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New York’s culinary scene

New York’s vibrant culinary scene and its agricultural heritage offer great potential for discerning, hungry travelers touring the state.

Innovative restaurants in New York City neighborhoods have roots that stretch around the globe. The agricultural cornucopia of the Finger Lakes and a cooking class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center are sure to be highlights of a culinary-focused tour.

Add in Albany’s annual Tulip Festival, the cultural enclave of Chautauqua Institution and the Grape Discovery Center near Lake Erie, and you have an itinerary that explores the breadth and depth of the state’s bounty.


New York City

Exploring the outer boroughs and neighborhoods of New York City allows groups to experience the city like a local. Each neighborhood’s rich diversity of restaurants offers an international crossroads of culture and cuisine.

In the Corona neighborhood of Queens, groups can dine at lively Tortilleria Nixtamal, which boasts authentic Mexican food. Tortillas are made daily, and dishes are inspired by the tacos that founder Fernando Ruiz ate in Mexico’s open markets.

For Italian, Leo’s Latticini, aka Mama’s, is well known for its friendly owners, sandwiches, fresh pasta and handmade mozzarella. The 80-year-old establishment was opened by Italian-born immigrants. It occupies three storefronts and features outdoor courtyard tables and traditional Italian baked goods.

A trip to Corona isn’t complete without dessert at the Lemon Ice King of Corona. The Benfaremo family has created Italian ices for more than 60 years. Many of their 40 flavors incorporate real fruit.

“Groups can go around the world in Queens without ever leaving the borough,” said NYC & Company spokesperson Christopher Heywood. “The No. 7 train stops at all of Queens’ great neighborhoods, where visitors can experience an abundance of unique flavors.”

In Queens’ Forest Hills neighborhood, freshly baked knishes from Knish Nosh have had people lining up on the sidewalk for more than 50 years. And in nearby Jackson Heights, Delhi Heights restaurant offers a substantial menu. More than 100 choices incorporate South Indian cuisine, Chinese-Indian fusion and Punjabi specialties.

On Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, Cerini Coffee and Gifts is a paradise for coffee and kitchenware aficionados. Coffee beans, flavored syrups, specialty Italian foods and gift baskets grace this family-owned store. Another hot spot that’s been in business more than 70 years, Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles specializes in cut-to-order egg noodles. Flavors range from carrot and mushroom to tomato. Groups can also see tpasta being made.

The extremely popular Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour escorts groups from one end of the borough to the other. Stops include the award-winning Neapolitan-style pizza at Grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn Bridge and legendary Sicilian-style pizza at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst. Groups will also see famous movie locations along the way.


Feasting in the Finger Lakes

Agriculture is still the backbone of the Finger Lakes. The area’s bounty makes it a snap to create a great culinary tour of the area. In addition, abundant art galleries, museums and outdoor activities round out this distinctive destination.

Groups can spend a full day exploring the length of Canandaigua Lake. In charming downtown Canandaigua, Simply Crepes boasts an innovative crepe menu and the to-die-for Oatmeal Crème Brulée and makes a terrific starting point. Crepe demonstrations and a Sunday buffet brunch might even tempt groups to return for a second visit.

Twenty minutes south of town, Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery and the Brahm family have been producing wine and bottling it by hand for several generations. The tasting room features numerous products to sample, including the venue’s popular wine jellies. One Brahm daughter and her husband started Brew & Brats next door in a former horse barn. Flights of beer made by custom crafters are created from their original recipes. The popular Porter Beer, a coffee-chocolate concoction, favors the darkness of a Guinness.

At the lake’s southern tip in Naples, Inspire Moore Winery pours its wines at a tasting bar reminiscent of the 1960s. Part of the local folklore, the restored winery has operated as a tavern, a stagecoach stop and a carriage house.

Standing sentinel on Lake Seneca directly east of Canandaigua Lake is Belhurst Castle, an 1889 stone mansion. Groups can dine in the home’s bayed solarium, trimmed in oak, mahogany and stained-glass windows. In the new wing is a modern tasting room, and Stonecutter’s Restaurant hosts live entertainment on Saturday nights. An expansive sunken bar overlooks the lake. The outdoor fire pit makes a cozy gathering spot in cooler weather.

Another highlight is the gorgeous Aurora Inn, which has been restored to perfection. Located in the picturesque town of Aurora, the inn sits directly on Cayuga Lake, just east of Lake Seneca. Award-winning American cuisine is served in its dining room and banquet room; both overlook the lake and ruins of a former grist mill. Original murals of local Wells College and the grist mill hang on the inn’s walls, as do murals painted in the 1950s. Pastries and breads are baked at Dorie’s Bakery, several doors down.

“We have a marvelous culinary team and gladly host educational dinners where the chef and winemaker come and talk about the meal,” said Meryl Davis, director of marketing. “Eight to nine months out of the year, we buy local products.”

The Sweet Treat Trail in Cayuga County began in 2012. Groups can choose from 27 spots, including Bee Attitudes Honey, Smokey Hollow Maple Syrup and the Lake House Sweetery. Also on the trail, the Apple Station Winery and farm store grows 18 varieties of apples; sustains a small herd of sheep, alpaca and goats; and bottles its own apple wine. Antique road signs decorate the rough-hewn pine tasting room.

“We offer wine dinners for groups, where chefs come in and prepare the meal and pair our wines with their dishes,” said co-owner Kathy Wintamute.


Spring in Albany

In early May, the city of Albany hosts the annual Albany Tulip Festival, held in historic Washington Park. In 1948, Mayor Erastus Corning II declared the tulip the official flower of Albany. Following that, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands honored the mayor’s request and designated the Orange Wonder tulip as the city’s official flower.

Traditions surrounding the festival date back more than half a century. The festival kicks off with the scrubbing of State Street and culminates in the crowning of the Tulip Queen. That weekend and throughout the year, groups can tour Dutch homes and their gardens. Activities include wine tasting at Brookview Winery and tours of the Albany Distilling Company. Dutch Apple Cruise Lines offers a 90-minute cruise down the Hudson River that recounts Albany’s history and features a mariner’s view of the area.

“Festival-goers enjoy eating at the food trucks from favorite local spots like Capital Q Smokehouse and Coccadotts Cupcakes,” said Schuyler Bull, marketing manager for Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And in summer during lunch, those same trucks are also out around the state Capitol.”


Summer Chautauqua-Style

Further west, the cultural enclave called Chautauqua Institution lies near Lake Erie. There, the intellect and the arts are freely and passionately pursued. The institution dates to 1874, when an Ohio inventor and a Methodist clergyman rented the property as an educational experiment and training ground for Sunday school teachers.

Today, the entire institution is on the National Register of Historic Places. Summer classes, lectures and performances are held for eight weeks. Each week centers on a specific lecture theme. The 2014 themes include “Feeding a Hungry Planet,” “The American West,” “A Week With Ken Burns” and “Brazil: Rising Superpower.”

In nearby Westfield, the newly opened Grape Discovery Center tells the story of 150 years of grape growing. The Lake Erie Concord Grape region is home to the oldest and largest Concord-grape-growing region in the world. Groups can taste pure Concord grape juice, selections from 24 wineries in Lake Erie Wine Country, grape products and wine slushes.

“Chautauqua County boasts the largest number of farms in New York state, and most of those are small family farms and grape farms,” said Stephanie Burdo, spokesperson for Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.