Yes, Ithaca is "gorges" and Andy from The Office went to Cornell. Clichés aside, Ithaca is a phenomenal city to spend four years in and an even better place if you love food. Surrounded by farms, wineries, distilleries and breweries, Ithaca is pretty much a food-obsessed college goer's dream. Edible Magazine once referred to Ithaca as "more Brooklyn than bumpkin." Well, freshmen, gear up for microbrews, artisan goods and locavore sensibilities, because we couldn't agree more.
Ithaca College graduate Sebastian Villa upped the Collegetown coffee ante when he opened CAFEO last month. Sebastian likes to get creative with his coffee concoctions: there's Vietnamese iced espresso with condensed milk as well as Cafe Olé made with cold-brew and housemade horchata (delicious!). Beans are from local roaster Gimme! Coffee and all dairy products are from Ithaca Milk Company.
The Glenwood Pines, off Route 89, is renowned for its Pinesburger: a six-ounce patty that comes with lettuce, onion, tomato, Thousand Island, and cheese on French bread from Ithaca Bakery. Whereas the Pinesburger has its time and place*, those in the know opt for the more satisfying and well balanced Tullyburger—a four-ounce patty served on a soft, squishy sesame seed bun with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Pair your burger with a side of corn nuggets (creamed corn formed into balls, breaded, and deep fried) and a cold one.
*Glenwood Pines' Pinesburger Challenge: Eat four Pinesburgers in an hour or less, and you get a free T-shirt and your name on the Pinesburger Challenge Wall of Fame.
Leslie Muhlhahn, chef and owner of Finger Lakes Flatbread stationed at the Ithaca Farmer's Market, is turning out thin crust, wood-fired pizza from a mobile pizza oven that reaches 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Equally awesome pizza can be found at The Nines, a Collegetown staple that has been serving students stellar deep-dish pizza since 1980. Don't miss The Nines' Sunday acoustic open mic night and Monday blues night.
Collegetown Bagels, affectionately known by Cornellians as "CTB", serves up some damn fine sammies. Personally, I love the Turkey Hill B.L.T. on ciabatta with melted Swiss cheese. But with over 80 options on the menu, there's a sandwich for everyone. Sit outside on a nice day—Ithaca does have a handful of them—with a pitcher of sangria or Magic Hat #9, and watch as people traverse the bridge back from class. Honorable mention goes to Shortstop Deli (open 24-hours).
Happy Hour Deal
There are multiple specials you need to know about at Ruloffs: On "Taco Tuesdays" the bar serves two tacos and a coronito for $4. On "1-2-3 Wednesdays" the bar serves $1 pints and $2 to $3 pitchers. Sunday is half-priced wings night. Ruloffs also has $7 Rolling Rock pitchers everyday, which is really key if you're a college student.
The State Street Diner, open 24-hours in downtown Ithaca, is there for all your latenight cravings. Pancakes? You got it. Milkshakes? Of course. Souvlaki platters? You bet. This place has been an Ithaca staple for 70 years and they know what the masses want come 3AM.
Ah, brunch. A meal best experienced in last night's makeup with a bloody mary in hand. Carriage House Cafe does a stellar version. Their most popular item, the brie-stuffed French toast, is a gloriously gooey, oozy, maple syrup and berry coulis-drenched masterpiece.
Temple of Zeus, located in the basement of Goldwin Smith Hall, has a daily changing menu of homemade vegetarian soups like Creole red bean and gingered sweet potato. The soup recipes are all available online for you to recreate in the comforts of your dorm kitchen. Get there early, as the soup usually runs out before 1PM. (Discount if you bring your own bowl!)
Place to Grab a Pint
When we asked a bartender how long The Chapter House has been open, he replied: "I don't know, like a hundred years. It's definitely pre-Prohibition." Affectionately known as "The Chappy", the charm of this place is unrelenting: there's fifty rotating brews on tap (including selections from local breweries like Ommegang and Southern Tier), pool tables, darts, communal wooden tables, and live music. Did we mention the free popcorn?
Purity Ice Cream Co, open since 1936, has gigantic sundaes and decadent flavors like Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Raspberry Truffle. If you're not into ice cream, they serve really good muffins, too.
Where to Impress a Date
Stella's is the place to bring that boy you've been eyeing in your Political Theory & Cinema class or that girl who sits next to you in Psych 101. This swank, tile-lined, cavernous restaurant makes a mean grass-fed burger and superb lobster bisque, not to mention killer cocktails. Stella's Café, located next store, is a great place to study while drinking whiskey barrel-aged cold brew coffee.
When Someone Has a Car
CIA graduate Jonah McKeough and his wife Christina opened the quaint Hazelnut Kitchen about 20 minutes outside of Ithaca in the town of Trumansburg, where they turn the plethora of offerings from Upstate NY farmers into culinary gold. Their pasture raised steak du jour with chimichurri, hand-cut frites, and béarnaise is perfection, as is their hazelnut butter cake with sea salt caramel and hazelnut ice cream.
Place to Spend Saturday Morning
The Ithaca Farmer's Market is an Upstate culinary utopia. Set on the shore of Cayuga Lake, the farmer's market offers exceptional produce, a variety of ethnic food, and artisan goods from local craftsmen. Don't miss the Cambodian food from Khmer Angkor (get the spicy Amohck Chicken curry with bamboo shoots, pineapple, sweet potato and roasted peanuts), the breakfast burritos from Solaz, Cuban food from La Paladar, buffalo and bison burger patties from Glenwood Farms, ice cream and granola from Silver Spoon, and the pristine produce from Early Morning Farm. Bring your food to the dock, where you can chow down while looking out onto the water.
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About the author: Originally from Los Angeles, Erin Mosbaugh writes Je Blague, where she captures her food adventures in NYC and beyond. Erin also writes dining and nightlife features for Robb Report New York City.