Hitting the Road to the Finger Lakes

Mark and I are taking a few days up in the Finger Lakes region of New York to celebrate three years of marriage. Here’s a repost of our trip from our last Finger Lakes trip. I’ll let you know if anything has changed when we return home:

October 19th, 2008

Day 1
Arrive in Ithaca. I love it here. If I could magically wake up a Cornell Professor, I could imagine spending more than just a vacation exploring this hiccup of a city, home to hippies and hypothesists, snowshoeing and hiking and poetry reading listening-to, but in the meantime, here’s how to visit. Bring your tent and camp at Buttermilk Falls or Taughannock Falls campgrounds. (Pronounced tah-GON-ic) Both are state-owed and cheap, 14 bucks for a bare site. Arrive, set up camp, and head back into town for dinner at Just a Taste, one of the best restaurants I’ve ever enjoyed.

Just a Taste is American tapas. But to say that, while categorically true, does not do this restaurant justice. Truly, I would eat here once a week if time travel allowed. The kitchen prepares the food as though we were old friends, and she knew exactly how I like my brussel sprouts cooked. Sincerely, Mark and I dream of this place between the times we can get there. Its perfectly priced, unlike Manhattan tapas, which has become some weird status symbol. Of course I can afford 6 twenty-five dollar plates! At Just a Taste, you get to feel like you are in your best cooking-friend’s kitchen and can drink wine served, by the taste (of course) or glass or, if you prefer, which I do, tasting flight. Sample as many as you want and marry a man willing to be your designated driver.

Back at camp. Go to sleep.

Day 2
Awake, and head back to town for breakfast at The State Diner. The blueberry pancakes are divine, the waitresses are perfectly surly and sweet and the coffee flow prepares you for a day of hiking and wine drinking.

Drive to Buttermilk Falls, even if you haven’t stayed there. There is a figure-eight hike that starts just off the parking lot and you get to appreciate all that Mother Nature had in store some billions of years ago. I know that there are all sorts of names for the eras of rock and stone, but what I see is moss and dripping water on my face from skyward overhangs and beautiful birds enjoying brunch from the crystal clear river that feeds the falls.

Lunch! After taking in your share of nature, head up 89N to Glenwood Pines Restaurant. Its really best if you get there on a Tuesday or Friday because they make a Reuben sandwich that is the stuff of dreams. Maybe its because you slept in a tent or whatever, but the sandwich is awesome. The last time Mark and I were there, we both had Reubens. This time, I ventured off into the specials and ended up eating more than my fair share of his lunch. I hear and read that the burgers are award-winning, but trust me: Get the Reuben.

Now, time to taste some wines! I have a forthcoming entry planned on exactly what it means to “taste wine.” Even I think it sounds a little pretentious, but the truth is, if you know what you are doing, the experience is way better that “yeah, its good!” New York State wineries are working very hard to shed the reputation of mediocrity and in that spirit, I am going to leave your palate without my very personal tasting notes. But, I will tell you that on Cayuga Lake, on which Ithaca is the most southerly point, there are a few you should visit.

Cayuga Ridge Estate is housed in a beautiful old barn with vaulted ceilings and employ young wine conneiseurs to pour a flight of delightful, young, drinkable wines.

Hosmer Estate makes a tasty, grapey sparkling that goes well with a cribbage game back at camp. Their Fireside Red went great on our couch on the night we got back home.

Sheldrake Point Pinot Gris is served at Just a Taste. It has the quintessential taste of powdery flowers. In the words of my good friend Willie Gluckstern, the bottom of an old lady’s handbag. In a good way.

Time for dinner? Back in Ithaca, Wegman’s grocery offers lots of prepared-for-camping meals to take away. We bought a honey-mustard marinated pork tenderloin to grill on our campfire and some salads from the salad bar.

Day 3
Head back north on 89 and turn at Interlaken to find Lively Run Goat Dairy Farm. Yummy chevre, wild blue goat cheese and creamy, perfectly funky feta.

The Finger Lakes region is called so because, viewed from space, the lakes look very much like someone’s fingers. So that means you have to drive around them. From Interlaken, head to Watkins Glen. I have to put a plug here for a GPS system. You could find your way with a map, for sure, but you can also turn your GPS to silent and follow any east-west farm road you come across and enjoy the view.

From Watkins Glen, find Dundee, New York. You’ll see signs on any major road for McGregor Winery. They have some pricey and impressive reds and delightful whites that are worth their price in conversation. You got that in New York?!

Right down the hill is Ravines. Ah, Ravines. I know I said I wouldn’t taint your palate but this place is it. I’d buy a cellar full if I could afford it. Sadly, Robert Parker found them and increasingly, I cannot. BUT! Go for the view for the full tasting and enjoy the storytellers and wine-inspired art on the walls. Its kitschy in the best way and the quality of the wine more than make up of the price tag. Their’s is the stuff of legend in our house because their riesling has such bracing acidity… but I said I wouldn’t do that! What the heck does “bracing” mean anyway?

  • Patricia

    Happy Day today!! And all the rest of your days …

  • Cathie

    Do visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – the Mecca for birders!

  • Aunt Terri

    I hope you have a wonderful vacation!! I can’t believe it’s been three years!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love you both, Aunt Terri

  • Carolyn Wilson

    This is a delightfully written paean to one of my favorite areas in Upstate NY. Thanks and have a great time in your “Skinny Atlas” train car! CBW back in KY