Big Red football and white wine
What is so epic about Ithaca? I’m glad you asked.
Ithaca is an artsy college town, home to Ithaca College and Cornell University, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. There are lakes, waterfalls and gorges. There are art galleries, a weekend farmers’ market and nearby wineries. And, of course, a beautiful Ivy League campus.
My former roommate, Mike, and his amazing girlfriend, Ashlyn, live there, too. My weekend with them revolved around wine, football and friends that feel like family. So, there’s that.
My roommate Amanda, who also lived with Mike during our Maryland days, and I drove up Friday, April 26. We left our Washington, D.C., area apartment around 10 a.m. and made it to Ithaca in plenty of time for dinner.
Dining with us that evening were Ashlyn and Mike’s parents. We were all in town for the spring football game at Cornell, where Mike is an assistant coach.
The five of us strolled through Ithaca Commons in downtown to find a suitable restaurant for dinner. It was so refreshing to see so many non-chain eateries in close proximity. There seemed to be many viable dinner options, though many were busy and would have required a rather long wait for a party of five. We ended up at Mahogany Grill.
I began my meal with the lobster bisque. Ever since I moved to the East Coast, I can’t seem to get enough of lobster bisque and Maryland Cream of Crab soup. The flavor was just as I expected, slightly creamy and not too fishy, but the texture was slightly different. Around the D.C. area, lobster bisque soups generally have lumps of lobster. This bisque had a more pureed texture. Perhaps I would have taken more issue with it if I hadn’t been warned, but Ashlyn had previously ordered it and mentioned I might notice the difference. I did, and then I appreciated it for its uniqueness but still distinctly lobster bisque flavor.
Round two was citrus crab cakes, which had a tomatillo pineapple relish. Again, I felt this was another dish where Maryland must do it best. Maybe I have become spoiled by the abundance of Maryland crab cakes I’ve eaten in the past three years. Overall, it was a fine dish, and I particularly liked the tropical salsa paired with the crab cakes. But were these the best crab cakes I’ve ever had? No. Not even close.
On Saturday night, Mike made reservations for all six of us to dine at an Ithaca classic, Simeon’s on the Commons, also in downtown. The interior, particularly the bar area, was reminiscent of a 1920s soda shop — which the building once was! I know this because I read about it in the menu since I had plenty of time to read. As we walked into the restaurant, I passed a couple dining al fresco. A spicy, inviting aroma was wafting from the pasta resting upon their table. I knew then that was what I’d be ordering. Since you might need time to decide your order, you can also read about the building’s rich history here. In the end, I did order that rigatoni and housemade sausage pasta with spinach, roasted tomatoes, red peppers, garlic, olive oil and romano cheese. It was just as amazing as I had predicted it would be, and it paired nicely with a glass of Pinot Noir. I also had a bite of Ashlyn’s spaghetti and clams, which was in a butter sauce. I’m thinking this restaurant can do no wrong. At least, not when it comes to pasta.
After dinner and drinks, Mike suggested we get dessert from Madeline’s Restaurant across the way. Amanda and I selected raspberry crème brûlée from a case full of divine desserts, and Mike ordered some sort of chocolate bourbon cake. Both tasted amazing. Yeah, we are those kinds of friends — the ones that eat off each others’ plates.
For lunch before the spring game on Saturday, we stuck close to Cornell’s campus and explored Collegetown, where the Cornell kids hang. We ate at Rulloff’s, a bar named after a serial killer. Edward Rulloff’s unusually large brain is on display in the psychology department at Cornell. I hope to see that on a future trip. Eating at a bar named for a serial killer was delightfully creepy, and the food was unexpectedly delicious for a dive bar that oozed character. The walls of the dark and dreary bar were adorned with antique-looking artifacts. The atmosphere practically transported me back to the mid-1800s, when Rulloff was poisoning family members and dumping their bodies in Cayuga Lake. Quite fitting for a serial killer’s bar, I suppose, the ladies’ restroom in the bar’s basement had some of the scariest conditions I’ve seen since frat parties during my own college days.
Gorgeous gorges, charming college town
“Ithaca is gorges” read a T-shirt at one of the shops we passed while touring the town. It’s a play on words referencing the impressive gorges at Cornell. We also toured the prestigious campus, Cayuga Lake — yes, Rulloff’s dumping zone — which is one of the Finger Lakes, and a rushing waterfall.
More Big Red football and white wine to come
Come fall, more commonly known to sports fans as football season, Amanda and I will return to Ithaca for some Ivy League action on the gridiron. I’m looking forward to sharing more insights about this art-filled, folksy college town with you then. I’m also hoping we’ll find time to visit some of the Finger Lakes wineries, too. While visiting last weekend, I tasted two local white wines. Both were sweet and light — perfectly refreshing after that six hour drive.
Wish you were here,