Once upon a time, it was considered great fun to pile into the car, take a nice drive in the country and end up with a good meal. Anyone out there remember?
And yes, I know that it is not quite like that anymore. There is the little matter of gas prices, for one thing. Not to mention traffic, construction delays and proper documentation when crossing to Canada. I will concede that the open road just ain't what it used to be.
But even so, it is still spring, and we all are still hungry, and wanderlust still beckons from time to time, so I am going to help you get ready for when nostalgia hits. Here are a few of my favorite eating places to keep in mind when tooling around the countryside. Michelin guides might describe restaurants like these as "worth a detour," and they pretty much are -- although in some spots you may be going for the experience rather than total gastronomic Nirvana.
All these restaurants are on the U.S. side of the border. I will deal with Canadian locations at a later time. And, as always, I love reader suggestions:
In Letchworth State Park in Castile, you'll find the eternal (since 1914) Glen Iris Inn, former country estate of William Pryor Letchworth. It's beautiful, and it's charming, and it's loaded with tourists, but it also is sited in the heart of this beautiful, historic park, overlooking the picturesque Middle Falls. Don't come without a reservation.
Glen Iris Inn serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, on the veranda if you wish. None of the meals is going to bring you to your knees in ecstasy, but it is serviceable food and the ambience is great. There are vegan, gluten-free and children's menus, as well as picnics to go. The Vegetable Wellington ($21.95 with salad and sides) intrigues me.
The Red Osier, Route 5, Stafford (outside Batavia) is no youngster, either; it has been around for 30 years. It is a steakhouse that specializes in meat, prime rib sliced at tableside. The Caesar salad is tossed tableside; the desserts are flamed tableside, and the Lobster Crab Bisque is mixed up tableside, also. Get the picture?
The 12-ounce petite rib is $18.99; the 2-pound Bishop Cut is $39.99, and the 4 1/2 -pound Call Cut is $59.99 (but you also get a T-shirt, so that's OK).
Obviously this is no place for a vegetarian, although seafood is available.
Gordie Harper's Bazaar, Lockport Olcott Road, Newfane, combines two pleasures of life: shopping and eating. Gordie's is open long hours and features a flea market with zillions of individual stalls that sell all manner of stuff -- candy, toys, collectibles, gnomes for your garden -- you name it.
So you will have plenty to do besides eat. But eat you will. It is very casual dress and casual food. Homemade onion rings, cinnamon bread, chicken livers with eggs -- an experience.
Alex's Place, 8322 Park Road, is a Batavia institution, right across from Batavia Downs racetrack and near the Thruway exit. Old timey and always crowded, it is open for lunch and dinner, but be prepared to wait. The Baby Back Ribs are wonderful, a full rack is $19.99.
In Avon, try Tom Wahl's, 283 E. Main St. (There are other locations as well, including in Rochester.) Casual casual casual. Great hamburgers but even better root beer, served in big, frosted glass steins. Don't even think about taking one out with you, because you'll land in jail or something. There are dire warnings all over the place.
Le Fleur, 5031 W. Lake Road, Mayville, is a serious restaurant. It will reopen for the season in June. Right across from Chautauqua Institution, it is the best place to eat in the area. It is sited in a charming old house surrounded by herb gardens in the Red Brick Marketplace. This restaurant carries an AAA Four Diamond Award and deserves every little twinkler.
Le Fleur offers an authentic French country menu, well served. This one, my chubby friend Monsieur Michelin, is worth a special journey.