National spotlight shines on 'Crepes' and grapes

What’s the best thing you ever ate? And, what is the best way to eat a grape?

Looking back over the year 2019 in food and drink, both of these questions were answered for national TV viewers. And for a short time in the year that was, Pierre Heroux — co-owner of Simply Crepes in Canandaigua, Pittsford and North Carolina — and family and Canandaigua grape grower Len Barron, who with his wife, Angela, own Barron’s Pratt Barn Vineyard, shared the small screen.

Back in April, the Heroux family and their Simply Crepes restaurants were featured on the Food Network show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Which was, for celebrity chef Fabio Viviani, the Rugby crepe — the Heroux eatery’s take on McDonald’s restaurant’s Big Mac.

Barron, also known around the area as the “Grape Guy” for his work supplying school districts with all sorts of table grape varieties, appeared in May on Martha Stewart’s PBS show, “Martha Bakes.”

Heroux and Barron have been doing what they do for years and deserve to be rewarded for their excellence. But 2019 saw several newcomers to the Finger Lakes food and drink industry, people who escaped the TV spotlight but made their mark on the food and drink scene regardless.

Welcome to the neighborhood

Starting the new year off right, Jack’s Kitchen, owned by Jack Northrup, opened in Rushville on Jan. 2.

The massive New York Beer Project opened in Victor, and is styled after an old-timey New York City beer garden. Owners Kevin and Kelly Krupski, who also own the original NYBP in Lockport, introduced the Victor lager to thirsty patrons on opening night in February.

Murphy’s Law opened down by Canandaigua Lake in the former MacGregor’s location.

Nearby, husband and wife Adam and Cortni Stahl, and brother Nathan Stahl, opened Star Cider near Finger Lakes Community College and Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center. And down the road aways, over in Crystal Beach, Steven and Linda Rohrback and son, Sean, opened up Eastside Grill and Pub in the former Captain Yogi’s and Smokeman BBQ location on Route 364.

Over the summer, downtown Canandaigua took on a hint of France after Georges Vindigni and Lisa Herrick opened Bon Ami bistro on South Main Street.

Neighbor Nick’s Chophouse started work on a high-flying adventure — the construction of a rooftop dining area that is expected to open in spring 2020. Can’t wait.

A venerable Victory eatery changed hands this year. Mac’s Philly Steaks Diner took over for Nick Cretekos and his Papa Jack’s Grill. And thanks to the good working relationship between Cretekos and “Mac” Ryan MacNamara, the eatery combines the best of the menus of both establishments in one spot on Route 96.

Bob and Kim Baldwin took a cue from Central Texas when they opened their Finger Lakes Barbecue Company — or if you prefer acronyms, FLX BBQ Company on Route 332. Here are the two words you might want to hear — “beef” and “brisket.”

And for the folks on the move, the Anchors Food Boat offered up nourishment in the form of the Walking Taco and other dishes for those on the waters of Canandaigua Lake. And Canandaiguans Joan Vicente and Aimee Malec started up the Dainty Donut Factory, offering tasty miniature doughnuts from their food trailer at area festivals.

Whit Sobey’s start-up Canandaigua distillery, Tuition Distilling Company, this fall began offering drinkers a choice of locally distilled whiskey, vodka and gin. And, gotta love this, the name comes from having a sideline to pay for the kids’ college.

For those in need of a morning (or afternoon and evening) pick-me-up, shoot over to County Road 10 in Canandaigua for Coffee Cures Everything, owned by husband and wife Clay Van Doren and Dr. Ann Robenstien.

Goodbyes

But with every opening celebration seems to come closings, and we all said goodbye to seafood place Catch 407 in Canandaigua and over in Victor, the Chit Chat Cafe.

Many were saddened at the passing of two giants of the Finger Lakes wine region, John Brahm, of Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery, and Tim Moore, of Inspire Moore Winery. A toast to their memories.

You gotta try this

The year 2019 also saw a whole bunch of unique products introduced to the area.

The Other Half Rochester brewery, which opened in April in East Bloomfield, released the Bird Cage Imperial IPA, a homage to the Canandaigua Finger Lakes Resort’s nickname.

Star Cider, along with Honeoye Falls Distillery, came out with an apple brandy collaboration.

Old friends John McMullen and Ian Boni of Twisted Rail Brewing, to mark the opening of their new Geneva location, topped off opening day for visitors with a special Twisted Gourd pumpkin ale.

And over at Young Lion Brewing Co. in Canandaigua, head brewer Phil Platz wished everyone a hoppy Easter with the Peeps ale made with those marshmallow candy chicks and bunnies. Delicious. The microbrewery on Canandaigua Lake also quenched the thirst of Kitchenaid Senior PGA Championship spectators with its Hill of Fame Light IPA.

And while mead isn’t exactly a new adult drink, many in the industry gathered in Geneva for a late-summer conference to explore perhaps start a new buzz for the honey-based craft beverage in New York and the Finger Lakes.

And flying in for Christmas eats at the New York Beer Project, The Rudolph, a venison burger topped with a cherry tomato. A red-nosed reindeer, if you will. We did — and liked it.

Food for thought

Many times, it’s easy to take for granted at how fortunate we are to somewhat regularly enjoy a fine-dining experience.

But reminders that we eat to live are all around us, if you choose to look.

The volunteers behind the Hands of Hope Kitchen in Bloomfield in May marked the fifth anniversary of the operation that provides a free weekly lunch and companionship to those in need.

The kitchen staff at the Ontario County Jail, under the direction of Douglas Randall — a 2018 Deputy of the Year for his and other unsung heroes’ work in merging the jail and Office of the Aging kitchens — make sure that inmates and the community’s senior citizens and homebound residents alike are eating right.

When people gather to eat together, good things tend to happen. This is true at the Old World Spaghetti Dinner, where folks near and far celebrate community over pasta. Money raised at this year’s dinner in March went to the restoration of the Cheshire Theatre and Meeting Hall, the 1898 state and national historic landmark site in the Canandaigua hamlet.

And thanks to the folks in the Red Jacket school kitchen, who provided a reminder of the importance of eating nutritiously through the Forward Food initiative and most importantly, that healthy food is delicious.

Yes, that means veggies, too.

Stay in touch

I wrote the following around this time in 2018, but it bears repeating because it's true. Many of the column ideas from 2019 came about as suggestions from readers, the people who love to eat and drink in the Finger Lakes. Please keep the ideas coming.