Tater Tots and Wings

By The Commander (The Usual Gang of Idiots)

As the summer proper — July and August — wound down, Mrs. Commander and I decided to have a little staycation day on the Friday before Labor Day. We decided to start by doing a hike up one of Holiday Valley’s scenic ski trails before going into the village, so we headed to the Tannenbaum area of Holiday Valley — we thought it would be the easiest hill to climb.

We were very surprised when we drove into the parking area of the lodge. It was like the middle of ski season with the number of cars!

We parked and headed to the customer service area to check out all the new outdoor things to do at Sky High Adventure Park. You can take a chairlift ride up the Spruce Lake chair, climb the Aerial Park or take a ride on the Mountain Coaster. The coaster sounded more our style, so with tickets in hand, we headed to the lineup area.

On the way, we decided to take a side hike to the Aerial Park to see all the fun that people young and old were having in the trees. It looked a lot like a troop of chimpanzees in the trees, complete with the whoops of joy and fun.

Before riding the Mountain Coaster, you are given a short lesson on how to control the speed of the car just before you are pulled up the hill. I made a mistake and had Mrs. Commander go ahead of me.

When we got to the top, she started down the track but kept the speed at a respectable rate. I, not being so respectable, waited a good while until she was well on her way and I let my car go. What a blast! The speed was fabulous and thrilling. We will definitely do this ride again, probably in the middle of ski season to experience it on one of those cold and blue-sky days of mid-winter.

There was no need for the hike after our thrilling coaster ride, so we headed into the village for lunch. We had no particular destination in mind, but when we passed Balloons Restaurant & Night Club, we saw a sign that announced, “The Back is Open,” so in we headed.

As I entered and headed to “The Back,” it opened up into a bright and airy dining area with a long bar against one wall. The décor, tables and overall look felt fun and warm. I even asked the bartender, Abby, if they had a name other than “Out Back” for this new dining area and there is none — just “Out Back.” For me it would make the most awesome man cave, so if there was to be a name — that would be it!

There was plenty of seating, large doors opened up to outdoor dining, but we decided to keep Amber company at the bar, so that is where we had lunch. Yes, I’m terrible with names, but it was something that began with an A!

For starters, Mrs. Commander ordered the almost world famous soup of the day, which was a chicken wing soup that she paired with a weight-conscious lite beer. As she was ordering, I was distracted by a dish of large, lightly browned puffs going past me, so I asked Amber what they were.

“Stuffed tater tots with a side of sour cream,” she said.

Sounded good to me! And they change up the stuffing weekly. Mine was stuffed jalapeño. I paired this with a nice Peak IPA. The tater tots were more than what I expected. Much larger than the ones we remember getting in school, and with the stuffing, very tasty. The IPA, with its bold taste, went well with all the flavors in the tots. The soup was spectacular. My wife allowed me a taste and she agreed that it was very good.

For our next course, as tradition for this series of articles, we would order a burger, but not this time. I have always liked the chicken wings at Balloons the best, so that is what we ordered — Buffalo-style … crisp. They did not disappoint and to complement them, we shared a Southern Tier IPA, which is one IPA that my wife will drink. In the past, I have had their sweet Thai chili and maple chipotle sauces, but my favorite continues to be the traditional Buffalo style.

As we headed back to Olean from our staycation, I made a mental note to send out a future invite to the Usual Gang of Idiots and set the meeting for “Out Back,” hopefully with a football game on.