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We’ve been, and will continue, skipping all around NY, stopping in various restaurants and pubs, trying to spread the word. Some are places where we’ve already been, some are completely new to us, at some we’ll enjoy a burger, and others will be a quick stop in from the cold and a chat before continuing to our next destination.
We’ll generally map out a few places that we either know or have heard of, and attempt to take city/ town streets to get from one to the next, stopping at any place that appears to sell burgers along the way. Sometimes this works out fabulously (as we found the enjoyable Harbour House). Other times, not-so-much.
More often than not, it’s a fun experience as we meet new people and share in our love of burgers.
One of the oddest stops we’ve had so far was at Lily Logan’s in Wappingers Falls. We passed it as we were driving somewhat aimlessly and decided to turn around and stop in. Inside, we surprised a friendly bartender who didn’t seem to be expecting anyone out in the snowy weather. We were equally surprised in return when we asked about their food and burgers and she replied that she hadn’t actually tasted any. As it turned out, it was her first day working there, so her lack of enjoying the food was understandable. We left some information with her, wished her the best of luck at her new job, and set out anew.
After that random meeting, we jumped back into the car, raced off to Poppy’s, and pulled up just moments after the doors were locked. Luckily, the staff was still there cleaning, so I knocked and the very nice (but confused) girl let me in. I quickly blurted about the burger competition, handed her our pamphlet, and let her finish cleaning as we headed back to the car and onto the next stop.
On the way home we visited a handful of other places, but knew we had to hit Red Mills, a Mahopac pub that I had heard much about but never got a chance to frequent.
Even though I’m from the area, I can easily count the number of times I’ve visited Red Mills Pub on one hand. It’s not that I didn’t have a fun time or enjoy the establishment when I had visited, but, rather, I’m always looking to go somewhere new and different so, instead of going there, I would find another bar a few towns away to visit.
One thing I can’t count on one hand is, since beginning the burger quest, how many time I’ve been told to visit Red Mills Pub to try one of their burgers. Now seemed like an ideal time to give it a go and, as we pulled in and found parking, I was left wondering if I’d recognize anyone there.
Even though it was early on a Saturday night, the crowd was more family than bar patrons than I expected.
We sat at the long bar and found ourselves staring at Goose Island varieties of beer. With our normal “we want to taste it all” attitude, we asked what they tasted like. The bartender should have just said awful. She sampled us a shot’s worth and I quickly said never mind.
The Honker’s Ale wasn’t bad and I had no problem finishing my pint (although I wouldn’t order it again), but the Sofie was, as Angel said, awful. It had an odd flavor blend of beer, champagne, and perfume.
Over the years, I have heard about the notorious Red Mills burger using the fresh meat from the Red Mills Market next door, and while we couldn’t confirm if this was true or not, the burger was good, but a bit ordinary. The patty was cooked to spec and the meat was of great quality, but had little to no seasoning. The American cheese, lettuce and tomato didn’t add much. With the large side of frozen fries and the patty size options it’s a good, fresh beef, but nothing special’ kind of deal.
It was a good burger, possibly even the best in town, but we’re on a search for the best burgers in the world, and this simply wasn’t it.
(Review of Red Mills Pub)
We got back on the road and made a few more stops before calling it a night.
Our burger quest to find the best is only half of what we’re here for. To us at 50burgersorbust, the journey, experiencing new things, and seeing new sights is just as important. Sometimes, the stars align and we get the perfect trip with an amazing burger (as we did in Vermont), sometimes, like this past week, things don’t go quite as planned.
For years, I have been dreaming about heading to Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney to see the prognosticator of prognosticator, Phil, make his yearly weather prediction, but work and my availability, weather, emergencies, and, at times, me simply living too far away, have all kept me from making the world famous Groundhog Day trek. There is something I find miraculous about large groups of people coming together to celebrate something completely absurd and this has both in abundance.
A few months ago, Angel called to tell me that some people she knew were thinking about going and, before she could say anything more, I eagerly cut her off and demanded that we go too. I quickly scheduled the days needed off from work, started researching the event, and began making plans.
I figured if we left here 8PM February 1st, we would be able to stop for a burger for as a late dinner somewhere in Pennsylvania, and make it to Punxsutawney between 3-4AM… plenty early to enjoy the bonfire and ongoing pre-show before the grand appearance of Phil at 7:20AM. We would then spend the morning there before finally returning home (stopping for another burger along the way).
The excitement was building as everything was set and mapped out and then the inevitable happened. At the last minute, our plans drastically changed. The cold that had left me sick on the couch just over a week earlier had set it’s sights on Angel and she wouldn’t be able to join me. There was a brief moment where I was ready to throw in the towel, after all, doing a 12+ hour drive alone is not my idea of fun, but then I thought about the buck-toothed land-beaver and knew I had to make the journey alone.
Without Angel, I knew I wouldn’t be stopping for burgers, so I was able to leave a tad later than originally thought. At roughly 9PM, Groundhog Eve, my bag was packed, the car was loaded, GPS was programmed, and with a final check of the weather, I was off.
For the majority of the drive, it was nothing but darkness and diesel fumes as big rigs all but monopolized the highways. Occasionally I’d pass a sign or name that I found entertaining, stop for a quick picture to send it off to Angel, and continue on my way, but the drive by and large was repetitive and tiresome. Thankfully, the sheer anticipation of witnessing Punxsutawney Phil work his magic in person had me giddy with delight for most of the drive.
Around 3:30AM, just as my enthusiasm was beginning to fade, a spot off on the horizon the flashing sign welcoming me to Punxsutawney (and informing me that there was no parking up at Gobblers Knob). With a renewed vigor, I quickly turned into the Fezell’s County Market parking lot, threw on my hat, scarf, and coat, and set off on my search.
They offer a bus shuttle to take you from town up to Gobblers Knob (where the festives and Phil ceremony occur), but I figured it’s only 1.5 miles and, after the long drive, the exercise would get the blood flowing. On their website they warn that it’s an uphill walk. Uphill is severely under exaggerating. These streets were a steep climb and not what I was expecting (or ready for) on this dark and cold morning. I HIGHLY recommend taking the shuttle if you go.
Finally, when the heavenly bound road couldn’t stretch any higher, I was there, Gobblers Knob.
There was music coursing through the air, a crowd was already forming around the stage, and a group was huddled up trying to keep warm around the bonfire. Intrigued and unsure of what to do, I headed over to the ‘Information Booth’ where the kind and well dressed gentleman (practically everyone involved wears a tuxedo and top hat) welcomed me on my first visit and handed me a gold colored coin souvenir and newspaper listing all of the local events. Parting ways, he infused with me the idea to relax, enjoy myself, and have fun.
From there, I made my way over to the bonfire, although, since the flames were barely 3 feet high at this time, it was more of a fire pit than the towering inferno I was expecting. Still, a circle about 10 feet across of solid fire is no small feat and it was plenty warm for those who were feeling a chill. Still more than warmed up from the hike, I continued onward towards the large stage, stopping occasionally to read the informative signs and other decorations.
Considering we were outside, an open clearing in the woods, it was a pretty grand stage everyone was performing on. When I first arrived, the 8 chosen local high school girls that make up Phil’s Dancers were, well, dancing. They would come out for a song or two, grab the crowd’s attention and raise their enthusiasm to a new high with familiar and peppy songs, and then take a quick break to catch their breath. Something was always going on.
In between dances, we were entertained by a mock ‘Half-Minute to Win It’ show where select audience members were given 30 seconds to compete in silly events against one another, a visit by Tom Corbett, the Governor of Pennsylvania (only the second time in history where one had made an appearance), an ex-drummer from ‘Rusted Root’ was there with a small drum circle, an introduction of the local Groundhog King and Queen, and an assortment of crowd participation games of the “When I say Phil, you say Phil” and clapping variety. There was not a dull moment as they kept everyone’s attention and made the night pass so much quicker.
Finally, at 6:30AM, the real fun was about to begin as Phil’s ‘alarm clock’ went off. Fireworks! For a solid 15+ minutes, colors and explosions lit up the morning sky to select tunes from Star Wars and Superman. It seemed a tad odd at first, but there’s something about watching fireworks while listening to the Imperial March that made me smile ear to ear.
With less than a half hour before the magic, I knew it wouldn’t be long now.
It suddenly became very serious.
The prestigious members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, each dressed in their finest black tie apparel, proudly made their grand entrance to the stage. Introductions were made for each of them and we were offered a brief history of the 126 years of Punxsutawney Phil and the Groundhog Day tradition.
Finally, the microphone was handed to William Deeley, President of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and, with one last chant of “PHIL!” and a knock of the cane on Phil’s door, he was awake. The handlers gently helped Phil out of his old stump home and presented him on a red carpet where, in groundhogeese (a language of chirps, clicks, a little body language, cock of the head, or wink of the eye), he communicated to Mr. Deeley.
The 18,000 of us in attendance stood in silence. The anticipation was incredible.
The microphone was then passed back to Michael Johnson, VP of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, and he was told which of the the two pre-prepared scrolls he was to read.
“Hear ye, hear ye… 6 more weeks of winter it must be.”
The crowd moaned, groaned, and booed in unison, but we all knew Phil was right. After all, he’s never been wrong.
It was an amazingly entertaining event that I truly believe is a must see for everyone. Amongst the ‘Phil’s shadow stops global warming!’ and other fun signs, there were plenty from others joyfully expressing how this was a lifelong dream to experience and how happy they were to be able to cross it off their bucket list.
As I walked back down to town, visiting the sights in Barclay Square, and continuing on the whole drive home, I felt a warm feeling of happiness. After all, it’s not every day you get to share such a close bond with thousands of strangers celebrating something so over-the-top in absurdity.
Next year Angel will have to join me.