1.02.2012

Back to School Stew

It’s back to school time in upstate NY for those of the higher education persuasion, and as if on cue, the weather has turned from high heat and humidity to cooler, grayer, rainy days this week. Whether you’re a parent, depositing your children at the SUNY or private institution to which you now owe your life savings, or a student packing yourself up and hauling shower shoes, rolls of quarters and the like off to whatever school you’ve pledged your troth, you may want something good to eat in your destination town. Thus, you’re lucky I’m here! So let’s kick things right off with a smattering of colleges and the towns in which they reside, with some resources for you:
Binghamton University/BCC/Vestal:

I know I mentioned a couple weeks ago that the Spiedie and Rib Pit is right near the college. It’s cheap and no frills, with great food and speedy (see what I did there?) service. Also really close to campus is Los Tapatios – they don’t have a website, but here’s their Yelp entry: http://www.yelp.com/biz/los-tapatios-vestal. Having had Mexican food in San Diego and Austin, I wouldn’t say this place is top drawer or groan-worthy. I will say they have yummy salsa, good quality rice and beans, a very satisfactory beef taco, and filling enchiladas and chimichangas. The chile relleno here doesn’t do it for me, nor does the guacamole, but the service is really friendly and warm, and you simply cannot beat the prices.

Ithaca College/Cornell/Ithaca:

If you go to school in Ithaca, you’re probably psyched to get back for Collegetown Bagels, Purity Ice Cream and the Hot Truck. But parents, if you’re dropping Sally or Jimmy off and want some good eats, you may want a spot with a smidge more panache. If you’re into famous places, vegetarianism or hippies, then natch, the Moosewood Restaurant is a must-try. You know I love a good steak (or burger, or prime rib…) as much as the next omnivore, but there’s a reason The Moosewood has been cranking out seasonal vegan cuisine for more than 30 years. It’s beautiful inside – warm and inviting; and while the wait staff is mostly what I would refer to as “alterna,” you will not feel out of place with your Coach bag and Banana Republic trousers. Try a salad with the gorgeous spinach-basil dressing, a selection of olives, cheeses and breads from the appy menu, and then just let your imagination and stomach guide you. They change the menu at every meal, but I’ve always left groaning with satisfaction and surprised that a vegan or vegetarian meal could leave me so happy. Oh, and if they have the vegan chocolate cake? Dive in. You won’t believe it. If you just can’t wrap your mind around a meat-less dinner, head on down State St to Maxie’s Supper Club and Oyster Bar. This place has all the gumbo, ribs, po boys, shrimp and grits and fried chicken you could ever want, and they wrap it up in funk and serve it alongside a delicious cocktail with a rebel yell. There’s live music, a sick raw bar, and the food is pure love. Get some!

SUNY Geneseo/Geneseo:

This is where I went to college, and let me tell you, I never went hungry. My friend Chris and I absolutely loved to steal off campus for lunch at Miceli's Main Street Deli. They don’t have a Website, but take my advice and get a turkey and bacon sub. Miceli’s was toasting sub rolls when Quizno’s was just a twinkle in some CEO’s eye, and the deli meats here are very high quality. Some folks would send you to Aunt Cookies for a sub instead, but my money was always on Miceli’s. It’s nicer inside, and the sides and desserts they have put them over old Cookie any day. There’s also an important choice to be made if pizza is your penchant: Mama Mia’s or Pizza Paul? Mama Mia’s was always my choice for regular, daytime dining. Overall, their pie has better flavor with a thinner crust, and you sometimes get those awesome crust bubbles that everyone fights over. But, as you know, sometimes when you’re in college, there are nights when one might be…over served or perhaps…craving something? I’m not insinuating that the good students of Geneseo engage in any kind of impropriety, but these things do crop up. When one finds oneself hungry for pizza at, say, 2:12 a.m., one should visit Pizza Paul’s. Why, you ask? Because of a wondrous little invention called DOUBLE DOUGH. That’s right. Not extra cheese, not meat lovers. Nay! Paul has sent forth into the world a pie so replete with carbohydrates that even the most depraved communication major can seek redemption and a happier morning if she darkens his door.

SUNY Potsdam/Clarkson/SUNY Canton/SLU/Potsdam:

My best friend from high school went to Potsdam and tended bar at Maxfield’s when she was up there. I haven’t been in awhile, but the interior was lovely and the food solid and consistent. I believe the same people own Maxfield’s and the Cactus Cantina, but I would recommend saving your meals for Maxfields and your partying for their other establishment. Another Potsdam favorite, and a don’t miss in my book, is Sergi’s. Again, they don’t have a website (dear mom and pop restaurants of NY: assign one of the grandkids the task of building you a Lycos or Go Daddy-hosted Website! It’s easy! You can pay them in pizza!), but here is their Yelp.com page: http://www.yelp.com/biz/sergis-italian-restaurant-pizzeria-and-banquet-hall-potsdam. You’ll want to get pizza or stromboli here, and you will be glad you did. Well, you’ll be glad if you like what I like, but be forewarned: my boyfriend and a bunch of his buddies also went to college in Potsdam, as did my brother, and the debates rage fiercely about Sergi’s. People either love it, or hate it like cancer. So give it a try and give me a shout out. I’d love to hear your take!

Colgate/Hamilton:

Hamilton is a tiny town, but happens to have several places for pretty good food. Melinda’s family lives right near there, in Earlville, so I’ve had occasion to haunt it with some frequency. For great bar food, head to Nichols & Beal, which is at the five corners in the center of the village. Get the BCFs to start if you’re like me and love to feel guilty after you eat. These cheese fries are loaded down with a serious amount of bacon, cheese and ranch. The Nichols burger is a treat, as they’re making everything fresh and to order here. They also sell hilarious t-shirts, which I appreciate because they’re something about hanging out on the corner, and I always enjoy inappropriate humor. If you want to get really naughty or really happy, pop about five doors up Utica St to Maxwell’s Chocolates and ask them to make you a half moon shake. First, the man takes a banana and bids it farewell as he shoves it in a blender with cookies and cream ice cream, milk, chocolate syrup and more oreo cookies. Then, he laughs maniacally as the blender beats all of those lovely things into submission. Next, he pours it into a cup and looks just a little guilty over the decadence of it all. OK, I might have imagined some of that narrative, but I had this shake way back in, like, May, and I still think about it. It was fabulous. It may have caused hallucinations, even! They also sell really fine chocolates, and get this, they deliver to the college. Hold me. When you go, mention that you know Melinda – even if you only know her as a Big Hungry accomplice, maybe it will get you a free truffle.

I was hoping that by this time of the year, I would have had a chance to get to Geneva, so we could eat together near Hobart and William Smith, and I really thought Shawn and I would have been to Rochester by now to squeeze in more eats near Nazareth and RIT. Alas, my summer has been filled with pageants and business travel and just not enough eating. It’s shameful, really. I mean, I’ve eaten a lot, probably more than my fare share, of really great food around upstate NY. But not nearly enough! On my list are Kabuki and Blue Water Grill in Skaneateles! Ports in Geneva! Canesus Inn and Good Luck in Rochester! Dinosaur BBQ and Gentile’s in Syracuse! But alas, I didn’t fit them in before the inevitable drop of fall. But fear not, my hungries. I’m whisking Melinda off to Corning this weekend, Shawn and I are going to try to head west this fall, and there are more trips to the Northcountry on the docket. I won’t stop eating if you don’t stop reading. Deal?

Before I sign off today, I wanted to share a couple other blogs I’ve been reading voraciously lately. The first, I just discovered this week. If you live in the Binghamton area or come here frequently for school or heading to points south, check out Tasting Binghamton. My friend Leslie has a hilarious blog that’s not focused solely on food, but often grazes across the topic lovingly, like I might do at a breakfast buffet: Soapbox Sally. And finally, a former colleague-turned-friend, Sheri, has an enlightening blog and budding consulting business on wellness and clean foods called Eat Yourself Zen. Just reading it should clean up all the free radicals in your system deposited while reading my blog, or at least make you feel more virtuous. So come on back next week, when I’ll be sharing more delicious treats and going on another culinary adventure on your behalf! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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