Close to Home

This past week, most college students, scattered from Oswego to Berkley, made the trek back home for the summer. On Facebook, I read one status update after another about finishing up finals, packing those bags, and heading back to the Northcountry. In addition to all those students, the boaters and cottage owners are flooding back to their lake and river digs, looking forward to endless summer nights of ice cream stands, pizzas and subs.

I attended college in North Carolina for my first two years away from home. A friend who graduated from IHC was just down the road in Myrtle Beach, and she and I would spend hours on the phone, reminiscing about Jreck subs, Art’s pizza and just about everything from Fairground Inn. Even now, I’ll post on Facebook if I happen to hit Jreck’s while up in Watertown, and friends from high school will post comments for hours about their favorite sub choice, and how much they miss that taste of home.

I’ve been eating Jreck subs since I was wee. Not being an adventurous cheese fan when I was little, my first love was just ham and America cheese, with nothing else. I graduated to the infinitely more sophisticated turkey with provolone, lettuce and tomato, no shakers or oil, probably around middle school. Oh God, Jreck’s lettuce is like its own category of food. It tastes different and better than lettuce from any other sub shop in the world, and I have no idea why! These days, I add those crucial shakers and oil to whatever sub I’m trying. I still like the plain old white roll the best, though sometimes I’m feeling self-conscious about my waistline and I’ll consent to whole wheat. No matter what, and after all these years of living in the Jreck-less Southern Tier, I WILL NOT eat at Subway. It’s so inferior! I can’t even believe the good citizens of NNY allow Subway to exist inside their borders. Chain sub shops are just no match for that hometown taste.

Side Note: For the next generation crave-able, must-have sandwich, check out the new Romalato’s, out by JCC on Coffeen. Not a traditional taste of home, but this upscale, gourmet deli is serving quality, tasty ingredients with unique and interesting choices. Full disclosure, Romalato’s is partly owned by my cousin, Todd. But I promise that’s not why I’m plugging them. They have great Cuban sandwiches!

I’m digressing. Back to our returning college friends. The other spot my friends and I would waste hours salivating over while stranded in BBQ and fried chicken land was Art’s Jug, in Watertown. The south is a wasteland as far as Italian food goes. So when you’ve been raised with spaghetti and meatballs every Wednesday, or your grandmother’s sauce on Sundays, it’s hard to live in a place where Domino’s and Papa John’s passes for pizza. To this day, I still ask to have antipasto and supreme pizza at Art’s when I’m visiting my parents. You just can’t beat it. Something newer on Art’s menu is the red hook ale shrimp. Kids, if you’re just back from Ithaca College or the University of Louisville, head over to Art’s, order a pizza and some of these shrimp. Actually, get two orders of the shrimp. They’re beer battered and fried, but beat any other fried shrimp I’ve had, ever. Ever! Jeez, when am I heading up north again?

We also used to spend a substantial amount of time waxing poetic about Fairground Inn. My friend in Myrtle loved their meatballs; I was all about the French onion soup, French dip sammies, clam chowder, and banana cream pie. See how greedy I am? These days, my Mom and I love to order the Russ Salad, which isn’t even on the menu. Invented by Watertown High’s choir director and my friend, Russ Faunce, this is their house salad, sans onions, embellished with black olives and chopped bacon. YUM. The menu here has changed and morphed over the years, as the Coleman family of restaurants has grown, shrunk and changed. But I still love to get soup and sandwich, with whatever delicious pie is gracing the specials menu that day. Fairgrounds is the place I send people from down here who are traveling through Watertown on their way up to the Thousand Islands or Canada. It’s just such a good spot to get great, inexpensive, dependable food. And I’m sure right now, it’s filled with college kids and their moms, having their first lunch back after finals. What’s your favorite menu item at Fairground Inn? Hit the comments section and share!

Of course, there are many other Northcountry institutions, both long-standing and new on the scene, which will welcome students home for the summer in the coming weeks. Frosty’s, on Bradley St in Watertown, will certainly be packed on weekday evenings. I love to get a simple, small, chocolate peanut butter cup on a sugar cone, and sit in my Dad’s car in the parking lot, watching all the little league teams come and go. Frosty’s had a fire last year, as I understand it, so they have a new building for 2010, and it’s really nice. Bernardo’s Pizzeria, on Coffeen, will be jammed with students craving the Tufo brand of Heaven. I can’t imagine kids up in Clayton won’t be fighting for seats in the Koffee Kove this weekend – begging for fries with their delicious gravy, and collecting their 2010 signature coffee mug. And in Sacket’s, Tin Pan Galley will be standing room only. For me, you can’t beat their chicken hash or eggs rosalie for a delicious and fancy family breakfast. It’s the time of year to cure your homesickness with something yummy. Have at it!

In closing, for the parents who are so glad to have their babies home for the summer, I want to leave you with a non-food related lyric from the musical Children of Eden, which Russ Faunce put on at WHS some years ago. I think it sums up nicely how lovely it is to have your family around you, to enjoy a meal together and remember why we love being home:

Come sit beside me in the dying light
What storms the morning brings, we’ll weather alright
Your hand in my hand
And as we sit here huddled in the gloom
Paradise seems strangely close
Close to home

Kids, enjoy the summer. Parents, enjoy your children. Eaters, enjoy all the ice cream and pizza you can! And thanks for checking in with Big Hungry Shelby. Next week, we’re hitting the road for a day trip – please join me! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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