Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Vibrancy That Is Downtown Binghamton

Last night, I experienced something in downtown Binghamton which warranted this post.  Many will credit this to the sultry weather or the fact that the SUNY students are back in town.  Okay, I will give you both of those; however, I refuse to give them both full credit.

There were more people walking and talking on the sidewalks than I have seen in a very long time.  Every few feet on Court St there were small groups of people clearly enjoying each other's company.  These groups encompassed every age group; hence my hesitation in crediting the return of the students. There were couples strolling hand in hand stopping to look at window displays or simply gazing into each other's eyes.  

The only other times that I have witnessed this downtown has been on First Fridays.  First Friday participants have more of a sense of purpose about them. They have set in their minds and their outward demeanor which of the featured venues they would be attending.  

This was different.  For the first time, I observed people actually enjoying all that is downtown as well as the company of others.  

My only disappointment about this entire experience would be that many of the downtown businesses along Court St and Washington St were not capitalizing on this increase of foot traffic.  For example, I was approached by a couple in the 60's who asked if I knew when M & D-R Nuts was open.  They had their hearts set on stopping in to buy some to take home.  I also overheard a much younger group of people comment that they wish Curry's of India was open as it would have been a nice choice for dinner.   I, myself, was disappointed to find Washington St dark as I parked my car; with the exception of Binghamton Hots and Cafe Oasis.

The downtown core is clearly on the path to be a destination place other than for work or business.   Let's not take it for granted.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Galaxy Brewing Company - Out of this World

Tonight was a gastronomic experience that one can only describe as out of this world.  Having an employee as a family member, allowed me to receive one of the coveted invitations to the Friends & Family Night at the new Galaxy Brewing Company (41 Court St., Binghamton). Originally scheduled for Thursday, it was pushed to this evening.  

When I arrived, I was greeted by friendly staff.  They introduced themselves and made sure I was comfortable at the bar while I waited for my dinner companion.  

The bar was clearly set up to accommodate any drink order from a martini, cocktail, wine (there is a full wine list) and, of course, handcrafted beer.  Being that this was an establishment with the word brewing in its name I, of course, was clearly going to stick with the beer.  They had 3 distinct choices on tap.  Coming in there blind (and being a Coors Light girl normally... don't judge), I asked for a description of each before making my choice.  The bartender appeared to be thoroughly versed in her descriptions of each of the 3 choices. However, just in case there was a daily beer menu for a full description of each brew.  I decided on the Galactic Silk Ale ($5 - 16 oz pour/ $4 - 10 oz pour). It was a smooth amber with notes of caramel and a super creamy head.  It was slightly reminiscent of a Guinness but no where near as heavy.

One cool thing about the bar area was the glass enclosed brewery directly across of it. It was a nice feature only to be made better if the patrons could see the brewery in operation. Maybe that will be something for the future.

Once my dinner companion arrived, we were promptly directed to our table. The table happened to be on what one could only describe as a stage.  It was a raised area above the rest of the dining room which I could only assume would host live entertainment in the future. Our table gave me a clear vantage point of observing not only the other patrons but the staff as they made their way through the dining area to the kitchen.

Before I get to the food, I must tell you about the decor.  The color scheme of pumpkin and, what I can only describe as, pale teal combined with the exposed industrial ceiling ducts and metal pillars gave off an ambiance I can only describe as "Soho-istic".  The seating was spaced in a way that you could easily carry on a conversation without worrying about others overhearing but not spaced too far apart that it seemed stark or empty.

Now, let's get to the food.  Since this was billed as the final night of training for the staff, the full menu was not available.  Believe me, that did not leave you lacking options.  We started out with the Crispy Pork Belly ($9) as an appetizer to share.  I also ordered the Basket of Fries ($5) at the request of my son (yes, the family member employee) who would be joining us during his break.  The pork belly was tender and flavorful.  It was served on an ale Dijon celery root puree with apple, fennel and a cider vinaigrette. Although there was plenty for two of us to share, I would recommend ordering one just for yourself; it was that good.

For our entrees, we ordered the Bone In Pork Chop served with an apple wood bacon white bean ragout, pears and fontina cheese ($17),  and the Chicken Sausage Jambalaya ($16).  On the recommendation of our server, we switched our beer choices to St. Stusan Ale for the pork entree and the Beer #42 ESB for the Jambalaya.  Both were excellent companions to our entrees.

The only suggestion we would have is that there be 

1. An indication on the menu for those items which are on the spicy side of the spectrum.  Having been familiar with Chef Brian Lovesky's offerings, my dinner companion was aware of the spice level when he ordered his Jambalaya entree.  An indication on the menu would be helpful for those without a prior frame of reference.

2. A chef's recommendation on the menu as to which beer would pair best with each entree would be helpful.  We are fortunate enough to have a server who was proactive enough to offer his recommendation.  This may not be the case in the future; especially when there is a full dining room of patrons to be served.

The full menu offers everything from starters and snacks, salads, soups, burgers and sandwiches, stone pizzas, mussels, entrees and a kids menu. Galaxy Brewing Company has the potential of becoming the go to place for young professionals, families and the university students.  The price range and selections would appeal to every budget.  

I would strongly recommend that you stop in and give them a try.  Their grand opening is scheduled for Friday, August 30th.  If you are unable to make it down then, they are also one of the newest participants in the upcoming Binghamton Restaurant Week (Sept. 17 - Sept. 26) and would be a great option for either lunch or dinner then.

Galaxy Brewing Company is poised to make its mark on the Binghamton Restaurant and MicroBrewery scene.  I, for one, look forward to their inevitable success; if tonight was any indication.

Friday, August 23, 2013

My Not So Close Encounter with the President

Today was a big day for the Binghamton area!  President Barack Obama was coming to town.  It would be the first time a sitting US President came to this area since Bill Clinton in 2000.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I knew I would not be able to take part in any of the excitement. I was already committed to driving my youngest up to college. Being a mom must take precedence over everything. Sorry, Mr. President, I think you would have to agree with me on this one.

Not to be completely out of the loop, I posted an invitation to the President on Facebook and Twitter. I suggested that we meet half way between Binghamton and Syracuse for a cup of coffee and to catch up on our lives. Having been social/digital media coordinator for the Binghamton team, I was certain he would oblige.

Alas, he never confirmed that we would meet.  Undaunted, I sat in the car with my trusty Blackberry set to camera mode.  I was determined to get a picture of "Bus-1" and its accompanying motorcade as they traveled from the Syracuse area toward Binghamton.  I was ready to have the first photo as he neared his destination.

As we left Binghamton this morning, I noticed North Otsiningo Park (the former rest area site) was packed with protesters and their signs. Unfortunately, as I went to snap a picture worthy of being picked up by the local paper, my driver (okay, husband) shifted lanes and the semi-truck, now on the right of me, was blocking the shot.  

We noticed that the turnaround lanes in the median were blocked with orange cones. Other than that, everything else appeared normal. It looked like it would be smooth sailing for the duration of the trip. A quick check of twitter revealed that the President was on the move through Skaneateles   It seemed possible that our paths might cross.

Around Cortland, we noticed a dramatic drop in traffic in the southbound lanes.  In fact, other than an occasional NYS trooper, there was no other vehicles.  It was at this point, my excitement level increased.

I strained against the seat belt and craned my neck every time our side of the highway changed elevation.  I never noticed until today that for most of the hour trip to Syracuse you do not see the oncoming traffic lanes.

Finally, around the Preble/Tully area we see the flashing lights of NYS Police motorcycles coming toward us. There are people standing on the side of the road at the edge of some cornfields.  There are people standing on one of the overpasses.  The on and off ramps are blocked by police vehicles. Could this possibly be it?

Unfortunately it was not meant to be. As we continued on, we notice a big black bus at a gas station surrounded by the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.  In fact, it there were so many flashing lights that it reminded me of Studio 54 back in the day.  It was too far away for a camera phone to get a clear shot.  

As soon as we hit the Syracuse city limits, I knew that I would not get that photo.  It was then that we saw the backup of southbound vehicles. I knew that my disappointed was probably nothing compared to those attempting to go on their way.

Even though I was not able to share our area's surge of patriotism in person; I was able to feel it through all the twitter and facebook alerts coming to my phone.  Binghamton University, the entire Broome County area, and even the Spiedie, received POSITIVE national attention today.  For that, we should all be proud.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Binghamton, We Are Better Than That!

In a matter of minutes this afternoon, Facebook and Twitter were all atwitter (pardon the pun) over the prospect of the President of the United States visiting the area next week.

For the most part, the comments I read were positive with some borderline sarcastic with references to the roundabout and the Front Street overpass. However, I was dismayed to read a local reporter comment on what he found to be disgusting and racist commentary being posted on their website. Thankfully, the news organization was on top of things and deleted the offensive comments.

We are all entitled to our personal opinions of the man behind the office. As Americans and Binghamton residents, we should all stand together and acknowledge that having the leader of our country visit this area is a BIG DEAL.  Now more than ever, we need to outwardly show our pride in this city and promote how far it has come over the last several years.

Yes, it is not perfect.  Honestly, no city or town is perfect.  The closest anyone has come to utopia is Seahaven from The Truman Show.  Even there, Truman Burbank knew there was something missing.  But I digress.

Rather than planning rallies or protests, let's plan to pay extra attention to how our city looks.  Even taking the extra step to pick up a stray piece of trash from the sidewalk downtown will not only help make the President's first impression more pleasant; it will also make you feel a little better.

Think about it realistically for a moment.  The President makes a stop in the city of Binghamton while on a tour from Pennsylvania to upstate New York.  It will make national news.  Would you rather see Binghamton shown in a positive or negative light?  I, for one vote, for the positive image.

Binghamton is so rich in history and full of so much promise.  We all need to work together to fulfill that promise.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Spiedie Fest & Balloon Rally: It's More Than Just Marinated Meat & Balloons

This weekend brought us the 29th Annual Spiedie Fest & Balloon Rally.  Yes, it started; at least the Spiedie Fest part, over a debate among friends as to who had the best spiedie recipe. The hot air balloon rally was added much later.  It has since morphed into something much more than a celebration of marinated meat and hot air balloons.

In my opinion, it has become a celebration of community above all else.  I spent the better part of Saturday walking and observing the people.  Whether it was families, teenagers or seniors enjoying the event, there was a clear sense of community throughout Otsiningo Park.  Very rarely can you gather 1000's of people in a confined space and see so many smiles and friendly faces. As I was taking pictures, I overheard one woman say she was from Ohio and was amazed at how friendly everyone was.  I am sure that was not an isolated incident.  

Congratulations to the organizers, scores of volunteers and, to all the people of Broome County.  Once again, you have not failed me in proving that it is the people that makes this place as special as it is.