Category Archives: Retro Posts

Retro Post: Brewster Inn Shines on a Wet Tuesday Night

A recent blog over at Al Dente  about the highly under appreciated culinary scene of Syracuse, NY got me thinking about the great meals we have enjoyed at the Brewster Inn in Cazenovia. Enjoy this retro post from a couple of summers ago.

A few weeks ago we enjoyed a fantastic dinner on the lawn at the Brewster Inn in Cazenovia.  The best part was our bill left some money on a gift certificate we had received, enabling a return trip in the very near future.  We chose last night to take advantage of that and have our second visit to the Brewster in less than four weeks.

We picked a Tuesday night because the Brewster allows you to bring your own bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the Brewster has one of the best, if not the best wine lists and wine staffs in all of Upstate New York, but the opportunity to pull a bottle out of our cellar and enjoy it with fine dining was too good to pass up.  For this meal my wife and I chose a bottle of locally produced Owera Vineyards 2011 Riesling.

The meal began with a prosciutto wrapped shrimp as an amuse-bouche which was a nice start to the meal.  Very well flavored with fresh field greens dressed with a vinaigrette garnishing the plate.  We were also presented with a basket of fresh baked bread and a plate of olive oil and pesto which was very tasty.

To begin our order we picked the Thai Calamari ($12) which we had enjoyed in the past and were looking forward too.  It did not disappoint and we cleared the entire plate without any trouble.  It was sweeter than we both remembered, but that did not change the fact that it was delicious.

brewster innLooking over the menus we decided to order from the Tavern menu for our dinners, but a special of seafood chowder ($8) caught both of our attention so we decided to add that in before enjoying our entrees.  The seafood chowder had a wonderful cream base and good size chunks of seafood.  It being a rainy night outside, it was nice to enjoy my first bowl of chowder since the spring.

Brewster InnMoving on to the entrees my wife and I went in different directions.  I was really debating between the Prime Soft Shell Crab ($17.50) and the Mushroom and Chèvre Ravioli ($14.50).  At the very last minute I decided to go with the ravioli and boy was I glad that I did.  The goat cheese, mushrooms and slightly spicy Neapolitan pomodoro sauce blended so very well together.  Taken alone the cheese was a bit strong, but when all of the ingredients on the plate were paired in the same bite, it was mouth watering good.

My wife chose to go a with a steak salad ($14) featuring wild greens, Maytag bleu cheese, spiced walnuts and crispy onions.  Having enjoyed a salad in one of their Asiago cheese bowls previously, she asked if the steak salad could come in one of those.  The chefs did not disappoint, creating a custom bowl for her salad which was not only tasty, but one of those step above services that can really make the dining experience special.  The salad had copious amounts of tender steak on it, and was big enough that she will be enjoying it for lunch today too.

We finished our meal with a palate cleansing trio of sorbets flavored with mango, green tea and cucumber cantaloupe.

The total for dinner before tip was $66 for the two of us.  That was a very reasonable price for two entrees, two bowls of soup and an appetizer.  Of course we were helped by the fact that we brought our own bottle of wine, but a meal of that high quality for that reasonable price point is a great deal.  I think many people expect that if you go to the Brewster it has to be a special occasion because of the cost, but by ordering off the tavern menu we kept the cost reasonable and the portion sizes were more than adequate.

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Retro Post: Paired Hard Cider in a Brew Pub

Another one of my favorite meals…Step back in time to September of 2012 and enjoy.

We took the opportunity last night to attend the paired cider dinner at Empire Brewing Company in Armory Square.  The dinner was part of a tap takeover by the Harvest Moon Cidery and the kickoff to the Cider Week slate of events around Central New York and the Finger Lakes.

Empire was featuring four of the Harvest Moon ciders on tap last night.  They included Four Screw, Red Barn Raspberry, Blueberry Moon and the Hops Heritage varieties. They also offered a special menu featuring four courses, each paired with a different hard cider.

The first course was a harvest salad.  It featured local greens and apples with maple candied walnuts.  The apples were so fresh and crisp and the greens were the same. The sharp cheddar used was a wonderful contrast to the sweet apples.   The real winner on the plate though was the raspberry cider vinaigrette that dressed the salad.  It was lighter than a traditional raspberry vinaigrette and of course made the pairing with the Red Barn Raspberry Cider perfect.

The second course, was a farmstead chili.  It featured ground elk, beef and lamb along with red and black beans.  The chili had the perfect amount of heat and was a well thought out bowl featuring the various kinds of meat.  It was paired with the Hop Heritage Cider, which was a well thought out choice by the chefs.  The earthiness of the cider, really played off the chili well and made for a nice contrast to the heat of the chili.

The main course for the evening was a pork confit with roasted winter vegetables and pumpkin from Critz Farm.  The pork was fork tender and it melted in your mouth.  The vegetables were cooked perfect, not too soft, but not raw either.  The pork was paired with the Four Screw hard cider and all at the table agreed that the food really brought out the maple in the Four Screw.  That was very interesting, as normally the maple flavor in Four Screw is not very noticeable. Again a great choice by the chef in pairing the dishes.

For dessert we were treated to a blueberry cobbler, topped off with vanilla ice cream.  This was a real treat as the cobbler was dense and not too sweet.  It paired exceptionally well with the off dry Blueberry Moon hard cider to make a satisfying end to the meal.

Driving home I said to my wife that I really enjoy the opportunity to sit down to paired dinners.  It doesn’t matter if it is wine, beer or hard cider, the chance to see the work a chef does and the thought put into the food and drink is always a treat.  The cost for the dinner and the ciders was only $25.  A steal by any stretch.  I can’t wait to do it all over again soon.

Retro Post: The Best Meal Ever?

Another look back. This time to July of 2010. When we experienced what is probably the best meal we have ever had in a restaurant, and it was in the middle of nowhere upstate NY. Enjoy and get to Leonardsville yourself this summer.

Last night my wife and I had the opportunity to eat dinner at the legendary Horned Dorset Inn in Leonardsville, NY.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Leonardsville, it sits in the Unadilla River Valley along NY Route 8.  It is about 20 miles south of Utica and 90 minutes south east of Syracuse.  The Horned Dorset has been hosting diners celebrating the best of life since the late 1970’s and is a place that should be at the top of your list when it comes to your list of places to go in New York State. It was a celebration of 7 years of marriage for Lorrell and I and we decided we wanted to do something a little different, and since I had never had the chance to made it down to the Horned Dorset to see for myself what all the fuss was about, it was a perfect opportunity.  I had spoken to the owner Kingsley Wratten many times about programs going on at Madison County Tourism, but we never seemed to be able to connect to meet in person so I could learn about the inn and restaurant.  Boy I am glad we finally got together. The Inn has four rooms, and while we did not stay the night, I found myself thinking about the next time I want to “get out of town” and making the mental notes that this place would be fun to stay at.  With two queen rooms downstairs in this Victorian home, and two suites upstairs, the inn has very nice accommodations for people traveling to Colgate University, Hamilton College, Cooperstown or points in between.  Kingsley told us that he has plans to renovate several other homes in the vicinity and to be able to rent more rooms in the Leonardsville area. The restaurant is right next door to the inn and has been a labor of love for well over 33 years for Kingsley and his wife Roberta.  When they found the property it was caving in, and like many historical buildings in Upstate NY is was real close to being a memory.  First they replaced the roof, and then with a table saw and a lot of ingenuity they piece-by-piece put the place back together.  The amazing thing about both the Inn and the restaurant is that many pieces inside come from historic mansions all over New York State that were facing the wrecking ball, sometimes immanently.  Kingsley told us of the grand doors inside the dining rooms that were minutes from being destroyed when he convinced the demolition crew to go to lunch a little early so he and his wife could remove them and take them home.  There is a lot of sweat equity in this place. After the tour of the grounds, Lorrell and I sat down to an amazing dinner.  When we entered the restaurant we met the wine steward, and our waitress for the evening Geraldine.  She is from France and had come to Puerto Rico last winter to work at the other location of the Horned Dorset.  When it was time to open last spring, she came north to experience life in Upstate New York.  She was a wonderful waitress and a charming young lady. Dinner started off with an Amuse-Bouche of a warm cheese soufflé and homemade crackers along with smoked salmon, it was quite tasty and set the standard for the rest of the meal.  The menu features two soups, five appetizers, five entrees each with petite and king cuts ranging from $21-$37.  The Horned Dorset uses many fresh local ingredients including many from their own garden, and supports many local farmers by purchasing much of their meat in the area too.  The menu is topped off with four dessert selections and a cheese plate of local cheeses. We decided we were going to be a little adventurous to help get over the seven year itches and try the Chef’s tasting menu.  Roberta and Kingsley’s son Aaron Wratten is the executive chef and he created the menu, but he is working in Puerto Rico right now.  I’m not sure who was in the kitchen last night, but Matthew Herzog and Timothy Welch are listed on the menu as chefs too.  So putting our palates in their hands, we were ready to go with the Chef’s Menu.  Last night the menu was $77 a person, and it was well worth it.


Picture The dinner began with warm rolls and lobster bisque that was tasty and creamy.  Soon after we finished the soup, an appetizer of grilled cepes and warm asparagus salad arrived.  The mushroom was very good and the asparagus cooked to perfection was nice and tender.  That was followed by the surprise of the evening, a zucchini flower stuffed with salmon mousse.  Wow!  When it hit my plate I was a little suspicious of it, but it was so rich, and flavorful and it left you wanting more,  but quite satisfied at that little chef’s creation.  Following the zucchini flower a seared scallop with saffron risotto, tomato and lemon aioli was presented.  The scallop was large and cooked perfectly and the risotto would have made Chef Ramsey very proud.  A homemade kiwi sorbet cleansed our palate  before the main entrée was brought out.  Sitting in a warm mushroom jus, a nice tender medallion of local veal was accented by sautéed potatoes.  The veal was very tasty, and it was the first time in a long time either of us had the chance to enjoy veal.  That was followed by a plate of local cheeses.  I found two of the cheeses to be very nice, and I’m not usually a fan of goat cheese.  The third cheese I’m sure has its fans, but I’ll pass on it next time.  Lorrell, who does not eat goat cheese, tried all three like a champ, but decided that the cranberry and light cracker garnishes were much better suited for her tastes.  The meal was all wrapped up with a nice neat bow when dessert was brought out.  A rich, decadent Chocolate Marquis with homemade strawberry rhubarb ice cream sealed the deal.  The strawberries and rhubarb were both from Roberta’s garden and it was a nice ending to a fantastic meal. Having never been to the Horned Dorset before, I really had no idea what to expect.  The Trip Advisor reviews are generally very good, and every time I mentioned that we were going it usually received an answer that hinted of pangs of jealousy from people.  It was worth the trip and more and Lorrell and I are already making plans for the next time we will take the road trip to Leonardsville to see what the Wrattens are cooking up in the kitchen.

Retro Post: Celebrating Farms and Local Beer

As I populate the new blog, I figured it would be fun to go back and look at some of the posts I’ve put on other sites. This one hails from our family blog, and it remains one of the best paired beer dinners I’ve enjoyed. So I share with you this post from November of 2010.

Last night was the kickoff event to the 3rd annual Syracuse Beer Week.  It was hosted at the Empire Brewing Company in Armory Square.  Since the menu called for a large number of Madison County producers to be showcasing their foods, I thought it would be good to attend and see what was going on.  Plus there would be lots of great beer and a good time to be had. Lorrell was supposed to be joining a friend for dinner last night, so she shifted their plans and came along with me too.
I’ve been to a lot of food events over the years, but this was quite possible one of the best events showcasing beer and food in one spot.  The event was called a Farmstead Beer Pairing and it featured 14 “grazing” stations around the restaurant.  At the grazing station you also received about 5-6 ounces of a beer that had been selected to pair with that food.  Most of the beers were from Empire, but they also featured beers from around New York such as Southern Tier Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery and Brewery Ommegang.
The real point of pride for the evening for me as director of Madison County Tourism was the overwhelming number of food products from our own farmers.  In large part thanks to the great people over at the Central New York Bounty, 12 of the 14 stations featured a product from right here.  Not to mention that hops from Foothill Hops flavor the Empire State Pale Ale, and pumpkins from Critz Farms flavor the seasonal Critz’s Pumpkin Ale.
It was fun to watch people taste the local products and sample the wide variety of products from Madison County.  Whether it was Kobe Beef grown in Cazenovia, Elk from DeRuyter,  Elm Oyster Mushrooms grown in Hamilton or Lamb Sausage with Hop Mustard the vast number of products produced by Madison County farmers is impressive.
I wouldn’t pick winners and losers on the tourism blog I write for work, but since this is personal, and hopefully you are reading this for my opinion, I’ll do just that.  Hands down the best flavor of the night went to the Elm Oyster Mushroom Bisque.  The mushrooms were grown in nearby Hamilton, NY by the Imaginary Farmer (love the name by the way).  That was paired with Brewery Ommegang’s Hennepin which I can always take or leave.  I would have to say my 2nd place favorite was the Kobe Beef Tenderloin en Croute from Meadows Farm in Cazenovia.  So tasty, so tender and it was well paired with Empire’s American Strong Ale.  Very close to that was the Belted Galloway Slider on a pretzel roll.  Wow, a very tasty burger, and the roll was quite impressive.  The salt from the roll enhanced the flavor profile of the beef nicely.  That was paired with one of my standby beers, the Amber Ale from Empire Brewing Company.  As for losers on the evening, there were none.  All of the dishes were very well thought out and prepared.  The beer pairings were well done and the waitstaff was very knowledgeable about the beers and foods they were serving.
A little aside about the Empire Brewing Company.  A very impressive night for them.  They are leading the way in my opinion for great inventive cuisine in the Syracuse area. Using many local products, they are not afraid to stretch the taste bud boundaries.  Central New Yorkers traditional can be “safe” eaters.  We love our pasta, steaks, burgers and pizza.  What the Empire is doing with local products should not be ignored, it should be celebrated!  All around what a huge win for the farmers in Madison County, and for the Empire Brewing Company.

A Sunday NY Culinary Experience

This past weekend we had some visitors in town.  They had come up from New York City at our invitation, so we could share with them some of the great things happening culinary wise here in Central New York.

aqua vita farmsWe met up with them at Aqua Vita Farms in Sherrill for a tour of the aquaculture and hydroponic greens growing operation.  It was a fascinating tour and a great lesson in entrepreneurship.  One of the owners, Mark Doherty, gave us a lesson in growing greens hydroponically and showed off his system to us.  The system integrates the raising of fish, in this case tilapia, with the raising of a wide variety of lettuces and other plants.  The fish do their thing in the water creating a nutrient rich environment that is then used to water the plants.  The plants love the nutrients and use them up out of the water, returning clean water to the fish.  It’s a great system and provides a wonderful opportunity to source fresh greens year round.  The have some locations listed on their website where you can purchase greens commercially or you can enjoy them at one of many restaurants also listed on their website. 

Poolville Country StoreFrom Sherrill, we headed south to Earlville and the Poolville Country Store.  It was a chance to show our new friends a gem of a restaurant.  We pulled in five minutes before the final brunch seating, but that was no issue for Chefs Roger Foster and Charles Wilburn.  We selected the polenta fries from the appetizers, the fresh greens salad and two entrees, the Poolville Burger and the curried root vegetable stew.  As per our usual experience with the Poolville Country Store, everything was very delicious.  The polenta fries were crispy and accented well with honey and homemade ketchup.  The burger was huge, and juicy.  Cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the curried root vegetable stew was cleaned right out of the bowl.  For dessert, we left it in the hands of Roger to choose for the table.  They brought out the best pumpkin mousse I have ever tried along with the signature Poolville Country Store dessert, which was very delicious as well.  A plate of chocolate truffles finished off the meal making for a sweet ending.

After leaving Poolville it was off to Good Nature Brewing, in Hamilton.  There we met up with Matt and Carrie, who gave us a wonderful tasting of all of their signature beers and a personalized tour of the brewing facility.  We learned how their new system works and heard a little bit about how they have been steadily growing their business over the past year and their plans for both future beers and future growth.

It is very exciting to see two young Central New Yorkers making a go of it in business here.  The beers were good as always, and especially tasty was their reformulated IPA.  The new IPA uses a “hop back” system to instill more hoppiness into it, and to help preserve the nose longer.  We will have a full review of the IPA soon.

From Good Nature, we headed over to the Harvest Moon Cidery, in Cazenovia.  Arriving around 4, we hit the tail end of one of Critz’s Fall Festival weekends too.  Harvest Moon Cider MillThere were a lot of people milling around, buying fresh cider, cider donuts, cheese, and of course tasting and buying hard cider.

Owner Matt Critz gave us an overview of his cider press, and pressed apples for us, showing off how fresh cider is made.  We then moved into the barrel room, where he explained the process of turning that fresh cider into the hard cider that has become wildly popular.  Their ciders have won medals at the New York State Fair wine competition and the Indianapolis International Wine Competition.  They are also picking up steam on where their cider is being sold.  They are in several restaurants around Central New York now, and they were on tap a three bars in New York City this past weekend.

After we were through tasting and touring,we headed off to the Brewster Inn for dinner.  One stop that we did not get to make was up at Owera Vineyards.  Timing, weather and daylight all conspired against us to keep us from strolling along side the vineyards and hearing more about the impending opening of the full facility.  We rectified that by letting Owera’s wines do the talking at dinner.  We ordered a bottle of their Cabernet Franc and a bottle of the Dry Riesling to split amongst the four of us.  Both bottles went over well with our friends and they were very impressed with the young winery’s quality.

For dinner, we continued a trend that we started at lunch and ordered a large variety and shared it amongst each other.  We started by splitting the soup du jour which was a butternut squash bisque.  We ordered mussels as an appetizer which were very good.  We split four salads, the lobster avocado salad(my new favorite), the Maytag salad, the Asiago cheese salad and a beet salad.  All were very tasty and offered different flavors and a nice variety of choices.  For entrees, we selected the duck breast, the Brewster’s Signature Veal Atlantis and the Beef Ragout Pappardelle.  The duck was so tender and moist it stole the show from the other two entrees.  Not that the others were lacking in the least, they were all very good, but the duck was superb in all ways.

Dessert of freshly made apple pie and bananas foster rounded out a fine, fine meal and capped off a long day of showing off some of the best culinary tourism this area has to offer.  Our new friends were quite impressed with one theme that kept shining through.  So many of our entrepreneurs are self made.  They taught themselves, they mortgaged the house to find capital, they put their heart and soul into the process.  They all showed that their work is really a labor of love.  That came across again and again on Sunday and it is not a lesson that was lost on our visitors.