Gettin’ Our Feels in The Catskills

“In my car sweating like a dog
Beers and chairs no frontiers
On my way from the ‘Frisco Bay
Dixieland, soda-pop man

High five! More dead than alive
Rocking the plastic like a man from the Catskills
High five! More dead than alive
Rocking the plastic like a man from the Catskills”

“High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” – Beck

Traveling east on I-90 from Ohio, the Empire State, New York, is the first state you hit after a brief diagonal lakeside jaunt through Pennsylvania, followed by our first official New England state on this trip, the Green Mountain State of Vermont. Combined, these two states gave us attractions which allowed us to linger a bit, a nice change of pace from our usual “cram-as-much-in” as possible itineraries.

Book Smart: located in the Catskills Mountains in East-Central New York, the small town Hobart doesn’t seem like much, unless you’ve learned that this small village of about 400 people has a outsized number small, unique independent bookstores.

The idea of a book village started in Wales, where in 1961 the town of Hay-On-Wye a businessman’s purchase of adjacent buildings to turn into bookstores eventually led to the establishment of over 20+ stores in this quaint town. In 2005, Hobart resident Don Dales decided to start up the same concept to become the only book village in the States east of the Mississippi River.

The bookstores here in Hobart cover the gamut, from hardcover to paperback, from new to used, and all manner of subject matter, with even one bookstore (the mystery/sci-fi oriented Quarry Books) on the honor system. Each bookstore seems to have a unique niche or two; any bookhound can easily spend a couple hours or more trying to get through all that’s available.

Not only are the various bookstore owners friendly and appreciative of your business, they’re also supportive of each other – the first bookstore we stopped in, The Book Nook, was also the temporary home of Blenheim Books, which we learned had been damaged in a fire not too long before our arrival. We did our best to buy something from every bookstore we visited and came away with a pretty decent collection of books to take home.

The Hobart Book Village, Main Street (State Route 10), Hobart, NY

Apple of My Eye: Ohio is blessed in regards to apples, but with roughly 7,500 varietals available around the world, you’ll might have to travel to a place like Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, VT, to expand your supply.

The orchard’s UPick option is pretty easy – drive up the road into the orchard, and those rows with signs have apples that are ready for picking, as well as a selection of other orchard fruit like plums, pears and peaches.

Along with fruit, the shop has every fruit-based product you might want, including jam, fritters, freshly frying cider donuts, and canned cider ready to go. We ended up with a four pack of their cider, as well as a plethora of apples, including harder-to-find in Ohio varieties like Nova Spy, Silken, and William’s Pride

Champlain Orchards | 3597 Route 74 West, Shoreham, VT 05770 | Tel: (802) 897-2777

In-Cider Trading: Speaking of cider, our jaunt into the Watkins Glen area of New York brought us to Interlaken and the Finger Lakes Cider House for their single varietal and blended ciders.

Located at the organic Good Life Farm, the cider house offers visitors a chance to pair up flights of their ciders with a select menu consisting of locally sourced food providers. Their ciders cover the gamut from very dry to sweet, pretty much guaranteeing that you’ll find something pleasing from their extensive offerings. Some outdoor seating that overlooks their orchards is available, but in this day the yellow jackets ruled the outside climes, chasing visitors inside.

The cider house is getting back to more normal operations, offering live music every Friday. Bottles of the ciders on tap are readily available, as are a few cidery-exclusive varietals as well as assorted apple-related food items.

Finger Lake Cider House at Good Life Farm | 4017 Hickok Road, Interlaken, NY 14847 | eMail: info@fingerlakesciderhouse.com | Tel: (607) 351-3313

Because It’s One, Two, Three Strikes You’re Out…: If you’re a fan of baseball, a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, is almost a mandatory visit. Our pilgrimage to this hallowed ground of sorts would finally come on this trip.

While the crowd gathered to enter in this early morning was fairly modest in size (currently, timed admissions to the Hall are the rule during COVID times), teams from all over the league were seemingly represented at least by one eager visitor (we personally and proudly sported our Cleveland and San Francisco gear.)

In many ways, baseball is a microcosm of this country itself; for me, exhibits about the Negro Leagues and the rise of Latino players reminded me of how the sport mirrored its slow and still evolving acceptance the populace at large of certain citizens. Other exhibits reflected more positive aspects, such as players like Red Sox legend Ted Williams and Cleveland fireballer Bob Feller leaving the league to serve during World War II.

Suffice it to say, every aspect of baseball is covered, from those who played to the teams and stadiums past and present, women in baseball, records both well known and obscure, highlights of famous and infamous (e.g., the 1979 Disco Demolition game between the White Sox and the Tigers), baseball’s impact in other countries, and much, much more.

The shrine of the Baseball Hall of Fame resides in the Gallery, where plaques of those inducted are presented for all to see. Wandering through here reminded me of how nicknames were so much better back in the day (“The Iron Horse”, “The Say Hey Kid”, “Cool Papa”, for example.

Also, there’s a sense of mythologizing that comes with honors such as a Hall of Fame induction that struck me as I stared at each plaque. Almost certainly, everyone had their very human faults and idiosyncrasies, and there’s always a deeper story if one digs for it. For example, I’ve heard stories of how nasty a person and Detroit Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb was in the past, but newer information has thrown some doubt and understanding on those narratives. Likewise, I heard as a kid that outfielder Stan Musial was unfailingly a nice man, but hints that that wasn’t always the case came in columnist George Vecsey’s treatise on the St. Louis Cardinal great. In the end, they’re all very human, but they had the fortune to play a sport well enough to earn them the ultimate accolade.

Unlike the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH (which we have visited and enjoyed,) we got the impression that we could easily do a second visit to Cooperstown get an entirely experience based on the exhibits and memorabilia we chose to focus on. Maybe this speaks to the universal pleasure you learn as a child of tossing a small round ball to a partner. The desire to smack the heck out of that ball or throw the ball by someone wanting to smack the heck out of it naturally progresses from that.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum | 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326 | Ph: (888) HALL-OF-FAME or (607) 547-7200

Sunshine Sipping a Brew with the ‘Gang: Surprisingly, Brewery Ommegang was not initially on our itinerary; some fortuitous research during an impromptu ballgame (more on this later) found that this Belgian-beer focused brewery would be conveniently on our way out of town.

Established in 1996 as the first farmhouse brewery in the United States in over a century, the brewery itself doesn’t seem terribly large at first glance. But perhaps that’s an illusion created by the gorgeous swath of land that surrounds it, a former hop farm that covers 140 acres. Several large tents, presumably raised for an upcoming weekend event, still seemed utterly tiny compared to the vast expanse of green surrounding the taproom and production area.

Befittingly, outdoor seating proved plentiful – bicyclists arrived continuously during our stay, happy to cool off outdoors over a brew on a slightly windy day. We hung out indoors for one of the few times this trip, enjoying a swath of Ommegang’s offerings (including a fabulous collaboration brew, Neon Giants with one of our favorite West Coast breweries in Firestone Walker) and solid, pub-style food fare. Add in a couple of bottles of Ommegang beers we couldn’t get in Ohio, and we were on our way.

Later in the trip, the sunshine was again in full force at our lone Vermont brewery stop in Lawson’s Finest Liquids, which started operation in 2009 but whose taproom nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountains opened up only recently in 2018.

While IPAs are not my favorite style of beer, Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, which I got to sample at a beer sharing party a few years back, left a “damn, that’s good” impression on my mind. Luckily, COVID closures and what I’ll call the “Monday curse” (many restaurants and breweries are often closed on Monday) would not affect our planned visit to their quaint and modestly-sized Waitsfield taproom.

Bottom line – if you like old school IPAs that were all the rage from 1990 into the 2000s, Lawson’s offerings will be right up your alley. Under an umbrella-covered outdoor table, my spouse shook her head in approval as we grabbed samples of their various IPAs (and, in my case, a pretty decent Gose as well.) Their food menu is small but more than doable – a charcuterie board is always a solid pairing when it comes to beer.

Interestingly, our ultimate favorite brew this visit was not in the beers that broke Lawson’s big (Sip of Sunshine and Double Sunshine, both very good) but their Chinook’d, which went home in a four-pack with us. We did agree, however, with a one-can swap for their flagship Sip of Sunshine, part of a gift four-pack for a family member.

Brewery Ommegang | 656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown, NY 13326 | Tel: (607) 544-1800

Lawson’s Finest Liquids | 155 Carroll Rd, Waitsfield, VT 05673 |Tel: (802) 496-4677

Random Notes: While Maine was our lighthouse star, New York provided the highlights in the form of waterfalls (another one of our special pursuits.) Eagle’s Cliff, Shequaga, Taughannock, and Triphammer Falls acted merely as a sampler plate for what can be found in the mountains of New York; a more focused Finger Lakes and surroundings (including waterfalls) exploration is on a future docket.

Other than our two breweries, we actually didn’t do too much dining within New York & Vermont. However, two places of note resided with Cooperstown’s Stagecoach Coffee, a family-run cafe that offers in-house roasted coffee beans and drinks, and a solid menu which featured “The Usual”, a simple open-faced bagel sandwich which was extremely elevated by the most luscious and deeply red tomatoes we’ve had in any dish this year.

Meanwhile, downtown Syracuse seems reflective of many big-city downtowns lately, where the shift to work from home policies has cut down immensely on normal traffic. Still, The Hops Spot (which opened up pretty much as we wandered into town at 12 noon) provided us with some good lunchtime fare, which reminded us of some of the offerings you can find at our local 101 Beer Kitchen chain. Bonus points to Hops Spot for vegan options, some solid craft beer options (including our second encounter with Firestone Walker, their solidly drinkable Union Jack IPA) and friendly service.

Back to Cooperstown, it wouldn’t seem right to have the Baseball Hall of Fame without a baseball field, and Doubleday Field fits the bill here. Seating roughly 10,000 people, the field is available for rent, which apparently some enterprising folks had done for a baseball game. Decked out in favorite team jerseys, these players have no hall of fame ambitions but rather that proverbial love of the game, and it was fun to sit in the bleachers and see the compete for a couple innings.

Finally, if you’re in the Ithaca, NY area and looking a selection of local state craft brews, Finger Lakes Beverage Center is about as good a spot as any – folks there helped us immensely with what was worth bringing back to Ohio, and they had plenty of single cans available for mix-and-match four-packs.

Stagecoach Coffee | 31 Pioneer St #2, Cooperstown, NY 13326 | Tel: (607) 547-6229

The Hops Spot | 116 Walton St, Syracuse, NY 13202 | Tel: (315) 646-2337 | eMail: eat@thehopsspot.com

Finger Lakes Beverage Center | 605 W State St, Ithaca, NY 14850 | Tel: (607) 277-BEER

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