An October 2003 trip
to Canonsburg by drhough
Quote: When the autumn chill is in the air and bright hues on the trees, my fancy turns away from the urban hassle to the roads around Canonsburg. There are plenty of historic houses to tour, great shopping, and fantastic community theater.
The main attraction for me is the
bright barn-red Little Lake Theater on Canonsburg Lake for warm, informal weekend
evenings or Sunday afternoons of laughs (most selections are comedies) and phenomenal
homemade desserts during intermissions. This is the perfect activity to combine with
antique and seasonal shopping on autumn weekends. It’s our version of the fall weekend
roadtrip, but we return to the same hotel every night, usually Comfort Inn on Race Track Road, Springhill Suites on the outskirts of Washington, or Ramada on Fort Couch Road, just across from South Hills Village Mall and the last "T" station south.
We don’t miss Pittsburgh, the "City of Bridges" we don’t have to cross this far out, and Route 19 is lined with unique shopping communities, like Upper St. Clair and McMurray, each with a
green undulating hill between it and the next. Restaurants abound, both unique and chain, with every chain represented, including our favorite, Max and Erma's. When we feel like getting to know the locals, we choose Auggie's Roadhouse.
"Okay," I agree, "I am a modern Ulysses longing for home in the fall"--we stop at one of the many fine furniture showcases along Route 19. I’m "amused" at the price tags and thinking we won’t buy anything large this far from home, and Karen finds a small bronze picture frame with cherubs for her mothers’ picture. A plethora of choices along this 20-some-mile stretch keep us content until curtain time at the theater. There are plenty of nurseries, so we stop for chrysanthemums and see signs for farms where you can pick your own fruits and berries (next time). We pass several antique shops before we decide to look for picture frames for the watercolors we bought in Antwerp last December. A nice pair of oak ones are not expensive and turn out to be perfect for the Brabo Fountain and Steen Castle. Pleased with our find, we avoid the many shopping centers and the one full-scale mall and seek out the local enterprising merchants. Along our route, they vary from rustic to swank.
We have yet to stop at the brass shop, which looks interesting, other specialty and ethnic
shops, art galleries, bakeries and delicatessens. Investigating all the choices would take an eternity, but we are certain to eventually visit all the ones with coupons in the Pittsburgh Entertainment Book, still applicable this far out. It’s a perfect weekend! For us, it’s only 1.5 hours from home. Plus, most hotels in the area lower their rates in fall and run promotions for free rooms. With reasonable admissions to community theaters and other attractions, it’s a bargain hunters’ weekend in paradise.
Hotel | "Brand New Comfort Inn Meadowlands"
The hotel has no restaurant on the premises, only a breakfast room off the lobby for their
"deluxe continental breakfast," included in all room rates, but for other meals, several fast-food establishments and other hotels’ restaurants are nearby on the same road. This new hotel offers whirlpool rooms, an indoor heated pool, and fitness center. The
pool was full when we arrived, and the desk clerk explained, "We’re hosting a 12-year-old’s birthday party. It’s usually not this noisy here." In our rooms, we could
still hear the adolescents in the hallway until we turned on the television, which
successfully blocked out all further commotion until we were ready to leave for our play.
Our room was large and had a coffee pot, ironing board, and hair dryer. We had booked
online the configuration with two double beds because it has a table and two chairs. Next
time, we opted for a queen room and got a smaller space with desk and only one comfy
armchair, no table. We prefer the roomy table, where we can spread out our visitors’
literature, maps, and newspaper.
Everything was reasonably clean, and we had only 1 serious complaint: lighting was
totally insufficient for anyone over 50, or perhaps anyone, period. Even after I took the two burnt-out bulbs in our room to front desk and got replacements, we weren’t comfortable reading our literature! After two stays at two Comfort Inns, I’m assuming this problem runs throughout the chain. All bulbs in our rooms were 60 watts--I checked--never adequate for reading for anyone of any age!
When we returned late, all was quiet again. Early next morning, we checked out the
fitness room with only three machines: stepper, cycle, and treadmill. On one side of the
machines, the small room had a television, and on the other side, a wall of windows
overlooked the pool. The area had been cleaned after the would-be teens, and we
enjoyed a swim.
Breakfast emphasized sweets. The cheerful room off the lobby was pleasant, and coffee
was always on. In spite of my outrage over lighting, we’ll stay here again. (I’ll take my desk lamp!) Anyone booking through SmarterLiving can get a room here for $52. Where else can one find a brand-new room with indoor pool and breakfast for that price?
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 20, 2003
Comfort Inn Meadowlands
237 Meadowlands Blvd.
Washington, Pennsylvania 15301
We learned about Auggie’s from the coupon in the Pittsburgh Entertainment
Book. The establishment is situated high above the highway, Route 19, and we had driven past it many times without noticing it. There is more here than two-for-one coupon dining: air miles! We cross-referenced idine’s Pittsburgh listings with Entertainment's and were determined to complete American Airlines'
dine-eight-times-for-2,000-bonus-points promo and make use of our coupons at the same
time. (We think "accomplishing something"--like points?--adds another dimension to
"fun.") Besides, seeking out a roadhouse seemed so appropriate on our weekend
The cute cartoon sign is the thing to look for on the right for those driving south on 19.
(Auggie’s is exactly 1 mile north of Race Track Road.) Inside, we found a large room
with balcony all around and sat at one of the high tables close to the oval bar. When
Auggie himself saw me taking a picture of the sign (another one inside on the wall), he
informed me that his daughter, an art major, had painted it. This cross between a
roadhouse and sports bar is also decorated with ball and racing pictures of sports greats
and events. One sign advertises 75-cent Coors Light drafts "when Sterling Marlin leads." Oktoberfest signs on two walls refer to other events and specials, and "Open jam night with all-you-can-eat prime rib, $14.95."
Our waitress, Kristin, had a big smile and loads of info. Auggie’s has eight brands of draft
beer and at least 35 brands in bottles. The menu offers a broad choice from what I would
call "frugal gourmet" to "down-home." Chicken marsala was on the dinner
menu for $12.95. We ordered sandwiches: two Philly cheese steaks ($5.75) with fries ($1 extra). Our sandwiches were smothered with provolone, loaded with green bell peppers, and as good as those I used to get on the Jersey shore. The fries had skins and were piled high in separate dinner-size baskets. We
couldn’t finish the fries.
Auggie’s Roadhouse and our weekend road trip--they were a perfect match. Nothing about
Auggie’s was elegant or chic, but that was fine for this season. Something about autumn
beckoned to us to forget those concerns and bask in the warmth of home--and we found
plenty of that. Auggie’s is open 11am until 2am 7 days, with kitchen working 11am-10pm weekdays, 11pm weekends. Live bands and DJs entertain weekend evenings, and Tuesdays and Thurdays are karaoke nights. Their website will be up soon, according to owners.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 20, 2003
1180 Maple View Dr.
A hostess seated us, and we could see other rooms beyond the one we sat in. Most rooms
were decorated with several mirrors and simple modern wallpaper with wood paneling
on the bottoms of the walls. Rooms were sophisticated and not the traditional Italian
decor. Almost every seat was taken, and most people there knew others. I got the
impression that the place was popular among locals, as the hostess appeared to know
most of the people she seated.
Buffet tables were arranged according to categories and courses. One table offered eggs,
sausages, waffles with different syrups, and all the traditional breakfast choices. Another
had salads and soups; another, Italian main courses; still another, desserts. We decided
right away on the Italian food, as the aroma hinted to us that it was not to be diminished
with other courses. There were at least two different kinds of lasagna, manicotti, and
stuffed shells--the kind with the puffy cream that stands up on top and refuses to mix with
the tomato sauce. Breads, too, were arranged in several different colors and delicious. Everything we tasted was superior to most restaurant food, more like
what proud Italian cooks would take to "covered dish dinners" when they really wanted to
impress their friends or co-workers. And impressed we were, so much that we went back
for dinner on another occasion and took a relative.
Ambrogi’s is in the strip mall called Donaldson’s Crossroads on Route 19, just one light
north of the turn-off to Little Lake Theatre. The name of the town is McMurray, but it is
only one block from Canonsburg--this is the nature of the many towns in the rolling hills
south of Pittsburgh, where one town ends where another begins. Sunday Brunch is
$12.99, and they have lunch buffets other days, too, plus a dinner menu with several
seafood and chicken choices. They advertise "The new tradition of Ambrogi’s," but I have a feeling they've become "an old favorite" for many.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 21, 2003
The New Tradition of Ambrogi's
3961 Washington Road
First, the choice of plays is delightful. I have seen a dozen, and I know by now that I can
count on their judgment. Second, the theater is so comfortable and relaxing that any
idea, no matter how outrageous, could likely take me by surprise. The rustic barn-like
building has comfortable row seating for guests who want the play only, plus table seating
for dinner guests. Third, the acting is so good it blurs the distinction between fantasy
and reality. Fourth, the food is scrumptious. Even when we arrive 10 minutes before
curtain time, we order raspberry tarts, which our waitress delivers at intermission.
Together, these factors enhance "the willing suspension of disbelief" and make of
theatergoers willing children. No wonder I was convinced that Art DeConciliis, actor,
was turning into a dog in Chesapeake!
In this one-man drama by Lee Blessing, a play for adults, the theme is "Politics is going
to the dogs." The character, a self-proclaimed "performance artist," decides to kidnap a
politician’s dog to make a point, but accidentally kills the dog--and himself--and is
reincarnated as the replacement dog of the senator he hates. In this unfortunate position,
hate turns to love and understanding as liberal and conservative (dog and senator,
respectively) soften one another. Even this unreal storyline has a ring of real "literary
truth." DeConciliis played to all four sides of the house in this theater in the round.
Every seat was a good one, all close to the action, and the atmosphere is always intimate
and informal, as theater-in-the-round should be.
The choices are usually not offbeat, family dramas and classics of the stage, but we have
taken chances and haven’t been disappointed. Other selections this season included
Painting Churches by Tina Howe and The Matchmaker by Thornton
Wilder, both superbly acted and directed. Each production lasts three weeks, and
productions are continuous throughout the eight-month season. One can view their season at
One must call for reservations Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights or Sunday matinees.
Dinner (catered) is available only on Saturdays. A sign along Route 19 isn’t easy to spot,
so ask for specific landmarks from north or south--or look at directions at the website.
It’s worth finding, for it is "the exact center of the universe."
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 20, 2003
Little Lake Theatre
500 Lakeside Dr. S - Rt 19
West Virginia, United States