Some favorite places right now

I haven't done one of these in a while. In fact, my circumstances were different last time I did. Right now, my circumstances are such that the only place I really have to go is the grocery store. Since I work from home, I only leave the house if I want to go somewhere or see someone.

So these are the places I'm going.

Freedom of Espresso, Fayetteville. This is the closest locally owned coffee shop to me, and I consider myself lucky, because it's comfortable, usually not busy the times I'm there (1pm or so weekdays), and has some gorgeous ornamental windows. It's also next door to a walking path, so if it's nice out and I'm not sitting there writing (oh yeah! free wifi!) or reading, I can take my coffee for a stroll.

Tavern at the Ridge. This is the venue we'll be married at in July. Previously a nondescript clubhouse at the Skyridge golf course, my fiance Jenny's cousins bought it, placed it adjacent to a great non-profit for veterans, stripped the clubhouse and rebuilt it as a cozy cabin-style restaurant with amazing food, a nice beer selection, craft bourbons and a very pretty nine-hole golf course. They're open somewhat limited hours until it warms up (Wednesday through Saturday from 4pm until dinner's over), but you should definitely give it a try.

World of Beer. I know, this is surprising. It's a chain, and it's in a mall. But they have an extensive beer list of about 50 taps and 500 bottles — including some of our local microbreweries, both on tap and in bottles — and the staff are really knowledgeable about the products, which is amazing considering the amount of product (and the fact that they can only try so much at a time). Last time we were there, we even let a staffer in on a bottle she'd been hearing a lot about. The food is pretty good, but be prepared to order a lot of it, because portion sizes are, shall we say, a little inadequate if you're someone like me (that is, someone who eats a ton).

What places do you love that I need to try?

The future of human-susatainable design

If you've spent 35 minutes driving three-quarters of a mile along Bridge Street in Syracuse the past 18 months, you've probably found yourself just putting your car in park on a 4-lane road to save yourself the over $4-a-gallon gas. From what I understand, it really has been a bad scene over there. I say "from what I understand," because, despite its convenience to work, I just won't take that route unless I'm certain there's no traffic.

One of the things I have noticed going in as part of that larger project is sidewalks. And I just can't be mad at any project that adds sidewalks to a commercial area, especially a commercial area near residential areas, and especially a commercial area with lots of parking lots.

Sidewalks mean that if you live nearby, you can walk safely, rather than on the shoulder of a 45-mph road. They also mean that if you want to drop your car off at the tire shop and then walk to the jewelry store, you don't risk your life walking on the street or across parking lots.

But sidewalks are just one small step in the race for sustainability and human-centric design. If you hate sprawl and the headache of traffic and the inability to get good sunlight in your apartment and can't believe we're going to fit the population of the U.S. into one small city in China, watch this:

There are some really cool things in there. Foldable cars? Holy hotness. There are also some things that start to feel a little dystopic to me. Those moving-wall, re-configurable apartments? Where do the people who live in those places keep their guitar? Or the title to their car? Or a few extra rolls of toilet paper? Well at least, they have all the high-tech, eco-friendly appliances and even the best composting toilet if they wanted to, guitars are quite yesterday.

The bigger thing to me, though, is the concept of the walkable village. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know it's a big thing for me. It hit home when Joel Kidder was killed leaving a bookstore in December 2009. Seriously? We can't find a way to let people cross busy streets safely so they can have a sandwich and then go to the bookstore?

Unless gas hits $5 a gallon and it's a gorgeous day, I probably won't ever walk to work – it's only about 3.5 miles, but there are almost no sidewalks. Good morning, sir, would you like an impact with an SUV going 40 miles per hour with your coffee and morning walk?

I have a grocery store about a mile away. It's in a commercial area called Towne Center, named, I'm guessing, because it was meant to mimic a town center, where you could go and get anything you want. There's the grocery store, a department store, a variety of restaurants, a jewelry store, a coffee shop, a bank, a drug store, a liquor store, a video game store, a furniture store, a crafts store, and a YMCA, and that's just off the top of my head.

What it's missing from the town center feel is a feeling of park-and-walk safety.

First, like I said, this place is less than a mile from my house; the safest walk has me going through some woods, which surround some wetlands, which means that after times of heavy rain or most of the winter, it's not a passable route. The other walk is along the narrow shoulder of a 4-lane, 45-mph road with turn lanes. It's primarily terrifying.

Once you're there, though, the shops are clustered. So you can safely get from the grocery store to a couple of the restaurants, the department store and a few other shops, but be careful trying to get to the drug store or bank, because you're pretty much on your own running across the parking lot. Yep, been there, done that, too.

I just don't get why we don't take non-vehicle traffic into consideration. When are we going to stop designing for businesses, and start designing for the humans who might patronize them?

The new Natur-Tyme

There's a grand opening celebration at the newly relocated Natur-Tyme this weekend.

The food and supplement store moved from their location on a dead-end stretch off Bridge Street (technically, I think it was on Bridge Street, but not really) to a much bigger space on Erie Boulevard East, in the former Goldberg's Furniture space.

The new space has a community meeting room, a salon, and a cafe that serves coffee, espresso drinks and smoothies.

I like the new location – it's very spacious (customers can actually walk up and down the aisle without numerous apologies), and they have a great commitment to New York State foods; there are featured spaces on shelves and in refrigerators for New York-produced foods.

The coffee is, as is usual for anything with an organic label, way overpriced – I paid $2 and some change for a small cup – but better than other cafes in the area (cafes really is a misnomer, since those area "cafes" are Denny's, Friendlys, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, Barnes & Noble and Panera). Prices throughout the rest of the store are, like in the prior location, a mixed bag (some fancy New York cheeses for under $5, but some natural peanut butter for near $9).

It's definitely worth a look, but if you're in it for things like the supplements, do some comparison shopping because I'm betting a lot of the stuff can be found elsewhere for comparable or cheaper prices.

Some Central New York food businesses you’re missing

I sat down with Tracy recently and she reminded me that I needed to do another post about places I like. So, here are some of my current favorites.

Cafe at 407

I've written about 407 before. I'm actually sitting in the cafe writing this blog post, staring at the real whipped cream on top of a hot chocolate a child is drinking while waiting for the singer-songwriter to start playing. In fact, I'm sitting in an overstuffed chair on the wifi with a cup of coffee on the side table, remembering that this place raises money for a non-profit called Ophelia's Place, which deals with eating disordered youth and adults. There's a conference room in back, next to the employees' cubicles and an outpatient clinic. It's in the village of Liverpool. Go there.


Recess Coffee is celebrating their fifth anniversary this week. The cafe was packed the other night (that's where I had the aforementioned get-together with Tracy), and they are not going anywhere any time soon. Best hot chocolate in town (York, Almond Joy, peanut butter, and more), and a few really good whole-bean roasts.

Farmshed CNY

Farmshed CNY is a web-based app (that is, you go to the website, you don't download it) that will find you farms, farmers markets, restaurants, breweries, dessert, bakeries and more in Central New York. The idea is to have you buying local foods, drinking local beer, and considering where you're sourcing your stuff. And also it helps you find it, by determining your location by GPS. It's awesome.

Small Potatoes Marketing

Maybe it's weird to recognize a marketing firm, but Marty at Small Potatoes works hard to get Central New York food producers distributed into bigger venues. He started as strictly a shoe leather business, and eventually let himself be talked into a blog and Twitter account, both of which he's done really well with. Look for Better Brittle, Recess Coffee and Brooklyn Salsa at the CNY Regional Market thanks to Small Potatoes, and he's worked with a bunch of other locals you're starting to see more and more places, too!

Laci's Tapas Bar

You've probably heard of Laci's by now; they've been around a couple of years. Tapas is a food presentation that features appetizer-size portions of really beautiful, frequently creative food. The menu is excellent, the service is wonderful, and they're over in a part of town you never go to. Try them out!

What are your favorite hot spots this winter?

What we’re drinking

Photo Credit

It's coming on autumn, the time of year I start to make the switch from post-softball game beer to nice glasses of warming red wine. Even the Mayo Clinic says it has good antioxidant properties, and both Mark Sisson, in his book The Primal Blueprint, and Timothy Ferriss, in his The 4-Hour Body, write that dry red wines (those with little or no residual sugar), consumed in moderation, won't have much effect on a weight-loss diet – plus they'll help you enjoy it.

One of my occasional summer stops is the Finger Lakes Wine Festival, which draws a bunch of Central New York wineries to the southern tip of Seneca Lake. Last year, I really got into rieslings (German varietals grow really well in our climate), and a few other more off-the-wall things. I kicked 2011 off with a weight loss program and changed up my diet – a lot. At the wine fest this summer, I couldn't take a second sip of anything with over about 0.5% residual sugar, which is extremely dry.

Here are some of my favorites from this year, along with some notes about some other wines the people I went with enjoyed.

Fulkerson Dornfelder. I tried more wines at Fulkerson's booth than any other vineyard over the weekend. I had never heard of this grape before, but it's another German varietal that can handle the sometimes harsh weather of the Finger Lakes. The winery bills this as a "red wine for white foods," which is probably an appeal to people who might be a little scared of red wines. The nose has a lot of berry in it, and it finishes exactly the right amount of dry. Their lemberger is pretty good, and if you like really dry, their vincent doesn't even make it to the back of your mouth (it was a little over the top for me).

Montezuma Cabernet Franc. Cab franc is a fantastic dry grape that you could reasonably compare to a beaujolais. The problem with that is that you can get a really good beaujolais for between $8 and $12, while most Finger Lakes cab francs run in the $20-plus range. We did find a decent $10 bottle from King's Garden, but Montezuma's runs $15 and is probably the only bottle I would have paid $20 for.

Niagara Landing Baco Noir. I can't get enough of baco noirs with moldy cheeses. Strong berry noses with tobacco-y finishes go great with gorgonzola, and I even get alliteration out of it. While Bully Hill is typically my go-to for a large variety of wines (because everything is really good and is typically in the $6-$8 range), Niagara Landing's baco surprised me so much at the launch party that I went back a second time to taste it and bought a couple of bottles.

Some other winners, according to my notes here:

  • Anthony Road makes something called a "Devonian Red," which is a cab franc, lemberger and pinot noir blend in the $10 range.
  • Glenora brought a pomegranate wine; much too sweet for me, but I have three stars in my notebook, so at least half our group thought it was exceptional.
  • Rock Stream Vineyards has some interesting wines, including dry niagaras and dry cayugas – two wines that are typically sweet enough to make sherbet cringe. Definitely recommend checking them out.
  • Coyote Moon makes a riesling so good even the sangria lovers made note of it.

And there you have it. If you were wondering what's in my glass while I sit in front of the fireplace, there's a good chance it's one of these.