…AND ONE MORE THING
Culinary tour stirs up memories
It was a picture perfect flag-waving day to take a road trip right in my own backyard —Livingston County. My cheering squad was Lisa Burns and her staff at The Tourism Bureau who put together the ninth annual “Familiarization Motor Coach Tour.”
Along with Cynthia Oswald, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Livingston participants and community members, I was treated to a non-stop foodie festival, “Nibbles and Bits” featuring local chefs and their tasty treats. Covered Wagon Tours donated the motor coach.
The purpose was to highlight the many virtues of our region. I was curious what someone like me who has lived and worked in this area for a long time would discover. I decided to go along for the ride and look at Livingston County with a fresh pair of eyes.
I could tell when I arrived at Brian’s USA Diner, Mount Morris, that it was going to be a day for the long haul of eating. After introducing myself to those seated at my table, the conversation quickly turned to everyone’s choice of slacks with expandable waistbands. That’s the spirit I thought!
Rachel and Brian Haywood, owners believe in high quality with their slogan, “big food served quick.” Right they were when my “sampler portion” of bacon, eggs and pancake was placed in front of me in no time flat.
“Small business does so well in our county,” said Burns introducing the Haywoods, active members of the Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism is the number two industry in Livingston County after agriculture. Brian’s USA Diner’s next -door neighbor is Letchworth State Park. Roland Beck, Manager, said that the park is the number one tourist attraction in the county, and 62 percent of the visitors enter through the Mount Morris gate.
To top it off, it was Flag Day, and what better place to start a tour of Livingston County but in Mount Morris, the home of Francis Bellamy author of “The Pledge of Allegiance.”
Driving through rejuvenated Main Street I glimpsed into Jane’s Pantry. It holds the proud distinction of being the largest seller of licorice in New York State! –Ah, the memories of a good movie and a fistful of black licorice at The New Family Theater down the block!
Tour committee member Alberta Dunn’s mini history lesson on the Shakers while the bus drove south along Route 36 stopped further cravings for the jellybeans and penny candy lining Jane’s shelves. I had forgotten that the Shakers were the first to package seeds and set standard cooking measurements.
Dansville’s Main Street was decked out in red, white and blue. Chef/owner Jason Howard, Jack’s Place Gaslight Grill greeted us. Howard introduced me to granula (pronounced with emphasis on the “u”), the first dried cereal in the United States created by Caleb Jackson. It was rather bland. Not to disappoint, Howard served his modern version with Greek yogurt and fresh strawberries. That hit the spot!
“I buy and cook locally,” said Howard before showing off the interior of the restaurant and the105 year-old restored bar.
Leaving Dansville I saluted Clara Barton Chapter #1 headquarters, The Castle on the Hill and the King’s Daughters’ home on the East Hill at one time covered with grape vines thanks to the tempered climate.
The bus headed north on Route 256 to Deer Run Winery, one of two wineries in the area, the other being Eagle Crest. I was treated to samples of wine –“wine is food and a local product,” Burns remarked cheerfully.
“George and Joan Kuyon have a knack for passing people along to other businesses in the county and supporting them,” said Burns. Summer Thursday evening musical programs on the lawn with wine and local food vendors are starting soon.
Lavender Fields Co-owner Pam Ricotta, was at the winery offering samples of a tiny quiche with a hint of lavender. Ricotta told me that she grew up in Groveland and has loved living here raising a family. She knew she wanted to share her joy of cooking with others. A small home business with her friend Jayne Baker is growing where petit treats and catering are its specialty.
Only halfway through the eating marathon yet the bus insisted on stopping at one of the newest restaurants in Livingston County, The Three-Legged Pig in Lakeville. Well, I got myself pulled together and tried the chicken slider while my tablemates had the pork with different samples of sauces. Frankly, I liked the Carolina sauce with its kick of vinegar.
I poked my head inside at the once corner garage, and I was amazed at what Andrew Suppo and his partner Rob Osypian had done to make the interior classy. It was way more than what I anticipated. Here’s a place for a return visit for sure with company who enjoys good barbeque smoked right on the premises.
Motoring to the crossroads of Routes 5 and 20 in Lima, sometimes dubbed the “authentic American road,” I visited the American Hotel on the Registry of National Historic Landmarks. I wondered how many people like my parents on their honeymoon had eaten a meal at the hotel on their way to Niagara Falls.
While having a cup of creamed asparagus soup—out of this world, I was entertained with stories from co-owner Pat Reynolds about the ninety-two year family business. Sister Rose’s cookbooks with her recollections of growing up in the hotel are classic souvenirs. I have lost count of how many of her signature soups I have had over time.
What compliments soup better than a root beer ice cream float? The place to go is Tom Wahl’s in Avon, an original establishment dating from 1950s all decked out authentically, too. More than a few significant college friendships back in the day were made over a tuna melt in a booth at Tom Whal’s.
“It’s the busiest and most profitable restaurant in the county,” said Burns. USA Today voted the place as the number one burger joint in the country!
Leaving Avon the countryside became picturesque and a stop at The Abbey of the Genesee was in order. The store was lined with locally made Monks Bread and Once Again Nut Butter from Nunda.
By then it was late afternoon and an appetizer was waiting at The Yard of Ale in Piffard, another historic building from the 1840s built on the Genesee Valley Canal. Chef/owner Brian Simmons made a delectable shrimp and cucumber tidbit with a light mayo horseradish sauce on a bed of lettuce to wrap and eat.
Brian has his own herb garden behind the restaurant and gets over eighty percent of his produce from Anderson Farms.
It was opening day at the Geneseo Farmers Market and there is where I found Papa Jay at his stand. He treated me to homemade ice cream—hmmm I took the coffee bean, and invited the tour group to visit his restaurant on Reservoir Road soon for a meal. Papa Jay’s has gluten-free selections and is a perfect place for those with dietary challenges.
All good things have to come to an end, including food tours. You may think that my vision is clouded, and I am too full of nostalgia. However, when I am dining locally—old favorites or new haunts, I am making a difference in the region’s economic stability. I don’t have to travel to an urban area constantly to find unique food.
Start spreading the news when a tourist or a neighbor asks you where to go for a good meal. Be a Livingston County ambassador and pull out the Have A Field Day map—free for the asking, and offer suggestions. Livingston County merchants will thank you.
Kay Thomas has lived in the Genesee Valley most of her adult life arriving as a SUNY Geneseo student and never leaving. After a successful teaching career, she is pursuing her lifelong love of writing. Check out her blog on remarkable people and places in the Finger Lakes.