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Ithaca and Finger Lakes Road Trip Review

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We recently returned from a short trip to the Finger Lakes and Niagara Falls areas, and we ate so well I just have to write it up. The trip started in Ithaca, where I had a work conference for the week. We started the week with a quick drink at the Chapter House bar – just down the street from campus, with about 30 mostly local beers on tap. They have great happy hour deals on top of already reasonable prices - $7 got us two pints of local microbrews Sunday night. Dinner the next night was at Agava – good thing we had a reservation for our large group, because it was packed (on a Monday!) The food was a nice selection of small plates with a mostly Southwestern influence, lots of local ingredients, and solid vegetarian options – highlights included the quinoa fritters, the ceviche, and the chile relleno. Next up was Moosewood (which was the one place I definitely wanted to check out while we were in town, having a well-worn copy of one of their cookbooks in my kitchen). It definitely met expectations, with the mushroom strudel and the locally made sorbets being particularly notable.
Both Moosewood and Agava have a wide and reasonably priced selection of wines by the glass, but the wine highlight of our trip was definitely the next night’s dinner at Just a Taste (which came highly recommended by the local professor who was leading our conference). It’s another small plates restaurant with a focus on local ingredients, though this time with a more traditional tapas focus on Spanish-style preparations (the duck leg was especially nicely done). The more unusual option, though, is the wine flights – all reasonably priced at around $10-15 for five generous samples. Both my flight of local wines and my husband’s tasting of reds were thoughtfully presented and selected – it looked like they had a set of wine taps set up behind the bar, which likely helps them keep everything available and fresh.
The next meal out was lunch at Long Point Winery, which came highly recommended from one of the guides who does boat tours of the wineries as having some of the best wine and food on Cayuga Lake. We were lucky enough to be staying with friends with a small boat, and the folks at Long Point are happy to pick us up at the dock in the nearby state park and drive us over to the winery. It was a ridiculously lovely setting – rows of vines overlooking the lake, with a field of grass and flowers and tents with picnic tables set up next to the barn-style winery. The wines were terrific – Long Point is known not only for its whites (for which the Finger Lakes are famous), but also for doing a nice job with reds (which is rarer for the area), and we picked up a few bottles. The lunch was also delicious – they have a small sandwich menu with high-quality ingredients, all made to order. My vegetarian muffaletta on homemade foccacia was especially good, and they even offered kid-friendly PB&Js (and were quite kid-friendly in general to the little ones who were with us.)
We spent the next couple of days in Niagara on the Lake in Canada (where the food was amazing - I’ll be posting that review elsewhere soon), but stopped by the Finger Lakes again on our way back down to NYC. We made a quick pit stop in Buffalo for lunch at Schwabl’s – the famous beef on weck was definitely worth a visit (my husband’s a huge salt fan, so the salt-covered “weck” roll was a hit), and my old-school open-faced turkey on white bread with a ridiculous amount of gravy was great.
The real high point of the trip home, though, was a birthday dinner at The Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles, a gorgeous old tavern which has been hosting travelers for almost 200 years. The restaurant was nice enough to give us a table in the front room, with a lovely view of the lake across the street, and dinner and service were fantastic. The waiter made an excellent recommendation of a local Hermann Weimer dry reisling (which was especially reasonably priced with their Sunday special of 20% off all wines); coincidentally, the exact same wine was just named by the NYT wine critic as one of the best American wines under $20 in the country. The entrees were a little slow coming out (for which the waiter was extremely apologetic and comped us dessert), but both - seared scallops over house-made creamed corn and the roast chicken with black pepper spaetzle - were wonderful when they arrived, as was our fresh berry tart with vanilla ice cream (and a birthday candle).
All the portions were so generous that we ended up bringing the chicken and tart back to our hotel fridge and eating them for lunch the next day outside the Montezuma Winery and Hidden Marsh Distillery, a cute little place just outside the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge on Cayuga Lake. The tasting there is worth a stop to try the unusual fruit wines and liqueurs on offer – we brought home a bottle of the “Cranberry Bog” for the holidays. Overall, it was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken – we’ve traveled pretty extensively, and this is definitely an under-rated part of the country for enjoying great food and wine!

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  1. The Chapter House is a favorite whenever I go back to visit campus! Great selection of beer. I need to get back to Just A Taste sometime too. And Montezuma definitely has some fun wines, especially the Cranberry Bog. Glad you had a great trip!