The Ridge Tavern is a restaurant that's off-the-beaten path. You could easily drive by it on Salt Springs Road in Chittenango -- we almost did. The sign doesn't scream at you and the tavern itself is about a third of a mile off the road, through the woods and overlooking the Robert Trent Jones-designed Ridge golf course.
THE VIBE: Planters flanking the main door are brimming with fresh herbs, a cue that the kitchen takes food seriously. Inside, the vibe is casual and relaxed but not so laid back you're left to seat yourself. A hostess greeted us at the door and offered us our choice of seating on one of three levels. It was raining for about the fourth time that day, otherwise we might have chosen to eat outside on the multi-level decks. The tavern room is small and lodge-like, with a fireplace and tables that seat roughly 30 people. The bar was busy but not overly raucous, so a highboy table a few feet from the bar worked fine. A band was setting up for the night as we finished our meal.
LIQUID ASSETS: A short list of local and regional craft beers changes weekly and the extensive bourbon list will have bourbon lovers salivating. While sipping a pint of amber ale by Erie Canal Brewing (Canastota) and a Captain Morgan's on the rocks, we studied the menus -- a tavern menu and more elaborate dinner menu, with entrees like New York strip steak with garlic mashed potatoes ($25) and chile-braised short ribs served with cheesy polenta ($23).
CHOWING DOWN: In order to sample a variety of items from the menu, we ordered… an excessive amount of food. Robert's celery soup ($6) was pale green and subtle in flavor, just like you would expect from a soup made with a vegetable usually featured in a supporting role. The basket of bacon ($9) was one of the most decadent appetizers we've ever ordered -- who, after all, really needs a basket of bacon before dinner?! A paper-lined basket holds about nine strips of The Ridge's crispy, applewood smoked, peppery bacon -- yum.
SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT? Yes. Desserts are made in-house and the menu changes often. Selections included strawberry-rhubarb crisp, carrot cake, a pecan caramel brownie, homemade ice cream and bread pudding, among others. The bread pudding of the day was dense and gooey, studded with banana chunks and chocolate chips and served warm with whipped cream. We couldn't finish it.
WHAT'S A VEGETARIAN GOING TO FIND? There's a Mediterranean plate with hummus, tzatziki, olives, feta, peppers and grilled pita and several vegetarian grilled flatbread pizzas, including one with pesto, New York cheddar, roasted red peppers, caramelized onion and mozzarella. There's also several salads, including a classic Caesar.
DAMAGES: Dinner for two, with one beer, one mixed drink, one burger, one salad, too many appetizers and one dessert came to almost $70. You can dine well on less and for considerably less.
WOULD WE GO BACK? We can't wait to go back! The Ridge is open year-round. We want to eat outside on the deck while it's warm before contemplating cozy evenings by the fire.
NEXT TIME: We'll try the catfish tacos with cilantro-lime crema, "fried golf balls" (fresh mozzarella dusted with Panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese) and maybe the Chicken "Ridgies" -- The Ridge's version of regional specialty Chicken Riggies.
The Ridge Tavern is at 1281 Salt Springs Road, Chittenango. Summer hours are noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Information: 315-687-6900, website.