Why would anyone drive an hour and a half to get pancakes? It’s ridiculous, really. Still, one Sunday each year my family climbs into the car and makes the long trek to Short Tract, NY. There, in the middle of nowhere, is a little ramshackle restaurant called the Maple Tree Inn. For three months each year, the Cartwright family serves up the best buckwheat pancakes with their own delicious real maple syrup.
I love the story of this family business. I love that the restaurant is only open from February through April. I love watching the cook pour out the pancakes onto the griddle. And I LOVE the maple syrup. It gives me great pleasure to think that the syrup is going onto pancakes in New York, instead of being shipped off to be mixed in with Vermont maple syrup.
I first remember hearing about the restaurant, with its all you can eat pancakes, when my sister went to Houghton College. Houghton is not near anything, except the Maple Tree Inn, so she and her friends took road trips. She regaled us with stories of the wheatcakes and syrup. When John and I were married and had little kids, some friends told us about their annual road trips to Short Tract for pancakes. We thought they were a little bit crazy to drive all that way. They assured us that we were wrong. They tried to explain how great the place was by telling us about the long lines of people waiting in the cold to get inside. No sale, we weren’t buying it.
Then, more and more people kept mentioning that they went to the Maple Tree Inn. And they didn’t just go once, they went every year. Our friends waxed poetic about their annual family treks to the magical land of maple syrup. So, we began to consider making the trip. Then, there was a little article in the paper one Sunday about the Maple Tree Inn. After reading the story of the Cartwright family and their restaurant, we decided to give it a try.
The Sunday after reading the article, armed with a map to the middle of nowhere, we headed off. We were all cautiously excited. We hoped that our friends were not exaggerating about the experience we would have. After a long, long drive, we reached our destination. The first thing that we saw was a HUGE parking lot filled with vehicles. We couldn’t imagine that so many people were there for pancakes. We parked and walked to the restaurant. Let me tell you, it did not look very promising. Just an old building with additions jutting off in every direction. We were happy to see that the long line that our friends had warned us about was nonexistent. We had arrived at a good time and only had to wait a few minutes to be seated.
The hostess led us through a room with a diner counter and stools around a huge griddle where a cook was pouring out pancakes. A flip of his wrist and pancake after pancake magically appeared. In a way, I wished we could just sit at that counter and watch him make pancakes. We walked past the counter and through one room, into a second room. The restaurant was decorated very simply. Paper placemats told the restaurant’s history. The menu was limited – pancakes, eggs, meat, juice, coffee. We ordered and waited eagerly for our food.
The buckwheat pancakes at the Maple Tree Inn are served family style and are all-you-can-eat. Maple syrup flows freely and we took full advantage. We plowed through our first portions and, before we had even finished, a steaming hot plate of pancakes appeared on our table. Deeeelish!
On our drive home, happily stuffed with pancakes, we vowed that we would return the following year. While we have not made it every year, we have made it back to the Maple Tree Inn many, many times. This year, we set a date to go and then we had a conflict. I was afraid that we weren’t going to make it, but we quickly rescheduled. We made our trip on Sunday. No one in the family wanted to miss the trip, and we even had the added bonus of Emily’s boyfriend, Justin, going along with us – his first time going to the Maple Tree Inn.
Just as we remembered, it is a long drive for pancakes. But we all chattered and reminisced and the time went quickly. We arrived at the restaurant to find the parking lot full and a line out the door. We waited impatiently and soon we were seated and ordering our pancakes. The coffee and juice were served quickly, followed by those delicious buckwheat pancakes, fluffy scrambled eggs, sausage patties and “slabs” of ham. The pancakes kept on coming and the boys kept on eating. Okay, we all kept on eating. The syrup was even more delicious than I remembered. Yummmmm.
I am a huge fan of the Maple Tree Inn. I am thankful for the Cartwright family and their decision to serve pancakes along with their syrup. I am thankful for the long ride. It is a good opportunity for our whole family to travel together. Ninety minutes to Short Tract. An hour spent eating a great meal. Ninety minutes home. It all adds up to four hours of heaven.