From Urban to Rural and Fast Food to Slow

Head Chef Evan Schapp prepares a Roots Burger in the Roots Cafe Kitchen.

By Benjamin Woelk



I have recently been reflecting on just how busy life can be. Every morning I open my email inbox only to be inundated with messages, both relevant and irrelevant. At the same time, I check my social media feed to look for stories that engage or inspire me. It’s a tough task that often leaves me feeling uncentered, unfocused and at times quite stressed. The antithesis to those feelings is the whole idea behind Slow Road.

My experiences on the roads less travelled were particularly therapeutic when I was a graduate student at the Rochester Institute of Technology – one of the most frenetic times in my life. With a full-time credit load and a part-time job, I found it increasingly important to disconnect from the “Brick City” campus for awhile and travel the communities along our “slow roads.” I discovered a natural ability to connect and build relationships with the people in them, and always marveled at their excitement, hometown pride and eagerness to welcome me as a visitor.

For episode 2, we wanted to show the value of “slowing down,” and forming ties with the places and people around us. We decided to start shooting in one of the most active and chaotic areas of downtown Rochester – Monroe Avenue. It offers an assortment of shops, fast-food restaurants, bars, laundromats and nonstop traffic throughout the day. Monroe Ave. is also Route 31, and as we headed east on it away from the city towards Palmyra, the ebb and flow of the road changed to reflect a more natural environment; representing an overall slower pace of life.

We had several destinations in mind to showcase. Our first stop was the historic and beautiful Aqueduct Park on the Erie Canal, just outside the Village of Palmyra. Home to the current Erie Canal Lock 29, the park also features remnants of the stone Mud Creek Aqueduct built in 1854. Today, nearly 80 percent of the residents of upstate and western New York live within 25 miles of the canal.

While we were there, one of my favorite random moments of our shoot happened. We spotted some cyclists ready to bike the canal trail and asked them on camera why it matters to slow down. “Because life is too fast, and you need to slow down and see the scenery,” answered Joel, one of the riders. “Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself, because you only live once and you could be gone tomorrow – you never know.”

We couldn’t have captured the spirit of Slow Road any better.

Afterwards, we headed to the intersections of Route 31 and 21, and discussed the uniqueness of the “four corners churches” there. Four churches of different denominations on four facing corners to one another is a phenomenon found nowhere else in the world, according to

High and low, fast and slow

For the last stretch of our trip, we headed south via Route 21 to Naples. If you have not travelled this road, I highly recommend it. It is one of the most scenic drives I have taken in the entire state.

As Route 21 curves through and around the western shores of Canandaigua Lake, it slowly begins to change elevation, offering increasingly dramatic views the closer you get to Naples. When you arrive in the village, look for County Road 12 and head up to the overlook park at the top. It offers sweeping panoramic views with impressive elevation from the southwest of Canandaigua Lake. An interpretive map showcases (among other things) the origins of the Seneca people.

Then it was back down the hill to Roots Café, an amazing eatery in a 19th-century farm homestead, just adjacent to lovely Inspire Moore Vineyards. The eclectically painted and decorated restaurant felt like home and provided the perfect ending to our Slow Road trip.

While we were there we spoke with owner Mandy Gortomn, who explained that her “slow food” approach starts with seasonal and local meat and produce – the basis for her menu specials each day. Our Roots Burgers contained a variety of ingredients from farms across the area, and with ceramic tableware created by a local craftsman, the restaurant also represents the artistic roots of its community.

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