Thursday, September 9, 2010

Labor Day Road Trip, Part I

Here's your aforepromised (a word which isn't actually a word, even though you know exactly what it means) Labor Day Weekend Road Trip Recap. Characters in this saga are me and Adam, a friend from school. We're gonna do this in a few parts, partly because I can, but mostly because I don't feel like writing all of it up now.

Before we start though, I just want everyone to know that karma's gonna come back to get me sometime soon, since on this road trip, everything seemed to go right. We didn't hit any traffic and each of our border crossings delayed us no more than two or three minutes. We cut an hour-long line at the BBQ restaurant in Syracuse. We stumbled across the National Buffalo Wing Festival without even knowing that it was going on. We randomly found the restaurant that was voted to have the best beer selection in Ontario. We saw indoor and outdoor baseball in Toronto, all in one game.

And after that teaser, the highlights of Day 1:

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown: They do a great job of mixing exhibits to reflect baseball's past and its present, and also in working in all the teams. Also, it's nice to see that the guy who put together the baseball card exhibit and the guy who makes the plaques have senses of humor. Plus, they have an entire Yankees room. A must-visit for any baseball fan.

Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown: A 10-minute drive south of town is Brewery Ommegang, which specializes in Belgian-style craft beers. They continuously run free 15-20 minute tours, followed by a tasting of seven or so of their beers, along with pretzels, cheese dips, chocolate, and some other light snacks to complement the drinks. And the best part: it's all free. The people there are awesome, the beer is good, and once again -- IT'S FREE. There's really no reason not to go.

Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse: It was good. Not great, but good. It didn't help that we had ridiculously high expectations, but while we both enjoyed our meal, we weren't blown away by it. The brisket was inconsistent; some pieces were tender and some were clearly undercooked. The ribs had good texture but lacked flavor.

Two items did impress me, though. The mac and cheese was great, and the pulled pork was fantastic, although they didn't need to douse it in BBQ sauce. The sauce itself was good, but it masked the flavor of the pork. The best pieces of pork were the ones that had escaped the saucing. And now, a Couchwarmers specialty -- a picture of food!

Late night fun in Syracuse: We wandered over to Empire Brewing Company. For $10, you can get six 6-oz. samples of their beers. We each ordered a sampler and got to try everything they had on tap. Good variety, and for the most part, good beer. This is also where we met "Murph." We'll get to that later.

Lightning Round!

Impression of Cooperstown: It's a museum with a town and brewery around it. Go to the museum. Go to the brewery. Then leave.

Impression of Syracuse: It's a ghost town. The restaurant was packed. The bars we went to afterwards were decently crowded. Otherwise, we didn't see people. We walked from our hotel to Dinosaur BBQ -- about a mile through downtown on a Saturday evening -- and saw maybe 10 people. Also, no one seems to know anything. Examples of things we heard about Syracuse University from random people we asked, and one example that I may have made up but wouldn't have been surprised to hear:
  • "Syracuse doesn't start classes for another two weeks."
  • "Oh, classes right after Labor Day."
  • "Classes have been going on since August."
  • "Syracuse disbanded. Now they just run a giant abortion clinic inside the Carrier Dome."
Who was right? Who cares. I'm sure I could look something like this up, but why even bother? If the residents don't have to know, neither do I.

Clutch Moment of Day 1, Runner Up: While at Empire Brewing Company, we met Murph. He gave us his business card. It had a $100 bill printed on the back of it. He told us that he sold apartments and that he basically ran Syracuse. He may have been a slumlord. He was leaning on the bar and slurring his words. He was 36-years-old and divorced.

Before he passed out though, he bought us beers and introduced us to the group that he was there with, only one of whom actually knew Murph. We spent the rest of the night hanging out and having a lot of fun with this group. They were good people who spoke very highly of Syracuse. Not wanting to insult our new friends, we kept our mouths shut.

Clutch Moment of Day 1, Winner: After wandering through the downtown Syracuse wasteland, we got to Dinosaur BBQ. It was packed, and we were told that the wait would be about an hour and a half. Whatever. We were there for the barbecue. We were staying. We went to the bar to kill the time. We'd been there for about 10 minutes when Adam managed to poach himself a chair and I was able to find space to stand right next to it. Right as we did this, the people right next to us received large plates of food.

We asked the bartender if we could order food at the bar. She said we could, and that there was a chair all the way on the other side of the bar that I could sit in if I wanted to bring it around. I hustled around to the other side of the bar, grabbed the chair and navigated it through the maze of people, all of who seemed to be giving me the evil eye. I found my way back to the bar, we got our menus, ordered, and shortly thereafter, got our food. In all, we cut about 75 minutes off our waiting time. So if you're ever at Dinosaur BBQ and it's ridiculously crowded, try to make your way to the bar so you can order there. With all the time you save, you can hang out with Murph later.

Keep checking back for Part II. I'm off to watch Brett Favre self-destruct in the 2nd half.

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