Tag 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 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.