This past month we were back and forth from Ithaca…a lot. Once you get to Ithaca there are a plethora of fantastic choices, but driving up the Route 17 corridor, there aren’t too many. Livingston Manor (Exit 96) is about half way for us, and we end up stopping there just about every time. The Main Street has a definite hipster vibe, which is quite a massive change if you grew up visiting the Catskills (which I did). In fact, my family had a home in Livingston Manor dating back to the 1940s, so the changes for me are especially shocking.
Several years ago, we were delighted to find Main Street Farm right smack in the middle of town.
The shop is filled with not only groceries (gourmet and organic in many cases) but they also have small gifts, and a counter selling delicious sandwiches. The staff is unfailingly pleasant and polite, but recently I have found the service to be unbearably slow. A half hour for a sandwich, and much ensuing confusion is the norm rather than the exception. Its a charming friendly place though, so I tend to cut them some slack. But be prepared for a wait- a good time to stretch your legs I suppose, in anticipation of the second half of your journey. Their specialty sandwiches, soups, and salads are always tasty- especially their veggie options, as well as their egg salad. Their cookies are really yummy too.
There is also a terrific bakery in Livingston Manor called Bradenburg, that has all kinds of homemade breads and cakes. It is hard to resist buying a treat if you go inside. If you are in the mood for beer, Livingston Manor also has it’s own destination, The Catskill Brewery. Because I am always en route somewhere while I am passing through, I have yet to stop, but there is always a healthy number of cars in the parking lot.
Each time I have been in LM, I have looked longingly at an outdoor wood burning pizza spot that never seems to be open when I am passing through. On his trip we would be driving back on a Saturday evening, and I knew it would be open. The restaurant is the Kaatskeller, (same owners as the Main Street Farm actually). I will let the anticipation build, as we hit it on the end of our weekend visit.
We arrived at Cornell, unloaded our bags and set out for dinner at The Bickering Twins on the Commons downtown.
The restaurant in located below street level, in the basement, but it was still cheerful and colorful. Because it was Cornell graduation weekend, and we were 10 people, we had gone back and forth many times with Laura, the restaurant manager, to make sure all the details were right. She was unbelievably helpful and accommodating. I must have changed the time 4 different times, and she was always happy to help us. We ended up bringing along a big bottle of Champagne to celebrate, and they charged us only a $10 corkage fee! What a nice surprise. We also got a very full complement of margaritas and beers, so the restaurant didn’t do too badly.
We were all starving, so we ordered multiple Salsa and Guacamole plates. The chips were addictive, and the Guac was excellent. I am not a real Salsa person, but everyone seemed to like it.
Most people in the group stuck with Tacos, my taco platter included shrimp, veggie, and mushroom tacos along with black beans and fried (almost caramelized) plantains. The atmosphere was quite jovial, and casual. It is a good place to dine with a group.
The next morning, our large clan headed down to Purity Ice Cream which dates back to 1936 and has fabulous ice cream, as well as tasty breakfast items.
Its a bit curious in that you are first handed a menu as you walk in, then directed to the counter to order, and finally seated. We had all kinds of alterations to the orders, so we were a little wary as to how it would turn out- but they did pretty well! Along with cupcakes and ice cream- the eggs and pancakes were very good.
The sour cream coffee cake got rave reviews, there were endless coffee refills, and the server was kind enough to take several pictures, from all angles, of our group. She was a good sport. Thumbs up to Purity.
Purity is also in close proximity to the Ithaca Farmers Market, so we popped on over to just soak up the local flavor.
This always puts a smile on my face!
After a very unpredictable Ithaca weather day- with rain, sun and more rain, we were ready for dinner. We ventured to one of my most favorite Ithaca spots, Thompson + Bleecker, on the Commons. T + B is small, with a large pizza oven as its focus. The menu is concise, but everything we have tried there has been top notch.
Though it does have a nicely curated wine list, we brought our own wine. Unlike Bickering Twins’ $10 corkage, theirs was $35 per bottle. We thought twice, but we had some special wine, and ultimately paid the fee.
Right away we ordered Fresh Mozzarella and Prosciutto, Olives, Salads, and Roasted Beets for the table. The Fresh Mozz was irresistible.
The Prasini Salad (romaine, feta, dill, lemon, and scallions is just sublime. I made that my whole meal.
The Pizzas too were all successful, with a perfect topping/ crust ratio and innovative combos. The one pictured is the T + B.
There was no room left for dessert, but this restaurant is a winner. They do not take reservations, but you can put your name on the list and then wander around the Commons until your table is ready.
The next morning we went for a walk and got our prerequisite coffee from Gimme on North Cayuga. My Mocha was almost too pretty to drink.
Following Coffee we had a quintessential diner breakfast at the State Diner , which also dates back to 1936! The Spinach and Feta omelette was a winner, as were the greasy crunchy home fries.
After that wholesome breakfast we were ready to head back home. As I mentioned, we were looking forward to stopping in Livingston manor on the way home to finally try The Kaatskeller.
There were 7 people who made the stop, and we all straggled in at different times. All the seating is outside, so we gathered around a picnic table and waited, and waited some more. We checked to see whether we had turned invisible on the ride down- it seemed we had not. Perhaps it was because we weren’t local? Many other people were being tended to warmly. Maybe its because our whole party wasn’t there? No, it seemed as though other tables were straggling in as well. Whatever the case, it was highly annoying.
Finally, a server came over, sort of in slow motion, and delivered us menus , napkins, and silverware.
You can see some of the napkin/silverware combos being assembled in the picture below. It seemed as though our batch was a very damp with one of our party likening them to wet wash cloths. Yuck.
I’m going to venture a guess that our server, as well as the person bussing our table were totally stoned. We were met with quizzical stares following each item we ordered. At this point we were still pretty easy going, but as the evening wore on, our patience ran out.
The bad service could have been balanced out if the food was good. It was not. It was awful.
First up were undercooked Chicken Wings alongside a Vegan Caesar Salad. This batch of wings had been sent back to the kitchen once already for being under cooked. The dressing on the salad was a bit…goopy?
Next up was the Wild One- wildly salty, and aside from one corner of the crust, quite underdone.
I went for the gluten free crust (in the foreground) which was gummy inside, and the amount of goat cheese was laughable. There was a Margherita in the background, whose crust was also soggy.
There were 4 more pizzas to come out, which we had requested to be a bit more well done. They came out blackened, and confused- two with toppings missing. At this point we gave up. The dinner was not meant to be. We paid, leaving quite a bit of uneaten food on the table, and beat a hasty retreat.
I’m glad I finally got to try it, so I know I never have to return.
There will be many more trips to and from Ithaca in the next few years, and much more insight to come! I welcome your suggestions as well.