Begin the journey towards Rochester by driving east on Main Street/Route 5, one of New York’s original cross-state roads, through Buffalo’s northeastern suburbs and into the Western New York countryside. Along the way, this highway has evolved into its own mini-trail of Western New York confectionery delights, providing some of the region’s best candy and ice cream options:
Your first stop is the village of Williamsville, which developed around a water mill on the banks of Ellicott Creek more than 200 years ago. Today, Sweet Jenny’s Ice Cream occupies the first floor of the 1811 mill; step over the wooden floorboards to order one of the store’s dozens of varieties of homemade hard serve ice cream, from cinnamon nutmeg to salted caramel truffle and double dark chocolate. Head to Glen Park next door to walk off your dessert and see the waterfall that cascades through the heart of the village.
Just past Transit Road, Alethea’s Chocolates has been selling some of Buffalo’s best sponge candy for more than 70 years. Staff carve the letter “A” into every piece of sponge candy as the freshly melted chocolate cools, an homage to the store’s namesake and the owner’s great-grandmother Alethea who first started making candy in her hometown of Kozani, Greece.
As you head through Clarence, Akron and into Pembroke, the Buffalo suburbs gradually transition into a pastoral landscape of fields, barns and farmhouses. Just over the Genesee County line in the village of Corfu, Kutter’s Cheese Factory has been making cheese on site since the 1940s. An outlet store sells both Kutter’s products and Yancey’s Fancey, an artisanal cheese company that purchased the factory in the 1990s; make sure to try Yancey’s Buffalo wing cheddar.
While on the road throughout New York, keep your eye out for any ice cream stand serving both Perry’s Ice Cream, a Western New York mainstay for more than a century manufactured just off of Route 5 in Akron, and Upstate Farms soft serve, made from milk supplied from a cooperative of farms across New York. Each brand is the standard bearer for quality hard and soft ice cream in this part of the state. One such stand that serves both is Dave’s Ice Cream on Route 5, located in a converted former Dairy Queen just outside of the city of Batavia.
Once you reach Batavia, a city of 15,000 between Buffalo and Rochester, make sure to stop at Oliver’s Candies, an institution here since 1932. Founder Joseph Oliver started the business by blanching peanuts at his home and traveling to gas stations and grocery stores to sell them. Make sure to grab a container of Oliver’s cashew glaze, one of Joseph Oliver’s early creations, for the road.
Venture a few blocks off of Route 5 to find the Pok-A-Dot diner at the corner of Liberty and Ellicott Streets in Batavia. The diner’s exterior has been covered in a paint scheme of green, red, blue and pink polka dots since it opened in 1953 – a design the original owners saw painted on a house and decided to emulate. The Pok a Dot’s menu reflects Batavia’s location between Buffalo and Rochester, serving both Zweigle’s hot dogs from Rochester and a signature beef on weck sandwich with beef piled nearly an inch high. But the underrated standout may be the “peppers and eggs” sandwich, a blend of sweet and hot peppers fried into scrambled eggs and served on a hard roll – a steal at $3.75. Watch the staff prepare your meal from just behind the counter and wash it all down with a root beer in a frosted mug.
The roadside welcome signs in the village of LeRoy also share its claim to fame: this community of 4,300 just east of Batavia is the birthplace of Jell-O. LeRoy resident Pearle Wait first created this classic American treat in 1897 and sold his rights to the product for just $450 after he had trouble marketing it. Discover the origin story, view vintage ad campaigns and Jell-O molds and browse through recipe books at the Jell-O Gallery, a small museum worth the stop in the village that brings an underrated tidbit of Western New York food lore to life.
Continue on Route 5 until reaching the village of Caledonia, round the traffic circle that surrounds the community’s towering Soldier’s Monument dedicated by New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt in 1900 and drive north on Route 36 to the hamlet of Mumford. Once there, follow the signs to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. This is the state’s largest living history museum, a 600-acre property that includes a historic village with 68 buildings dating back as far as the late 18th century. Stop in the museum’s blacksmith, tinsmith and cooper shops, explore the one-room schoolhouse and learn how the residents of this area lived and worked back in the day.
From the museum, proceed on Route 36 north to Churchville, then connect onto Interstate 490 East for the remainder of the drive into Rochester.