Prance on to Dasher’s

When I originally started Big Hungry Shelby, one of the reasons I wanted to focus on Upstate New York restaurants is because, attending local pageants as part of my volunteering with the Miss America Organization, I get around to a lot of small towns in the state. This past weekend, I dragged Melinda with me to a pageant in Cortland, and she suggested a little spot in Homer for lunch, recommended to her by a BU professor who also is a reader. Dear reader – thank you for the tip, and I hope you speak up in the comments!

Dasher’s Corner Pub is located on North Main St in Homer, which is just north of Cortland along Rt. 81, in case the drive from Binghamton to Syracuse is just too much for you without a stop to eat. And you know, if it is, I’m not going to judge you. I once knew this woman from Ireland, and she told me that her family’s big vacation ever year was to Dublin, which was a four hour drive from where they lived, and that they would pack a lunch to stop and eat along the way, because it was such a long drive. It made me giggle then, and it does now, as I travel between Binghamton and Watertown as if it were just a Wegmans run.

Anyway! Dasher’s is charming inside, all dark wood and nautical notions. I loved the exposed beams in the ceiling, and the sort of shabby-chic nautical décor. Even more, I loved the fun 80s tunes playing overhead, but not drowning out our conversation. If I had to ding the pub on one thing, it would be that we froze our entire meal – the dining room was quite chilly. This seems to be a theme this winter, as if our restaurants just can’t keep up with the marathon winter we’re experiencing.

There were four appetizers on the menu I really wanted, but since there were just us two, Melinda helped me narrow down to the beef carpaccio and the burratta and greens. She’s so good like that. The beef for the carpaccio was sliced ever-so-slightly thicker than I’ve had it before, but was just as buttery and tender as one would expect. It contrasted nicely with the peppery arugula, salty, snappy capers, the zing of drizzled Dijon mustard, and a very smart, light sprinkle of sea salt. Whomever thought to finish this plate with a sprinkle of salt was very wise in the ways of the kitchen. Total ninja move, which transformed this from a plate of sliced meat, greens, and mustard into carpaccio

The burratta and greens was another animal entirely – intensely bright and fresh on the front of the palate, with a deep spice kick in the back of throat thanks to the cherry peppers in the Utica greens. The midpoint of any given bite in your mouth was gorgeous, oozy creaminess from the cream center of the fried burratta cheese. The tomato sauce that garnished the greens was so fresh tasting, I would bet that chef either makes it fresh per order, or cans his own garden grown tomatoes each summer. Splendid.

I had decided before entering Dasher’s that I would be having a lobster roll for lunch, but once Melinda talked me out of getting the liver pate as an appetizer, there was a domino effect that led me to the Wellington sandwich as my entrée. Indeed, the pate was the brightest shining star on the plate, though the sliced prime rib was tender and uber juicy, the mushrooms were deep and earthy, and the sesame seed roll was light enough to soak up the jus but not enough of a sissy to fall to pieces. In order to imagine biting into this masterpiece, think of the best French dip sandwich you’ve had, perhaps Ithaca Ale House’s stunning rendition, but a little less salty, then add the minerally, salty funk of pate to that gorgeous mouthful. Yeah, I know, yummm.

Melinda ordered the Napa Burger, a beef burger topped with red wine sauce, mushrooms and brie. It was gorgeous: earthy from the mushrooms, sweet from the sauce, and a bit of funky cheese flavor from the medium-bodied brie. This burger was bold and assertive, and I loved the great grilled flavor of the burger itself, which added a smoky, charred addition to the works. 

I’m on Weight Watchers, and I’ve done really well. But I’m still human, I’m still Shelby, and I have zero willpower, so we ordered dessert. All the desserts at Dasher’s are made in house, which always pleases me. I would have been tempted by the profiteroles, but as I mentioned earlier, I was chilly our entire meal, so the custard-filled donut with a side of hot chocolate, for dipping, won. Melinda and I split it, because while we are greedy, we also are ladies. 

The custard on this mama was ultra sweet, with a thick, rich mouth feel that was still light enough not to be overwhelming. You could taste the butter in it, but you couldn’t taste only butter. The fried donut was crunchy on the outside and dense, but still somehow airy on the inside. I would say that the custard was stronger than the donut in flavor – I’m not sure I would have been as impressed with the donut alone. Dunking bites of that sucker in the whipped creamed-topped hot cocoa was the real deal. Melinda opined, “This is the best dessert I’ve had in a long time.” I agree, milady.

We were excited enough about this place, that when we got to the pageant in Cortland right after our lunch, we recommended it to others, and it was the first thing I told my work friends about Monday morning. I mean, Homer is not exactly high on my punch list of places to visit, but its convenient,  right-off-the-highway location makes this a really top notch choice if you’re motoring up or down the I-81 corridor. We gave it an eight on the BHS scale, and I might have been higher if I hadn’t been so cold all through lunch. When it’s 19 degrees outside, you gotta crank the heat, folks.

Upon my return to Dasher’s Corner, I shall be sampling that lobster roll, the beet and goat cheese salad, and the liver pate as an appetizer. I wouldn’t mind also shoveling some truffle mac and cheese into my pie hole. And some pie, for good measure. You know how I do. Take a look at the menu – what would you treat yourself to in Homer? My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Chroma Chameleon

Chroma on Urbanspoon

First off, a mea culpa: I don't have a full post this week. I was in Watertown last weekend, all weekend, but we we're just kind of running around shoving pageant girls into dresses and convertibles and taking lots of pictures. There was no time for blog eating, which makes me sad. If it makes you sad, too, I'll try to make up for it with a picture of pretty girls:

I'm so proud of them, I'm almost not even mad about the lack of good eats.

I can tell you about a little mini-review Big Hungry Melinda and I executed a couple weeks ago. There's a tiny cafe and bakery on Chenango St. in Binghamton we've been meaning to hit up for months, called Chroma. I don't really get the name, either, though a little paragraph on the back of the menu explains that the cafe intends to define itself with an intensity of flavor and a saturation of cooking. Who cares, right? I just want to know if the food is good.

From what we sampled, the answer is yes. While I was disappointed with the fact that by the time we arrived for our late lunch, the empanadas of the day were all gone, as was the soup, my Cuban panini was tasty and generous for the $5.95 price tag. Melinda also liked her banh mi, pictured above. I've had a lot of Cubans lacking in flavor and with tough roasted pork, but this meat was tender, moist, and porky. I do wish the mustard had been yellow rather than honey, to stay truer to the Cuban tradition, and that the featured cheese had been Swiss rather than jack, but I'm mincing hairs here. That said, if you have had the empanadas, please report out in the comments!

Chroma is a no-frills kind of place - you place your order and pay in a tiny front room, and then eat from paper plates with plastic utensils in what's basically a display window of a neighboring antique shop. And you know what makes up for that lack of ambiance entirely? The baked goods. I had a sandwich cookie - thick, sweet vanilla buttercream smooshed between two deep, dark chocolate cookies - so rich, I thought about calling it Daddy.

Need I say more? My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Dispatch from Virginia: Get on the Lightfoot

Lightfoot Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Once upon a time, in a different life…ok, in a different job, I had occasion to plan a couple special events at a restaurant down in a darling area of Northeast Virginia. In the intervening years, I have referred other friends who have moved to this area to this restaurant, and always received positive feedback of their experiences there. So when we heard we were having a conference in Middleburg, VA a couple months back, and Boss L asked me to find a spot for a team dinner, I knew exactly what to do: hop on the Lightfoot and do the rad thing.

But before I can even talk to you about dinner, I need to tell you about where they let us stay. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: my job is hard, but it has perks. Our offsite was at the Salamander Resort and Spa, an idyllic, sprawling destination for the toniest of horse and hunt enthusiasts. This joint was built by the ex-wife of the dude who owns the BET Network, and I’m so glad she used her settlement to provide me with a TV in my claw-footed tub-equipped bathroom, replete with dimmable lighting and a little across-the-tub shelf in which to place my phone. It was Heaven. If you ever have a couple thousand bucks to blow in Northern Virginia, do not miss this pristine, lux accommodation. 

But back to Leesburg and the eats. Lightfoot Restaurant is a housed in a 17th Century-era building which once was home to a bank. Decked out in Romanesque Revival style, it’s quite simply gorgeous and unique. To be able to hang out in places this gorgeous while also working is one of those perks to which I was referring earlier. It sure beats my office. Back in the early aughts, when I was planning dinners at Lightfoot, the meals were pretty straightforward, though always tasty. I was excited to eat here and be able to order off the regular menu with my colleagues. 

Perusing the starters menu, there was no way I was ignoring those country ham biscuits, and fried green tomatoes are something I can never seem to deny myself. Neither really fits in to the healthy eating plan I’ve been working pretty successfully in 2014, but then again, what BHS-worthy food does? The biscuit were diminutive and yummy. While not the most tender of southern pastries, the smoked ham inside them was salty and finely textured. I loved the little smear of honey butter gracing each, which countered the salinity of the cured pork perfectly, and leant these little suckers a lip-smacking salty/sweet punch. 

The fried green tomato had good flavor, which is tough to come by this time of year. The tomato was a bit mushy, of course; Unavoidable in February. The Szechuan chile cream and the perfectly steamed shrimp topping each fried slice were the kickers here, and I quite liked them both. The jalapeno cheddar cheese was a nice touch, too. You don’t usually get cheese with fried green tomatoes, so the spicy, creamy flavor was a welcome difference on the plate. 

If you check out the entrée selections, can you guess what I ordered? I vacillated a bit between the shrimp and grits and the pork shank, but there wasn’t really that much competition. What can I say? I love caveman food, and anything with a shank in it qualifies. This offering reminded me a lot of Ryan’s Lookout’s version, enriched with a boozy glaze and sporting crunchy, roasted bits to offset all that unctuous, tender meat. What made it a standout was the side dish: a bread pudding of bacon, cheddar and thyme. The smokiness of this starch set off the sweetness of the brandy sauce on the meat, and with the tender-crisp broccoli on the side, made for a superbly balanced dish. I loved it, and ate way more than I had any business doing whilst also trying to lose weight. 

My other colleagues went for the salmon with artichoke gratin and the surf and turf special. Of these, I did taste the filet, and it was quite good, though it didn’t knock my socks off. I wish someone had gone for the lamb or the duck – this is what happens when you’re understaffed! 

For dessert, coworker P was treated to a birthday surprise: 

He hates us.

I went for a straight-up chocolate sundae, and I refuse to apologize for it. It was goooood, Clark. Again, nothing truly exceptional here, except that it’s winter and I don’t get nearly enough chocolate sundaes this time of year. 

Our waiter was a wee bit standoffish, and I kind of liked that. After all, to a table full of PR people, you don’t need to add in a chatty waiter. We were chatty enough on our own. I would give Lightfoot an eight on the BHS Scale. It’s an above-average, special occasion kind of place. But if you’re in Leesburg to do a spot of outlet shopping, equestrian shenanigans or sightseeing of historic battlefields and such, try it out. I know you’ll love it, and what are vacations for, if not a bit of pampering? My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!