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Where to Dine in the Finger Lakes

Reviews of some choice eateries for hungry wine country vacationers
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Oct 12, 2012 10:00am ET

In addition to a burgeoning number of quality-oriented wineries, the Finger Lakes is also home to a bustling food scene, much of it of the farm-to-table variety. Prices are often low (compared to what urbanites are used to), the settings are always casual and a few places are attached to or next door to wineries, making weekends of wine tasting and eating ideal. Here are a few options for good eats. You can also refer to my Nov. 2008 blog post for more recommendations on Finger Lakes dining.

Red Newt Bistro

3675 Tichenor Road
Hector, N.Y.
Telephone: 607-546-4100
Website: http://rednewt.com/ww2/bistro

This is one of the few places that offers lunch seven days a week, making it a regular stop when I'm in the region (quite a few Finger Lakes restaurants are open only for dinner later in the week and through the weekends, so always call ahead to check).

Since the sad passing of chef/owner Deb Whiting, her family and the restaurant's staff have all pressed on. The signature ravioli still highlights the menu, and new chef Brud Holland, a childhood friend of Dave Whiting (who handles the winemaking for Red Newt Cellars), has amped up the commitment to sourcing local ingredients, down to the locally milled flour.

The wine list is long on local wines from many of the Finger Lakes' best wineries, in addition to Red Newt's own wines. There are tasting flights to make exploration easy. The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. Try the charcuterie plate to start, loaded with local cheese and pâté, followed by the apple sausage burger, ideal with a glass of Riesling.

Note: While there, I also caught up with owner and winemaker Dave Whiting. He was kind enough to take a break from a busy crush pad littered with stray berries and discarded stems, and filled with the sweet smell of freshly crushed grapes, to pour his selection of 2011 single-vineyard wines (not yet released). Among the standouts was the Riesling Finger Lakes Sawmill Creek Vineyards 2011, which displays its typically juicy, enticing profile of anise, pear and lime. The Riesling Finger Lakes Lahoma Vineyards 2011 takes a slightly off-dry approach, with creamed green apple and kiwi fruit notes, but it's no less fresh and vivacious. The Gewürztraminer Finger Lakes Curry Creek Vineyards 2011 is spicy and loaded with bitter orange and lychee notes, with a nice oily feel through the finish. The full lineup, which totals six wines, is set for release next spring.

Dano's Heuriger on Seneca

9564 Route 414
Lodi, N.Y.
Telephone: 607-582-7555
Website: www.danosonseneca.com

This 75-seat high-ceilinged, warm, open, brightly lit and inviting restaurant has slowly become my favorite in the region. The back deck is an idyllic place to take in a long, casual meal, thanks to its shade and view of Seneca Lake.

For starters, the beet and horseradish salad clears out any vineyard dust you may have accumulated from your winery visits. The Austrian-style spreads, including the house specialty liptauer, as well as horseradish walnut and roasted red pepper, are best when slathered on the thickly sliced dark bread that comes to the table.

Entrées feature Austrian specialties such as weiner schnitzel, bratwurst and pork shank—all of which marry well with the selection of Finger Lakes aromatic whites that the wine list offers. Chef/owner Dano Hutnik is always eiher in the kitchen or out saying hello to a dining room full of customers.

The Piggery

423 Franklin St.
(Route 13 and 3rd St.)
Ithaca, N.Y.
Telephone: 607-272-2276
Website: www.thepiggery.net

It doesn't get more down-home, friendly and farm-to-table than at The Piggery. This is a butcher shop-turned-deli which only stocks items produced within a 30-mile radius. The business was started by Heather Sandford and her husband Brad Marshall, who have raised pigs in nearby Trumansburg for seven years. They opened a small deli counter two years ago, then moved to this current location last year, expanding the menu to include daily specials and warm side dishes to go with their stock and trade—pulled pork, sausages and freshly prepared sandwiches made from their own pigs.

For drinks, it's currently just beer and hard cider. But the owners are hoping to add a wine license soon and start serving local Riesling on tap.

Note: Ithaca is located south of Cayuga Lake, which means it's a 30- to 45-minute drive away from the main action of the winery trail around Seneca Lake. There are wineries on Cayuga Lake as well. But overall, I'd recommend a stop in Ithaca as a way station when driving up to the Finger Lakes or back to New York City.

Bar Mercato & Kitchen

108 N. Aurora St.
Ithaca, N.Y.
Telephone: 607-319-5171
Website: www.mercatobarandkitchen.com

There are just about 10 booths and a few extra seats at the bar at this small, narrow restaurant. The result is a noisy crowd busily enjoying the fresh, defined, modern Italian-accented food that comes out of the kitchen. Items such as white bean and roasted pepper pesto soup, flounder in parchment paper steamed with vegetables and chicken saltimbocca highlight the menu. The 50-selection wine list offers mainly Italian wines.

However, while the food is excellent, there is no farm-to-table vibe at all. In addition, the wine list is well chosen, but there is barely a nod to local offerings. The result is a place that feels like it could be plucked right out of Manhattan or any other urban center.

Where to Stay:

Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel

16 North Franklin St.
Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Telephone: 607-535-6116
Website: www.watkinsglenharborhotel.com

Bill Andreotti
Aurora, IL USA —  October 16, 2012 5:45pm ET
We had dinner at Red Newt last year just a few days after Deb's passing. As far as I'm concerned it's a must visit for a meal while in the region. Fantastic food and service, as well as very reasonably priced given the quality.
Mara Farrell
New York —  October 18, 2012 2:11pm ET
Fox Run's Artisanal Cafe and Market is another smart choice. Owners, Scott and Ruth Osborn, have created a lively mecca for locally sourced foods-to-go, well-crafted homestead cheese plates paired with flights of limited-production Fox Run wines and farm-to-table daily specials.
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  October 18, 2012 6:37pm ET
Mara: Thanks for chiming in. I've picked up a very tasty sandwich more than once at Fox Run to help me through my day. I also like Ports Café up there as well....
Dennis D Kozuch
Buffalo, NY —  October 27, 2012 5:32pm ET
Readers would be remiss to pass by the Stonecat Cafe which is right down the road from Red Newt. They always feature delicious smoked meats, but they offer salads and lighter fare as well. They are open for lunch as well. The cornmeal crusted catfish never disappoints.
Steve Phelis
Montreal,Canada —  November 10, 2012 9:52pm ET
Hi James,

What are you working on at the moment or maybe you are envoying vacations??? It's been a long time without some update from you...

Are you in touch with growers/owners in Bordeaux, i would like to know what kind of echoes you got from the region dealing with 2012 harvest. When is the tasting of 2010 bottled Bordeaux is scheduled.

Thanks in advance.

James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  November 12, 2012 9:53am ET
Steve: No vacation, just work!

As for the lag in blogging, I prefer to report news, blog about specific meetings I've have with winemakers, visits at wineries and new and interesting wines as opposed to the sometimes incessant blogging I see out there that often results in posts where there is little or nothing actually being said. Just my personal feeling on the matter.

As for the '12 vintage, my harvest reports will be posted soon. I've been in touch with many winemakers in Bordeaux, as well as the other regions I cover, all along the growing season. The short answer is, Bordeaux and Loire had trouble, the Rhȏne was pretty good and the Fingers Lakes was excellent. But more details will be posted on our website soon.
Steve Phelis
Montreal,Canada —  November 13, 2012 8:03pm ET
Thanks for answering James, it is always appreciated.

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