by Mindy Bianca/ Bianca Public Relations
It’s home to a state university; a completely cool record shop; one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever enjoyed (hooray for Clatter Cafe, where the locals turned me on to the “Minky Swoop” – and I don’t just love it because it sounds sort of like my name); some delicious hand-crafted goodies at MacFarland Candies, a third-generation chocolatier (good news: they ship!); and a hotel that used to be a speakeasy.
There’s also the terrific independent bookstore called Main Street Books, whose owner, Fred Powell, says that the best “armchair travel” read is The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. “It’s a true story of love, hope and survival against impossible odds much like we are facing today,” Fred says. “Winn and her husband lost everything and retreated to the coast of Southwest England and hiked 630 miles on the sea-swept Salt Path, finding along the way what was most important in their lives. An international bestseller, this is not only armchair traveling at its best but a tale of triumph that is a lesson for all of us.”
When I go to Frostburg, I’m not leaving without a visit to the Princess Restaurant. If this old-school diner – which dates to 1939 and is run by the fourth generation of its founding family — is good enough for President Harry Truman, it’s good enough for me! Yes, you can sit in “his” booth while you enjoy some sort of super-decadent ice cream treat.
The Princess is one of the stops on the Allegany County Ice Cream Trail, which launched two years ago and which keeps me happy, occupied and very full on my visits. Each of the nine stops is special in its own way and I don’t have a favorite, but I’m giving The Princess high scores for craftsmanship. Check out this work of art: I mean … a milkshake topped by cake with “bakery icing” – the super-sweet white stuff that makes your teeth hurt and which should be its own food group? Plus rainbow sprinkles? OMG!
get a real taste of the region by telling you about Western Maryland Lemonade.
Owner Todd Helmick hand-squeezes, bottles and dates all his lemonade – all 130 flavors of it, most made with ingredients indigenous to this mountain region – and refrigerates it immediately. It arrives COLD so you can enjoy it at a state of perfection. Todd sells his lemonade throughout the mountains of Western Maryland and neighboring Pennsylvania, but he also sells it on Amazon. Not all 130 flavors can be found there, but the star of the show – Paw Paw Lemonade – totally is. Fair warning: There’s a hefty shipping fee because it’s coming to you cold. And if we’re being honest, paw paws aren’t always so easy to come by these days and that makes them a little precious. But I think you’ll find it’s all worth the extra cost. The paw paw is a fruit you can find along the Potomac River here – yes, that same Potomac River that flows past all the memorials in our nation’s capital is also out here in the mountains – and it has a unique and fascinating taste. If you had to compare it to another fruit, think of a banana or mango. But that’s not exactly right. It’s very sweet, but it also has a little bit of tang to it. So, the joke around here is that a paw paw tastes exactly like … a paw paw.
Since we’re on the subject of paw paws – and the Potomac River – I’ll tell you one more thing for which Allegany County is famous. The C&O Canal was developed to connect the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River in Pittsburgh (get it … the C and the O?). It starts in the Georgetown section of Washington and follows the Potomac River westward and into the mountains … 184.5 miles out to Cumberland. But it never got all the way to Pittsburgh because the railroad came along and moved things faster than the canal’s mule-drawn barges could ever do.
Today the canal is part of the National Park system and the towpath is a biking and hiking path that you can take all the way back to DC, if you’d like. (But why would you? Stay here and relax!) A highlight along the path is the famed Paw Paw Tunnel, which stretches more than 3,000 feet and was named for the fruit trees that used to be so prolific in this area. The canal is coming up on its 200th anniversary, which could be the perfect reason for you to plan a future visit. Meanwhile, pretend you’re on a bicycle and this is your approach:
Maryland is where I was raised, where I made the daring decision to leave journalism and launch a PR career, where I met and married my husband, and where most of my family still lives. Ongoing concerns about COVID-19 prevent me from crossing state lines and getting there in person right now, which means I need to rely on virtual visits with both the people I love and the places that helped turn me into the person I am today. I think we all have a place like that – a place that feels like home, whether it’s where you’re actually from or where you most like to be. Here’s looking forward to the day when you can get to wherever “your” place is. Until then, please keep your spirits up and your mask on.