For those of you who don’t know (or possibly care lol), I’m not in central New York right now. For the last 6 2/3 months I’ve been consulting in a large city in the south. I’m not going to say which city because, well, I’d rather not go there, but I’ve had both good times and bad times.I’d say it’s the food making me wear the mask, but it’s not
Actually, most of the bad times have had nothing to do with the city except when it comes to the food. I’ve definitely had a love / hate relationship with restaurants in this area and, because I’ve written lots of food reviews on this blog, it seems to be the place to start in doing some comparisons to central New York. I will preface this by saying that it may just be what I’m used to, but I’ve definitely noticed a regional difference when it comes to the local restaurants, and here and there some differences in chain restaurants as well. Let’s look at 5 of these differences.The best meal I had… until…
1. Where I am is known for two specific types of food; this could give it away but you won’t hear it from me. One of those things is barbecue; there are lots of restaurants in the area where barbecue is their specialty. I’ve been to 4 of them and at this point I’ve pretty much had to stop going to them; I’ll mention why in a moment.
The first barbecue place I went to is supposed to be the best in town, as it’s won many awards. My first meal was… the best barbecue I ever had in my entire life! I couldn’t believe it; the meat was tender and just fell off the bones, the sauce was wonderful and they had 2 other flavors that I loved just as much. To top it off, in the south you can get banana pudding at many places; oh my goodness! This was one of the best meals I’d ever had; Dinosaur was in trouble.
It was also the first meal to totally shut me down because of meat and not carbs. I went there for lunch around 2:30 in the afternoon and I not only couldn’t eat again that day but I pretty much laid in bed for most of the rest of the day. It didn’t seem so heavy when I ate the meal, but it seems that my body wasn’t happy with the amount of grease that was in the meal.Banana pudding; this is supreme!
And yet I went back a second time because the first meal was so good. Unfortunately, after that first rib meal no other meal has lived up to the standard set by the first; Dinosaur is now back in the lead. The other three restaurants also didn’t live up to the hype, and I’ve never been back to any of them. I have gone back to the first restaurant however because they have a pulled pork sandwich that I can eat that’s not bad, and of course the banana pudding; we need a place that makes this in Syracuse!
2. The second thing this town is known for is fried chicken. Pretty much like barbecue, I’ve never been a big fried chicken eater, but there were several places recommended down here. Truthfully, the only fried chicken I’ve eaten in central New York is KFC, which doesn’t really count, and I don’t think chicken tenders counts much either.This is actually Ruth’s Chris stuffed chicken; I can eat this
Two of the places I went to pretty much killed my mouth. They love hot stuff in the south, even though they don’t think it’s hot. At one of the places I bit into a drumstick and my gums were immediately on fire, and when I looked at the chicken I thought there was blood on it but it turned out the chicken was oozing hot sauce; what the heck? When I asked them about it they said that’s always how they make it; so much for that place and the other one.
The last place had some very tasty fried chicken I must admit, and my first real experience with french fries and gravy. I thought that maybe I’d found something I could buy and take time to eat and enjoy. Alas, like the barbecue, I learned that my body wasn’t going to tolerate the grease from that either. That’s actually a lesson I should have learned from KFC because if I eat almost anything other than just the drumsticks I almost always feel bad later on. And it’s a 25-minute drive that I’m not going to make just for french fries and gravy; sigh…
3. Italian, Chinese… forget about it!This was wonderful, until I got sick
I’ve tried 5 different Chinese restaurants in this city and all of them have been horrible, including the one buffet I went to. I didn’t understand any of it because I feel we have a lot of at least average Chinese restaurants in central New York where you can at least eat the food. Then I had someone who hails from Hong Kong but now lives in NYC who told me that because China is so large you’re never sure where the people who are making your Chinese food actually came from, so it can be a crap shoot sometimes. That might explain why, when I was in North Dakota, a meal I always order in CNY came out with this thick brown gravy that made the meal inedible. Anyway, not only is the Chinese food bad here but it’s surprisingly hot, and that’s the stuff they don’t mark as spicy; oy!
The Italian food… well, I’ve given 3 restaurants a shot and I’m done with that as well. At 2 of the restaurants the food looked horrible and was mushy; come on now, overcooking pasta? Rubbery meat? That’s just a shame. I did go to one Italian restaurant here where the food was surprisingly good. I was astounded and thought I’d found my place. That is, until I was sick all the next day, not throwing up but, well, you know… And that was on a day I was flying home; just miserable. I don’t trust that place, didn’t like the others… done.The pizza; didn’t even look good
I might as well throw pizza into this category. The pizza down here stinks. The people around here are used to it but they just don’t know good pizza. Twin Trees, Avicolli’s… you name a place in CNY and it’s miles better than being here. I think anyone from New Jersey who came down here and ate a piece of pizza would want to slap someone. The closest to a pizza I can tolerate is Whole Foods, which isn’t a Southern place and, truthfully, is just edible but not great. And some folks have wondered why I always gravitate to pizza when I come home. lol
4. Big chain restaurants… not necessarily so great. Olive Garden here; nope. Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday’s; ugh. Applebee’s… well, the shrimp and spinach salad is still as good as at home but everything else… just can’t eat it. If I hadn’t been to the P.F. Chang’s at Destiny the last time I was home I’d have never tried the one down here; not close to tasting the same.
The winners? McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s. It seems that no matter where you go you can count on those places for the food tasting the same and if you like it, you at least have food to eat. I like something from all those places so I’ve been eating more of that over the last couple of months. Of course even there there’s a downside; some of these fast food restaurants aren’t fast at all. I actually was in a drive thru line for 30 minutes once and wanted to slap myself for not pulling out and leaving, which I did the next time I was in a line 20 minutes. That part I don’t get, but what can you do?salmon teriyaki meal
5. The saving grace; Japanese restaurants! Thank goodness for Japanese food, which also seems to taste the same almost no matter where you go, and it’s always good. There’s one Japanese restaurants I eat dinner at twice a week; they love me and I love their food. There’s a couple others I go to when I want to change up a bit. See, Japan is a small island; the food is always great. That is, as long as it’s a true Japanese restaurants. Benihana’s; nasty! Asian Bistro’s, which mainly serve Japanese food but it’s not Japanese people cooking it… run away fast! Actually, it turns out that there are Mexican and Indonesian cooks who are great at preparing Japanese food, but some places just can’t get it done correctly.
Of course it hasn’t all been bad. Take a look at this sample of what is a glazed donut with cake icing filling; oh my goodness! I discovered Waffle House that’s pretty remarkable on a weekend, but don’t dare eat there when it’s slow. There are some other places that are pretty good, and I’m 3 blocks away from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, which may be uber expensive but I’ve never had a bad meal at. But a place with no outside ice cream places, with the closest thing being a sno cone establishment with over 50 flavors (only 3 flavors of ice cream, all of them bad)… someone could make a killing down here. And I found a Bob Evans, which I thought was wonderful, and the food was good, but I was the youngest customer in the place… now that’s scary!
I’m coming home for Christmas and New Year’s weeks, and I may not even buy any food to prepare on my own. I’m missing my central New York food, and I think I’m going to be eating out plenty.
A few weeks ago I had an occasion to go to Destiny USA to see a movie. I was intent on seeing the movie Ender’s Game on the IMAX screen. What was supposed to just be going to see a movie turned into a little bit of an adventure.
The adventure started outside, where I actually had to drive around 25 minutes before I could find a place to park. I knew that the mall now had valet parking, but I’ve been away so long I couldn’t remember where it was. And when I found a place to park I pretty much had to wait five minutes for the person in the car to decide to finally start the car, pull out, and go home so that I could have her spot. That was miserable, but I can deal with that sort of thing.
I went to the box office to buy my ticket for the movie, and had to ask where the IMAX screen was, and it turns out that it’s on the opposite side from where the other theaters are, but not very far down on the left. It also turns out they have more than one screen; I hadn’t expected that. What I forgot to do, and the rest of you will have to remember this, is ask whether the movie I wanted to watch was in 3-D or not; turns out it wasn’t. IMAX works really well for 3-D, and even though I still enjoyed the movie it never occurred to me that something was missing until it was over. I probably need to find an occasion to go see the movie Gravity at some point and possibly see Ender’s Game again on a smaller screen for that 3-D effect.
When I came out, it just seemed like the place was packed with people everywhere. After I sat down for a bit to get my bearings, where I noticed that short black skirts with black stockings must be back in fashion, I took a walk around the new section, where almost everything is now filled in. I went into the new entertainment / restaurant place called Revolutions, where they have the bowling alley that has big screen TV’s over the bowling pins; that would take some getting used to after all these years of not having anything moving in front of me like that.
There was a concert going on downstairs, which is a new twist because there used to be small groups that would play in the middle section where the elevators are in the original part of the mall, but this was something different because they had flashing lights and you could hear the music everywhere. As a matter of fact, one of the differences between the new part of the mall and the older part of the mall is that music is consistently going, upbeat and frenzied, and it felt like a club atmosphere.
After stopping at a few restaurants and finding each of them had a waiting list of more than an hour, I eventually made my way back to the food court, which was also packed. I couldn’t figure out what was going on since the holiday wasn’t upon us yet, until one of my Twitter friends mentioned later on that it was Parent’s Weekend at SU and both the basketball team and the football team had played games that weekend, which I knew about but hadn’t made the connection. Still, I did have a chance to grab some food and sit down at a table as someone else was getting up.
Then I decided to take a walk down into the old section to try to get some ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. Unfortunately the line was longer than I wanted to wait, which was probably just as well because I was going to get a milkshake but it would have kicked my behind (literally lol), but what was funny is that only the ice cream place and the pretzel place next to it seemed to have a lot of people. I took a quick walk through Best Buy and was kind of stunned at how quiet it seemed. I was also stunned that Best Buy doesn’t carry the DVD TV recorders that we can buy to replace what we get from Time Warner; that was disappointing.
If the mall was this crowded while it was still October, I’m wondering what kind of morass it’s going to be after Thanksgiving. I can honestly tell you I’m not looking forward to going to the mall during the holidays, and if I have to do any shopping whatsoever I will probably go up to Great Northern Mall on Route 31 and buy whatever I need there. I love the idea of having the big mall in the Syracuse area, but the issues with parking are enough to make me a bit more selective.
What do you guys think?
Now I really know times are changing. When I first heard that the Friendly’s restaurant that I’d been going to for about 38 years was closing, I was in shock. When I heard that a Moe’s Southwest Grill was coming in its place I wondered how that was going to work in that particular spot and in that building.
Well, I guess that one’s been answered. Do you see a building in this picture? No? That’s because it’s been razed and the area is being cleared so that another building can be put up in its place; oh the agony!
From what I understand that Friendly’s building had been there more than 50 years and was once the most popular restaurant in the area. It had always been a place where kids could go after they got out of school to hang out, and where families could go for a relatively inexpensive family meal on a Friday or Saturday night and then get an actual sundae, with multiple choices no less.
I moved here from northern Maine and I’d never heard of such a place, but I and my friends adopted it immediately as one of our main hangouts. We had nothing but good times in that place, and I had some samplings of desserts that, unfortunately, I can’t eat as often now because I can’t eat as much in one sitting anymore.
What will I miss most? Let’s start with the food. Every once in awhile I wanted a really big, juicy burger; they had that. I loved their fish & chips meal, cod, and I even ate the cole slaw sometimes, though I often switched to corn. My norm had become the 3-scoop sundae with double chocolate, double peanut butter, and some marshmallow sauce. I’d become a great fan of one of their newer offerings over the last couple of years, the peanut butter lava cake with 3 scoops of ice cream and both chocolate and peanut butter sauces layered over it, and I always asked for more peanut butter sauce and no chocolate chips; yeah, that’s one I had to stop eating but loved it.
My favorite forever was the 5-scoop Reese’s peanut butter cup sundae with 3 scoops of peppermint stick ice cream and two scoops of cookies ‘n cream, and of course extra peanut butter; back in the day it was the only place in town that had liquid peanut butter sauce. I remember how one day one of my friends actually ate 3 of those in one sitting and would have had a 4th if he’d had the money; nope, I couldn’t ever do that.
Last weekend I went to the Friendly’s up on Route 31 for the first time, in the location where Hooters used to be. It was nice, okay, and part of it reminded me of an old ice cream parlor from the 60′s. But it lacked charm; at least to me. I know, nostalgia kills reality sometimes, and maybe it’ll turn out to be as wonderful a place overall as the one on Route 57 was. If I have to be happy for anything, it’s that there will be something going into that spot, so there won’t be another empty, vacant building along that route in the city.
Moe’s, you’re going to have a lot to live up to; good luck… I guess…
The other night I did a live Google Hangout interview with Joanne Del Balso of No Fuss Accounting. We didn’t talk accounting, although I’m sure it would have been fascinating (uhhh lol). Instead, we talked social media, which for both of us is more of a passion than what we actually do to make money.
Here in the Syracuse area there are basically three groups of people. One is the bunch who believes that we’re the center of everything social media and way better than most of the rest of the world; turns out that’s not true unfortunately. The second group are those who talk a lot about it but when all is said and done, they’re really not going to do anything with it because they don’t care more than a passing fancy. The third group are those who aren’t sure about it, or know something about it and want to learn more, whether for business or personal use.
That’s where Joanne and I come in, only her connections and activity are much greater than mine. She’s given way more seminars locally on the subject, especially to women’s groups, and has experimented with way more new social media services, websites and applications than I have. She also has a training room where she can conduct many of her training programs; now that’s pretty neat.
If you’re from central New York, since that’s who this blog is geared towards, and you want to her some opinions about social media in general, or just want to see what someone local has to say about it, check out the interview below:
Back in January 2011 I wrote an article about a writer’s group I’m a participant and original member in called the Night Writers. We meet once a month at the Liverpool Public Library, usually the last Wednesday of the month unless it’s a holiday month like November & December. We’re sponsored by the library, although we haven’t always been.
Tim Dodge works in insurance, but he’s also a trustee with the library and our current coordinator/leader; works for me since I’m out of town so often. He’s also a great writer in my opinion. He has a blog and does many podcasts, some of them interviews and some reading portions of his books. Thus, I thought he would be a perfect candidate to interview; below are his thoughts on writer’s groups and writing in general:
1. I initially wrote about the Night Writers group back in January 2011. What was your thought about the group when you came to your first meeting?
It was so long ago that I don’t really remember the first meeting. I do remember that I had attended a workshop at the library on a Saturday and learned about the group that way. I had participated in a couple of online critique groups, so I guess my expectation was that it would be a live version of that.
2. We have a core of people who have been in the group for a long time, but have problems getting more people into it. However, at one point there were so many people that there was talk of having two separate groups. What happened and what do you think needs to happen to increase participants?
That has been a source of frustration for me for a long time. I think the period of time when we were not a library-sponsored program hurt. The group was no longer mentioned in library flyers and other promotional material. We had to do our own promotion, which was ad hoc at best. Now that we are a sponsored program again, I think participation is creeping up a bit. Every month there seems to be another new face at the meeting. However, not many of them come a second time, which is discouraging. I think we’re in general a pretty supportive bunch, so I don’t think people are turned away by criticism. It could be that a monthly meeting is not habit-forming. Still, I think continued promotion by the library is the key. They can reach a lot more people than we can on our own.
3. What do you think makes Night Writers different than other writer’s groups, if you know anything about other groups?
I think we are a bit more relaxed and welcoming than some other groups. I can’t really generalize, as I’ve only attended one or two other groups, but I have attended some where the critiques tend to be a bit sharper than ours are. Nothing necessarily wrong with that as long as participants know what to expect. However, while some of us who attend Night Writers are serious about writing, others just like to dabble, which is fine, too. Our group is very accepting of writers who have a wide variety of goals.
4. Let’s talk about the writing process. All of us have different ways of doing things, but tell us your process.
My process is evolving. I wrote three novels without doing any outlining, then I wrote a fourth one with an outline. I’ve just started another without an outline, but that doesn’t mean I won’t create one once I’ve got a firm idea of where I’m going with it. I try to write at different times of the day, but I seem to be most productive at lunch or early evening.
5. Do you think you can get the same type of feedback from having people critique you live or online, since I know you put many of your submissions out on the internet in some form?
There’s a definite difference between live and online. I think there’s a tendency to be nicer in person, which may or may not be a good thing. Writing is seldom all good or all bad. In person, people may tend to talk only about what was good, whereas online they may emphasize what they didn’t like. Obviously, a balance between the two is best, unless the writing is truly awful.
6. Talk about the different ways you share your stories online and what led you to the processes.
Sometime around 2006, I discovered podcasts, and it didn’t take me long to find some shows about writing. I found podcasts hosted by authors who were hoping to become successful but weren’t quite there yet. Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler and Tee Morris are the most notable examples because they all have since published books with large New York publishing houses. I found that all of these authors and others had built audiences by releasing their stories and entire novels as serialized audio podcasts and distributing them for free on the Web.
An entire online “store” called www.podiobooks.com has hundreds of titles available for free. I took the plunge myself in early 2009 by releasing my novel “Acts of Desperation” that way. My comedy novel “Purgatory” followed later that same year. Recording an entire novel is a lot of work, but it was very rewarding. Both of those books are still available on podiobooks.com.
7. Have you ever come close to having someone publish any of your works? If not, how do you feel about self publishing overall and how have you tried selling your stories?
I published a couple of stories years ago, but there was no payment involved, so I don’t really count it. An agent asked for the full manuscript of my latest book last winter, but I have not heard anything since, so I’m not optimistic on that front. I self-published “Purgatory” in paperback and ebook formats a year and a half ago. The process was not terribly difficult, thought it was time-consuming to get it just the way I wanted. However, to successfully self-publish you have to devote a lot of time and energy to marketing. To be perfectly honest, I have not done a good job at that.
8. What led you to trying to be a writer, and can you honestly say that if you could make your living at it that you’d give up your present career and never look back?
I remember being seven or eight years old and thinking I’d like to write a book. I wrote little articles and plays for student newspapers and class plays in elementary school, and I was a writer and editor for my high school newspaper. I worked for my college newspaper for one semester. In short, I’ve always enjoyed writing. Fiction writing is hard work, but there’s no better feeling than when you write those last two words at the end of a novel — “The End”. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment. I don’t know that I would give up my career to write full-time right now, but I can picture myself doing it as I get closer to retirement age.
9. We’ve had previous members who felt that one of the goals of Night Writers should be to get someone published. You know our members; I think you and I are the only two who have really tried to get something published. What do you believe the overall goal of our group should be?
It would be great to get someone published, but that’s not an easy thing to do when literary agents report getting 200 queries a week. I think the goal should just be for everyone who participates to be better writers after participating than they were before. And for everyone to enjoy themselves. If it’s not fun, why do it?
10. Make a pitch; tell central New York why they should check us out.
Do you like to write but are afraid you’re not good enough? Do you want people who are more objective than your mom to review your work, people who will tell you what is and isn’t working in your story? Are you intimidated by the thought that other writers are way better than you?
At Night Writers, you’ll find other writers who are in the same place you are. People who will tell you what they like and make gentle suggestions for improvement. The only people allowed to make harsh judgments are those who have made the New York Times best-seller list, and they always seem to be busy on meeting nights. At Night Writers, you’ll get a chance to present your work and to critique the work of others, in a relaxed atmosphere where the emphasis is on getting better at writing in the company of friends. New members and their friends are always welcome!