More Trail Tales
For the Winter 2013 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: Do you have a favorite trailside bar or restaurant?
Coraletta Houck of Parkersburg, W.Va., writes:
While camping at North Bend State Park in Cairo, W.Va., my husband and I often access the North Bend Rail Trail, which takes us in two directions to two very unique eateries.
Riding west for three miles, we arrive at Freed's Diner, where we are always greeted with a hearty hello by the owner and his staff. Tracy Freed, a retired employee of the trail maintenance crew, often sits and chats with us. He shares tales of the freight and passenger trains that once stopped at the Cairo depot. Tracey's love for the trail and his hometown is reflected in the care shows us and each of his customers. His staff, likewise, makes us feel at home, remembering that my husband likes the onions, while I go for the cucumbers.
Yearning for a longer ride, we sometimes travel 10 miles east to the P&H Family Restaurant in Pennsboro. Like Cairo, Pennsboro was once a railroad hub, and the P&H reflects those railroad ties. The restaurant is named for the spur that once connected Pennsboro to Harrisville, the county seat. Again, we are wrapped in railroad history—in the menu format, the wall murals and the restored depot just behind the eatery. The servers are quick to serve up my husband's favorite hoagie and my warm pineapple chef salad.
As we continue to ride the North Bend Rail Trail, our appetites often lead us to Freed's Diner or to the P&H Family Restaurant—two different directions, two memorable eateries.
Ed Johnson of Alexandria, Va., writes:
I would vote for Bill's Place in Little Orleans, Md. It is less than five miles from the northern end of the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) heading north along the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath to Fifteen Mile Creek Campground. This is a rustic old place headed up by a rustic man, Bill. Sometimes you have to use the doorbell to let Bill know you are there, but once inside the beer is cold, the shots are warming, and all at a decent price.
This place is an excellent stop after hiking or biking the C&O or WMRT. You might meet some local characters there, and you can tell because they head right to the beer coolers and pull out their own lager. Strike up a conversation and be informed about the area and get a few opinions on the state of governmental affairs. Some of the decor may be off-putting, but get over it, because this is a one-of-a-kind place! You can get food there, though I have not, but I have heard they make great fried baloney sandwiches (I have put that on my bucket list). Eat off the checkered table clothes on mid-1970s dinette sets, then pick up a few items and head out to your next destination, or stay longer and pitch a tent at the Fifteen Mile Creek campground 500 feet down the road.
Joe Clayton of Frankfort, Ill., writes:
The Old Plank Trail Tavern (a.k.a Gracies) in Frankfort, Ill., is where it's at. The 22-mile Old Plank Road Trail is mostly flat and is part of the old Joliet & Northern Indiana Railroad (Michigan Central). Located downtown on the Old Plank Road Trail, the tavern is quaint—built in 1855, with tin ceilings, kitschy antiques and great local people. Even the pool table has a history of how it got to the tavern by horse-drawn wagon. They have great hamburgers if you are hungry and a bike corral at the beer garden for your bikes. The hamburgers are made with fresh ground beef from the Trolley Barn Meat Market right down the street.
When you look at the front of the tavern, you can envision a horse tied to the hitching post. The façade of Old Plank Trail Tavern is right out of the Wild West. It is a complete step back in time. But don't be surprised if you see a Harley next to that bicycle. The tavern welcomes all walks.
As for the kitschy antique feel, you'll find a time-out bench, church pews and your great grandmother's buffet. It is a little dark at first, so let your eyes adjust. Then view the extensive collection of old porcelain liquor bottles along the wall. It's eclectic. Oh, and did I say "Dog Bar?" Yes, it has a dog bar, too, complete with dog treats for your pooch.
So the next time you are in northern Illinois, come on out to start and finish your ride in Frankfort, where you'll find great bathrooms and parking right on the trail. It's time to enjoy the town and its 1890s charm.
Sue Bruns of Bemidji, Minn., writes:
In April 2012, my husband and I biked a stretch of the Great Allegheny Passage. We stopped at a Pittsburgh REI store, where a young man recommended the OTB Bicycle Café as a great place for lunch. The letters OTB (for Over the Bar) on the front of the cafe are arranged to form a bicycle, just a hint of the bike theme taken to the hilt. The interior sports bike decorations of all kinds. Even in the restrooms, murals of bike racers fill the walls, and part of a bike frame serves as a toilet paper holder.
The atmosphere is great, and the menu options include many healthy, tasty and unique items—all with bike-related names like the Spoke Junkie (cheese-filled and rolled zucchini appetizer), the Tandem (grilled cheese with tomato soup), and the Rail Trail Wrap (grilled spicy buffalo chicken, wrapped with lettuce, carrots and provolone cheese in a warm pita, drizzled with ranch or blue cheese). My husband had the Dirt Rag Delight (a burger topped with American cheese, pickles and Wholey's homemade peanut butter), while I opted for the Pedal Paddle Panini (a tomato, basil, roasted red pepper and buffalo mozzarella Panini).
It was one of the most memorable bike trail eating experiences ever. The OTB is located on East Carson Street, just one block from the South Side Works trailhead along the Great Allegheny Passage.
Susan H. Lowry of Sarasota, Fla., writes:
Recently a group of us from Sarasota embarked on a bicycle trip we called the "Southern Sojourn" through Mississippi and Louisiana. The focus of the trip was to bicycle on as many rails-trails as possible
and to enjoy the culinary delights of the area!
We bicycled along the Longleaf Trace in Mississippi, the Mississippi River Trail (on top of a levee!) at Kenner outside of New Orleans, and the Tammany Trace in Louisiana. Before, during or after our daily bike rides we sought out eateries that offered local fare, including a delicious catfish wrap in a strip mall diner.
The Tammany Trace offered us two memorable eating experiences. The first one was near the Mandeville trailhead, the other near the Covington trailhead. No matter which end of the trail we started from, we enjoyed miles of beautiful, flat trail, the sun peeking through the shade of pine and oak trees, and views of lily ponds and bayous. After biking several miles from Mandeville, we stopped at Grillots for lunch. This eatery is famous for its barbecued oysters—and justly so! We all enjoyed some delicious oysters and other delectable goodies before returning to the Mandeville trailhead.
From the Covington trailhead, we biked several miles, continuing to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this trail. Our lunch stop on this part of the trail was near the Abita Springs trailhead, the Abita Brew Pub—and of course we had to sample the local brew with a brew burger!
It was a memorable trip, not only for the biking along the beautiful trails, but also for the anticipation of where we might be eating next!
Nancy Sainsbury of Maryland writes:
I have been riding my bike on the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail for years. I always enjoy the tree-lined paved trail that starts just outside Annapolis, Md., continues for 13.3 miles and connects to a loop that circles around Baltimore-Washington Airport.
My favorite stop is a small coffee store, the The Big Bean. It's located in Severna Park, Md., at mile marker 5.5, where you will see a buzz of activity on the weekends. Inside the store it is always lively, painted with bright colors and sprinkled with funny signs. I always get a friendly greeting and a great cappuccino from the baristas (and they are always happy to refill my water bottle, too!)
I can't pass up a warm-from-the-oven Big Bean Breakfast Cookie, or one of the decadent French pastries in the bakery case. Then I head out back to sit at the tables under the trees, sip my delicious espresso drink while I watch the bikers, runners and walkers going by. It's a wonderful treat.
Lisa Warshaw of Eden Prairie, Minn., writes:
Whether I'm at the end of long day of biking, or just starting my ride early in the morning, my favorite hangout trailside is The Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, Minn. It is located on the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, which connects the southwest suburbs of the Twin Cities to Minneapolis and St Paul. If it's quaint and bike-friendly appearance in the original Hopkins train depot isn't inviting enough, the wafting scent of rich, freshly brewed coffee will bring you to its front door. The Depot is a mainstay for bicyclists on the trail, located at the spur of many connecting bike trails in the area. Sitting on its ample outdoor patio or in its cozy interior, I can sip coffee and enjoy a locally baked pastry while witnessing the collision of past with present as trains rumble along the nearby railroad in unison with bikers, runners, skaters and walkers on the trail. Their bike-friendly atmosphere includes plenty of racks, clean bathrooms, bicycle pumps and a vending machine filled with essentials for a cyclist in need. The solar-panel-covered roof, bicycle club meeting grounds, and organically grown garden filled with raspberry bushes will make you feel that you are doing your share to reduce your environmental impact along the way. Together, these qualities make The Depot Coffee House my favorite trailside place to begin, end or simply pause during my emission-free exploration of one of the best bicycling cities in the nation.
Michelle Schmiedeler of North Kansas City, Mo., writes:
On mile marker 169.5 of the Katy Trail State Park, you will find McBaine, Mo., home of Lucy's Bar & Grill. And if it wasn't for Lucy's, you would surely miss the town itself. According to the Columbia Missourian article from 2007 that hangs on the wall there, only 17 people live in McBaine, and Lucy's is the only moneymaking establishment.
Lucy's is the town's epicenter, where the townspeople meet and gather daily. And why not? There beer is icy cold and the burgers are good. And, if you've been camping along the trail at close-by Katfish Katy's or Cooper's Landing, they serve breakfast as well.
The Katy Trail runs behind Lucy's, so you have to jump off the Katy to get around to the front. Once you do, there are plenty of racks to accommodate your bicycles. Once in, you can settle in at the bar or one of many tables and take in the cowboy décor, complete with jukebox and cigarette machine. I've been to Lucy's four times during the past couple of years, and to be honest, I've planned my Katy Trail bike trek around making sure there is at least one (or two) stops at Lucy's.
Karin Weisburgh of Larchmont, N.Y., writes:
After school had ended, Nazrul, an exchange student from Malaysia, and I, his host mom, set out on a great bicycle adventure to ride the C&O/Great Allegheny Passage in five days. I had only three goals for the trip: 1) complete the ride from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa., including a detour/stop at Falling Water; 2) have fun' and 3) ensure Nazrul had an unforgettable American culinary experience. Encompassed within the third goal was consuming at least one ice cream per day and introducing him to Maryland crabs.
On the third day, Cumberland, Md., was our best bet for crabs, but where? We happened to meet up with a rider from Ocean City, Md., at Bill's Place in Little Orleans. He was heading eastbound, so I asked him if he'd encountered any crabs in Cumberland. He said he smelled them while riding over the bridge. Bingo!
Before tackling the crabs, we went to the Queen City Creamery to have a banana split. Since we were headed to Frostburg for the night, we got a dozen jumbos to go from the Crabby Pig.
Climbing 16 miles to Frostburg at twilight was magnificent! Nazrul greeted me at the trailhead with unfortunate news of having to crest two more hills to reach town. But Wild Things in Frostburg was worth the effort! They covered a large corner table with plastic so we could enjoy our Maryland crabs, and they kept the cold drinks flowing. With a bill of only $22, we were fully satisfied customers.
Cathy Holdren of Bloomsburg, Pa., writes:
Nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania lies the 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail. The trail is courses through the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania" and many small towns and remnants of former lumbering villages, one of which is Slate Run. This picturesque village on the trail is home to a hidden gem, the Hotel Manor Restaurant. While the menu is not large, each choice can chase away those hunger pains of a long ride. My favorite is the crab cake, either on a fresh roll or topping a salad with a Pittsburgh twist of added french fries. These crab cakes could compete with the finest restaurants in Ocean City, Md., and probably win.
As a diner, you can eat inside with the pictures of days gone by in lumber camps and towns, or sit outside on the wooden deck and watch the creek and trail. The Slate Run area is a good fly-fishing spot and also a "put in" spot for canoes and kayaks. If you aren't watching the creek, watch the skies for bald eagles that nest in the area. I think the waitstaff enjoy working in such a serene setting, as they are always gracious and eager to please your needs. It is a perfect place to stop along the trail, be it to rest some weary legs or just to take a step away from the bustle of a day to relax a bit.
Patti Porco of Parrish, Fla., writes:
My husband and I lived in Northern Virginia for nine years, and we were frequent bikers of the C&O Canal towpath, usually biking through Point of Rocks, Brunswick and Harpers Ferry. So we were fortunate to have tried many restaurants in the towns along the trail. By far, our favorite stopping point was Brunswick, Md., we could recharge at Beans in the Belfry. They offer many types of specialty coffee drinks, teas, sandwiches, quiche, salads and desserts in the 100-year-old restored church building. And if you are in the mood to do a little shopping, Beans in the Belfry can accommodate that as well. They have a gift shop where you can buy gourmet coffee, artisan teas, greeting cards and other fun gift items. Some days, our timing was perfect and we were lucky enough to enjoy the entertainment they offered, including local artists performing a variety of jazz, blues, country, folk and rock music. The atmosphere was comfortable and relaxing, like sitting in someone's home for a casual lunch. All that, along with the friendly staff, made this stop a "must-see" for any biking adventure we took. Knowing there was a frozen mocha and panini waiting for us at the top of that hill was great incentive to keep on pedaling!
Stephanie Regenold of Baltimore, Md., writes:
My favorite trailside restaurant is undoubtedly the River's Edge Café in Confluence, Pa. On the banks of the Youghiogheny River, the River's Edge Café is a minute bike ride from the Great Allegheny Passage. This part of the trail, near Ohiopyle, runs alongside the Allegheny River for 10 miles of majestic beauty—river, forest, rolling hills and the occasional railroad train whistle mark the scenery and experience. And at the end of this part of the trail, in Confluence, is The River's Edge. The Café is a converted 1890s home, with a wraparound porch where one can dine overlooking the river. The owner and staff are warm and inviting, and the food is delicious. Our family has enjoyed many a long weekend staying in the rooms behind the café that serve as a bed-and-breakfast. After a day spent on the trail and on the river, nothing beats the enjoyment of a lovely, relaxing dinner outdoors at the River's Edge Café.
DeAnn O'Dell of Midlothian, Va., writes:
I've been biking segments of the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia for at least 15 years. And a visit to the Creeper Trail Café in the village of Taylors Valley is always a must along the way—whether I am biking up to the top of the trail at Whitetop or down on the way to Damascus or Abingdon. Beth and Susie make their guests feel welcome and serve only made-while-you-wait food. And their famous chocolate cake is a well-deserved reward after a long ride. The café is frequented by locals as well as cyclists and hikers (some from the adjacent Appalachian Trail) from across the United States and other countries. It's true, Taylors Valley has no gas station or stop light—but it does have the Creeper Trail Café that shines brightly as an example of the positive impact a rail-trail can have on the local towns/villages that are sharing their rehabilitated railbed with thousands of enthusiastic visitors each year. When friends ask me about visiting the Creeper Trail, I, of course, extol the beauty and spirit of the trail, but I never fail to be sure they stop at the café in Taylors Valley! After all, it is the people you meet along the way that make visitors like me return year after year.