A Foodie Tour of Utica
FX Matt Brewing Company/Saranac Brewery in Utica
Photo by Christine A. Smyczynski
Buffalo has its fair share of breweries, brewpubs, and great restaurants, but sometimes you just want to hit the road and experience the brews and cuisine of another city. Utica, New York, about a three-hour drive from Buffalo, is the perfect destination for a nearby foodie getaway.
First, check out the FX Matt Brewing Company/Saranac Brewery (830 Varick Street), a family-owned business that has been brewing since 1888, including Saranac and Utica Club Beer and Saranac soda.
The guided hour-long brewery tour begins with the history behind the brewery and the family who started it. Then walk through the brewery to see how the beer is made, from the ingredients used to the process involved, from fermentation to bottling. The tour concludes in the 1888 tavern, where guests age twenty-one and over can sample two pints of beer or a flight of four smaller samples. Underage patrons can sample Saranac sodas, including orange cream, root beer, black cherry cream, and even Shirley Temple. Beer, soda, and other items are for sale in their beer shop, including beer steins, glassware, apparel, and more.
Just down the street from the brewery is the Adirondack Distillery (601 Varick Street), a small-batch craft distillery. As with the brewery, tours are offered, so you can learn about the ingredients and process used in making spirits like whiskey, vodka, and gin. The tour ends with a sample tasting.
Nearby is the Mohawk Valley Winery (706 Varick Street), Utica’s first winery to be located in the brewery district. One can enjoy wine by the glass or bottle in the tap room; some of the wines are even on tap. Sample a flight of five wines in the tasting room, and pair wines with appetizers or wine-infused desserts.
Next up is lunch at the Nail Creek Pub & Brewery (720 Varick Street), just a few doors down from the brewery. The pub is known for its burgers, which are made from locally pasteurized beef and served on rolls from Utica Bread. Daily specials include a turkey club, shrimp po’ boy, and a variety of flatbreads.
There are many other good restaurants in Utica, according to Cheryl, my neighbor and a Utica native.
Ventura’s (787 Lansing Street), established in 1943, offers old-world Italian cuisine and sells authentic marinara sauce by the jar or case. According to Cheryl, one of the best kept secrets in Utica is Trattoria Calabria (706 Culver Avenue) which is known for home-cooked Italian fare. Reservations are a must. There actually is no menu; the chef shops at the local market, then prepares his meals using whatever is in season. Meals are served family-style and you can bring your own wine and dessert.
Another area Italian restaurant, Georgio’s Village Café (62 Genesee Street, New Hartford) is known for their “Utica Greens,” and chicken riggies, regional dishes found in most Italian restaurants in Utica. Utica greens are made using greens, hot peppers, cheese, bread crumbs, and a variation of meats, while chicken riggies is a pasta dish made with chicken, rigatoni, and peppers, which is topped with a cream and tomato sauce.
A couple other popular Italian restaurants include Chesterfield’s (1713 Bleeker Street) which serves old-world Italian cuisine and is purported to have the best greens in Utica, and Joey’s (307 Mohawk Street) a family run restaurant.
Another Utica specialty is tomato pie, sort of like a very thick-crust pizza topped with sauce and romano cheese; however no mozzarella is used. Cheryl suggested trying the tomato pie at either Napoli Italian Bakery (412 Culver Street) or Roma Sausage & Deli (2029 Bleeker Street).
Of course, if you want to experience Utica’s finest pizza, check out O’Scuznizzo’s (614 Bleecker Street) the oldest pizzeria in New York State, established 1914. The pizza is made upside down; toppings go on the crust first, then the cheese, then the whole thing is topped with sauce. Another popular place for pizza is Lukin’s Brick Oven Pizza (640 Varick Street).
Other Utica restaurants include Celtic Harp Irish Pub & Restaurant (805 Varick Street), which features Irish fare like shepherd’s pie and corned beef and cabbage. Gerber’s Tavern (16 Liberty Street) is a restored historic speakeasy tavern.
If you are looking for more upscale dining, The Tailor and The Cook (94 Genesee Street) offers farm-to-table cuisine using local products whenever possible. Ocean Blue Restaurant and Oyster Bar (118 Columbia Street) is a newer restaurant that specializes in seafood. It is located on the top floor of the Landmarc Building and has floor-to-ceiling windows with a spectacular view of the city.
Let’s not forget pastries and desserts! The Florentine Pastry Shop (667 Bleeker Street) has been in business almost eighty years, and specializes in authentic Italian pastries and desserts; including rum cake, almond paste cookies, and the regional favorite “pusties,” a pastry with a custard filling. Utica Bread (106 Genesee Street) has freshly made artisan bread with no preservatives, as well as an assortment of pastries. If you want a good cup of coffee to go with those pastries, stop by Utica Coffee Roasting Company (92 Genesee Street).
Of course, no trip to Utica is complete without having a “half-moon” cookie, a black and white cookie, half chocolate and half vanilla, with corresponding frosting to match. Try them from Holland Farms Deli & Bakery (50 Oriskany Boulevard) or the Gingerbread Bake Shop (3991 Oneida Street).
Another sweet treat in Utica and nearby Syracuse popular during Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are “turkey joints,” which have been made at Nora’s Candy (321 North Doxtator Street) in Rome, New York, since 1919. These rather expensive handmade candies, which resemble tree branches or turkey joints (hence the name), consist of nuts and chocolate covered with a silvery sugar coating.
For more information about the Utica area oneidacountytourism.com.
Christine A. Smyczynski is a freelance writer and blogger and author of Western New York Explorer’s Guide.