A Rather Grand Comeback in Ithaca

About two years ago, an errant truck smashed through the wall of Simeon's on the Commons, in Ithaca, leaving destruction in its path. A few weeks ago, this stalwart of The Commons reopened, with a fresh, airy interior that's modern and classic at the same time - transom windows shining onto elaborately trimmed Wedgewood blue walls, and a marble bar with a two story mirror at its back.

I had never eaten at Simeon's first incarnation, so Big Hungry Melinda and I chose it for brunch before a much-needed spa visit to August Moon Spa this past weekend. We began our repast, as we often do, with particularly delicious cocktails.

This pear, coconut rum and lime concoction tasted like a tropical vacation enjoyed in a colonial mansion. A sweet, light beverage to kick off a weekend brunch.

To counter the lightness of the drink, we ordered the house made chips with fondue sauce, which were crispy and earthy, topped with a mild cheese sauce not quite as distinctive as real Swiss fondue, but tasty nonetheless. The chopped scallions on top added a sharp bite to all the rich cheese. This dish is one you'll want to scarf down quickly, however - as the cheese cooled, it coagulated into a lumpy mess and made the potatoes soggy as well. 

Melinda chose the shrimp roll as her entree, a light mix of chopped, poached shrimp, tomato and green onion, Bibb lettuce and cilantro mayo on a baguette. It was messy, the bits of seafood and vegetables tumbling off the roll with each bite, because while the shrimp was lightly dressed with the mayonnaise, the vegetables were not. But it was also fresh and light - a little easy on overall flavors, but a nice, summery sandwich.

I headed in the breakfast direction with the biscuits and gravy, to which I added a couple over-easy eggs. After ordering, the table next to us received biscuits, and I fretted I had made the wrong choice, because the biscuits looked a bit wan and not particularly well risen. While these definitely weren't top notch southern biscuits, made with lard and Lily White flour and brushed generously with salted butter like the biscuits of my dreams, I needed have worried overall. This was a savory, hearty dish, and though the biscuits themselves weren't the pinnacle, the sausage gravy had great flavor, and the runny egg yolks bathed the whole works in the requisite yellow richness to seal the deal.

You can see the black pepper in the gravy, right? Pepper seems like such an ordinary ingredient, but in creamy gravies, this simple spice can man the difference between blandness and success. Someone in Simeon's kitchen may have a little too much enthusiasm for scallions, but I liked them here, as I had on the chips: they served almost like a squeeze of lemon - a bright punch to point the dish up. The creamy gravy was seasoned well, and contained lots of crumbled breakfast sausage. I wouldn't say the sausage had tremendous flavor in and of itself, but it worked with the cream and the pepper to hit all the requisite biscuits and gravy high points.

We were too full for dessert this time around, but very much enjoyed our first visit to this newly redone Ithaca institution. I will be back to try the raw bar, for sure! Meantime, I give Simeon's on the Commons a seven on the BHS scale, for its absolutely gorgeous ambiance and simple, but well prepared food. This is a solid restart for The Commons' grande dame. I hope you try it out! 

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