Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Finger-Lickin' Good in the Finger Lakes

Sure, that title sounds much dirtier than intended, but for every greasy spoon that you'll find upstate in the Finger Lakes region of New York, you'll be delighted by some hidden gems as well. And not just the 70-plus wineries that dot the 414!

During a race weekend at Watkins Glen, I expected restaurants to throw some veggies in oil and slap 'em on a plate with overdone pasta and call it a viable veggie option. But lo and behold, the dishes I sampled were flavorful, satisfying, and after a day in the garage and at the track, they were notably filling. Maybe I'd written off upstate eateries prematurely. If you're ever in the region, here are some places that every veggie should visit!

Red Newt Cellars- Good food, good vino, and a great view of Seneca Lake! Not knowing beforehand where Red Newt Bistro was situated, I couldn't help but marvel at our good fortune of viewing the deep orange and red sunset reflecting off the lake from the bistro's floor to ceiling windows. The woodsy interior of Red Newt keeps the vibe casual, but there's still an element of sophistication to the space. The menu offers some items that you'd find at any cafe in the city- quesadillas, salads, spring rolls, and grilled meats- but their vegetarian specials were particularly standout! We started with a blueberry & garlic chevre ravioli appetizer... and yes, it's just as fabulous as it sounds. All the flavors were delicate and perfectly balanced, and heartier than one would expect! Though I normally disdain copious amounts of cream sauce, the roasted garlic-parmesan sauce with basil made for a palate-perfect finish. For my entree, I chose the vegan stuffed zucchini- with a wild rice, tomato and mushroom filling, the dish was sweet and earthy, with a good bite to it. Delish! I really loved how Red Newt incorporated the fresh upstate produce into every menu item, and even more so, I loved that their menu states that they are accommodating to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. Forget the Watkins Glen speedway area- Red Newt is what's really worth racing to.

The Stone Cat Cafe- We'd looked up the menu for Stone Cat Cafe prior to stopping by, and with several menu items dotted with V's (for veg-friendly options), I felt confident in my choice. Stone Cat exceeded my expectations with what I can only describe as an upscale-hippie interior (you'll see what I mean when you go there!) and a lovely patio area facing the vineyards behind the cafe. We started with an appetizer special- beet salad with goat cheese, cucumbers and fresh herbs, drizzled with white balsamic vinegar. Sound simple? Sure, but when you've got just-picked sweet beets and refreshing cucumber, a simple salad is pure heaven. For my entree, I was treated to firm slices of maple cured smoked tofu, served with coconut sticky rice, grilled squash, and finished with peanut sauce. Though it might sound like a possible clash, all the components came together with the mild peanut sauce, and the coconut rice also boasted a subtle flavor as well. In general, I'm delighted to see tofu on any cafe menu, but when it's actually cooked right, it makes my night! As we dined, we caught a glimpse of one of the cooks dashing out back and actually picking fresh herbs from the garden- I shouldn't have been surprised, but this New Yorker was definitely impressed. Stone Cat cooking is the way every restaurant should be cooking!

Glen Mountain Bakery & Market- With an exterior facade in need of a paint job, you'd never guess that this small bakery-deli-coffee bar would offer up great sandwiches as well as vegetarian lunch options. But as they had the rest of the weekend, the surprises kept on coming, and I found a variety of vegan options here too (five sandwiches, to be exact, along with veggie chili)! Since we needed to rush back to the racetrack, I ordered a Sanctuary Sandwich to go- slices of grilled seitan, lettuce and tomato, with spicy mustard on a baguette. Though GMBM wasn't particularly generous with the amount of seitan on my sandwich, it was still tasty, and I was satisfied and ready for changing tires and checking brakes when I was through. Also offered were veggie wraps, a tofu burger, a seitan BLT, and a roasted red pepper sandwich. The cafe itself is nothing fancy and the service is a bit slow, but when you can treat yourself to a good sandwich, freshly baked breads, a variety of fresh brewed coffees, and a pastry counter that my boyfriend needed to pry me away from, I'm happy that GMBM has sunk its cash into it's quality food rather than it's decor.

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