There is no better time than summertime to take some food-related safaris or field trips. You don’t have to travel very far to savor and sip, either. Here are 10 ideas for taking your taste buds on the road in Central New York.
Tug Hill Vineyards. (376-4336, tughillvineyards.com).The Finger Lakes region is not the only wine-producing area within reach of Syracuse. Wine producers can be found in the North Country, Thousand Islands, near Lake Ontario and on the Tug Hill Plateau. Michael and Susan Maring grow a dozen varieties of cold-hardy grapes on 20 acres of land at Tug Hill Vineyards, near Lowville. The wines vary from dry to semidry to sweet and include several fruit wines. Plan your visit for a Sunday and enjoy brunch on the big screened porch, with a sweeping view of the Black River Valley. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.
Little Falls Cheese Festival. (littlefallscheesefestival.com). In the 1800s, Herkimer County was one of the top cheese-making centers of New York state and the United States. The Little Falls Cheese Festival, scheduled for July 9, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., celebrates the area’s modern-day farmstead cheesemakers and the area’s cheese-filled history. The festival takes place along Main Street in Little Falls. Last year’s festival drew more than 2,500 visitors and some vendors sold out by mid-afternoon, so pack your cooler and get on the Thruway early.
Wegmans Organic Farm Tour. (wegmans.com). One of the many reasons why everyone loves Wegmans is the supermarket’s abundance of organic produce in the produce department. In season, some of that produce comes from Wegmans’ own organic farm, near Canandaigua, which is open for tours on select dates from June to October. Check the schedule and purchase your tickets ($10) in advance. The tour involves roughly a two-mile walk, some of it on hilly terrain, so wear your walking shoes. Tours are held rain or shine.
Sampling Syracuse Food Tour. (syracusefoodtours.com). Looking for something fun to do on a summer Saturday with visiting family members, out-of-town guests or a group of friends? Owner-operator Kate Gillen offers food tours of downtown Syracuse on Saturdays, rain or shine, through early November. The three-hour tours include stops at five restaurants and cover about two miles, starting in Armory Square, continuing along the Onondaga Creekwalk to Franklin Square and looping back through downtown. Tickets ($41) must be purchased in advance.
Open Farm Day Madison County. (facebook.com/buylocalweek). The event returns July 30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with nearly 40 farms, including 10 farms that weren’t on last year’s list of participants. It’s an opportunity to get out in the country and visit the people who grow and produce the food we eat. At some farms, you can take a tour, see demonstrations and take part in family- and kid-friendly activities. Pack a picnic, especially if you’re visiting some of the more remote areas of the county. New participants include Old Home Distillers, a family-run farm distillery in Lebanon.
Jell-O Gallery and Museum. 23 E. Main St., LeRoy. (jellogallery.org). Today Jell-O is manufactured by Kraft/General Foods in Dover, Del. Back in the day, from 1897 to 1964, “America’s favorite dessert” was made in tiny LeRoy, about 30 miles southwest of Rochester. The Jell-O Gallery Museum, operated by the LeRoy Historical Society, tells the story of the wiggly dessert, from its uncertain beginnings to how it “jelled” with the American public, thanks to advertising, recipe booklets and enthusiastic word of mouth.
Oneida County Public Market. (oneidacountymarket.com). If you like local food — as well as drop-dead gorgeous architecture — you’ll love this farmers market at Utica’s historic Union Station. The market is held outside the station each Saturday through October and includes dozens of local growers, food producers and artisans. The market is located in Utica’s Bagg’s Square neighborhood, which is also home to Utica Coffee Roasting Company, Utica Bread and restaurants like The Tailor and the Cook, Gerber’s 1933 Tavern, Baggs Square Cafe and others. After Oct. 29 and through December, the market is held biweekly; from January to April, the market takes place monthly and moves inside the station.
Ray Brothers Barbecue. Route 20, Bouckville. (893-7200; raybrothersbbq.com). Some people are drawn to Bouckville, in Madison County, because it’s a mecca for antiques and collectibles. Others make the trip to Bouckville to eat at Ray Brothers Barbecue, on Route 20, just west of the village. Brothers Colin and Tucker Ray opened their roadside restaurant in 2014. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but worth the trip for pulled pork, barbecued ribs, barbecued meatloaf, smoked chicken wings and more. Be sure to try the maple bacon cheesecake. Word of advice: Tables may be hard to come by during Madison-Bouckville Antique Week, Aug. 15 to 21.
Bailiwick Market & Café. 441 Route 5, Elbridge. (277-5632; bailiwickmarket.com). Would you go out of your way for a stack New Hope Mills pancakes, a breakfast parfait made with Wake Robin Farm yogurt or a maple latte sweetened with local maple syrup? Of course you would! The newly opened Bailiwick Market & Cafe is a destination for locally inspired breakfast, lunch and supper and a magnet for lovers of soft-serve and handmade hard-pack ice cream. It’s also a buy local marketplace offering local eggs, cheeses, yogurt, jams, jellies, honey, maple syrup, pasta, beef jerky, salsa, sauces and more, plus locally made arts and crafts. The food is fresh, the air is fresh and there’s plenty of seating outside. Bailiwick is across the road from Tessy Plastics.
Sundae Funday. Ithaca is widely acknowledged as the 1892 birthplace of the ice cream sundae. Today, you can order sundae-best ice cream — with a cherry on top — at numerous locations in town, including longtime favorites Purity Ice Cream Co. ((607) 272-1545; purityicecream.com) and the Cornell Dairy Bar ((607) 255-7660; living.sas.cornell.edu/dine/wheretoeat/cafescoffeehouses/cornelldairybar), and newer additions like Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop ((607) 277-0090, facebook.com/sweetmelissasicecreamshop). You can’t go wrong at any of these locations, but if you favor artisan ice cream (dairy and non-dairy) made in small batches and with unusual flavors, like roasted corn and honey, Sweet Melissa’s is for you.
Margaret McCormick is a freelance writer and editor in Syracuse. She blogs about food at eatfirst.typepad.com. Follow her on twitter.com/mmccormickcny, connect on facebook.com/EatFirstCNY or email her at [email protected].