Step Back in Time
Sep 20, 2017 02:58PM
Navigating the twists and turns of Route 6 is a task that requires the utmost attention of any driver. Fortunately that spike of artisan coffee you may need to maintain concentration is readily available in the hamlet of Sylvania, Bradford County, at Mill Street Treats, on the corner of Mill Street and Route 6. Just watch for the carousel horse named Cricket outside the entrance, and you will know you are in the right spot. And with a new opening time of 7:00 a.m., seven days a week, you won’t have to sneak away from work to sample their beans, which are roasted on site. In addition to coffee, you can find frozen custard, peanuts roasted on site, coffee in K-cups sealed on site, and over thirty varieties of popcorn. Yes, that’s right. Thirty.
Mill Street Treats is the proud creation of two Renaissance men, John Seeley and his son-in-law, Shane Morgan, with the help of Shane’s wife, Katie. John is a retired shop teacher with a passion for woodcarving. Not a man to rest on his laurels in retirement, John began carving wooden signs, like the Native American profile at Sayre High School. He also pursues carousel horse carving, and proudly introduces Duffy—seamless and ethereal, like a children’s cartoon come to life, though John explains she is made from hand carved pieces of basswood, carefully assembled. She literally shimmers, and John mentions that he uses special automotive coatings for the effect. His attention to detail and his appreciation of handcrafted machinery leads him to procure the many antique machines used in the production of the mix of items available at Mill Street Treats.
Shane is a skilled sheet metal worker with a background in mathematics. Katie was educated in nutrition and dietetics. The unique backgrounds of the three operators meld together to provide the perfect formula for this special business: equal parts quality ingredients, engineering, and nostalgia. John, Shane, and Katie insist on using only the nest ingredients for their creations, sourcing them locally and avoiding preservatives and genetically modified organisms whenever possible. This is great news for popcorn lovers, for although roughly ninety percent of U.S. corn is now genetically modified in some way, popping corn is not, at least not in the manner that alarms people. That is, no foreign genes are inserted into the organism’s DNA. Popping corn has been genetically selected and bred the old-fashioned way to have a unique shell, harder and more impermeable than other types of corn. This shell is responsible for popping corn’s resistance to pests and disease, and the physics behind the “pop.” The shell traps moisture inside the kernel as it is heated rather than slowly releasing it, and the trapped vapor builds until the pressure inside causes the kernel to rupture or pop.
Mill Street Treats offers many flavors of popped corn; labels tout intriguing tastes and names including dill, Buffalo ranch, garden fare, and the original caramel that inspired the entire operation. Popcorn purists will appreciate the simplicity of the original recipe, requiring only five ingredients artfully combined in precise ratios. Don’t even bother asking John for the recipe, or fishing for hints, because the affable man in the straw hat will soon acquire a serious demeanor, letting you know great lengths were required to obtain this recipe. Without giving any secrets away, I can say that all of their sweet recipes use no artificial stuff. Maple from Bradford County, cane sugar, and honey are all you will find listed as ingredients. The caramel corn is airy and coated in a light, crisp caramel that doesn’t stick to your teeth. It is pure caramel: buttery, crispy, and highly addicting!
As delicious as the caramel version is, it is not Mill Street Treats’ top-selling flavor. That title belongs to the white cheddar salt and vinegar, a flavor that, like many scientific discoveries, was the result of a fortunate lab accident. This corn packs quite a punch, owing in part to the fact that real cheese, as in cheese you can slice with a knife, is baked into each batch in a specialized process that does not change the texture of the corn to resemble a breakfast cereal marshmallow.
Katie is the flavor chemist of the operation. One of her most unique creations is garden fare; it features a blend of cumin, garlic powder, turmeric, marjoram, and a little pepper, among other things. It is reminiscent of the exotic smells of Indian cuisine. The dill is a close second, truly tasting like a dill pickle with earthy bitters of dill combined with a garlic-packed crunch. All the popcorn varieties are gluten-free, and Shane works to minimize cross-contamination between his peanut processing and popcorn equipment.
If John is the artist and Katie is the chemist, Shane is the engineer, a mad scientist tinkering in his lab. He combines the craftsmanship and nostalgia of antique equipment with modern technology in the shop. In the coffee roasting room (Shane’s laboratory), a rescued direct-fire roaster crafted in Hornell, New York, dating from the early 1900s, was re-engineered with a modern temperature control system. The espresso machine is a trip back in time, too, having no electrical parts at all. It is a purely mechanical “pull” model.
John and Shane have big plans for the future—starting with remodeling an additional antique peanut roaster and restoring an antique soda fountain once housed in the Wellsboro Pharmacy. The circa-1902 soda fountain will sport a marble countertop, homemade sodas, and a bygone atmosphere when root beer floats were the highlight of the week. Mill Street Treats provides a door back in time to a simpler way of life: a time when good, wholesome treats and customer service were delivered with a smile, and there was still time for small talk.
If you cannot make it to Sylvania between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., you can purchase popcorn and coffee at www.millstreettreats.com or call in an order at (570) 297-3956. Mill Street Treats are also available at the following Pennsylvania locations: Shedden’s in Gillet; Barnstead Pantry in Troy; My Neighbor’s Closet in Mansfield; and Johnny’z Hot Rod Café in Wellsboro. And you can always meet John and Duffy on the road, who make appearances at various local festivals including the Heritage Festival in Mansfield and Dickens of a Christmas in Wellsboro.