This list of picks is based on a week's tasting expedition across upstate New York's Finger Lakes region, however bear in mind that the area we covered only includes Ithaca, Owego, Hammondsport, Watkins Glen, Trumansburg, and Corning New York. Let's start with my two top picks from a pure foodie perspective: Coltivare in Ithaca and Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg.
Look at this decadent and to-die for presentation of this beef carpaccio with fried onions.
A few call outs include the chilled green tomato bisque with peeky toe crab salad, olive oil and a parmesan crisp, a grilled corn and tomato panzanella focaccia with crushed almonds, shaved red onions, spicy peppers, ricotta, arugula and a basil vinaigrette, a nectarine salad with local greens, candied walnuts, snap peas, lime ginger vinaigrette and whipped chevre, and a house made charcuterie and cheese board with fruit mostarda and wild flower honey canestri.
To start, the to-die-for chilled green tomato bisque had us at hello. For the healthier minded, go for nectarine salad starter, which is made with local greens, snap peas, candied walnuts, whipped chevre and a lime ginger vinaigrette with a white miso paste (below). For mains, try the slow roasted pork shoulder with yellow corn polenta, succotash and stone fruit relish or the pan seared cod, which is prepared with oven roasted tomatoes, sliced heirloom tomatoes, radish cucumber salad and toasted almonds.
Inside, the atmosphere is intimate, warm and inviting. When you book a table, ask to sit by the window if available so you can watch passerbys while you have dinner.
Seafood options are a little lighter but there are plenty of carbs thrown into most of their dishes. We paired our meal with a Gewurztraminer from Hector New York (this wine tends to be a little sweet with roses, apricots, black pepper and spices) and the Dry Riesling from Ravines Wine Cellars out of Geneva New York.
If you're not a wine lover, go for one of their hand crafted cocktails, such as the Blueberry Mojito made with Omney's Run, mint, simple syrup and sparkling water, the Peachy cocktail made with Myer Farm bourbon, lemon juice, basil and peach simple syrup, or the Red Snapper, which they make with Myer Farm vodka, tomato jus, salt, pepper, lemon juice and Worcestershire. Yum!!
While we don't always go for dessert, we had to give their homemade delights a try -- after all, mixing herbs with dairy, berries and nuts together all on one plate is hard to say no to...
There are their wide range of steak specials from Ribeye, New York Strip with shoestring fries, the Maker's Mark Sirloin with Bourbon sauce and mashed potatoes, and a Boatyard Rotisseries Prime Rib with potatoes and veggies.
Snug Harbor Restaurant on Keuka Lake
Traditional appetizers include potato croquettes made with spinach, cheese and tomato ragout, Gambas Al Ajillo aka Tiger shrimp sauteed with garlic, chilies, herbs, and Spanish spices, Argentinian Meatballs which they serve with various dipping oils, Crispy risotto balls filled with smoked parmesan and Seitan Wings tossed in honey chili-garlic sauce to name a few.
They also offer burgers, salads (go for the Goat Cheese and Beet salad with crumbled chevre and toasted pecans), salmon, and a classic Croque Monsieur drizzled with brandy bechamel. Or, for the even more decadent among you, how about the Panini with prosciutto, fig jam, caramelized onions and chevre?
Fun and more casual are their Pork, Fish and Tofu tacos or their Chicken and Waffles dish -- they use Bacon crusted chicken and lemon-thyme waffles and serve them with a smoked maple cream. Delicious cake for dessert anyone?
Does it get much better than this on a lazy late summer afternoon?
Graft Wine & Cider Bar
Owego Park Restaurant
We didn't have time to make it on this particular trip but locals speak highly of it, so we wanted to included it on the list. From Macaroni and Cheese dinners and seafood cheesy scallops and shrimp to crab to chili, peas and ham, buffalo chicken, homemade meatloaf, hot roast beef and ham, bangers and mash, Owego Park has a variety to offer.
For the more traditionally minded, they offer pork loin chops with veggies and potatoes, sirloin steak, salmon and blackened Tilapia, crab cakes, shrimp scampi, chicken marsala, almond crusted chicken and chicken florentine.
Address: 145 Front Street, Owego, NY 13827
Hand & Foot
Since we were there for lunch, we opted for their healthy ice tea option and stuck to a couple of light salads. First up is their iceberg, Napa cabbage and arugula salad with mushroom oil, beluga lentils, edamame, feta, tomatoes, carrots, jicama fries with a rice vinegar glaze, and their Poke Salad, which is made with seared ahi tuna, avocado, macadamia nuts, toasted coconut, jalapeno, sesame and soy vinaigrette served with a rice cracker.
Other fun things on the menu include fried smashed plantains with garlic soil and chili-garlic aioli, Korean rice cakes, fish and chips, pork chops, a sausage platter, fried pickles and pearls, chard slaw, upland mushrooms with house chive ricotta and cured lemon and one of their main specialties which we took to go -- their House Made Pickles, with a variety of flavors to choose from -- bread and butter cucumber, garden mix, olive oil jalapeno, zydeco beans and red wine beet.
Sahara Mediterranean Restaurant
From Kibbeh and lentil soup to swordfish, veggie plates, Tabbouleh salad and Chicken Gyro's, they've got you covered for more casual fare -- the ambiance matches its fare, making it a great choice for a family stop over or if you want to get in and out quickly.
Life's So Sweet
Try the Chai Tea Truffle or a Sea Salt Caramel -- we particularly loved the Pistachio and oh so delicious raspberries wrapped in dark chocolate.
They use real chocolate (fair trade certified cocoa), fresh cream, local honey, local berries and any other ingredients that they source in an economical and socially responsible way. In addition to decadent white, dark and milk chocolate, they make traditional candies and cupcakes as well.
Address: 116 W Green Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
On the same street in downtown Ithaca which is also known as Restaurant Row, you'll find a fresh organic eatery called Just a Taste, which does Spanish small plates and an array of wines by the glass served in a warm setting with a garden patio.
From housemade Focaccia, cold Gazpacho soup, Flatbread with Basil-Fennel Frond Pesto, Corn, Mozzarella and Romano Cheeses to Deep Fried Russet Potato Wedges with Chipotle Aioli, Summer Squash Sautéed in Brown Butter with Garlic, Pecans and Romano and Garlic Braised Greens with Tomato, Walnuts, Stilton Blue Cheese and Sherry Vinegar, there's no shortage of delicious and healthy dishes to whet your appetite.
Other dishes worth mentioning are their Mako Shark with Roast Tomatillo-Poblano Chili Salsa, Fried Corn Tortilla Threads and Cilantro, the Seared Sockeye Salmon with Greens in Roast Cherry Tomato-Caper Vinaigrette, and the Duck Leg Braised in Sake/Rice Wine Vinegar with Husk Cherries, Ginger and Cabbage!!
We had lunch at Stonecat Cafe, which is a great option when you need a good mid-day option while on the wine route -- it's smack in the middle of several great wineries, including the more well known Atwater Vineyard which we took a tour of.
They're not a newbie to the scene and in fact, 2016 marks Stonecat's 18th year of operation. Selections include the Hector Pulled Pork BBQ sandwich, a slow-smoked pork, pulled and marinated in barbecue sauce, a cornmeal crusted catfish sandwich, golden-fried catfish on a griddled sesame seed bun with Hector Pepper Mayo and greens, grass-fed burgers and house-smoked turkey on rye bread with a smoked apple-onion-maple marmalade.
There's also Mac and Cheese, a Stonecat Sausage Corndog which is made from a maple-juniper sausage, beer-battered, fried golden, and served on a stick with Hector Pepper Mayo and a side of cole slaw. Who doesn't love a well made slaw on a sunny day?
They also make a mean Foccacia and fresh salads, my favorite one being a mixed green toss with dried cherries, caramelized walnuts and roasted garlic vinaigrette.
To cleanse the palette between courses, how about some strawberry sorbet? It's also a great way to finish a meal.
Their specialty cocktails are extensive, from a Glendale Fizz with Finger Lakes Distilling Vintner's Vodka and organic grape juice, soda water and lemon to the Smoke Signal, which they make with Seneca Drums gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lime juice, soda water and smoked salt. Also fun is their Stormy Seneca with Cruzan Blackstrap rum, Good Life Farm Ginger Bear ginger beer and lime.
Address: 5315 State Route 414, Hector, NY 14841
Moosewood is a collectively owned business with nineteen members who share responsibilities and menu options include a Mediterranean Salad with artichoke hearts, chickpeas, tomatoes, red onions, and olives, and topped with feta. From a guacamole, pico de gallo, and Mexican black bean dip served with organic corn tortilla chips to a Locavore Plate with Chaseholm Camembert, Jake's Aged Gouda, spiced honey, fresh fruit, and Finnish wholegrain bread to Fried tofu wings and Ghanaian White beans, there are some yummy healthy options.
Mate Factor Cafe
They specialize in certified organic products according to the strictest standards because of their passion for the environment.
Address: 143 East State Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
The Owego Kitchen
Oddly enough, they have an Elvis influenced breakfast here with peanut butter and bacon on the menu but there's plenty of healthy options as well.
Some of their specialties include a Farmhouse Brewery Chili which is simmered with a local brew and topped with cheese, sour cream and green onions, salads with a variety of toppings, including cherry tomatoes, red onions, chicken tarragon, roasted portobello mushrooms and an array of delicious dressings, such as curried Balsamic Vinaigrette, Siracha 1000 Island, Buttermilk Ranch and Walnut-Pesto Vinaigrette.
They are open for breakfast as well and serve cafe free eggs. Cold sandwich options are great on a hot summer or warm fall day, and include a Gourmet Gobbler made with Turkey, Brie cheese and cranberry chutney or a Tuna Salad sandwich which they make with Jamaican relish, dill and mayonnaise, and a traditional BLT with tarragon mayo on sourdough toast.
Last note: the bathroom is exceptionally authentic and antiquated, so much so that I had to snap a quick photo before leaving.
Address: 13 Lake Street, Owego, NY 13827