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North America: New York State

A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

by Robert Glaze

Destination Finger Lakes, New York

The Finger Lakes is a region in central New York State, that is named for its long thin lakes. It is known for its charming small towns, local vineyards and wineries, historic inns, a growing food scene with excellent restaurants, cheese makers, numerous distilleries, microbreweries and cideries. It is an area of great beauty with many state parks, outdoor activities, dramatic waterfalls and hiking trails. I was very impressed with the time I spent there and highly recommend that you take time to visit when you are in the area. While Europe is becoming so crowded to visit in the summer, this is a great option for your summer vacation without the crowds and  jet lag!

 Exploring Corning, NY

Corning, NY is a city of just over 11,000 people on the Chemung River in Steuben County and south of Keuka Lake. I had always heard of the town, but had never been there until I went to a travel conference that was based there.

 I was very impressed with the downtown area, known as the Gaffer District, and highly recommend that you stay there and walk to the great restaurants, museums, bars, shops and galleries. Market St. is the center of the action. Over the past 40 years, it has become a revitalized neighborhood of beautiful historic architecture, shopping, nightlife, festivals and events and a vibrant cultural and arts center. By the way the name gaffer means head glassblower, based on Corning’s rich history in glassblowing.

Here you will find music in the Square in June, July, August and September, a Farmers Market on Thursdays from early June to late October, the Taste of Summer food festival in July and the Harvest Festival in September. There are also concerts of the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes.

There are also a number of galleries in the district that are  featured in the monthly Urban Arts Crawl held on the last Friday of each month.

My recent recommendations on what to do, where to eat and where to stay include:

The Cellar: On my first night in Corning I had a really great meal at The Cellar. This is a wine bar and restaurant featuring modern fusion cuisine and local ingredients. The scallop entree with seared scallops cornbread stuffing  creamed corn and local vegetables was excellent. 21 W. Market.

Three Birds Restaurant: On my second night had a really excellent meal at Three Birds Restaurant at 73 E. Market. It is a warmly decorated restaurant with great food and service. My salmon dish was one of the best I have had recently. The grilled salmon filet was accompanied by sautéed fingerling potatoes and Napa cabbage, topped with a stone-ground mustard-soy glaze and a red pepper jelly. The berry crumble for dessert was also excellent. They also have a large wine selection.

The Rockwell Museum: This is a small museum located downtown at 111 Cedar St. in the former city hall building from 1893. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, it has a diverse collection including a mix of nineteenth-century American paintings, historic bronzes, and Native American artifacts as well as twentieth-century modernists, illustration art, contemporary photography, and historic firearms. My favorite pieces included the works by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

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Corning Museum of Glass: This is a spectacular museum located in a contemporary building across the river from downtown Corning. It is dedicated to the art, history and science of glass. It was founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works and currently has a collection of more than 45,000 glass objects, some over 3,500 years old. The large facility has large exhibition spaces featuring works in the collection, a lovely gift shop, cafe along with glass blowing demonstrations. You can also take classes in a variety of techniques for all skill levels. There are also tours, lectures and seminars available.

Market Street Brewing Co. & Restaurant: this is a local microbrewery and restaurant located downtown at 63 W. Market St. In addition to featuring a large number of their beers, they also have a large menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps and entrees. They feature an outdoor patio upstairs. I thought that their Blackberry Lager was unique and really great.  

Old World Cafe & Ice Cream: This is a fun cafe at 1 W. Market St. that serves ice cream, candies and dessert in the ambiance of a Victorian ice cream parlor. Their attached cafe also features soups, sandwiches and salads.

The Erlacher Steuben Glass Collection: This is a must see store when you are in town. I have loved Steuben Glass for most of my life. My brother and I have a number of pieces that belonged to our parents. You will be amazed how much the pieces are now worth! 12 E. Market St.

Watkins Glen, NY

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At the southern tip of Seneca Lake is the small village Watkins Glen. The town is surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Watkins Glen State Park is just outside of town. It offers wonderful hiking past 200 ft. cliffs and 19 waterfalls. There are seven more waterfalls beyond the park that you can also see.  It is also worth visiting the charming downtown with a number of shops, bars and restaurants. I recommend:

Rooster Fish Brewing Pub: This is Rooster Fish Brewing’s local brewpub featuring their beer along with burgers, sandwiches, salads, pastas and entrees. I really enjoyed their Cocoa Porter plus a wonderful reuben sandwich. It has a fun, casual atmosphere. 223 N. Franklin.  

Graft Wine + Cider Bar: This is the area’s only bar serving locally produced wines and ciders. They also feature seasonal small-bites, snacks, salads, sandwiches and desserts. 204 N. Franklin

Seneca Lake and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail

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Seneca Lake is the largest of the Finger Lakes at 38 miles long. The lake is surrounded by charming small towns, great restaurants, a cheese trail and more than 30 wineries located along its shores.

The start of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail is north of Watkins Glen. Make sure to visit their website to view a map, the recommended wineries along with tasting information and special events. There are 35 vineries currently on the trail.  My favorites included:

 Lakewood Vineyards: With their first wines produced in 1988, this is a family-owned winery that produces a number of whites from a Riesling to a Pinot Gris and reds from a Cabernet Franc to a Pinot Noir. Tours and tastings are available. The views from the tasting room are spectacular.

Barnstormer: At 4184 NY 14 in Rock Stream, NY, this winery, started in 2013, is located in a barn built in the 1840s. They make awide variety of wines using 100% Finger Lakes grapes sourced from some of the finest vineyards around Seneca and Cayuga Lake. Their focus is on dry, European style white and red wines including a selection of sweet wines. Tours and tastings are available. I thought the Sangiovese Rose was very good.

Shtayburne Farm Cheese Shop: Shtayburne Farm is owned and operated by Lorin & Alicia Hostetler and family. The Hostetler family has been working the land and cows for over four generations. In 2010, they added a creamery and farm store to the family farm. Their farmstead cheeses are made in small batches. Here in their cheese shop, you will find some wonderful cheddars from sharp to smoked, a Monterey jack and fresh cheese curds. 2909 Chase Rd. Rock Stream, NY.

Fulkerson Winery: This family-run winery from 1805, is the oldest continuously operated Finger Lakes winery.  They produce a number of dry reds, whites and roses, ice wines, semi-dry wines, and sweet wines.  The 2017 Pinot Noir Rose and 2016 Reserve Syrah very good. They offer a number of different tours and tastings. 5576 NY-14, Dundee, NY.

Fox Run Vineyards: This is a local vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake that features tastings and a seasonal locally sourced market and cafe. They make a number of rieslings, whites, rosé, reds, ports and sparkling wines. I enjoyed the full-bodied Lemberger with aromas of fresh blackberries and raspberry jam. Lemberger is a varietal that thrives in the climate of the Finger Lakes.  670 NY-14, Penn Yan, NY.  

Glenora Wine Cellars: This is a large resort consisting of a winery,  a thirty room inn and restaurant. The winery, the first on Seneca Lake, opened in 1977. It has a large tasting room and wine shop. The Veraisons Restaurant, was named one of the top winery restaurants by Food & Wine Magazine in 2017.  They feature sparkling wines, dry whites, semi-dry whites, dry reds and ports plus a number of sweet wines, sweet sparkling wines, iced wine and fruit wines. I enjoyed their cabernet sauvignon. 5435 State Rt. 14 Dundee NY

Just east of Geneva, near the east side of the lake, is the Muranda Cheese Company. The dairy farm was started in 1991 by the Murray family. In 2007, they  started the cheese operation which now produces 17 types of cheeses including a tasty aged cheddar and a smoked gouda. I also enjoyed walking through the farm and seeing their cows in the milk barn and seeing a barn from the 1800s. 3075 State Route 96S  Waterloo, NY.

Just south of the Muranda Cheese Company was one of my favorites of my trip, Three Brothers Wineries & Estates where they have three wineries and a microbrewery onsite. The three wineries include Stony Lonesome Wine Cellars, Passion Feet Wine Barn and Bagg Dare Wine Company.  It is a large facility that has wine tasting rooms where you can sample their rose, reds and white wines. Bagg Dare is the most fun as it sits in the back of the property and accessible by an old dirt walking path. There is a the Iron Heart Coffee Company where you can enjoy coffee or one of their pizzas, salads, sandwiches and soups. Their War Horse Brewing Company produces a number of ales, craft ciders and craft soda. There is a large tasting room for that operation as well. 623 Lerch Rd., Geneva.

Geneva, NY on Seneca Lake

Geneva, NY is a lovely small town located on the northern end of Seneca Lake. It is a great spot to spend the night after a fun day of wine tasting.  It has a charming, small downtown with a number of fun bars and restaurants. It also has some great lodging options. It is the home of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, two private liberal arts colleges.

My recommendations include:

F.L.X. Table: Not to be missed is this farm-to-table restaurant, owned by husband-and-wife team Christopher Bates and Isabel Bogadtke, that has one communal table that seats 14. The cozy eatery is on the narrow, block-long Linden Street in Geneva. I went by myself and enjoyed meeting the other guests. They feature a multi-course, seasonal tasting menu with two seatings nightly.  You can do wine pairings with each course or buy wines by the glass.

The menu for the night I was there included a farmers board with vegetables, spreads, dips and bread. Cauliflower with almond, feta, black garlic, and arugula. Local corn with an assortment of flavors. Salmon with aguachile, scallions, potato and green bean freekeh. It was topped off by a Sable Breton which included pistachio butter, cajeta, roasted peach and meringue.  In the spring of 2017, F.L.X. Table was awarded the honor of being USA Today’s Best New Restaurant in the country. Booking are open one month in advance. It is very popular, so make sure to book early before you go. I thought it was one of the best experiences I have had in recent years and highly recommend it. 22 Linden St.

Other concepts by F.L.X. Hospitality located nearby include:

F.L.X. Provisions: Located at 16 Linden St. in downtown Geneva, this is the tasting room of Element Winery. You can taste 60 Finger Lakes wines and 40 beers. They also offer local butters, salt, honey, syrup and other specialty products.

Element Winery: They produce a number of small production rieslings, a chardonnay, red table wine, a pinot noir, a Lamberger, a cabernet franc and a syrah. The tasting room is located at 16 Linden. I enjoyed tasting their wines at my dinner at F.L.X. Table! 16 Linden St.  

Other fun places to try include:

Finger Lakes Sausage & Beer: At 8 Linden St., this is a casual spot for trying sausage sandwiches and platters, salads and sides, burgers and beer.

Twisted Rail Brewing Co.: I was glad to have found Twisted Rail as I was exploring downtown Geneva before my dinner at F.L.X. Table. This is one of three locations for this local brewery that produces a number of ales, stouts and IPAs. They also feature a large number of beers on tap. I thought the Pumpkin Ale that was on the fall menu was really excellent. They are expanding into the old theater next door as their brewery. 495 Exchange St.

Red Dove Tavern: This is a fun local tavern at 30 Castle St. in downtown Geneva. In additional to 10 beers on tap, wine and cocktails, they feature small plates, sandwiches and entrees using local ingredients.

The Linden Social Club: This is a fun bar for cocktails. They also feature salsa dancing, music, karaoke and other entertainment. 12 Linden St.

 I found two great options for staying in Geneva.

Belhurst Castle:  Located on the lakefront in Geneva. This is a lovely property that has three hotels, the Belhurst Estate Winery, two restaurants including Edgar’s Steakhouse and the Stonecutter’s Casual Dining Restaurant plus the Isabella Spa and Salon. The hotels include the Castle Chambers Hotel with 11 rooms and 3 cottages, the Vinifera Inn with 20 modern rooms and the White Springs Manor two miles away with 13 rooms. 4069 W. Lake Rd.

I enjoyed staying at a lovely B&B, the William Smith Inn at 600 Castle St. owned David and Theresa Gage. It is the former home of the founder of William Smith College that was built in 1873. I had a very comfortable room on the 2nd floor and enjoyed the breakfast the following morning. I saw after my stay that it might be on the market for sale. It gets great reviews. Just check prior to booking to make sure it is still available.

Visiting Aurora, NY

Aurora, is a small village of under 1000 people, located on the east side of Cayuga Lake in central New York. It is home to Wells College, a college for women that was founded in 1868. It is located north of Ithaca. Its historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I found it a great place to stay after a full day of exploring Cayuga Lake, the wineries, Ithaca and Cornell University.

I highly recommend The Inns of Aurora which was one of the nicest inns that I have ever stayed in. It is located at 391 Main St.  

The Inns consists of five houses, each with its own unique character. They are The Aurora Inn, the E.B. Morgan House, the Rowland HouseWallcourt Hall and the newest Zabriskie Hall. I stayed Wallcourt Hall, from 1909, that stunning in its contemporary design. The Inn also has a number of dining options including The Aurora Inn Dining room with great food and views of the lake and the casual Fargo Bar & Grill across the street. They also have the Village Market with coffee, pastries, desserts and beer along with take home meals.

The Inn was created by American Girl Doll Founder and Wells College alumna, Pleasant Rowland. The dining room is headed by James Beard honoree Patrick Higgins who was a guest chef at the James Beard House.

The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail

Cayuga Lake is located east of Seneca Lake and has a large number of wineries, dairies and cider mills to check out.  Make sure to check out the Cayuga Wine Trail for all of the best wineries to visit on both the west side and east side of the lake.

bright leaf vineyard photo, travel and talk bright leaf vineyard photo, bright leaf vineyard photo, travel writing bob glazeBright Leaf Vineyard

Bright Leaf Vineyard: Located on 14 acres, this is a winery that started in 2014 on the east side of Cayuga Lake. Their white varietals are Riesling and Chardonnay (Hillside Vineyard) and their red varietals are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Lemberger (Lakeside Vineyard). 1250 Clearview Rd. King Ferry, NY.

Lively Run Goat Dairy: Lively Run Goat Dairy is a maker of artisanal goat and cow cheese.  I had a great smoked gouda and goat cheese with herbs. They also feature desserts, chocolates made with goat cheese and goat milk gelato. 8978 Country Rd. 142, Interlaken NY.  

Americana Vineyards: Located in Interlaken NY at  4367 E. Covert Rd. this is a winery that makes a number of dry, semi-dry and semi-sweet red and white wines.  They also have the Crystal Lake Cafe which is a great spot to stop in for brunch or lunch. I enjoyed my pulled pork sandwich!

Cayuga Lake Creamery: This is a popular local ice cream shop that features classic and seasonal offerings such as lavender, maple bacon, fudge brownie, Seneca salt caramel and special wine flavors.  8421 NY-89, Interlaken, NY.

 Summer is finally here. Hope you enjoy your trip!

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