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FOLLOWING THE SCENT OF ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT PANCAKES

It wasn't the call of the wild that had two day-trippers driving through Cattaraugus County on a cold Sunday morning in spring, but rather the call of the pancakes.

A disappointing experience at a popular new restaurant located just off Elmwood Avenue (where two pancakes and a cup of coffee set us back $9, bacon not included), combined with stories on the state's recent Maple Weekend, had us craving a really big, really cheap batch of pancakes.

We heard about all the places to get all-you-can-eat pancakes topped with pure maple syrup that is made on the premises and delivered fresh to the table. Plus, the idea of maple candy and horse-drawn carriage rides made it all sound delectable.

Since we couldn't head 85 miles or so just for pancakes, a nice Sunday drive in the country with a bit of antiquing along the way sounded like a fun way to spend the day. Forget the fact that it was cold, rainy and slushy -- the end of the road would take us to Sprague's Maple Farms in Portville where an all-you-can-eat meal of pancakes was waiting.

Once we learned that Cattaraugus County calls itself "the Enchanted Mountains," we just couldn't resist.

Driving on the I-90 to the 400 from downtown Buffalo, we decided to detour off at the Maple Street exit and pick up Route 16 through East Aurora, not realizing it would take us right back to the 400 and then the 16! But since we were thinking leisurely Sunday drive, we were unfazed as we sallied forth on our trek through Holland into Chaffee.

Shopping along the way

First stop was the Merry Meeting Shoppe at 12020 Olean Road (Route 16) in Chaffee. The former home of the Butternut Inn Restaurant, Merry Meeting is a cute shop filled with gifts and collectibles.

Opened in 1999, the shop has expanded its square footage and the owners take full advantage of the extra space, displaying items in every nook and cranny.

Bring a shopping list if you have any gifts to buy. You'll find everything from vases, bowls, candles, clocks, pottery, sun catchers, stationery, bags, mugs and more. (A frog wind chime became an early Mother's Day purchase for one frog-lover in the family.) And the Merry Meeting Shoppe is an authorized dealer of many collectibles, including Boyds Silver Paw items.

Fenton Glass collectors will find large display cases filled with glassware. It is interesting to note that the Fenton Glass factory, located in Williamstown, W.Va., is still owned by the Fenton family and continues to be one of the world's top producers of handmade art glass.

Fenton celebrates its 100th anniversary this year with events nationwide including one at the Merry Meeting Shoppe, April 29-May 1. Visitors can take part in the Centennial Celebration and purchase a special vase for the occasion, the six-inch Rosemilk Opalescent Vase which bears the 100th anniversary logo and the inscribed signature of Shelley Fenton Ash (go to www.fentonartglass.com to see a photo of the vase).

Pulling out of the parking lot, we could see the sign for the famous Earl's, just a tenth of a mile up the road on the left. Although the home-cooking and fresh made pies called for us, that would have to wait. We were on our pancake mission.

The drive continued on through Delevan, Machias, Farmersville and into Franklinville where a large sign greeted us with "Home of Kimberly Pressler, Miss USA-1999." However, we were more interested in the new Sap Bucket Antique Co-Op we found at 24 N. Main St. (Route 16) in Franklinville, than the beauty queen news.

This delightful old building was exactly the type of antiquing we were looking for. We found all sorts of treasures, including a nice selection of hard-to-find small tables to put near sofas or in corners and a wonderful C.W. Braun folk art stoneware jug that was heavy looking and heavy in price.

Alas, the sole purchase was an old ashtray stand that could double as a plant stand for only $8. Quite a charming bargain!

Stomachs growling, we pressed on only to be drawn into the Pleasant Valley Greenhouse Nursery, located at 2871 Route 16 just outside of Olean.

Although nowhere near being fully stocked for spring during our visit, it was nonetheless a bright and cheery diversion on such a dreary day. We perused the houseplants and settled on a Lipstick Plant (the Mona Lisa variety). Interesting houseplants are hard to come by, and this one with its waxy dark leaves and purple tube like flowers begged to be bought. The attached label said it could be hung outside in the summer and would attract hummingbirds. What a bonus for under $10!

The last stop on the shopping tour was Trading Post Antiques on 1202 W. State St. (Route 417) in Olean. There are two floors of antiques here. It's not quite as interesting as the Sap Bucket, but we did a quick walk-through in case there was a treasure we might miss.

Like many Sunday drivers, we day-trippers made a wrong turn and headed on Route 417 west for a few miles before turning around and heading east like we should have. As hungry as we were, you'd think the smell of cooking pancakes at Sprague's would have turned us in the right direction.

Back on track, we headed down 417 east to Portville where we picked up 305 north. Just when we began to doubt our map reading skills again, there it was on the right, set up on a hill -- the pancake palace -- Sprague's Maple Farms.

Pancakes at last

Pulling up the long and winding drive, we could almost taste the buttermilk beauties before opening our car doors. Cute maple leaf imprints lined the pavement of the walkway.

Sprague's is huge, and we wondered if such a big place meant a long wait. Although there was a line, it moved quickly. We hardly had time to check out the maple syrup-making equipment and display before the hostess was seating us in the comfy, lodge-like atmosphere.

Like many hungry travelers, we wanted everything on the menu, including the all-you-can-eat pancakes. The special of the day was Maple Walnut French Toast topped with Maple Cream Cheese for $5.95. Our decision was complicated ever further by the fact that Sprague's raises free range turkeys, which they serve roasted with maple sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and cranberries. Thanksgiving plus pancakes! How could we go wrong?

Sprague's "all-you-can-eat pancake policy" is simple. Order any "meal" served with pancakes and just ask for more when you are ready (no sharing, please).

Day-tripper No. 1 opted to go the breakfast route of pancakes, eggs, bacon and home fries. Thinking there would be a long wait for food, she splurged and ordered a cinnamon roll topped with maple glaze.

Normally day-tripped No. 2 would avoid a turkey dinner outside her own kitchen, but when it's a homegrown bird, she had to indulge (along with a sampler plate of pancakes).

Our mouths dropped open when, only minutes after ordering, huge plates of aromatic food arrived at the table. The turkey did not disappoint. Both white and dark meat arrived on the filled plate. It was tender and delicious, as were the accompaniments.

And, oh those pancakes. Light, fluffy and flavorful, they were well worth the drive on their own. They came with a heaping plate of eggs, home fries and thick slabs of delicious maple-flavored bacon -- a bargain at only $7.50. (The cinnamon roll was taken home to enjoy on another day.)

Starred menu items indicate Sprague's maple specialties, including maple baked beans, maple cinnamon apple sauce, maple pork sausage, maple glazed chicken breast ($10.95), maple barbecue pork ribs ($12.95) and even maple milkshakes ($2.95).

On Fridays, Sprague's serves up a buttermilk battered fish fry for $8.95. For those on a breakfast kick, there's Sprague's Deep Fried French Toast ($6.25) or Sugar on Snow -- a Belgian waffle topped with maple whipped cream and sprinkled with maple sugar pieces ($6.95).

Sprague's overall atmosphere is warm and inviting, and perfect for families with lots of hungry kids who can fill themselves up with pancakes and be entertained by the all-too-real-looking raccoon that pops out of a sap bucket from time to time on the fireplace hearth.

Fully fed, we made one last stop in Sprague's gift shop where we purchased among, other things, maple pepper and, of course, maple syrup.

Sprague's also offers a host of year-round activities, including walking trails, an antique sugarhouse and special events.

Back in the car on the way home, the only regret we could find from our journey is that Sprague's isn't a tad closer for us to visit more often.

If you go

Information:

Sprague's Maple Farms, 1048 Route 305, Portville (800) 446-2753 www.spraguesmaplefarms.com.Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Cattaraugus County: (800) 331-0543; www.enchantedmountains.info

Merry Meeting Shoppe (716) 496-5075

Sap Bucket Antique Co-op (716) 676-5614

Trading Post Antiques (716) 373-6086

Events:

Western New York Maple Festival is Saturday and April 24. See maple making demonstrations and wood sculptures.

There's also an art show, craft show/sale, and a book sale. Pancake breakfasts are served each day from early morning until 3:30 p.m.; a ham/leek dinner is served Saturday; and a chicken barbecue on Sunday. Catch an antique gas engine show on Saturday or the antique auto show on Sunday. The Miner's Cabin (9 Pine St., Franklinville) is open from 1 to 5 p.m.

Directions

(from Buffalo)

Take the 400 to the end (becomes Route 16);

Continue on to Olean

Take 417 East to 305 North

Distance is 85 miles; drive time without stops is about 90 minutes.