One of my favorite parts of being a food blogger is that people now come to me and ask me where they should eat out. I may not have a high falutin’, monetized, Pioneer Woman-level corner of the blogoverse here, and neither do I have any formal culinary training, but if friends, family, and colleagues are seeking my advice on food, I’m a happy girl. I have colleagues stop me in the ladies’ room at work all the time and ask me what new places I’ve eaten, and I’m tickled pink when mamasan tells me someone stopped her in Target to mention how much they love Big Hungry. It gives me a little frisson like I’m the real deal – like Bourdain or Fieri. So first and foremost: thanks for reading, y’all!
So I’m proactively giving you your next great dining adventure, if you live in the Southern half of the state: Booker’s Backyard, just outside of Ithaca and along the Eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, makes a perfect wine tour lunch break, date night al fresco hideaway, or birthday dinner treat. It’s not fancy, but its outdoor patio is magical, its bar is cool, and its décor is modern country. I think this place would make for a great rehearsal dinner restaurant, and for Melinda and me, it was absolute perfection for a hearty lunch after a breathtakingly gorgeous, early summer morning hike of Buttermilk Falls.
You may want to begin your meal with a cocktail. Especially if you just completed a hike during which you somehow ended going uphill during the second half rather than the first! Luckily, Booker’s has a fun cocktail menu with drinks named after some literary greats, as well as lots of beer and wine. We chose the Tequila Mockingbird, which was fabulously refreshing in the heat of the day. The ginger ale and Chambord brought the sweet, while the tequila and lime brought the tart – a delectable balance of naughty and nice.
In case your appetizer, fried pickles, doesn’t come out quickly enough, assume the position:
But have no fear, because despite the penchant restaurants above the Mason Dixon Line have for frying up dill pickle spears, Booker’s Backyard is frying up chips. Well done, guys! These could have been even crispier fried for my particular taste, but the dill flavor and snap of pickle juice inside were aces, and you know my ranch tooth was loving dipping those little suckers!
In case you haven’t checked out Booker’s menu yet, let me call to your attention the entire section of mac and cheeses. You can get lobster mac, chili mac, or sausage mac. Or, you can be truly outstanding, and order the smoked cheddar and fontina-bathed pasta topped with a giant dollop of BBQ pulled pork and crispy bacon. I don’t want to tell you what to do or anything, but yeah, you should eat this. If there’s anything bothering you…maybe the Syria crisis, your lack of overdraft protection, an ingrown toenail, or a weird sound your car keeps making – I assure you, this bowl of saucey, carb-laden goodness will fix it. Now, if you’ve read BHS for any length of time, you know I can be a harsh critic of macaroni and cheese, because the one I make is pretty fly. This dish, which we owe to my favorite Founding Father, Old Tommy Jeff, must be made with good quality, aged cheese, and the sauce must be kicked up with some spice. Booker’s uses four cheese, white pepper and garlic salt in their mornay, and then combines it with sweet, lush pulled pork. The bites you get with the bacon are saltier, and the bites with the pork alone are sweeter, and the whole works is sauced generously enough not to gum up completely and become a congealed mess by your third bite. It is simply divine, which you will realize as soon as you gaze upon it:
It was a foregone conclusion that Melinda would get the lobster roll. It similarly foretold that she would not finish said roll, after fried pickles and mac and cheese as starters. But that doesn’t detract a bit from how good this sandwich was! In fact, it was to die for. The celery and lemon in the lobster salad lightened it up without distracting from the lobstery, buttery goodness you want from this summertime indulgence. And the mayo wasn’t too gloppy, which is my educated term for heavy. To boot, the bun was just slightly crisp, and buttery-light. Scrumptious.
In hindsight, after having the pulled pork on the mac and cheese, I should have chosen something else for my entrée. But you guys know what a sucker I am for the porcine picks on a menu! So the Dr. Pepper and chipotle pulled pork was delicious, but a little bit samey to what I’d already put down. The pork was a little sweet for me in this setting (after all, I was raised on Carolina vinegar-based BBQ), though I liked the crunch of the red cabbage horseradish slaw. Again, the bun was fabulous, with a slight, brittle crispness and terrific lightness.
The gentleman who seated us, who may very well have been the owner, indicated to Melinda and me that the restaurant is relatively new and had met with some food criticism in the beginning, but I think that’s well behind them now. Between the idyllic patio with umbrella tables and a charming pond, and the fun, casual, tasty fare, I think Booker’s will catch on fast. We scored it a nine out of 10 on the scientific, world-renowned BHS Scale, and we are dying to bring Shawn and BLD back for a double date.
So the next time you’re looking for a daytime getaway for a tipple and a taste, a romantic yet gut-busting date night dinner, or a special occasion meal worthy of tossing aside your bikini body challenge, think Booker’s Backyard, just north of Ithaca, and let me know what you think of the joint! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!
PS: Oh. My. God. I almost forgot to bestow upon you this photo, which could alone possibly convince me never to diet again: