Ontario County

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A Finger Lakes gem for food and wine lovers

A visit to the Finger Lakes region is an annual trip for many who appreciate and enjoy New York State wines. This year I suggest that you head to Ontario County for not only wine, but glorious foods and fun!

Ontario County has been called Lake Country because it is home to both Geneva and Canandaigua lakes. My husband and I stayed at the Acorn Inn located in Bristol Valley, in Canandaigua. The 1795 Inn is beautifully furnished, with no expense spared on antiques. After the long, yet wonderful days of exploration, returning to the Inn for a glass of wine and a dip in the garden hot tub was just what we needed and appreciated. Waking up to a creative and delicious breakfast of mixed fruit, French toast, eggs, bacon and homemade hashbrowns breakfast is certainly designed to set you off for a day of wine tasting. 

On day one, we decided to hit the shops in downtown Canandaigua. This thriving Main Street has many stores offering items unique to the region. One of my favorites was a lovely olive oil shop named F. Oliver’s. Not only are there many flavored vinegars and olive oils to choose from, you can grab a bottle of locally-made, delicious Butternut Squash Oil by Stony Brook. Don’t leave here without doing a tasting of the vinegars and oils; you will be blown away with the combinations that you would never have imagined go together. My new favorite salad is dressed with blood orange olive oil and dark chocolate balsamic vinegar. 

You will enjoy the lake vistas as you drive along the high road AND the low road (you will understand what I mean by that when you drive the area). If you feel the need to stretch, you can rent a bike at the shoreline and take a wonderful trek along the magnificently clean lake before heading back downtown for lunch. Simply Crepes offers more variety of crepes than can be imagined. I recommend sharing one as an entrée and sharing another as dessert. 

The Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion Canandaiqua is a must-see. Strolling around the lush gardens and landscape is like a visit to another world. The gardens were created by Mary Clark Thompson approximately 100 years ago. As an avid connoisseur of horticulture, she separated the gardens by international flavor, but all include thousands of perennials and annuals. Sitting stately in the middle of the property is a Queen Anne style mansion, where tours are given throughout the day. Make certain while exploring the magnificent home that you stop at every available window to grab a view of the vistas. At the time of our visit, restoration efforts were in full swing, but we didn’t feel we missed anything. 

One of the most fascinating places we visited was the Wine and Culinary Center. This "hands-on" culinary center was designed to serve as a cross between the agricultural, culinary and wine worlds that all thrive in the Ontario County communities. It is truly indicative of what can be achieved when the business world, the non-profit world and higher education join forces. The center is located at the north end of Canandaigua and can be a convenient trip from anywhere as it sits 15 minutes from the NYS thruway.

Inside the facility you will find a fabulous wine tasting room where you can learn about and taste NYS wines. You will also find the wine staff remarkably well-versed. I would recommend stopping here before heading out to the wine trail. It will help you decide which wineries suit your taste.

There is a state-of-the-art kitchen that holds classes for individuals, couples and groups. Visit their website www.nycc.com to learn more about classes and how to reserve. We took part in a sauté class with Chef Eric K. Smith. It was very enjoyable and quite humbling to realize how much you can still learn! I would not be a bit surprised to see Chef Eric on the Food Channel one day…he is that good. 

When you are planning your visit, make a reservation for a truly lovely dining experience at the Taste of New York Lounge. The LeCesse New York Garden provides some of the vegetables and fruits used in the dinners and lunches that are served at the lounge, as well as the Southern Wine & Spirits Dining Room. The garden is a visiting point for the property showing off the many fruit trees, plants, flowers and grapes from NY State. 

On a food and wine trip throughout the county, you will find many outstanding restaurants boasting great pride in the local fare. My trip included a dinner at the Brown Hound Bistro on Route 64 in the lovely Bristol Springs Mountain area. This is a funky, comfortable restaurant that boasts local everything – from wine to the ingredients in all dishes. Upon request, owner Trish will happily give you a list of the local purveyors of her food. 

It would be difficult to hit and see all the wineries on a two-day trip, but I wanted to see The Imagine Moore Winery, where the labels and titles of the wines are throwback to the "love generation". Do not be fooled by the names, however, this is seriously good wine with a real zeal for art. The building that houses the tasting room, as well as the deck, have breathtaking views of the arbors and mountains, making it an out-of-the-ordinary wine tasting visit. 

Another winery that boasts some very good wines and a very charismatic owner is the Arbor Hill Grapery. The country store is a collision of all that is produced in this region. At every stop, I could tell you what to bring home, but I respect your right to choose for yourself. I can’t resist, however, telling you about their fabulous Arbor Hill Burgundy Garlic Peppercorn dressing. Your salads will thank me.

No trip to this region can be anywhere near complete without a taste of grape pie. I know, we here in the Capital Region do not make or eat much grape pie, but if you have grown up in Rochester or have family there, you will know the local passion for this Thanksgiving staple.

I had a real thrill in meeting and tasting the most famous grape pie and maker from the region – Monica Schenk, owner and baker at Monica’s Pies in neighboring Naples. She is a gracious and generous lady that truly seems humbled by all the fuss. She has been featured in ads for Pfaltzgraff Pie plates and on the Food Network. Monica works in a large kitchen on her property with her mother and aunt (both in their nineties), as well as a small staff. Together, they create the most fantastic grape pies all year along, as well as 24 other pie varieties. She is also developing quite a reputation for Chicken Pot Pies! Stories were told to me about the roadside stand where skiers from a neighboring mountain line up on their way home to grab a pot pie to throw in the oven when they get home. This skier-pie relationship is topped off by an honor paying system: take the pie and drop in the money. No fuss, no pretention, just real good pie by made by Monica and enjoyed by her honest and appreciative neighbors. 

Enjoy the recipe for Monica’s Grape Pie courtesy of this lovely woman. She wants us to experience the joy of baking and eating the grape pies that our neighbors to the west have known for generations. 

The fall season is an excellent time to head to the Finger Lakes. Drive through the gorgeous scenery that could be a Mediterranean movie set and go with an empty stomach and an empty trunk.

Monicas Pies • www.monicaspies.com
Arbor Hill Grapery & Winery • www.arborhillwinery.com
Sonnenberg Gardens • sonnenberg.org
Brown Hound Bistro • www.brownhoundbistro.com
Imagine Moore Winery • www.imaginemoorewinery.com
Simply Crepes • www.simplycrepes.com
The Acorn Inn • www.acorninnelon.com

For more trip assistance contact www.visitfingerlakes.com

 

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