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.
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.
Classic Cherry Mini Cheesecakes; photo courtesy of 83 & Company, Syracuse
Unless you've been hibernating or living under a rock the last few weeks and months, you've probably heard that The Cheesecake Factory, a chain based in Calabasas Hills, CA, is opening a restaurant at Destiny USA in Syracuse.
The buzzhype about yet another chain restaurant at the mall got me thinking about local establishments that make fresh, artisan cheesecakes by hand.
If you think about it, just about everything you want to eat is available from an independent, locally owned business. When you support a locally owned business, more money stays in the community and the unique flavor of Central New York is preserved.
It might sound cheesy, but food made by a local cook or baker, using local ingredients, tastes better, too. And that includes cheesecake, my friends.
Here are a few ideas. Is there a place in Central New York you like to go for cheesecake? What's your favorite kind of cheesecake? Let me know in the comments section, below.
83 & Company: This bakery and cafe in the Hawley-Green neighborhood is all about cakes, cupcakes and mini cheesecake - in a multitude of flavors. Esther Houston's cheesecake flavors range from Classic Cherry to Banana Pudding to Peach Cobbler to the popular Brownie Caramel Ganache, Oh My! Oh my is right. Daily lunch box specials include soup of the day, sandwich of the day and two mini cheesecakes. A mini cheesecake trio by 83 & Co. is also featured dessert at Laci's Tapas Bar, across the street. Details: 115 Green St., Syracuse; 315-559-5602.
Riley's: The menu at this North Side tavern changes daily and so does the dessert selection. Look for the section of the hand-lettered menu labeled "Brian's desserts.'' Offerings might include a pie, cake, tart, torte and/or cheesecake. The chocolate cheesecake, when they have it, is fabulous. And Riley's is not at all opposed to dessert sharing. Details: 312 Park St., Syracuse; 315-471-7111.
Bittersweet Wine Bar and Desserts: A restaurant where the primary focus is desserts - what's not to like about that? The temptations include a caramel brownie cheesecake - built on a brownie crust. Details: 121 W. Fayette St., Syracuse; 315-474-9463.
Phoebe's Restaurant and Coffee Lounge: Tiramisu, creme brulee, flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake with raspberry sauce and whipped cream. Phoebe's is a Syracuse classic, so it's no surprise the restaurant would offer a classic dessert like cheesecake - with raspberries and whipped cream. Details: 900 E. Genesee St., Syracuse; 315-475-5154.
Photo courtesy of Picasso's
Picasso's Pastries and Cafe: You never know what you'll find in the bakery case at this sweet little bakery on Westcott Street in Syracuse. Caramel pecan cinnamon buns. Cannoli cream puffs. Chocolate coffee rum cake. Mini vanilla bean cheesecakes (above) topped with maple balsamic strawberries? Those happened in January. Details: 466 Westcott St., Syracuse; 315-474-1700.
Man in the Moon Bake Shoppe and Cafe: How far would you drive for a most excellent cheesecake? Bestselling cheesecake cupcakes (a k a mini cheesecakes) at this charming bakery and cafe in King Ferry include Classic, Fresh Blueberry and Chambord Raspberry Swirl. Also on the menu: Black Forest, Oreo Explosion, Chocolate Nutella and more. The cafe serves breakfast, lunch and brunch and offers baked goods galore. Definitely worth the drive. Details: 982 State Route 34B and Route 90, King Ferry; 607-227-6863.
If you've had the good fortune to visit Paris, you've seen macarons -- and maybe even come home with a small box or two of them in your carry-on. They're hard to resist, decked out in a spectrum of colors and piled on plates, calling out from bakery windows.
In Syracuse, at places like the Central New York Regional Market, Cafe Kubal, LoFo in Armory Square and the Syracuse Real Food Co-Op, some lovely, locally made macarons have no doubt caught your eye. They are the signature product of The Sweet Praxis, an artisan bakery launched several years ago Natalie Hansen and Jennifer Walls.
Sweet Praxis macarONS are not to be confused with chunky, chewy American macarOONS, which are made with coconut. Macarons are delicate confections, made with egg whites, sugar and almond flour. You could call them a cookie -- a light-as-a feather cookie -- sandwiched together with jam, icing or ganache filling.
The beauty of macarons is that they can be made in every flavor imaginable. Hansen and Walls take full advantage of that, offering macarons in flavors like hot chocolate, salted chocolate, almond, raspberry, lemon, orange cardamom, toasted coconut, pistachio -- the possibilities are endless.
The friends also make mini cupcakes and whoopie pies and sell frosting shots at their stand at the Regional Market (in season). All of their products are made with locally sourced organic ingredients whenever possible and with no artificial colors and flavors.
Hansen and Walls are gearing up for Valentine's Day. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, as a gift to a loved one (or yourself!), consider a gift box of heart-shaped macarons by The Sweet Praxis. And don't wait until the last minute!
For Valentine's Day, Walls and Hansen are taking special orders for heart-shaped macarons in gift boxes ( 6 for $11 or 12 for $20). Each gift box will contain an assortment of almond, rose, lemon, salted chocolate, lavender and orange cardamom macarons. They are also offering chocolate raspberry mini cupcakes in gift boxes (two for $5 or six for $10).
Orders must be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10. Pick-ups are available from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 13. Delivery is available in Syracuse for $10.
How cold is it? Cold enough that the water line to Roy Osborne’s food truck froze this week – adding a kink to his opening week plans at Pioneer Business Park, in East Syracuse.
Even if that hadn’t happened, subzero is too cold to be working in a food truck – and too cold for people to want to come out. Temperatures in the twenties will seem positively balmy compared to this frigid snap. Besides, the extra time allows Osborne to think about the special events he’ll drag his trailer to in the months ahead – when the weather is warm -- even hot.
Osborne, of Clay, owns and operates the Ossie’s StrEATery food truck, which made its debut last fall at the Connective Corridor Food Truck Rodeo in Syracuse. His breakfast and lunch menus offer breakfast sandwiches and burritos, a pulled pork sandwich, chicken Riggies and a soup of the week.
But the specialty of the house is Osborne’s handmade, “cake’’ donuts – or fried cakes, as they are sometimes called. They’re made on the truck and available in plain, cinnamon sugar and apple cinnamon - $1 for a single, $5 for a half-dozen and $10 for a dozen.
“They smell great, they taste great and people will wait in line for them,’’ Osborne says. He’s serving Cafe Kubal coffee, because “donuts and coffee just go together.’’
Osborne, 52, spent 15 years as baking director for Penn Traffic, which operated P&C stores in Central New York before declaring bankruptcy. So he knows donuts. He’s made yeast donuts, he’s made cake donuts – thousands, if not millions of them. He prefers cake donuts, especially for the food truck. “They’re not fluffy, yeast-raised donuts.’’ The dough doesn’t need to rise.
The 8-by-12-foot trailer contains a 20-quart mixer and a commercial fryer that lets him cook 24 donuts in two minutes. It also contains a grill, where he cooks the meat for breakfast sandwiches and wraps and lunch sandwiches. He’s serving Taylor ham (also called pork roll), which he says is New Jersey’s favorite breakfast meat, and a twist on “Michigans,’’ hotdogs topped with meat sauce that are a staple of the North Country. For those, he’s using Hofmann franks.
“It’s different. It’s fun and and it’s challenging. It’s mobile,’’ Osborne says of his food truck.
Ossie’s StrEATery is parked at the Pioneer Business Park, on Campuswood Drive (off New Venture Gear Drive) in East Syracuse. When the weather allows, it will be open 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Credit cards aren’t accepted, so be sure to bring cash. The food truck is also available for catering and private parties. For information, call 315-575-0998.
I stopped at the Chittenango Travel Plaza on the New York State Thruway recently. Not for the restroom, not for a coffee and not for an I LOVE NY fridge magnet from the gift shop.
There’s a new Taste NY storefront inside the plaza. You might not know it, because there is no signage to announce its presence as you approach the Chittenango Travel Plaza (a k a rest area), between Exits 34 and 34A, driving west on I-90 towards Syracuse.
The Taste NY program was launched by Gov. Cuomo to spotlight the state’s food industry, grow the marketplace and promote tourism. The display is towards the rear of the plaza, next to Sbarro and occupying part of the gift shop.
A news release from the governor’s office said travelers would find local/regional cheeses and yogurts, but those weren’t available when I visited – maybe they were sold out after a busy weekend.
You CAN get a bottle of all-natural, 100 percent fruit juice from Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, to go with your Starbucks or slice from Sbarro. I also spotted maple syrup and maple candy from Merle Maple, Attica, and other producers; local honey; Erie Canal jams and jellies (Nelson Farms); Roadkill Slather Sauce (made at Morrisville State College); Joe’s Jerky (Sherrill); and Kozy Shack rice pudding (Hicksville).
Four more Taste NY storefronts are at the Seneca and Scottsville travel plazas (near Rochester) and Clarence and Pembroke plazas, near Buffalo. Other stores have opened at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, McArthur Airport in Islip and at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.
The stores are merely an introduction to the array of food products made in New York. For a more extensive selection near Syracuse, venture off the Thruway and visit to the Nelson Farms Country Store in Nelson (Madison County).
Nelson Farms, a partnership with Morrisville State College, is an agri-business incubator designed to help specialty food producers, farmers and growers get their products in the marketplace.
The Country Store features candy, coffee and snacks; meats and cheeses; dressings, sauces, mustards and marinades; pancake mixes; and more. The store is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.
If you don’t mind
a little dust and construction, you can now sample wines at DeWitt’s first
Greenwood Winery, at 6475 Collamer
Road (Route 298), opened to the public several weeks ago. Construction of a bar
and bistro, adjacent to the tasting room and wine-processing building, will
winery? A winery in the suburbs? It’s not as strange as it sounds. Grapes are
now being grown in an estimated 80 percent of New York’s counties.
And wineries are
popping up all over New York State: along Lake Ontario, in the Thousand
Islands, near Watertown, on the Tug Hill Plateau, near the Adirondacks and Lake
Greenwood Winery is
an artisan winery owned and operated by local real estate developer Tom
Greenwood. Wines are made from grapes grown in DeWitt and in the Finger Lakes. The
tasting area shares space with sparkling new storage tanks and crush pads.
Most of the
grapes Greenwood is growing are cold-hardy varieties developed by developed by
Cornell University and the University of Minnesota: Traminette, Noiret,
Chancellor, Marechal Foch and others.
In a Riesling
rut? Looking to branch out from your nightly Merlot? Eight wines are available
for tasting: four whites, a blush wine and three reds. Our $5 tasting included
our choice of five wines and came with a souvenir glass.
I’m no wine
expert, not by a long shot, but I do know what I like. I particularly enjoyed
the Traminette, a crisp white wine that reminded me of the sunny
Gewurztraminers I’ve enjoyed in the Finger Lakes, as well as two reds, the
Noiret and Enthusiasm (Chancellor). The reds are dry but not bone dry. They’re
full-bodied and flavorful, with a clean, smooth finish.
have a place at home, as we transition from light summer meals to heartier fall
and winter fare, like soups, stews and braised meats.
They also have a
place right at the Greenwood Winery, which has tables and Adirondack chairs on
a patio overlooking the small vineyard. Wines are available by the glass, and
bottles range in price from $10 to $14.
There’s also a
small market section with local and regional food products, like Thousand
Island River Rat cheeses and mustards, artisan breads, olives and cured meats –
and other items that pair nicely with wine. A small farmstand holds tomatoes,
cucumbers, summer squashes and other produce for sale, all from Greenwood’s
nearby farm, we were told.
Stroll around the
vineyards and you’ll lose awareness of the car and truck traffic on Route 298.
Enjoy a glass of wine and a little picnic on the patio.
you’re in wine country instead of the wine suburbs.
Note: Greenwood Winery won a Gold medal for its Baco Noir at the recent
New York Wine and Food Classic, considered the Oscars of New York State wine.
It was not available to taste when we visited – one more reason to visit again.
Greenwood Winery is at 6475 Collamer Road (Route 298),
DeWitt, a couple miles east of Carrier Circle. Tasting room hours are 11:30
a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday,
noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information call
After two years of design and construction, Flame is open
for business on East Fayette Street in Syracuse. It's a good bet this restaurant will
catch fire when droves of students return to the city and the fall semester at
Syracuse University begins in a few weeks.
Flame is the creation
of sculptor and artist Tash Taskale, a native of Turkey who studied art in
France and at Syracuse University and lives and works in Central New York. One
of the most visible examples of Taskale’s work is “01101,’’ a large, galvanized
steel sphere, made from thousands of welded steel parts, in Lemp Park, at the
corner of East Fayette and South Warren Streets in downtown Syracuse.
The sleek restaurant seats about 50 and has
taken shape in Taskale’s former studio space at 713 E. Fayette St. It’s casual,
comfortable and friendly – and will be cozy come fall and winter.
The focal point of the bar and dining area is a fire pit cut
carved from a single piece of Vermont granite. The focal point of the kitchen
is a custom-made wood-fired brick oven, where Flame’s signature Turkish-style
flatbread pizzas are cooked.
The Alsace pizza at Flame
Flame is in the midst of a “soft opening,’’ testing the
waters with just a few menu items. On the night we
visited, three pizzas were offered: the Flame, the Alsace and the Brooklyn.
Over a couple glasses of St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc from
California (which might become our new favorite wine!), we savored and shared
two flatbread pizzas.
The Flame pizza ($7) features ground lamb and beef, parsley,
onion and tomatoes, while the Alsace ($7) features Canadian bacon, onion, creme
fraiche and farmers cheese. The crusts were thin, crisp and perfectly done and
the toppings are a welcome change from the usual, everyday pizza toppings. The
pizzas are garnished with a small dome of chopped salad in the middle –
designed to be scooped and rolled up with pizza as you devour the small slices.
As Flame moves forward, look for additional menu items to be
rolled out, including soups, salads, items from the grill (burgers, chicken)
and daily small plate specials. The restaurant has beer, wine and a full bar.
UPDATE: Starting this weekend (Aug. 17), Flame will expand its soft opening with weekend brunches, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
We don’t usually visit restaurants during their opening
period – it’s good to give places time gain their footing and work the kinks
out before forming an opinion. But it was fun to be one of the first to get a taste of Flame and its
tasty brand of artisan pizza.
We’ll be back!
Flame is at 713 E.
Fayette St., Syracuse. Soft opening hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to
Sunday. Look for more expanded hours and menu in the weeks ahead. For
information, call 423-5263.
Flame's domed pizza oven can be seen in the rear (right).
But it IS good for our garden in a box – which has started
to resemble a big, leafy, green salad in a box.
So far, knock wood, the neighborhood deer and resident
woodchuck are not snacking on all the green goodness behind our house.
But I enjoyed my first salad from it last night. Besides
tasting incredibly fresh, there is something very satisfying about eating food
you have grown yourself, outside your door. It’s the ultimate in eating
healthful and local.
In addition to Swiss chard, a variety of salad greens,
spearmint and more basil, the garden box contains contains one Super Sweet
cherry tomato plant, which promises to bear clusters of tiny tomatoes until
Robert, consumed by the gardening bug after building the
box, cleared a small spot on the east side of the house, where he has planted
zucchini, two varieties of tomatoes and eggplant.
This year, if he chooses to make grilled ratatouille and can
it for enjoyment all winter, he won’t have to rely entirely on produce from the
We’ll keep you posted on how our little Syracuse gardens are
advantages to a small house. There are fewer rooms to clean, for one thing, and
less grass to mow.
space outdoors equals less space to garden. And less space to garden equals
little to no opportunity to grow food, with the exception of basil and other
on this garden box on legs (above) while browsing the Williams-Sonoma website. My first
thought was: How cool is this?! What a great option for space-challenged people
like us, who have no back forty -- just a hill and trees and gravel drive. My
second thought was: Oh, $300 – soil and plants not included.
Fortunately, I live with a very handy man, who makes art and builds things. I asked him
if he could design and build something like the Williams-Sonoma garden box –
compact and on legs -- for us. As you can see, he rose to the challenge.
is an elevated, 30-inch-by-54- inch garden box on a steel frame – quite a bit
bigger than the retail model that inspired it (24 by 36 inches) -- and far less
The box is
made of larch, a locally grown hardwood noted for it strength, durability and
ability to resist water. The lumber cost $40. The frame was custom-made and
welded by Robert's cousin, Ben Poormon, of Steelfab in Weedsport. It cost $100.
At the base
of the box are a couple grids of concrete reinforcing mesh. On top of that went
hay and the soil.
All we need
now is plants, sun and rain. Robert picked up three pepper plants at the
Central New York Regional Market last weekend. We're thinking tomatoes, some
lettuces, herbs and – well, we're not sure what else, exactly.
you know what we decide to plant -- and how our little vegetable garden-in-a-box
grows this summer.