Whether you’re a wine professional or simply traveling in wine country for fun, knowing a good spot for lunch or dinner is critical to surviving all those days of multiple winery visits, vineyard tours and countless wines.
One of the common refrains of visitors (and locals) to the Finger Lakes though has been the lack of good restaurants. That seems to be changing, however, as on my recent visit, winemakers were happily ticking off a list of restaurants that had opened in the area in the past few years. Combined with a few steady, longtime spots, the Finger Lakes seems to be emerging as a travel destination just as its wineries are expanding in number and improving their quality. In general, prices are very modest—dinner entrées hit the mid-$20 range at most while wine prices carry only a modest premium over tasting room prices.
One note of caution: Always call ahead to confirm a restaurant’s hours of operation, as few restaurants are open for lunch, while others offer dinner just a few nights of the week, especially during the off-season.
4432 West Lake Road (Route 14)
Telephone: (315) 789-2020
Located on 414, just 30 minutes north of Watkins Glen, Ports Café is a fun, casual restaurant that features an eclectic menu offering big portions at modest prices. The menu is lengthy to begin with, from a seafood-stuffed flounder that’s baked but remarkably light, to chicken tandori or house-smoked Carolina spare ribs—and then the waiter reads off another half-dozen or more specials to boot, including a few mixed grill items for the comfort food lovers of the world, such as baby lamb chops and shrimp scampi.
The wine list is modest, with 40-some odd selections from both the Finger Lakes (mostly the top names, including Fox Run, Anthony Road and Red Newt, among others) and California. The place is popular with winemakers, locals and area students alike so it tends to fill up quickly for dinner. Get there early or make a reservation.
Red Newt Bistro
3675 Tichenor Road
Telephone: (607) 546-4100
It’s hard to decide what the strong suit is at Red Newt Bistro—the 100-selection Finger Lakes-only wine list, with well-chosen flights and a broad by-the-glass selection, or the food. Chef Debra Whiting (whose husband Dave runs the couple’s Red Newt Cellars winery) oversees a kitchen that produces wholesome, fresh, soul-filled food. Grilled, bacon-wrapped scallops sit atop a pancake of finely shredded potatoes and leeks, begging for a glass of Riesling. The meatloaf sandwich comes with a layer of wilted, fresh spinach to offset the guilt factor. Farfalle pasta is tossed with artichoke hearts, olives, pancetta, swiss chard and a creamy roasted red pepper sauce. As if the variety wasn’t enough to keep you coming back, Whiting changes the entire menu every three weeks to keep up on the area’s freshest ingredients.
The dining room takes on a barnlike feel, with its wood paneling, high ceiling and broad view of the vineyards and lake below. Service is also knowledgeable, friendly and genuinely interested in your dining experience—a rarity when out in the sticks.
One of the longer standing restaurants in the area, Red Newt has not only settled in comfortably but also gotten even better. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself here more than once during a short visit in the area.
The Inn at Glenora
5435 Route 14
Telephone: (800) 243-5513
Veraisons, located within the Inn at Glenora on the west side of Seneca Lake, just 15 minutes north of Watkins Glen, offers arguably the best view in the area—time your dinner reservation to take in a sunset.
The restaurant offers good, straightforward regional cuisine—duck breast with blue cheese polenta; oven-roasted organic chicken with quinoa; roasted salmon on a bed of asparagus—keep it simple and friendly.
The wine list at Veraisons offers only Glenora wines however, some of which are good, but a little more diversity would be appreciated, considering the growing number of wineries in the area.
Time prevented me from getting to any other spots during my recent visit, but with its hearty, country-style fare (pulled pork, catfish, barley and apple risotto) the long-standing Stone Cat Café, located in a rustic, roadside building is still going strong. In addition, Dano’s and Suzanne have also developed good reputations among local winemakers. All are on my "to visit next time I’m in the area" list.
Dano's Heuriger on Seneca
9564 Route 414
Telephone: (607) 582-7555
Timothy J Baker — November 5, 2008 4:14pm ET
Charles Belensky — Nassawadox, Virginia — November 5, 2008 5:59pm ET
Robert Felle — union new jersey — November 5, 2008 7:45pm ET
David A Zajac — November 6, 2008 8:41am ET
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