Leading up to my recent trip to the Chautauqua region of New York State, my mood was oddly curious. I really didn't know what to expect since its location near Lake Erie is not a destination that I would have ever considered as a ski region. Growing up in NJ, I have become very Vermont-centric. A straight shot north, it is the way that most from my area go. Sure there is an occasional sprinkling in of the Catskill Region but western NY state is a complete after thought, if even a thought at all.
A Ski Trip That is All About Après Is Born
Lately, however, my interests have changed and I'm more into branching out. Increasingly intrigued by places that are not known to the masses I have hit up spots in the past year like Mount Peter, NY and the après surf paradise, Orange Beach, Alabama. Destinations like these aren't on too many people's radars but offer a completely different and highly likable vibe. So when the option to visit Chautauqua was presented to me at a recent NY State media event I was, of course, all in.
How could I not be? I was instantly sold when I found out that this region of New York was home to four ski resorts, 23 wineries and a wide variety of craft breweries and distilleries. Thus a trip that had All About Après written all over it was born.
The Symbiotic Relationship That Makes Chautauqua Special
There is just no way that I can cover all that is amazing about my trip to Chautauqua in one blog post. Megan Arnone, our wonderful host from their tourism board, set us up with a packed agenda that had us all over this fun region. With so much to see, it would be unfair and, in no way, do all of the fantastic places we visited and people we met the justice they deserve if I skimmed through all of it.
Breaking the trip up by day makes more sense. By doing so you'll have a better understanding of how a combination of skiing, wineries, craft breweries/distilleries and some really nice people create a symbiotic relationship that make the Chautauqua region well worth the trip.
Dicey Weather Just Part of the Lake Affect Experience
A short flight from Newark to Buffalo and we were in the car heading to Peek n Peak Resort. My companion on this sojourn, Brian Schneider, better know for his role as the co-host on the Ski Bum Podcast, was riding shot gun. The weather, that evening was dicey at best. Mother nature had decided to lay a nice sheet of ice down for our predominantly back roads drive to the resort. Needless to say, travel time in our not-so-all-wheel-drive rental slowed considerably. Our first stop? A place called Pine Junction Tavern, that our amazing host at Peek n Peak Resort, Jessica, insisted that we MUST try. Boy was she right!
Pine Junction Tavern: We're Glad You Found Us
Pine Junction Tavern is tucked back among the pine trees along the main New York snowmobiling Trails in Findley Lake. In all honesty, given the treachery of the back roads in an ice storm, it is probably easier to reach by that mode of transportation rather than by car. The idea of being hidden is something that the folks there really seem to take pride in. Their tag line, We're Glad You Found Us highlights their staff shirts and it's a notion that Jessica alluded to in her email stating, "Just when you think “are we lost?” …there it is!" Nothing could have been more factual but find it, we did.
An Atmosphere that Is Captivating
Rolling up we were instantly captivated by the ambiance of the rustic lodge setting before our eyes. Pine Junction Tavern is as advertised. There is clearly a reason that, what started as just a small little room with a kitchen has expanded into a full serve restaurant and snowmobiling destination. The rustic atmosphere instantly draws you in, captivating the mind while you peruse an extensive menu of creative comfort foods.
We instantly felt at home. Our bar tender and server were both so nice and more than happy to fill us in on Pine Junction's history and culture. As I wandered around gazing at the decor that dotted the pine walls and beams of the lodge the rustic, homey feel manifested itself squarely in my mind. The mood was set and I was starving from the ride.
The Best Wings I've Ever Had
At a place known for their comfort food, wings should always be a priority. Our bartender talked us into Pine Junction's Outlaw Sauce citing that is won best tasting at a competition at Peek n Peak Resort. The award winning wings were outrageous! A combination of ranch, honey mustard, hot sauce and dried Cajun seasonings delivered a spicy yet sweet and tangy flavor explosion that had my taste buds dancing.
A Backwoods Burger That Was Damn Good Too
Outside of the wings, Pine Junction's menu is pretty extensive but what they are really known for are their burgers. With names like Bleu Baller, Bangin' Angus and my choice for the evening, the Backwoods Burger, you can only imagine the levels of creativity they put into this American classic.
Sitting a the bar, I was able to watch our cook slap a hefty wad of beef down on the grill in front of me. Flames shot up as the sizzling smell of burger wafted into the air and enchanted my sense of smell. My curiosity piqued when I noticed the chef cut my sizable black Angus burger in half while still on the grill. Blasphemy! Why would she do that? What could possibly be transpiring?
Then it appeared two hunks of beer on a hoagie roll finished with their Kreeper Sauce (a spicy BBQ sauce), melted Swiss and provolone and two long fried pickles. All of my doubts were cast aside as I bit in. Instantly, I was in heaven and stayed there from the first bite to the last. The Kreeper sauce add a bite that played perfectly with the vinegar tang of the fried pickles. Boom...a taste explosion that was worth the trouble of finding the place.
Could it Get Any Better Than This?
I washed it all down with a Big Ditch Hayburner IPA (honestly, one of my new favorite IPA's). Not overly hoppy the Hayburner had just enough to cut through the fattiness of my meal. Savoring each sip, I couldn't help but wonder could it possibly get better than this? Alas, it does.
To be continued...