The Return of Road Food
Ah, spring: time to get out of the house. Sure the lawn needs work, last year’s mulch is a mess—but all of that can wait. The road beckons, the better to experience the charms of this much-awaited season. We’re a few miles away from gorges, waterfalls, hills, and fabulous lakes just begging to be visited. Take advantage of the pull-off places thoughtfully provided by the state governments (the English have a word for these: “lay-bys”). But all of that fresh air and communing with nature—hiking, bending over buds, snapping pictures, fishing and the like—can produce quite an appetite.
Unless you tote a picnic you can’t cook if you are touring all day. So it’s great to have a stop in mind where you can feed the body as much as the touring feeds the soul. Obviously I can only point out a very few of the many “road food” emporiums within Mountain Home’s circulation. That covers a lot of mid- and northern Pennsylvania and south-central New York territory. For starters, here are some places I’ve come across and sampled.
Who knows, this may become the first in a series of gastronomic investigations into moderately priced eateries serving tasty food. My intent is to include only places located out in the countryside vs. those in cities and villages.
All set? Off we go.
Florida Fryed Chicken
The spelling check feature on this machine just had a coronary with the second word in the headline. But that’s the way Bonnie Schroeder and Gary Morey spell it, intended to make you ask the spelling question. It opened on 12/12/12. You’ll find this bright and cheerful restaurant on route 287 just off Route 15 (heading south) near Tioga, Pennsylvania. A boot scraper just outside the door adds to the country feel of the place. Open that door and you could be in Key West. It’s fried chicken, period, with their special coating and I found it darn good—the two pieces I had were crispy, not greasy, and moist inside.
How did a chicken restaurant end up in Tioga? Well, as Gary explained it, he and Bonnie went on a five-month camping trip (yup, tent and all) that extended from the Florida Keys all the way up to Astoria, Oregon. It seems that Gary had spent time in a restaurant in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and had developed a coating for chicken much as Colonel Sanders did way back when. As they traveled they discussed opening a restaurant, and Gary’s special seasonings are what make this chicken special.
There simply isn’t a chicken restaurant in the vicinity, and Bonnie—with roots and family in Lindley, New York—knew the territory. And while you’re at “Fryed” get yourself a taste of a regional favorite, Williamsport’s Sunset Ice Cream—there are about twenty flavors to choose from!
You can eat in the spic and span interior that is loaded with more Florida memorabilia than a Fort Lauderdale gift shop. Or if you live in the greater Tioga area, stop in on your way home and pick up the chicken. I only wish I lived closer. (Call 570-625-0011 to check on their hours, although their card says “open everyday.”)
Fran must have landed somewhere else because there ain’t no Fran at Fran’s—but you will find my friends Kevin Hillman and Troy Preston, who have owned this unique spot since 2010. If Hollywood wanted a roadhouse setting to film a reality program, here it is. I wrote about this place a while ago but it so happily fits our road food theme.
The restaurant sits on a little knoll overlooking the valley on the road that leads from Route 15 to Addison, New York. Keep alert: the restaurant’s turnoff comes up pretty quickly due to the gentle curves in the road.
Inside Fran’s you’re surrounded by knotty pine walls, the sort of décor that families put in their 1940-era rumpus rooms, although a lot of it is covered by 40s store signs, calendar art, and various items from the era of half-a-buck-a-gallon gasoline, including an antique boat motor hoisted above the bar. In a word, or two, “hubba-hubba.” The menu also reflects those days of yore, but with Kevin’s upgrades to suit 2014 tastes: chicken wings (of course), hand-cut steaks, and juicy burgers, for example. Portions are generous; you won’t go home hungry. Wear work boots and a plaid shirt and you’ll blend right in. I think you’ll become a frequent visitor to this place. Call (607) 359-3000 for more info.
Head north into Watkins Glen on Route 414 and, just before you reach the Glen, turn left and go up the hill. You’ll find Seneca Lodge next to the State Park. Its rustic wood-sided building is surrounded with small cottages across the driveway (they are rentable). It’s a seasonal place, so do check their Web site (www.senecalodge.com) or call (607) 535-2014 for opening info.
It’s difficult to describe the Lodge. It reminds me of the large dining hall at a camp I attended one summer too many years ago. It was bought in the late 40s by Dan Brubaker, a Philadelphia lawyer, and then rebuilt after a fire. It is still run by Brubaker’s family.
Best of all, it’s about as far removed from a fast-food joint as you can get. Walk into the bar and you are in Whimsical Wonderland. You’ve got the pine paneling, but here it is covered by the pennants of just about every college you’ve ever heard of—and some that may be new to you. Look up and there are archery targets—complete with antique arrows. These are lovingly dusted each year before the Lodge opens for business. The bar staff can point out other artifacts—it’s worth asking.
Those cabins outside were once home to archery buffs who assembled every summer for years. Now racing buffs have taken their place, so you might spot a racing celebrity or two. And you may catch a film of old Formula One races just off the bar. Speaking of bars: back on the restaurant side, check out a favorite salad bar of mine. The dressings are first rate, and I never pass up the cornbread. The specials are posted on a chalkboard and their weekend prime rib draws the locals as well as visitors. In season, Seneca Lodge is open seven days a week for breakfast and dinner and, to quote the sign at the front of the entrance, “no lunch.”
I hope this inspires you to eat local. Don’t hesitate to send me your suggestions for the next round of places worth a visit or even, as many famous guidebooks say, “worth a detour.”
Happy driving, and happy dining.