Ok, so Cooperstown being the birthplace of baseball is really a marketing thing that is not exactly true. The situation is complicated and, not being a baseball fan, I don’t care to recap it here, but there’s a detailed write-up on Major League Baseball’s website you can read. I came to Cooperstown (AMTRAK from New York City to Albany-Rensselaer plus a $200 taxi trip one way – eek) to watch maple syrup being made at Cooperstown’s second attraction – the Farmers’ Museum.
While I do not appreciate the game of baseball itself, I appreciate its significance and contributions to American culture and identity, so I was happy to explore the town. Cooperstown is small. Almost all of the civic buildings and businesses are on one street (Main Street), such as the library. Everything around this is residential, with a lot of historic bed-and-breakfasts scattered around. I stayed at The Inn At Cooperstown, star of the next post.
Many of the bed-and-breakfasts were closed when I visited (March), and the same was true for many of the businesses on Main Street. This is because Cooperstown experiences the most tourist traffic during baseball season, which runs from April – September. Cooperstown depends on tourism and, from what I’ve read, gets overrun during baseball season. During the rest of the year, like when I visited, the area is peaceful.
As a baseball-centric town, the Main Street was dominated by stores selling baseball equipment, memorabilia, and souvenirs at all price points.
Besides souvenirs, the town sells nostalgia.
If you’re not into baseball like me, there are a good number of charming stores selling other things, from toys to clothing to candy. A lot of products from local artisans are available.
I didn’t go in to the Baseball Hall of Fame or Wax Museum, but I did admire the architecture.
As I walked around looking for a place to have dinner at, I wondered why I had not seen any chain stores (not that this food blogger would eat at a chain restaurant when travelling)…my very friendly taxi driver taking me back to Albany-Rensselaer told me why as she was telling me stories from her life growing up and the history of the area. A local woman with many millions of business interests in the area used her economic clout to prevent chains from coming in, so Cooperstown’s small businesses could benefit (there are a couple chain hotels in the area I found when looking for a place to stay). This woman also provides scholarships for Cooperstown’s high school graduates to attend college.
I had dinner at The Pit under the Tunnicliff Inn. It’s a casual, cozy spot serving American classics. I was hoping there would be more of a regional New York presence on the menu – characteristic dishes include chicken riggies, Utica greens, tomato pie – but I was really happy with what I ended up ordering. It didn’t seem like any other restaurants had the regional cuisine I was looking for anyway.
First, I was brought a complimentary basket of freshly-baked multigrain bread and honey butter, both made in-house. This was awesome. The soft, chewy bread, like ciabatta, soaked up the warm whipped honey butter. I ate the whole thing.
Then I had a cup of the award-winning chili. It wasn’t as complex as I thought it would be, focusing on tomato flavors over meat flavors, but the generous portions of cheese and tortilla chips gave it a great texture.
The chili would have been $4 a cup but was $1 with a dinner entree. The other soup options are soup of the day, Seafood Bisque, and Baked French Onion. I saw a beautiful order of Baked French Onion come out covered in melted, gooey cheese. I would get that one if I came back because, while I enjoyed the chili, I picked it because it said award-winning and that didn’t wow me.
My Shrimp & Lobster Scampi ($18.95) consisted of large shrimp and lobster meat sauteed with garlic, tomatoes and spinach, finished in lemon butter with a touch of cream. The shrimp and lobster were prepared very, very well – perfectly tender and glossy. Considering how far Cooperstown is away from everything I’m sure they weren’t fresh, but it tasted fresh.
The pasta was also great. Also, there was garlic toast on the side. Yeah.
Check out these relevant napkins I saw in a gift shop in Cooperstown: