Wilkes-Barre, PA, the garden spot of the universe!

Well … no.

But at least it’s Joe Biden’s home town, so I guess that’s something. Not that it has anything to do with why we were there.

After I was finished with CSA for the summer, Barbara and I took a short vacation to visit her brother in Mountain Top, PA, just outside of Wilkes-Barre. We stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of the city, which was fine … except that almost all the restaurants in the area were second-rate chain restaurants just like the outskirts of almost any major city. The first night, however, we ate at Mizu Sushi, a non-chain Japanese restaurant adjoining the hotel. Even though “sushi” is in the name, it’s more a hibachi restaurant than a sushi joint. It has literally been decades since I’ve been to a hibachi place, but this one pretty much matched my memories of Benihana and other similar restaurants in Boston and Cambridge 25 years ago. I did have to have a spicy yellowtail handroll, just to honor that aspect of Japanese cuisine, but mostly it was the standard Japanese steakhouse experience — perfectly adequate, but the shrimp was overcooked and everything was a bit too salty. Clearly we were too old for the intended audience (and I do say audience), as the chef performed not only the usual knife tricks but also such theatrics as squirting sake into the mouths of willing patrons (not me). Handroll was good, steak was OK, veggies weren’t overcooked, scallops were surprisingly good, but I won’t return.

Our other restaurant experiences were mostly so-so, with two notable and very different exceptions. One was the night we decided we had to have a good dinner and therefore went into the heart of downtown Wilkes-Barre. As the home of three colleges, it of course has many dining opportunities, and we found an excellent one: the Manhattan Bistro. This was a genuine French restaurant — New York style, as the name suggests, rather than Paris style — and we were very happy with both the food (duck confit!) and the service. For some reason, the menu reminded me of the menu of our local Gaslight Brasserie in both content and typographical layout:

 Gaslight menu2


The other exception, miles apart both geographically and stylistically, was a little luncheonette-type place where we stopped in Scranton on the way home: Cosmo’s. Nothing special, except that it possessed what Plato called aretê: it did what it was intended to do, and did it just right. Don’t tell anyone (especially John Kerry), but we had our Philly Cheesesteaks with real cheese, not Cheese Wiz.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here. We spent half a day in downtown Wilkes-Barre, seeing some interesting buildings like the Art Deco one on the left here, and some interesting signs like the one on the right:

W-B art deco

W-B sign

We mostly didn’t get lost, since the Google Maps GPS led us astray only once, apparently because it thinks we’re in a 2-D world rather than a 3-D one. Using latitude and longitude as the only relevant coordinates, Roger told us at one point that “your destination is on the right.” (Roger is the voice of our GPS.) On a flat map he was right, but unfortunately we were 200 feet up because he ignored altitude! So unless we wanted to scamper down a huge hill we had to turn around, go back the way we came, and find a better route. We did.

We decided to spend half a day in Scranton on the way home (hence the lunch at Cosmo’s) visiting Steamtown and the Trolley Museum. I highly recommend both of them. Steamtown is a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service, and I wish we had had much more time there. Next time we’ll have to spend at least six hours. If you’re interested in the history of railroads, check the link to find out more about this huge site. On the same grounds, but distinct from it, is the Electric City Trolley Museum, a fascinating tribute to the history of trolleys — again worth more time than we had.


Steamtown W-B trolley museum


And then homeward bound, with a journey that took a full hour longer than it should have. Apparently Connecticut was specializing in traffic jams and delays, since the portion of I–84 across the entire state from west to east was interrupted four times by extreme slowdowns. In particular, never go near Hartford at rush hour. I knew that already, so why did we do it?

Categories: Food & Restaurants, Travel