Taste-Testing My Way Through "Gorges" Ithaca, NY

Ithaca, New York is the kind of town where I dream of living. Perched atop a mountain, the landscape boasts of wooded areas that burst with color at this time of year, peaks flow into valleys, and farm animals dot the occasional pasture by the side of the road. The Commons, their main shopping strip, is closed off to car traffic, allowing pedestrians to stroll along and visit all kinds of shops, from an exquisite craft store to an old book shop whose second floor is host to a quaint café. The town has character. Its two colleges keep it young, but the architecture and atmosphere have an old, well-weathered je ne sais quoi about them. Drive up into the hills, and you’re greeted by a 40 or 50 mile stretch of vineyards overlooking Cayuga Lake. Take a Sunday morning hike up one of their many waterfalls or gorges, and then swing by their formidable Farmer’s Market just outside of town. All of this, and I haven’t even gotten to the food yet.

I know, I might as well be a walking brochure for the place.  The ironic part of the whole thing is that I attended Ithaca College for one semester, and was miserable. I didn’t fit in with the students there. The weather was enough to spiral even the cheeriest person into seasonal depression – and I left before the winter even got into full swing. I just wasn’t happy there, so I transferred. It took a lot of people by surprise, then, when I said that I wanted my big birthday gift this past year to be a trip back to Ithaca. Didn’t you hate it there? Everyone would ask. Sure, the college wound up not being right for me, and I did have some negative experiences with unrelenting rain, wind, and gloomy skies, but the town…the town, I missed. I missed the hippie feel of it all. What’s more, I was only 19 when I was there, so I never even saw the wineries that Ithaca has to offer. I wanted to go back, as an “adult,” just to visit.

Last weekend, that’s exactly what I did. My parents, L and I left early Sunday morning, a 4 hour drive ahead of us. Originally, I was going to tell you about every place we visited and ate at, but that’s too monstrous of a post and I didn’t think to take pictures at most of the places. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have a bad meal anywhere, and the vineyards were exceptional. At the bottom of this post I’ll link to all of the various places I visited, in case you ever find yourself in Ithaca and want some tips on great places to go. To sum it all up, I had everything from defrosted veggie burgers (not the finest dining experience, but that’s ok) to grilled salmon with peach salsa, and a sizzling cookie dessert that was worth the obscene spike in blood sugar and impressive ability to clog your arteries that most certainly came with it. You see, dietitians are human, too.

What I really want to tell you about is where we ate lunch on Monday before leaving for home. Although I wanted to go to the vineyards, I also made it a point to say that I wanted to eat at the famed Moosewood café once while we were there. It was a risky move – it’s not the kind of place my dad prefers, and while L and my mom may have had an easier time there, I still don’t think it would have been there first choice. But Moosewood is everything I love to see in a restaurant. They change their menu every single day, using the freshest ingredients they have on hand. They serve vegetarian and vegan meals, with the occasional fish thrown in. They sell cookbooks full of recipes that make my heart melt and my stomach start to rumble. I had to eat there once, that was all there was to it.

We started off with some “appetizers” – simple house salads, a fruit platter, and I ordered a vegan Jamaican tomato soup that was one of the most fantastic soups I have ever tasted. It was light and citrusy, with a refreshing bite from cilantro. The fruit was bursting with flavor. The salad was, well, a house salad – I can’t go nuts over it, but it was certainly tasty. I also ordered a ginger ice tea, which is different for me. I’m a water girl at restaurants, and really just overall when it comes to beverages, but I thought I’d try something a little different, and it was very good!

For the main course, both L and my mom got a salmon cake with a side white bean salad, a dish that I almost got, too. I snuck a bite, and both the salmon and the salad were wonderful. My dad got a simple roasted vegetable ciabatta, which apparently was served cold, and took him by surprise. Still, he didn’t have any true complaints, and I take that as a thumbs up considering what a good sport he was for taking me to Moosewood and trying it in the first place. In the end, I chose a vegan Thai rice salad with tofu, which was also surprisingly served slightly chilled rather than hot. After I got past the temperature, though, I couldn’t get enough of it! It was perfectly spiced, with a creamy texture and a nice crispness from what I imagine was pan-seared tofu. The only downside of it was that the portion was enormous, and I was much too far away from home to ask for a doggy bag. I would have loved to have enjoyed it the next day, but I had to let it go.

I’m usually not a dessert-during-lunch kind of girl, but this was Moosewood we were talking about. I’m likely only going to have a handful of opportunities to eat there in my life, so I was not about to leave without sampling some of their sweeter options, gosh darn it. We ordered a chocolate mousse and a plum trifle to split amongst the four of us, and what excellent choices they were! The chocolate mousse was bitter-sweet, just how I like my chocolate desserts to be, and it felt light but filling. The trifle was a little sweeter, but still good, with my only complaint being that the plums needed to be cut into more bite-sized pieces (and we only had spoons, so you can imagine the inventive ways we had to go about eating that one). I left full, and more than satisfied. The only real negative of the whole experience was that the service was not wonderful; my dad described our waitress’ attitude as, “you’re at the famous Moosewood, so sit down and eat what I serve you, and be happy about it.” I, unfortunately, can’t really argue too much there – she was very helpful when I had questions about ingredients, so it wasn’t terrible, but compared to some of the outstanding service we experienced at other places that weekend, it was a bit of a disappointment. Still, I do own one of the Moosewood cookbooks and now more than ever can’t wait to test out some of those recipes - and there are at least half a dozen more Moosewood cookbooks that I would absolutely love to own, too.

After Moosewood, we pretty much headed back to good old Pennsylvania! We did stop on the road at another restaurant, Platz’s, that wasn’t really my ideal cup of tea – bar food, etc. – but the service was out of this world and they were able to tweak some menu items to make them a little more appealing to my health-snobby tastes. 

Overall, it was possibly the best vacation I have ever taken. I felt calmer afterwards, totally relaxed, and I’m still smiling as I write this and think back on everything that we did last weekend. If you ever find yourself in Ithaca – and I do encourage you to find some excuse that will take you there – definitely take the time to visit some of these places, especially Moosewood (well, if you’re into that sort of thing, anyway).

You never know who you're gonna meet!


-Glenwood Pines: A side-of-the-road, no-frills burger joint. Not for the health conscious.
- The BoatYard Grill: The kind of restaurant that Applebee’s can only dream of becoming.

Vineyards/Wineries (in order of how I would recommend them):

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