Sunday September 12, 2021
As a follow-up to our pleasant local coffee stop ride last week, Char and I decided to get out a bit earlier this time for a full breakfast somewhere we hadn’t tried yet. We were only comfortable leaving our ailing dog alone for a few hours at a time now, so we had to keep things somewhat local. I spotted a place on Phantom Gourmet (with corresponding great reviews on Yelp), in Upton MA and put together a short route, heading directly there and then taking the scenic way home, to do some scouting for a ride route I’m planning.
It was a clear crisp morning in the 60s, and it felt good, as always, to be out on the road early’ish (about 08:00). We made quick work of I-495 north to the West Upton exit and cruised a couple miles on Hopkinton Road to the MA 140 intersection. Breakfast at Stephanie’s is just a hop skip and jump from the main intersection there, down a short nondescript side road, in a nondescript one-story building.
There were already a bunch of cars in the lot, and inside the place was as welcoming and homey as any family breakfast place should be. The friendly staff found us a table right off, so it had been good timing for our arrival just before 09:00. The dining room was clean as a whistle, with the tables spaced out sporting mismatched chairs, and partitions between the booths. Very utilitarian – the business here clearly is eating.
Stephanie’s appears to specialize in eccentric and daring recipe combinations involving common comfort foods. Reading the specials menu makes you do at least one double-take. The apple cider pancakes special caught my eye, with a side of bacon and an egg on the side (so I wouldn’t feel like I was just eating carbs). Char opted for some apple French toast.
When our food arrived, I was a bit stunned at the sheer mass of pancake matter on my plate. Holy hotcakes, Batman, these things are bigger than my face! I was grateful I hadn’t ordered any other sides with the meal, as it seemed a tall order to even finish this entrée in one sitting. Char’s French toast order seemed a bit more reasonable.
The food was delicious. I feel it is unfair to judge most places on their pancakes, once you have been to Pollys up in New Hampshire – nothing ever quite lives up to those exquisite flapjacks, which is why I usually opt for omelets, waffles, or such. But the pancakes were decent and dwarfed the tiny fried egg yolk I broke over the top. The bacon was tasty.
I’d ordered real maple syrup at extra cost, and was impressed to receive a tiny bottle of Massachusetts syrup, apparently harvested and bottled right here in Upton! Who’d a thunk? But I have Vermont grade A robust syrup at home maybe twice a week, and was sorely disappointed at how watery this stuff was. I’m honestly not sure if it was watered down in some fashion, or if the syrup quality between states is that much different.
I gorged myself, only finishing about half of my plate (though the bacon disappeared) and took the rest to go. The restaurant had completely filled up during our meal, likely the church crowds out for Sunday brunch, and there were several folks waiting by the door and outside to be seated. We were stuffed and glad we had timed things right today. We’ll definitely be back here to explore the decadent menu some more – seems like a great place for pre-ride sustenance if you’re feeling particularly hungry.
We headed south on familiar roads along the western edge of the Blackstone River Valley, past the upland farmscapes and along woodsy lanes of Mendon and down to Millville, enjoying a few curves. We turned on MA 122 along the river, crossing into the town of Blackstone, then taking a couple signed turns through a residential neighborhood to Blackstone Gorge in Blackstone River State Park. Despite having grown up in this area, I’d never visited this park (which may not actually have existed back then), though I’d often heard people talk about this scenic spot on the state line with Rhode Island, where the river flow quickly in a shallow gorge between two bluffs.
There were a few cars in the gravel lot already, and you could see/hear the falls over the ‘Rolling Dam’ after removing our earplugs. While not very high, the falls were running strongly today after the recent rains we’d had, and it was nice to see a more lively side of this river that otherwise meanders rather peacefully from Worcester through all the central MA mill towns of my youth.
There are some walking trails in the park, including what seems to be an unofficial one right down along the bank of the river that looks like it’s frequently underwater during spring floods. It was easy enough walking even in motorcycle boots, presenting some more pretty views of the river from different spots. Being late summer, there really wasn’t much color in the foliage yet, but I’m betting this place is stunning in the autumn blaze.
The Blackstone has been abused by the many industries and mill companies that were situated on it over almost two centuries of American history. Years of absorbing industrial waste into the riverbed led to the river water quality being viewed as a bad joke by the local folks, and nobody would think of eating any fish that might be found in these waters. But I was happy to see signs of tiny mollusks along the rocky shoreline, letting us know that there is life on the surface at least.
We turned around after maybe a quarter mile or so wandering along the bank, and passed a few families up on the main trail walking south – maybe to a swimming hole? Urgh, not so sure about that idea, though I’d taken a few inadvertent splashes in the river from canoes in the past. There were more cars in the lot by now, so the park definitely gets some love – a worthy stop for a nice view and leg stretch when out on a ride. The rest of the way home involved riding some of my go-to back roads through Cumberland, Wrentham, and Plainville.