Thursday, May 14, 2009

Adventures in the Southern Tier

Took a trip with R up to the Binghamton/Ithaca area for a few days, so I've been away for a while. All in all, it was a fun time. A few general observations first:

Had a lot of fun at the B-Mets game, the Ross Park Zoo, the Kopernik Observatory, and a few other little things here and there. But trying to find something to do in Binghamton is quite a chore. Sadly, it's a pretty run-down place. Which made it all the more remarkable that just about every one of our dining experiences was great - Crepe Heaven and Whole In The Wall stood out.
Owego and Ithaca are very cool towns. Owego is very small, but packs a lot into its downtown. And we definitely could have spent another day or two in Ithaca. Plenty to do there, both indoor (restaurants, bars, antiques, miscellaneous unique stores) and out (the falls, the TOTALLY AWESOME Sapsucker Woods Bird Sanctuary, Buttermilk Falls State Park).

But this blog is about beer, so here we go with the beery things from our trip...
Labatt's and the Guiness trifecta: I know we were technically "upstate", but it still didn't feel like we were that far from the general NYC area. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me that Labatt's was so pervasive up in that area. And, it seemed like every bar or restaurant that we went to in Binghamton had a promotional display for the Guiness/Smithwick's/Harp trio. Strange.

Cyber Cafe West: We checked this place out one night on a whim. Besides, R loves anything "cyber".We were looking for something to do, and I happened to recognize the name from beeradvocate's Binghamton directory. Turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Got a couple of wraps for a late dinner which were pretty tasty, and they had the latest Sly Fox hop project on tap, which kind of blew me away. It was the Polish Marynka hop. Interesting beer, though not a great pale ale hop. Reminded me of black grapes. And the Cyber Cafe West also turned out to be kind of a weird little place for people watching. Thumbs up!

The Belmar: We drove past this place in the middle of an afternoon in broad daylight. We were stopped at a light and again, I noticed the name of the place from beeradvocate's Binghamton directory. I was trying to look in the open door of the place to get an idea of what it was like inside when a fella standing out front smoking a cigarette told me to "just drive your car, don't fuckin' look over here". Needless to say we didn't stop in. Thumbs down!

Doc's Homebrew Supply: Had to show the LHBS some love while we were in town. Assuming that the guy working there was indeed Doc, hell of a nice guy. Picked up some supplies and asked for a recommendation for a beer bar, and after a shared lament over the complete absence of brewpubs in the area, Doc suggested the Ale House in Vestal....

The Ale House: The beeradvocate comments on this place were all generally positive, but most did caution that several of the three dozen or so taps would be out. This turned out to be true, unfortunately. What I was impressed with was the concentration on local beers. A bunch from Ithaca and Cooperstown on tap, as well as other NY brews (Saranac, Blue Point, can't recall the others right away). I also recall a (somewhat rare for the area) Great Lakes offering. A small but friendly place, definitely the best beer selection that we could find in the Binghamton area.

Sam the Beer Man: I always find the upstate NY beer stores to be a bit of a trip. Being in NJ, it's very weird to walk into a store that sells just beer. I came away from here with mixed twelve packs from Cooperstown and Middle Ages, and two six packs from Lake Placid. And, quite impressively, the Belgian selection rivaled anything I've seen in Manhattan.

John Barleycorn Tavern (aka Josh Barrelcorn's): Meet the locals in Owego! Stopped in for one beer at this place and found Cooperstown on tap again (amazing that this brewery does not appear in NYC at all. Ever.) Seemed like a nice crowd and had a pretty cool deck out in back looking over the river.

Tioga Trails Cafe: Not really a bar, but had a few craft taps and a bunch of the Ithaca beers in bottles. Interesting space. They had a pretty large stage and some couches and lounge chairs. Not sure what the nightlife is like in Owego, but something tells me that the Tioga Trails Cafe is probably one of the more upscale spots. Could be wrong.

Maxie's Supper Club: This was definitely my favorite restaurant in Ithaca (sorry, R, but the Moosewood was totally disappointing). I'm a sucker for both oysters and New Orleans style cooking, and Maxie's did both well. Throw in some craft beers on tap (I had a Stone Pale Ale and something from Abita, I think... shame on me) and I'm a happy boy. By the way, the oysters were malpeques and wellfleets.

Ithaca Beer Company: We stopped in the brewery for a tasting - no tours on weekdays. Mike treated us great as he took us through the flight, with the very hoppy pilsner being the highlight for me. I came home with a mixed twelve pack and three bottles of their Excelsior series. It was also great to see them supporting the scene and selling homebrew supplies from the tasting room.

Six Mile Creek Vineyard: OK, so we're finishing up with wine and not beer. Sue me. Six Mile Creek is the closest winery to Ithaca proper, and it was totally worth the short drive if for no other reason than to stroll the very scenic property. We tasted six different varieties each. I'm no wine guy, but the white wines were striking a chord for me. The Reserve Riesling was dry and minerally as advertised, and I could totally see myself polishing off a bottle and passing out in the pond out in back. Which is why I didn't think it would be a good idea for us to break out one of the bottles to bring it down to the gazebo for an early evening drink.

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