*above photo taken of my Olean, NY backyard
Right this minute, snow is falling in earnest over the Northeast. A third snowstorm in just two weeks. I am not surprised by this weather, which is unfortunately common at this time of year in Western New York, but am more dismayed than anything else. Michael and I have been working rather steadily to complete the demolition phase of the Airstream, and are now to the point at which we need warmer weather in order to complete certain tasks. Now that we are down to the studs and have removed all but the wires from the interior, we have discovered several seams on the exterior are in need of resealing, and we need warm weather for that. Only yesterday afternoon during the last session of tearing out the old pink insulation Michael discovered rotting in the sub-floor so bad he could see daylight through it. Though Michael has numerous times been frustrated and filled with doubt about being able to repair our beloved Falcon, I remain steadfast. I know my husband is clever and creative. We will find our way through this.
While we wait for better weather to come around, we have an entire house of stuff to organize, clean, repair, and eventually empty. Both of us are in agreement that most of the furniture must go, and then we will find a storage unit for what little we want to keep. At some point we’ll build a small cabin (like a tiny house) somewhere in New Hampshire, and then the few things we save can be used there. As we drove to where we have the Falcon parked, Michael and I were talking about how much fun it would be to build a tiny house like a hobbit hole in a hillside, and then we thought how fun it would be to make a few hobbit hole houses to make it seem like a village. Shortly after that, of course, I had to geek out and say how fabulous it would be to then build a tree house like Lothlorien. Having all of this on land in New HampSHIRE would be only too perfect. Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I can’t have my child-like moments of glee. I know I saw an article about someone else having built a hobbit hole tiny house, so why can’t I?
Aside from the Airstream and the house, we have made a little time to get out to eat at our favorite restaurants. I thought I would share a few places we love here, since Olean is actually right on the expressway and those traveling in the region might appreciate knowing where the good food can be found. With that, I shall begin with one of the most well-loved restaurants in Olean and the surrounding area: The Beef and Barrel. This restaurant has been in business for decades, and can be found on North Union Street in Olean in the heart of the downtown. It’s always busy, even during weeknights, and on weekends the line usually runs out the door. One of my favorite things about the Beef and Barrel is the fact that the family who owns the business always act as the hosts who seat guests, and happily chat with you while they guide you to your seat. They always remember their regulars and thoughtfully ask after your family. It’s a nice way to be welcomed. Inside the restaurant the décor is pleasant and homey with lots of oak woodwork, a warm fireplace, and the tantalizing aroma of roasting beef fills the air.
This is a perfect place to bring family for dinner. They have a lovely kids’ menu, and the atmosphere is very kid-friendly. If you stick with the beef on the menu, you won’t go wrong. I’ve had fairly good chicken and biscuits there, and they do have other specials which are quite good, though I would avoid seafood. Soup is also fabulous, so try the vegetable beef or the French onion. Really, just go eat there for the experience. Beef is carved at stations located throughout the restaurant, and your mouth will water as you walk past on the way to your table. One of my favorite meals to get is a regional thing: beef on kimmelweck (called beef on “weck”). It’s roast beef on a roll crusted with caraway seeds and soaked in juice from the pan. You really can’t go wrong with this meal, but no matter what you order, get beef. Drinks here are always generous, and make sure you save room for dessert. I happen to love the mud pie, but lots of people swear by the apple which can be topped with locally famous Cuba sharp cheddar cheese. All the bread is made scratch in the kitchen, as are the desserts. Service at the Beef is also excellent. I have never had a bad experience with any server over the 30 years I have been eating at this establishment. That’s saying something amazing. This place is a comfort food love fest: http://www.beefnbarrel.com/.
Another of our favorite places is Sprague’s Maple Farm in Portville, NY. It’s off the beaten path, but again, always busy. If you need a fun trip which can become an afternoon of family time that will keep everyone happy, go to Sprague’s. Early spring is the time of year when Sprague’s has their maple production in full swing because the sap is running and the syrup is boiling. If you care to take the tour up into the woods behind the restaurant, you can walk the path to the sugarhouse where they talk about how the syrup is made. You can also stop off at the quail den alongside the trail, where the family who owns the business raises quail they release into the wild to help repopulate the region. For the kids, a fun play area also stands alongside the trail.
Inside the restaurant is a wonderland of delightful animals you can spend the entire time you’re in the dining room trying to find. A hooting owl hangs in the rafters, geese fly overhead the antler chandeliers, bears climb the roof of the server shack and have dinner at one of the tables. Keep your eyes open for the woodpecker who pecks at the wall, and the raccoon who will pop his head up out of a bucket (but this guy won’t steal your meal like the bandits which can be found on my “disclosure” page). It’s a lovely experience for anyone, and the food is great for anyone who loves breakfast all day, is willing to try the fabulous farm-raised turkey in any of several recipes, or test one of their maple-inspired creations (love their maple dressing on salad—yum). Once again, this is comfort food, and consistently delicious meals like their Thanksgiving-style plate or the Main Line are worth the drive. After dinner, you can stop at their country style gift shop full of unique items. More than once I’ve gone there for birthday presents because they have lovely gifts you can’t find anywhere else. For more information about Sprague’s, visit their website: https://spraguesmaplefarms.com/.
One of the foods we really missed out West was pizza. When you live in New York, pizza is almost a food group. While my kids were growing up, we actually had a night of the week dedicated to eating pizza for dinner. It’s cheap and cheesy, and in New York we take pizza seriously. I can promise you that if you go to the Big Apple, pizza is one of the foods you absolutely must try. It really is better than anywhere else. Here in Olean, Michael and I have two favorite places to get pizza: Napoli and Renna’s. First, let me say that Renna’s is a classic pizza place here in Olean, a standard of NY style pizza which calls to people from miles around. Many who grew up in the Olean area and moved elsewhere will return just for this pizza. It’s not quite the same as it was when I was a kid since the original owners sold the business, but it’s still close. The new owners seem to have gotten the recipes from the original owners, so the pizza still has that familiar taste. I know people who also swear by the subs here, but pizza is where it’s at for me. If you eat here, go to the Olean Mall location, which is the original restaurant and easy to find if you come from the expressway and drive south on North Union Street toward the mall.
I am a fairly recent convert to eating Napoli pizza because my hubby likes it. Sometimes Napoli is inconsistent about the quality of pies coming out of the kitchen, and the delivery is usually slow, but it is all homemade and they use quality ingredients. If the owner, Tony, is in the kitchen and you dine in, make sure you order some pasta. Tony makes fabulous pasta. If you go to Napoli on Friday night, they usually have music in house, and in warmer weather they have Wednesday night music, too. On good weather nights, the music is usually outside on the patio, and you can enjoy a meal outdoors. I happen to know most of the musicians who play there, and I can say the music will rock. Napoli is a bit out of the way for those just passing through, but if you’re staying in town it’s worth a visit: http://www.napolipizzaoleanny.com/.
A few other places worth a try are Lakeview Chinese, located near Walmart on West State Street, and which has Chinese good enough that I compare all other Chinese I eat to this food. Great service, food prepared quickly, fair prices: http://us.chinesemenu.com/us/olean-ny-14760/lake-view-chinese-restaurant/photos.html. Union Tea Cafe is a new spot on North Union Street, but it has wowed everyone who drops by for a cup. The tea is truly unique, the food is delicious, and the décor is divine. Even if you don’t drink tea, this is a special place which elevates tea beyond what you get anywhere else. They have so many flavors that anyone can find something to love, the food is scratch-baked, and they even have a sniffing bar so you can breathe in the aroma of the tea before you buy it: http://www.unionteacafe.com/. When I want a sub, my favorite place is On the Side sub shop. It’s a little pricey for just a sandwich, but it’s the best spot for subs in town. For as long as I can remember, I have been eating their subs with that little something extra in the sandwich, that little bit of magic to send it over the top. This place is also on North Union Street: http://www.onthesidesubs.com/.
If you’re looking for fun ways to spend your time in Olean, we have a few tips for that as well. This region is rich with musicians who are incredibly talented, and you can find a variety of different programs to link you with a wide array of styles. St. Bonaventure University has quite a vast number of performers who come through the region to perform at the Quick Arts Center, and is also where the Friends of Good Music hosts several classical performances over their season. If you like symphony orchestra music, Southern Tier Symphony is a group of seriously skilled musicians from the region who get together for a few practice sessions and bang out some incredibly beautiful scores. They usually play a few times a year and are worth the price of a ticket. Olean Community Theater often puts on award-winning shows several times a year, and tickets vary in price depending on the show. If you’re more of the rock ‘n’ roll type of person, you can hit up a few of the area bars on the weekends for music, like Union Whiskey (a new bar and grill on North Union), Talty’s (which is an Irish pub that also has food), or the Parkwood (an Olean standard which honors the local sports scene). Thursdays in the summer you can find free music of all kinds at Lincoln Park in the center of town on the corner of State and Union, and sometimes Beat City in Allegany, NY hosts jam sessions for local musicians who come play outside on the sidewalk. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Really, Olean is full of lots of music, from barbershop to modern rock.
For those who enjoy more physical activity for fun, you can go bowling all year at Good Times on East State Street, or in warmer weather you can go mini golfing, play volleyball on their sand courts, or take part in one of their many events and competitions. Rock City is a famous tourist spot which features a tour of natural rock formations and a gift shop, or you can save a little cash if you have a big group and go see Thunder Rocks at Allegany State Park, which is only about 40 minutes away off I-86. At Allegany State Park you can also swim at Red House Lake in summer, rent a boat (or bring your own), ride your bike on the paved trails, or hike on the many foot trails. Lots of people now find plenty to do at the Seneca Allegany Casino in nearby Salamanca, with plenty of shows to see and a buffet to stuff yourself, too. Just know that smoking is allowed, and the smoke gets fairly heavy if that’s an issue for you. In the summer, make time for ice cream at either Twist ‘n’ Shake on Constitution Ave. or HiHo on East State. Both places are local favorites, and have outdoor seating to enjoy your cone or sundae, and both also serve other food. I prefer Twist ‘n’ Shake if I need to eat a meal, as they have delectable salads and wraps, one of the best burgers in town, and they are located right on the Allegany River Trail (for which you can rent a bike if you wish).
In winter, Ellicottville is a great place to go skiing and enjoy the shops in the quaint downtown. They also happen to have several great spots to eat a good meal, like EBC (Ellicottville Brewing Company), The Gin Mill, or Dina’s. You can find all these places in the downtown of E-ville, but I think my favorite is Watson’s candy shop. Hello, chocolate. 🙂 If you go downtown, stop by Kazoo II or take a moment to look around in any of the shops selling art and you will be pleased to see what’s available. If you visit during warmer months, you can enjoy a trip to the Sky High Adventure Park, or if going in fall I recommend waiting until the Fall Fest, where you can ride the ski lift to the mountaintop and enjoy a hot cup of cider while you walk the trails. Downtown they usually have a festival of booths selling art, a carnival, and food vendors. Check out the website for Ellicottville to plan a trip there: http://www.ellicottvilleny.com/.
I almost forgot to mention that the Olean Recreation Center has cheap ice skating during winter, and you can go sledding for free in Allegany behind the Bartlett House Golf Club. And lest I get tossed off the Union Street bridge, let me also say we have an Atlantic 10 basketball team at St. Bonaventure, and Reilly Center gets rowdy when the team plays in town. You can visit St. Bonaventure’s website to find out more about buying tickets to watch a lively game: http://gobonnies.sbu.edu/sports/m-baskbl/2017-18/schedule. They’re having a great season this year! For baseball fans, see the Oilers play at Bradner Stadium, where Olean also celebrates July 4th with fireworks. Like I said, there’s always something to do if you need some fun. Stop for a meal, a weekend, or an overnight and enjoy yourself. That just about wraps up the highlights of things to do and places to eat in or around Olean, NY. Obviously my Olean friends may have plenty to add to this list, and may argue with me about the best pizza, but that’s why we have variety. Either way, you can find plenty to keep you busy if you come when the weather isn’t so frightful, but even in winter we have fun around that, too. After all, when half the year is spent locked in cold weather, you have to find ways to get out and have fun. So get out and have fun!
As always, please feel free to comment and share. Do be thoughtful of the opinions of others when commenting. Also, I promise to share a few places to hike in the Olean region in a future post while we’re in our hometown, though if we work on the Airstream I’ll post about that first. Until then, my darlings….