New York State’s Finger Lakes are a special place. It’s not just the lakes themselves that make the region special and beautiful – the food and wine and spirits and the people behind them add their unique flavor to the equation. As a case in point, I was traveling to the Finger lakes this past spring and got a chance to eat at the Simply Red Bistro at Sheldrake Point. Got a chance is not exactly what I mean…I mean that I saw what was for dinner that night and made sure to be back there at opening time to eat and sample a few more wines! Earlier in the day I tasted through the entire lineup at Sheldrake Point and found some beautiful wines, but later on, Bob Madill, Sheldrake Point’s winemaker, tasted me on the newest vintage of their Riesling, Cabernet Franc Rose, and Gewurztraminer with my meal. The Riesling was beautiful with my springtime salad of fresh peas, crimini mushrooms and arugula. I also tased their 2009 Cabernet Franc Rose with the dish – and with this particular dish, the Riesling won. Just a touch of sugar to soften the high acid that the 2009 vintage displays and to bring out the sweetness of the fresh peas. Bob and I chatted about how this little bit of sweetness makes the wines more friendly, not as austere and “serious” as the bone dry Rieslings of that particular vintage.
For dinner, I ate roasted banana peppers stuffed with a pork filling. It was simple and delicious. With this dish, I got to try the 2010 Gewurztraminer and compare it with the Cabernet Franc rose. The Gewurztraminer was made richer and more fruity by the stuffed peppers, while the Cabernet Franc highlighted the flavor of the pepper while the pepper pushed the fruit of the wine to the foreground. Both were lovely with the dish, but I find I am partial to the Finger Lakes Gewurztraminers that are being made now, so that won in my book. On a hot summer day, the rose might be more refreshing, so next time you’re thinking of grilling fresh peppers and stuffing them with anything, think of this rose! If you’re lucky, the chef and owner of Simply Red Bistro, Samantha Buyskes (who was raised in South Africa), will keep those peppers on the menu and might even divulge the recipe.
My tours of the Finger Lakes didn’t stop at Sheldrake Point, or the Bistro, however. In my quest to find more delicious food and drink, I stopped in to the Red Dove Tavern in Geneva, just on the north end of Seneca Lake. The Tavern was recommended by several of the winemakers that I met and talked to. This is a place you definitely want to visit the next time you find yourself in the Finger Lakes. Local wines on tap and plenty by the bottle, plus tons of craft beers from the region are on the menu. To eat, try anything! My top choices were a hangar steak with little crispy fries (paired with one of those craft beers) and a seared duck breast with green curry. Now, I didn’t eat this all in one sitting!! I visited the Red Dove twice during my travels, and will go there again. The service was prompt and friendly, the food was tasty and made me want more, and the drink menu was top notch – if you’re into really good beer and wine, that is.
Another stop that I will be making very soon is to Stone Cat Cafe. This is one of my favorite spots in the Lakes, and it’s only open during the summer months. The building was a fruit/vegetable stand, so has little in the way of winter insulation, therefore they are only open part of the year. You can really tell how much influence Deborah Whiting had in the culinary landscape of the Lakes when you taste food like you have at Stone Cat. The chefs there use super fresh, very local ingredients for all of their cooking – the salads taste so fresh, and the greens so wild and varied, that you feel you could have picked them yourself on the way into the restaurant. My favorite dish is the catfish with smoked tomato sauce. I’ve also eaten some amazing fresh cheeses and roasted local garlic cloves with crunchy bread, and I’ve drunk some tasty smoky tomato Bloody Mary’s there. All of my meals there have been on the patio and have been paired with live music. This place should be on your roster for your Finger Lakes trip – you have begun planning it haven’t you?
There are so many stories to tell about the people and the wines and the foods that this blog posting might become a recurring theme. I like to tell my stories with a glass of Finger Lakes Distillery’s Rye whiskey – preferably made into a Manhattan. Their Bourbon is also quite tasty – if you’re lucky enough to get some; it sells out very quickly! If you like spirits, stop in and check out what they are doing. Riesling grappa, wild berry vodka, flavorful gin, and even their “white dog” called Glen Thunder are all made from local, organic ingredients. Yet another reason that the Finger Lakes are a special place. The people are open and friendly and very creative; the foods are inspired and inspiring (I can’t write another word without giving a shout out to Deborah Whiting and her influence on the local cuisine); and the wines and spirits are a continual discovery.
Next trip, I plan to drink more Saperavi at McGregor Vineyards and Standing Stone, more Teroldego at Red Tail Ridge, more Pinot Gris from Sheldrake, Gruner from Dr. Frank, and Riesling and Gewurztraminer from just about everyone!! A stop at a local cheesemaker might be a good idea as well, and while I’m at it, I’ll see if I can find some local charcuterie to pair with all of the wines I’ll be sipping. Lastly, I think a very long, vigorous swim in the lake might be in order. Stay tuned for more from the Finger Lakes.