A long weekend in the Finger Lakes

Knapp Winery Finger Lakes, NYLast weekend was my “mid-term break” – much needed after the first half of interminable Term 1 and a week of Parent-Teacher interviews that felt like what I imagine speed dating must be like. Different faces every 10 minutes – it’s overwhelming!  This term has been a crazy busy one – all good stuff but still, busy. So busy that in fact, apart from booking accomodations in the Finger Lakes, neither Neil or I planned anything for our mini-getaway. SO unlike us. Yeah, we normally have everything planned out (sometimes on a spreadsheet, ahem, right Mr Neil?) but this time we figured we would just wing it. For a Virgo and a Taurus, you realise this is a big deal!

I’m not going to do a “here’s what we did every 2 seconds and here’s every bite I ate and sip I drank” post but I do have some recommendations.  So here goes… (oh and most of the pictures here are iPhone photos. Sometimes you just have to leave the big camera at home…)

If you’re driving from Toronto and, like me, you are researching places to eat lunch in the car on your way there (thank you iPhone tethering!), you might be as excited as I was to discover various locations of Five Guys Burgers and Fries now moving into Western New York State.  After a nearly 2 hour wait at the border, we were starving. Conveniently, just down the road in Amherst just east of Buffalo, we lucked out with a relatively new location of Five Guys literally on the route be were taking (sort of – in any case it wasn’t a detour at all).

I’d read a lot about Five Guys (you can too here) and Neil had JUST been lamenting the lack of burgers in his diet last week so it couldn’t have been a more perfect choice.  From the peanuts piled in giant bags with trays to serve yourself and the chipotle fries to the very overstuffed burgers that looked and tasted homemade, this was by no means haute cuisine but gosh it was good!  We both ordered small (i.e. one patty) burgers and one regular fries to split between us and it was MORE than enough!

Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Amherst) and other locations
8248 Transit Rd
Amherst, NY 14221
(716) 636-5500

Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Amherst) on Urbanspoon

Ok tummies full, we headed on to Seneca Falls, where I’ll admit I stumbled upon the recently renovated Hotel Clarence purely by chance. Realising that we might want to spend one of our three nights at the northern end of one of the lakes, Seneca Falls seemed like a logical choice. I immediately fell in love with the idea of the Clarence, originally constructed in 1919 and named The Gould Hotel after its main financier, Gould Manufacturing Company.  Acquired in 2007 by J&J Hospitality, whose intention was to revitalize the hotel and once again make it a centerpiece of the Finger Lakes region, the Hotel Clarence was born.  As The Seneca County Chamber of Commerce puts it: “The theme of the beloved movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ permeates every aspect of the hotel and reminds the traveler of times gone by. This gem should not be missed by those planning a trip to upstate New York.

It *is* a pretty “wonderful place 🙂

Right then, once the accommodations were out of the way for that night, I set about finding somewhere to eat.  Knowing we would be arriving in the dark after a long day’s drive, I searched around for something close to the hotel/  Well as luck would have it, I didn’t have to search far.  The Hotel happened to be hosting an “Eleven Finger Lakes Wine Tasting Dinner” (for 11/11/11) which, at $55 per person,  looked like an absolute bargain.  Plus, all we would have to do would be stumble upstairs to our room afterwards. There’s something quite turn of the century about staying and dining in the same hotel, don’t you think?

In the end it wasn’t quite 11 wines (more like 6 – but still!) and the menu was impressive.  Seated around a large table for 25 people, many of whom were locals, we were wined and dined in a wonderfully convivial atmosphere – hey we even got into the swing of things and stood up to introduce ourselves along with everyone else – it was just that kind of night…

With salmon, pork, beef and duck the meal was definitely on the rich side.  The outstanding dish for me was definitely the deconstructed tiramisu topped with a chocolate-Lemburger Port reduction sauce. Served with Miles Wine Cellars’ Lemburger Port Wine (not that they are supposed to be calling it Port but still). De-licious. So delicious in fact that Miles became a stop on our way home where we had to pick up some of the “Port”. Mmmm. (Oh and all those plates of food? I ate half. They were gigantic portions, definitely more than a “taste”). But SUCH a fun night – we felt like we were at a dinner in someone’s house.

For Neil, the outstanding wine of the night was the 2008 CJS Pinot Noir – so of course, we had to go there first thing the next morning on our way down (the other side of) Cayuga Lake to Ithaca.  It was not on our way at all but we went there anyway, then were disappointed to find it didn’t open until later but on phoning, Chris, the owner popped over from his house next door to do a tasting for us. LOVE small, family owned and run wineries.

Established in 1995 with only 3 acres of vineyards producing 750 cases of wine in a 700 square feet space of “winery” (it’s so cute – honestly, like a winery in your back garage – Neil was looking at the setup longingly!), CJS-Aurelius produces Riesling, Chambourcin, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. If you are in the area stop in and enjoy a tasting.

We visited (ahem) a number of wineries over the weekend and there were some standouts, but not always for the wine…. We dropped into Knapp for their Nouveau celebrations (actually loved the Nouveau, couldn’t drink a ton of it but it brought back many (hazy!) memories of Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations in Paris) and discovered the resident cat Mama Kitty who adorns one of their white wine labels – aptly named “Curiosity”.

I mean, who could resist? 😉

Once we arrived in Ithaca, Neil, who had been spitting out his wine all day was desperate for a real drink so we headed around the corner to the Bandwagon Brew Pub to check out their line up of beers.

Offering 15 craft + 5 house made taps, a full restaurant with a menu including late night food until 1am, and a comfortable lounge area, the Bandwagon is open 7 days a week. The pumpkin ale was GOOD. Neil had some craft brews and fell in love with the Cascazilla. We enjoyed the atmosphere so much the first night that we ended up there the next night for drinks and dinner.

Bandwagon Brew Pub
114 North Cayuga Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 319-0699

Bandwagon Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

Later that evening we headed to the legendary Moosewood Restaurant, also just around the corner from our hotel.

Cunningly avoiding the lineup for seating (already an hour’s wait less than 30 minutes into service!) by heading to the bar for a drink and scoring stools when some people left, we enjoyed a fabulous meal in the company of the jolly bartenders. A perfect end to the day – again, feeling like we were dining in a friend’s house.

From the website: “With an emphasis on healthful natural foods cuisine, Moosewood Restaurant has operated successfully for thirty-eight years and has been acclaimed as a driving force in the world of creative vegetarian cooking. Moosewood was named one of the “thirteen most influential restaurants of the 20th Century” by Bon Appétìt magazine.”  Well all I can say is if Neil went and didn’t miss his meat, they must be doing something right. Definitely not fancy but wholesome, healthy and tasty. A must. At least once.

Moosewood Restaurant
215 N Cayuga St
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 273-9610

Moosewood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

After an evening of finer brews and/ or wines, you’ll need some fuel the next morning. I can highly recommend Gimme Coffee. I mean, if this doesn’t pick you up in the morning, what will?

We ate breakfast at the flagship Cayuga Street location where it all began in 2000 but if you can get your hands on a Gimme, I would say go for it. Great coffee is a thing of beauty.

Gimme Coffee see all locations here
430 N Cayuga St
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 277-8393

Gimme Coffee on Urbanspoon

If you’re in the Finger Lakes region and you are at all interested in wine, you simply MUST head to Dr Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars.

From the website: Dr. Konstantin Frank founded the “Vinifera Revolution” a movement that forever changed the course of wine growing in the Finger Lakes and the United States. Dr. Frank is credited with elevating the New York wine industry to a level that today commands world attention.  You can read about the history of Dr Frank bringing the European vinifera grape varieties to the US here.

This was definitely one of the more pleasant wine-tasting experiences we had over the weekend – each guest is afforded individual attention by a professional – I am not sure if they were sommeliers, but George, who looked after us was attentive and patient with all our questions and treated us like valued customers. Not always the case, we found.  When tasting wines, there is a big difference between being served by someone who truly is passionate about wines and someone who just pours them. Dr Frank was a pleasure to visit.

If all this wine and food is a bit much, fear not – you can even fit in some culture during a visit to the Finger Lakes with a trip to the Corning Museum of Glass.  Featuring live glassmaking and the world’s best collection of glass, the museum is a peaceful place to while away a few hours.

With many activities and events for kids and families this place really does have something for everyone. If you are going with kids, I’d suggest taking a look at the website to make sure you don’t miss any of the fun – some of the activities require sign-up in advance (and of course, being our “off the cuff” weekend, we were sadly not able to book a “make your own glass pumpkin” workshop…) so it’s worth checking out to make sure you plan your visit.  Otherwise, you can simply wander around and marvel at the beautiful glass.

We couldn’t help but stop by the Finger Lakes Beer Company – celebrating their first birthday on November 11th 2011.  With a fine selection of craft beers on tap and available for tasting, as well as seasonal brews, the FLBC, though only a year old, is open for for tours, tastings, and growler fills. Oh, and sales 😉

To go with your growler of beer, you’ll obviously need a snack. We visited Brookton’s Market to pick up some local cheeses.  Featuring great foods and drinks, a comfortable café area and a natural/ organic grocery store, it’s the place to pick up something to soak up all that booze!

We chose Snow Farm Creamery Smokey Apple (a raw cow’s milk) and a Side Hill Acres raw goat’s milk cheddar cheese. Mmmm.  Had we had more time and had it been the season, we would have definitely hit the cheese trail too. In any case, a nice accompaniment to the Heritage Hard Cider we picked up.

If you are interested in cider (as I definitely am), you’ll have to head to The Bellweather Hard Cider Company.  Owned and operated by Cheryl and Bill Barton, Bellweather was created in 1999 –  inspired by their travels through the cider regions of France and years of “research and development” as home cidermakers (side note – this sounds like my kind of R&D) – and  produces around 10 varieties of hard ciders, ranging from very dry to semi-sweet, some with carbonation and some still. The Heritage was definitely a nice apéritif cider!

No visit to Ithaca is complete without a trip to the Ithaca Bakery.

Featuring sandwiches, homemade entrées and salads, artisan breads and bagels, superb pastry, outstanding cheeses and great coffee, the Bakery is celebrating its 100th birthday and is Ithaca’s longest running family owed so-much-more-than-a-bakery. A fun place to sit and while away a morning over a coffee and something sweet or savoury as you like – great people watching!

Ithaca Bakery see all locations here
400 N Meadow St
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 273-7110

Ithaca Bakery on Urbanspoon

So really, not such a shabby four day weekend considering we had nothing planned. We must do this again sometime!

*Did you enter my giveaway for a beautiful, hand-painted custom tile or glassware? Contest closes Tuesday November 22nd at 6pm EST. I will draw the winner using Random.org and announce the winner on Wednesday November 23rd. Open to residents of Canada and the US only (sorry international readers but…..

** Over on Food Bloggers of Canada, we’re giving away a copy of Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate and Zucchini – open to readers anywhere in the world! Head on over there to read my writeup of Clotilde’s talk in Toronto last week!

20 thoughts on “A long weekend in the Finger Lakes”

  1. What a great 4 day escape. I have my BFA from Ithaca college so it made me nostalgic. Interesting to see what’s happening in food and wine there now.

  2. My parents spent a week at the Finger Lakes last year, and went to a few of the places you mention. Their description, as well as your pictures, have me dying to go visit!
    Also, awww, the kitty!
    I’ve been to a five guys burgers in Kansas City, which was quite tasty!

  3. Sounds like an amazing weekend – somehow, I often forget everything that area has to offer. I guess it’s a case of overlooking what’s in your backyard!
    You need to start a 5 Guys franchise petition up North. Totally love their french fries & have been elated about the number of their stores that have been popping up lately.

  4. What an extensive and very informative post. You make me want to make the same trip if only to visit with that gorgeous cat and to taste a sandwich at the Ithaca Bakery!

  5. Ithaca is one of my favorite towns in New York State, and the Ithaca Bakery is totally yummy! Your post has reminded me that it has been too many years since my last visit to this pretty little town!

  6. Okay wait a minute, we weren’t THAT bad in terms of lack of planning! I had a list of maybe ten possible wineries from industry contatcs, and Dr. Frank’s was always on the list, as was the Corning Glass Museum. ALSO the Women’s Rights State Park – Seneca is the home of the American suffragete movement…though this didn’t interest Mardi much. 😉

    So a wandering weekend, lots of wineries I dragged Mardi to…fun.

  7. I love visiting places I can eat my way through! Ithaca looks like one of those places! Love your photos, by the way!



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