Where to Eat, Drink, and Debate the Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae in Ithaca
Fork in the Road thinks you should get out of town this summer, even if it's only for a day. In this Summer Fridays series, we're covering the best spots to eat in popular day trip locations. See more Summer Fridays ideas in our archives.
All photos by Caryn Ganeles
Known for its two major universities, deep gorges, and progressive politics, Ithaca, New York, is a short four hour car ride from New York City, making it a good spot for a weekend getaway. Believe it or not, Ithaca also has more restaurants per capita than NYC, and Mayor Svante Myrick wants you to try them. "It's more than just quantity -- it's quality," says Myrick. "We have world class chefs from all over the world and -- because we are surrounded by farms -- we have access to fresh local ingredients. That's why so many Ithacans eat out so often. We support our restaurants because of their quality, and that patronage has caused the scene to boom."
Start your upstate adventure at the Ithaca Farmer's Market (Steamboat Landing, 545 3rd Street) to check out local produce and relax on the pier that juts into Cayuga Lake. Head straight to Littletree Orchards and grab a warm apple cider donut for 75 cents. You'll need this to tide you over while you're waiting on the line for Solaz, a burrito stand that consistently has the longest line at the market. Order the special breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, medium salsa, homefries, and sausage, and wonder why you've never had a breakfast burrito this good. While you're chewing on your flour tortilla, head to the other side of the market for Macro-Mamas, a macrobiotic vendor famous for their corn nuggets and peanut lime noodles, which are tangy and refreshing on a hot summer day.
If you prefer to eat the breakfast of the local college student, go to Collegetown Bagels (415 College Avenue, 607-273-0982), known to the Cornell University and Ithaca College community as CTB. Sit outside on the patio and watch hungover coeds trek up to the library while chomping on a Mexican bagel -- jalapeño cream cheese, fresh salsa, and melted cheddar served on an open faced bagel.
For a more grown up sandwich, head to Collegetown Bagels' sister restaurant, Ithaca Bakery (400 North Meadow Street, 607-273-7110). You could easily spend half an hour reading the chalkboard menu's list of over fifty sandwiches separated by type of meat, local product content, Empire State favorites, and more. Laura's Sweet Surprise is a sweet and savory combination of locally raised pulled pork, Manchego cheese, caramelized onions, local strawberry jam, and balsamic reduction served warm on toasted French bread.
Located in the Finger Lakes region, Ithaca's cold winters and sloping hills make it a great place for viticulture and winemaking. With several award-winning wineries dotting the coast along Cayuga Lake, it's not hard to find a solid glass of riesling or pinot noir. But if wine isn't your thing, head to the Ithaca Beer Company (122 Ithaca Beer Drive, 607-273-0766) for a $5 flight of some of the brewery's most popular varieties, including Ithaca Apricot Wheat. Play soccer or frisbee with friends in the spacious outdoor area, or just pull up an Adirondack chair and soak up the sun.
For a classic local dinner, head to Glenwood Pines Restaurant (1213 Taughannock Boulevard, 607-273-3709), which has been serving its signature 'Pinesburger' since 1974. Served on a loaf of French bread and slathered with thousand island dressing, eating one Pinesburger is a feat in itself. For those who are brave (or stupid) enough, try the Pinesburger challenge and eat four in under an hour to get your mug on the wall of glory.
If you still have room for dessert, go to Purity Ice Cream (700 Cascadilla Street, 607-272-1545) and get yourself educated on the great controversy of the birth of the ice cream sundae. Ithaca claims it invented the sundae in 1892, when local proprietor Chester Platt put cherry syrup and a candied cherry atop vanilla ice cream. Two Rivers, Wisconsin, disagrees and says the sundae was invented in that town in 1881 when a local soda fountain owner put chocolate sauce on some ice cream at a customer's request. Although Purity wasn't founded until 1936, the shop still has an opinion on the matter, so ask the guy behind the counter about it while he gets you a scoop of Boomberry -- vanilla ice cream with black cherries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberry puree.