Date Night

It’s that time of year. No, not the doldrums of winter I covered last week, but the chocolate-scented, pink-doilied, champagne-sipping, red velvet extravaganza known as Valentine’s Day. The biggest date night of the year! Whether you savor creating the perfect expression of love for your mate or you bemoan February 14 as a manufactured holiday invented by greeting card companies to enslave us all in their marketing wickedness, you have to appreciate a mid-winter excuse to deep-dive into expensive chocolates and aphrodisiac menus. For most of you, male or female, Valentine’s Day 2011 will involve dining out – whether you celebrate on the weekend or make that Monday night into an event. To inspire you, I thought I would share some of my favorite date night spots across Central NY.

First off, a humble setting for you low-key lovers. My boyfriend Shawn and I are pretty laid back these days for date nights. Rather than get all dressed up and stuff ourselves silly at a fine dining restaurant, we like to grab a casual bite out, then come home and watch a movie with the fireplace blazing. He first brought me to Bud’s Place AKA Wonderful Bud’s, on Rt. 434 in Apalachin, NY, a couple years ago. I had driven by for years, thinking it was just another bar like the Dugout. Au contraire! Bud’s is certainly old school, but the interior is a surprise: adorned with twinkle lights, much quieter than any old roadhouse, and serving up some undeniably good Italian fare. The prices are low and the menu is simple, making Bud’s a regular on our date night list. Perhaps most special, the owner, Son of Bud, as he calls himself, makes the rounds every night, lending personal and attentive service to the affair.

Welcome to Wonderful Bud’s!

Shawn’s standard pick at Bud’s is a good one: the rigatoni parmigiana. He gets it without meat, but I like to get one spicy sausage link and one of Bud’s light, tasty meatballs with mine. It comes in a retro handled crock, smothered in good old bubbling mozzarella cheese and perfectly dressed with Bud’s excellent sweet red sauce. Similarly, the lasagna is classic – very cheesy without being overwhelmingly heavy – and the chicken parm is archetypal - a huge, pounded cutlet fried and graced with that exemplary sauce. The pizza at Bud’s is a highlight, too: remarkably flavorful hand-tossed crust, not too thin or thick, with the same red sauce and high-quality toppings. This past Saturday night, on recommendation from a friend, I tried Bud’s prime rib special. I wasn’t disappointed. The portion was huge and satisfactory. Two other telling points: their desserts, including a really fine cheesecake, are homemade, and the crumbly blue cheese you can opt for on your salad at the start of the meal is top-grade and plentiful. While nothing at Bud’s is avant garde or gourmet, every single menu item I’ve tried is solid, affordable and delicious. You can easily have dinner for two for less than $30 at Bud’s, and you don’t need to change into high heels or even dress pants to enjoy the hospitality and good food.

Saturday night prime rib special at Bud’s. No garnish, no fanfare, no problem.

When we first started dating, our favorite date nights were spent in Sackets Harbor. I was working at the Chamber of Commerce there at the time, and despite spending my work week in the village limits, I was happy to soak up precious weekend hours there as well. Shawn was already living and working in the Southern Tier, but he would come up on weekends and take me out on the town. Our two favorites were the Sackets Harbor Brew Pub and Goodfellos, which was new that summer. I haven’t eaten at the Brew Pub in years, truth be told, so I need to put it on my list of places to dine and review here. But back then, I literally had the best steak ever there: tender, juicy, thick, filet mignon finished with an impeccable compound butter that the then-chef Karen Cornish told me was just equal parts butter and gourmet steak sauce. I don’t know if they’re still topping steaks with that butter, but I intend to find out. Looking over their menu today, I can see ordering the scallop stack as an appetizer and the filet topped with sautéed mushrooms. Shawn would get the railroad ribs. If we were going to Goodfellos, which I reviewed last spring, I’d be all over the pork shank linguini carbonara, and I’m betting he would try the ziti al forno. Either of these restaurants would make for good Valentine’s Day choices. The ambiances are complementary to romantic interludes and the respective beer and wine lists make liquid courage easy to swallow.

Of course, there are lots of great Valentine’s Day possibilities in the Northcountry. Sboro’s on Coffeen St. is always a safe bet for fine dining within the city limits, as is Cavallario’s Cucina on Massey St. You might try my favs Ives Hill or Fireside, or be adventurous and head to the new Japanese steakhouse on Arsenal St. Café Mira is now open in Adams as well, and though I haven’t visited yet, I’m hearing good reports. The important thing to remember is: don’t stuff yourself! Take a doggie bag home so you won’t be in a food coma if your beloved has any proposals or lavish gifts in store. Wink, wink.

As for our plans for Valentine’s Day 2011? Well, we haven’t made them yet. I assume there will be a dining component, and you know I’ll pony up the details as soon as they’re available. Meantime, activate the comments section to share your favorite date night and Valentine’s Day destinations. Do you travel to the Finger Lakes or Syracuse for a special dinner or stick closer to home? Do you prefer to dress up for your nights out or stay comfortable and casual? Sound off below!

And remember, Big Hungry Shelby t-shirts are now available. If you would like one of your very own, message me on Facebook or comment below for details! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Bud's Place on Urbanspoon

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