Top 6 Tastes From My Finger Lakes Trip

Posted August 28, 2012 by Lenn Thompson in Regions

…or the best 6 things that I put into my mouth on vacation.

After spending seven wonderful days on the shores of Cayuga Lake, I returned to work this week with a calmer mind, a happy (though probably still exhausted) family and — not surprisingly — pants that fit just a bit more tightly around my waist. It was a family vacation, so winery visits were  (extremely) limited but it’s nearly impossible to not find deliciousness in the Finger Lakes.

We drank and ate well — both at the house we rented and a local farmers’ markets and restaurants — but these are the highlights.

Wine and Cheese Pairing at Sheldrake Point Winery
We had a great visit at Sheldrake Point — our lone family winery visit — and stepping through a series of wines with local cheese and cured meat was a highlight. Flavored cheeses typically aren’t my favorite, and I won’t say that all of the pairings worked — and by worked I mean elevated both the cheese and the wine — but it was fun, and interesting anyway. The standout wines were the 2011 Dry Rose and 2011 Dry Riesling. And I’m not sure any wine would be a suitable match for cheese studded with scallions and onion.

Beef Tongue and Heart Tacos at Hazelnut Kitchen
Many of the region’s best restaurants — at least those in between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes corridor — are closed on Tuesdays for some reason. Luckily, Hazelnut Kitchen is open and we were able to snare a table. I’m a sucker for non-typical items on any menu, so  house-made corn tortillas stuffed with beef heart and tongue are right in my wheelhouse. As was the crispy pig ear salad. The tacos were the star though — and washing them down with a bottle of Billsboro Winery 2010 Syrah didn’t hurt either.

Forge Cellars 2011 Pinot Noir Barrel Samples
Evan introduced me to Forge Cellars a while back, but I hadn’t tasted the wines until he and I met co-founder (and frequent NYCR reader) Rick Rainey last week. We started with a 2011 riesling aged in neutral oak barrels. I’m still not sure that I’ve wrapped my head around that, but it is certainly a unique expression of Finger Lakes riesling. Perhaps more interesting were the two 2011 pinot noir barrel samples Rick brought with him. The lighter-styled of the two will be released this fall and it’s very much in the pretty-feminine-floral vein. The other, which will spend more time in barrel is darker (without the help of syrah) with richer, brooding fruit. The best part? Neither is bludgeoned with oak.

Wide Awake Bakery Pasta 
The Ithaca Farmers’ Market is incredible — farmers, cider makers, winemakers and food vendors offering everything Tibetan food to heirloom cucumbers to Cuban sandwiches to fresh juices to pad thai. We go every time we’re in the area. But, if you want a bit less bustle, I can’t recommend the Trumansburg Farmers’ Market enough. Smaller and definitely more laid back, we enjoyed strolling around the triangle, tasting wines from Damiani Wine Cellars, ciders from Bellwether, and then grabbing some heirloom cherry tomatoes, music garlic, a bunch of basil and pasta from Wide Awake Bakery for an all-local dinner back at our cottage. That’s is precisely what I want in a community farmers’ market.

The Copper Oven BBQ Pizza
What’s not to love about these pizzas? Start off with incredible crust (like, New York City’s best incredible), perfectly charred beneath in a gorgeous copper oven (thus the name). Then add an all-local roster of toppings that range from sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes to creme fraiche and summer sausage. My pie “The BBQ” came topped with locally made barbecue sauce, Autumn’s Harvest sweet sausage, diced sweet peppers and New York cheddar cheese. I could have eaten three of them. Entire pies I mean. Seriously.

Dano’s Heuriger Sauerkraut and Pork Shank
Dano’s is possibly my new favorite restaurant in the Finger Lakes. Not only does Dano Hutnik cure and smoke his own meats and make his own cheese, but he also made me like — actually love — sauerkraut. Typically, I don’t like it much and I’d certainly never order it at a restaurant. But when Rick Rainey ordered it “with a shank on top” for lunch I just said “I’ll have the same thing.” My trust in the Dano’s regular was warranted. If there is such a thing as perfect sauerkraut, this must certainly be it. And a tender pork shank on top? These are the foods for the wines of the region. That lunch will haunt me. In every possible good way.