At the start of the July 19 Sampling Syracuse Food Tour, Kate Gillen said she had three goals: Keep the group entertained. Immerse us in downtown Syracuse history. Moderately fill our bellies.
She succeeded on all three counts.
Kate launched Sampling Syracuse Food Tours in October 2012. By the end of last year, she had taken hundreds of visitors, representing 21 states and 14 countries, on walk-able, eat-able tours of downtown Syracuse. That's impressive!
Full disclosure: Kate invited me take a tour, which normally costs $40, and I accepted.
The tour starts at Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub and Restaurant in Armory Square, and if you arrive early enough, you can enjoy a Bloody Mary or Guinness before tour time. Our first sample featured a small plate of Irish bacon and cabbage with horseradish cream sauce atop a potato pancake. A small wedge of Kitty Hoynes' house favorite soda bread garnished the plate and a sample-size pour of Smithwick's Irish red ale came on the side.
The tour then took us on a stroll along the Onondaga Creekwalk to Franklin Square, for a pick-me-up at Freedom of Espresso. The coffee shop offering changes each week and depending on the season, Gillen said. We enjoyed a coconut-almond iced cafe au lait and continued through the square, stopping for a look at Franklin Square landmarks like the Mission Landing apartments and the old New Process Gear water tower.
Next stop: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, for a pulled pork slider and side of macaroni and cheese. Want to avoid a long wait at the Dinosaur? Take the tour! A picnic table was waiting for us outside, in the beer garden area, "reserved" sign on top.
From there, we headed over to Clinton Square and the Jerry Rescue Monument, then to Perseverance Park on South Salina Street, to take in the "Flowscape" public art project. From a nice, shady spot, Kate pointed out the recently completed Pike Block project, which she has toured, and described its variety of living spaces.
Next stop: Pastabilities, for two of its signatures, stretch bread and spicy hot tomato oil. Pastabilities moved to Armory Square in 1985, Gillen noted, and in so doing sparked the neighborhood's revitalization.
We strolled past the former Jefferson Street Armory (now home to the MOST -- the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology), the Jefferson Clinton Hotel, a historic gem that was the tallest building in Syracuse when it was built in 1927 and the Landmark Theatre on the way to our final stop: Gannons Ice Cream.
At Gannons, we enjoyed a "flight" of three homemade, hard-pack ice creams: caramel cashew, almond pistachio and orange pineapple.
That concluded our tour on a sweet note, indeed.
By weekday, Kate is a speech pathologist at a local middle school. She is an outgoing, engaging tour guide, and her love for downtown Syracuse -- its food, its history and its ongoing evolution -- shows.
The July 19 tour included a mix of locals and visitors: a couple from Cazenovia, two sisters (one who recently moved back to her hometown from Providence, RI, the other a graduate student at SUNY Binghamton); a Syracuse native who has been living in Spain and is in the process of moving back to New York State, and her brother, who lives in South Carolina.
Sampling Syracuse Food Tours are offered at noon Saturdays, rain or shine, through fall. Private tours can also be arranged with advance planning. For more information, CLICK HERE or email email@example.com.
• Don't dismiss the downtown food tour because you're a local. Tours are designed to appeal to visitors and locals alike, and you're sure to learn things you didn't know before.
• Bring a portable umbrella if the forecast looks gloomy. Tours are held rain or shine.
• Wear comfortable shoes -- tours cover about two miles (and last about three hours).
• Bring some spending money. You might want to pick up some Spicy Hot Tomato Oil or some Dinosaur barbecue sauce.
• Looking for a unique gift for someone? Consider a gift certificate for a Sampling Syracuse Food Tour. Visit the website for details.
A lovely take on antipasto salad, at Pascale's Italian Bistro (800 Nottingham Road, Syracuse; at Drumlins Country Club). The only thing missing was olives.
When the weather gets hot, things like soups and stews lose their appeal -- and things cool, green and crunchy gain appeal.
We grow salad greens in our garden box at home and love stepping out the kitchen door to snip lettuces and arugula -- the ultimate in fresh salads. At restaurants, the first menu items we turn to, usually, are the salads.
Here are a few excellent salads we've known and loved in our dining adventures in Central New York. Keep reading for a copycat version (with recipe) of Alto Cinco's popular Berry Salad.
What: Turkey Quinoa Salad Where: Mello Velo Cafe (and Bicycle Shop), 550-556 Westcott St., second floor, Syracuse Why it's special: This relatively new menu item at Mello Velo starts with a bed of baby spinach. It's topped with curry-roasted turkey, quinoa, sliced pear, crumbled blue cheese, almonds, golden raisins and scallions, and served with scallion vinaigrette on the side.
Can you say healthy?
The Turkey Quinoa Salad joins the Couscous Salad (Israeli toasted couscous, almonds, dried cranberries and chickpeas, tossed with lemon and spices and served atop fresh field greens with feta and seasonal vinaigrette) as a Mello Velo menu favorite. Some day soon, I'll have to try the Quinoa "Cobb" Salad. For more information on Mello Velo, including menu, CLICK HERE.
What: Berry Salad Where: Alto Cinco, 526 Westcott St., Syracuse Why it's special: Sliced avocado, sliced strawberries, blueberries and goat cheese take this salad, on a bed of mixed greens, to a whole other dimension in salads. It's an excellent combination of tastes and textures, all dressed lightly with balsamic vinaigrette. Add a side of jalapeno cornbread and I'm in heaven. Next time, I might have to splurge on the Jerk Chicken or Shrimp Salad. For more information on Alto Cinco, including menu, CLICK HERE.
What: Apple Walnut Salad (and others) Where: Cafe at 407, 407 Tulip St., Liverpool Why it's special: I order this salad almost every time I go for a pour-over coffee and WiFi and end up staying for lunch at Cafe at 407. It features mixed greens and so many good things: apples, walnuts, beets, blue cheese and dried cranberries, tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. For $2 more, add chicken.
This salad is a standing menu item at Cafe at 407. The photo shows a salad special that featured mixed
greens with local beets, mandarin orange, toasted walnuts, chickpeas and dill-Dijon vinaigrette. It was delicious. Also, the Cafe's Root Veggie Picnic Salad is calling my name...
For more information on Cafe at 407, including menu, CLICK HERE.
More salads to check out:
Mambo Salad,The Mission, Syracuse: If I had a dollar for every time I've ordered the Mambo Salad, I'd ... buy you a Mambo Salad for lunch. It's a crispy flour tortilla bowl with romaine, black beans, avocado, oranges, pico de gallo and cotija, a Mexican grating cheese, tossed with a delicious pineapple-cilantro vinaigrette.
Signature Baby Bleu Salad,Diamond Catering Roadside Cafe, Onondaga: The Baby Bleu Salad combines field greens, fried pancetta, dried cranberries, fresh strawberries and blueberries, crumbled Maytag bleu cheese and deep fried croutons. Chef Dan Seeley and his wife, Teresa, make the sweet onion and blueberry dressing in house. They sell it in Mason jars and plan to have it professionally bottled soon.
Trail Mix Salad,Sparky Town, Syracuse: Mixed greens with raisins, dried cranberries, almonds, pecans and shredded cheddar cheese. It's sweet, slightly salty and crunchy.
Tableside Caesar salad for two, Joey's Classic Italian Restaurant, Syracuse. You can order a Caesar salad off the menu just about anywhere. A Caesar salad for two prepared tableside is an art - and a treat.
Spinach salad,Phoebe's, Syracuse: Phoebe's has had some form of spinach salad on the menu for as long as I can remember. Chef Dan Hudson's current menu features a spinach salad with baby spinach, chopped hard-boiled egg, bacon, red onion, feta cheese and red wine vinaigrette.
What's your favorite salad at CNY restaurant? Leave a note in the Comments section, below.
Berry Salad for Two (inspired by Alto Cinco)
Local strawberries are in season now and blueberries will be in season soon, so there's no better time for this salad.
You will need:
6 cups mixed salad greens
1 ripe avocado, pitted and sliced
2/3 cup sliced strawberries
2/3 cup blueberries
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing (see recipe, below)
For garnish: 2 Kids Goat Farm Peppercorn Goat Cheese (or other goat cheese)
Place salad greens in a bowl. Toss greens with dressing and divide between two salad plates.
Spoon strawberries and blueberries on top of salad, giving each its own space. Add sliced avocado. Garnish with goat cheese and freshly ground pepper. Makes 2 servings.
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing: Combine 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar in a jar. Shake well. Taste. Add a little honey for a touch of sweetness, if desired. Shake again; serve.
Garden update, East Side of Syracuse, June 25, 2014:
No sooner had the pole beans sprouted and started to take off, something dug them up. Bam! Gone.
Fortunately, the six San Marzano tomato plants in that small plot are untouched and coming along nicely. I see red sauce in our future -- supplemented with tomatoes from one of our local markets. We do not have enough space for a sauce garden.
Two kinds of cherry tomatoes (super-sweet reds and pear-shaped golden tomatoes) are also coming along well in the elevated garden box Robert built last year. The garden box is the perfect height for deer to enjoy a smorgasbord -- but they don't, knock wood. At least not so far, fingers crossed.
We've been enjoying romaine, arugula and leaf lettuce salads from the garden box, too -- to the point where I almost overdosed on salad last week, if that is possible. I love a salad with greens, arugula, local strawberries, toasted walnuts, balsamic vinaigrette and blue cheese this time of year.
The basil in its own planter box is deep green and gorgeous. As always, we'll use it to make pesto. And when local tomatoes are in season, we will feast on Caprese salad. But not before then.
When gardening space is scarce, you need to plant where you can to take best advantage of the sun. These planters hold green bell pepper plants. If everything grew as well as that ground cover, we'd be all set.
As the lettuces fade in the garden box, we might add some more herbs, or some Swiss chard, which will grow well into the fall. Got any suggestions?
How is your garden growing, Central New York? Let us know in the Comments section, below. Happy gardening - and harvesting!
It's that time of year. Everybody wants to pick strawberries - or pick up a quart or two or three of fresh-picked strawberries at a farm stand.
Did you know there's a place where you can pick or purchase strawberries for your shortcake -- AND help an excellent cause?
Clear Path for Veterans is a not-for-profit organization that serves service veterans, military members and their families. Educational, support, health and wellness and other programs are offered at the Clear Path facility, off Salt Springs Road in Chittenango -- which has a two-acre U-Pick strawberry field.
The field was empty at lunchtime Monday, and it took me about 15 minutes to step carefully down the rows and among the strawberry plants to pick the beautiful quart of strawberries shown here.
The price to pick is $3 per quart and the price of a quart of berries at the self-serve farm stand is $5. The farm stand is in the shade and visible from Salt Springs Road. All proceeds are used to support Clear Path and its programs.
Seven varieties of strawberries are planted and they ripen at different times. The field is expected to be open through early July.
Clear Path for Veterans is at 1223 Salt Springs Road, Chittenango. Volunteers are invited to help with picking and to work at the stand next to the field. For more information and to sign up to volunteer, CLICK HERE.
Speaking of strawberry goodness: The second annual Farmshed CNY U-Pick Organic Strawberry Party will be held 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, June 29, at Cobblestone Valley Farm, 2200 Preble Road, Preble.
Cobblestone Valley is one of just a few farms in Central New York offering organic strawberries. Last year’s event drew more than 450 people, so arrive early for prime picking. (Berries are priced by the pound. Bring your own containers.)
Neil Miller, founder of Farmshed CNY, has assembled a variety of local farms and producers for a "pop up" market.
Caprese salad skewer; beef slider on pretzel roll - Photo courtesy of Small Plates
You've probably heard of a "pub crawl:" That's when a group of people visit several pubs or bars and have a drink or two at each.
But have you heard of a "dish crawl?" That's when a group of people meet up for a progressive meal with multiple stops in a specific neighborhood.
Dishcrawl is a food tour operator that makes its debut in Syracuse Wednesday (June 18), in the Armory Square neighborhood. Three restaurant stops are planned, according to Dishcrawl Syracuse Ambassador Betsy Bell. The evening will begin at Small Plates, continue to La Piazza and end at Empire Brewing Co.
Participants will sample a trio of dishes at each stop, including a dessert at Empire, Bell says. Drinks are not included in ticket price but drink specials or pairings might be available at the individual restaurants.
How it works: Purchase tickets ($45) at the Dishcrawl Syracuse website before Monday (June 16). Meet at 7 p.m. at Small Plates, 116 Walton St. Bring your appetite
Can't make it Wedesday? Look for more Dishcrawls in Syracuse down the road.
"Dishcrawl does other really creative events too - brunch crawls, secret suppers, private events, chef battles, etc.," Bell says. "I'm really looking forward to bringing some exciting food events to our fans."
The first Dishcrawl Syracuse is open to about 40 participants, Bell says. The first 10 readers of this blog post who purchase tickets will receive a $10 discount on ticket price. Tickets must be purchased before Monday (June 16). When you purchase a ticket, enter eatfirst in the discount code bar.
Dishcrawl is based in San Jose, Calif. The company and offers events in more than 250 cities in the U.S. and Canada and is expanding to Britain, according to its website.
Excitement has been growing for weeks -- months, really -- about the new farmers market setting up shop Thursdays at the Towne Center at Fayetteville. And customers came out in droves.
More than 20 vendors offering early spring greens, eggs, cheese, yogurt, grass-fed beef, bison, lamb and turkey, maple products, mushrooms, granola, honey, jams, jellies, salsa, baked goods, chocolate, coffee and more were on hand for opening day.
Market manager Stephanie Lipsey, of Drover Hill Farm, spent the winter months organizing the market. She surveyed the scene at Towne Center at Fayetteville, smiled and pronounced the first day a success. She expects to welcome several new vendors as the season progresses.
The good news, for those who missed opening day, is that the growing season is just getting started in Central New York -- and there are many more weeks of market season ahead.
The market will have its "grand opening'' June 12, featuring music, activities for children, a raffle for a local gift basket and a book signing with local author
Sharon Bailhe' (“The Great Dane and Little Turtle: Adventures in Cooking”).
The Fayetteville Farmers Market will continue 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, through Oct. 30. Enter the Towne Center from Burdick Street, near Bonefish Grill, and look for the tents.
It's only Monday, but I'm already looking forward to the debut of the Fayetteville Farmers Market at Towne Center at Fayetteville on Thursday.
I'm sure I will want to share to share some highlights from the new market. But first, let's have a look at some of Saturday's haul from the Central New York Regional Market. We left the market with Wake Robin Farm yogurt, cheese curds and granola, two dozen clams and a pound of halibut from the fishmonger in Shed A, vegetable plants and other items.
But I went to the market, really, looking for one thing in particular -- local rhubarb.
I know, I know: Not everyone is a fan of rhubarb. It's a vegetable masquerading as a fruit. It's tart. It starts out crisp and supple and has a strange, somewhat stringy texture after it's cooked.
Seeing those beautiful red and green stalks makes me think of rhubarb pie, my Mother's rite of spring. I wanted to make something a little more healthy, so I decided to roast the rhubarb. It comes out a little soupy and is delicious on yogurt or frozen yogurt (or ice cream) and in smoothies.
1 bunch rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1-inch or longer pieces
Zest of one orange (optional)
1/3 cup natural cane sugar (or more, to taste)
Vanilla extract (optional)
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the washed and sliced rhubarb with sugar and orange zest (if using) in a shallow glass baking dish.
Let rest for 5 minutes or more, until the rhubarb starts to give off a little juice. Cover dish with foil and roast for about 10 minutes if you want the rhubarb to retain a bit of its shape, longer for more of a puree. Remove foil and continue roasting for about five minutes, if needed.
When the rhubarb has cooled a little, give it a taste. Add a little honey, if needed, to sweeten it how you like it. Add a little vanilla extract, too (optional).
Serve the rhubarb warm, chilled or somewhere in between. I like cooked rhubarb at room temperature, with a few blueberries, served with yogurt for breakfast or with frozen yogurt or ice cream for dessert. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
We can get anything we want, pretty much year-round, from somewhere on the planet. Blackberries and raspberries in December. "Fresh" corn in March. Tomatoes (minus real flavor) all winter.
Along about March, the asparagus from South America and California calls out at the supermarket -- especially after months of broccoli, potatoes and beets. But local asparagus is so worth waiting for. Be patient and hold out for it and you will be rewarded with the taste -- and true arrival -- of spring.
I've been hearing from friends in western Onondaga County that Tim's Pumpkin Patch has amazing asparagus. You've probably been to Tim's in the late summer or fall. Owners Tim and Eric Leubner grow nearly 70 acres of pumpkins and squash, have a corn maze and animal barn and run a bakery and gift shop. The place gets packed on fall weekends. About 12 years ago, the Leubners started to plant asparagus for a spring crop. They now have about two acres of it, according to Erica Leubner, and expand it with about 2,000 more plants every other year.
It's quiet on Rose Hill Road, in Marietta, on a sunny spring morning. I decided to take a drive and was greeted with a beautiful selection of just-picked green and 'Purple Passion' asparagus, banded in one-pound bundles, standing in trays of water. One by one, cars pulled in and people hopped out and left with a bunch or two of asparagus. The smart people brought containers filled with a little water, for carrying the asparagus home.
It's priced at $3.50 per bunch. I made sure I had small bills in my wallet, knowing that the farm stand is self serve, "cash and carry'' with an "honor box.'' Arrive with a $20 and there is no guarantee you'll be able to make change. Arrive with a debit or credit card and you're out of luck. I picked out two beautiful bunches of green asparagus tinged with purple and left $7 in the box.
On the drive home, I thought about what I might make with the asparagus. Soup? Salad? Quiche?
In the end, I decided to keep it simple, because something as fresh and delicious as local asparagus doesn't need any special treatment. Snap the ends off the asparagus, slice it and steam it on the stove in a steamer basket until tender-crisp. Place the tips of the asparagus at the top of the basket, on top of the stalks, so they stay nice and tender. Drain the asparagus, return it to the pan and add a little butter, salt and pepper.
The next night, I left the spears long, tossed them with a little balsamic vinaigrette, salt and pepper, and roasted them in the oven until brown but still crisp. If I had any leftover, I'd eat it again tonight with a poached egg on top and a hunk of crusty, toasted baguette on the side. But who ever has leftover local asparagus? You eat it until it's gone!
Local chefs eagerly await its arrival, too. Chef Edward Moro, of Moro's Table, in Auburn, used asparagus from Tim's Pumpkin Patch in a Local Asparagus Salad with Smoked Prosciutto, Deviled Egg and Red Pepper Lemon Aioli last week.
Gilda's, in Skaneateles, features asparagus from Tim's on its menu, too, in a Raw Asparagus Quinoa Salad, with feta cheese, radishes, Marcona almonds, fresh herbs and lemon-white wine vinaigrette.
The season for local asparagus continues through late June. Get it while you can.
Tim's Pumpkin Patch is at 2901 Rose Hill Road, Marietta, 13110. The self-serve farm stand is open seven days a week. For more information, call
If you slept in or dilly-dallied and went to breakfast during the first hour of the Cazenovia Farmers Market on Saturday, you missed your chance to take home a loaf of bread from Rise, a new bakery that's making a splash in the community.
Rise team members Jasmeen Barnes and McKenzie Houseman showed up at the market bright and early with 75 rustic baguettes, boules and hearty rye, raisin and kalamata olive loaves. They flew off the shelf in an hour. Bam! Gone! Just like that.
It was a lovely spring morning, and more than a dozen vendors set up shop as the market moved outdoors for the season. The offerings included meats, cheeses, eggs, butter, greens, coffee, baked goods, jams and jellies, salsa, spirits, handmade gifts, plants, flowers and more.
Market Manager Aileen Randolph, of Empire Buffalo, expects to welcome more sellers as the growing season progresses. The market is held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday at Memorial Park, along Albany Street (Route 20). Some vendors leave at 2 p.m., so plan your visit accordingly.
As for Rise: The bakery plans to be at the market each week and is expected to have a retail location soon adjoining Cazenovia Cut Block, 2770 Route 20 East.
Here is a small sampling of what the Cazenovia market had to offer on opening day. Check it out for yourself some Saturday!
Matt Robinson, of Hartwood Farm, Fenner with shiitake mushrooms, shiitake mushroom logs, eggs, scallions, etc.
Pizza is different things to different people. Sometimes it's a thick crust, sometimes a thin crust, sometimes a REALLY thin crust. Sometimes it has meat on it, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's a white pizza -- hold the sauce, please.
Sometimes it's fun to take pizza "South of the Border,'' with salsa and other Tex-Mex toppings and flavors.
Cinco de Mayo (the Fifth of May) is a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. It's also an excuse to drink Margaritas, gorge on chips and salsa -- or make this thin-crust South of the Border-style pizza with Central New York accents.
The "sauce" on this super-thin pizza is Primo and Mary's Black Bean and Corn Salsa, made by Primo and Mary's Heritage Products, based in Cazenovia. The sausage is Hartmann's, from Canandaigua. They also make a chorizo.
Less is more when making any kind of pizza, but especially this one. Go easy on the salsa and toppings or the pizza will come out soggy.
Enjoy any leftover salsa with Terrell's tortilla chips, made in Syracuse, for a hyper-local snack.
South of the Border-Style Flatbread Pizza
1/4 red onion, sliced
1/4 red pepper, sliced
1 link Hartmann's Old World Chicken Supremo Sausage (or your choice), sliced and browned
One whole wheat or multi-grain flatbread/wrap (I used Flatout)
Pasta's Spicy Hot Tomato Oil
Approximately 1/3 cup Primo and Mary's Black Bean and Corn Salsa (mild or medium)
A few sliced olives, optional
Approximately 3 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Saute onion and red pepper in a little olive oil over medium heat until nice and soft and slightly caramelized. Remove from pan and add chicken sausage. Cook until brown.
Grease a pizza pan. Place flatbread on pan and spread a light film of Pasta's Spicy Hot Tomato Oil on flatbread. Add one-third cup Primo and Mary's Black Bean and Corn Salsa to flatbread. The sauce should cover the flatbread but you do not want it very wet. Spread the salsa around using back of a spoon. Add on the onion, red pepper and sausage and a few sliced olives, if desired. Sprinkle on the the cheese.
Place pan with pizza on lowest rack of oven. Check pizza after about 5 minutes. All ovens are different -- if the "crust" is getting brown and cheese isn't melted, move to top rack to finish cooking. Remove pizza from oven and cut in strips. Serve as a casual supper, with a green salad, or as an appetizer. Makes 1 or 2 servings, depending on your appetite and if you feel like sharing.
I've been thinking about gnocchi - dreaming about it, really -- ever since enjoying the world's lightest, pillowy homemade gnocchi at a trattoria in Haddonfield, NJ, last fall.
The search for the right recipe took me all over the place, but eventually to Food52.com, where I found a recipe for ricotta gnocchi and successfully turned out five dozen of the little pasta stand-ins.
I considered serving the gnocchi with a creamy pesto sauce, like the restaurant did. Then I saw fellow CNY food blogger Mark Strong's post on working to perfect his homemade vodka sauce -- and decided to serve that with the gnocchi.
Robert calls Mark's sauce "the best vodka sauce I've ever had." I made it again last weekend, to serve with penne and some excellent shrimp from the seafood vendor in Shed A at the Central New York Regional Market.
I suppose it would be possible to make both the sauce and the gnocchi the same day/evening for dinner, but I'm somewhat slow in the kitchen, especially when trying out new recipes. I made the gnocchi in advance and stuffed them in zip-top bags in the freezer.
The sauce was made on a Sunday morning -- the day we would have the gnocchi for dinner. The recipe calls for a cup of vodka, but I ended up adding an extra quarter cup, a tablespoon at a time, to get the flavor punch I was after. I added a big pinch of crushed red pepper to the recipe for some zip, but that is completely optional. It's a good idea to make the sauce early in the day and let it rest until you're ready to eat it, to allow the flavors meld.
As for the gnocchi, most recipes and instructions say to cook them in boiling water until they float to the top. If you like your gnocchi a little soft rather than al dente, leave them in the water an extra minute or so.