The Finger Lakes as a Foodie Destination
If you are in NYC, or close enough to it, you might actually believe that you have no need to travel too far to taste the best of the best. But the truth is a lot of the best of what NYers enjoy in their favorite city restaurants come from upstate, and when it comes to a farm-to-table experience, there is no better place to be. Many restaurants and chefs work with their local farmers, often their closest neighbors, to deliver and create the many seasonal dishes I enjoy with each visit there. Below are my favorite foodie highlights (some of them winners in the 2013 Finger Lakes Food Revolution Foodie Awards).
Favorite Foodie Restaurants
The Leaf Kitchen (winner Best Locavore Restaurant Menu in the Finger Lakes) in Geneva: to meet Tatiana Bruno, the “face” of Leaf Kitchen, is to love her. Her enthusiasm and passion for everything they serve, which is organic, local, sustainable, hormone and antibiotic free makes one excited to eat there. Together with Executive Chef Jack Woolfrey, whom you might never meet, but whom you will love equally for his delicious dishes and culinary creations, they have made Leaf Kitchen a must-stop foodie destination when in Geneva, NY. Without really knowing what will be in season upon your visit, I can say that if you ever see the mac ‘n cheese, get it (Tatiana will steer you safely into wine pairing bliss for any one of your dishes). The Baked Boucheron with apricot preserves, toasted nuts, and dressed greens is meant to share, but you might not want to, and of course the Poutines, hand-cut french fries featuring NY State cheese curds. What else can I say?
Simply Crepes (winner Best Use of Finger Lakes Ingredients in an Entree for their Great Grape Crepe) in Canandaigua: I have traveled especially and exclusively to eat here. I enjoy the ambiance and the food. Meeting Pierre and Karen Heroux, founders of Simply Crepes, and learning how it came about (Karen was inspired to pursue her dreams by watching an Oprah episode on television), was a treat. Having Pierre not only prepare, but also teach us how to make crepes took the experience to the next level (an experience offered to guests). Their award-winning Great Grape Crepe is a seasonal item, but if you are lucky to be there when it is being served, order it…it’s so yummy!
Brown Hound Bistro in Naples: A small, century-old house turned restaurant is the dream-come-true of Trish Aser, who along with Chef Clay Secrest and Pastry Chef Emmy Wilk, aim to deliver the best their area can provide. If it’s local and seasonal, they will make something delicious from it, showing culinary artistry in every dish. I have never had a bad meal here, and though in the winter this small eatery can only seat 20, during warmer months the seating capacity is expanded and guests are welcomed to enjoy their meals while on the outdoor wrap-around deck while drinking wine.
Favorite Foodie Tours
Ganondagan in Victor: When I first visited this former home of the Seneca Native Americans, it was summer, and I got to tour the 17th-century bark longhouse and hike through their trails. It was a wonderful experience and somewhat spiritual when you consider the history of the land and the people who lived there. This time I had the honor of tasting a white corn lunch, prepared and served by Peter Jemison, a Seneca elder and the site manager of Ganondagan and his wife, Ganondagan Executive Director, Jeanette Miller. The corn used in almost every element of the meal, from the stew, to the bread, to the cookies, was made from Iroquios White Corn, a native corn from the area and the focus of a project to bring back the practice of growing corn and assisting in the farming industry among the Native American people in the region. You can purchase the corn online as well to try out your own recipes. Visiting Ganondagan is a must, especially for a foodie who wants to experience a culture that is connected to the land in every way.
New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua: The cooking classes here are the best experiences to have with friends, as a couple, or with your family. Chef Jeffory McLean led our group through a quick and delicious brunch class that we later got to share and enjoy together. There are a lot of things I love about this location, from the dining experience, to shops, to culinary classes. But I also really like what they do for the community. Through their Junior Chef Camp, they are able to reach and teach younger kids about the various produce grown in the state. They are taught to find, prep, and develop delicious recipes that they can later take home and hopefully instill in efforts to improve their eating habits. I also appreciated how realistic Chef McLean was in acknowledging that for many families attaining fresh produce isn’t easy, so he teaches them to best work with the products they can access, whether canned or boxed, to better improve their culinary practices and eating habits. A true gem and a must-visit.
Food and Technology Farm in Geneva: If you want to walk away feeling empowered and inspired by what other foodies are doing to influence the food choices available to us, then you want to visit this center. Meeting Executive Director Susan Noble and her “tenants”, those inspired to develop something unique and amazing with food produce, makes one feel like even in a world filled with processed food we still have a chance to do better. It is places like this that gives those committed to the cause a helping hand to do so. Located in the middle of a 72-acre apple orchard, this facility hosts office spaces, labs, and production facilities to help culinary entrepreneurs develop their consumer products. But it’s not just food products being developed here. Companies behind products like Mooseberry Soaps (using fresh herbs and spices) to Cabernet Franc VERJOOZ share space alongside others producing CheriBundi juices and Stony Brook squash seed oils. A Finger Lakes Viticulture Building is in the works, scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.
Red Jacket Orchards (winner Best Finger Lakes Non-Alcoholic Beverage or Juice) in Geneva: Tour this production facility, that really does more packaging of its juices than production work, as all their juices are 100% juice and nothing more (except maybe for some added Vitamin C). It’s a pretty incredible process to witness: crush the apples, separate the peel, seeds, bottle and label. Done. Located on a 500 acre orchard, this family owned business has always been committed to sustainable practices. Have a taste and you will see why they are celebrated by their consumers. Their juices are available at While Foods and NYC green markets.
What is Food without Wine & Spirits?
Eagle Crest Vineyard in Conesus, NY: Originally known as O-Neh-Da Vineyard (founded in 1872 by Bishop Bernard McQuaid) this vineyard’s sole mission was to produce 100% pure grape wine for sacramental use. Eagle Crest Vineyards still supports O-Neh-Da and produces premium sacramental wine. But what few know is that Eagle Crest is quickly standing out for their artisan-crafted Finger Lakes Table Wine. A visit to Eagle Crest and O-Neh-Da Vineyards is a unique experience. Secluded a little away from it all, near the western shore of Hemlock Lake and on protected land, it is sure to deliver a serene Finger Lakes experience, complemented by some of the best wine in the area. Not to be missed are their upcoming summer events, like the Grape Jamm’ starting in June, for where music, wood-fire pizza, wine, and artists come together to offer visiting guests a fun time. And if you meet proprietors Will and Lisa, you will see why this is surely to become the place to be for events this summer.
Casa Larga Vineyards in Fairport: This ice wine vineyard follows a traditional path of waiting for the right, freezing cold night to head out into the vineyards and hand-pick the grapes, followed by pressing while still frozen, to produce a sweet, rich syrup. While there are more modern ways to do this, this winery prefers to keep it old-school, a practice that as lead to it becoming the most awarded ice wine in the country. The Casa Larga property itself is gorgeous, and a favorite romantic and wedding destination.
Arbor Hill Grapery in Naples: Best known for their award-winning wines as well as their gourmet food products which include over 45 food items, such as sauces, salad dressings, pies, and jams.The only winery in the world to produce Diana, Iona, and Vergennes varietals. If you want to move on from your wine experience and taste something different, make sure to check out their Brews & Brats for $4 crafted beer tastings and some specialty sausages to go with them. The ambiance here is casual, welcoming, and fun.
These foodie experiences were courtesy of the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, a wonderful resource for anyone traveling to the area, and their partners. The Finger Lakes team hosted the very first Finger Lakes Foodie Awards, exposing me to the exciting food revolution happening in the area and celebrating those making the largest impact in the culinary scene. Check out Finger Lakes Food Revolution website for information on the 2013 winners, as well as other foodie events happening throughout the year.
And remember, good food and amazing wine is only made better with great friends. During this experience, I was blessed with being surrounded by some of my favorite people (click on the links to read about their experiences):
Our ride, the Terrain Denali, was courtesy of GMC. It was a life saver as I drove upstate in the midst of a snow and ice storm. This ride was reliable, comfortable, incredibly great in the storm, and even greater on gas. Plus, it’s spaciousness allowed us to bring a lot of the Finger Lakes back home with us!
A bit of my heart is in the Finger Lakes forever. I just love it there. For more on what to do and where to eat, please check out: Weekend Getaway to The Finger Lakes, Fall Road Trippin’ to The Finger Lakes, and Indulging The Foodie at The Finger Lakes.
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