Poconos: Stroudsburg and Jim Thorpe

(August 2020)

Almost everyone here in New York seems to have been to the Poconos.  The Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania is a very large area overlooking the Delaware River, and is choc full of tourist activities and destinations.  Marie had been when a teenager, and stopped in the town of Stroudsburg barely over the border of New Jersey into PA. I’d never been at all.  Marie had booked for us to stop in Stroudsburg this time too.  We preferred not to be in tourist central, but to be based in a more laid-back locale.

We just got back, and had a fine time!

On day one, Thursday morning we made a pit-stop at Nathaniel’s Bakery near our home in Whitestone, Queens, munching on one of their delicious ham & cheese kinda croissant in the car, and some cookies. Nathaniel’s is a tremendous little bakery; well recommended.  After about an hour and fifteen minutes on the road we stopped to browse in the country store at Cracker Barrel in Arlington, then made it to Main Street, Stroudsburg in good time.   Main Street is pretty smart, with plenty to keep us occupied, and our hotel (Hampton Inn) is just off the main street, oddly situated at the end of a residential road.   We stopped for a light lunch at The Cure Café. A very talkative and friendly waitress told us quite a lot about the area.  Marie and I shared a monte cristo sandwich – ham and cheese on French toast – and crab dip with tortillas. Really good, both.

We took a long, scenic drive. Absolutely stunning, gorgeous settings; endless woodland with dappled sunlight filtering through.  Locals must be used to this, but it’s a welcome novelty to us!  We’ve seen plenty of deer before, but this was the first time any crossed our path.

In the evening we chose the large Irish pub-restaurant in town, Siamsa (pronounced Shiamsa).  Quality fish and chips following on from a tasty and salty onion soup.  I had a couple of beers including an 8 ounce, quite strong cinnamon roll beer which was unique, and which both of us loved in a weird way!  Cinnamon to the max. And Marie had a strong crème brulee martini.  

at Siamsa, the gooey cheese of the onion soup!

We took a walk through the historic district, after dark now.  A chilled, elegant walk and we enjoyed seeing stray cats sleeping on the roof of a dry cleaners.

Then we had excellent Thai rolled ice cream for a late evening treat; mint with toppings.

Day 2 –

We got breakfast ‘covid’ packs from reception at the hotel (water, an orange, breakfast bar and packet muffin), and made for Quiet Valley Historic Farm.  We’ve been to many living history museums before.  We love it really, yet some of the facts may wash over us.  This time we were determined to get more out of it, to really listen and watch.  The Quiet Valley is a humble size one; mostly not a re-creation (apart from the school room) but original, and in its original location.  The German family who owned the farm gave it over to the town to use as a museum in…I believe 1913. 

The member of staff at the barn was a mine of great information, and she was excellent. We learned about sorting wheat from chaff, and using a mechanism to sew seeds effectively and stuff like that. We were also having fun petting the two extremely affectionate cats on the site too. One of them has a two tone black and tabby face, and different coloured eyes!

We spent about two plus hours altogether, and tried to absorb it all…the one room school, grandaddy’s cabin, the farmhouse in which seven slept in a small room. At the school I thought that the woman giving us the guided talk seemed to have the perfect demeanor for a ‘school marm’. I asked her if she were or had been a teacher in real life.  She told us, no, she had juggled…we waited for her to say she’d juggled three jobs or something, but – no – she’d been a professional juggler!

Then more animals: goats, sheep, the biggest pig we’d ever seen, roosters, horses and we used a Victorian out-house toilet before leaving! Oh, and of course visited the gift shop, which had some high quality, bargain, handmade items.

photos below of Quiet Valley Farm…

photo by Adam Hardy
photo by Marie Hardy

We’d passed several, very Americana roadside stops on the way, and for a casual lunch we wanted to try the butter burger we’d seen advertised at Big Star.  It was pretty good, a bit like a large White Castle burger!  And a lime smoothie for myself, and we had soft-serve ice creams. I survived the potential double threat of a creamie smoothie and an ice cream, and there was no repeat of the liver & onions, coke float and key lime pie, hedonistic fiasco I’d had at a soda fountain mom & pop years ago!

Back at Stroudsburg, and I browsed the vinyl record shop in town.  A nice selection, many records looked quite pristine and at only $5 each.  We would liked to have seen more alternative stuff, but the accent was more on classic rock.  I chose a Robert Plant elpee, ‘Pictures at Eleven’ (just played it at home, and not a single scratch). My first Plant or Zep vinyl.    Strangely, they seem to have three or four copies of most of all the albums they have in the shop. Does that mean they get them from a warehouse?

My friend in Sydney, Colin, who’s a big classic rock fan would have found a lot to take home here.

Evening time now, after a hotel regroup.  There are several breweries and wineries in town. We thought we’d try flights of wines at Renegade Winery.  It was extremely cheap for a big range of samples and a cheese and crackers plate (you have to have at least a small bite to eat, by law, when drinking alcohol in many North Eastern states).  The jalapeno wine was sort of addictive, and the mango wine light and delicious. But we didn’t care for many of the wines, especially the overly iron-y ones.  They almost do a great job because the place itself is very smart and appealing, and the prices good, but we just didn’t like the wines really.

Then we made the short walk further down Main to the Downriver Brewery. We loved this!  Quite a lot of strong beers, some good music and we had BBQ pizza and mac and cheese (basic, but it did the job). We liked the vibe of the place and we’re determined to come back. Friendly too, the head brewer came over to our table to offer us a free sample of the new beer he’d just made, a smokey stout which we both liked.

We then sat outside Siamsa and had Irish coffees and shared a crème brulee cheesecake.  We love golden retrievers so we couldn’t resist petting one as the owner walked past.  The nice guy was very amiable and chatty (he reminded me of Robin Williams).  I can’t even remember half of what we talked about, but we spent about half an hour with he and his dog at our table.

Everyone had been, just really salt-of-the-earth nice so far in and around the town.

Day 3 –

A classic breakfast at Compton Pancake House on the outskirts of town.  A half hour wait but well worth it. It’s one of the most rated places around.  High quality body fuel for the day!

We’d decided to try a suggested historic driving route in a magazine we’d picked up: Old Mine Road. It was hidden away from the real world, and very authentic and unspoiled. Which is what we wanted really.  There is quite a long stretch of the road which is very rickety. Fortunately Marie was able to drive around the many pot holes, because – since there were hardly any cars on the road at all besides us – we were able to use both sides.  Still, we were relieved when the paving eventually became smoother.  Really it’s just you and the forest either side for most of the way.  There is an old disused farming village, Old Millbrook, about a quarter of the way along the route.  There are tours by the historical society on some days of the week, but we enjoyed the silence and the mystery of the old remaining buildings. I liked the idea of wandering into the woods just a little bit, but less the chance of an encounter with a bear so I resisted the temptation.

About halfway along the road it became a dirt track. I said to Marie, “wow, this is pretty hardcore”.  It was marked on the map as still the Old Mine Road. Remember it’s just YOU, no other cars around. Then the road was blocked by some haystacks!  Lank-haired cows gave us a funny look in the field on the right.  We couldn’t even turn the car around, and had to reverse about a quarter of a mile back into civilization.  We’d enjoyed the Mine Road, but the scenery was great on everyday paved roads too so we were happy to return to normality.  We could see from our map that we could get to one of the many waterfalls in the Poconos, Dingman’s Falls on the route we were already headed.   Perfect!

A long line of cars were parked to the side of a main road.  Ordinarily you can drive to the Dingman’s Visitors Centre, and walk from there to the falls. As the Visitor’s Centre is closed during Covid, you have to walk the mile. We did this with many others, and it was a nice walk along a modern road through the forest though it seemed to last forever. And it was hot.  The rest of the walk, the third of a mile from the Centre along wooden paths through the forest and to two falls (Silver Thread first, then Dingman’s) is delightful.  Both falls are worth the visit, and are free.  We’d intended to do the main attraction – Bushkills Falls – on Monday. But this was it for us, and we were very happy with our slightly intrepid Dingman’s walk.   We’d spent half a day driving in wooded wilderness and then a 2.6 mile walk, both through beautiful and lesser-known scenery and we can do Bushkills and our next visit to the Poconos.

Coming back, we tried another real slice of Americana eateries: Rootin’ Tootin’ Hot Dogs, just off the motorway at a corner spot on the edge of Stroudsburg.  A red plastered, humble, small building, I was expecting the food would be good but not just how good.  The place is lovable, very classic with old 7 inch records on the wall, a 1950s or 60s jukebox (not in use), red and white checked floor and friendly guys at the counter.  The dogs were very good (we had an Italian, and a Chicago style) – and the meat delivered from a local farm – and the potatoes that come with them are amazing (surely roasted and then maybe double-fried!). Best snack of the trip.

Later in the evening we tried a cidery-winery on Main, Rowan Asher.  Run by a couple who travelled Europe learning their craft from vineyards, we liked it a lot. We tried 8 samples each of funky ciders and wines, including a ginger lime cider and a purple wine (Amethyst).  The empanada from next door was superb.

at Rowan Asher

And then we went on down to Downriver Brewery again to try ales we’d missed before.  We also hogged the juke box for a bit; a modern juke box and you can find pretty much most of what you like.  Loud too, so we were able to really enjoy our New Order, Smiths, Calexico, Echo and The Bunnymen and Johnny Marr songs before the bar staff retorted with their own selections!

Day 4 –  Jim Thorpe

In the morning in our hotel room we watched the Twilight Zone over a coffee. In 2020 the Twilight Zone isn’t that different from the news really, except no weather report!

Whenever you have 3 or 4 days in a small town, you inevitably want to drive or take a trip to somewhere else on one of the days to see somewhere new.  We’d heard of the town of Jim Thorpe in the Poconos, about a 40 minute drive further into Pennsylvania, and there we were heading. We had no idea that Jim Thorpe – formerly known as Mauch Chunk (in Native American, Bear Mountain) – was the second most popular tourist attraction in the whole of the U.S at one time, behind Niagara Falls! Or that it is considered the “Switzerland of America”!  But more on Jim Thorpe in a wee bit.

We were looking for somewhere for breakfast on the way, and on rounding a corner the Country View Diner looked about the job.  It was a gem of sorts, and very much a locals place. Our waitress was efficiently friendly – with no time for chit chat – the family who own it are huge John Deere farming machinery fans, and it was unbelievably cheap, and good. I tried scrapple!

Back on’t road again, we were diving down deep into the Lehigh Valley and we were surprised at how impressive Jim Thorpe is!  No wonder it’s streaming with tourists and gift shops.  It’s a compact town surrounded by steep hills and lush trees, with a lot of places to spend money on in the centre. Up the steep streets are a few mansions and more streets climb up higher still. It’s set next to the Delaware River. There are two big attractions: the steam train and cycling (biking).  Today we were just doing the 70 minute round trip on the Lehigh George Train, though we’re going to come back sometime to bike.  Oh, also there is kayaking too of course! In fact, make that half a dozen activities (probably!).

photo by Adam Hardy
photo by Adam Hardy

We got our $17 each train tickets, and would be back for the 1pm journey.  In the meantime we explored the town a little.  Yes, too many people but manageable and it was a hot summer Sunday.  We liked the town even so. 

The steam train trip was great.  They had undoubtedly oversold seats, as covid capacity should really be about 40 or 50% but it was more like 70% here.  At least the passengers mostly wore masks!   The journey is a very pleasant one. You don’t get that many views because of the dense trees but still some at the start and end.  A lot of rail enthusiasts set up to take photos as you go. 

photo by Adam Hardy (our train being photographed by enthusiasts)

Any steam train involvement is fun though.  You can pay extra to ride and see the engine car close up.

Bicyclists follow the same path as the train (and beyond I think), and it’s a 26 mile cycle but on a 2% down gradient the whole way so will be amazing!

After deboarding the train, we got an ice cream nearby, moseyed the streets, had a tea and coffee and thought about dinner.  We left JT late afternoon after Marie had bought some jerky from a dedicated jerky shop, and thought we’d have one more meal at Siamsa tonight.   The pierogies for starters and curry for main were top notch (albeit one of those mysterious Western society curries, like a cross between an Irish stew and a madras; it was still great).  I tried an Evil Genius Purple Monkey Dishwasher beer! A chocolate peanut butter porter.

On Day 5, I’ll sum up by saying we had a coffee in the historic section off Main Street, Spark Coffee, strolled around the most beautiful houses at the top of town (brown street signs, in the historical district), bought exciting-looking beers and then driving out of town we shopped for candles at Pocono Candles, bought sweet stuff from Country Kettle (old fashioned candies),  sweet and savoury pies at Village Farmer and suddenly the car was full of items!  Marie stopped at a stunning scenic lookout off the motorway just a little way home, and we took some panoramic shots.

And a bumper, fantastic lunch sat outside Cracker Barrel on the way home!  The best CB has ever been, to us.  We really feel that most restaurants and cafes have upped their game covid/post covid!

Published by heathgrip

An Englishman in New York for around 15 years, I met a wonderful, beautiful, cannily smart and talented girl from Flushing, Queens whilst I was living in Manchester, UK, through the internet in 2005 and we married in Spring 2006! We both have a passion for travel, restaurants, history, music, all kinds of fun events. Who doesn't? I'm an artist and photographer, and also love to write. Anything creative really (you can keep your science and technology!). I've sent journals back home to family and friends for many years and they've often suggested I start a blog with writings pasted from my journals. So here it is!

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