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I was there primarily to celebrate the recent opening of the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, a renovated historic hotel that reigned supreme when it opened its doors in 1924.
The hotel restaurant, 11 Waters, refers to the Finger Lakes. Chef’s Thomas Kieran embraces the Pride of New York philosophy and everyday serves something sourced from the state. The area around Syracuse once produced 90 per cent of the nation’s salt, so it’s fitting that a menu mainstay is Salt Potatoes. Cheddar cheese popovers were another favorite of mine.
I took a downtown walking tour with history buff Michael Hagerty, whose family owns the inviting Irish pub Kitty Hoyne’s. Michael pointed out Underground Railroad stops, historical architecture, the Erie Canal Museum (the Erie Canal cut through 363 miles of wilderness from Albany to Buffalo, connecting NYC via the Hudson River to the Great Lakes). The Erie Canal Museum is lodged in the only remaining canal boat weigh station in America.
We also wandered through the shopping/entertainment area known as Armory Square. My eye was caught by some unique jewelry shops, clothing boutiques and many places to stop for a beverage or meal.
Clark Reservation State Park, a 15-minute drive from downtown, was a perfect place to go on a sunny fall day.Reading the park’s welcome panel, I learned that it is a geologic wonder from the last ice age. Rugged cliffs and rocky outcrops surrounded a wetland and glacial plunge basin lake. The surface waters (warmish) do not mix with the frigid bottom waters. Fishies can live here, though and it is home to pickerel, bullheads and sunfish. I didn’t get close enough to see any aquatic life, but I did see some cedar waxwings, kingfishers and woodpeckers. I wandered along one of five trails, the Cliff Trail, 175 feet above the water. This year I was too late, but there’s a Nature Center, open May-Labour Day that describes all the flora and fauna of the area.
Beak & Skiff Orchards was voted Best Apple Orchard in the Country by the readers of USA Today. I had to find out why. Picture perfect with red barns, white trim, bakery, gift shop, pony rides for the kids, this outstanding operation also featured the 1911 Spirits tasting room.I tasted soft cider, hard cider as well as clear vodka and gin made from apples. Who knew apples could be the base for these spirits? And what’s the difference between the vodka and gin? “Gin has flavoring, usually juniper and a bit of coriander, otherwise it’s the same,” Danielle Fleckenstein explained. She was acting as the tasting room hostess that day and is a family member of this 5th generation operation with a mind-boggling 350,000 apple trees. Drinks here are “Tree to Bottle” and it’s the only place in the country to produce gin from twice distilled apples. There was a playground for kids and Danielle told me it is very popular for Mother’s Day when families enjoy picnics in the orchard.
About a half-hour’s drive away I came upon the town of Skaneateles and the Sherwood Inn, built as stagecoach stop in 1807.Meticulously restored, the inn allows visitors to check out rooms that are not occupied. I saw of handful of lovely accommodations with antique furniture and gas fireplaces as I tiptoed along the beautiful, slant pegged wooden floors. Skaneateles is known as the Eastern Gateway to the Finger Lakes. It is located on the north shore of Skaneateles Lake (which means long lake in the Iroquois language), one of most beautiful and cleanest bodies of water in the world. Syracuse gets its water from here. I decided to stop for lunch in the inn’s restaurant, opting for a delicious grilled salmon salad with feta cheese, red onions, grape tomatoes and hard boiled eggs. Filling and healthy. So how do you pronounce Skaneateles? Skinny – Atlas. What an adorable and affluent jewel of a town. I took a look at the pristine lake, and poked my head into the unique boutiques. The historic downtown dates back to 1796.
Close by was Anyela’s Vineyard, owned and operated by Jim Nocek and his wife Patty. Jim is a nutritional physiologist-turned winemaker. A scientist at heart, he protects his vines from the cold after the fall harvest by carefully removing them from the trellises. “We bury them in the earth to insulate the sensitive primary buds which become the fruit,” he explained. The vineyards vines were planted in 2001 and the first bottle was sold in 2008. In 2014 they added outdoor space for events and 2015 they opened another tasting room in the cellar where wine barrels were once stored. In the summer they also have music concerts in an outdoor amphitheatre called the the Robinson Pavilion which was completed this year.
Shopping anyone? While in Syracuse I had to drop into Destiny USA, the state’s biggest mall at 2.4 million sq. ft. (6th largest shopping/entertainment destination in the U.S.). Of course shopping isn’t the only thing going on. Exploring, I came across indoor go-kart racing, laser-tag, the World of Beer, and the world’s largest indoor suspended rope climbing course. Yikes. The place is also eco-aware and is the world’s largest LEED Gold certified retail commercial building. People love this place. It gets 26 million visitors a year.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was voted best BBQ in the nation by Good Morning America. The Syracuse location is where the chain started and it is much loved. The Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food host Adam Richman tucked into a Pork-Sket Platter (brisket, pickled jalapenos, pulled pork, melted cheese and coleslaw) and The Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate host Adam Gertler chowed down on a half-chicken dinner. Not be be outdone, I had brisket and wings. VERY RICH. I got 2 sides, macaroni salad and tomato/cucumber salad. And I couldn’t eat anything else. The restaurant began in 1983 as a mobile concession stand with a 55-gallon drum cut in half. It was operated by three friends and the occasion was a Harley Rendezvous massive bike gathering near Albany, NY. For five years they served bikers from the road at various motorcycle shows, fairs and festivals. In 1988 they settled in downtown Syracuse. By 1990 the restaurant had tripled in size and opened seven more locations in the northeast – Rochester, Harlem, Troy, Newark NJ, Stamford CT, Brooklyn and Buffalo. If you get a chance, try one of these places. Warm, authentic and delicious, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is the real deal.