8-11 August 2017
After a bit of a rest from my long South America trip I headed to Upstate New York for a few days of hiking and exploring, sort of a trip down memory lane. I spent several years of my life up there, and I’ve rarely returned, so I figured why not.
I made my way to Syracuse and cabbed it downtown — to get my rental car. Pro tip — your car rental may be 50%+ cheaper off-airport… Explored Syracuse and its vicinity for the day, a town I’ve not spent time in since 1991 when I was in town for a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, to be told there was 2 opening acts I’ve never heard of at the time — Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Wow, right? But Cazenovia Lake was gorgeous, and I didn’t enjoy falling into a stagnant swamp during a hike east of town…
With all the rhetoric going around in the US and the lack of seriously good dining ideas for this trip, I decided to seek out ethnic cuisines in the area instead for the next few days. The region is dominated by Italian food, so I was looking for anything but. So for Syracuse my choice was Polish, at Eva’s European Sweets on the west side of town.
I got to Eva’s European Sweets early enough, and it was already getting busy. I sat at the counter of the old-school diner, and having not eaten all day with all the hiking behind me, I ordered 2 mains — kiełbasa and gołąbki. With beer in hand, I chilled out. Then soon the food arrived. The kiełbasa was okay, filling enough. Pretty ordinary stuff to be honest.
Unfortunately the gołąbki was nothing special. I don’t quite like how they did the filling, a bit too thinly minced, through the cabbage wrap was done well. To this day I still have not had better gołąbki/holubtsy than the one my late, dear friend Eugene Iwanciw made…
I had to take a bit of this voluminous dinner with me as I headed out, thanking the hard-working staff. It’s a bit sanitised for local palates, but it does its job well. Love to see more Polish restaurants tho…
The next day was more of a trek down memory lane as I slowly wound down to Ithaca. I did more hiking during a few stops, made a few cemetery visits — including in Auburn, where major figures of history like Harriet Tubman and William Seward are buried — and Watkins Glen, which should be visit for more than the racing. But eventually I made my way back to Ithaca, my home for 4 years during the early 1990s.
I had a bit of time so walked around and had horrible flashbacks all afternoon. Looking up (and down) Libe Slope didn’t help… I also went to visit a few local cemeteries, paying my respects to folks like Carl Sagan. Then I went back to Collegetown, which has changed in 20 years from anything I recognised. I went back to the only bar that I remembered…
After a few hours of drinking at my former “local” Rulloff’s (I lived upstairs for 2 years), I retreated to the venerable Souvlaki House (where I lived for a year before that). Again, looked about the same, and I sat at an unfamiliar table to the past to get a different view. I ordered and enjoyed some wine…so, so weird to be back in a place I’ve not been in over two decades…
The food soon arrived. First off the dolma, my usual start here. Not bad, brought back tons of memories of me chomping on these things while working on problem sets (before I left my engineering physics department for the poorer soils of the social sciences…).
Then the main, the moussaka. Well, brought back more memories. Not good, just damn filling. That was the point back then, and sadly, the point this evening too. I finished, thanked the staff, and made the tiring trek up that sharp hill to get to my car…and drove out of Collegetown forever…
Now this trip down memory lane is over I zipped out the next day for the other edge of New York state — Watertown. I’ve not been up this northern edge of the state since the early 1990s so it was good to relax along the lake and do more hiking in very, very hilly cemeteries along the way, in places like Utica. But the bugs up here are just nasty and I was covered in bites by the end of the day, when I pushed all the way up to Watertown.
I was exhausted when I got to there and just wanted to get some food. Ended up finding a Korean place in town, which surprised me. Sadly it was not busy at all when I arrived at Suk Hui Hi’s. Located in simple digs, I chilled and waited for my food.
The owner/cook was very friendly and loves her customers, you can just feel that. Soon the food began, and first was some steamed mandoo. Not bad, filling.
Then the main was some stir-fried squid. Not bad, just spicy enough to give me the sweats (tho it was hot inside). Too bad they didn’t have kalbi today. Not as sanitised ethnic food as I thought with the spices for this area, so a nice little surprise. Headed out relatively happy.
Unfortunately had some jackasses in an adjacent hotel room partying so I ended up going out boozing until quite late. Headed out the next morning north with a wee hangover and went up to Ogdenburg and the Canadian border to wander around and deal with more bugs. Then started heading back south via Oswego. Had the wonderful opporunity to visit the grave of Mary Walker, the Civil War surgeon who to this day is the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Eventually I got to the northern Rochester suburb of Irondequoit. I was too tired on this Friday late afternoon to head into Rochester, so instead I found a surprising place nearby called Thai Mii Up. Love the name, but surprised it was a Thai-Lao restaurant.
A simple place that seems to do a huge number of orders — in and out. They were already very busy at the cusp of 6pm and by the time I left it was totally crazy, compounded by tons of take-out orders. Good to see a successful business up here! I relaxed and ordered and chilled out with some water. And soon the first course arrived, the lao sausage. Pretty good stuff, nice and with enough authenticity to make it a surprise for me in this part of Upstate New York.
Then the main item, mok moo. Mmm, this was excellent. Pork steamed in banana leaf. The pork was stuffed with herbs and veggies and spices, and even some vermicelli. Really tasty. I was pretty happy with this dinner; in fact, it was the best food of the four days Upstate. I headed out with a few snacks in hand pretty happy.
These four days in Upstate New York doing ethnic foods shows not just how immigrants enriched this large region, but how diverse the immigration has been over the decades. Everyone knows about the Italian cuisine in this area, but it’s really nice to see some others thriving. Whether it is a small, labour-of-love Korean place to a beloved local Polish eatery, from a time-tested, student-favourite Greek diner to a booming Thai-Lao restaurant that gives locals new tastes to explore, this was a relief from all the rhetoric that has been going on in this country. Even in places that are suffering from terrible economies, they still love their immigrants — especially through their stomach.
Eva’s European Sweets
1305 Milton Avenue
Syracuse, New York
315 Eddy Street
Ithaca, New York
Suk Hui Hi’s
1301 State Street
Watertown, New York
Thai Mii Up
1780 East Ridge Road
Irondequoit, New York