Finger Lakes – Beautiful Region, Great People, and Good Food
This past weekend, I was generously invited and flown up (a very short flight clocking under 1 hour) to the Finger Lakes region by the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection and see and taste the area for three days. When I first thought of the said region, I thought it would be essentially very good local wine, lots of farms, and nature set in a cluster of sleepy, small towns. But meeting and talking to the locals it is a dynamic, thriving region that still has its “small town” charm and hospitality and have big plans to evolve to something better. (I’ll get to that latter part in a bit. If you want to jump to sections about Nature/Hiking, local wines & craft beer or the food)
We had lunch at the Ganondagan State Historical Site to see, taste, and understand the Iroquois White Corn Project. We had an incredible white corn centered meal. Their delectable Iroquois white corn bread, the traditional Iroquois white corn soup that was so unique and special compared to any other corn soup I’ve had (and it’s time consuming to make it from what I’ve learned), a vegetarian, green chile chilaquiles filled with Iroquois white corn that was substantial and packed with tons of flavor, and their addictive Iroquois white corn cookie that has a touch of peanut butter and topped with chocolate chips. (If I didn’t control myself for those cookies, I’d eat the entire platter our generous hosts set out.)
The main mission behind the Iroquois White Corn Project is essentially getting families to eat better (nutritionally speaking) and less processed food. Their other aims are to get the locals to farm this unique corn and eat more of this nutritious vegetable and there is more use to this white corn than the Native American traditional corn soup or cornbread.
After lunch, we walked over to their small production area where they had to boil the white corn in wood ash. Iroquois white corn is not like the typical sweet corn we enjoy today. The white corn kernels are larger than sweet corn and its color is not nearly as yellow. It is grown in fields and is harvested. The husks are pulled back away from the ear and allowed to air dry. Once thoroughly dried, the kernels are removed from the husk and placed in an airtight container for future use. Each kernel is encased in an inedible hull, which must be removed by boiling the corn in a water and wood ash mixture. This hull removal process is known as “cleaning” the corn. From there, the kernels may go to three ways: it may be packed, it may be ground to a coarse corn flour; or it may be roasted in a coffee roaster (seen here) and then ground. I was touched by the staff’s generosity and passion and able to articulate their message about the Iroquois White Corn Project.
Of course, the natural beauty of the various areas of the Finger Lakes region needs no introduction.
What I did learn is not to wear closed toe canvas sneakers and/or a dress when hiking up to Grimes Glen. The naive city girl that I am, did not pack for hiking and from the general itinerary of that day, I obviously did not dress for it. Our guide drove us to the Grimes Glen and parked the car at the parking area. We started walking/hiking up the narrow trail seeing and hearing the river rushing downstream. Observing the other women hiking on this trail, no one wore a dress! I did not anticipate having to jump off a steep, slippery, muddy edge that was probably 8 feet high to get to the lower river bed area and having to do it in the said attire. I thought to myself that I am here now and this is my prime opportunity to see this waterfall. I managed not to get myself dirty save for my hands that’s easily rinsed in the river and was proud of myself doing that. In all, I am proud of myself that I managed to get there unharmed and pretty clean. All I needed to do when we returned back to the car is change my sneakers out to flip flops. This was my highlight of the trip.
The Barrel Room is owned by the King Ferry Winery, the oldest winery and vineyard on the east side of Cayuga Lake. It specializes in traditional European, vinifera varietal wines. Their two flagship varieties are Riesling and Chardonnay. From crisp, refreshing, fruit-forward Rieslings, to barrel-fermented, buttery Chardonnays. They also are known for the hearty reds, like Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. For sweeter wine drinkers, they make fun, fruit-forward wines like the Apple Mystique. The Apple Mystique is unique by fermenting fresh apple cider (not grown on the vineyard’s grounds but sourced from a local orchard) using a different yeast and filtering this very tasty, crisp, clear, dessert apple wine.
Inspire Moore Winery produces a juicy, quaffable style in their wines, owned by Timothy and Diane Moore. Their recently introduced wines, Blaufrankisch and Gruener Veltliner, are cool climate varieties that hold a particular interest to Tim from his time spent studying winemaking in Austria. It is through his experiences studying abroad and at University of California at Davis that Tim developed a unique vision for creating cool climate wines.
Of the many wines we’ve tried on the deck that looks out to the lush, rolling green hills full of grape vines, I really liked the unique “Inspiration” semi-dry red noiret wine. It tasted like cocoa, touch of spice with hints of red fruits in the background with nice tannins that would pair with certain foods well (thinking along the lines of Oaxacan chocolate mole). The plus is that it’s very reasonably priced.
Twisted Rail Brewing is a relatively new micro beer brand that opened this tasting room/bar in December 2013. I admit I am technically not a big beer drinker but always liked smaller breweries, but this experience (and Hopsfest) was a learning experience and made appreciate craft beer so much more. I tried their current line up of six craft beers (and an experimental 50:50 blend of smooth, bitter cocoa Porter and nicely smoky Scotch Ale) and adored their Cabin Killer IPA. The Cabin Killer had a nice hoppy aroma and touch of sweetness with a lingering finish of hoppy bitterness that I like a lot.
Red Jacket Orchards Farmstore was one of our morning stops that we ogled at the photogenic, fresh produce from Red Jacket Orchards, sampled their delicious fruit juices and nectars, and they sell Finger Lakes’ produced food items. We picked up a few items like locally made flavored cheese curds to snack on the road, New York state maple syrup and wasabi mustard (as seen on this photo).
Cindy’s Grape Pies was a pit stop in Naples, NY to pick up some regionally famous Concord grape pies. As what I have encountered on Instagram, there’s another person’s pie nearby that has a cult following as well. But we stuck it with Cindy’s since it’s made and sold straight from the lovely proprietor’s home. Cindy’s Concord grape pies are made in a 100% lard based pie crust that makes it a rich pie but the floral, sweet-tartness of the Concord grape filling balances it out.
Brew & Brats at Arbor Hill was established in 2011. It is a venture built upon the rich historical significance and enjoyment of beer. The towns of Bristol and South Bristol were noted for their hop production, most of which supplied the McKechnie Brewery of Canandaigua in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
The Bristol Springs Brand craft beers and root beers served exclusively at Brew & Brats at Arbor Hill. Arbor Hill has partnered with Hartmann’s Old World Sausage from Canandaigua to offer the best bratwursts. The featured sausage is made with Arbor Hill Sherried Wine BBQ Sauce which has been a staple at Arbor Hill almost since the winery opened in 1987 – due to the original formulation developed by Neapolitans Darryl Braun and Doug Preston.
The brats and sides I’ve tried were Chicken Supremo Brat with Winemaster’s sauerkraut and Bristol Brat with Arbor Hill cheese pasta salad. Both brats had a nice, subtle snap and grilled nicely. Of the two brats, I liked the balance of the chicken brat more for its sweetness with a very mild kick. The warm sauerkraut is special with the wine and fermented funk and the the cheese pasta salad is unlike other pasta salads I ever had for that Black Raspberry Celery Seed dressing that added subtle tart, sweet and celery flavors. I washed it down with their Concord grape slushie that cooled me from the very warm afternoon sun and the root beer was very tasty.
Simply Crêpes was my Sunday brunch stop. This family owned restaurant in Canandaigua (it’s the original location) specializes in the thin French pancakes filled with a wide range of sweet to savory fillings to satisfy everyone. Don’t miss the creamy, decadent oatmeal crème brûlée and pretty much any of their crêpes. I tried their s’more crêpe out of curiosity seeing it featured on USAToday.com that morning. For me, it was too early in the morning to have the entire, sweet, marshmallow-y concoction.
I had a tremendous dinner at Halsey’s. We ordered a lot of food and they were overall a solid restaurant that proudly cooks some of their fare in the wood fired oven that’s prominently shown on the main dining room. We liked a lot of their seasonal plates like the nicely tart, fried green tomatoes topped with creamy crawfish sauce and nicely smoky grilled salmon on nutty black rice, not too sweet mango-pineapple salsa, and kale and bell pepper salad.
From their regular menu, the house specialty pizza, a thin crusted pizza that’s nicely blistered in the wood fired oven topped with caramelized onions, slices of salty prosciutto, blue cheese, mozzarella, Asiago, and topped with a chiffonade of basil was aggressively salty but oh so delicious. The wood fired vegetable lasagna was fantastic, taking on the smoky flavors as well as highlighting the clean, sweet flavors of the eggplant, zucchini, portobello, and bell pepper.
The 1st annual Hopsfest hosted at Nedloh Brewing was a very good beer festival, so to speak, celebrating the craft beer movement around the Finger Lakes region and we get to meet and chat to some of the micro brewers. The organizers were smart to make a multidimensional experience (despite the fact the brewery is not fully open yet) to have a Big Green Egg cooking competition with local chefs and have a live band playing to entertain the attendees.
There was also a food truck ring just outside of the beer tasting tents, where we met the adorable young women who run the Hello Arepa, who were passionate on what they were doing. Making the arepas from scratch to meeting all walks of life who come up to their truck. Their chorizo arepa was delicious (and a great sandwich to absorb the alcohol). Doughy yet delicately crisp arepa filled with seared slices of chorizo, softened diced onions and bell peppers, and melted cheese.
We had a brief tour of Nedloh Brewing. It is a micro brewer that has ambition of growing and using their own hops (seen here) in the shiny new brewing facility. There is also a hops museum in the works on the main tasting room area to educate the public about hops and the beer making process. It is gorgeous with natural light, shiny stainless steel and on the main public area, lots of dark wood paneling.
With a full stomach, right after Hopsfest, I was dropped off to Rochester International Airport with my luggage and came back to the city that never sleeps, New York City. I’m still surprised how short of a ride and realized how great the Finger Lakes is to visit for the food, the friendly locals (it felt like a small town where everyone knows each other), and the beautiful mountains and rolling green hills. I have to make a return trip soon.
To view more photos of this visit, please CLICK HERE or view the gallery below:
Finger Lakes Visitors Connection
Ganondagan State Historic Site
1488 State Route 444
Victor, NY 14564
The Barrel Room: Treleaven Wines by King Ferry Winery
72 W Main Street
Victor, NY 14564
Inspire Moore Winery
97 N Main Street
Naples, NY 14512
Twisted Rail Brewing
20 Pleasant Street
Canandaigua, NY 14424
Red Jacket Orchards Farm Store
957 Route 5 and 20
Geneva, NY 14456
Brew & Brats
6461 Route 64
Naples, NY 14512
Cindy’s Grape Pies
5 Academy Street
Naples, NY 14512
101 South Main Street
Canandaigua, New York 14424
Phone: 585 394-9090
106 Seneca Street
Geneva, NY 14456
Hopsfest hosted at Nedloh Brewing
East Bloomfield, NY