Every time I come to Cooperstown I am struck with the beauty of this little town. When my parents chose to move back here after my father finished serving in the army, they made a wonderful choice. There are so many things about the town that make it special.
For about three months each year, the residents of Cooperstown share their idyllic village with the rest of the world. Then, like Brigadoon, it disappears into the fog of upstate New York, and the only ones who find it are hunters in search of some baseball holy grail. (Actually, the largest employer in the whole county is the hospital located in the village, Bassett Healthcare, so people also come to town daily to work or to receive care. We get visitors year ’round.)
This post and the two that follow are for our visitors. I want to let you in on some insider’s tips for the best places in town. I lived here nearly my entire life, wandering the streets as a barefoot local urchin when I was younger, working at the Baseball Hall of Fame when I was in high school, and coming back, like my parents, to raise a family here. Of course, these are only my opinions, and there are those, similarly credentialed, who would say otherwise.
I thought of my three favorite places to eat, my three favorite places to shop, and my three favorite places for a quiet moment, all within walking distance of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the mecca of most visitors. That adds up to nine places I want to share with you, the number of innings in a baseball game. How appropriate! Without further ado, here are my top three places to eat in Cooperstown.
1. Schneider’s Bakery — Located on the corner of Chestnut and Main, this has been and still is one of my favorite places in Cooperstown. I LOVE their cinnamon rolls. When I pregnant, which was often, their cinnamon rolls were one thing I craved. (This may explain some of the excess weight I gained with each pregnancy.) On the window ledge to the right as you walk in the door are day- old baked goods; this is usually my first stop. They started making cinnamon raisin rolls and cinnamon walnut rolls a few years ago; I can’t always tell them apart on the day-old rack. If I want to know for sure, I have to buy fresh. If I want to live on the wild side (and cheap side) I buy day old. If you visit in the fall, their old-fashioned doughnuts are wonderful with apple cider (from the Fly Creek Cider Mill, of course). And if you’re there around the holidays, their white mountain rolls are great with a turkey dinner — but you may need to order ahead.
2. Sal’s Pizzeria – You’ll realize what a strange person I am when I tell you that my favorite kind of pizza is white garlic with broccoli, and nobody makes it like Sal’s. They are right on Main Street, between the stop light and the flag pole, near the CVS. If you’re lucky, you’ll see someone tossing pizza in the window (not at the window). A number of years ago, the Cooperstown Village Library’s summer reading program for children had a food theme. Sal was invited to give a presentation for an evening program, and I’ll never forget how he began his presentation. He said, “The first step to making a great pizza is to start with high quality ingredients.” He went on to talk about buying good flour for the dough and what kind of oil he used and the toppings etc. I’ve always thought that was a good life lesson — if we want a good end product, we need to put good ingredients into it. Sal makes a good pizza.
3. Foo Kin – A young Chinese couple attended our church for a few years. Sophie was right from Hong Kong and Jonathon was from Philadelphia (I think). He was doing a surgical residency at Bassett, and Sophia was getting acclimated to a new country. She gave a Chinese cooking class to the ladies at the church, and in the course of it, she said, “The Chinese restaurant here in town is very good. They are very authentic. You should try them.” So we did. And it was. There we met Foo Kin John and his wife and family. It’s very much a family business. I swear he had his three-year old running the cash register at one point. His family was even featured in Family Circle magazine. John is a hard-working, effervescently cheerful man who makes everything fresh. His egg drop soup was another pregnancy craving. The restaurant is a half block from the flagpole up Pioneer Street. If you go there, say hi to John for us.
There are other eating places worthy of mention, but they aren’t really within walking distance of the Hall of Fame.
- The Depot Deli make super sandwiches. Overstuffed and wonderful!! They’re located at 21 Railroad Ave — not hard to find, but if you’re not familiar with the village, you may need a map.
- Stewart’s (yes, the chain store that looks like it’s just a run of the mill convenience store) has great ice cream at great prices. You’ll find them on the south end of Chestnut Street in the village.
- The Penguin Place also has great ice cream and they’ll make any flavor you want. The people are friendly, too, so you can’t ask for much more. It’s a mile or two south of Cooperstown on Rte 28.
That about covers food. As I wrote this, I realized how much my thoughts of these places are tied to happy memories. “Food memories” is what they call them on the cooking shows. What I love about each of the places is that it’s not just the food, it’s the people that make them special. Remember Carla from Top Chef sending out her food with love? I think that’s what they do at some of these places in Cooperstown.
Tomorrow — places to shop (and nary a baseball shop on the list!)