Soda? In Rochester, we call it “pop.”

When I was growing up back in the 1960s, there weren’t as many concerns about nutrition, and soda was a staple of the American diet. Here in Rochester, we referred to soda as “pop” and generally still do. When out-of-towners asked for a “soda” back in the day, we thought that was very strange.

Every weekend, our Dad and a few of us kids would hop in the station wagon and take a short drive to the cinder block building at 625 Shelford Road (photo below) and buy a case of large bottles of “pop” from a local manufacturer, “Fiz Pop,” which was a lot cheaper than the national brands. They had many flavors and it was fun to pick out my favorites as we filled the case. Fiz eventually moved out of that location and my Dad began buying six-packs of Coca-Cola at the big grocery. One of my sweetest high-school-era memories is sucking down ice-old Cokes in the summertime while watching my little black-and-white TV late at night in my hot, un-air-conditioned bedroom.

These days, health experts strongly discourage drinking soda. There’s 39 grams of “sugar” (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup) in a 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola, which translates to 9.75 teaspoons of sugar per can. That’s A LOT of sugar.

I don’t drink a lot of pop/soda, but I do like to crack open a cold one on Saturdays after doing the yard chores. I definitely have my favorites. I have a small stockpile of my favorite varieties with samples in the above photo:

From left to right:

  • Dr. Pepper & Cream Soda – Great combo! Was on the grocery shelf for a limited time during the Summer, but didn’t see it for awhile. It’s now back in six-packs of 16.9 oz. plastic bottles.
  • Coca-Cola, Orange Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.
  • Vernors – A very gingery-tasting ginger-ale that originally hailed from Michigan. Wikipedia states that “soft,” full-flavored ginger-ales like Vernors were popular before Prohibition, but afterwards, less-flavorful “dry” varieties like Canada Dry caught on.
  • Coca-Cola, Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.
  • A&W Cream Soda – Hard to find. Stocked sporadically.
  • Coca-Cola, Cherry Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.

The only Coke on the local grocery shelves lately is Classic Coke and Diet Coke. Has Coke given up on its specialty varieties or have the purchasing agents at our two local grocery chains just gotten lazy? Articles on the internet state that Coke has NOT discontinued its specialty flavors, but that it’s had a hard time keeping up with the high demand during the C-19 pandemic.

What’s your favorite flavor of pop…er, I mean soda?

Above: The Fiz Pop brand was was eventually bought by the Petix family, owners of College Club Beverages. That’s brothers Louie and Joe Petix in the photo above.
I also occasionally like to pick up some bottles of Jarritos-brand Lime and Tamarind flavored soda from Mexico in in the imported foods aisle.
Above: The former Fiz Pop building at 625 Shelford Road, now subdivided into multiple apartments.

Argh! What have they done to my favorite grape pie from Naples, N.Y.?

Did you ever have grape pie? It’s an annual tradition at our house. Just about every year (we missed last year), at the peak of the Fall foliage colors, my wife and I make the one-hour trek from Rochester to the village of Naples (pop. 2500) at the southern tip of Canandaigua Lake to buy a few grape pies. Wine-making is a big industry in the Finger Lakes region because of the clement “lake effect” upon the weather and there are many, many vineyards situated on the hills between the long lakes. Folks in Naples gained some notoriety for their picturesque community by taking some of those Concord grapes and making pies with them. Many Rochesterians make the trip to Naples in the Fall for the scenery and the grape pies.

On Saturday, October 17th, my wife and I began our journey southward to Naples. It was a sunny day and the farther south we drove, the more pronounced were the flaming red, yellow, and orange colors on the trees. The high hills of the region were awash with the bright colors. Stunningly beautiful!

Above: Fall foliage and one of the Finger Lakes

As we pulled into Naples, I contemplated which one of the many vendors we would purchase our grape pies from. We had always bought our grape pies at Cindy’s Grape Pies on Academy Street, but a couple of years ago, we saw on the Rochester news that owner, Cindy Trzeciak, was retiring and closing the business. I drove down Academy street for nostalgia sake, but was surprised to see a line of people in front of Cindy’s. Huh? We parked the car and eagerly stood in line for our two grape pies, so happy that the bakery hadn’t closed after all.

After securing our pies, we had a nice, leisurely lunch at the Redwood Restaurant down the road. Nothing fancy at the Redwood, just good, simple food. I chose a jalapeno burger and fries while my wife had sliced roast beef on kimmelweck, a Western New York favorite.

Full and content, we drove back towards Rochester with the beautiful Fall foliage once again gracing our way. We stopped at the Wegman’s grocery in Canandaigua for our favorite toppings to go along with our grape pies; whipped cream for my wife and vanilla ice cream for me.

We finally made it home and immediately served ourselves a generous helping of grape pie. Huh? Uh oh! With the first bite we both noticed that something was terribly wrong. One of the best features of Cindy’s grape pie was the thick and very flaky crust. But, the crust on this pie was very thin and soggy. Smelling a rat, I googled “Cindy’s Pies” and discovered that Cindy T. had sold the business to new owners back in September 2019 (see here). Hmph. The new owners had promised “not to change a thing,” of course, but that obviously was not the case. My wife and I were very disappointed. The second pie was exactly the same way. Next year, my wife and I will have to try the other prime, grape pie-seller in Naples, Monica’s Pies.

We thank and praise God for His beautiful creation and for good food and for good cooks who know how to prepare it.

Postscript #1: In case you’re curious, grape pie tastes somewhat similar to blueberry pie.

Postscript #2: When there’s not a pandemic going on, Naples hosts its annual Grape Festival the last week of September. See here.

My “near-death” experience when I rode the Tilt-A-Whirl!

It’s interesting what childhood memories we retain. Our family lived about ten-miles from Seabreeze Amusement Park near the shores of Lake Ontario and we usually took a trip there once or twice each summer to enjoy the rides.

I started out with the slow-moving kiddie rides, but graduated to the more adventurous rides as I got older. One of the first grown-up rides I braved was the Tilt-A-Whirl. In that ride, a circular, segmented platform rotates over an “undulating” (i.e., having a smoothly rising and falling form or outline) track. Seven individual cars bolted to the platform each spins on its own circular track. As the platform rotates, the passengers in each car can shift their position to synchronize the motion of the car with the indulations of the moving platform to achieve a rapid, spinning motion.

On the occasion of my first time on the Tilt-A-Whirl, I nervously stood in line with my older sisters as we waited for our turn. The ride’s noisy, mechanical movements and the loud squeals of the passengers were thrilling as well as intimidating. We slowly advanced up the steps to the ride’s platform and when the attendant lifted the metal chain we scrambled to claim our car. We all grasped the handlebar as the platform began to turn. My sisters were “old hands” at this ride and began to shift their weight to sync the car’s rotation with the ups and downs of the moving platform. Before I knew what was happening, our car was spinning like a top! As the car spun faster and faster, I felt the increasing centrifugal force. It was scary, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I hung onto the handlebar with a death grip, but felt my strength quickly ebbing. Why did I ever agree to go on this dangerous contraption?!?!?! I must have been a sight, like a frightened wild animal caught in a trap. One of my sisters could see my panic and leaned over and advised me to just relax and lean back into the padded wall of the car. Huh? I took her advice, loosening my death grip, and just went with the spin. Ah! Much better. This Tilt-A-Whirl experience was fun after all! Let’s go again!

Every once in awhile, I think about that moment when I had a panicky death-grip on the Tilt-A-Whirl handlebar and then relaxing and being able to enjoy what the ride was designed to do. There’s a spiritual analogy there about struggling to do things in my own power, and then surrendering to the Lord and His power and will. Ah, what a wonderful feeling it is to relinquish control, which I never really had in the first place, and submit to God. How about you? Are fretting and hanging on tightly, trying to control circumstances that are really outside of your control?

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” – Psalms 28:7

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” – Psalm 34:17

Postscript: The Tilt-A-Whirl was invented by Herbert Sellner back in 1926 in the basement of his Faribault, Minnesota home.

Rochester meat hot sauce: Part 2 and comprehensive ranking

A few weeks back, I introduced another one of Rochester’s delectable contributions to haute cuisine; Rochester meat hot sauce. See here. Just about every local burger joint and hot dog stand in town serves up its own version of the meat hot sauce and you can even buy jars of it at the local grocery stores. Last time, we sampled Momma K’s, Coach Tony’s, and Don’s Original brands. Today, we’re going to try three more varieties: Uncle Timmy’s, Zweigle’s, and Steve T’s.

Uncle Timmy’s: This sauce is very similar in taste and consistency to Coach Tony’s; a very hamburger-y taste, but with a stronger cinnamon accent.

Zweigle’s: Rochester’s maker of the USA’s best hot dogs (see here) offers its own version of meat hot sauce, not in a jar, but a combination of spices in a plastic package. The process involves browning up a pound of fresh ground beef, adding water and the package ingredients, and simmering for half an hour. Voilà! A very tasty meat hot sauce.

Steve T’s: Steve T. is the nephew of Nick Tahou (d.1997), the former proprietor of Nick Tahou’s Hots, home of the original Garbage Plate (see here). Steve has his own hots and burgers joint, but isn’t allowed to use the Tahou name, which is trademarked. This sauce is disappointingly bland and has noticeably more grease than any of the other jarred offerings (note the grease sludge at the top of the jar in the above photo). Steve allegedly follows his Uncle’s Nick’s original meat hot sauce recipe, which makes the case for refinement; the first is not always the best.

It was quite an undertaking to eat my way through these six offerings of Rochester meat hot sauce in order to put together this two-part special post, but my readers’ “need to know” comes before my health.

Let’s sum it all up by ranking the six Rochester meat hot sauces that we’ve reviewed, from best to worst:

Zweigle’s: Excellent flavor with a good degree of heat. Has an unfair advantage due to the add-your-own fresh ground hamburger.

Don’s Original: Delicious. Easily the best of the five jarred varieties. Leans towards a chili flavor with its inclusion of tomato puree and a heavy dose of chili powder.

Coach Tony’s: A bit “rough around the edges,” but a decent alternative if you can’t get Zweigle’s or Don’s Original.

Uncle Timmy’s: The strong cinnamon accent drops it just a notch below the very-similar Coach Tony’s.

Momma K’s: Unadventurous. Tastes just like Sloppy Joe sauce. Strictly for small children and adults with delicate palates

Steve T’s: Ach. Very bland and and very greasy. Tastes like liquid lard with a slight hamburger flavor.

Because he claims to use his Uncle Nick Tahou’s recipe, Steve T. boasts that his hot sauce is “Rochester’s Original Meat Sauce.”

All of the Rochester meat hot sauces mentioned above can be conveniently ordered from NY Style Deli via the link below:

Delish! Rochester meat hot sauce: Part 1

Today, we’re going to take a break from serious, theological discussions with some Rochester-style frivolity.

In some previous posts, I wrote about Rochester, New York’s unique contributions to haute cuisine; the delectable Garbage Plate (see here) and the indescribably delicious Zweigle’s brand, pop-open hot dogs (see here). In Rochester, one of the mandatory accoutrements to a “plate,” a burger, or a Zweigle’s hot dog is Rochester meat hot sauce. Nope, we’re not talkin’ chili, folks. We’re talkin’ meat hot sauce.

It’s reported that Rochester meat hot sauce originated with local greasy spoon diner, Nick Tahou Hots, home of the original “Garbage Plate.”

My first experience with Rochester meat hot sauce was back in the late-1960s when our family would pick up burgers to-go at Don & Bob’s (see photo far below) on Monroe Avenue. I witnessed other customers asking for hot sauce on their burger and was curious enough to try it myself. Are you kidding me?!?!?! So delicious! Absolutely NO ketchup or mustard for me on my burger or Zweigle’s white hot. Just meat hot sauce and chopped onions.

Every Rochester burger joint has its own version of the meat hot sauce, some are better than others. The common ingredients are finely-ground, ground beef with cayenne pepper, a little cinnamon, and lots of other spices and seasonings. Some use tomato paste or sauce, others don’t. The hotness meter varies widely from joint to joint, but I like hot, spicy food so that’s never a problem. Savvy Rochesterians avoid local McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s franchises because they don’t have meat hot sauce for their pre-fab burgers.

Some of the Rochester burger joints sell jars of their meat hot sauce over the counter. You can even buy jars of Rochester meat hot sauce at the local supermarkets. Put a few spoonfuls in a cup, heat it up in the microwave for 15 seconds, and voilà, it’s just like being at a local burger joint. Pictured are jars of Momma K’s, Coach Tony’s, and Don’s Original meat hot sauce. A few thoughts on each one:

Momma K’s: No zing to this one. Tastes like “Sloppy Joe” sauce. Strictly for the ladies…er, I mean for more delicate palates.

Coach Tony’s: Has a real meaty, “hamburger-y” taste with LOTS of zing. May be too overpowering for meat hot sauce novices.

Don’s Original: Delicious flavor. My favorite of the three. Takes me back to my introduction to meat hot sauce at Don & Bob’s. More of a tomato-y base than Coach Tony’s and a slightly less-powerful kick.

Also available around town are Steve T’s, Zweigle’s, and Uncle Timmy’s versions. We’ll sample those three in our upcoming part two installment.

Click on the link below to view the various Rochester meat hot sauces available online from NY Style Deli:
https://www.nystyledeli.com/cgi-bin/deli/search.html?fi=products&st=db&se=toppings&op=rm&tf=dl_location&nu=0&ml=50

If you google “Rochester Meat Hot Sauce” you’ll also find many make-at-home recipes.

Postscript: Other local greasy spoon diners owned by Greek families in the area serve their version of meat hot sauce as a breakfast and lunch accoutrement. My perfect breakfast: two eggs, sunny-side-up, rye toast, home fries, and a small bowl of meat hot sauce on the side. I understand that the idea of meat hot sauce over eggs at 8:00 a.m. in the morning can be a little daunting for the uninitiated, but trust me on this one.

Disclaimer: This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I take no responsibility for any subsequent, health-related issues. 🥵

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Above: An original “Garbage Plate” served at Nick Tahou Hots is comprised of two hot dogs or burgers over home fries and macaroni salad, all smothered with a generous helping of Nick’s meat hot sauce and chopped onions. For calorie counters, that’s 1700 calories and a whopping 88 grams of fat.

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Above: Don & Bob’s at 2545 Monroe Avenue, circa 2001. Rochester’s one-time premier burger joint opened in 1954 and finally closed in 2001.

Odds and Ends

I’m a nerdy blogger and part of being a nerdy blogger is scheduling out my posts a couple of weeks ahead of time. I usually have 8-12 drafts in the queue that I’ll occasionally fiddle with and fine-tune before they’re finally published. I use a two-week, revolving “blog plan” sheet to keep it all straight and at the bottom of the sheet, I jot down ideas for new posts. I’ve accumulated a number of frivolous-type ideas that just keep getting pushed aside week after week, so I thought I’d finally publish them as a collection of “odds and ends” in a rare Sunday post:

Hot Sauce

Capture101Buffalo Chicken Wings are THE THING here in Western New York. Many, many years ago, I used to cook up my own wings in a mini-fryer and serve them with the standard Buffalo sauce – Frank’s Red Hot and melted butter – with Blue Cheese dressing on the side as a dip. I eventually created my own sauce concept, mixing Frank’s with Ranch dressing (heartier Ranch dressing actually tastes better than Blue Cheese in this combo) and eliminating the need for dip. I recently discovered something very similar to my old sauce at Tops supermarket; Creamy Ranch Buffalo Wing Sauce made by Moore’s Marinades and Sauces down in Birmingham, Alabama. Good stuff! But chicken wings are definitely not part of a healthy diet plan (just one fried chicken wing has about 100 calories and 7 grams of fat).

Trite sayings

Trite sayings come and go. At one time, EVERYONE was repeating the dismissive, “Whatever,” and the incredulous, “Really?” A decade ago, I sat near a woman at work who regularly used the annoyingly fatalistic phrase, “It is what it is.” She must have said that five or six times a day, every day!!!

New Yorkers – Hurry Up and Wait

We New Yorkers are notorious for being punctual to a fault. Twenty-years ago, our little family went on a 3-day cruise in the Caribbean. On the last day of the cruise, all passengers were told to report to the ship’s auditorium at 9 a.m. sharp for disembarkation instructions. We got there at about 8:45 along with a few other families. The ship’s officer in charge of the disembarkation was standing on stage and knowingly asked if we were all from New York. Here in New York, if a customer gets a little too friendly and chatty with the clerk at the grocery checkout, the rest of the people in line start going crazy. Or what about the older women at the checkout who always insist on meticulously picking out the exact change from their circa-1960, little change purse. It’s 2020! Get a debit card, ladies! Ach. We New Yorkers can be very impatient fools.

Walking in Winter

One of my fitness goals is to walk 10,000 steps every day, although I’m actually averaging only about 8K/day currently. It’s very difficult and dangerous walking in Rochester during the Winter with all of the snow and ice on the roads and the freezing temperatures. I’ve slipped and slid many times, but haven’t fallen. Yet. I need to seriously think about an alternative on bad days, like driving to the mall and doing my walking inside. My sister’s elderly mother-in-law was hit by a USPS truck and seriously injured while exercise-walking in the street during the Winter.

Sports teams

The last time I wrote about one of my sports teams was October 1st, when I was whining about the end of another terrible season by the San Diego Padres. What’s going on with my other favorite teams? After a very encouraging 12-4 record in 2018, the Los Angeles Chargers (football) sank like a rock in 2019, going 5-11. The Bolts have finally turned the page on 38-year-old QB, Philip Rivers. The New York Knicks (basketball) weren’t able to sign any marquee free agents in the offseason. After an abysmal start, Knicks management fired head coach, David Fizdale, and the team is currently limping along with a 17-38 record at the All-Star break, on its way to another atrocious finish. In contrast, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers (hockey) have put together a very decent 17-11-4 season to this point and seem to be on their way to the conference playoffs in early-March as a top-seed. Meanwhile, the Padres are currently going through the motions in the Cactus League in preparation for what figures to be another sub-.500 season. The first spring training game is slated for this coming Saturday, February 22nd, against Seattle.

New Yorkers Redux

A U.S. Census report published in December showed that New York State is once again leading all other states in net population loss. The exodus is especially manifest here in Western New York. The region was once an economic powerhouse, and taxes spiraled through the roof to keep pace with the growth and development. Fifty-years later, the manufacturing jobs are pretty much gone, but the outrageously high taxes remain. Bureaucracy, once created, will fight tooth and claw to ensure its survival. Besides the economic miasma, we get more snow here than any other region in the country. No company would consider moving here. When students graduate from the local colleges, they must leave the region to find work.

The Rochester Mafia Wars: The A-Team vs. the B-Team???

The Rochester Mob Wars
By Blair T. Kenny
Blair Publishing, 2017, 208 pp.

3 Stars

A few weeks ago, I published a post about the former boss of the Rochester Mafia, Frank Valenti (see here). Writing that post further stoked my curiosity, prompting me to check our local library system for more information on the Rochester Mafia crime syndicate and I found this book, “The Rochester Mob Wars.” The title refers to the internecine “squabbling” between the two factions of the Rochester Mafia during the 1970s and 80s. The warring factions were dubbed the “A-Team” and the “B-Team” by the police and media and we Rochesterians had a lot of trouble keeping it all straight.

Here’s a brief summary: Frank Valenti had seized control of the Rochester Mafia in 1964. But his underlings eventually decided that Frank was skimming too much off the top and forced him to “retire” in 1972. The new boss, Samuel “Red” Russotti, and his lieutenants were later arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 1973 on murder charges. Russotti appointed Thomas Didio as the acting boss in the interim. Didio was thought to be more brawn than brains and Russotti counted on manipulating his stand-in from his prison cell. But Didio had a mind of his own and regularly ignored Russotti’s instructions. Much of the disloyalty stemmed from the fact that Didio and his close comrades were still faithful to the ousted Valenti.

In 1977, Russotti’s supporters met with Didio and a few of his lieutenants at the Blue Gardenia Restaurant and told the acting boss he was “all done” and gave him a thorough beating just to make sure there were no misunderstandings. In early-1978, Russotti and his lieutenants, Rene Piccarreto and Salvatore “Sammy G” Gingello were released from prison after it was discovered the Rochester police had manufactured evidence leading to their convictions. Russotti was back in Rochester, but the local mob was divided. Didio and his followers (the B-Team) declared war on the Russotti faction (the A-Team), with the support of the Valenti brothers, Frank and Stan (Stan had been the Don of the Rochester mob in the 1950s). At stake were the many lucrative gambling joints in the city. In April 1978, Gingello was murdered by the B-Team and in retaliation, Didio was killed by the A-Team in July. What followed was an all-out war between the two factions in the streets of Rochester, including numerous murders, shootings, and bombings. Of course, the Rochester police weren’t standing still through all of this. In 1980, the B-Team leaders were convicted and sent to jail for various crimes, followed by the A-Team leadership in 1984. In 1988, the remaining A-Team leaders were sent up the river and the Mafia was effectively eliminated in Rochester.

This book is self-published and the author is clearly not professional writer. He would have greatly benefited from a skilled editor. At times, the information is not presented chronologically and is often redundant. With those criticism’s aside, Kenny deserves kudos for digging up all of this information from old Rochester newspapers. Like most Rochesterians, I could not explain who constituted the A-Team or the B-Team and the details of what they were fighting about, but after reading this book it’s all pretty clear to me now.

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Above: A Google Earth satellite view of the sprawling former hilltop estate of Constenze “Stan” Valenti (1926-2001) at 6714 State Road 96, Victor, New York. Stan Valenti was kingpin of the Rochester Mafia in the late 1950s. His brother, Frank, eventually became “Boss” of the local Mafia operations from 1964 to 1972, but Stan remained a powerful and respected figure in the Rochester mob.

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Above: A sign at the bottom of Stan Valenti’s former hilltop estate discourages curiosity seekers and unwelcome visitors.

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Personal trivia: The house above, located on Tarrington Road in Rochester, was once home to Vincent J. Rallo, an insurance broker and member of the Rochester Mafia. In March 1981, Rallo pled guilty to two counts of arson and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of the Federal Witness Protection Program. His testimony was key to the investigation of the A-Team bosses, leading to their arrests and convictions in 1984. Following his testimony, Rallo and his family disappeared. My parents’ house where I grew up was immediately behind the Rallo house on the next street over.

Okay, that’s enough jabbering! Somebody get on the phone and order the pizza!

Billboard makes whimsy of eternity

Every Wednesday, I must drive into downtown Rochester for a “career transition” training class. A couple of weeks ago, I was driving along Interstate 490 West into the city when I noticed the new billboard pictured above near the intersection of Winton Road and East Avenue.

Yikes!

I’m sure this advertisement evokes a chuckle from the tens of thousands of unbelieving commuters who pass by every day. But salvation is no joking matter. Your life could end today.

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” – Proverbs 27:1

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” – 2 Corinthians 6:2

Before I accepted Christ, I struggled with the idea of all of the things that I would have to “give up” in order to be a Christian. Boy, did I have a misconception. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not the morally self-righteous. Acknowledge your helplessness and inability to live a moral life, turn from your rebellion against God, and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone. The Lord will then help you to live a life that’s pleasing to Him.

What can compare to eternal salvation in Jesus Christ? Treasuring the temporal pleasures of this world over eternal life in Jesus Christ is irrational insanity. Who would choose a single, discarded, maggot-infested corn husk for their meal over a thirty-day, sumptuous banquet feast? Does not compute.

Friends, I don’t get all flustered and outraged over a billboard such as this. Unbelievers do what unbelievers do. Perhaps this billboard is valuable because at least it will get people thinking about their souls and eternal judgement. However, your salvation is nothing to joke about. Every soul is either going to Heaven or Hell and only those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone are going to Heaven. What’s going to happen to you after you die? Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior!

Rochester mob boss, Frank Valenti’s restaurant, The Quill Room @ 123 State Street

When I was growing up back in the 1960s, the Mafia was very much a “normal” part of society. In Rochester, everybody in town knew the name of Frank Valenti, the local Mafia kingpin. Most of the illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking, insurance fraud, arson, narcotics, prostitution, and weapons trafficking in the city flowed through Frank and his “organization.” If anyone tried to circumvent the “system,” they could expect to be “contacted” by Frank’s men.

Stanley Valenti and his brother, Frank, rose to the top of the Rochester Mafia in the late 1950s, but both were arrested at the home of mobster, Joseph Barbara, during the infamous Apalachin Conference in 1957. Frank beat the rap, but cooled his jets in Pittsburgh. In the Valentis’ absence, Jake Russo took over the Rochester mob.

Stefano Magaddino in nearby Buffalo oversaw all of Western New York as part of the Bonanno family crime syndicate, and he believed Russo was holding back on profits from the gambling operations in Rochester. When he put the squeeze on Russo, the Rochester boss threatened to go over his head directly to the Bonanno family in New York City. That was a mistake. No one threatened Steve “The Undertaker” Magaddino and got away with it.

Meanwhile, Frank Valenti had returned to Rochester and opened a restaurant at 123 State Street named The Quill Room. On September 12, 1964, Russo left his house telling his wife he was going to the restaurant for a meeting with Valenti, but was never seen or heard from again. In an interview recorded forty-plus years later, former Rochester mob consigliere, Rene Piccarreto Sr., stated that Russo had been murdered by Valenti’s thugs in the basement of The Quill Room on the orders of Magaddino. The photo above shows Valenti entering The Quill Room sometime during the 1960s, adjoined by a photo I recently took of the same property.

With the death of Russo, Valenti was back on top as the mob kingpin in Rochester and continued in that role until 1972, when he was forced out after being accused of skimming too much off the top himself. The pro-Valenti and anti-Valenti factions subsequently battled it out in a series of bloody encounters throughout the 1970s while Valenti watched from the sidelines in the penitentiary and then as a retiree down in Arizona. Frank Valenti died in Sugarland, Texas in 2008 at the age of 97.

Many of these Italian-American Mafioso characters were dedicated Roman Catholics. They attended mass on Sunday and made sure their children were baptized, confirmed, and educated in Catholic schools. They were “able” to compartmentalize their “business” from their “personal” lives, not an unusual phenomenon within Catholic culture. Many Catholics were used to “living like the devil” on Saturday night and piously attending mass on Sunday morning. The mobsters’ parish priests knew what the men did for a living, their names appeared periodically in the Rochester papers, but their attitude, expressed by a New York City priest in regards to his mob boss parishioner, was, “He stays out of my business and I stay out of his.”

The history of the Roman Catholic church is filled with such worldly (and deadly) pragmatism. There was no genuine repentance. There was no Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Frank Valenti and his lieutenants were all baptized and taught the Roman Catholic religion. Some would say they “did the best they could” in the dog-eat-dog milieu they were raised in, but Jesus Christ was not a part of these men’s lives.

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Was Rochester mobster Jake Russo strangled in this restaurant basement?
https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2019/02/07/rochester-mafia-mystery-jake-russo-killed-pizza-stop-basement-frank-valenti-apalachin-meeting/2191800002/

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An afternoon at the “Oxbow” on the Erie Canal

Way back in the late-1970s, my wife and I lived in an apartment in Fairport, N.Y. near Rochester, and I used to enjoy running along the nearby Erie Canal in warmer weather and cross country skiing along the canal in the winter. One day, I was traversing the canal path between Fairport and Pittsford and came upon a section of the canal that was unusually wide and I was surprised to see a string of small cottages lining the opposite canal bank and a couple of islands in the water. Wow! As a lifelong Rochesterian, I thought I was pretty familiar with the Erie Canal, but I was completely unaware of this unique, little community. I put it out of my mind for decades, but lately, with the help of the internet and some hiking shoes, I’ve been able to do some investigating.

The Erie Canal originally had many twists and turns. This particular section was coined the “Oxbow” because of its “U” shape. Ensuing projects to straighten, deepen, and widen the canal resulted in a “lake” at the Oxbow, making it a prime spot for those seeking a recreation haven. By the late 1880s, a number of summer cottages had been erected along the southern bank of the canal at the Oxbow.

A relatively recent local newspaper article (see far below) states that by the end of the 19th-century, the Oxbow had become a “popular spot for local businesses and organizations to have picnics and baseball games. Early in the 20th century more cottages were built, and the trend accelerated with the Barge Canal construction project. By 1918, the Oxbow was a full-fledged vacation spot for people from Perinton, East Rochester, Penfield and beyond. Many of the simple cottages were constructed from the lumber of dismantled railroad box cars.”* The number of cottages on the Erie at the Oxbow eventually grew to sixty.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people were forced to make do with less, the small and unpretentious cottages were converted to year-round dwellings, but the lack of sewers and other amenities made life on the canal bank difficult. Kids who lived on the Oxbow were looked down upon by their classmates at school. The Oxbow “lake” was also becoming smaller. In the 1940s, New York State began depositing the silt that had been dredged from the canal bottom into the lake, eventually creating two islands that can be seen today. In the 1960s, families began to leave the Oxbow and, one by one, the abandoned, derelict cottages either crumbled or were destroyed by suspicious fires. The last resident of the Oxbow, Florence Rutter, died in 2012. Her cottage, the last of the sixty, burnt to the ground in 2014.

Today, there’s only a few traces left of the Oxbow community. Remnants of the Oxbow Road still exist along with some of the old telephone and power lines (see photos below). The disappearance of this once-thriving community-within-a-community reminded me of how fleeting and impermanent this life is.

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” – James 4:14

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A modern map showing the Oxbow “lake” and islands, dubbed “Coyote Island” and “Snake Island” by the locals. Sixty cottages on Oxbow Road once lined the canal bank. I took the photos below as I walked the old Oxbow Road.

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My wife and our dog, Gracie, stand on the remains of Oxbow Road near an old telephone/power line pole.

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A couple of telephone/power line poles are some of the last remnants of the Oxbow community.

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Taken from Oxbow Road looking south. Cottages would have been on the left and that’s Coyote Island on the right.

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This piece of land jutting out perpendicularly into the canal is probably the foundation of a small former cottage

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This carved out rock once served as a planter for an Oxbow resident.

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Above: Florence Rutter’s residence at 27 Oxbow Road, the last cottage standing at the Oxbow, was destroyed by fire in 2014.

HISTORY: The Oxbow: From vacation spot to ashes