The traditional first sign of spring my family and I observe each year is our annual journey to Corning for the Miss Finger Lakes Pageant, which is always the last weekend in February. This year, the weather was less than splendid, but our crew was augmented by extra members of our Miss TI board of directors, so we conjured a celebratory spirit and waded through the snow in our four inch heels with glee.
Our home base of operations, as it is every year, was the Radisson Hotel in Corning, NY. This isn’t the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, the most tricked out or the poshest, but it’s hard not to brag on this gem regardless. First of all, the rates are fantastic – I think we usually pay $99 for our rooms, which is the rate for people connected to the pageant, but still. The beds are of the Sleep Number variety and very comfy, and the service is top-notch – much more like what you get at a four or five star resort than in a small town in Upstate NY. We had a little pow-wow in the lobby lounge after the pageant Saturday night, and the bartender Kathy could not have been more gracious and helpful.
We always have breakfast there on the morning of our departure, and the deconstructed corned beef hash with poached eggs and potato cakes I enjoyed this past Sunday was fresh, imaginative and just a little fancy. Rather than a chopped-up hash, slices of boiled corned beef were topped with two small potato cakes and poached eggs, crowned with some lightly charred onion rings. Delicious! Our waitress told us they’re still working out the kinks with this menu item, so if she’s reading, I would suggest a sprinkle of fresh herbs over the top, and maybe using larger eggs so there’s more runny yolk to go around.
They call it hash, baby
In any event, if you need a place to stay in Corning, for business or pleasure, this is the spot.
For dinner, as promised in my last Corning post, our entire troop hit up Sorge’s, which is right on Market Street down the main drag of the village. While we were a bit rushed due to the 7 p.m. start time of the pageant, it was a really fine experience and a solid, good meal. The former Sorge’s had a pretty awful fire a couple years ago, and it is newly reopened. The brand spanking new interior is fresh, modern and stylish.
Our troop of Hungries and the new interior of Sorge’s – please note dude in background hiding from camera. What’s up with that?
We began by sharing mozzarella bruschetta rolls. These were sort of messy, but sort of brilliant. Thin slices of fresh mozzarella cheese were rolled around diced tomatoes and black olives and drizzled with a syrupy sweet balsamic glaze and settled into a fluffy bed of greens. The balsamic was the star here – I don’t know if it was simple grocery store vinegar reduced down to something magical or actually a pricey aged varietal, there wasn’t enough on the plate to tell – but it was good.
The soup and salad course was pretty de rigueur as far as Italian restaurants go. My minestrone soup was pretty blah, and a fellow diner described his salad as “unremarkable,” although others at the table noted the variety of ingredients: lettuce, spinach, radishes, tomatoes and yummy croutons.
The best entrees of the bunch were the veal parmesan with a side of spaghetti, homemade fettuccine with clams and the seafood lasagna. I’ll give second tier status to the braciole – my choice – and salmon milano, with the ravioli michelangelo and filet of haddock with fries bringing up the rear.
The veal parmesan comes in first due to the outstanding quality of the veal itself. I have had a lot of tough, stringy, second-rate veal used in parmesan because dousing something in a decent red sauce can ostensibly cover a multitude of sins. Sorge’s is not playing that game. This meat was tender, expertly and crisply breaded and more flavorful than a cutlet usually manages to be. Sorge’s outstanding red sauce enhanced, rather than masked, this delectable crunchy meat treat. The sauce is sweet, like a lot of traditional marinaras, but also managed to be spicy without burning the mouth or becoming overly salty. It is very well balanced and delicious on a variety of dishes, including as a topper to my braciole, which was flavorful but much less tender than the version my beloved Giovanni’s in Watertown used to produce.
Our Miss Thousand Islands, Morgan, ordered the fettuccine with olive oil and clam sauce. The soft, homemade noodles were a perfect canvas for this excellent sauce, which was sweet, goopy and garlicky without any hint of sharpness. The clams were absolutely the most tender I have ever tasted, and were perfectly fresh. I tasted several bites, as did poor Morgan’s dress, which then had to be changed before that night’s main event.
The seafood lasagna, salmon Milano and ravioli were all dressed in a really unique alfredo. My mom and I were into it, diners Deltra and Stan, a little less so. To each his own, right? Rather than having a really predominant parmesan flavor, this sauce had something different going on. Maybe some romano or fontina cheese in there? I don’t know, but it was light in texture and absolutely slammin’. Overall, Mom’s seafood lasagna was a home run, surprisingly light and packed with bay scallops, shrimp and crab meat.
The remaining standouts of the meal were the french fries Corri ordered as a side to her spicily-seasoned haddock. These babies were homemade, cut in-house, lightly-but-thoroughly salted and just barely crunchy. Just about a perfect fry, in my book. I would LOVE these drenched in brown gravy alongside a burger.
At the end of the meal, I took my customary poll and we awarded a numerical value to Sorge’s: 7 on the BHS scale. It was a very enjoyable meal, the service was solid, the atmosphere was pretty standard and some of the food really shone. I believe the final tally rang up somewhere in the $160 range, which for seven people is not bad, although we only had one appetizer and few adult beverages. That said, as food costs soar across the country, I think the days of $8 entrees, even in mom and pop joints like Sorge’s or Pete’s, are numbered. Restaurateurs just can’t keep prices at rock bottom when their costs are skyrocketing – and the consumer is going to have to suck it up. Thanks a lot, economy!
That wraps up another fun weekend in Corning, home of pageant girls and blown glass, the gaffer district and funky little boutiques and shops. If you’re looking for an easy-to-get-to day trip, I recommend looking into the Crystal City (not to be confused with Crystal City, VA). And by the way, the Corning Museum of Glass is not the boring, stale museum the name might imply. Look into visiting – it’s really cool! Corning not only manufactured fancy blown glass and Stueben crystal and Corningware kitchen goods over the years, but television screens and all kinds of rad inventions. The museum has rooms of chess boards and other oddities rendered in glass, yes, but they also have live demos, interactive exhibits and really amazing showcases. If you have kids in a variety of ages, they will love it here.
I don’t have a good ending picture of the museum, but will pretty girls do? Your wish is my command. Until next week: My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!
Miss Fulton County, Miss Finger Lakes and Miss Thousand Islands – all from the Miss NY Class of 2011!
I’m a clam digger. Get it?
How do you do balsamic?
My Dad, resplendent in his BHS t-shirt, presents the Radisson coffee cart