We’ve all been there: the plate arrives at the table and although it probably tastes really good, it is littered with green flakes of some herb. Usually it’s parsley. Sometimes oregano or thyme. There are some occasions that call for it. At fine dining restaurants we can expect a sprig of this and a dollop of that, even if it is inedible. They want the dish to look good. We eat first with our eyes, they say. Well, I would like to challenge that. I am starting to notice that restaurants which never used to garnish with herbs are now heaping them on the plate. An herb like parsley does not have a taste or odor, so that’s not a huge problem, but I don’t want to be biting into whole leaves of it either.
Restaurant: Trattoria Rustica
Date: Cumulative Visits (most recently: May 6, 2016)
Location: 259 Main Street, Matawan, NJ
I worked here when I was in high school and have been eating here since well before that. Trattoria Rustica is one of those rare places that provides you with both quality and quantity. Meals are enormous, and come served with a slab of home-baked foccacia bread. Most entrees are also served with a salad. You will leave stuffed, and most likely with leftovers. The funny thing is, the owner is not even Italian, but Greek. It’s a family-operated affair. In talking to him a few years ago, he told me that one time he went to a fancy restaurant, paid exorbitant prices, and still left hungry. He was so annoyed by the experience that he said, “If I ever open up a restaurant, no one will ever leave hungry.” He’s been accomplishing that mission ever since.
We do not have an exact date yet, but Scorpion will be releasing Don’t Go in the House to Blu-Ray at the end of July, according to their Facebook page. As readers of this blog know, I worked with one of their representatives this past January for a documentary which will be included on the disc as a special feature. While it was originally only going to be a “Then and Now” documentary where I gave a tour of Strauss Mansion matched up with scenes from the movie with some of my own personal ghost stories mixed in, I have now been informed that it will in fact be two separate features. My paranormal experiences will be a separate video. This is all very exciting for me, but more importantly, I hope the release will boost exposure to the museum which served as the film set back in 1979 when it was a private residence-turned-apartment-complex. The house was actually slated for demolition shortly after filming wrapped due to the severe disrepair it fell into. However, the local historical society of Atlantic Highlands stepped in and purchased the 1893 Victorian mansion and turned it into the museum it is today.
Normally when I travel, I bring a bottle of Maker’s Mark with me. This is just my standard. It’s what I pour after I have come back to the room to start blogging about the day’s events. On this week’s trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I decided to change things up. I didn’t bring anything with me. I wanted to find a whiskey in a local liquor store that I had never seen before. Something possibly not available in New Jersey. I ended up going with something called Alibi, which is an American whiskey. The label notes it is made with grain and corn, the latter of which breaks through strongly. Upon your first sip, you will taste only the corn, before your palate adjusts and you realize this is quite a smooth drink (even at 90 proof). The bottle itself is beautiful. The back contains the imprint of a dead tree, with branches spread out all over the glass. It casts a cool silhouette over the whole bottle. The price was $19.99.
I’ve been staying here since I was little. I think any kid would simply be captivated by the grandeur of what it is like to walk through the Fulton Steamboat Inn. From the outside, it does indeed look like a steamboat—modeled after local inventor Robert Fulton’s Clermont, to be precise. Inside, the decorations are lavish. Everything from the floors to the walls and ceilings are done up in 1840’s decorum. If I had to describe the hotel in one word, it would be classy. They even have a decent restaurant and bar, which is much better in recent years than it used to be. But no matter if you are eating there or not, staying for a night or a whole week, you just might leave with the impression that this is the only place you will ever want to stay in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for the rest of your life.
Restaurant: Huckleberry’s Restaurant and Tavern
Date: May 3, 2016
Location: 1 Hartman Bridge Road, Lancaster, PA
You may be well aware of my intense loathing for eating at hotel restaurants. I begrudgingly went along in Connecticut because all my previous experiences had been sub-par. I’ve been staying at the Fulton Steamboat Inn for as long as I can remember (more on that in a few days). To me, it is a destination in itself and the only place I will stay in Lancaster. It has always had a restaurant/bar component. I remember the early days when the restaurant was the Robert Fulton Room and the bar was named the Clermont Lounge. It was your typical hotel fare. Dinners should have been ordered on an emergency basis only (like being stranded in a snowstorm). The Clermont, however, was classy. Drinks were adequately priced for what you would expect, and the atmosphere was worth sitting there alone. A few years ago, though, the hotel gave up control of the eateries and they are now independently owned within the Fulton Steamboat. What a difference it makes.
Your cholesterol may go up just reading this. You have been warned.
When I was nine or ten and eating at Dienner’s Country Restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I placed something on my plate from the buffet that looked like a brownie to my young and naive eyes. I took a bite. It was no brownie. When the waitress came by, no doubt a Mennonite herself, I asked what exactly “scrapple” was. Without holding anything back, she bluntly said, “Well, when we’re done butchering the animal and making sausages and bacon, whatever is left gets ground up into scrapple.” She actually said it with a pleasant smile on her face before moving on to another table. Being as young as I was, of course, I was a bit grossed out. Fast-forward 15 years or so, and scrapple has become one of those treats I look forward to when I get to Amish Country. In fact, the only place I will eat it is at Dienner’s because I know it is fresh. If you’ve been following this blog the last few days, you’ll see my review of said restaurant. Not to rehash what I previously said, but the place is amazing. Their bacon is crispy—the best you’ll ever have. There are two different kind of sausage, and all other kinds of meat dishes. But then there’s the scrapple. Pork-heavy, deep-fried, artery-clogging goodness. Hey, pass the Lipitor.
Date: Cumulative Visits (recently May 2, 2016)
Location: 1501 East King Street, Lancaster, PA
Here’s another place in Lancaster where I have been coming for years. I’ve always had a lukewarm approach towards it because dining experiences here have ranged from pleasant to dreadful. Last night’s visit was a hearty mix of both, leading to a score which was a little above average. We started sitting outside on the patio. It was a beautiful spring night along the Conesotoga River. I had a Jack Daniels on the rocks which was a nice pour and only $5.50, which is about as cheap as you will ever see it. Will had a frozen margarita which was long on ice and short on booze. Coming in at $8, it was a total waste. Our appetizer was the brisket fries. This was the highlight of the night. A large mound of fries was covered in brisket, barbecue sauce, baked beans, and cheddar cheese. The flavor was awesome, though they could have put a little more brisket on it. The $11 price was perfectly fine. Halfway through the dish, it started to rain and we moved inside from the beautifully lit patio.
Restaurant: Dienner’s Country Restaurant
Date: Cumulative Visits (most recently May 2, 2016)
Location: 2855 Highway East, Ronks, PA
Pennsylvania Dutch buffets in Lancaster are a dime a dozen. Some are plentiful and fresh while others have seen better days. I’ve been coming to Dienner’s since I was a little kid. Over the years, the visits have been numerous but always for breakfast. Yesterday, we decided to try the lunch buffet. We had just spent two hours on the road and had not eaten yet. To quickly summarize the breakfast buffet from past visits: the bacon is super lean and crunchy, and the home fries are crisp. Everything is fresh, from the scrambled eggs to the scrapple (this is the only place I’ll eat the sinister looking patties of deep-fried pork byproducts), and even warm shoe-fly pie. That’s pretty much all I have to say. It’s amazing, and for something like $7 it is well worth it and will fill you up for the day. Their lunch buffet also gets a good commendation. There is an assortment of homemade meatloaf, fresh country ham, rotisserie chicken, and about 10 different vegetables and starches on the side. It also comes with a salad bar, dessert bar, and a fridge full of pie slices. All of this for just over $10.
Every so often, I share with my blog readers a debate I have had. A few months ago, I was in an email debate over Christopher Columbus and whether or not his holiday should be celebrated. Though I rarely post political commentary on here, I want to share this debate I had this morning with my good friend and fellow history graduate at NJCU, John DeSarno. I have known John for three years. We’re both Rangers fans. He’s a nice guy, intelligent, and logical, yet we happen to respectfully disagree on the issue at hand, the topic being whether or not the minimum wage should be raised to $15 per hour. John is an avid Bernie Sanders supporter and is for the idea. I, on the other hand, oppose it. I actually consider myself quite liberal and would support Uncle Bernie over Hillary Clinton just for a shake-up to the establishment, but I do not agree with some of his views.