Seven years ago this One-Tank Trip feature debuted in The Buffalo News with a trip to celebrate the maple syrup season at Cartwright's Maple Tree Inn in Allegany County.
Since then the annual pancake pilgrimage remains a trip that is dear to our hearts -- and the reason for our return visit to Cartwright's, home of silky maple syrup and all-you-can-eat buckwheat pancakes.
While change can be good, when it comes to pancakes, it's not. Thankfully Cartwright's hasn't changed a thing, except maybe the crowds, which have gotten bigger since it opened in 1963.
The Cartwrights have been making maple syrup since the mid-1800s, when the family's great-great-grandfather Jacob Closser would make maple syrup and maple sugar cakes to sell in nearby towns. In 1913, the Cartwright side of the family purchased the business. You can read the whole story on the back of the menu.
Sometimes there's a line of customers waiting when you arrive, but the Cartwrights have the operation down to a science and move people right along. (We think the best seats in the house are at the counter near the griddle, where you can watch hundreds of pancakes being poured and flipped, and where we met the self-proclaimed "Champion Pancake Eaters from Rochester.")
Choices are simple: a variety of combinations of buckwheat pancakes, eggs, sausage and ham. Prices range from $6.10 to $7.95, and include those all-you-can-eat buckwheat beauties, delivered steaming hot before you can even finish what's on your plate. What's fabulous about the cakes are their nutty flavor and thin, spongelike texture that soaks up the syrup. You really can't stop yourself at just two or three (or four or five).
Keeping it local, the sausage is provided by the Wilson Farms of Canaseraga and maple desserts (Maple Velvet Cream Pie, Maple Crunch Pie, Maple Cinnamon Pumpkin Pie) come from the Angelica Sweet Shop. For pancake poopers, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hotdogs are available.
At the checkout, buckwheat mix and of course, maple syrup, T-shirts and more are available for purchase. Downstairs you can watch the maple syrup production.
More to see: Make a day of it by visiting the nearby Village of Angelica. Park your vehicle and shop the antique stores, the Angelica Sweet Shop and the cool Angelica Country store.
Cartwright's Maple Tree Inn, 4321 County Route 15A, Angelica; (585) 567-8181; www.cartwrightsmapletreeinn.com. Open now through April 10. Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays.
In 1987, Paul and Bonnie Yox retired and moved to Florida.
But by 2000 they had had enough shuffleboard and decided to move back to Western New York. They purchased about 200 acres in Rushford, and by 2001 they were "dabbling" in maple syrup production. But as Bonnie (a.k.a. The Maple Lady) says, "I had all this syrup sitting around." So she decided to do something about it.
Today Baldwin Hill Farms produces products from maple syrup: maple sugar cakes, meat rubs, dip mixes, salad dressings and barbecue sauces. Their own maple vinegar is a specialty product that takes about a year to age.
It's Bonnie's mission in life to show people there is more to maple syrup than just pancakes. For about 32 weeks a year she travels the state selling her products at different shows. Products can also be ordered online. The Yoxes' son, Brandon, has since joined the growing operation.
On both Maple Weekends, Baldwin Hill farms will open for tours of their very modern maple syrup production, which uses a vacuum principle to draw sap from the trees and a high-tech evaporator that boils according to barometric pressure.
Bonnie says there will be product samples, maple crunch popcorn and maple fluff (think cotton candy) for the kids. Of course, you will be able to purchase Baldwin Hills items to take home, as well as get recipes for using maple syrup.
Baldwin Hill Farms, 8508 Baldwin Hill Road, Rushford; (585) 437-2106; www.baldwinhillfarms.com.
New York State Maple Weekends, March 19-20 and 26-27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, are free, family-oriented events for people to venture out to see how maple sap goes from "tree to table." Celebrating almost 15 years, the event gets bigger each season. New York State is the second biggest maple producer in the United States. For more information visit www.mapleweekend.com.
Here are a few tried and true places we love for their food and/or educational experience. We've noticed some smaller places don't have credit card capabilities, so take enough cash:
*In Erie County: Maple Glen Sugar House, 2266 Gowanda Zoar Road, Gowanda; 532-5483; www.mapleglensyrup.com. Try maple hotdogs boiled in maple syrup!
*In Wyoming County: Arcade Center Farm & Pancake House, 7298 Route 98, Arcade; (585) 492-3821. All you can eat pancakes. Need we say more?
Beaver Meadow Audubon, 1610 Welch Road, North Java; (585) 457-3228; www.buffaloaudubon.com. Live demonstrations, nature walks, games, crafts and more. Pancake breakfast from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Boxler's Pure Maple Syrup, Trailside Grill at Hidden Valley Adventure, 2887 Royce Road, Varysburg; (585) 535-4100; www.hiddenvalleyanimaladventure.com. Pancake breakfast in the Trailside Grill, tractor trolley rides and tours of the sugar house.
Moore's Maple Shack & Pancake House, 10397 Galen Hill Road, Freedom; (716) 492-3067; www.mooresmaple.com. Enjoy all-you-can-eat pancakes and check out the cool Moore family antiques.
Merle Maple Farm 1884 Route 98, Attica; (585) 535-7136 www.merlemaple.com.
*Longer drives: Genesee Country Village Museum (www.gcv.org) in Mumford will host "Sap, Syrup & Sugar" on Saturdays and Sundays, today and March 19-20 and 26-27. Self-guided walks to the sugar bush along with 19th century (and modern) syrup-making demonstrations will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; pancake breakfast served 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ($8 for adults, $6 for youth and free for ages 3 and under). Log hewing, and "spile" carving are planned, plus "make your own maple leaf tin ornament" activity (fee).
Loomis Barn & Country Shop, 4942 Loomis Road, Rushville; (800) 716-2276, www.loomisbarn.com. A place geared for adults. Shop for furniture and enjoy a meal in the Corn House Cafe. See maple syrup boiling outdoors.
Sprague's Maple Farms, 1048 Route 305, Portville (800) 446-2753 www.spraguesmaplefarms.com. Pancakes and maple dishes like maple pork ribs, maple sausage stuffing and maple mousse. The turkey dinner is fantastic. Youngsters can walk the woodland trail and learn how maple syrup is made.
Sugarbush Hollow, at 8447 Pardee Hollow Road, Wayland; (585) 943-3475, www.sugarhousesyrup.com. Located near Canandaigua this can be a muddy but fun trip. There are six miles of hiking trails, demonstrations and pancakes for Maple Weekend.
*In Canada: White Meadow Farms Sugar Bush Adventures, 2519 Effingham St., St. Catharines (Pelham), Ont.; 905-682-0642; www.whitemeadowsfarms.com. Take a walking tour of the history of maple syrup. At the Maple Lodge, gobble up pancakes, check out the petting barn and load up on maple products.
Maple syrup and baseball anyone? Spring training may be under way in the warmer states, but in Cooperstown the Farmers Museum (www.farmersmuseum.org) will host "Sugaring Off Sundays" in March. The event will explore the tradition of the maple sugar trade with demonstrations, tastings and rides on the Empire State Carousel (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.). There is also a pancake breakfast (8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.). The museum is located at 5775 State Highway 80, Cooperstown.