"You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars." Charles Kuralt

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tepee Pete's Chow Wagon

The summer of 2010 found me traveling up old Rt. 20 in central New York State. It’s a nice ride. It really is. I’m not sure if I would call it exciting or spectacular or some other superlative to show my extreme enthusiasm, but it’s certainly not stressful, and there’s lots to see and do. I recommend it for when you lack a destination.

Traveling to the west of Sharon Springs toward Cherry Valley it was getting near lunchtime, and I was traveling fairly blind. I knew there was some stuff to see out here but I didn’t really have any details, and I had no info about food whatsoever. What I did know was that there was supposedly some kind of big tepee along the road somewhere up ahead.
After a little while more of driving I spotted something a bit further down the road coming up over the horizon. It was definitely pointy at the top, so I figured I had found my tepee. I wasn’t wrong. It turned out to be a just what I was looking for after a long morning of sightseeing.
As I pulled off the road into the parking area, the first thing that I noticed was the very large tepee that dominates the property. Second is the incredible view of the vast Mohawk Valley visible across the road.
For those who are into Native American gift shops, The Tepee is your kind of place. Inside you can find just about anything imaginable related to the theme.
For those of us who collect roadside attraction souvenirs The Tepee definitely needs more stuff with its own name on it. Aside from a tiny snow globe emblazoned with “The Tepee” and a wooden nickel, there's not much in the way of self-promotion.
The shop is run by Donna, one of three siblings who own and operate The Tepee. She was full of all kinds of good information about The Tepee and its history.
When we were all done inside Donna suggested we go outside to visit Pete and Dale, her two siblings who were making lunch in the chow wagon. Chow wagon?
Nestled in alongside the Tepee was the most welcomed sight of all, an old weathered travel trailer that was converted into a fully functioning kitchen. The sounds and smells coming out of it all just screamed LUNCH. This was my introduction to Tepee Pete’s Chow Wagon.
Inside were Pete and his sister Dale preparing a batch of Tepee Pete’s world famous Ommegang Brewery Beer Chili. And like any enterprising chili pusher, Pete offers up the first shot for free. Not wanting to miss out on a potentially life-changing chili experience, I ordered up a shot for myself and was rewarded with a heaping and steaming soufflé cup of some of the best chili I’ve tasted. It was sweet with some creeping heat on the back end. Pete calls it a shot for a reason. The soufflé cup of chili is free, but if you want a fork it will cost you.
Once introductions were made, Pete was more than happy to tell the story of The Tepee, the Chow Wagon, and all about his food. It sounds best coming right from him so I recommend that you go and let him tell you himself. You won’t be disappointed.
The menu is simple, yet fun and hangs in the window of the Wagon right above the counter.
Finally it was time to eat. I ordered “The Kelly”, which is fried bread with sauce and cheese. I went with a variation that included freshly shredded mozzarella and tomato sauce.
And having been sufficiently tempted by my shot of chili, I decided to officially order a full cup of it to top off my meal.
My companion went with a quesadilla of fresh peppers and mozzarella cheese.
When lunch was served we were offered an additional plate of tortillas, lightly fried and tossed in cinnamon and sugar. It was just right to finish off the meal.
My “Kelly” was essentially a pizza fritté with the fried bread acting as the crust. The hot bread, cold sauce, and slightly melty cheese were a nice take on the theme.
The chili was, as earlier stated, some of the best I’ve had. The fresh pepper and mozzarella quesadilla was the kind you always want but never seem to get. It was super-fresh and not at all greasy. The same goes for the fried bread.
When lunch was over we all said our goodbyes. I don’t usually mention that I write about stuff, but this time I did. I promised that no matter how long it took, the next blog post I wrote would be about The Tepee & Tepee Pete’s Chow Wagon.
We piled into the car and pulled back onto Rt. 20 heading west. The next stop would be The Petrified Creatures Museum of Natural History. It’s an old dinosaur park that’s been around for over 70 years.
There used to be quite a lot of these places around the country tempting travelers with a glimpse of an extinct and ferocious world. Sadly, today attractions like this are few and far between. They began to decline at the end of the great roadside era when the interstate began to bypass the old attractions. As science and technology grew over the last half-century people became less enamored of the simple presentations, preferring high-tech demonstrations of sound and motion. Today you can find mini-golf displays that surpass the excitement of some the old dinosaur parks.
Still, it’s the whimsical simplicity of these places that sparks the imagination of their many visitors.
The Petrified Creatures Museum of Natural History comes replete with brightly painted, handmade dinosaurs and really silly audio stations for each one.
As you walk around the park, be sure to open the mailboxes by the dinosaurs. Each one tells the tale of its dinosaur companion.
You can also dig for your own fossils in the shale pit out back. Along the outer walls are sheltered stations where audio tells you the prehistoric tale of the area and explains each of the fossils displayed on the walls.
The gift shop is your first and last stop on the way in and out. In it you will find every dinosaur related gewgaw imaginable from the educational to the childish to the downright odd. Sadly, you won’t find too many items specifically branded for the museum itself. A chat with the nice lady who owns and runs the museum filled us in on quite a bit of its history. Her late husband did most of the sculpting of the dinosaurs, and upkeep of the grounds. These days she just comes up from Florida for the summertime to open the museum for the season.
If you are in the market to own a roadside attraction, this could be your opportunity. They are looking to sell the whole kit and caboodle; from the grounds to the sculptures and displays, to the buildings and the gift shop with its contents. The sale also includes the museum’s not-for-profit status.
For a more detailed story of The Petrified Creatures Museum of Natural History, check out our friends over at Project Absurd. They visited not once, but twice and have lots of pictures and even a cool little video that shows what it’s like to hear the tales from the dinosaurs’ mailboxes.
The Tepee and The Petrified Creatures Museum of Natural History are just two of the amazing things to do and see along the road. So the next time you find yourself traveling on Rt. 20 in Upstate New York, stop and check out the sights for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. For a full rundown of what the highway has to offer check out the Route 20 Association of New York State.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

White House Sub Shop

There are a lot of reasons to visit Atlantic City, NJ. There’s the boardwalk, saltwater taffy, gambling and Lucy the Elephant*, but best of all there’s the White House Sub Shop. Solidly rooted to the corner of Mississippi & Arctic Avenues, the White House has spent the last 60 plus years building what are arguably the best submarine sandwiches in the known world.
In September of 1946 Anthony Basile came home to Atlantic City from the Philippines where he served in the military after the end of WWII. A month later he opened the White House Sub Shop. Demanding the use of nothing but the best and freshest ingredients, this hands-on family operation has set the standard for meat on a roll.

When asked, many people will tell you that the secret of the White House sub is the bread. I think that I have to agree. Baked just up the block by Formica Brothers Italian Bakery, loads of fresh and warm 20” long rolls are delivered up to 12 times a day.
A good Italian roll (or Atlantic City roll as it is sometimes called) is something to be appreciated. Solid enough to stand up to a dose of oil or mayo without falling apart, but soft and chewy enough to eat without having to work too hard at it. A decent Italian roll can be difficult to find outside certain parts of the U.S., as can be attested to by many a Northeasterner.
When you first approach the White House Sub Shop several things immediately strike you. The first is the building itself. It is obvious that nothing about it has changed for a very long time. It may not be bright and shiny, but it has character. Next, sitting in stark contrast to the structure beneath it is the large neon sign on the roof which proudly proclaims to all who approach that this is the one and only “White House: Home of Submarines”. All that bright, shiny, blinking neon can distract from the final feature that is a testament to the White House’s ability to stick around so long. And, that would be the line of people, which stretches out the door and never seems to go away.
Once inside, the White House Sub Shop is a pretty small place. Made smaller by the fact that most of your time there is spent elbow to elbow with your fellow man. I needed to wait quite a while before I could get a clear shot down the isle, and it only lasted a few seconds, if that.
When a table finally opened up, we were shown to a small booth two-thirds of the way back.As we were escorted to our seats we passed the half dozen or so counter seats and the to-go counter, which is backed by the long galley style kitchen from which rose all manner of steam and good smells.Proudly displayed above for all to see is the sandwich menu listing many of the popular sub choices.

The interior of the White House Sub Shop is dominated by the color orange. It’s on the booths, the stools, the walls and is the color of most of the picture frames that line the walls above the seating area.Those framed photographs document the fact that the White House has been a dining destination for a vast array of famous faces. Over the years the White House has seen visits from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles and beyond.
The White House Sub Shop signature sandwich is hands down the best Italian sub that I have ever had. I’ve had a few over the years. This time though, I wanted something else. After some debate I decided to try the White House’s cheese steak, which has a solid reputation of its own. We ordered that and a provolone cheese sub. The service is speedy, and the food was delivered in no time.
The provolone sub came stuffed with cheese and a load of fresh tomatoes on a bed of shredded lettuce. Surrounding all of the ingredients is the signature White House roll doused in oil. A sprinkle of Italian seasoning tops the whole thing off. If you are looking for a superior meat free sandwich you just found it.
For a real cheese steak lover playing favorites can be a risky social maneuver. People who live within the cultural influence of Philadelphia take their cheese steaks seriously. They tend to stake out their favorite and can get pretty territorial about it. I don’t attest to a favorite, but I do know a good cheese steak when I eat one. The cheese steak at the White House Sub Shop is one of the best.They claim to use 91.1% fat free USDA choice lean top round steak cut fresh daily. Add fried onions, melted cheese. The addition of an outstanding fresh Italian roll really makes the sandwich.
Upon finishing, we got the bill and quickly vacated our booth for the next person waiting on line outside. Behind the register up front was a small variety of White House merchandise.The sign on the wall advertised the prices for t-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts.I paid the bill, squeezed through the crowded entryway and emerged back out on Arctic Avenue a happier and fuller person.* Lucy the Elephant isn’t actually in Atlantic City, but in neighboring Margate.