay is actually an airstrip right out of Sky King. “It’s a homestay cause it’s our home and you stay with us,” Celeine explains.

“Have a beer!” Ash brandishes a pitcher and encourages us to fill it from the outside tap. It’s great to wash away the dirt highways of Potter County.

Everyone gathers in the great room of a restored 100-year old barn. Ash and Celeine live in the basement, and upstairs are a couple of roomy rooms with log beds, fit for a hobbit, and hand-hewn by Ash himself. Ash lords over the kitchen, and piles enormous prawns on plates of steaming linguini, tosses a salad the size of St. Louis and urges us to eat, drink and try to get a word in edgewise. The table is crowded with family, friends, neighbors and guests. Every night’s a dinner party at Oz, and every morning’s an Australian breakfast shines as the sun reflects on the Cessna parked outside.

We opt out of the offered skydive, and with cries of “chicken” in our ears, head for Eldred, where we gawk through a perfect little museum dedicated to the Big One, WW II. And to Smethport, home of toyland’s timeless Wooly Willy, and where we find a spooky county jail and a two-headed calf. But that’s a whole other story, best told in a whole other roadtrip.

Tonight, back to Oz’s Homestay, where Ash makes tenderloin tips and Celeine swears she won’t throw us out of a perfectly good airplane if we clean our plates. Until then, we’ll look for you on 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

Col. Drake Oil Well Museum

Col. Edwin Drake and his sidekick driller, Uncle Billy Smith, started the oil industry right here. The gooey stuff is still coming out of the ground, and the museum’s a slick way to spend the day. On the outskirts of Titusville, and on a very cool website at

Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad

Take a ride through the Pennsylvania Wilds on a great old passenger train. The forest views along the Oil Creek are just beautiful. Call 814.676.1733 or hop aboard online at

The Caboose Motel

Every room’s an actual caboose, beautifully restored. Check in as Choo-Choo Charlie and see if they give you a weird look. On Perry Road right next to the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad. Call for a reservation at 800-827-0690.
Missy’s Arcade Restaurant
The quintessential small-town breakfast and lunch joint. Where locals gather over buckwheat cakes and talk about how the Rockets did this season. (They love their high school sports up here.) 116 Diamond Street, Titusville. 814.827.8110.

Chris McLaughlin’s Garage, Tidioute

If you need an honest mechanic, Chris is your guy. Ask anyone in town where to find him and he’ll point to all the good places to visit in and around Tidioute.

Simpler Times Museum

Just a few miles north of Tionesta, along the Allegheny River on Rt. 62, is a wonderland of how life used to be. Remember gas pumps that looked like robots? Model-T’s and Mustangs? Rotary phones? One man’s collection is a whole world of nostalgia. Simpler times, simply not to be missed.

Bell’s Produce and Flickerwood Wine Cellars

Jack Bell’s opened his incredible deli and produce market 36 years ago. His homemade sausages, smoked cheeses, home-canned pickles and sauces can’t be found anywhere else. Grab a basket lunch and head up the street to Flickerwood Wine Cellars. We enjoyed a picnic lunch from Bell’s with a bottle of Flickerwood’s best. Bell’s: 401 N. Fraley Street in Kane, PA. Order online at Flickerwood: 309 Flickerwood Rd in Kane.

Smethport: The Home of Wooly Willy

When the old man put us in the backseat with our Wooly Willy, it was miles before we asked, “are we there yet.” They still make Wooly Willy, the original iron man, in Smethport. The old county jail and historical society is worth the visit, too. Keep your eyes peeled for the two-headed calf – believe it or not!

Eldred WWII Museum

During the Big One, the Eldred munitions plant supported our troops. Today the story of WW II is beautifully told at this perfect little museum. Be prepared for the lump in your throat. 201 Main Street, Eldred.

Oz’s Homestay B&B

You don’t have to jump out of an airplane to have a great time at Ash and Celeine’s unique B&B. You’ll be welcomed as old friends, eat well and laugh out loud. Come by car or plane or parachute. Call 814.697.7218 or jump online:

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Harrisburg Jaw Droppers

Morning in the Senate, a few innings with the Senators and rollin’ on the river in the capital city

About the first thing we do in Harrisburg is drop our jaws. We’re in the state capitol building, and it’s a gilded age glory if ever we’ve seen one. We stand beneath the high rotunda and spin like a top. Around us it’s all golden glamour, blinding brass, marble this and granite that. Magnificent Mercer tile mosaics illustrate the lives of farmers and steelworkers, glass blowers and coal miners, teachers and revolutionaries. It’s the story of America itself, and it’s beautiful.

We climb marble stairs and horn in on one of the free guided tours already in progress. We learn that Teddy Roosevelt dedicated this grandest capitol in the country on its opening day in 1913. He proclaimed it “priceless.” Our tour guide tells us that it was actually about $13 million worth of glorious craftsmanship.

Compound the interest and account for inflation and today even a billion isn’t enough to build this uncommon monument to the laws of common men.

A peek into the House of Representatives and we gasp at grandeur. Across the way we exhale just in time to spasm again at the splendor of the Senate. Fabulous chandeliers shed light on the chambers below our peanut-gallery perch and we imagine ourselves holding forth, orating, and perhaps yielding with reluctance to the gentleman from Potter County or Mercersburg. We’re starring in our own fantasy version of Mr. Smith Goes To Harrisburg and loving every minute.

But we have a full day ahead, with a ballgame, a river to run and a belly full of feed-me-now. So we heed the sage advise of an ample local legislator and make a quick stop a couple blocks north of the Capitol. Here’s the Old Original Jackson House, home of what might be the best burger between two rivers. Dave Kegris has been slaving over a hot grill here for a good while now, and he’s pretty serious about what comes off it.

“Why do people settle for frozen patties!” Dave rails. He starts with a big scoop of fresh ground sirloin, like a XL meatball. It flattens out over the flames but stays juicy in the middle. Dave’s pretty ornery about his burgers, and it pays off with a need for extra napkins every time. He’s stubborn about his rolls, too. Every day a fresh truckload trundles in from a venerable South Philly bakery. (Don’t even get Dave started about the difference between sauce and gravy.) And if you’re really serious, order up a burger with the aged sharp provolone from the Italian Market. Close your eyes you can see 9th Street.

With a bag of the best from the Jackson House, we head to City Island to watch the Harrisburg Senators host the Rock Cats from New Britain, Connecticut. The local nine aren’t faring well (losers of their last seven) but inside their island bandbox the sun is warm, the beer is cold, and every day’s a brand new ballgame.

City Island sits in the middle of the Susquehanna, a river city park that’s just blocks from the Capitol and a stone skip from the swinging restaurant row of Second Street. On the west side is a concrete “beach” with a long bathhouse that once played host to hundreds on a weekend afternoon. Nowadays fewer folks worship the sun on this stretch, no doubt because of the party armada moored at the marina on the other side. Sunshine rains on more than 1,000 pontoon boats here. These floating-patios-with-motors are perfect for the shallow river; many are complete with couches and barbecues and hi-fis that send sound waves across the weekend water.

The fifth inning and the Senators’ lanky right fielder lopes after (and misses) another pop fly. We nod along as his manager chews him out from the dugout. It’s double-A ball and a perfect place to watch ‘em learn the perfect game, especially when they start tossing free hot dogs and t-shirts into the stands.

We say wait-till-next-year and skip out early behind the outfield fence and find the little shack with the green kayak on top. It’s Susquehanna Outfitters and Steve Oliphant and Jill Miller, partners on the river as well as in life, take us away from it all, just minutes from here. We leave City Island for islands in the stream, in the middle of the Susquehanna, the Capitol’s rotunda still in full view.

Not far upriver we paddle through a collection of small islands formed 100 years ago by coal spilled from barges, when the river brought America’s energy down from upstate mines. They feel like they’ve always been here; they feel Jurassic compared to the shoreline bustle.

Jill is ahead in her kayak; we’re back with Steve in a long canoe. It’s so quiet and the water is clear as gin. “A lot cleaner than when these islands were built outta coal. We gotta keep it this way,” Steve says. We glide close to Wade Island, the largest colony of nesting egrets and night herons in Pennsylvania. Ducks float along side and cormorants peel their eyes from nearby perches. Baitfish leap from the shallows. We can’t believe how beautiful.

Steve reads our mind. “There’s so much wildlife, so close on this river. And the more you love it and enjoy it, the more you’ll fight to protect it.” An eagle-eyed osprey with a wingspan big as our canoe soars overhead in agreement.

We land back at City Island just in time to walk across the Market Street Bridge with the straggling remnants of the ballpark faithful. It’s time to head upriver to our jazz-age mansion bedroom waiting at The Milestone Inn, where miraculously, the architect found a way to give every room in the house a river view.

We need a shower and time to reflect on such an eclectic day. Later, we dig into Osso Buco, glorious Bolognese and an adventurous (and reasonable) wine list at Char’s Bella Mundo. These people know how to cook and it’s without a doubt our favorite restaurant in “the ‘burg.” Tomorrow it’s the National Civil War Museum and a big appetite for exploration among the bars and beaneries of Second Street. And Steve and Jill wanna take us on a bike ride, which they promise to be as inspiring as our river run. Until then, we’ll see you around the bends and backroads.

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

The State Capitol

It’s our own Versailles, spectacular and inspiring like a great piece of art, and that it is. The rotunda itself weighs an astonishing 52 million pounds. And you thought the governor just had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Guided tours are free; check out for a great introduction.

The Original Jackson House

Outrageous hamburgers, real cheesesteaks dripping with gooey goodness and everything on real South Philly rolls. Hand-cut French fries, too. Get your order in early. They’re only open for lunch, and when Dave’s done cooking for the day, you’re outta luck. 1004 N. 6th St. 717.238.2730.

The Harrisburg Senators

Catch the farm team of the Washington Nationals at cozy Commerce Bank Park on homey City Island. Every seat’s great, the hot dogs are hot (and the sausages spicy) and you can’t beat the price. Check the schedule at Or ring ‘em at 717.231.4444.

Susquehanna Outfitters

Steve and Jill know the river like a pair of Susquehanna Huck Finns. Paddle a canoe or a kayak, count the egrets and enjoy the serenity. Then take a “greenbelt” bike ride through the parks surrounding the capital city. Who knew? Stop by their shack on City Island, visit or call 717.234.7879. Tell ‘em we sent you.

Pep Grill

Every roadtrip needs a good dive bar for an afternoon tap beer and a jukebox classic. This is ours. 209 Walnut St, and yep, the Pep’s online:

The National Civil War Museum

You can spend a whole day exploring America’s official Civil War museum. Fascinating films, amazing photographs and incredible dioramas bring to life the tales, tragedy and triumph of our nation’s most seismic moment. At 1 Lincoln Circle on the northeast side of town. Details and directions at

The Milestone Inn

Sean Adams and Robin Clemens are the young couple behind a magnificent restoration of a 100-year old mansion. Think of the best luxury hotel you’ve ever dreamt of, and then boil it down to four very private rooms. (With breakfast recipes from Robin’s grandmother!) 2701 N. Front Street, on the river just north of town. Reserve your room at or at 717.233.2775.

Char’s Bella Mundo

Char Magaro makes it her personal duty to keep Harrisburg’s best kitchen (and best bartender, we might add) turning out plate after plate of mouth-watering meals. She calls it her “American bistro.” You’ll call it your favorite stop on the roadtrip. (Ask about the day’s risotto special; then order it.) 540 Race Street. Check out a menu at Reserve a table at 717.213.4002.

Let’s hear your road tales.
Drop us a line a and tell us what you’ve seen, where you’ve eaten, whom you’ve met. Until then, here’s to the road ahead.

Cruising Coal Country

Into the mines and hot on the trail of the Molly Maguires

The top is down and we’re riding through patch towns along the world’s largest anthracite coal ridge. Once thriving mining towns with plank houses and plain churches, most had a company store to which you’d owe your paycheck if not your soul.

On a sunny day the tough beauty of these hardscrabble towns belie the fact that at one time more men and boys worked underground than above it. They didn’t know from sunshine; we soak up every ray in the ragtop.

We pull up short in Ashland, along Route 61, amazed by the Mothers Memorial high on the ridge. She’s the world’s only 3-D replica of Whistler’s Mother and she’s been scowling down at the town since the Ashland Boys Association sat her up there during the Great Depression. The bronze matriarch sits on a granite pedestal etched with a goose-bump maxim of foot high letters: “A mother is the holiest thing alive.”

Across the street, in an old row house, we meet Jim Klock, who keeps the ghosts alive in the local historical society. He shows us sepia snapshots of Mother’s dedication day. He even has the sculptor’s original plaster-cast model of Mother herself. Jim’s a living walking tour of proud old Ashland. “I oughta know it,” he says. “Been here all my life and I’ll die here, too. My plot’s already bought and paid for.”

Mother’s park is surrounded by gorgeous WPA stonework. We sit at her feet munching crunchy little cheeseburgers with a potent homemade hot sauce from Danny’s Boulevard Drive In, a throwback shake shack up 61.

Just off the main drag, past Kitty and Dotty’s Flowers and a grand firehouse, we find the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine. Down the mine it’s 54 degrees year round, so we grab jackets from a collection of thrift store rejects. Zip up and hop aboard a clacking coal train and trundle through a timber shaft 300 feet below the surface of the earth.

Not that long ago the Pioneer was crawling with miners. Now folks come from all over for guided tours, and some leave their mark. We find cave-painting graffiti from a 1969 visit by Mercury 7 Commander Scott Carpenter: “Astronaut Was Here.”

Our guide hails from a long line of miners. “John Patrick Reese is my name,” he boasts. “I use the ‘Patrick’ so you know I’m Irish.” He shows us how to plant dynamite and how to load a cart with 16 tons of “black diamonds” and how to detect methane gas about to blow us all to kingdom come. And just to prove a point, he shuts off all the lights - even the light on his miner’s cap. It’s darker than dark. Some kid confuses our leg for his father’s and gives us a frightened pinch.

The lights are back and we spot an inspector’s report on the shaft wall that young Mr. Reese has signed tongue-in-cheek. “Inspected by Jack Kehoe,” it reads, with today’s date. “Blackjack Kehoe,” points a fellow tourist. “We saw him in that movie, The Molly Maguires.”

“Aw, that’s Hollywood,” scoffs John Patrick. “You want the real story, go to the Hibernian House and meet Jack’s great grandson.”

So we’re off to Girardville, where Joe Wayne still tends his great-grandfather’s Hibernian House tavern. “Black Jack” Kehoe was called the ringleader of the Molly Maguires, a secret society of Irish miners fighting robber-baron owners. Corrupt Pinkerton detectives infiltrated the Mollies, and Jack Kehoe and 9 others were railroaded to a public hanging on a day locals still call “The Day of the Rope.”

“My great-grandfather was framed, and unjustly executed over in Pottsville,” Joe rails. “This is the door from his cell, and this cement anchor was shackled to his ankles.” The imposing iron door looms over the smaller man where Joe has installed these strange heirlooms behind the ancient Hibernian bar.

“I went before the pardon board 100 years after the execution. Won the only posthumous pardon of its kind in history. The board said I shoulda been a lawyer. Which is what my mother told me every day till they laid her in her grave.”

Joe takes us upstairs, past glorious murals of Jack Kehoe and fellow miners at work. The paintings glow like headlamps in the narrow stairway. He shows us cozy rooms for rent, which miners used to share in 8-hour shifts. In the old days, while one man’s at work, a second enjoys the tavern while the third roommate saws logs upstairs. When the colliery whistle blows, each man rotates to the next 8-hour position. Work, tavern, bed. “I can still see my grandmother washing bed linens every shift,” Joe sighs.

His Irish eyes smiling wide, Joe waves as we head out of town, looking for Rt 209 to Pottsville. As we approach the county seat, the enormous courthouse and ancient jail peer over the valley like medieval majestics. The scene of injustice committed 130 years ago, rectified long after by a hard won pardon.

We meet an off-duty jailer who offers confirmation. “Yup, this is where Black Jack was hung. It wasn’t right, but that’s what happened.” He tells us to follow the Molly Maguires’ trail and make sure we stop at Tony’s Lunch for a “screamer.” It’s Girardville’s favorite burger, with the hot sauce cooked right into it, just down the street from the Hibernian House. Now he tells us.

“It’s called Tony’s Lunch, but he doesn’t open till 8:30 at night,” he shrugs. “May seem weird, but we coal crackers don’t do anything easy.”

So maybe we’ll backtrack for a screamer tonight, but now there’s a Coney Island lunch grilling old-school tube steaks right down the hill. All this talk of hard time and coal mining works up an appetite, so we grab some Coneys for the ragtop. As we drill deeper into coal country 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 all this, check out

The Mothers Memorial
Put up in 1938 to honor Pennsylvania’s long-suffering coalmine mothers. Said to be the only 3-D replica of Whistler’s Mother in the world. One look at her sourpuss you know why. And check out the Historical Society across the street. Visit online at or by phone at 570.875.2632. Ask for Jim Klock.

Danny’s Boulevard Drive-In
This is the way cheeseburgers and fries and milkshakes used to be. Take home a jar or two of Danny’s homemade hot sauce. Dig their online jukebox at Order at the window or enjoy the counter at 630 S. Hoffman Blvd (Rt. 61) in Ashland. 570.875.0711.

The Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine
A steam train takes you through the woods and then down 300 feet in a real anthracite mine. Doesn’t sound like much till you consider it’s like 30 stories below ground. Right off the main drag in downtown Ashland. The website’s great: And they answer when you call at 570.875.3850.

Jack Kehoe’s Hibernian House
138 years ago, this was Black Jack Kehoe’s tavern. They called him “King of the Molly Maguires.” It’s still full of cold ale and conspiracy theories. Rent a room and revel in coal country lore all night.

Granny’s Motel
Definitely not your chain motel. Rocking chairs, antique lamps, doilies on the divans and a very weird statue outside. What is it about coal country that makes the mothers and grannies look so unforgiving? (What is it about calf’s liver and mac/cheese in Granny’s restaurant?) Rt. 61 in Frackville, right off I-81. Call 570.874.0408 or check in online: Strange but true.

Schuylkill County Courthouse and County Jail
This is where it all went down. Worth it just to read the historical markers. And check out downtown Pottsville, where they still brew Yuengling Beer.

Eckley Miners Village
Preserved in its pure patch-town essence, this old village was the location for The Molly Maguires movie starring Sean Connery. Now a state museum, some old miner families still live here. Walk through a miner’s plank house, order a sack of flour at the company store, and check out a real coal breaker. Off the beaten path in Weatherly, PA and online at A must see.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pittsburgh’s Southside Renaissance: one funky neighborhood and five meals a day.

We’re in the middle of a mountain, tunnel wind blowing our hair, and then we burst out and over the gleaming new emerald city of Pittsburgh. Golden at the triangle where three rivers join forces, skyscrapers shine and ballparks roar on our left. The Monongahela flows on our right. And Gustav Lindenthal’s steel truss Smithfield Bridge drops us onto Carson Street on the one and only south side of the ‘burgh.

Sometimes it’s one word, emblazoned in a yellow stripe on red fire trucks: Southside. Sometimes, when the Pittsburgh accent is thick enough, it’s almost one syllable. There’s never a “th,” rarely a “d.” It’s like, “sow’s eye,” only said real fast. “Sowseye’d.”

Start with a look-see from atop Mt. Washington. (Zach: Use the panorama photo montage here? ) Plunk down a few bits and ride the incline tram straight up the mountain. It’s a hairy 35-degree angle, the oldest and steepest such public transit in the country. Up here we look down upon coal-barges hauling upstream, and the city glimmers below like a toy town. Down to the right, Southside lays flat against the river where glass factories and steel mills once clanked and screamed. It runs a few blocks and rises up along what folks here call “the slopes.”

Heights make us thirsty so on Carson Street we can’t believe our luck. At one time, this workingman’s neighborhood held title to more bars per human than any other city in the world. Ain’t it nice that in high-tech, 21st century Pittsburgh, some things haven’t changed too much.

There are still more bars than you can shake a mug at. All kinds: Tap rooms and taverns, beer halls, gin joints, cocktail lounges, cabarets and saloons. Billiard parlors, meet markets, nightclubs, dance halls and juke joints. Wine bars, tapas bars, and sushi bars - even hookah bars. And, thank heavens for small favors, fantabulous bar food.

We wash down Cajun Comfort wings and a Voodoo Killer burger with pints of Penn Pilsner at a watering hole called Fathead’s. We dig into hubcap fries, junkyard nachos and jailhouse chili at an old filling station now dubbed The Double Wide. And we make room to share a Pittsburgh footlong at The Pickle Barrel, a $3-lunch counter that opened the same year Roberto Clemente was baseball’s MVP. We behold a skinny tight-wrapped dog, laden with black olives and cheddar cheese. “Black and gold,” says a local in line, who eyes us eyeing our prize. “Pirates’ and Steelers’ colors. Colors of the ‘burgh,” he swells.

Back on the street, a Southside lifer named Tim cranks up the perfect afternoon cooler. He works an ancient ice-shaver like an organ grinder, and collects cold crystals in a paper cup. Homemade root beer syrup soaks the ice and we have a handmade snow cone that sets us back a buck and sends us back about 40 years. We ask how’s business and Tim says, “It cools off till it gets hot.” Southside logic.

It’s five-meals-a-day here, which we walk off from one end of Carson to the other. Start where the incline drops in Station Square. A glorious throwback to the gilded age, a marble-palace railroad station is now a four-star tablecloth restaurant. We slurp Blue Point oysters below the dazzle of dozens of stained glass skylights. Our hostess tells us a thick layer of common shoe polish hid these gorgeous marvels for decades. “Black-out from the war,” she explains. “No one knew how beautiful until they took 30 cases of oven cleaner to it. Now look.” We bask in rainbow light and imagine catching the cannonball to Erie.

Reverie complete, we head upriver along Carson and browse oddball boutiques: Vintage clothing, Polish newspapers, weird lamps and handicrafts from local artisans. Must be a dozen tattoo parlors, where galleries of ships’ anchors and vines of wild roses stand ready to wrap around a bicep. And there’s a real magic shop, The Cuckoo’s Nest, where we buy a fake thumb. We spend the next few hours attempting to pull a silk scarf out of it like Mysterioso.

It’s break time over a cold bottle of Iron City, and one of Carson Street’s proprietors tells about his neighborhood. He goes by Demo, short for Demetrius. (His Greek surname would take up the rest of this page.) Demo worked the mill in ’79 when the last pig iron was cast into Pittsburgh steel. “40,000 men worked these mills,” Demo’s eyes close with memory. “You could hear the roar across the river and up the slopes.”

Up the slopes is where we head next. Back in the day, thousands of men trudged a cardio commute, up hundreds of narrow steps from blast furnaces on the flats to hillside lanes just wide enough for the iceman’s cart. Neat row homes line the alleys. We puff and pant, out-of-breath tourists, and climb past humble homes with killer views. Some aren’t even on the street; their porches face the concrete steps. We imagine hauling groceries home here and have to sit a spell to wipe our brow.

The scene below intoxicates. We can see the street where we’ll sleep, at an inn called The Morning Glory, with its brick courtyard and feather light pancakes. Over there is the back alley of The Pretzel Shop, where the door by the oven opens near dawn and we get brown bags of hot pretzels hand-pulled the same way for generations. And across the river, downtown towers reflect a hot noon sun in clear skies, a sight rarely seen when the steel mills belched smoke and soot.

Tonight it’s a saloon singer in a sofa-stuffed cocktail lounge. But only after briny olives and grilled calamari at a Sicilian restaurant only a Southsider can find. Then it’s up and at ‘em, with the other side of Carson to stroll, giggling discoveries to make and the usual Southside lunchtime toss-up between gyros, pierogies and pretzel sandwiches. And perhaps a tiger’s head tattoo...

Until then, we’ll see you around the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here’s where to stop. For a complete map and photos of all this, check out

The Morning Glory Inn

Nancy and Dave run a beautiful little inn that’s not easy to find and even harder to leave. The beds have those foam mattresses invented by NASA that conform to your body and the only thing that gets you out of them is the promise of Nancy’s lemony pancakes and fluffy baked eggs. Wireless web throughout and warm cookies at night.

Dish Osteria & Bar

We found this on a corner of a side street a short walk from the Morning Glory. We thought it was an Italian trattoria until the proprietor corrected us. Wagging a chef’s knife he reminded us that Dish is a Sicilian osteria. “Taste the difference,” he scolded. And we did. Fresh, delicious, old-world home cooking. Sicilian, not Italian. Get the papardelle and lamb ragü.

The Brashear Museum

This little astronomical display is hidden in a social services building around the corner from the hotel. It celebrates the life and work of the man who revolutionized telescope technology back in the steel mill days. It wasn’t easy to see the stars through all that soot, so old man Brashear made it happen. You can walk through this little museum gem in about 10 minutes.

The Pittsburgh Jeans Company

Forget your shopping mall jeans franchise. This popular Carson Street indy has been making people look great in all things denim with a unique personal passion. Great jeans and great folks to fit ‘em just right.

The Pretzel Shop

Behold the elegance of the hand-twisted pretzel. Live like a local and use the back-alley door as soon as they open. You’ll see the antique brick oven and get your pretzels fresh from it. Come in the front at lunch and munch a great pretzel sandwich.

Ok, now it’s your turn. Let us know where you’ve been, what you’re eating and who you’re meeting. Send us an email at

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Williamsport to Brookville – Little League dreams, bugle burgers and baseball bats.

We come barreling off the mountain into Williamsport, swinging to the singing of Johnny Hartman. We’re tuned to 88.1 on the FM, cruising Route 15 to Green Dolphin Street. Williamsport has a jazz station!

The jazz makes sense, as Williamsport appeals like an old chestnut. A 19th century chord structure of industrial grit and millionaire mansions lays down a perfect groove for an improvised roadtrip. We’re vamping to the home of Little League baseball, and we’ll follow our nose across the Commonwealth to Brookville, the hardwood home of professional baseball bats.

First stop, the Little League Museum, sitting high above the perfect field of dreams where global Little Leaguers take to the only true World Series every August. This place tells the story of Carl Stotz, Little League’s founder, who in 1939 forever transformed the sandlot. Carl convinced Floyd Mutchler and his Lycoming Dairy to become Little League’s first sponsor. Old man Mutchler said it best: “We’ll go along for the boys.”

Some of “the boys” (and eventually, girls) went on to do big things and are enshrined here in Little League’s Hall of Excellence. Here’s Nolan Ryan and Mike Schmidt. Over there, former Little Leaguers Bruce Springsteen, Tom Selleck and even George W. Bush. (We hear he was all field and no hit.)

Williamsport is one part former glory, two parts good people restoring the luster. We meet Marsha and Gloria Miele, sisters who run the Peter Herdic House and Peter Herdic Inn, side-by-side Victorian mansions along “Millionaire’s Row.” Incredible plasterwork, carved staircases and Tiffany windows adorn the Queen Anne masterpieces. Marsha runs the “House” – a great restaurant – and taps into delicious local bounty. We “ohh” over gilled sausage from nearby Cow-a-Hen Farm, and “ahh” at old-fashioned river shad, smoked just a few blocks away. Next door, Gloria runs the “Inn,” where we sleep tight after a great meal and dream baseball dreams.

We’re up and off early, with a stop along the way for hand-cut fries and a cruise down the Elk Scenic Highway. Who knew the largest herd of elk east of Wyoming roams these thick woods? And right in the heart of Elk County is the sleepy village of Benezette, and the Winslow Hill B&B. Betty McCluskey offers mighty comfy lodging here, and we opt for what she calls the Sunrise Room. “This room comes with a trained rooster alarm clock,” Betty gives us fair warning. “Bert’ll make sure you wake up in time to see the elk.”

Sure enough, at 5:40 the next morning, Bert the rooster is crowing through our screen door. The cockle-do does it, and we enjoy the sunrise with lumbering elk grazing in a next-door meadow.

It seems the elk are everywhere - in back woods and front yards and on local menus. We try a “bugle burger” and grab some elk jerky for the road. We even gawk over weird, beautiful jewelry – “nelklace” pendants with dangling elk poop, compressed, dehydrated, de-stinked and polished a shiny, mesmerizing ebony. These Pennsylvania woods give us oddball delights.

These woods also give us baseball bats. Turns out nothing drives a baseball quite like Pennsylvania maple. Centerfielder Johnny Damon agrees every time he steps to the plate. He’s one of hundreds of pro ballplayers who swing a BWP bat, handmade right here in Brookeville, just south of elk country in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Our factory guide Dave shows us how to make a great clean-up hitter. Lathe the maple to the precise ounce. Sand the raw bat till smooth, and then do it again and again. Three coats of paint, two of protective lacquer and stamp the logo on just so, with the grain, so you know how to hold the bat when you swing for the fences.

“350 bats a day, seven days a week,” Dave says with pride. “We make the national pastime here.” He gives us our own bat – the model Johnny Damon used when he led the Red Sox to their euphoric (big league) World Series victory. “This bat’s the curse killer,” Dave says. We brandish ours at an imaginary pitcher standing an imaginary 60 feet 6 inches away (perhaps old Nolan Ryan) and all the sandlots of childhood come rushing back.

With thanks to Dave we toss the maple beauty into the ragtop, pull on a jaw full of elk jerky, and aim south toward Punxsutawney, with Charlie Parker’s alto be-bopping us down the two-lane. It’s a beautiful day for a baseball roadtrip, so we’ll look for you on the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here’s where to stop. For a complete map and photos of all this, check out

The Little League Museum

Walk through the story of the perfect game that captured hopes and hearts around the world. This is where it all started back in 1939. You can even measure the speed of your fastball and tee off on a pitching machine. Play ball! Next door to the International Little League headquarters at 539 Route 15, South Williamsport.

Joey’s Place

Where to eat lunch, period. The garden cheesesteak is a two-fisted gooey goodness. Grab a seat at the bar or at one of the many large tavern tables. 505 Washington Blvd in Williamsport. 570.323.6217.

Peter Herdic Inn

Eat, sleep and drink like an industrial-era millionaire. And make sure you take a stroll along “millionaire’s row” and gawk at how the better half lived a hundred fifty years ago. 411West 4th Street in Williamsport. Call Gloria for a reservation: 570.326.0411, or stop by online:

The E.A. Rowley House

Perhaps the finest Queen Anne architectural masterpiece in the world. Back in the day it had flush toilets, electric chandeliers and a dumbwaiter. You’ll love it for the incredible woodwork, Tiffany stained glass, tiled fireplaces and rare and original sculpted French wallpaper. Ask Eiderson Dean (great name, no?) for a tour. 707 West 4th Street, Williamsport.

Socky’s Restaurant

A great lunch counter halfway between Williamsport and Brookville. Just across from the grand old Renovo railroad yards. You won’t find a better patty melt and real hand-cut fries anywhere. Period. 406 Erie Avenue, Renovo. Call ahead for directions: 570.923.0318

Winslow Hill B&B

If you wanna sleep a little later, ask for the Sunset Room. If you want to breakfast with the elk, check into Betty McCluskey’s Sunrise Room. Her trained rooster Bert will sound the alarm just outside your door at dawn. Reserve the Sunset, Moonlit or Sunrise room at or call Betty at 814.787.4212.

Benezette Hotel

A great local tavern with good eats and a great jukebox. The wings are great, the spaghetti dinner’s a knockout at just $6.50, but it’s the Bugle Burger that brings the locals back for more. Right in the heart of downtown Benezette at 95 Winslow Hill Rd; 814.787.4355.

Double Diamond Deer Ranch

Enough with the elk. Come visit Rusty Snyder’s incredible Deer Ranch. The old time family attraction is possible only by Rusty’s love for her deer friends. Feed the fawns and get to know the doe. And don’t miss the barn, where Rusty’s deerly departed rest in eternal splendor, stuffed (ahem) and resplendent in their stalls. On Rt 36 just 3 miles south of Cook Forest State Park. 814.752.6334

BWP Baseball Bats

Watch hearty Pennsylvania hardwood become curveball crushing baseball bats right before your eyes. Hundreds of pros use BWP bats from the Pennsylvania Wilds. See the factory for yourself and you’ll know why sluggers refer to their bats as “lumber.” Just off Route 80 east of Brookville. Call ahead: 814.849.0089.

Ok, now it’s your turn. Let us know where you’ve been, what you’re eating and who you’re meeting. Send us an email at

Monday, May 7, 2007

In the Susquehanna river towns, it’s glassware, gumbo and the good life made by hand.

Curving north from the Mason-Dixon, this Susquehanna River road is a pig’s tail curl. We’re driving the eastern bank, toward the river towns of Columbia, Marietta and Wrightsville. The woods we weave haven’t changed much since the Confederate Army marched the opposite shore.

These towns are watersheds in the War Between the States - or the Northern War of Aggression, depending on your point of view. In the summer of 1863, thousands of Confederate soldiers attempt to cross the Susquehanna to capture Harrisburg. But a few citizen volunteers burn their own Columbia-Wrightsville bridge and force General Lee’s finest to head west toward the twilight zone of Gettysburg.

144 summers later, we’re on this Civil War trail hunting for signs of old river town life. We find it within a thriving artisan culture of twisted iron and blackened catfish. Where people still make things with their hands.

It begins off the corkscrew river road, on an alley among the brick rows and barbershops of vintage Columbia. In a backstreet factory called Susquehanna Glass, folks have cut patterns by hand into gorgeous glassware for 100 years. Upstairs we meet Sandy Miller, who’s been cutting glass here for a third of them. Order glassware from fancy-schmancies like Williams-Sonoma, chances are she’s making it for you.

Within seconds, Sandy uses a whirling wheel to etch a tall ship into a tall glass. “What about seagulls,” she muses. And birds appear in flight with a flick of her ample wrists. “Aw,” she shrugs as we gasp. “Some people have a natural knack and this is mine.” Sandy hands us the cut tumbler and we can’t wait to sail her ship through a highball sea come happy hour.

We’re eager for the view from the rebel side, so we head across the 1930 concrete-arch bridge some locals still call “the new one.” For as long as they’ve cut glass on one side, the John Wright Foundry has been forging all manner of cast-iron marvels on the other. Stove grates and lampposts, and the pan in which our grandmother fried “dip eggs” in bacon grease.

Today the old foundry includes a ground-floor bistro with a wide river view. We sip iced tea and daydream about the blazing bridge that lit up history here back in ‘63. Up in the second floor store, we grab a cast-iron fajita griddle and giggle at the factory-outlet price.

Back in the ragtop, griddle and glassware secure, we head up out of town through fertile fields, to a mountaintop panorama of the Susquehanna sliding by. Sharing the view is Jim and Sue Miller’s Moon Dancer Winery, a dream come true for a couple of recovering white collars.

Grapes love the riverside hill as much as the Millers. Jim pours us some tasty Riesling, but it’s their Blue Moon Port that makes us grin. A tour of the cellar shows off a great collection of Pennsylvania oak barrels, where Jim and Sue serve candlelit dinners among the casks.

With Port and Riesling in the ragtop’s trunk, it’s across the river again, north until we park in front of the Petit Museum of the Musical Boxes, a tinkling miracle in the heart of beautiful Marietta. This town is timeless Americana: the 1st National Bank, the restored theater, the Old Town Hall. On Market Street we expect to run into Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.

“It’s a wonderful life here,” says a woman of a certain age, sitting on her spotless brickhouse stoop. “And it gets prettier every afternoon.” In the golden light, we ask our new friend where we might find a proper supper. She tells us Josephine’s, up the block, has crab cakes “big as my head.” She winks and throws a challenge. “Then again, if you like it hot, you might try to find Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen.”

Turns out Dave Prudhomme’s uncle is the legendary New Orleans Chef Paul, who turned blackened fish into phenomena. Dave fell for Sharon and Sharon hails from Columbia and that’s why this Prudhomme’s Cajun Kitchen feels a little “lost.” But step inside and you’re on the bayou with ‘gator on the menu and zydeco in the air. And the whole family cooks like the devil on fire.

We dive into a bowl of the best gumbo this side of Lake Pontchartrain. Dave grins through his goatee and sets down a plate of Shrimp Sunny: blackened catfish on a bed of crabmeat, slathered with crawfish étouffée, surrounded by succulent shrimp. One bite and Cajun fiddles two-step across our tongues. Awesome.

“All from scratch,” Dave hugs me. “All with our own two hands.” And right there that’s the spirit of the river towns. Like when they need to turn back invading Confederates, a few townies take it in their hands to save the Union. And here we sit today, wolfing hand-made Deep South gumbo in a gritty waterfront community where hard work will never be a dirty thought.

Tomorrow we get up early to beat the farmers to the Central Market in downtown York. So we have to say g’night to Dave and Sharon and head for bed-and-breakfast at The Columbian, a Victorian mansion just a couple blocks from the National Watch and Clock Museum. Which leads us to a whole other story of hands, best saved for a whole other time. While we’re waiting, we’ll look for you along the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here’s where to stop. For a complete map and photos of all this, check out

Smith’s Hotel

This old roadhouse is big with the locals. We played shuffleboard bowling and tucked away the best cheesesteak west of Roxboro. “It oughta be good,” grumped our barmaid. “He’s been makin’ ‘em for 20-odd years.” 1030 Lancaster Avenue on the east side of Columbia. Call ahead at 717.684.3385.

Susquehanna Glass Factory

Look for the yellow signs.. They point down a back alley, because that’s where the company started 100 years ago. Today, great factory tours and low factory prices. Watch the weather: they close when the temp is above 90. 731 Ave. H in Columbia. Call 800-592-3646 and ask about tours. Online at

The Columbian: A Bed & Breakfast Inn

Karen will make you comfy and cook you a great breakfast at this cozy Victorian B&B. Five rooms, each with a privy. And if it’s nice, take your coffee in the lovely backyard garden. Great location at 360 Chestnut Street in Columbia. Reservations: 717-684-0241 and online at

National Watch and Clock Museum

It’s just a two-minute walk from The Columbian, so make the time to check this place out after breakfast. 514 Poplar Street in Columbia, and on the web at

John Wright Store & Restaurant

At the foot of the beautiful Wrightsville-Columbia Bridge, this great old foundry has a lovely restaurant, a great river view and lots of cast-iron for home, garden and gifts at great prices. North Front Street in Wrightsville. 717.252.2519. Online at

Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery

Jim Miller will share the wine and the Susquehanna view from his gorgeous hillside vineyards. For live music and food festival schedules, visit 1282 Klines Run Road, Wrightsville. 717.252-WINE.

Marietta Walking Tour

The 19th Century architecture is a well-preserved miracle. Enjoy an afternoon stroll through timeless neighborhoods. Visit the community website at

Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen

Alligators, zydeco and hand-cut onion rings, stuffed with crabmeat, topped with pepperjack cheese and broiled till they’re bubbling. Dave and Sharon Prudhomme bring the best of the bayou to the shoals of the Susquehanna at 50 Lancaster Avenue in Columbia. Call 'em at 717-684-1706. Or see for yourself at And you’re goofy if you don’t get the gumbo.

Ok, now it’s your turn. Let us know where you’ve been, what you’re eating and who you’re meeting. Send us an email at

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Along Route One: Exotic Mushrooms and Oddball Museums in the Brandywine Valley.

The United States Route One starts its roadtrip way up there in the mountains of Maine and splashes into the margarita blenders way down there in Key West. It’s the nation’s first great north-south road, and it still carries its fair share of history. Here in the Brandywine Valley we find artifact motor courts, hot-dog and milkshake stands, and barber shops from another time. We have to peel our eyes; the gems are hidden among the homogeny of endless suburban glens.

It’s through the big-box ticky tack that we steer Route One out of Philadelphia. We’re headed to mushroom country in the southeast corner of the Commonwealth, tucked between the corporate theme parks of Delaware and the cultural bulwark of the Mason-Dixon.

We’re hunting shitakes and morels, oysters and crimini, where those meaty portabella sandwiches fake us into believing we could go vegetarian after all. En route to the fungi farms we stumble across the first of a series of oddball exhibitions. It’s the Museum of Mourning Art, hidden inside an exacting replica of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate, which is hidden behind the walls of Arlington Cemetery in the borough of Upper Darby. Ok, we figure: before a bite of mushrooms, a bit of morbid curiosity.

Inside the faux Mt. Vernon is a gorgeous chapel of battered barn wood and country church pews. We’re ushered into a warren of crannies crowded with Victorian paraphernalia of bereavement. There’s a horse-drawn hearse behind an iron graveyard gate with curly-cued roses. A collection of mourning jewelry includes rings and broaches embroidered with the hair of the dearly departed. There’s even an original invitation to the funeral of George Washington himself. The Museum of Mourning Art is ghastly and gorgeous. It’s good grief.

An hour later, in the ragtop, bright sunshine brings us back to life. A few miles and we’re stopped again by the unexpected. We meet Tony Polito, who cuts hair and exhibits a call to arms in his unique Barber Shop & Military Museum. Since 1959 Tony’s barber chair has been surrounded by an expanding armory of canteens and bayonets, helmets and handcuffs, boots and bugles.

“I’m a barber and a patriot,” Tony barks like a drill sergeant. We nod along and nose around until our stomachs sound the noon retreat.

Good thing Jimmy John’s Pipin’ Hots is next door to the barber’s bivouac. This timeless hot-dog joy shack has grilled up quality heartburn for 67 years. We pile kraut and onions on tight little franks, layer on the brown mustard, and wolf a couple with relish. At our table, Jimmy John’s fleet of classic model trains toot by; they vibrate the straws standing thick in our black-and-white shakes.

With the repeating memory of the Pipin’ Hots dogging us on, we’re up for an afternoon of whatever comes next. And close by, near an airstrip that warns of low flyers, we find an armada of enormous Coast Guard choppers and Army gunships. It’s the front yard of the American Helicopter Museum. Inside, flying machines hang from the walls and ceilings and crowd across the floor. We climb inside a whirlybird, work the pedals and make the whappa-whappa sound effect with our lips.

Our volunteer tour guide is worth the visit alone. He’s Fred Mack, 96 years old and still an eager flyboy. He celebrated his last birthday with a parachute. “Yup,” he admits, “I jumped out of a plane that wasn’t even on fire!” Hurry up and climb on a helicopter with Fred while you still can.

Finally, we roll into Kennett Square, in the heart of mushroom country. We’re just in time to sample homemade salads and sauces at the amiable and amply stocked Mushroom Cap, the region’s semi-official toadstool capitol. Kathi Lafferty runs the place, as well as the area’s annual Mushroom Festival. Her fridge is full of beautiful white buttons and squiggly exotics. We dig into mushroom-sauced meatballs and pack away a few jars of her homemade Mediterranean mushroom salad. Now this is what we came for.

Down the road apiece we grab a room (which is just clean enough) at the Kennett Steak and Mushroom Restaurant & Motel. A walk through town works up an appetite for their beer-battered “maitakis bites”, criminis stuffed with crab imperial and a thick NY Strip smothered with a shitake marmalade. No doubt about it, there’s a lot of tasty fungus among us, or should we say we’re among the fungi. Whatever, it’s all good.

Tomorrow, we’re at the Brandywine River Museum, where Andrew Wyeth’s granddaughter gives us a personal tour of her family’s artistic legacy. Then a beautiful horse-farm B&B that makes even our feisty Terrier feel comfy. And tomorrow night, to finish our Route One excursion, we dive into the hands-down best mushroom soup of the trip at the colonial Dilworthtown Inn. After dinner we spelunk through their subterranean wine cellars, which seem to be a perfect place to grow more mushrooms. But that’s another story altogether.

Once again serendipity on the side roads leads to the most unusual – and delicious – discoveries. Drop us a line and let us know what you’ve found once, won’t you? Until then, we’ll look for you on the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (You find a map with photos of all these joints and more at

The Museum of Mourning Art

Yeah, yeah, it’s all about death and grief, but it’s also weirdly amusing. Ask for Elizabeth to give you the tour, because you have to call for an appointment. She makes it a lot of fun. Arlington Cemetery 2900 State Rd, Upper Darby; 610-259-5800

Tony Polito’s Barber Shop & Military Museum

Good haircuts in a uniform setting. Truly a personal obsession worth the visit. 1501 Wilmington Pike, West Chester; (610) 459-1245

Jimmy John’s Pipin’ Hots

The regular hot dog here is, well…regular. Go for the special frank; it’s a beauty. And it makes a nice combo with the palm-sized burgers. B&W shakes are as thick as your head and not to be missed. Next door to Tony Polito’s; 610.459.3083

The American Helicopter Museum

Check out one of the first helicopters ever made from the roaring ‘20s. A real field day for the whirlybird inside all of us. Fly in or drive like most people. 1220 American Blvd, West Chester. Get info and directions online at

The Brandywine River Museum

A beautiful conservancy for the historic Brandywine River wrapped around a collection of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth’s breathtaking paintings. If you’re lucky, Victoria Wyeth, Andrew’s only grandchild, will give you a personal tour. Just call ahead: 610.388.2700. Or visit

Kennett Steak & Mushroom Motel

Nothing fancy, but an easy walk into Kennett Square’s national landmark downtown. The beer’s cold and the mushrooms tasty in the restaurant on site. Birch & Broad Sts, Kennett Square; 610.444.5085. See a menu at

The Mushroom Cap

This is Kennett Square’s unofficial mushroom capitol building. See Kathi Lafferty for fresh mushrooms, homemade mushroom salad and all sorts of toadstool tchotchkes. 114 West State St., Kennett Square; 610.444.8484. You can shop online at

Hamanassett Bed & Breakfast

Ashley and Glen Mon offer up true hospitality on this plush horse farm. Ask about the romantic carriage house near the barn. Definitely ask for Glen’s crawfish bread. This place is a real keeper (and doggies are welcome). 725 Darlington Road, Chester Heights. Call 610.459.3000 for reservations or take a tour online: Oh, and pay attention when they give you directions; this place is so well hidden Mapquest can’t get you there.

The Dilworthtown Inn

One of the great American restaurants, period. And the best mushroom soup in mushroom land. Don’t leave without asking for a visit to the legendary wine cellars. 1390 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester; 610.399.1390. Browse a menu at

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Goggling great art in Reading, wrapped up at Hershey’s Cuban spa, and a couple of free beers along the way.

The wind blows like a train up on Mt. Penn. But it’s worth braving as we gawk at the 100-year Oriental Pagoda next to us and the red-brick city of Reading sprawling about 1000 feet below us.

We’re here to find great art in this old factoryville, the city that inspired the great “Rabbit” quartet by native novelist John Updike. First, the birds-eye view from the mountain top, where Reading quarryman William Abbot Whitman atoned for his sins of scarring the earth by building a Japanese-style pagoda in 1908. We figure it’s his idea of the yin of beauty against the yang of his industrial eyesores. Or vice versa. Whatever, it’s a good place to get a lay of the land below.

The road down Mt. Penn switchbacks into a green park full of statues and monuments and kids playing stickball. There’s a band shell where you can still hear Sousa marches oompah on summer nights. A short cruise past Coney Island parlors, neighborhood taps, barrio bodegas and mansion-sized row homes with Tiffany transoms and we park the ragtop outside the big old brick factory where they once made industrial safety goggles.

We’re at The Goggle Works, where they now make great art. Reading’s enlightened city fathers (and mothers) have come to understand the arts can have resuscitating powers in tired factory towns. With help from the generosity of a few noble sponsors, this old goggle plant has been transformed into a warren of artist’s studios, galleries, a movie theater and a fountainhead of creativity that is reenergizing the urban center.

We say hello to a horse made of bottle caps. We stroll past eye-popping modern paintings and portrait photography that make us want to talk with its subjects. We interrupt a glassblower to compliment his bubbling bottles. And we lose ourselves in a gallery full of “outsider art:” paintings on plywood, found-object sculptures and intimate portrait-peeks into the majesty of unheralded lives. We can’t take our eyes off the stuff.

But peel ‘em away, we must. And we’re off to Pottsville and America’s oldest brewery. An hour or so up Route 61, a lunch-bucket blacktop where heavy trucks ply their trade and diners proclaim the righteousness of “breakfast served all day.” And bingo, we’re inside a limestone cave hewn out of a mountain where the Yuengling family has put magic in a bottle for more than 175 years.

Our tour guide is named Ed. He’s a student over at Penn State and therefore claims to know a thing or two about beer. He leads our group with folks from all over – Alaska, Germany, even Center City Philadelphia – on a thirst-inducing stroll through the whirling dervish of bottles flying by on belts like something out of “Modern Times.” We spelunk through the damp cave stacked with kegs of amber goodness and finally plunk down at a bar seat for the hard-earned free samples. Ah, these Pennsylvania Germans sure know what to do with a bag of hops, some barley malt and a limestone cave.

We thank our lucky stars the limit on Yuengling freebies is two cups. We’re still on the road, where we’re lined up for a rest stop in the Spa at the Hotel Hershey. This is the place old Milton Hershey designed in the manner of the grandest of European hotels. It’s proud up on a hill, surrounded by rose gardens and the aroma of cocoa. And inside, a new spa with pleasures inspired by old man Hershey’s love of Cuba, where he first found the sugar to sweeten his chocolate empire.

Our masseuse, a lovely woman named Suzanne (do yourself a favor and ask for her by name), rubs the road-weary out of our bones with a jasmine-soaked massage followed by a limey-mint-slippery mojito wrap. We’re snug as a bug in a rug of warm towels and aromatic lotion inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s legendary favorite Cuban mojito cocktail. Suzanne pushes all the right muscle buttons and sends us into a naptime trance until we wake up drooling. Above us is a seven-headed shower arm – like something out of Dr. No or from the corner car wash – rinsing off the mojito goop with incredibly soothing warm water. Looks weird, feels good.

As we walk blinking and yawning out of the spa in thick terry robes, fresh from our Cuban cocktail body wrap, we head toward, of course, the hotel lounge. We’re ready for a real mojito and one more sensory experience on this eccentric roadtrip.

It sure feels good when we get off the highway. Until then, we’ll see you around the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For a map with photos of all these places and more, go to

The Pagoda

72 feet tall, 886 feet above the city of Reading and 100 years of history. Not to mention a smashing view way up on top of Mt. Penn. Get all the info and a great map at There’s a gift shop on the fourth floor. Best to call ahead, though. 610.375.6399.

Adrienne’s Inn at Centre Park

Adrienne Peridini can talk the birds out of the trees. Good gab is her gift, and it helped her win the essay contest created to sell this Victorian mansion to the one person who would maintain its splendor and make folks feel welcome. The splendor: Italian plaster cherubs, Tiffany transoms, happy fireplaces and old-world woodwork. The welcome: Adrienne’s French toast and genuine smile. We love the Blue Room with its 7’ claw foot tub. On the web at Or call 610.374.8557 and ask her for her best rate.

The Ugly Oyster and Jimmy Kramer’s Peanut Bar

Two downtown Reading stalwarts. We slurp down a dozen blue points with a Guinness at the Ugly Oyster, and then do a polka up the block for chili-fried chicken at the Peanut Bar. Conversation with the locals is as good as the food and drink. The Ugly Oyster’s at 21 S. 5th Street. Toss the shells on the floor at The Peanut Bar at 332 Penn Street just around the block.

The Garfield Diner

A classic dining car right on Pottsville’s monument square. Scarf some homemade meatloaf across from the statue of the Spanish-American War soldier. Since 1953 at 402 W. Market Street. Find ‘em at

The John O’Hara House

John O’Hara wrote great novels, screenplays and stories for The New Yorker. The surrounding coal country was his muse. 606 Mahantongo Street, across from the Yuengling Brewery.

The Yuengling Brewery

High up on Mahantongo Street, overlooking the architectural treasure that is Pottsville, is America’s oldest brewery. The Yuengling beer-making family knows what it’s doing, and with the fun free tour (and free samples) you can see (and taste) for yourself. We love sipping their beautiful dark porter. Visit on the web at

The Spa at the Hotel Hershey

Yes, you can be dipped in chocolate and rubbed all over. Or go for one of the invigorating Cuban-themed treatments in this total oasis for mind, body and soul. It’s inside the majestic Hotel Hershey and a million miles from reality. (Our favorite masseuse is Suzanne.) You’ll find your way there, eventually, at

The Union Canal House

The tiny crossroads of Union Deposit, PA is literally around the corner from all the Hershey hubbub, yet in a very different aesthetic dimension.
Get one of the seven comfy rooms in this welcome tavern circa 1700’s. (The “deluxe” suite has a Jacuzzi and kitchenette.) And dig into the clams, crabs, steaks and reasonable wine list. Online at

Mt. Gretna Hideaway

This may be a bit off the beaten path, but that's the point. A great beer-barrel roadhouse, the Hideaway is across from the firehouse, on the backroads to Hershey (just off Exit 266 of the ‘Pike) in the tiny lakeside burg of Mt. Gretna. It’s well worth the hunt, just for a crock of chili, a tavern cheesesteak and to buy a few bottles of amazing homemade hot sauce. The address: Boulevard, Mt. Gretna. And yes, online at Did we mention the amazing homemade hot sauce?

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

Six feet under, solitary confinement and some “scientific oddities” in good old Philadelphia

Kelly Drive in Philadelphia slides between grand statues to the east and sculls along the lazy Schuylkill River to the west. It’s just a few minutes out of town to the pearly iron gates of Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Back in the 19th century – long before the river road we’re cruising – a barge brought Philly’s high society upriver to their final resting places. The departed have a marvelous view across the river in a necropolis of Calder sculptures, winding arboretum pathways, and wild stories galore. We find it easy – and fun – to get lost among huge Victorian monuments that mark the graves of scientists, industrialists, revolutionaries, and all manner of uppity folk.

Every grave is telltale, and the monuments provide the narrative. “This carved broken urn means he died a violent death,” Ross Mitchell tells us. “Here lies a man killed by his butler. No joke.” Ross is the un-ghoulishly happy gent who runs the joint. He shows us “millionaire’s row,” where the founder of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the inventor of the flexible saw blade (who made a nice piece of change during the Industrial Revolution) and the inventors of the modern public transit system are all in neighboring mausoleum mansions. Ross takes us into one with a staircase deep into the earth and we get the creepy feel of a lot more than six feet under.

There’s even a gravestone marked “Adrian Balboa.” Yup, Rocky’s wife is buried here. Well, at least in the movie. Her gravestone prop is to be well maintained in perpetuity.

The old marble stones suffer from acid rain. Mournful heroic angels and blunted obelisks reach to the sky in agony. We see Laurel Hill the way Henry James described the city of Venice. We feel “the sad elegance of ruin…”

Six Titanic passengers and 40 Civil War-era generals rest here. And every New Year’s Eve at noon, champagne flows free to the public at the graveside of General Meade, who won the battle of Gettysburg. The promise of free bubbly seals the deal for our return and we head downriver, past a classic Frederick Remington cowboy sculpture, toward the imposing edifice of Eastern State Penitentiary.

But all that whistling through the graveyard has us hungry. Luckily Philly’s ancient Victorian Water Works is right on the way, and now a splendid neoclassical restaurant. We slurp lobster bisque among huge columns of the ancient pump house and munch garbanzo salsa overlooking Schuylkill waterfalls. Behind us looms Philly’s iconic Museum of Art. (Adrian!)

Tummies full, we creep into Eastern State Pen. The miserable souls who wound up here were given a bible and a cold stone cell and a few years to sit and think about things. Sean Kelly, the current “warden” of these architectural ruins, gives us a similar tour to the one that inspired Charles Dickens to proclaim the place “cruel and wrong” back in 1842. We have to agree.

“Basically, instead of rehabbing criminals, the solitary confinement drove ‘em crazy,” says Sean. Since we’re fresh from the graveyard, we ask about spooks. “Oh there’s ghosts aplenty, I’m sure. The paranormal experts are crawling around here all the time.”

We crawl around to the former cell of Al Capone, who did time here on a gun charge in ‘29. The mobster’s pad is the Ritz compared to the surrounding dank cells. There’s a polished desk, a comfy bed, even a console radio to bring waltz music into his little corner of haunted hell.

But all this delightful despair is just a warm up for the macabre Mütter Museum, an unsettling collection from the old College of Physician’s. Being a bit squeamish we’re glad to have the prison between it and our lobster bisque. We gawk at what they call “fluid-preserved anatomical specimens.” We call them a variety of human head slices, the shared liver from the original “Siamese” twins and an assortment of 2000 completely weird objects that people found a way to swallow 100 years ago. (Much, much weirder than the garbanzo salsa.)

Thank goodness we have a bed worthy of Capone waiting for us near Rittenhouse Square and reservations at our favorite Italian BYOB. Maybe after dinner we’ll see you strolling the square, or heading out of town toward the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For a map with photos of all these places and more, go to

Laurel Hill Cemetery

Guided tours of this hauntingly beautiful 78-acre cemetery cum arboretum cum sculpture garden are held one Sunday each month. Tour themes include “Sinners, Scandals and Suicides” and “ Dead White Republicans.” Say hello to Ross Mitchell, who runs the necropolis and whistle through the coolest graveyard you’ll ever see. Check out their lively website at

Hi-yo outdoor art! (Tim: the Frederick Remington cowboy statue. Maybe this gets inserted within the text of the piece in some fun way.)

Philly has more outdoor art than Paris. Along the Kelly Drive you’ll find statue after statue, including this Frederick Remington masterwork rearing up over the Schuylkill River.

The Water Works Restaurant

Originally one of the country’s first and largest municipal water works, this architectural marvel is as beautiful as it is delicious. Overlooking the Schuylkill River falls and surrounded by Fairmount Park gardens. Tucked behind the Museum of Art, just off Kelly Drive. Online at

Eastern State Penitentiary

Sean Kelly is the current “warden” of this amazing and haunted jailhouse. Take the tour and you’ll see why Alcatraz has nothing on the original granddaddy of American prison lore. On Fairmount Avenue at 21st Street. On the web:

Rittenhouse 1715

Just about a half block from fashionable Rittenhouse Square, this beautiful boutique inn is bigger than a B&B, but much more personal than a big-box hotel. Luxurious, incredible comfortable and an easy walk to everywhere. At 1715 Rittenhouse Square Street with a great website at

Melograno Tuscan Bistro

Luca’s from Rome and knows how to run an Italian kitchen. His wife Rose is Vietnamese-American and knows how to make you feel welcome. Their unique chemistry creates some of the best food you’ll ever have in front of you. You’re nuts not to try the homemade papardelle. BYOB to 22nd & Spruce. Call 215.875.8116 and ask Rose about tonight’s special.

10th Street Pour House

Walk a few blocks and get yourself a real breakfast. Great coffee, splendid Eggs Benedict and a Tex-Mex omelet that just won’t quit. Arguably the best home fries in town. 262 S. 10th Street, between Spruce and Locust. 215.922.5626.

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

4,466 miles from Naples: “The Pizza Capital of the World”

The river road from Wilkes-Barre up to Old Forge snakes through small storefront towns, hugging the mighty Susquehanna. This is Main Street for a riverside of Italian and Polish enclaves; home to immigrants lured a century ago by coalmines, steel mills and a better life for their kids. We drive by memorials to mineshaft disasters, soda-fountain drug stores, corner taprooms, salumerias, ethnic social clubs, and about as many Catholic churches as there are saints.

Up here in Old Forge, the only thing that may outnumber churches is pizza parlors. This is the self-proclaimed “pizza capital of the world,” and folks in every local parish agree that Old Forge pizza is a religion unto itself. But this is where the agreement ends and a world-class pizza rivalry starts cooking.

Some say Arcaro & Gennell, a comfy tavern of a pizza restaurant, knows just the right combo of cheeses and sauce. Others say Revello’s, right across the street, makes a crust to die for. Still others insist the best Old Forge-style pizza isn’t even in Old Forge.

“Grotto’s is the best pizza you’ll ever eat. You’re crazy not to start there.” We heed a local’s advice and stop first in Harvey’s Lake, where people drive from miles for a mouthful of Grotto’s pizza. It’s good, but we’re not about to settle for a chain-store pie.

What makes Old Forge pizza unique? You can order a slice (here they call it a “cut”), but most folks get it by the rectangular tray (not by the pie) It could be a half-inch thick. Olive oil goes in a deep pan first, then a layer of dough. More olive oil, more dough. The crust is thick, with baked-in bubbles and chewy good. Pile on the cheese, ladle on the sauce and bite down with alacrity.

The specialty up here is white pizza. No red sauce, just a blend of cheeses and sometimes, sweet onions. When it’s good, white pizza is like white chocolate. That is to say, it’s not like pizza at all; like great white chocolate isn’t really like chocolate. The best Old Forge white pizza transcends the category and creates a delicious new food group.

And we’re here to tell you, the best white pizza on our sojourn (we sampled nearly a dozen pies – oops, trays - in two days) is at Revello’s, in the heart of Old Forge. Our choice is controversial, even in Revello’s. We ask our server whether she prefers the white or red and she confides in a whisper, “I don’t like either here. The best pizza in Old Forge is up at Mary Lou’s.”

We drop our napkins and bolt for the door, planning on a beeline for Mary Lou’s. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your appetite – there are two other pizza joints along the way and we don’t make it Mary Lou’s for about an hour. By then, our pizza judgment is pretty much impaired.

You think we’re sated. But on the way back to Wilkes-Barre we pull up to Sabbatelle’s in the hardscrabble river town of Pittston. Rocky and Jane Sabbatelle have stocked their Italian deli for 30 years. Aisles are crowded with homemade everything and shelves are full of olives, salamis and sausages, incredible aged provolone, fresh mozzarella, egg pappardelle, fried eggplant, and – you guessed it – trays of pizza.

“The best you’ll ever eat,” Rocky promises. “Better than anything up in Old Forge.” What the heck, we shrug, and loosen a couple buttons.

Later, we head for a local brewery tour and a four-poster bed in what was the summer mansion of the “lumber-and-ice king” of Pennsylvania’s great industrial age. But that’s a whole other story. So until then, we’ll see you round the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For a map with photos of all these places and more, go to

Smile and say “Cheese!”
Folks in Old Forge know you need more than plenty of napkins with good, gooey pizza. At Revello’s we’re lucky enough to find a free dental floss dispenser in the rest room. So there’s no excuse for picking your teeth at the table!

Arcaro and Gennell
They’ve been at it for 44 years, and you feel completely home inside this family pizza tavern. Sure, you come for the pizza, but try the hot pepper shooters and homemade fettuccine capricciosi on the full-blown Italian menu. 443 S Main St, across from Revello’s in Old Forge. Check out 570.457.5555

Revello’s Café
Everything on the menu is available for take-out, except the homemade tripe. “It takes too long to make, and it’s a real crowd-pleaser at the bar,” we’re told. No wonder the bar is so crowded, especially on weekends. Our white pizza winner. 502 S Main St, across from Arcaro & Gennell in Old Forge. 570.457.9843

Mary Lou’s Pizza
Mary Lou Verdetto knows what she’s doing. In fact some of the insiders at other pizza parlors says hers is the best. Turn west off Main Street, keep your nose out the window and you’ll find her. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturdays only. 209 Dunn Avenue in Old Forge. 570.562.2700

The Lion Brewery
What’s better with pizza than free beer! They’ve been at it since 1905 here and you can sample the ale, porter and 1857 lager in the historic Stegmaier Brewhouse. Call ahead for a free tour: 570-823-8801, ext 346 (ask for Theresa) or online at 700 North Pennsylvania Blvd in Wilkes-Barre.

Sabatelle’s Market
Stop in for an enormous sandwich, some homemade pasta, and don’t forget to bring home the pancetta. Say “ciao” to Rocky, Jane, Chuck, Maury, Jason and/or A.J. Sabatelle.114 S Main Street, Pittston, PA 570.654.4617

Bischwind B&B, Bear Creek Village
This glorious B&B was the “lumber-and-ice king” Albert Lewis’s summer home back in the day. (He’s buried across the street in one of the most amazing little cemeteries you’ll ever see.) Current owner Billi English grew up in the house and knows all the nooks and crannies. (Ask her to point out the Tiffany glass transoms. Awesome.) Billi’s four-course breakfast is fit for a land baron. Filet mignon and eggs anyone? One Coach Road and Rt 115, Bear Creek Village. 570.472.3820 and/or

Bear Creek Inn
Enough with the pizza trays. Belly up to the beautiful old bar and let Larraine Eddowes, the Inne’s gracious owner, introduce you to all the locals. She makes a fine martini, and the conversation gets just as spirited. And you’re crazy if you don’t get the lamb chops with mint jelly. Quarter mile from the Bischwind on Rt 115 in Bear Creek Village. 570.472.9045 and/or

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

Goosebumps and glory above the Delaware Water Gap

We pull into Milford after keeping our eyes out for eagles over the Delaware Water Gap on beautiful Route 209. Here’s a classic river town from the gilded age, home to pioneering artists and architecture, science-fiction writers and Horace Greeley’s free-love movement. Surrounded by the original Hollywood hills, silent greats like The Perils of Pauline were filmed here. Reverence for the outdoors is in the air; Milford is where the U.S. Forest Service was founded.

We’re here for the history and the scenery, always on the lookout for oddities worth a story and food worth a u-turn. In Milford, we find it all, and then some.

Right away, a wrap-around porch on a 150-year old steakhouse catches our eye. As does the Pike County Courthouse with a big rainbow trout riding high above on a weather vane. And we check into the Hotel Fauchére, beautifully restored from “crumbling plaster and moldy carpet” to a contemporary version of the original glory that attracted such guests as Franz List and the scandalous Evelyn Nesbit.

But the real prize in Milford is one that raises goosebumps. Up on a hill, housing the original stagecoach that once jitneyed the cream of New York society from the train station is a grand mansion called “The Columns.” The Pike County Historical Society has a collection of marvels here, but the one we come for is known as “the bloody Lincoln flag.”

It seems members of a prominent theatrical family, the Gourlays, were performing at Ford’s Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was shot. Thomas Gourlay was one of the first to attend to the president, and he cushioned Lincoln’s head on one of the American flags decorating the presidential box. Gourlay kept the flag, now stained with Lincoln’s blood, and passed it to his daughter, Jennie. She retired here in Milford, a community popular with the arts and theater crowd.

Today the flag is displayed in a glass case, next to a bust of Lincoln and surrounded by Civil War memorabilia. The blood of America’s greatest president saturates the flag and this poignant reminder of the humanity of history sends chills up the back of our necks.

The noon bell from a nearby church changes the subject, and we follow a local’s counsel and find our way to a remarkable tavern that keeps us firmly planted in the mid 19th century. Rohman’s Tavern, in the village of Shohola, is virtually unchanged from its 1850’s opening. Legend has it that even during prohibition, Babe Ruth and his cronies would get off the New York train here and enjoy Rohman’s signature fresh-squeezed screwdrivers. What the heck, we say; it’s 5:00 somewhere. So we enjoy a happy dose of fresh vitamin C and gaze at hundreds of ancient police and firemen’s patches from as far away as Hawaii that vie for historic wall space.

Tonight, perhaps a flick at the classic Milford Theater followed by gilded dreams beneath our downy duvet at the Hotel Fauchére. Tomorrow, it’s back to the hunt for the hidden gems and historic goosebumps along the bends and backroads. Maybe we’ll see you there.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For a map with photos of all these places and more, go to

Hotel Fauchére

The newly restored rooms have side-by-side “showers-for-two” and the walls hold a great collection of paintings from the Hudson River school. Sip your martini beneath a huge photo of Andy Warhol kissing John Lennon on the cheek. 401 Broad Street, 570.409.1212. Online at

Gray Towers

Incredibly beautiful 100-year old mansion, once home to Gifford Pinchot, a two-term governor of PA and founder of the US Forest Service. Tour info: 570.296.9630 and at

Milford Diner

Come and get your breakfast. We recommend girding yourself for the house special kielbasa and eggs. It won’t let you forget how good it was. 570.296.8611 and yep, they’re online:

Milford Theater

A movie theater like they used to be. Catch a first-run Johnny Depp or come in October for the annual Black Bear Film Festival. Check out for festival info. Either way, ask for extra butter on the popcorn.

Collage of shop/sign photos

Walk the streets of Milford and you’re surrounded by antiques, collectables, beautiful hand-made clothing, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, trinkets and baubles, geegaws and gadgets and tchotchkes galore. Guaranteed you’ll drive home with a full trunk.

Fretta’s Salumeria

The Fretta family’s 100-year old Italian deli is a must. Try the best sausage=and-peppers sandwich ever, homemade sweet cappacola, scaramozaa they smoke in the backyard and a cannoli filled only when you order it. Mangia! 223 Broad Street, 570.296.7863.

The Columns/Bloody Lincoln Flag

The Columns mansion is home to the Pike County Historical Society. Among a collection of historical marvels is the jaw-dropping “bloody Lincoln flag.” Ask for Vaughn; she gives a great tour in period dress. 608 Broad Street, 570.296.8126. Online:

Rohman’s Tavern, Shohola

The bar here is virtually unchanged since the Civil War. An antique juicer is perfect for fresh-squeezed screwdrivers. The bar stools unfold from the bar itself, and upstairs is a two-lane bowling alley where you have to set the pins yourself. 100 Rohman Road, Shohola. 570.559.7479.

Pat’s Bar, Hawley

Bernie Barry cooks her legendary cheeseburgers behind the bar on a 50-year old broiler, and quite simply, they’re the best tavern burgers we’ve ever had. And try a “boneless chicken dinner,” one of her homemade pickled eggs. 219 Main Ave in Hawley. Call 570.226.9653 and ask for Bernie.

Costa’s Family Fun Park

Drive a go-kart and a golf ball, swing a bat, and even bet a round of drinks on a round of mini-golf. Enough with the shopping and site-seeing, it’s time for family fun. On Route 6, just east of Hawley.

Cliff Park Inn

Set against the cliffs where The Perils of Pauline was filmed is the first woman-owned golf course in the US. Inside the romantic country inn the chateaubriand is a no-brainer. We suggest booking a room so you can have your way with the wine list. 155 Cliff Park Road, 800.225.6535. Online at

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

Monday, April 23, 2007

From white water to Fallingwater (with cold beer and hot wings in between) in the Laurel Highlands

The back way into the hamlet of Ohiopyle, smack dab in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, is a winding, twisting wriggle of a road. Not unlike the river that runs through it, the whitewater mecca known as the Youghiogheny. (Say it with us: “yock-a-haney.”) We pull into town just in time to check into our comfy rustic motel, check out the river conditions and sign up for a guided group tour of the rapids.

We join a gaggle of happy, self-proclaimed “dorks,” medical lab techies from a national health organization enjoying a rare company outing. In their tight life jackets and yellow helmets they stand open-mouthed and blinking in the bright sun. “We don’t get out of the lab much,” laughs a young intern, who grabs a paddle with us in the “sweep boat.”

The sweep is the boat that covers the rear of our little armada, and our captain is a dreadlocked, sure-paddled river guide they call “Sherpa.” He tells us when to paddle forward, when to take a stroke or two backward and how to avoid the boulders that rush toward us with all the speed of a mountain river.

One rock gets in the way of the boat in front of us, tossing a couple lab dorks into the drink. Sherpa helps sweep ‘em into our boat and everyone’s excited, wet and laughing. “It’s your whitewater baptism,” he proclaims and the river-soaked lab techies grin with pride.

A tour along the lower Youghiogheny lasts the afternoon, with deer and fox and the occasional black bear watching from the wooded Laurel Ridge. Our cruise is a series of peaceful drifts interrupted by stomach-churning drops into boiling holes that appear in the river between rocks the size of Buicks. It’s a combination of Huck Finn lazy and roller coaster crazy. We stop only for lunch, when we make damp sandwiches and eat them with a gusto that comes when adrenaline is your morning appetizer.

We pull the boats into shore around happy hour, carry ‘em on our heads to a waiting trailer and hop an old school bus back to Ohiopyle. One of the other river guides, a bearded rogue named Corey, tells bad jokes and we groan all the way to our motel shower.

We wonder whether the potent cocktail of excitement and exhaustion makes the wings and beer taste so good at the bar around the corner. But it turns out the buffalo wings at the Falls City Pub really are about the juiciest we’ve ever dipped in bleu cheese. A spicy nightcap to a thrilling day.

We wake up to black coffee, a big breakfast and a look at the map. Then we head out that wriggle road to get a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the architectural masterpiece inspired by its own whitewater. These Laurel Highlands have a lot of gems in the woods. We hope we’ll find you looking for ‘em, around the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For a map with photos of all these places and more, go to

Wilderness Voyageurs Rafting

Our witty and trusty river guide Sherpa was part of the best crew a novice rafter could ask for. Nobody knows the boils and bends (and rocks) of the Youghiogheny better. Check out a variety of river tours at, or call 800.272.4141.

Yough Plaza Motel

Check into a comfy room or a family efficiency, with two bedrooms and a full kitchen. The rustic wood siding and huge shade trees give this family-run motel a happy mountain atmosphere. Walk to everything in the heart of Ohiopyle. Reservations at or 800.992.7238.

Falls River Pub

The juicy classic wings and a pint of cold draft beer are perfect after an afternoon on the river. An easy walk from the motel across the simmering Youghiogheny. Tell the friendly bartender, Margo, we sent you.

“The Falls” Market & Inn

A classic general store – everything from needle-nose pliers to camping gear to velvet paintings to fresh bananas – with an old fashioned lunch counter with the best breakfast in town. Ask for the home-fries “mess,” which they really call by a word we can’t print here. Which is maybe why it’s not on the menu either. But it’s river-city good. Talk to Leo or Sarah Smith if you want a room to rent, too. Downtown Ohiopyle. 724.329.4973


Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of “organic architecture.” One of the most beautiful homes in the world seems to grow right out of the mountain stream that runs beneath it. Tour reservations at Rt. 381, 4 miles north of Ohiopyle. Photo by Harold Corini courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Laurel Caverns

Where else can you go spelunking and play mini-golf underground? Explore 430 acres underground with nearly 3 miles of crooked passages and catacombs. And play cavern putt-putt, too. Oh, don’t be surprised; bats are par for the course.
On Cavern Park Road in Farmington. www.laurelcaverns

Milroy Farms Maple Products

Gary Blocher is the patriarch of this fifth-generation sugar camp. He’ll be happy to show you how his family taps the trees, boils the sap and makes some sweet-tooth maple candy. Syrup in several shades of deep amber. And wait till you try the heavenly maple cream on an English muffin. Milroy Farms: 1724 River Road, Salisbury, Pa. 814.662.4125

The Inn at Georgian Place

Get out of the riverboat and into a four-star wine list and four-poster bed. This historic mansion is a gourmand’s treat for lunch, dinner and/or overnight. (Remember we told you about Margo from the Falls City Pub? Her dad runs this place. Tell him she sent you up from Ohiopyle.) Just off Route 219 north of Somerset. Reservations:

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

What a friend we have in cheeses down there in Franklin County

It’s in the little cheese shop beneath the big clock tower in the village of Gap that we hear about the artisan cheeses of Franklin County. So we head west out the old Lincoln Highway, through Lancaster’s mix of modern hustle and traditional bustle, through the glorious orchards of Adams County (where they grow more than 150 kinds of apples, and it’s a beautiful drive in season or out) and we find our way into the undiscovered Amish farmlands thriving along the Kittatinny Ridge.

We pull into Otterbein Acres, the pristine Amish farm of John and Lena Fisher. Here they raise grass-fed lambs and chickens, John builds birdhouses you’ll want to live in, and their eldest daughter Barbie transforms their sheep’s milk into the best Pecorino Romano this side of Naples. John lights a coal lamp and guides us downstairs to the cheese cellar and we get a gander of row upon row of golden wheels of perfect Pecorino.

“Barbie’s little brothers and sisters rub these wheels with olive oil once a week for six months,” John tells us. “That’s what gives this cheese such a golden rind. Don’t peel it, best to grate it and toss it all together.” (We do just that when we get it home, and it’s heaven with spaghetti.)

John and Barbie send us off with a couple pounds of Pecorino and a big chunk of their Gouda, too, and tell us to look out for a guy making goat cheese they heard about somewhere south of Greencastle.

Next stop is Whispering Brook Farm, a Mennonite dairy farm with a perfectly logical address on Edenville-Cheesetown Road, on the way to Cheesetown, of course. Here the specialty is good old-fashioned cow’s milk. Extra sharp and mellow smoked cheddar. Baby Swiss that’s melt-in-your-mouth. We bite off a chunk of jalapeño jack and it’s the perfect combo of cream and warmth. The farmer’s daughters make us home-smoked ham-and-cheese hoagies to tide us over as we go looking for the goat cheese.

It’s not easy, but worth the search. We get a tip from a wonderful coffee roaster in Greencastle (another story well worth the telling). Along a forked gravel lane, bear right at the “Pipe Dreams” sign (it’s missing a few letters) and we find a fellow tossing hay to dozens of goats. We call out, “are you Bradley Parker, goat-cheese maker?”

“I am indeed, sir,” he affirms.

“We’ve been looking all over the county for you.”

“Well, get out of the car and let’s talk about it,” he laughs.

As he walks toward the barn the snow-white nannies fall in line behind him, like following a cheese-making pied piper. And we fall in line behind the goats.

We taste the curds. We taste the cream. We taste the aged and the fresh. Brad Parker’s Pipe Dreams cheese is tart, it’s pungent, it’s like butter; it’s all delicious. We see large parcels of it, fresh and hanging in cheesecloth, its whey dripping into buckets below. “I feed the whey to the hogs out back,” says Mr. Parker. “That makes ‘em the best pork chops you’ve ever had.”

Sounds like another mouth-watering reason to return. Today, Franklin County’s burgeoning world of artisan cheeses is enough to map out a pretty good roadtrip. Maybe it was Napoleon who said an army travels on its stomach. It’s true enough for us.

Well, its time to find a welcome motel and a happy tavern. We’ll see you round the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For all a map with photos of all these places and more, go to

Otterbein Acres

The Gouda is good and the cheddar is better but come for the Pecorino Romano. Every wheel is rubbed with olive oil each week for months until it’s golden rind says “mangia” with an Amish accent. Take home some fresh eggs and grass-fed lamb while you’re at it. On Otterbein Church Road, in northeast Franklin County. Please, no Sunday sales.

Whispering Brook Cheese Haus

Wisconsin’s got nothing on this wonderful cheddar. The “cheese haus” is right on the farm, and everything comes right from the dairy. Brown eggs and cold milk are in the fridge with a variety of cheeses, so bring a cooler and pack it tight. Edenville-Cheesetown Road, just east of Edenville on the way to Cheesetown, of course.

Pipe Dreams Fromage

Bradley Parker studied with the masters in France and brought home the secrets to making the creamiest, richest, most flavorful of cheeses. (Best with honey or crusty bread or roasted beets.) Drive slow and peel your eyes to find his happy goat farm, but you’ll make a new friend and take home a great story with some creamy trophies. 2589 Shanks Church Road (where it meets Grant Shook Road) Greencastle. 717.597.1877

Squire Smith Inn

Ross and Melanie Bates make you feel welcome at this Civil War-era B&B. You’ll wake up to local Tuscarora Mountain maple syrup and a pot of coffee roasted just down the road apiece. Only four rooms, so call ahead for reservations. 47 North Main Street, Mercersburg. 877.445.5218.

Flannery’s Tavern

It’s been an apothecary and an impromptu morgue during the Civil War. Tonight, John Flannery is cooking up lively calamari, succulent scallops and a menu full of passion. Best-of-class dining at easy-wallet prices. Don’t miss this one. 5 North Main Street, Mercersburg. 717.328.5011.

Greencastle Coffee Roasters

Charlie Rakes roasts all kinds of coffee in his vintage roaster, sometimes right outside the store. He roasts peanuts, too. And he’ll sell you a silk sarong, hot curry powder and all sorts of Asian noodles, spices and sauces. And you can pick up a Frank Zappa t-shirt with your Jamaican Blue Mountain drip grind. Address and phone number to come.

The Old County Jail

One of creepiest places you’ll ever love. Three tiers of prison cells built in 1818, including dungeons below and the original gallows out in the courtyard. Ask for Denny, the best volunteer tour guide who will fill your head with stories and give you the delightful willies! Alcatraz has nothing on this place. 175 E. King Street, Chambersburg. 717.264.1667.

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