Showing posts from August, 2008

The rest of the rest: Road Trip 2008

I covered most of the highlights and lowlights of our last Road Trip this past July. Some other places of interest:

Garfield's, Susquehanna, PA: Garfield's to me represents the epitome of the boring 1980's styled chain. But we were on the open road from Harrisburg, PA to Geneva, NY and it was way past lunch time and we'd already given up on our original plan to head to Penn State University, since we were running behind schedule. Garfield's, predictably enough, sits at the entrance of an equally boring mall. That said, Mr. Jose was more than impressed with Garfield's for offering locally made Pennsylvania wine. For that alone, the stop was worth it. Bravo to this branch of Garfield's!
Mighty Taco, Tonawanda, NY: Loved it, loved it, loved it! After the lackluster Spicy Thai experience, Mr. Jose decided dessert needed to be at the nearby Mighty Taco. Mrs. Jose, the beautiful woman who I have been married to for 11 years, agreed. She had only one and I had 2, bu…

Luca's Ristorante ~ Flemington, New Jersey

Sometime back in 1999, when Mr. RJG was working in the northeast Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem on a 2 week assignment, I asked the locals where was the best place for Italian food. They said the closest was not south Philly but rather Trenton, New Jersey. I ran out of time and only ended up trying a couple of local Bensalem places which were good, not great (pretty much what my cohorts said). So when I did my homework for this trip, it appears I may have missed my window of opportunity. Apparently many of the classic places in Trenton have either boarded up or are “not the same”. Analyzing the situation, and looking at hotel options in the area, I settled on the community of Flemington instead. And Luca’s was to be the Italian destination of choice.

With the great taste of Little Italy still on our mind, we stuck to our game plan, and headed over to Luca’s for dinner. We sat down and prepared to order win when the waiter said it was “BYOB”. What? As noted many times in the RJG, BYOB…

Albany Pump Station ~ Albany, New York

The next day in Tupper Lake we had a charming “continental breakfast” at our motel. Consisting of coffee and a wrapped powder donut – I’m pretty sure it’s the first powdered donut I've had in 20 years. Afterwards we drove out of the Adirondack Mountains, down to the state capital of Albany, where we arrived at lunch time (could it be a coincidence? Ya think?). Per original plan, we headed to a local brewery / brewpub called the Albany Pump Station just on the outskirts of downtown and the Capitol building. The Albany Pump Station resurrected an old brewery from the past called C.H. Evans Brewing Company. We had such great success with the Appalachian Brewing Company, that we were hoping for a repeat performance. And did it succeed? Well, sort of. Mr. RJG gives it a thumbs up. Outstanding brew (the Quackenbush Blonde) and I went for the cheeseburger, always a good choice at a brewpub. Great seasoning, well cooked, high quality meat, excellent toppings, and just the right amount of …

Little Italy Restaurant ~ Tupper Lake, New York

From Gouverneur, we enjoyed a picturesque drive through the Adirondacks and onto to our destination of Tupper Lake, ideally situated in the middle of the mountains and by a lake (naturally). I think we might have even snuck in an ice cream break. The little place by the side of the road served Perry's Ice Cream, which I've only seen in the New York state area. Quite good actually.

Like many of the small towns in the Adirondacks, Tupper Lake doesn’t possess a large chain hotel. Since Mr. RJG travels a lot for business, I tend to stay at Marriott or Hilton owned hotels – generally the more business friendly ones like Hampton Inn or Courtyard. And so I’ve made that a habit for personal trips as well, and Mrs. RJG likes the free breakfasts at the Hampton in particular. We typically eat light for breakfast, nothing more a bagel, coffee, juice, yogurt, fruit, maybe some cereal. And that’s what Hampton excels at. But for Tupper Lake, I needed to be creative. After searching the inte…

Jreck Subs ~ Gouverneur, New York

After Simcoe, and a drive through Hamilton, we enjoyed two wonderful days in Toronto, seeing the sites and walking the quaint neighborhoods near downtown. As for our meal choices, unfortunately nothing stood out, though we did have a nice lunch (all to be covered in the summary). Leaving Toronto in the morning, we headed for our longest drive of the trip, taking a major highway through Ontario. The original plan was to stop in Kingston for a German meal, but frankly neither of us were hungry despite walking many miles around Toronto the prior two days. We felt too full for a large German lunch. So we headed for the border through to Upstate New York. After getting through US customs (not a friendly bunch, that’s for sure), we journeyed towards our destination in the Adirondack mountains. We really had no idea where we were going to eat lunch, but Mrs. RJG was starting to get hungry, and that means Mr. RJG better find a place quick, or Momma ain't goin' to be too happy. We were…

Swiss Chalet ~ Sincoe, Ontario

The next day we crossed into Canada and chose a scenic drive along the coast not far from Lake Erie. Compared to the rather gritty western portion of New York, Ontario is considerably more bucolic. Just to mix it up a bit, I thought it would be a good idea to try one of Canada’s corporate chains, and so I’d selected Swiss Chalet as a good stop on the open road (Simcoe, Ontario for those keeping score). Now I’m sure for any Canadian reading this (as if), going to Swiss Chalet is about as exciting as going to Denny’s. But their website indicated rotisserie chicken and Mr. RJG saw an opportunity for a good meal without all the calories.

To be honest I was expecting a fast food place, but to my surprise it’s an actual sit down restaurant. Mrs. RJG likes that. I ordered the white chicken sandwich on a Kaiser role, and it comes with a Greek Salad (well, as an option for a small charge if I remember right). Mrs. RJG had something similar. And I think it came with a soup as well. Well… the sa…

Spicy Thai ~ Tonawanda, New York

We left Geneva in the late morning and headed towards Rochester for a quick tour of the town and enjoyed some authentic New York pizza for lunch (will be covered in the final summary). From Rochester we drove towards Niagara Falls, and did the mandatory touristy thing, though we decided against the boat tour. Rather, we paid the $1 to walk out to the bridge in the middle of the river and watch some crazy folks make their way up to the stairs to be swept away by the Falls themselves (actually it did look like fun). But we were getting wet just being on the bridge! Later, we checked into our hotel in Williamsburg, a pleasant community just west of Buffalo. As mentioned before, Mrs. RJG loves her Thai food, and this was to be our first experience on the trip. I chose a restaurant in the suburb of Tonawanda. Prior to dinner we journeyed into the Buffalo downtown area to take a look-see and also drove past the legendary Anchor Bar, most known as the place where Buffalo Wings were first inv…

***CLOSED*** Wing Tai Oriental ~ Geneva, New York

Part 2 of our dinner adventure in Geneva, NY. See here for the inauspicious beginning.

After the Nonna's Trattoria disaster, we decided to go with the original game plan, a local tavern called Parker's Grille and Tap House. It was about a 15 minute walk through the somewhat shabby town center. It's actually pretty depressing, reminding me of many similar town centers in the 1980s before the gentrification renaissance began. And would you believe, no one greeted us here either? Must be the way things are in Geneva, NY. If I were the leader of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, I'd hold a quick training session on the art of making customers feel welcome. It was pretty hot inside, and one look at the menu didn't seem overly inspiring, so we left pretty quickly. Honestly it felt more like a biker bar. We weren't there long enough to really know much about the place, so it won't draw the Mr. Jose ire as did Nonna's.

Again, things happen for a reason.

Mrs. RJG …

Nonna's Trattoria ~ Geneva, New York

From Manheim, PA where we had spent the night before, we drove through York and onto Gettysburg to see the Civil War monuments. Afterwards we drove north through the Susquehanna Valley area and mountains where we had lunch (to be covered in the final summary), into New York, through Corning, visited a winery and finished in the Finger Lake town of Geneva.

For dinner, we altered our plans, as we both noticed an appealing looking Italian restaurant called Nonna's Trattoria across the street from our hotel. We arrived and noticed a small crowd waiting for a table. So we stood at the hostess stand and awaited patiently to put our name on the list. 2 minutes nothing. 5 minutes nothing. Oh sure there were waitresses in the dining room, who could see us in plain view. There was a bar to the left as well. 8 minutes nothing. 10 minutes. Another couple walks in and asks us if there's a wait. We said we think so, but not sure, since no one has spoken to us yet. They left. We waited anoth…

Appalachian Brewing Company ~ Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

We had a wonderful day of touring the Amish Country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, including driving through a couple of interesting covered bridges. Multiple times we passed the horse and buggies, with the whole Amish family in authentic 1800s attire. The anachronism is striking. Mrs. RJG was so impressed with their seemingly peaceful nature, that she said she wanted to become an Amish woman. Mr. RJG quickly stated "you'll have to give up your jewelry". And that was the end of that.

We stayed in the cute town of Manheim, but had planned to head to the state capital of Harrisburg for dinner, which is about a 30-40 drive from Manheim. No problems here since we have Hertz's NeverLost - right? Our first experience with the NeverLost system was some six years ago traveling through the Midwest, and was a near disaster. We dubbed it AlwaysLost and NeverSafe. The damn GPS system had a knack for dropping us in the 'hood and couldn't figure a way out of it. You ha…

Bassetts Ice Cream ~ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It probably should come as no surprise to the readers of the RJG that Mr. RJG also likes a good, independent homemade ice cream place. I'd first gone to Bassetts, and the Reading Terminal Market for that matter, in 2004 while in downtown Philly for business.

With the Villa di Roma and Rick's experience fresh on our minds, Mr. Jose needed a win with Mrs. RJG to demonstrate that I did indeed research properly for this trip. We were both in the mood for a little ice cream after Rick's, and I figured Bassetts could be the savior of the trip, since I'd been there prior.

And Bassetts came through in a BIG WAY. Mrs. RJG, about 3 mouthfuls into her pistachio cone, looked at me and said "This is the best ice cream I've ever had". Mrs. RJG just doesn't say things like that casually. She's a tough customer. But she is still talking about how wonderful the ice cream was. I had the coffee ice cream (Mr. RJG's favorite flavor), and it was as delicious as I …

***CLOSED*** Rick's Original Philly Steaks ~ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Reading Terminal Market is maybe the singular greatest food idea - ever. Enclosed within its walls, are literally hundreds of independent, locally owned Philadelphia eateries, food shops and markets. You'll see Amish ladies working the Dutch kitchens next to African American managed rib places. Everything that is good about the American food experience can literally be found all in one place. The Reading Terminal was an active railroad station only some 25 years ago. Once it closed, the cities' leading visionaries moved the already existing food markets into the terminal itself. To only be able to eat all day long. If I could, I'd do it here.

Rick's is not the only steak sandwich establishment at the RTM (not surprising given it's Philly's most famous export), but his is the most famous and has the purest pedigree. Rick Olivieri is the grandson of Pat Olivieri, the founder of Pat's, which is generally considered the first Philly Cheesesteak place, along…

Villa di Roma ~ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

So now that I've explained how to research for a Regular Joe's Guide Italian restaurant, I'll demonstrate right away with a place that did not work.

It seemed so perfect:

Old Italian neighborhood: Check
Vintage restaurant: Check
Red Sauce Italian: Check
Classic signage: Check it out:

I was truly excited about this place. Mrs. RJG and I had driven there straight from the airport, and it looked so good (and loved the edgy neighborhood it resides in). Since there isn't convenient parking anywhere, we decided to head to our hotel a couple of miles further into downtown, and we'd cab it back. As we left the cab and wandered into the front door we were greeted by two entirely different Philly personalities: The gregarious bartender and the jerk "host". Naturally Mrs. RJG quickly got her nose out of joint with Mr. Rude, but I calmly explained that's part of the scene, and it's actually k…