Category Archives: Allegany County

Mile 1 – Coney Island/Curtis’ Famous Wieners, Cumberland, Md.

Curtis'/Coney Island on North Liberty Street in Cumberland has been open since 1918.

Curtis’/Coney Island on North Liberty Street in Cumberland has been open since 1918.

If you are able to dine at only one place in Cumberland, Curtis’/Coney Island Famous Wieners has to be on your short list.

It’s pretty much the best hot dog joint ever (says a Western Marylander).

But seriously, Curtis’/Coney Island is steeped in Cumberland history, and has been around long enough to span at least four generations. If you meet a Cumberland native (like me), chances are their parents and grandparents have had hot dogs in the exact same booths – but decades earlier.

Just a note – Curtis’ and Coney Island are the same place now, but were separate establishments until about 13 years ago – more on that farther down. I’ve rarely heard anyone ever refer to the place as “Curtis’,” instead referring to it by the “Coney Island” name, so that’s the name I’ll be using.

Memorabilia on the walls of Curtis'.

Memorabilia on the walls of Curtis’.

Coney Island has been around since 1918, and as far as I know, the recipe for “Coney Island sauce” hasn’t changed since it was created. The restaurant has always been a family affair, too. Currently, Gino Giatras is the proprietor, taking the place over from his father, Louis “Louie” Giatras (Louie died in 2007). Locals tend to refer to members of the Giatras family by their first names, regardless of whether or not they actually know the family personally.

Coney Island can be traced to business ventures by Greek immigrants around the beginning of the 20th Century. Louie’s obituary in the Baltimore Sun states that the first hot dog was sold around 1905, and the product took off. Because of the food’s success, the family started two hot dog joints – Coney Island and Curtis’.  Curtis’s was located at 35 N. Liberty St., and Coney Island was farther up Liberty Street toward Baltimore Avenue. Both restaurants were essentially the same menu-wise, and both had kitchens in the front of the restaurant, but each had different decor.

The old red booths moved from the original Coney Island location when it was merged with Curtis'.

The old red booths moved from the original Coney Island location when it was merged with Curtis’.

In 2000, the restaurants combined, with Coney Island moving into an expanded Curtis’. Today, the side where Curtis’ looks pretty much the same as it always has. On the other side of the restaurant, the iconic red booths that were part of Coney Island were moved into the new dining area when the hot dog joints merged.

The restaurant’s walls are covered in memorabilia, most notably historic newspaper articles, Pittsburgh Steelers decorations and photos. Gino is usually working, yelling orders in the small kitchen at the front of the restaurant.

So about the actual food…

My usual go-to: hot dogs with sauce, fries and a vanilla Coke.

My usual go-to: hot dogs with sauce, fries and a vanilla Coke.

Coney Island/Curtis’ is particularly famous for its sauce that goes on hot dogs. The base is hamburger, which is combined with several seasonings to produce a sauce that is drier than toppings at other hot dog establishments, but still fairly moist. Of course, there are all the regular toppings as well.

Curtis’ also makes vanilla Coke/Pepsi the old fashioned way – by actually adding syrup to the soda. I believe they make cherry Coke the same way, too. They also make a few other old-fashioned drinks as well (none with alcohol).

A view toward the front of Curtis'.

A view toward the front of Curtis’.

You can order at the window for take out, or seat yourself at the booths or at the bar to be waited on. The wait staff generally tends to assume that you’re a local and know what you want, so be sure to take a look at one of the menus on the wall as you’re finding a seat (this has thrown off some of my friends from out-of-state). Chances are you’ll be ordering a hot dog anyway, but still.

Hot dogs are ordered by amount and topping. So, for my usual three hot dogs with sauce (I tend to indulge when I’m home), I order “three with sauce.” I’ll usually have an order of fries brought to share with the table as well (they’re the crinkle-cut kind).

The bar at Curtis'.

The bar at Curtis’.

Your food will typically come out within just a few minutes – probably a lot quicker than most fast-food places. If you’re dining in, your bill will be given to you with your food, but don’t feel rushed. Pay at the front when you’re ready to go.

Coney Island is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed on Sunday. Parking is available on North Liberty Street and throughout downtown Cumberland. After lunch or dinner (or breakfast?) at Coney Island, visit the relatively large variety of shops in downtown.

If you’re heading farther west along the National Road, check out other great hot dogs at Fiddle’s Confectionery in Brownsville, Pa., or Shorty’s Lunch in Washington, Pa.!

Curtis Famous Weiners on Urbanspoon

Mile 0 (literally) – National Road Monument, Cumberland, Md.

The newly-finished National Road monument. Between fundraising and construction, the mounument took about a year to complete.

The new National Road monument in Cumberland is finally open, after the city dedicated the monument on Sunday, June 10, as part of the annual Heritage Days festival.

The new monument is placed approximately at the start of the National Road’s original routing on Greene Street at Riverside Park. Fundraising for the monument started last year during the 200th anniversary of the start of construction of the National Road. There is also a time capsule around the monument that is supposed to be opened in 2211.

To be clear – the National Road was eventually re-routed through The Narrows and LaVale (current U.S.-40 ALT), rather than over Haystack Mountain (currently Md.-49). So, this monument marks the original route, and not the route that exists today.

The first National Road monument in Cumberland is located in a traffic island on Greene Street, and almost unnoticeable.

Previously, this historic spot was marked only by a small concrete marker in a traffic island at the intersection of Greene and the Blue Bridge, which brings traffic to Cumberland from Ridgeley, W.Va. Riverside Park, at the confluence of Wills Creek and the Potomac River, already had George Washington’s headquarters and remnants of Fort Cumberland, so the park was pretty unique already. The National Road monument, in my opinion, fits in well with what exists already.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) speaks during the dedication ceremony at George Washington’s Headquarters.

Another fact about the monument – in addition to Cumberland and Allegany County, communities in three states helped with funds for the monument: Frostburg and Grantsville, Md.; Brownsville and Claysville, Pa.; and Wheeling, W.Va. I found the fact that municipalities a good ways away from Cumberland would be willing to help with such a project. Of course, the major funding still came from the city, the Allegany County Historical Society, the U.S. Dept. of Transporation (through a National Scenic Byways grant) and other private donors and businesses.

The crowd at the dedication of the National Road monument at Riverside Park on June 10. The new monument is in the background.

Of course, with 2012 being an election year, Maryland politicians (or representatives of those politicians) had to visit the city to speak at the dedication ceremony. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and State Del. Wendell Beitzell all spoke in addition to Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim and Allegany County Commissioner Michael McKay.

To visit the monument, parking is available along Greene Street in Cumberland. There is also public parking at the Western Maryland Railroad Station, and a pedestrian bridge over Wills Creek connects the station area to Riverside Park.

The National Road monument in Cumberland fits into the surrounding Riverside Park.

Mile 11 – Princess Restaurant, Frostburg, Md.

The Princess Restaurant in Frostburg, Md.

Tucked neatly into the row of shops, bars and restaurants that line Main Street in Frostburg is the Princess Restaurant, one of the city’s oldest continually-operating dining establishments. In 1939, George Pappas, Sr., opened the Princess as a confectionery and luncheonette, and by the 1940s, the business evolved into the restaurant that it is today. The restaurant has been in continuous ownership of three generations of the Pappas family. Keep in mind that this restaurant has existed before, during and after the construction of the interstates, and until I-68 was built late in the 20th Century, the Princess Restaurant was on the main highway.

The plaque at "Truman's Booth."

The inside of the restaurant arguably looks and feels like a diner from the 1950s or 60s. Small booths line one wall of the main room, while a bar-type set-up occupies the other side. A more modern dining room also exists next to the older one. At each booth, a old-style jukebox is at the end of each table. Although most have “out of order” signs, it appears that some may still work. And, an additional novelty of the Princess is a booth in which former President Harry Truman and his wife, Bess, dined on Fathers Day 1953.

As for the food, the Princess is exceptional, quite possibly due to over 70 years of refinement. The restaurant has breakfast, lunch and dinner items. The list of 40-plus different types of sandwiches alone out-preforms many chain restaurants. For dinner, patrons can choose from a wide selection, from steak to pasta dishes to seafood to chicken.

"Broiled Cod Loin with Crab Meat," Princess Restaurant.

I ordered the broiled cod with crab meat, plated with fries and corn. In case the name doesn’t make it evident, my dinner was just a cod filet surrounded by seasoned crab meat and covered in butter and garlic and then broiled. The entire dinner was cooked perfectly and thorough. I also liked the portion size at the Princess. In my opinion, a lot of the larger chain restaurants tend to serve huge portions (with a higher price tag!), but at the Princess, massive portions seem to not be the case, which I think is great. In no way was I left hungry or wanting to eat later, but I also didn’t have the “I ate too much that I can’t move” feeling.

Being from Allegany County, I almost feel ashamed saying that this was the first time I had ever been to the Princess. And after having visited, I think I’ve been missing out on great, more-than-reasonably-priced food! On a larger note, my visit also reminded me of the point of this blog – to find places like the Princess that remain independent and unique along U.S. 40. Like I said, this was the first time I had been to the Princess, but I also remember the dozens of times I have eaten at chain restaurants in Allegany County, all the while missing out on good, local food.

The interior of the Princess Restaurant.

The Princess Restaurant is located at 12 W. Main St., Frostburg. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Sunday. Phone: 301-689-1680; Fax: 301-689-9029. Take-out is available.

Princess Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Mile 11 – Frostburg, Md.

Main Street in Frostburg, Md.

Welcome to coal country. After a steep ascent up the Allegheny Front, the National Road reaches the small city of Frostburg. Frostburg was built for two primary interests: travel along the National Road, and coal. at various points in the late 1800s and early 1900s, several local railroads, including, but not limited to, the Georges Creek Railroad, the Cumberland and Pennsylvania and the Western Maryland all ran through or near Frostburg, ferrying coal from the mines around Frostburg and the Georges Creek communities to Cumberland and subsequent transportation methods to larger cities.

Today, evidence of Frostburg’s past is found throughout the small city of about 9,000 people per the 2010 Census. Main Street, which is also ALT U.S.-40 (the National Road) runs straight through town, and Frostburg’s older, multi-story buildings line this street.

Right off Main Street near the center city area is the appropriately-named Depot Street, which winds down a short hill to the former Western Maryland Railroad depot. This is the western terminus of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, which makes round trips from Cumberland to Frostburg, and lets travelers spend a few hours in Frostburg before returning to Cumberland. Also, the Great Allegheny Passage trail passes by the depot on its journey from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, Pa. The trail follows the WMSR to Frostburg, and then continues on the empty bed of the Western Maryland Railroad into Pennsylvania.

Although much of the accessible coal has already been taken from the hills and mountains around Frostburg, some mines still remain on the outskirts of town (one is visible from I-68 and another is visible from MD-638). For an additional history roadtrip featuring Western Maryland’s coal heritage, drive MD-36 from Cumberland, through Mount Savage and Frostburg, and then south through the Georges Creek Valley to Westernport, Md.

The historic Failinger's Hotel Gunter, 11 W. Main St.

Nevertheless, Frostburg is one of the few areas in Allegany County that grew significantly from the 2000 to 2010 Census, arguably due to the presence of Frostburg State University – the only state university in Western Maryland, having a history dating back to 1898, although it wasn’t called a “college” in any form until 1935. FSU’s presence in town has a significant effect on Main Street, which boasts a host of bars and restaurants, most of which are open late. Other businesses, including a local bookstore and a few clothing boutiques also line Main Street – some geared toward college students, some open to everyone.

It is important to note that when traveling in the winter months, if snow or ice is in the forecast, use caution, especially when traveling east to west! Because Frostburg (and subsequently, Garrett County) is at an elevation of just over 2,000 feet, it has weather that is significantly different than Cumberland, which has an elevation of about 630 feet. This means that in the winter, Frostburg may be experiencing snow when it is only raining in Cumberland or LaVale, which tends to surprise non-local drivers.

Mile 7 – LaVale Toll Gate House, LaVale, Md.

The LaVale Toll Gate House, LaVale, Md.

On the western edge of LaVale sits one of three remaining toll gate houses on the National Road. Built in the 1830s, the LaVale Toll Gate House  served as the first toll for travelers heading west toward Pennsylvania. Tolls varied based on the  mode of transportation as well as the number of animals being transported along the road. A recreated list of tolls is found on the side of the building.

Today, the toll gate house is government-owned and has been kept up and repainted through the years. A small park with picnic tables is ajecent to the building, and the interior is a small museum that has been open to the public in the past (I remember touring the building when I was growing up).

The D.A.R. marker beside the toll gate house.

The most recent records list the Toll Gate House as being open from Mid-May to October, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. However, the above information from Fodors and Weekend Adventures Magazine is several years old, and the phone number has been disconnected.

I called the Allegany County Visitor’s Bureau, but the ACVB wasn’t sure who was in charge of managing the Toll Gate House. The ACVB’s online record for the site is here. Considering that it’s easy to tell that the site is still well-maintained from just a outside walk-around, I would think someone has to know when the Toll Gate House is open.

Regardless of inside access, there are a few historic markers and informational signs at the park, and it is free and open to the public to walk around and use the picnic facilities (visit this website to see each marker in detail). I’ll keep working on figuring out who is operating the building, and I’ll update this post once I get a concrete answer.

The LaVale Toll Gate House is located at 14302 National Highway in LaVale, next to a tire shop and across from the LaVale Plaza.

The building sits right up against modern ALT-U.S.-40, where is has stood for over 175 years.

Mile 6 – D’Atri Restaurant, LaVale, Md.

D'Atri Restaurant, LaVale, Md.

D’Atri Restaurant in LaVale, Md. has been a locally-renowned eatery for years. In the 1970s, Robert D’Atri opened a small takeout/delivery operation on Columbia Street in Cumberland, and about a decade ago, the family opened a larger restaurant on National Highway (ALT-U.S.-40 in LaVale). The restaurant is immensely popular in the Cumberland/LaVale area, notably for both its pasta and subs. Both restaurants have continued to operate within the family, and in the past year or so, the family opened Patrick’s Pub in South Cumberland, further expanding their culinary influence in the area.

Like I said, D’Atri, (or D’Atri’s, locally) is known for its pasta and subs. On my most recent visit to the LaVale location, I ordered a “small” steak sub. Small – by D’Atri standards – is seven inches, and each bite is worth the price ($6-$7). Each sub with lettuce features D’Atri’s signature seasoned lettuce, which gives the sandwich an more Italian-like flavor.

A steak and cheese sub at D'Atri's in LaVale, Md.

Portions at D’Atri’s are generous, to say the least, especially when it comes to subs and pasta. The atmosphere is not unlike other smaller, locally-owned restaurants around the country, and for locals, D’Atri’s is an establishment which comes with a high probability of running into someone you know.

D’Atri’s is open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Takeout is also available by calling 301-729-2774. The restaurant is located at 1118 National Highway in LaVale, near the intersection with Campground Road (which is the general division line between the residential and commercial halves of LaVale.

D'atri's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Mile 0 – Cumberland, Md.

The Western Maryland city of Cumberland, Md. (pop. ~20,000), is the the start of the National Road (as most road enthusiasts know). The city’s 200+ year history makes it interestingly fascinating, especially for history buffs. Three of the more important transportation links in America’s history all converge here: the National Road, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio (now CSX) Railroad. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cumberland was, for a time, the second-largest city in Maryland, and was a main export point for coal from the mines of Maryland and West Virginia. By the mid-20th Century, numerous factories dotted the city, ranging from the Celenese Chemical pant to the home of the Kelly-Springfield Tire Corporation.

Now, the factories are gone, and the city has over half the population is had at its peak, but within the last 10 years, positive signs are emerging. Continued work on revitalizing the downtown area is successful, and though the city lost population between 2000 and 2010, it wasn’t anywhere near older rates of population decline. At the same time, Cumberland continues to improve its downtown area, which has been branded as “Town Centre,” and is centered around Baltimore Street, which has been converted into a pedestrian mall. Specialty shops and local restaurants line Baltimore, Liberty, Centre and Mechanic Streets, giving life to the downtown area.

Closer to the bridge that carries I-68 through downtown is the Western Maryland railroad station, which hold a deli, the offices for the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and the C&O Canal National Historic Park visitor center. And to top off downtown, a smaller shopping area, Canal Place, houses a few attractions, notably a restaurant and a bike shop for users of the C&O Canal towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail.

I’ll mention Cumberland’s attractions in detail in later posts, since each deserves more than just a brief statement.

Itinerary idea:

Breakfast: Grab a donut or croissant at M&M Bakery, 80 Baltimore St. This bakery has been locally-owned and operated for decades, and makes fresh baked goods every day.

Morning: But to give just a quick suggestion for an itinerary, start your day at the C&O Canal visitor center, which, in addition to housing interactive exhibits on the canal, also provides a wealth of tourist information. Consider taking a walk along Washington Street, past historic churches and homes, one of which, the Gordon-Roberts House, is open to the public as a museum.

Lunch: Coney Island Wieners, 15 N. Liberty St. Coney Island has been around since the early 1900s, and continues to be a Cumberland tradition. Ask for your hot dog “with the sauce,” which is never regrettable.

Afternoon: Explore the shops downtown, which range from antiques to an independent bookstore.

Dinner: Crabby Pig at Canal Place, 13 Canal St. Try one of their specialties – Maryland crabcakes.

Lodging: Holiday Inn, 100 S. George St.; Fairfield Inn by Mariott, 21 Wineow St.