Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 18: Upstate Monday Mealtimes

hot apple crisp!

I’m an adult and if I want to start an entry about three meals with dessert, no one can tell me no.

Sometimes we’ll try to pinpoint a few restaurant options during the vacation planning phase. Sometimes we like to throw caution to the wind and see where fate and Google maps lead us. We’ve had pleasant surprises. We’ve resorted to desperate measures.

For Day Three of this trip, only one of our meals on was planned in advance. Two were discoveries on the go. All of them were satisfying in their own ways. But we knew one thing by the end of the day: we were burning through our meal budget far too quickly.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.

We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…

That morning in Syracuse I still wasn’t in the mood to hand over more money to our pretty but vexing hotel. The surrounding blocks downtown were curiously bereft of intrigue unless we cared to take a six-block walk for donuts. Instead we consulted our research and made our way through rush hour traffic to Mother’s Cupboard, a modest diner near a wooded, busy intersection serving Americana breakfast in hearty portions guaranteed to tide a traveler over for hours.

Mother's Cupboard!

We were a bit too early for the fish fry.

Mother's Cupboard kitchen!

It’s the kind of place where the kitchen is out front for easy watching. Heavy alt-rock was their clarion call from the boom box atop the fridge.

Pig on a Stick!

Omelets often aren’t the showiest meal, but their Pig on a Stick — filled with bacon, sausage, and pepperoni — was a protein power pack ideal for kicking off a long day like ours.

giant breakfast!

Because not every choice in our vacations needs to be performative, Anne is more than happy with basic eggs, meat, and toast…until it’s served in portions large enough to satisfy me.

A few other stragglers ambled in and ate in silence, including a pair of young ladies welded to their phones. It’s not necessarily the sort of place where everybody knows each other’s name, but the clientele knows what to expect. One drawback to our visit: their bathroom is in the basement, down a narrow staircase, in what may once have been a closet. As Anne described it when cautioning me away from it, it was cozy enough that folks above a certain height could use the toilet and wash their hands at the same time.

Good vittles, though. That was the important criterion to us.

* * * * *

We finished our jaunt through the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute a bit too soon to do lunch in Utica. Eighty miles later, by 1:30 p.m. we found ourselves starving and driving through a series of small towns with precious few non-corporate restaurants on our path and internet signals far too weak to redirect on the fly. An answer to our problem arrived by one of the oldest communication forms possible: a random road sign. That small saving grace led us to the Ripe Tomato, a family-owned eatery dating back a few decades in a building that’s been around since 1934.

Ripe Tomato!

At various times it’s been an inn, a roadhouse, and a brothel. I suspect it is now none of the above.

Everywhere inside was wood paneling and gingham accents. My first thought was “Oktoberfest Land”, but their menu covered a gamut of ethnicities. My seat was directly above or adjacent to an A/C unit that vibrated my bench with a soothing “magic fingers” effect whenever the air turned on.

dining room!

That chalkboard on the right was their dessert menu.

pork schnitzel!

In a rare moment of hunger synchronicity, Anne and I ordered the same meal: pork schnitzel topped with a lemon caper butter sauce, served with red cabbage, potato pancake, and made-from-scratch applesauce. In that moment, German cuisine sounded like the way to go.


While Anne contented herself with the hot apple crisp in our lead photo, I went for the tiramisu. This was no mere Olive Garden prefab fare.

King Kong and tomato!

Hallway decor offer touches of tomato-based levity, such as this King Kong about to give fighter pilots the ol’ vaudeville-heckler treatment.

* * * * *

We extricated ourselves from the New York State Capitol and its amazing colossal staircase of wonders shortly before 7 p.m. By then nearly all businesses within a five-block radius were closed. The nearest exception (other than a Subway, whose listing I side-eyed with disdain) was a pricey restaurant called Wellington’s inside a high-end hotel. It wasn’t the hotel where we were staying, but our hotel was four blocks away and offered no dinner options of its own. This one was across the street from the Capitol and would save us time and energy so we wouldn’t have to keep searching in vain.

Wellington’s was the most crowded of our three Monday experiences, and consequently had the slowest service of all. On the upside, our waitress was friendly and no one openly chided us for being the most poorly dressed customers. While others wore their business suits and party dresses, we hunkered down in our T-shirts and shorts and tried not to care if anyone noticed or judged. Hopefully the slow service was a coincidence and not some weird form of upper-class discipline.

spinach berry salad!

Anne wanted something cold and refreshing. Enter one spinach berry salad, topped with pecans, goat cheese, and a tarragon vinaigrette.

Hudson Valley duck breast!

I wanted something uncommon but not among the most expensive items on the menu. Enter one order of Hudson Valley duck breast on a bed of squash, fennel, maitake mushrooms, and that old Chopped mainstay, arugula.

Verifiably vivacious victuals, all told, but the rest of our week would see far more chain restaurants to balance out this delectable, indulgent Monday. A few of those upcoming franchises happened by our responsible choice. A few happened because a couple of times we found ourselves cornered and needing to eat somewhere.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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