Part of the price you pay for living in Western New York is the bitter weather.
To balance that out, here comes the sweetest harbinger of spring: Maple Weekend, and what might be its greatest expression, the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.
The two-weekend celebration of New York’s maple syrup heritage – second only to Vermont for the United States title – is March 23-24 and March 30-31 this year.
On those days, many of the state’s 2,000 producers invite people to witness what it takes to turn roughly 40 gallons of sap into one gallon of syrup.
So far, the weather has depressed production for maple producers such as Dean Weber of Weber’s Garden Center in West Falls. “At this point last year we were almost 1,200 gallons,” Weber said March 4. “We’re 10 to 15 percent of last year at this point.”
Like Weber’s, most maple businesses are thoroughly modern, with plastic tubing networks vacuuming sap out of the maple forests and reverse-osmosis plants that squeeze half of the water out of sap before the rest is boiled over oil burners. Others still do it the old-fashioned way, collecting sap one bucket at a time and boiling it over a wood fire.
Visitors to a sugarhouse come away feeling faintly sticky from the sweet maple steam and ready for some pancakes.
To serve those hungers, dozens of Western New York syrup-producers make pancakes as well. Most of those are during Maple Weekend only, but a few have built entire restaurants to serve a longer season.
The biggest in this end of the state is in Angelica, 90 minutes from Buffalo: Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn opened in 1963. Its specialty is all-you-can-eat buckwheat pancakes. Prices start at $7.20 for pancakes and syrup, and the line to be seated routinely runs out the door.
Founded by Ronald Cartwright, the fifth-generation syrup-maker of a maple tradition predating the Civil War, it’s now run by his children and grandchildren. Generations of New Yorkers – and plenty of visitors – have made Cartwright’s a ritual of spring.
Another tradition carries on in Freedom, at Moore’s Maple Shack, which started serving in 1986.
William Moore is a fifth-generation maple maker himself. With his wife, Joan, running the 50-seat restaurant, it served about 20,000 customers last year, he said. This year, the sugar shack has been redone, and all-you-can-eat pancakes with maple syrup are $7.25.
“I have not made a drop of syrup yet,” Moore said March 6. Given the vagaries of the weather, he said, he wasn’t nervous. Yet.
“Give me two more weeks and if I haven’t made any syrup and I’ll be real nervous,” he said.
“Last year, we made half a crop of syrup in February, no syrup in March, and the other half in April. This year, we might make some in March, and a lot in April. It just depends on the weather.”
One thing he knows for sure: The pancake crowd is coming.
For complete Maple Weekend listings, go to MapleWeekend.com. Here’s a list of some pancake breakfasts, all-you-can-eat and otherwise, associated with the maple syrup producers.
All you can eat
Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn, 4321 Country Road 15A, Angelica. Open through April 14. Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays and Easter Sunday. All-you-can-eat pancakes start at $7.20.
Moore’s Maple Shack, 10444 Galen Hill Road, Freedom. Open through April 20. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Monday, except for prearranged groups. All-you-can-eat pancakes start at $7.25.
Jake’s Greenhouse, 11904 Route 240, East Concord. March 23-24 and 30-31, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. All-you-can-eat pancakes $9, $7 seniors, $5 children 3-12.
Ploetz’s Maple Syrup, 12833 Dowd Road, Springville. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., March 23-24 and 30-31. All-you-can-eat $8, $6 under 10.
A la carte
Benz’s Sugar Shanty, 12939 Van Slyke Road, East Concord. March 23-24 and 30-31, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Big Tree Maple, 2040 Holly Lane, Lakewood. Pancakes served at Ashville General Store, 4844 Route 474, Ashville. March 23-24 and 30-31, 7 a.m.-noon.
Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, 3755 Tonawanda Creek Road, Amherst. March 30-31, 9:30 a.m.-noon. Tickets $10-$14, at door or through bnhv.org.
Fairbanks Maple Products, 1968 Shaw Road, Forestville. March 23-24 and 30-31, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Genesee Country Village & Museum, 1410 Flint Hill Road, Mumford. 9 a.m.-1 p.m., March 23-24 and 30-31. $10 admission to Maple Sugar Festival, breakfast additional $8-$10.
Lily Acre Farm, 7768 Parcell Road, Stockton. March 23-24 and 30-31. $9.50.
Maple Moon Farms, 1058 Gulf Road, Attica. March 23-24 and 30-31.
Sprague’s Maple Farms, 1048 Portville-Obi Road, Portville. Full-service restaurant open daily year-round, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, Saturday.
Sweet Time Maple, 5680 Webster Road, Wyoming. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. March 23-24 and 30-31. $11, $5 8 and under.