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Vacation, Part The First: Oil City

We’re back from Oil City. Actually we’ve been back for a week now, but all posts on mere cat are aged for a full seven days then dry-rubbed in a scintillating blend of herbs and spices for enhanced flavor. Aren’t you glad?

Speaking of flavor, we didn’t eat at the McDonald’s after all, thus striking another blow for “enhanced flavor.” Our getaway weekend wasn’t supposed to be all about food and beer, but it played a big part in how good a time I had. Do I like to eat? I guess maybe I do.

The trip takes about six hours, so that involved one meal on the road. I’m a huge fan of “road food” (out-of-the-way places with great stuff), but turnpikes and interstates are dominated by chains. Although some chains have fine food (I like the sandwiches at Starbucks), I didn't want a hamburger from under a heat lamp. Besides, I was ready for a change of diet from the unending fresh fruits and vegetables.

We made a little detour to Allentown, looking for a place found on the Web that sounded promising, but was closed. I expected a city the size of Allentown to offer more, but other than pizza places, we couldn’t find much happening, and in the “suburbs” we only saw the ubiquitous chains and, of course, a mall. We got back on the road and had the idea to check out Jim Thorpe (the Carbon County seat). It’s a well-preserved little town on the Delaware that would make a good base for biking, hiking, kayaking or rafting. All the restaurants here looked promising, but we chose The Molly Maguires, a pub. It’s a cozy place that inexplicably had about eight TVs showing eight different channels, although no one seemed to be watching any of them. We started with Murphy's Amber on tap and chased that with some delicious sandwiches. I tried putting malt vinegar on my fries as is the custom in the area, but it’s not a taste I’ve acquired yet. A refreshing meal that really hit the spot.

Our next meal was dinner at perhaps the best restaurant in Oil City (which is bereft of fine dining), the Yellow Dog Lantern. Its menu featured mostly dishes that were fashionable twenty years ago, but everything was flawlessly executed. It was good to see that the place was almost full of patrons, although people eat earlier here. By 8:30 the place was empty.

This weekend capped Oil Heritage Week with such diversions as a church carnival, a concert series in the park, and a large parade that included Ed Rendell. We had visited here during the festival five years ago, and on this trip had planned to make side trips to some of the surrounding towns instead. It rained hard the day of the parade, and I never found out if it went off as planned.

Saturday we headed to Titusville, the home of the first commercially-successful oil well. Oil, shmoil, when do we eat? Lunch was on my mind, of course. We stopped at Four Sons Brewery, sampled two of their microbrews and enjoyed two more delicious sandwiches. Who cares that it was pouring rain outside?

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring oil history, first by taking a ride on the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad. The train features some ancient coaches that make SEPTA’s look ultra-modern, but they were charming. The trip is billed as a ride through the Valley That Changed the World, but you really have to use your imagination on the train, because all you see are the picturesque woods of Oil Creek State Park. Apparently 140 years ago it was a different sight—mostly treeless hills and oil everywhere. After the train ride, we stopped at the Drake Well Museum, which required no imagination whatsoever. It includes a working replica of the original steam-powered well that is still pumping oil. I was fascinated by the machinery, but, oops, look at the time. Dinner!

Off we scurried to Franklin, the county seat of Venango County. We found a restaurant there that was the match of most any place in the big city, Bella Cucina. Suddenly we were transported back to 2006 again and enjoyed a delicious and creative meal. Summer House Coffee Roasters was right next door and offered free wifi, but they were just closing for the evening. This was Saturday night at 8:00. We didn’t stick around to watch them roll up the sidewalks. I kid Franklin, but I’m not much for nightlife myself.

On Sunday, we stopped by Spilling the Beans Coffee House right in Oil City. The bacon, egg, and cheese croissandwich is a favorite dish of mine that I usually order from Dunkin’ Donuts. Spilling the Beans made the best one I’ve ever had, and their coffee wasn’t too shabby either. We had another six-hour drive ahead of us, which we broke up by swinging by State College for lunch at The Corner Room, apparently a Penn State tradition or something. I don’t know about that, but they make a mean catfish sandwich, which I washed down with Yuengling. Penn State alums feeling nostalgic should check out the web cam, which offers a view from The Corner Room.

Well, that was a long one. All I can say is, What’s for dinner?


Ah, the memories... but didn't we drink Victory lager at the Corner Room?

sounds like a nice tour of PA! i'd like to get around to that at some point.

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