When the NFL schedule came out in the spring, I did a quick once-over. The first peculiar aspect about the schedule I noticed was that the 49ers would have a Week 3 game in Minnesota followed by a trip to play the New York Jets.
My first thought: "Youngstown, here we come. . . again."
A year ago, the 49ers famously spent a week of preparations in Youngstown, Ohio, hometown of the DeBartolo and York families. The 49ers avoided approximately eight hours of travel time when the remained in the Eastern time zone between games in Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
So, it was an easy guess that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh would stick with what worked this season, too.
My job at CSNBayArea.com is to cover the 49ers. Wherever they go, I go. That meant a 10-day road trip that would take me from Minneapolis to Youngstown (via Pittsburgh) and to Newark, N.J. (with a day in Manhattan).
Now, I'm no foodie like the host of this blog, the gentle gastronome Jaymee Sire, but I'm always on the lookout for a unique culinary experience.
I found it on the Pittsburgh-Youngstown swing of this trip.
When I think of Pittsburgh, my first thought is Primanti Brothers. On my first trip to the Steel City a few years ago, I experienced one of their sandwiches. And, now, I always make the time to get one of their creations that includes fries and cole slaw stuffed -- along with the meat -- between the slices of bread. This time, I ordered the spicy capicola ham sandwich, and it did not disappoint.
Onward to Ohio.
Across the street from the 49ers' hotel, a modest Holiday Inn in Boardman, is a Handel's Ice Cream and Yogurt stand. Many of the team's players made the daily sprint across busy South Avenue to get a cup or cone of the s'mores or chocolate pecan -- the shop's best-selling ice-cream flavors.
Yes, I sampled Handel's; and, yes, it was pretty darn good. No complaints here.
But my favorite dining spot just happens to be behind the Fairfield Inn, where I stayed during my Youngstown visits the past two years.
It's a restaurant called the Springfield Grille. Aside from the convenience of proximity, it also happens to be a really good. Whether you decide to go with the crab cakes, salmon or steak, you can't go wrong. (Also, try the hot hungarian peppers as an appetizer. Oh, my!)
Five media members paid a visit to the Springfield, where we engaged our server Becky in witty conversation. At some point, she brought out Adam Lee to meet us.
He told us of his recent visit to San Francisco and Napa to sample the cuisine and wine. And then he told us of an event he was hosting two nights later at the Lemon Grove Gallery in downtown Youngstown (yes, there is a downtown Youngstown).
Billed as "Pop Up 1.0," the event was a farm-to-table dinner. Lee, who has served in semi-fine dining restaurants for almost 10 years. He is mostly self-taught, gleaning knowledge from experienced individuals with whom he has worked. He and Rasul Welch designed the menu. Dondi Searcy helped prepare the meal.
Welsch's more-advanced techniques and use of different proteins, coupled with Lee's knack for flavor combinations, foraged ingredients and presentation provided the nearly two dozen attendees with a memorable evening.
It would be the first documented pop-up dinner in Youngstown. And now that we're documenting it here, I suppose that makes it official. (Also, check it out on Facebook at The Sprouted Table.)
Before the formal portion of the dinner, our hosts teed up a butternut squad custard with purple basil and spices, served in an eggshell to work up the appetite. The highlight was the peppery nasturtium, an elegant edible garnish.
The only ingredient in the dinner that was not locally farmed was the pan-roasted Nantucket scallop of the first course, which was served with a celeriac puree, bacon and a corn saute.
Next up was a buratta salad, a handmade mozzarella shell with marinated peppers, shaved radish and beet mignonette.
The third course was my favorite. It was a duck confit with pan-roasted wild chanterelles on toast points with daikon sprouts in savory chicken broth.
Roasted grass-fed hanger steak was the main course with a seasonal root vegetable mash.
And our evening concluded with a spice pear sonker. Think cobbler, but only with a pancake-like crust. Of course, no dessert in this area would be complete without a healthy scoop of Handel's ice cream.
Lee told me he'll be going in January to the Rajastan region of India for a month on a Rotary International-sponsored study group. He plans to learn and experience as much about the food of the region.
In the meantime, he plans to do more pop-up kitchens, fundraisers and private home events.
"But long term, I have a historic property in mind that I want to preserve and turn into private event space as well as a kitchen classroom for teaching kids and adults about sustainable eating and other connected things like foraging, preservation and anything else related," Lee told me.
It was a great way to spend my final night before heading to New Jersey, where the 49ers would conclude the 10-day road trip by devouring the Jets like a carton of Handel's ice cream.
I don't know if I'll ever make it back to Youngstown. But you can be sure when the 2013 schedule comes out in the spring, I'll immediately check to see if the 49ers have back-to-back road games that might inspire Harbaugh to spend another week in Ohio.
And if that's the case, my first call might be to Adam to see if he can squeeze another pop-up into his schedule for that week.