Monday, October 27, 2008

A Road Trip With Happy Horsepower

From Hanover to Hollywood (Casino) @ Penn National

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 5, 2008

The Lehigh Valley

Strumming Martin guitars and strolling Jim Thorpe

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

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

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

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

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

“How much?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Up The Lazy River Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They chime like church bells.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Indian Rock Inn

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

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Father Road

Happy motoring on the old Lincoln Highway

It was John Steinbeck who christened Route 66 “The Mother Road.” But years before we got our kicks on 66 the original American roadtrip ran from the footlights of Times Square to the grandeur of the Golden Gate. We come to think of this as The Father Road, the first cross-country two-lane, named for the Rail Splitter himself.

Welcome to the Lincoln Highway, where we’re looking for mementos from America’s original car culture. It’s here on the Lincoln where diners learned to sling hash. Motor courts grew up to become motels. Hotels took on the shapes of cruise ships. There’s a two-story shoe house. A restaurant built like a castle, “serving kings and queens.” And our first surprise: The Land of Little Horses.

Just west of Gettysburg dozens of mini-mares and waist-high stallions (not ponies!) prance and perform on a daily basis. They share a pristine farm with miniature mules, peacocks and even a single-humped dromedary. We coo at the camel and feed the little dobbins crunchies from the horsy gift shop.

A few miles past the micro-ranch a life-size baby-blue elephant poses outside Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Center. The aroma of roasting peanuts wafts over us as we explore a ramshackle candy land with thousands of elephant gewgaws. First, candy necklaces, molasses paddles and a zillion jawbreakers, each quite capable of doing the job. Then elephant bookends, banks, candleholders, and lookee here: pachyderm potty chairs!

With root beer barrels in our cheeks and a Jumbo table lamp in the ragtop’s trunk, we blow past Chambersburg, out where peach trees and fresh cherries replace strip malls by the bushel. Dairy farms reach for the Tuscarora Ridge, where we climb nigh on to 2,900 feet. This was the original trace for Conestoga wagons rolling westward-ho. Today we turn ridge-top hairpins and peel eyes for the signs with a big blue “L” that keep us on the Lincoln road.

For the most part, the Lincoln Highway is U.S. Route 30. But Route 30 isn’t always the Lincoln. We take the “business route” whenever the option knocks. It’s the old road, usually the main street for beautiful little burgs still alive with dress shops and drug stores, newsies and cafes.

The town of Bedford’s a perfect example, and a perfect place to explore the Lincoln’s living memory. We can’t believe our eyes when we spot the original Coffee Pot on the edge of town. Just past a dreamy art deco filling station, The Coffee Pot’s a two-story percolator that once fueled pioneering road trippers with caffeine and comfort food. Newly restored to its kitschy majesty, it has a dignified pedestal at the county fairgrounds.

In Bedford the Lincoln is a main drag lined with cheery shops and a vintage movie theater that takes us back a bit. We stroll into LIFeSTYLE, a former cigar shop with its dark mahogany shelves now full of rustic handmade pastas, olive oils, and colorful pottery. It’s all from Italy, including Stefano Ferrari, imported by his wife Sarah, a local girl who knows her way around rigatoni. They help us pick out some creamy pesto and we put on a couple pounds just thinking of supper.

A few miles later we check into the Lincoln Motor Court, one of the last of the 1940’s cottage collections to welcome happy motorists at the end of day. We’re in Number 6, with a firm queen bed, a small living area, a TV nook with a fridge, microwave and coffee pot. The bath has pink and black tiles that recall the best of times.

Debbie and Bob Altizer run the joint, and their labor of love keeps the knotty pine paneling tip-top. Color TVs arrived just a few years back. “I think there's something nostalgic about black and white,” Debbie says. “But people don't think like that anymore. Now they even want remotes." We flip ours off and enjoy a nostalgic nightcap in a little manicured grotto behind old #6.

Morning has us back in the saddle. Up the road apiece we see a sign for the Flight 93 memorial. In the middle of a rolling green meadow a spontaneous collection of flags and flowers, badges and banners pays tribute to the hijacked passengers who gave their lives on September 11, 2001. Bob Musser lives a mile from the crash site and he and his wife volunteer here just about every day. “We greet a lot of people who come to pay their respects,” Bob says. “This here’s hallowed ground.”

Not far away is another story of inspiration with a much happier ending. It’s the site of the 2002 Quecreek Mine rescue, where nine trapped coal miners were brought out of the darkness alive and well. We peer down the tiny rescue shaft, now the center of a pretty little garden that celebrates the miners’ miracle.

We have a lot to ponder on the way to Ligonier, an old fort town with its feet firmly planted in the French and Indian War and its mind set on happy visitors. An effervescent Patty Campbell greets us at her Campbell House B&B. If you don’t feel welcome here it’s your own fault. She must be curator of the largest collection of Campbell’s Soup bric-a-brac west of Camden. She gives us a room with the Campbell’s Kids hanging over our bed and discount cards for two of the town’s better eateries. Then she sends us off for one wild pint of beer.

Joe’s Bar doesn’t look like much. A brick front with a red neon “JOES” gives nary a hint of the big game menagerie inside. We order pints of lager, wander into the back room and nearly drop our suds when we see the polar bear. And the huge horned ram. And the two-story giraffe. And by gosh, there’s a great elephant’s head looming over the taproom.

Spiral stairs lead us to more taxidermy trophies: scores of beasts that met their fate tangling with Joe Snyder of Ligonier. A bar-side local tells us Joe had no room for his stuffed animals at home, so he brought ‘em down the bar to keep everybody company.

We’ve not seen anything like it, nor expect to ever again. But one never knows what’s around the next turn of the old Lincoln Highway. Heck, the largest paperweight collection in Pennsylvania is a stone’s throw away. Not to mention a museum devoted to the Big Mac, invented for better or worse right here on the Mother Road.

Until then, it’s seared scallops and pad Thai noodles at Ivy’s Café, and home fries to beat the band at Ruthie’s Diner in the morning. As we head for what’s next along the Lincoln, we’ll look for you along the bends and back roads.

Get an illustrated map of our adventure along The Mother Road, complete with photos and other goodies, when you cruise over to And for more about what's happening along the Lincoln Highway, check out our friend Olga Herbert's wonderful work at The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor at

The Land of Little Horses
These little Falabella Miniature Horses (not ponies!) dance, prance and perform. The farm is a beautiful stop along the way.
125 Glennwood Drive, a couple miles south of Rt. 30 and just west of Gettysburg. 717.334.7259. See for yourself at

Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum
We hear there are 6000 elephant trinkets in Mr. Ed’s museum. We’re too busy stuffing our faces with fudge and peanut brittle to take a complete count. 6019 Chambersburg Road just west of Chambersburg.

The Coffee Pot
One of the landmarks of the Lincoln Highway heyday. Restored and resplendent at the Bedford Fairgrounds on the west side of Bedfore.

The Lincoln Motor Court
Why stay in a sterile chain motel when you can book a cottage at this little treasure? See what they meant by, “Happy motoring!” 5104 Lincoln Highway, Manns Choice PA. (Just west of Bedford.) Call Debbie for a reservation at 814.733.2891.

Old-world pasta, hand-made pottery, Italian coffee and chocolates. And fabulous tins of tuna in virgin olive oil. Ask about the family-style dinners at Stefano and Sarah’s communal table. Right in the heart of the main drag, Pitt Street ("business route 30") in Bedford.

The Igloo Soft Freeze
It’s an ice-cream stand in the shape of an ice-cream sundae. (We love the root-beer float.) Very Lincoln Highway! 42 E. Main St. (Business Route 30) in Everett. 814.652.2442

Flight 93 Memorial/Quecreek Mine Rescue
The 9/11 crash site is one big lump in the throat. Not far away is the rescue shaft that brought 9 trapped miners back to their families. Both places tell tales of triumphant human spirit.

Joe’s Bar
Lions, tigers and bears! A few stools are made of elephant’s feet and we drink beer out of jars. Look out for the stuffed jackalope. Maybe the best bar ever. 202 W. Main St, Ligonier.

Ivy’s Café
Local boy marries Manhattan girl. Together they make beautiful kitchen music. We love the blue cheese and walnut wantons. Great wine list with good prices, too. 201 E. Main St, Ligonier. 724.995.1050.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

A Day at “The Office” in The Electric City

Where your favorite TV characters hang out in Scranton, PA

The fact is we don’t watch a lot of TV. Heck, we’re on the road so much it’s all we can do to catch a motel movie now and again. But whenever possible, we’re slaves to “The Office.” Maybe because it’s plain hilarious, and maybe because it takes place in Scranton, PA.

We cruise into “The Electric City” on old Route 11 just to check out the joints they talk about on “The Office.” We even have the radio in the ragtop glued to Rock 107 FM. (Remember the episode when Dwight calls the station: “Hello, Rock 107? Am I the 107th caller?”) An appropriate anthem, “Little Pink Houses,” rolls us past little brick ones built for the miners and millers and railroaders who gave this town its heyday.

Today, factories have become art studios. Old storefronts are unique boutiques. Antique pressed-tin ceilings look down upon lively pubs and steak houses. And next to the railroad yards – now the mighty Steamtown National Historic Site – is The Mall at Steamtown.

We park below and ride an elevator into the bells and whistles of a shopping paradise that often co-stars on our favorite show. Sneak a peek inside Victoria’s Secret, where Michael Scott, the office boss, inexplicably takes his female co-workers on “field trips.” Check out Nail Trix, a salon where Kelly Kapoor would totally spend every Saturday morning.

We’re tacky tourist shutterbugs until a security guard tells us no pictures inside the mall. “Except at the food court,” he points. “There’s a whole display of those ‘Office’ stars perfect for snapshots.”

Sure enough, there’s the whole cast, bigger than life. We click cardboard cutouts of Michael Scott, Kelly Kapoor, Creed (played by Creed Bratton – did you know he used to play guitar in The Grassroots?), the grumpy nerd Dwight (played by Rainn Wilson, who was made an honorary mall security guard when he came to Scranton for an “Office” convention) – even the original “Scranton Welcomes You” sign from the show’s opening credits. Among the food-court stalwarts of Arthur Treacher’s and The Lotus Express, it’s pretty cool.

Outside the food court we walk a skyway above the massive Steamtown train yards, and down into acres of boxcars, locomotives, cabooses, and lots of electric trolleys. For many years Scrantonians rode the first citywide electric trolley system in the world, hence its nickname “Electric City.”

Follow the tracks to The Trolley Museum at the other end of the yards. Inside, hop aboard an original wooden streetcar, with velvet curtains and leather benches. Imagine the clang-clang-clang. Sure beats walking.

Folks still ride these restored wonders along the edge of town, through the woods and over to the friendly confines where the Triple-A Yankees play. It’s a romantic ride through time to one gem of a ballpark.

Around the corner and high above, a blazing round sign illuminates the city’s happy heritage every night: “Scranton, The Electric City.” It’s a beauty.

Back in the ragtop, we pass the big green sign on the home of the Crystal Club Soda Water Company. (Seems there’s a can of Crystal Club Root Beer on every desk in “The Office.”) We spy the building on the corner of Adams and Mulberry that stands in for the fabled Dunder Mifflin paper company. It has a sixties kind of architectural cool, and we can’t help but snap a drive-by pic.

Swing down Washington and there’s Abe’s Delicatessen, just in time for lunch. (Have you seen the Abe’s menu stuck on “The Office” fridge?) We stand before a gleaming case of pickles, smoked fish and kosher salamis. On top, a cooling tray of noodle kugel and knishes fresh from the oven. A counterman (Abe himself?) catches our gawk and shrugs, “What’s not to like?” We go with matzo ball soup and the best whitefish salad this side of Second Avenue. Kosher deli in Scranton; who knew?

We walk a couple blocks to the Artists For Art gallery. It’s home to contemporary work from local artists, including – at least on TV - Pam Beesly, played by Jenna Fischer. AFA’s set in a row of restored brick storefronts, another intersection of hardscrabble and new-wave Scranton.

Not far from AFA we discover the favorite watering hole of “The Office” denizens. Poor Richard’s Pub, with its spicy wings, local tap beer and a waitress who calls us “honey,” is tucked inside the South Side Bowl. The alleys are booming with bowling teams of all ages, and the bright lights and neon colors are a groovy shock after the brick streets of downtown. A mural of enormous bowling balls the color of grape soda and limeade loom over the ten-pins in a pattern that suggests 1950’s linoleum on 1960’s acid. It looks as loud as it sounds, and we lace up two-tones and throw a spare or two between gutter balls and sure enough work up a lager thirst.

Inside Poor Richard’s the lights are low again, and a popular local duo called The Girlz sway gently with electric guitars. We nurse our bowling-ball elbows by bending a few with some refugees from genuine Scranton offices.

One fellow is actually sporting a t-shirt, for sale here at Poor Richards, emblazoned with a slogan from “The Office” that seems oh-so true: “Ain’t no party like a Scranton party ‘cause a Scranton party don’t stop.”

We buy a double XL and strike out from the lanes into a beautiful mountain town evening. Time to check into the majestic Lackawanna train station. The grand waiting room, adorned with marble and amazing tile mosaics from a gilded time, is now a grand hotel lobby, and we’re made welcome with uncommon opulence.

Tonight, it’s dinner at Cooper’s Seafood, an “Office” favorite. (Remember when Michael wants sushi? Dwight tells him Cooper’s has calamari.) We giggle over the corny lobster beanie with its googly eyeballs and wiggly antennae and slurp just-shucked Virginia Salts. Fresh oysters in Scranton; who knew?

Tomorrow it’s a spooky séance at The Houdini Museum and a dark trek deep inside a real coalmine. Then more live local music at The Bog, a hipster bar across from Embassy Vinyl, one of America’s last great record stores. Like the t-shirt says, a Scranton party just don’t stop. Until it does, we’ll see you around the bends and back roads.

For an illustrated map of your tour of Scranton sites made famous on "The Office," hop on over to

Steamtown National Historic Site/Trolley Museum
What’s more powerful than a locomotive? Lots and lots of locomotives! Ride a steam train, explore the huge old train yards, and take a jaunt on an old electric trolley. Then fix your shopping jones at The Mall at Steamtown right next door. It’s where “The Office” shops for everything. Learn all about it at and/or

Farley’s Steakhouse
Oak, brass and Certified Angus Steaks. On the episode called “Basketball,” the warehouse team played the office team and the losers had to buy dinner at this popular steak house. (Check out the homemade old bay potato chips.) 300 Adams Ave. 570) 346-3000.

Abe’s Kosher Delicatessen
Hot pastrami, corned beef on rye, lox and bagels. What’s not to like? 326 N Washington Ave. 570-346-2946.

AFA Gallery
Exhibits from local artists rotate monthly. See for yourself at 514 Lackawanna Ave or take a virtual tour at

South Side Bowl/Poor Richard’s Pub
The favorite place to hang out after working at “The Office.” Bowl a strike, have a pint and try the spicy wings sampler. Life doesn’t get better than this. 125 Beech Street. (570) 961-5213

Cooper’s Seafood
Look for the lighthouse and welcome aboard. The corny gift shot is almost as much fun as tearing into those fresh oysters and twin lobster tails. 701 N Washington Ave. (570)346-6883.

Lackawanna Station Hotel
The lobby/restaurant is one of the most beautifully restored gilded railroad stations in America. The mini-suites have microwaves and refrigerators. 700 Lackawanna Avenue.
(570) 342-8300.

Nay Aug Park/Everhart Museum
At the top of Mulberry Street is a huge public park. There’s a pool, an animal rescue (with monkeys and an alligator) and a fabulous treehouse with a gorgeous view. The Everhart Museum has an art collection that blows us away.

Glider Diner
When you need a late-night fix of homemade corned-beef hash and eggs, remember The Glider is open 24 hours. 890 Providence Rd. 570.343.8036.

The Houdini Museum
Houdini in Scranton; who knew? Here’s the largest building devoted to Harry Houdini, with great magic shows, scary storytelling and spooky séances in “The Psychic Theater.” The website says, “not for the feint of heart.” 1443 N. Main Street. Call for reservations: 570.383.9297. or

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