Before arriving in Rochester, I knew just as much about Upstate New York as I did about Bora Bora: that they weren’t going to share a similar climate in February, or ever.
What I was not expecting to find was a rich historical backdrop for some seriously good food spots, a growing craft beer scene, and the second largest wine producing region in the United States after California.
I found three destinations in Upstate New York that bring the rich histories of their regions to life through a mix of elevated dining, elegantly restored interiors and local craft brews.
1. Sherwood Inn
Hugging the northern-most tip of Skaneateles Lake, the historic village of Skaneateles (which means “long lake” in one of the local Iroquoian languages) is known as the eastern gateway to the Finger Lakes. If Skaneateles is the gateway, the Sherwood Inn is its gate.
Built in 1807 as stagecoach headquarters, the inn has marked over 2 centuries of history. It has morphed over time from a tavern to a hotel to a temporary hospital during the First World War, and is now maintained as both a historic landmark and fine dining destination.
Grab a seat by the window near the bar and order a glass of local Riesling before your meal. Whatever you do don’t leave before trying the Yankee Pot Roast, which may be the most tender, juicy and flavourful cut of beef I’ve ever had. Seafood fans will fall in love with the creamy Sautéed Scallops nestled in a rich parmesan risotto.
Before dessert arrives, take a moment to ascend the squeaky stairs and peer into some of the inn’s cozy rooms. Each room is unique, complete with undulating floors, old wood smells and dark oil paintings.
2. Inns of Aurora
Surrounded by organic farms and small scale wineries, the Inns of Aurora is totally embracing the seasonal farm-to-table movement in an idyllic setting. The Inns of Aurora comprises a number of eateries from fine dining to bar and grill and even a local bakery.
Head to the Aurora Inn Dining Room for an unmatched al fresco experience on the veranda overlooking Cayuga Lake. It’s an equally impressive spot for dinner or breakfast. The Brioche French Toast, topped with strawberries, hazelnut granola and a rich orange curd reminiscent of a pastry custard, is made fresh at the local bakery each morning.
The tiny town of Aurora, home to just 723 people as of 2010, has received a good deal of love and admiration over the years. The Inn, built in 1833 by one of the original investors in the New York Times, was restored in 2003 by Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl brand.
Pleasant’s passion for bringing history to life with her dolls is echoed in the attention to detail given to her restorations of many of the historic properties in Aurora.
3. Genesee Brew House
Housed in a 9,200-square-foot space in Rochester, the Genesee Brew House is a veritable shrine of beer history. The Genesee Brewery is one of the largest and oldest continually operating breweries in the United States.
Head straight for the tasting bar at the Pilot Brewery on the lower level to try a flight of four beers for just US$2. Choose from a wide range including three beers exclusive to the Genesee Brew House. The Genesee Brew House Altbier, or “old beer,” was the clear winner for me. The ale is smooth and crisp with subtle hops and malt flavours.
When you’re ready for a bite, take a seat at the 41-foot bar upstairs in the pub and order the Bavarian pretzels with house beer mustard. The bar is handcrafted by employees from vintage cedar brewing tanks that were part of the original brewery.
As if there wasn’t enough to admire inside, the Genesee Brew House also has a rooftop patio with scenic views of High Falls and the Genesee River Gorge.
A real eye-opener
After just 2 days in Upstate New York I was thoroughly embarrassed at my lack of knowledge of the wonderfully rich history that is alive and well in some of the state’s small-town restaurants and breweries. And for the price of a bus ticket, there’s no doubt I will be back soon.
For more information about what to see and do in Upstate New York check out www.awelcomesurprise.com
The writer was a guest of A Welcome Surprise. The tourism board did not review or approve this post.