Bills Nation: The Geography of Places Home to the Bills Mafia
Pittsford, NY is well known to Bills Nation as the home of St. John Fisher college, a Catholic Institution of Higher Learning and the summer home of the Buffalo Bills as they prepare for another season. It is the place where we start like every other team, 0-0, filled with hopes. Will it be this year’s rookies to lead us back to the playoffs? Or will a veteran such as Kevin Kolb surprise us by resurrecting his career and fulfilling his potential? I’d go deep into that but there are folks like Rob Quinn, Jonah Javad, Chris Trapasso, and a host of other contributors to this and other sites that can do a far better job than I could.
So, I asked BillsMafia.com if I could write about something I do know a bit about: the geography of Bills Nation. For the next 4 weeks, I’m going to take you traveling through Western New York, focusing on some of the areas that make up Bills Nation. You’ll see some history, some geography, and don’t worry, I’ll give you some cool places to eat and drink so while you see the sites, you won’t be parched and starving in the hot summer months.
First stop is Pittsford, NY. It’s not just a postcard village on the Erie Canal, or the home of the Bills while they make themselves into a better NFL team. It’s my hometown. For what it’s worth, Pittsford Sutherland, Class of 1992 – Sutherland HS is located on the corner of Sutherland St and West Jefferson road on the village’s west side. I tell you this because that’s where you get the bus to Bills camp. It’s my mother’s hometown, and my grandmother lived there for many years. My family has watched it grow from a quiet village that still had a working coal tower and milk delivery to a town that has a restaurant in the coal tower and a still working dairy that absolutely must be enjoyed – more on them later.
We all hear about the corner of State and Main in the classic American village. Many of these villages have faded over time, but Pittsford remains, with the exception of modern paving, a place that seems a bit out of time in the village itself. Late 19th and early 20th century buildings remain intact and their facades still looking good, while insides are modernized. There’s the Brighton Pittsford Post (a local newspaper), village library and town hall, and even the same barber (Sandy’s) that I had growing up. She’s still cutting hair – and extraordinarily well, I might add. Just a hint: My next birthday’s number 40 and she first started cutting my hair when I was 4.
So, I’ll start from the South Side of the village, and we’ll walk towards St. John Fisher on the north side. The village begins just north of Sunset Blvd and Main St. I lived off of Sunset Blvd for years and so I walked to the village for whatever (pizza, ice cream, etc). Even after I had a car, I still enjoyed walking. You can also take public transportation – an all day pass on the RGRTA system is only $3, Route 17 runs through the village and Route 7 runs west from the Village west to Rochester along Monroe Avenue / State Street. Pittsford has excellent sidewalks and I suggest you utilize them after parking your car. Driving places is inefficient at best, and causes you to miss fun things at worst. There’s 2 hour public parking on the south side of the village, just past Sandy’s, behind what used to be Burdett’s. Burdett’s was one of the last of the old school local groceries, complete with its own butcher. It closed about 20 years ago and became a paint store. While I understand that times change and the market is very well served by Wegman’s and Tops, there’s something to a good old fashioned store that I miss. My Mom always preferred the cuts of good meats that came from that store over the larger chains.
Speaking of chains, there will be no references here to any chains. Pittsford has, particularly along Monroe Avenue, northwest of the village, many chains. There’s fast food chains, PF Chang’s, Cheesecake Factory, etc. They are not going to be reviewed here. If you want the sense of a place, eat where locals eat. It will give you perspective. Listen to their conversations. Enjoy a greasy spoon scrambled egg with cheese and bacon or a good pancake. Eat a burger and have some fries or onion rings. If you want upscale, find a local place that serves upscale food – you’ll see one in a bit. Enjoy that which is locally owned and you’ll know what people like.
As we walk to the central portion of the village – the aforementioned State and Main – you’ll see the St. Louis school and Church on South Main. It’s the largest one in the area and where I once played the piano at a recital. I never was very good at the piano, nor am I Catholic, but the Church has an important place in the village. It’s where many local Catholic children receive a fine education and along with the many churches in the village, serves as an anchor for Sunday morning socializations and post-church dining. One of the places they repair to is Hicks & McCarthy. It’s been around for a long time – though it briefly closed at one point in the late 80s and then was brought back as “Hickey’s” Seriously, Hickeys? Didn’t anyone verify that name with the Common Sense department, or a focus group, or something? Anyways, it’s back to being Hicks & McCarthy’s, purveyors of fine breakfasts, lunches, and dinners (no Dinner on Sunday) and ice cream. They also have a new wine bar and traditional teas. It’s a slice of Americana, with a bit of an upscale nature. Also on the South side is “Yotality”, a new Frozen Yogurt place. I know, all the hip kids say “Fro Yo”. I’m neither hip, nor a kid. Yotality works a lot like the big chain Menchie’s does, if you’ve been there. It’s basically DIY Frozen Yogurt where you add the Yogurt and toppings then it gets weighed, pay by the ounce. Canaltown Coffee Roasters used to be in the same spot – I loved that place but a Starbucks located nearby and they ate the business. There’s still a branch of Canaltown Coffee Roasters on the southeast side of Rochester on East Avenue, so they get a shout out, but not you, Fourbucks.
If you take a right onto State from Main Street, you’ll continue to see a number of excellent boutique stores (many have changed over the years, so I haven’t been inside the new ones) but on the northside of the street, you’ll see Pontillo’s. Pontillo’s has been serving Pizza for years. Long enough to have sponsored a rival little league team when I was playing in the mid-1980s. Although they do have 16 locations, they are still family owned and dedicated to the Rochester area for 60 years, having originated in nearby Batavia. It’s a good slice of pizza, still with good, fresh ingredients. The chicken artichoke pizza is excellent, as is the white veggie. Decent wings, too. I’ll save a wing review for my article on Buffalo, though. Prices are still reasonable, too, which is nice. If you need a slice, go here.
Also on that side, you’ll see the Pittsford library. I was once a page there, and had a lot of fun with it. The modern multipurpose building which held the court and library together is long gone, replaced by a building that actually looks like it belongs in the village. Similar to the debacle that are the ugly passenger train stations known as “Amshacks”, sometimes the term modern is a bad thing, like modern architecture. Traditional architecture, with its emphasis on artful display and beauty, is where it’s at. Behind the library is the Duncan Photo studio, which is still producing incredible photographic art, including my baby pictures that actually made me look good. Miracles do happen.
You’ll walk on the State Street bridge, over the Erie Canal, and then on your left you’ll see the entrance to Schoen (pronounced Shāne, but looks like German ‘shern’). Schoen Place is now a hip shopping boutique and has many fine places. 30 years ago, it was a bit of a backwater, so I have been impressed by the changes. Some of the places here have been around like Pittsford Lumber store (which helped me build my Eagle Scout project and a dog sled) and Northfield Music, where I took some music lessons and bought a guitar once. Side note: Northfield is the original name of the town surrounding the village of Pittsford. In time, the village became synonymous with the town, and the town became incorporated as Pittsford. The rest of Northfield is now known as Henrietta, the town to the west. Pittsford is named after the Vermont town of the same name, the birthplace of the founder of the town, Col. Caleb Hopkins.
Nowadays, there’s a Cupcake place calledDolce’s, which I have yet to try, and a very nice flower store called the Topiary. As you proceed northeast along Schoen place, you go past some repurposed coal towers and grain elevators from the town’s canal-born history. Long neglected, some are being converted to office buildings. One building that has been repurposed successfully since 1976 is the Coal Tower restaurant, which CBS Sports’ Clark Judge always attends on his annual training camp tour. One of the best all day places in all of western NY, affordable and absolutely delicious. If you’re in the mood for a burger, try the Tower Burger with provolone, onions and peppers. If you’re feeling hungry, and have healthy cholesterol levels, try the Canal Burger, with Bleu Cheese dressing and bacon. By the way, get some extra walking in along the canal. The place isn’t for the dieter, but who cares? Enjoy it!
Further north along Schoen place, there’s an Aladdin’s natural eatery, but there are a few of them in upstate NY. It used to be a place called the Mucky Duck, and had a great Key Lime pie. Dad and Mom used to love that place, but I suspect when it became a “natural eatery”, they didn’t go there as much. There’s also a curious new place I tried recently called “Simply Crepes”. It’s specialty, as you’ve probably guessed, is crepes. Crepes of the breakfast (sausage and egg stuffed), savory (Goat Cheese & Arugula, or Chicken Tarragon are two examples) and sweet dessert (vanilla or chocolate creams, Nutella, etc.) variety are available. I found the place to be excellent with just the right seasoning on my savory crepe, and the sweet crepe to be just right. By the way, if you’re going to do the Coal Tower for lunch, you may not need to visit Simply Crepes until the next day. You may be full straight through the next morning.
At the north end of Schoen place, you’ll come back to Main Street. Take a right and you’ll proceed northwest toward the north side of the Village. On the opposite side of the street is the Del Monte Lodge and Spa. When I was growing up, it was the old Depot Motor Inn, famous for its model trains, American fare and being a part of the old train station that linked Rochester to Pittsford and points east. Back on the east side of the street is the entrance to Pittsford Farms dairy. For some reason, they don’t have a website, so that’s a Yelp! Site link. You’ll see the bright new red barn which has every kind of dairy and bakery treat you can imagine. You see why I recommend walking, with all these restaurants, one needs to walk. In any event, certainly go and peruse the local produce, dairy products and everything else that you can possibly lay your hands on. It’s all fresh and delicious. There are massive cookies, which I loved getting as a kid. In particular, kids get a kick out of cow cookies or the massive smiley face cookies. As you exit the barn, you’ll see an old building off on your left. That’s the dairy stand from when I was a kid. You can imagine my greasy kid fingers pressed up against the glass viewing counter, begging Mom for a cookie, which I generally got once a week. Elsie, the dairy lady, was ready to hand it to me, if I’d been good enough to warrant such a treat. I understand why they built the new place and I’m glad they’ve grown to need a larger building. That said, there’s something to be said for a quaint old building with a simple counter. You can still look inside the windows of the old building and see what it was like a few years back.
Finally, at the end of the village’s northern bound, we come to the Pittsford Pub, and Jojo’s wine bar & bistro. I haven’t been to Jojo’s, but I hear good things. I’ve been going to the Pub for years, and it has a number of good selections. It even had a version of Nick Tahou’s famed “Garbage Plate” (if you know, you know), but I don’t see it on the online menu. It just means you have to go to Nick’s in the city, but that’s another article.
As you continue along North Main St., you leave the village proper (North Main becomes East Avenue) and head towards St. John Fisher, you come to some very wealthy houses that line the avenue. East Avenue is the signature residential street of Rochester, Brighton and Pittsford. Along its sides, you’ll see a number of mansions and other beautiful homes. There are also some nice neighborhoods for the somewhat less affluent, and if you do pass by Alpine Drive (on your right as you go North on East Avenue), you’ll see the first house my mom lived in and if you make a left off of Alpine Drive, the first place my parents bought is on Shelwood Drive. It’s a great walking neighborhood, a good place to raise a kid and very close to our destination: St. John Fisher. Back on East Avenue, it meets Fairport Road. Straight in front of you is St. John Fisher.
I hope you get a chance to make it to camp and just as importantly, take in where you are. Enjoy your surroundings. I’ve been a geographer for a decade and a half now, and if I’ve learned one thing, there’s great things to do and see in any place. The best things, however, are locally owned and locally committed. They don’t just employ people, they invigorate the places where they create employment. I’m not disrespecting other business, it’s all important to the nation’s economy. However, local places matter. So, please visit my hometown. Enjoy Bills camp, and when you head out of St. John Fisher, try some of the places I’ve mentioned. Enjoy the food, enjoy the places, enjoy the people. Thank you for reading!