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

Homemade, home-brewed, homegrown, home-baked, hand-blown and stone-ground in the heart of Dutch Country.

After a surprising dinner of homemade stuffed manicotti (we were, after all, in the heart of Dutch Country) we wake up to the surprisingly wonderful aromas of fresh-ground coffee and horseradish. The java’s brewing about 20 yards from where the horseradish is grinding away, making our eyes water in Lancaster’s Central Market. Inside this big old brick barn is a crazy swirl of fresh pastries, fields of produce and mind-boggling varieties of scrapple.

With our senses on high alert we head out of town, east along Route 23, the two-laner we now think of as Lancaster County’s “Homemade Corridor.” All along 23 we see hand-painted signs hocking home-built gourd birdhouses, homegrown grass-fed chickens, hand-blown glass, hand-sewn quilts, home-brewed root beer and handcrafted brooms. (The signs themselves are works of rural folk art.) We spend less than 20 bucks on a couple of incredibly sturdy brooms from a Mennonite lady who shows us how the corn bristles wrap tight around handles as strong as hiking staffs.

But best of all is the home baking, off 23 a couple of turns, and as hard to find as we were warned. “Oh, you’ll never find Sadie’s Bake Shop,” laughed Sue Kuestner, our hostess at the graceful Inn at Twin Lindens. “But if you do, you’ll be glad you tried.”

Sue was nearly right on the first count, 100% on the second. Sadie’s Bake Shop is in the basement of Rachel Lapp’s Amish farmhouse. Lit by gas lamps, the rustic basement holds a modern bakery, which started pumping out pies, cakes, bread, and whoopie cookies about 30 years ago. Founded by Rachel’s mother Sadie, tradition is kept very much alive and delicious here.

We tell Mrs. Lapp we’ve driven a good ways to taste her baking. “Oh, people come from all over,” she says unimpressed. “Even from New Jersey!”

With a gooey shoofly pie and a dozen whoopies in the back seat we backtrack the twists and turns and only get lost once on our way back to the highway. Getting lost is one of the great pleasures of the back roads of Lancaster County. And it’s how we find Rohrer’s Mill, one of the oldest continually working water-driven gristmills in the country.

Rohrer’s is known for grinding corn that’s roasted before it hits the mill, which gives the cornmeal a unique nutty flavor. One of Lancaster’s oldest scrapple makers uses Rohrer’s roasted cornmeal as its secret ingredient. And it’ll be ours for delicious polenta and cornbread. So we pile a couple 5-lb sacks next to the pies and head back through the Homemade Corridor along Rt. 23.

Another hand-lettered billboard looms before us: “Home-made root beer for sale, 2 mi on left.” Mmm, rootin’ tootin’ homemade root beer. We can’t help ourselves, so we make sure there’s room on the back seat next to the shoofly and cornmeal and get ready to turn left in two miles.

With any luck later on, we’ll also stumble across a welcome motel and a happy tavern. Until then, we’ll see you around the bends and back roads.

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

Central Market, downtown Lancaster

Chock-a-block with fresh produce and meats and egg noodles. Plus flowers and crafts and our favorite, Long’s Horseradish, ground right before your watering eyes. (Get to know why our mom always called this stuff “jerk nose.”) On the corner of King & Queen Streets. 717.291.4723.

Lombardo’s Restaurant, downtown Lancaster

Had enough potpie? Here’s a great family-run Italian restaurant with homemade favorites like lasagna and stuffed manicotti. Not to mention stuffed diners dipping bread into the homemade red gravy. Reservations at 717.394.3794. In downtown Lancaster at 216 Harrisburg Avenue.

The Inn at Twin Lindens, Churchtown

Sue and Norm Kuestner make you feel right at home in this gorgeous mansion. Sue’s breakfasts are legendary, and she cooks fabulous suppers on Saturday nights, and everything’s from local ingredients. Reserve well in advance. Right in the center of Churchtown on Rt. 23. Call ‘em at 717.445.7619.

Sadie’s Bake Shop

Pies, cakes, bread, rolls, donuts, cookies and yes, whoopie pies – all hand made in the basement of the Lapp family’s Amish farmhouse. And all worth getting lost for. 489 Lambert Road (go north off Rt 23 onto Churchtown Road, take a right on Hammertown, a left on Turkey Hill and a right onto Lambert.) Call 717.445.7595 when you get lost. Closed Wednesdays and Sundays.

Nolt’s Broom Shop

These new brooms will sweep clean for a good long time. Handmade by the Nolt family for generations. Look for the hand-painted sign right on Rt. 23, between new Holland and Leola (just east of Rt. 772). Call 717.656.7450. No Sunday sales, please.

Rohrer’s Mill

This is another place we’ll wish you good luck finding. But the roasted cornmeal is worth the effort. It’s one of the last water-driven gristmills in the country, a true timeless treasure. (We gotta look at the map to figure where it’s at.)

Shady Maple Smorgasbord

Fill ‘er up. Here’s all you can eat of the county’s country cooking. Roast veal to butter beans, Delmonico steak to peach pie and on and on and on and (burp). Too much good food, one crazy low price, no tipping. Plenty of parking for cars and buggies alike. One mile east of Blue Ball along Rt 23. 717.354.4981 or Closed on Sunday.

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

The Mercer Mile: Walking in the footsteps of weird genius in Doylestown, Bucks County

The Easton Road starts deep in South Philadelphia and does a Mummer’s strut, dressed up as Route 611, north through Bucks County, then curves along the Delaware River right on into Easton. Today, we’re in the middle of that map, where the road is known as Main Street in Doylestown, the county seat of Bucks, hometown to such luminaries as James Michener and Margaret Mead. And our newest hero, Henry Chapman Mercer.

Doylestown’s a fine walking town, so we park the ragtop and make sure our sneakers are tied tight. We check into a sweet little B&B right next to the Doylestown Historical Society. It’s just a stone’s throw from the beginning of what folks here call The Mercer Mile, a stretch between wondrous castles built by the genius Henry Mercer. We can’t wait to get to know him.

The Mercer Museum looks medieval, seemingly indestructible with 6,500 tons of concrete poured back in 1913. Henry wanted this place fireproof, to keep his amazing collection of pre-industrial tools safe for generations. A collection of tools, you say? Sounds a bit ho-hum, you think? Why not just go in the basement and nose around Dad’s workshop?

Well, tell that to our dropping jaws as we walk in and look up. We’re inside a massive center atrium, more than six stories high. And look what’s hanging from the walls and ceilings: Cider presses, a horse-drawn fire engine, cigar-store Indians, a whaling boat, a Conestoga wagon, anvils, lobster traps and fishnets, and coopered barrels of all sizes. “Tools of the Nationmaker” is how Henry Mercer defined his collection, and he put more than 50,000 oddities in this strange palace where Willy Wonka and Dr. Seuss would feel right at home.

Mercer knew that concrete was the way to go, because a few years before he imagined the museum, he built himself a concrete home, called Fonthill, at the other end of the Mercer Mile. It’s a lovely walk through this old borough, with its 19th century homes, unique boutiques and Norman Rockwell charm. We time our visit to the museum so we can stop for lunch along the way to Fonthill.

After gawking all morning at old-world tools, the perfect renewal is some good old-world pizza. And we find it at Spatola’s on Main Street, about halfway along the Mercer Mile. They bake a white pizza to die for in a wood-fired oven, using hardwood like oak. “It’s gotta burn hot, but oak has no smoky flavor,” says our pizza baker. He claims to be a refugee from South Philly – down at the other end of the Easton Road – where they know a thing or two about pizza. The crust is thin and has a perfect crunch, the cheese and roasted garlic fused together in the wood heat. It’s good enough to order a second, something to munch on as we stroll to Fonthill.

Fonthill is more crazy Wonka-Seuss weirdness. It’s 44 rooms of hand-mixed concrete, windows set at madcap angles, swing-able chandeliers, books and more books, Rube Goldberg heating, plumbing and intercom systems. And tiles. Beautiful, amazing, a multitude of shapes and complex mosaics, most designed by Henry Mercer, and some from his collection that goes back 6,000 years or so from Mesopotamia.

Our guide takes us through Mercer’s “concrete castle for the New World” and tells stories of his incredibly rich life. A lawyer, archeologist, curator, collector, artisan and tile maker, Henry built Fonthill next door to his third concrete wonder and his prosperous business, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. He didn’t start all this till he was in his 50’s, which gives us all hope. We look down toward the Tile Works from one of the outdoor roosts along Fonthill’s castle roofline, a perfect perch where Henry could smoke a cigar, enjoy a brandy and watch the sun set over Bucks County.

We take our final stroll along the Mercer Mile to the Tile Works. Here we visit with artists still crafting the same Mercer designs that decorate the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg, as well as other architectural marvels around the world.

We can’t help but stare into a fired-up kiln – an intensely hot oven where batches of Mercer tiles are glazing – without recalling the perfection of that white pizza from Spatola’s hardwood kiln. Which leads us, of course, to start thinking about dinner along Doylestown’s restaurant row.

It’s a happy walk through golden light back to the B&B, where we see the ragtop parked in front, antsy for that Easton Road. Maybe we’ll head out tomorrow, or the next day, depending on how many shops and menus we can tackle here in Doylestown. And when we do, we’ll roll out past the weird genius of concrete castles and keep our eyes peeled for you along 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

The Mercer Museum

Like nothing you’ve ever seen. As if all the weird uncles in the world got together with their attic collections of saws and hat racks, stovepipes and forceps, wooden Indians and iron artwork. All inside a most improbable and probably indestructible concrete castle. Looming over 84 S. Pine Street in Doylestown and online at

Spatola’s Pizza

Man, this is good pizza. We fell for the white w/garlic, fresh from the oak-burning brick oven. A tiny little spot full of flavor; set off the street a bit at 304 N. Main St. Call ahead at 215.489.2882.

Fonthill and the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works

Who knew that concrete could seem so comfy? Henry Mercer’s home would have been perfect for a Dr. Seuss character. And next door his pottery works still cooks up the same beautiful tiles that decorate architectural marvels worldwide. Tours at Fonthill by reservation at The Tile Works is run by the Bucks County Parks Department. Online at

James A. Michener Art Museum

Here is the old county jail, transformed into a world-class art museum. Get into the life of Michener, the author and Bucks County citizen. And the permanent collection of “Pennsylvania Impressionists” - Bucks County painters from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s – is wonderful. Just across from the Mercer Museum. Start your tour online at

Dance to the music, shop till you drop. (Montage of shop signs and Puck sign)

Everywhere we turn there’s another charming boutique, coffee shop, jeweler, theater – even a great independent bookstore where the employees actually read books! The blues joint Puck is a groovy little nightclub on Printers Alley.

The Knight House Restaurant

At the foot of Doylestown’s restaurant row is a menu and wine list meant for our hearts. We were knocked silly by the Maine Lobster and Maryland Crab combo with chipolte cream. Save room for unreal flourless chocolate cake and try not to pass up the list of ports. You only live once. 96 West State Street; 215.489.9900. Sneak a peek at the menu at

Historic 1814 House B&B

Ask for the Mercer suite (naturally), soak in a Jacuzzi built for two and gaze into the fireplace, if not into each other’s eyes. A lovely garden patio and sweet little tea room make this a cozy stay an easy stroll away from the Mercer Museum. 50 S. Main St. Reservations at

Raymer’s Homemade Candy

Mark and Sue Raymer mix their own creamy blends of chocolate and make candies of all kinds that are well worth the guilt. Get a load of the honey nougat, put a few pecan turtles in your pocket and thank heaven this is a good town for walking off the goodness. 21 E. Oakland Ave. 215.348.3788.

Ok, it's your turn. Let us know what you find out there, won't you? Drop us a line at shunpiker

Wine, wings, dinors and dinosaurs along Erie’s grape lake shore

Drive out of the broad-shouldered lake town of Erie along the East Lake Road, put the top down and take a deep breath. Ah…it’s like a fresh hit of childhood. The smell of grape popsicles and grape juice and grape bubble gum and then it gets deeper, muskier, the smell of earth and good wine. It’s the fruit of the vine, as far as the eye can see, from the lakeshore right up to the glacial ridge that rides along east of Lake Erie.

We’re cruising wine country, along old Route 5, in a place we never knew was wine country. We’re touring vineyards in a place we thought was all about steelhead fishing and birding and shipwrecks. We’re on the piedmont between the lake and the ridge, where the climate and soil is pitch perfect for a symphony of peaches, pear, blackberries, apples and you bet, grapes.

Merlot and cabernet franc, concord and chardonnay. And at Penn Shore Winery, the first we come to in the community of North East, PA, it’s all about the Vignoles. A crisp, fruity wine, but not too sweet. We taste a hint of pineapple and pronounce it quite drinkable and toss a case in the trunk and head to the next sip down the road.

The sign on the hill says “Arrowhead Wine Cellars” and we pull in for a new flavor sensation. Among the rieslings and cabernets we discover blueberry wine. Who knew? It’s like a big old blueberry bomb on our taste buds. “It’s especially great on ice cream,” teases our hostess, Kathy Mobilla. She and hubby Nick have been making Arrowhead wines since 1998, and they’ve sure got the hang of it. So we plunk a few blue bottles in the car and head on down the lakeshore blacktop.

It’s here, at Mazza Vineyards, where we taste the cream of the Lake Erie crop. It’s Mazza’s renowned Ice Wine, winner of gold medals at competition after competition. “We even win in California,” boasts Andy, the young bear of a bartender (wine-tender?) pouring samples for us. “We pick the grapes deep into December, when they’re absolutely frozen, hard as marbles right on the vine.” When crushed cold, the marble fruit gives up the ultimate sweet essence of grape. This is a dessert wine at its finest and we can see ourselves sipping it between bites of dark chocolate or pouring it over fresh peaches with the fire roaring and the dog at our feet…

Ok, when we come out of the ice-wine reverie, we finish filling the ragtop with a couple more cases and barrel back down the East Lake Road, stopping to sample America’s champion Buffalo wings at a local haunt called The Fiddler Inn. Then a stroll among a host of homemade dinosaur sculptures we find just off the highway. (Which is a whole other story in itself.) Finally, it’s nap time in a great little B&B, and then our favorite Italian joint where garlic’s in the air and we can’t wait to get our hands on – you guessed it - the wine list.

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

Penn Shore Winery
They’ve been crushing grapes since 1969 at one of Pennsylvania’s oldest wineries. On the web at and on the earth at 10225 East Lake Road, North East, PA.

Arrowhead Cellars
Nick and Kathy Mobilla starting making wine in ’98 and have been winning gold and silver medals around the country ever since. Come taste why. Online at and in person at 12073 East Main Road in North East, PA.

Mazza Winery
Mazza’s unique ice wine is about the best in its class, and we’re quite partial to the outstanding port. (Especially sipped in PJs by a fireplace.) Online at and in a glass at 11815 East Lake Road in North East, PA.

Roy Peters’ Dinosaur Park
Roy Peters gets a kick out of making enormous sculptures of dinosaurs and letting them loose on his lawn. (We’d say they’re life-size, but we’ve never seen a live one.) He’s even made a whale the size of a whale for the Erie zoo. Stop and see his Jurassic menagerie for yourself. At the Peters’s Welding shop, 4369 S. Cemetery Rd, North East, PA.

The Fiddle Inn
Shawn Festa shuffled his wings off to Buffalo for the National Buffalo Wing Festival and brought home the first place trophy. Believe it: the best wings in America are perfect with a cold beer after a day at the wineries. 6615 Buffalo Road in Harborcreek, PA. Call ahead if you want: 814.899.9005.

Dinors everywhere
Strange but true: “Diner” is spelled with an “or” in this neck of the woods. We’ve never seen it before, and no one can explain it. (“Maybe you’re the one who misspells it,” one waitress suggested.) No mater, we recommend the turtle soup and ox roast sandwich at the Crossroads Dinor in Edinboro and the real gyros and homemade soups at the Park Dinor in Lawrence Park.

Boothby Inn
Do the Highland fling in the Scotland Room or take a safari in the Africa Room. Each room here is decorated and themed according to where the owners have traveled. The hospitality is pure down-home, with plenty of extra creature comforts. One of the better B&Bs we’ve slept in. Online at and/or toll-free at 866-BOOTHBY. 311 West 6th St in a beautiful, old Erie neighborhood.

Colao’s Ristorante
Loosen your belts. This must-eat Italian feels like a neighborhood joint and cooks like a four-star Tuscany. Clams are steamed in Peroni beer and pasta’s always homemade. (If portabella ravioli is the special, don’t think twice.) Ask for “Cee” Colao and tell him we sent you. At 29th & Plum in Erie. Reservations: 814.866.9621.

This is just the beginning. When you find something weird and wonderful, drop us a line at

Along the Supernatural Trail in super, natural Central PA

Back in the day when the Lincoln Highway was known as the Forbes Road (a century before Abe was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye), a highway bandit was making things messy for pioneer travelers out around Fort Bedford. So a trap was laid, a prisoner caught and a trial held inside the local Jean Bonnet Tavern. Found guilty he was hanged right then and there. That fuels the ghost stories that come with the good food, comfy lodging and yes, powerful spirits at the historic Jean Bonnet.

Doors lock and unlock at will. Water pitchers are thrown from shelves at unsuspecting bartenders. Potpourri is tossed around empty rooms like confetti. And the blender pops on at random wee hours. Get a new blender, plug it somewhere else, it doesn’t matter. We figure this is one spirit who loves his piña coladas.

It’s our first stop along a supernatural trail of otherworldly natural beauty and out-of-this-world eating. Just down the road from the haunted tavern we find the haunting Gravity Hill, a weird and non-tourist-trap phenomenon every shunpiker should see at least once. It’s not easy to find, so we ask help from a guy in his boxers walking a boxer (no lie), and three PennDOT workers putting up signs, and pull up to the foot of a slight hill, marked on he road by a spray-painted “GH START.” Put the car in neutral and sure enough we coast up the hill. Put a ball on the road and it rolls up the hill. Water seeks its unnatural level up the hill. We haven’t had this much fun getting the creeps in a good stretch.

Our minds blown a bit, we’re north on country Route 26, winding between the Mid-State Trail, PA’s longest footpath (from the Mason-Dixon right up to NY) and the Raystown branch of the Juniata River, with its submerged ghost-town villages flooded to create the huge Raystown Lake. Plenty of spirits floating around here, no doubt. But on our two-lane blacktop it’s one peaceful, blue-sky drive.

We find hickory-smoked babybacks around Wipple Dam and tuck away an afternoon snack. Then check back into the spirit world inside the Reynolds Mansion B&B in Bellefonte, a town of big sky and bombastic Victorian architecture. And ghosts.

About 100 years ago, William Reynolds’s wife Louise was confined to her bed and occasionally to a wheelchair. She could never have children so William painted a beautiful cherub mural on the ceiling so she could always look up and see happy, chubby babies. Today guests often hear the sound of a wheelchair rolling around the “Cherub Room.” One tells of waking before dawn to find a woman in gossamer at the foot of the bed, watching his sleeping, pregnant wife with a beautiful smile.

We enjoy the house brandy, spirits to ward off spirits, and wake up to fresh poppy-seed-lemon scones and a day sunny and bright with possibility.

The ragtop heads the back way out of town and toward a diner so good, trains stop on the tracks alongside without warning for roast pork and peanut butter pie. Can’t wait to dig in. 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

Jean Bonnet Tavern

Owner Melissa Jacobs raises goosebumps with tales of the spirits who inhabit this haunted hotel. Perfect with a tankard of ale and a medium-rare filet mignon. After dinner, stroll the gardens and feed the goats outside. Reserve a room with a ghost at

Gravity Hill

Is it an optical illusion or a supernatural phenomenon? Seeing is believing, so watch your car roll up the hill and shake your head in wonder. Ask a local or find a secret map at

Old Bedford Village

A weird, beautiful village with homes, stores, churches, schools, an opera house and tavern – even the village smithy – circa 1750 through 1900. Re-enactors in period dress show you the ropes as you stroll through time. See for yourself at

Miller’s Diner

10 years ago a train pulled up out back and the engineer came in for lunch. The impromptu nooner caused a crazy traffic jam, as he left the back of the train hanging over the intersection. Cops found the railroader inside with some chocolate-peanut-butter pie and fined him $94. (True story!) On Rt. 22 three miles east of Rt. 26. 814.643.3418.

Doan’s Bones

Roadtrip rule #3: When you see smoke, stop. It could be barbecue. Here at Doan’s little shack, they do the ribs with real hickory and you can smell it coming a quarter mile away. Best to eat a rack right off the trunk of your car. On Rt 23 near Whipple Dam just south of State College.

The Wizard of Odd

Stan Smith’s weird and fun sculpture garden features your favorites from the Wizard of Oz, all made from stuff he finds lying around the old farmhouse. Sign the guest book and ask, “Where’s Dorothy?” Worth the search on Linden Hall Road near 322 in Oak Hall.

Jim’s Italian Cuisine

Penn State’s legendary coach Joe Paterno wolfs down homemade spaghetti and meatballs here all the time. The lasagna and buttery garlic bread make this little BYOB a legend in its own right. On a little alley up the hill from the classic courthouse in beautiful Bellefonte. 204 E. Cherry Lane. 814.355.2169.

The Reynolds Mansion

Your amiable host Joe Heidt III will wake you with delicious baked peaches and lemon scones after a night of listening for ghosts in this haunted “best-of” B&B. The tap water comes from a local spring that is bottled and sold around the world, so enjoy a soak here in a Jacuzzi full of Evian-like luxury. Reservations at 800.899.3929 or

This is just the beginning. When you find something weird and wonderful, drop us a line at

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Welcome to The Shunpiker's Guide

In a land that looks the same from one interstate exit to the next, with soul-less strip centers, big-box retailers and chain-store restaurants conspiring to suck the spirit out of the Great American Roadtrip, it’s a relief to know there are still roads lined with independent gems along the way. All you have to do is shun the pikes and expressways and point your ragtop along the bends and backroads of Pennsylvania’s two-lane blacktops.

It’s along these forgotten byways where you might run across the world’s only 3-D replica of Whistler’s Mother; a homemade, life-size dinosaur collection towering over the Lake Erie piedmont; artisan Pecorino-Romano cheeses hand-rubbed with olive oil by Amish children; a colonial tavern haunted by an 18th-century road pirate who was hanged in the barroom; the flag that cradled the head of a mortally wounded Abraham Lincoln, its stars and stripes still smudged with the president’s bloodstains; a coal town with more churches than most and more pizza parlors than churches; world-class wine made with frozen grapes harvested in the dead of winter; a chili-dog parlor feud fueled by intense family passions; a diner with chocolate pie so good trains make unannounced lunch stops behind it; and a 96-year old helicopter-museum tour guide who still jumps out of planes.

Welcome to the world of The Shunpiker’s Guide, your personal roadmap to the most interesting roadtrips that’ll ever consume a weekend. With each installment you’ll get a story of history, heritage and absolute gluttony, written with a reasonable amount of wit and a whole-hearted commitment to wide-eyed wonder. You’ll learn where to eat, what to see, where to stay and how to avoid the homogeny of franchise America. And we’ll always welcome your feedback, your stories, and your passionate recommendations in an email to

Roadtrips can still be miles of spontaneous fun and serendipitous discovery. Especially when we dedicate our efforts to preserving the experience of an independent proprietor's personal passion. It’s all waiting for you off the pike and along the beautiful backroads from the Civil War Trails of The Seven Valleys to the birthplace of Wooly Willy in Smethport. Hop in the shotgun seat and ride along with stories inspired by our favorite hidden gems in The Shunpiker’s Guide.