Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: We just canceled our plans to go skiing in the Poconos next week because, well . . . there's no snow. We're still heading up there for a northern jaunt, and since I won't have much else to do but eat, I'd love some recommendations for good Poconos restaurants (is there such a thing?). I'll report back.
Reader: The Poconos are a good 15 years behind the rest of the civilized world, but there's a really nice breakfast place called the Terra Cottage Cafe about a mile past the main entrance to Jack Frost/Big Boulder. Definitely better than the standard diner food, which seems to be the norm up there.
C.L.: Thanks. There's a reason I've never really written about dining in the Pa. mountains. I'm hoping a little recon trip might change that. But I need guidance. More, please!
Reader: Had our office holiday lunch at Gran Caffe L'Aquila last week. Two comments - bacon gelato and yum. They handled our group of 42 very well, and everyone enjoyed. Cutting-edge to appeal to the foodies, but enough classic Italian to make the simple eaters happy.
C.L.: Glad you had a good meal. That's one place I did get back to for a year-end revisit. Lots of big parties the night we went. Can't say I'm a fan of the savory gelato. Cold ice cream on hot pasta just doesn't work for me. But I see the appeal of Gran Caffe overall. Stay tuned for my revisit Dec. 27 in "Year in Bells."
Reader: I noticed this year's shipment of Pappy Van Winkle has hit Pa. I am well aware of some other suitable, not nearly as rare or expensive whiskeys, but my brother caught the Pappy buzz since it has become a thing. Know of any bars that have been carrying it?
C.L.: Good to hear. Last year, the arrival of Pappy VW literally crashed the PLCB's website, there was such a demand. I haven't checked in to find out who has what. But start with the list of whiskey-centric places I mentioned in my recent review of Lloyd Whiskey Bar, and start there. A couple of obvious places I forgot in that piece: Bank & Bourbon in the Loews Hotel, and Time, in Midtown Village. Usually, Le at Hop Sing hoards an obscene amount of Pappy.
Reader: The sites are good, just really expensive. I know Bainbridge Barrel House carried Pappy last year.
Reader: I had a Pappy 23 and quite honestly was underwhelmed. Like most things, nothing can live up to extreme pricing in the alcohol world. I've been enjoying the various High West blends, great value for the quality.
C.L.: Experts like Jimmy Russell believe bourbon does not taste at its optimum beyond 15 years. The Pappys, which age in cooler corners of the rickhouse, have always been an exception. Ten years ago, when pricing was more realistic, they lived up to that reputation. I'm personally partial to the 20 year old. But could never afford another bottle anymore. I was, however, very pleased with the new 17-year-old Master's Keep from Wild Turkey (Mr. Russell's house, not coincidentally), which blends in some slow-aging whiskeys that rested in stone rickhouses. Really luscious stuff. Also, Woodford Reserve's double-oak bourbon, on sale in Pa., is featured in my spirits gift guide in Food.