By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
Photos by Morgan Dawson Photography
Most restaurants do not have to endure the uncertainty of a zealous owner who might show up at any moment with a truckload of summer vegetables, picked only hours before. At the Blue Heron Cafe they're getting used to it.
"It's pretty entertaining, actually," says Heron Hill Winery
's marketing director Kitty Oliver over a plate of the mahgarita flatbread pizza. "(Owner) John Ingle is so excited this time of year. He might drive in with a load of corn and say, 'Here you go!' And the staff finds a way to add it to the dishes on the menu."
When the Blue Heron Cafe on Keuka Lake opened on July 15, it came with a new menu designed to offer casual, yet higher-end, food options. The lobster roll is the most expensive item at $15.50 while the least expensive items are $6.50. This puts Heron Hill's prices a shade under neighboring Bully Hill's lunch fare, but Oliver says her company is not necessarily trying to carve business away from neighbors.
"The larger goal is bringing more people to the region, period," she explains. "If there are more dining options, there will be more visitors — and that means more people going through Bully Hill's doors or other places."
My one complaint is hardly a serious problem: mwine glass was too full when they brought me the Heron Hill 2006 semi-dry Riesling. Couldn't swirl it. I figured I might be the only customer ever to ask them to bring less wine, so I decided against it, but perhaps deeper glasses are in order.
My Tuscan chicken wrap was delicious, and my wife Morgan enjoyed the crab cake. Better yet, the Cafe was full on a mid-week afternoon. It will close for the winter but Heron Hill feels the seasonal offerings will bring in more wine tasters and, they expect, wine buyers.
Fox Run Vineyards
on Seneca Lake is getting ready to launch a kind of food experiment of its own in September. "We want to try new ideas and see what works," says Fox Run's marketing director, Leslie Kroger.
So beginning Thursday, September 3 and running for three straight Thursdays, Fox Run will host food and wine tastings themed around the harvest. The tastings will cost $20 per person and run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the cafe. New chef Heather Tompkins will create four food plates; winemaker Peter Bell and assistant winemaker Tricia Renshaw will help select the wines to pair.
"Heather has brought a tsunami of creativity, and these tastings will give her a chance to do even more," Bell says.
Kroger concedes that for years, Fox Run's popular cafe has attracted thousands of visitors — but the food
alone has not been a money-maker. Many wineries tell the same story. Fox Run hopes Tompkins can improve the food and the bottom line, which is no easy task.
"The new grocery-like atmosphere is a credit to what Heather is doing," Kroger says. "It's amazing how people react when you start selling the products you use in your cooking. We've had a huge summer because of that. We're selling local honey, cheeses, chocolate, and breads right out of the cafe. Heather sells flavored spreads and other creations. We're thrilled with what she's done already."
If the Thursday night tastings are a success, Fox Run will consider bringing them back in the winter or spring. For now, Fox Run and Heron Hill will measure the success of their new food endeavors before expanding. For both, it has been a good start, but it's easy to feel good about business in the summer, when the parking lots are full of out-of-state license plates.