8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)
Hoping to take a leaf-peeping road trip? Keep food at the top of your priority list and consult our lineup of eight destinations, most within 150 miles of the city.
photos by Chuck Beard
As the leaves change their hues, perhaps you’re itching to pack the car and take a quick jaunt. Make food a top priority as you consider locales for a leaf-peeper’s day trip or a gourmand’s weekend getaway.
We’ve shared first-hand experiences from our visits to eight areas. Most destinations are within 150 miles of Pittsburgh — but for the sake of food, we’ve made one exception, which is about 260 miles from the city.
Our list includes suggested itineraries — along with recommended travel companions, lodging options and, of course, places to nosh.
So pack a bag and hit the highway — and go hungry.
Chautauqua County, N.Y.
Drive time: 2 hrs, 30 mins
Miles: 160-170 North
Go with: Friends + sweetheart
When: Summer or early fall
Why go: We see why Smithsonian magazine named Chautauqua a Best Small Town to Visit in 2014. The quaint communities of Westfield and Mayville are home to a number of shops. Buy porcelain dinnerware at Reno Pottery, works of art from North American creators at The Art Loft or dollhouses and gifts at Chautauqua Miniatures & Dollhouse Gallery.
Make an immediate pit stop at Stedman Corners café, a charming eatery housed in an old general store. The offerings are straightforward — wraps, salads, simple breakfast sandwiches — and the staff genuinely is friendly. You can pick up locally made gourmet-chocolate lollis at the front counter.
Chautauqua Institution alone makes the trip worthwhile. The center for arts, recreational and other types of programming is bustling through late summer, though it books other happenings year-round; for example, it will display a quilting exhibition Sept. 27-28.
Don’t forget that you’re in wine-making territory. Stop by the Grape Discovery Center to get the lowdown on what you need to see, taste and purchase. Noble Winery and Johnstown Estate Winery in Westfield aren’t far from the center — so your best bet is to begin your tasting journey at one of those establishments. Want something else to drink? Mazza’s relatively new distillery, Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing, offers tastings and more.
Locals favor Webb’s Captain’s Table and The Watermark Restaurant, two waterside Mayville eateries on Chautauqua Lake. Webb’s offers rooftop seating and is known for prime rib and pasta entrées, while The Watermark is more famous for its surf and turf plates.
Make tracks to Jamestown when you’re ready to take in new scenery. Lucy Desi Museum & Gift Shop [lucy-desi.com] makes “I Love Lucy” fans smile with knickknacks, apparel and whimsical memorabilia. A few streets away, there’s even a Lucy-inspired café — Babalu [716/708-6077].
On Thursdays, pick up essentials at Jamestown’s farmers market, which sets up on Cherry Street between Second and Third streets and goes through October.
Where to stay: A go-to is the three-seasons Athenaeum Hotel, located on the premises of the Chautauqua Institution. The charming Plumbush Bed & Breakfast, a Victorian institution established in 1865, is a bit off the main path.
Must try: Your trip won’t be complete until you get a cone or shake from Stedman Creamery, across from the café. A husband and wife run this little storefront on their property and source ice cream from Addie’s in nearby Findley Lake. You’ll find 12-plus flavors — toasted coconut and blue raspberry are real winners. The couple plans to remain open through Labor Day weekend — so get there while you can, and bring cash. Across the street, a family sells homegrown produce in the front yard, weather permitting.
— Kristina Martin
Drive time: 2 hrs, 30 mins
Miles: 145 Northwest
Go with: Arts-loving friends
Why go: Forget Lebron James’ return to the Cavaliers. Hit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame another time. This weekend getaway is about appreciating Cleveland’s liveliest neighborhoods.
Arrive by mid-evening Friday, park downtown and amble to East Fourth Street. The pedestrian-only brick path is home to Lola Bistro, one of several spots owned by James Beard Award-winning and Food Network chef Michael Symon. Nibble on beef-cheek pierogies ($12), peruse the extensive wine list and savor moulard duck with rye spaetzle ($30). Can’t get a table or a spot at the sleek marble bar? Try inventive pasta across the street at Zack Bruell’s Ristorante Chinato.
Spend Saturday morning west of downtown, browsing the dazzling array of edibles and other goods at West Side Market before touring the Great Lakes Brewing Co. [greatlakesbrewing.com]. Devote the afternoon to walking and appreciating the Ohio City Food Stand and farm [ohiocityfarm.wordpress.com] and the Lawrenceville-esque business districts, restored homes and ethnic churches of Ohio City and nearby Tremont.
Dine at Crop Bistro & Bar, which serves seasonal modern cuisine in a refurbished bank. Korean barbecue short ribs ($28) and fried chicken with chorizo gravy over corn waffles ($23) are the stuff of dreams. Feeling YOLO? Be surprised by the daily “Big Pile” of pasta (market price).
On Sunday, head east through University Circle and Cleveland Heights, the homes of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland’s Little Italy and cultural institutions. Many of Cleveland’s fine-dining spots don’t open until 4 p.m. or at all on Sundays, so try cafe fare and pastries at Presti’s Bakery [prestisbakery.com]. Cross Mayfield Road to equally revered Corbo’s Bakery in Little Italy [216/421-8181] for take-home slices of famed strawberry-studded cassata cake.
Enrich your soul at Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland Botanical Garden or the sculpture-rich Case Western campus. Before heading home, stop at Michael Symon’s B Spot, tucked improbably in an upscale mall in suburban Beachwood, for gourmet burgers (“The Porky” — yum!), milkshakes and a self-serve bar offering six kinds of pickles.
Where to stay: Reserve one of seven rooms at the appealing Washington Place Bistro & Inn in Little Italy — and stay for brunch from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sundays. Or try the larger but equally charming Glidden House boutique hotel on the Case Western campus.
Must try: Slurp strawberry-rhubarb or another seasonal flavor while watching Mitchell’s Ice Cream being made in a restored theater in Ohio City.
— Cindi Lash
Drive time: 1 hr 30 mins
Miles: 85 South
Go with: Your partner
Why go: Nemacolin Woodlands is a destination resort in Fayette County with so many things to do that you will run out of time — skiing, golfing, swimming, spa treatments, casino gambling and more. It also offers proximity to nearby destinations such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.
You need not stay at Nemacolin to enjoy the restaurants. Treat yourself to a fine-dining experience at one of the on-site eateries; each is under the direction of Brent Wertz, food and beverage director and executive chef. First is Lautrec, recipient of the 2014 Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond awards. It offers a sophisticated multiple-course tasting menu [typically $110-$270 prix fixe, depending on number of courses and wine pairings] in a blood-red and gold setting.
Restaurant Aqueous, set on a lush golf course, has a more contemporary feel and specializes in house-dry-aged and -cut beef [entrées range from $28-$53]. Newest addition Autumn focuses on sustainable, local and seasonal ingredients and is recognized as a green destination [entrées typically range from $28-$38]; offerings include a raw bar, as well as many fresh seafood choices.
For casual dining, health-conscious visitors enjoy wraps and salads at Elements café in the spa’s fitness center. At the other caloric extreme is The Tavern, serving old-school bar food such as chili and shareable poutine. Kids will enjoy 1950s-inspired PJ’s ice cream parlor.
Outside of Nemacolin, there are a number of charming alternatives. The historical Summit Inn Resort, established in 1907, features the beloved Mae’s Dining Room as well as spectacular views. A nice casual choice is the Stone House Restaurant & Inn, known for its large selection of craft brews, smoked barbecue and wings galore. A family-friendly spot is the welcoming Braddock Inn [724/329-5508], serving classic American cuisine and homemade soups.
Must try: Sign up for a wine tasting at Nemacolin’s Academie Du Vin with Director of Wine & Spirits Holly Smith [$25 per person; Sat]. Or take a free tour of Nemacolin’s extensive wine collection, containing more than 25,000 bottles [Fri and Sat]. Reservations are a must.
Where to stay: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is one of the country’s most luxurious destinations, featuring 318 guestrooms on 2,000 acres in the Laurel Highlands. The variety of lodging options has something for everyone, including the opulent Chateau Lafayette, contemporary Falling Rock Hotel (winner of the AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star award), the English Tudor-style lodge and family townhomes.
— Valentina; photo courtesy of Nemacolin
Drive time: 2 hrs
Miles: 130 North
Go with: Family
When: Mid-summer or fall
Why go: Beachgoers, campers and adventurous types flock to Presque Isle State Park in the summer; those folks also tend to build in time to visit Erie Zoo. Erie Art Museum offers year-round programming — particularly appreciated during colder months. Head to Presque Isle Downs & Casino to place friendly wagers or spend an evening in the lounge and take in a live performance.
While in the heart of Lake Erie Wine Country, exploring the various sites is a must. From 6 Mile Cellars to Penn Shore to Presque Isle, you’re bound to find something to your taste — and a beautiful view of the lake, to boot. Wines from South Shore Wine Co., Arrowhead and others are sold through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, meaning you don’t have to lug home countless bottles.
Brick House Coffee Bar is as its name suggests — part java house, part bar. The spot, which specializes in espresso and smoothies, also serves as an evening landing pad when you’re looking to unwind with a drink in hand.
Chocolate enthusiasts benefit from the friendly cocoa war: Romolo, Stefanelli’s and Pulakos each make chocolate-covered sponge taffy or candy. Consider it Erie’s version of the omnipresent salt-water taffy. The treats, available in milk and dark chocolate, are irresistible and airy. We don’t believe there’s a wrong choice.
Take your group to The Pufferbelly on French Street, housed in an old firehouse, for a memorable experience. Despite the visions its name might conjure, the restaurant offers refined cuisine — maple-mustard-glazed pork chops and the catch of the day are two entrée selections. Staff roll out a full spread for a Sunday brunch buffet.
Must-try: Sara’s & Sally’s serves diner-style fare suitable for the famished — including Smith’s hot dogs, burgers, fries and soft serve. The American dollar stretches far here; you might want to return again.
Where to stay: Consider one of Splash Lagoon’s three affiliated hotels. The indoor water park is the place to stay if you’ve got kids in tow; your hotel package covers admission. For something on the quieter side, a pair of sister inns provides luxury with a touch of history — George Carroll House in downtown Erie and William Sands House on Millionaire’s Row.
— Kristina Martin
Drive time: 1 hr, 45 mins
Miles: 115 Southeast
Go with: Family (kids age 10+)
When: Fall especially
Stay: Overnight or long weekend
Fun upcoming events include the town’s 50th Fall Foliage Festival, to be held Oct. 4-5 and 11-12, with antique cars, craft demonstrations and homemade fair foods such as apple dumplings. There’s also the pumpkin festival at Old Bedford Village, set for Oct. 18-19.
The Crystal Room at The Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, one of the oldest restaurants in America, is an important Bedford dining destination offering an elegant experience with high-quality, locally sourced food. Those who aren’t staying at the Omni are welcome; reservations are suggested, and dinner entrées range from $25-$42.
Notable restaurants in town include Birds Nest Café & Bakery, 10/09 Kitchen and HeBrews Coffee Co. [816/623-8600]. A little off the beaten track but definitely worth the trip is farm-to-table restaurant Horn O Plenty, which uses local produce, meat and dairy.
Local wineries include Briar Valley Winery and Helixville Winery. Briar Valley’s wines are available in Pittsburgh restaurants such as Eleven and Habitat. The business grows its own vinifera grapes and holds wine tastings daily [$3 for six wines; $5 for full tastings, 12-5 pm]. Helixville is a tiny winery that offers tastings of its nine grape wines and one apple wine [free, Mon-Fri 11 am-5 pm, Sat-Sun 1-5 pm].
Where to stay: The meticulously restored Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, built in 1796, was President James Buchanan’s “summer White House.” It is worth visiting to experience the stately architecture, sumptuous interiors, natural springs, lush grounds and delicious food ranging from casual to fine dining. The history lover may want to stay in Bedford’s downtown historic district in places such as the Victorian Golden Eagle Inn, established in 1794, which has its own upscale full dining room, or the Chancellor’s House Bed and Breakfast, established in 1875, which offers a wholesome breakfast.
Must-try: Weekend breakfast (7 a.m.-noon) at The Crystal Room is one of the most elegant, tasty breakfasts around, with a la carte or buffet dining ($22). You’ll find housemade breads, pastries and jams as well as local meats, produce and honey.
Drive time: 1 hr, 20 mins
Miles: 85 North
Go with: Quirky aunt or uncle
Stay: Day trip or overnight
Why go: Franklin boasts great antique shopping, one-of-a-kind musical instruments and some delightfully offbeat festivals.
Applefest, the city’s premier festival, begins the first Friday of October. Expect arts and crafts vendors, an antique car cruise and, of course, all things apple. The Rock in River festival in late August features multiple record holders competing in one of the nation’s best stone-skipping competitions.
DeBence Antique Music World is a must-go. The extensive collection of preserved and restored nickelodeons, music boxes, a calliope and other musical devices of yesteryear is a real treat to see and hear. The $8 admission price includes a guided tour, during which you’ll get to hear many of the instruments sing.
Dig through the multivendor sections at Liberty Street Antique Crafts [814/437-6550] in search of that perfect hidden gem.
Catch a musical at the Barrow-Civic Theatre, where the Franklin Civic Operetta Association performs.
The charming Bossa Nova Café and Roastery is a perfect place to start your day or take a mid-day break. There’s a small in-house library if you’ve left your favorite book at home.
The Commons at Franklin serves standard pub fare and has a terrific selection of local and craft spirits. Drinkers in search of a more spirited time can pop into the Celtic Café [814/432-7010], which caters to a younger crowd.
Must try: The eclectic Bella Cucina is Franklin’s most formal dining option. The menu is contemporary with a nod to the classic. The chefs also take requests; as long as they have the ingredients on hand, they’ll make your favorite dish.
Where to stay: Witherup House, a well-kept bed and breakfast, is a quick walk from the main stretch of Franklin. Charming and knowledgeable innkeepers Ann and Marty Rudegeair run their environmentally friendly house with grace. Outdoorsy types can camp in 2 Mile Run Park.
— Hal B. Klein
Drive time: 60-75 mins
Miles: 60-70 North
Go with: Your partner or solo
Why go: The area has everything from old-fashioned soda fountains to suit-and-tie dining. Plus both Sharon and Grove City are reinventing their post-industrial culture through art.
Go for Waterfire Sharon, a multimedia performance event highlighted by 50 fires set in the Shenango River; the next installment is set for Sept. 27. Or simply take an overnight trip when you want a quiet getaway.
Tara, A Country Inn has several dining options: Ashley’s Gourmet Dining Room is an elegant reminder of an era when you were expected to dress for dinner. Stonewall’s Tavern in the hotel’s basement has a speakeasy feel and a superb wine list. Before or after dinner, stop by the Atlanta Lounge for a martini. And don’t miss the collection of antique guns.
Right on the town square in Mercer, there’s been a pharmacy and/or soda shop in operation for nearly the entire history of the building housing Mercer Mercantile and Soda Shoppe [724/662-2231]. You can mix and match house-mixed soda flavors to fit your fancy, though we loved the classic combo of chocolate soda and vanilla ice cream.
Visit women’s fashion store The Winner in Sharon for its throwback elegance. Gentlemen, don’t worry: You can relax in the plush chairs of the men’s lounge — and drink free beer!
Stop by some of the 15 new stores that have opened in Sharon in the past 18 months. There’s also a classic Outdoor Army & Navy Store [724/342-7313].
Slovak Folk Crafts in Grove City has, among other items, an extensive collection of handcrafted pottery from Slovakia, Poland and other Eastern European countries.
Shop for fruits, vegetables, honey, prepared food and crafts on Thursdays (through October) at the Olde Town Grove City Farmers Market.
Grove City ArtWorks Gallery is the hub of the city’s growing arts scene.
Must try: Be sure to eat breakfast or lunch at Donna’s Diner in Sharon; it’s a local favorite housed in an old-fashioned dining car. The classic food is terrific, and the housemade potato chips are world-class. The diner should distribute and sell them.
Must see: The original Quaker Steak & Lube is in Sharon. And the Springfield Restaurant Group operates five always-bustling restaurants in Mercer County — Log Cabin Inn, Rachel’s Roadhouse, Iron Bridge Inn, Hickory Bar and Grille and Springfield Grille.
Where to stay: Every room at the Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa is uniquely themed but equally exquisite. A night in the landmark building — it was built in the 1890s and is on the National Register of Historic Places — is the perfect getaway from the hubbub of city life. If you’re in need of extra relaxation, there’s a full-service spa attached to the building. Tara, A Country Inn in Clark is Buhl’s sister property with 27 guest rooms of Southern charm.
— Hal B. Klein
White Sulpher Springs, W.V.
Drive time: 4 hrs
Miles: 260 South
Go with: Your parents
When: Spring or late summer
Why go: The Greenbrier is a one-stop destination, with five golf courses, a casino, Art Colony Shops and indoor and outdoor activities — plus tours of a Cold War-era Bunker. Faldo Golf Center books instructional sessions for anyone looking to improve his or her swing. Afterward, consider getting a spa treatment or partaking in a meditation retreat. Nine on-site restaurants cover the bases — from elaborate fine dining to quick fare — and seven bars cater to sports fans, oenophiles and those who simply like good drinks. Word of advice: Review the recommended dress code before visiting each spot.
Dad should dig JJ’s, the downstairs sports bar that books live entertainment and shows games on its mega TVs. If he’s not feeling that, there’s always the lobby bar. Movie and trivia buffs may be tickled to learn that the chandelier was used on the set of “Gone with the Wind.”
Outside the resort, find a few notable dining choices: The Mason Jar Restaurant dishes out an assortment of Southern-inspired, creative American and fried fare. Neighbor spot 50 East is the casual-yet-cool bar and grill you wish you had in your hometown; promos include “seafood Fridays” and wing specials.
Must try: Rise and shine with breakfast at Draper’s, named for Dorothy Draper, the visionary behind the resort’s interior design. Egg-focused and griddle dishes, such as old-school silver-dollar pancakes, are done right. The main dining room also serves breakfast as well as an afternoon tea, a treat for Mom. Change channels cuisine-wise by having dinner at In-Fusion. The Asian-inspired eatery, located inside the casino, melds Thai, Korean, Chinese and Japanese flavors. Chow mein with cashews is a mild option.
Where to stay: The Greenbrier offers assorted rooms, cottages and estate homes. Consider one of the resort’s deluxe suites such as the Carlton Varney, which can accommodate four people. The two-bedroom Baltimore Row cottages feature a fireplace, porch and view of the north lawn.
— Kristina Martin; photo courtesy of The Greenbrier