Seneca Lake: 48 Hours in Upstate New York

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

If you've ever wanted to visit the trout lake capital of the world, you're in luck: I'm here to tell you all about it!

OK, OK, not all about it - we weren't there for very long, & we certainly didn't see or eat any trout - but I did visit the trout lake capital of the world last weekend, so I'll tell you what I know about it.

Geneva, N.Y., is situated at the north end Seneca Lake, the largest & deepest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, which is home to a whopping 50 wineries. One of those is Belhurst Castle & Winery, where our friends Sam & Ryan tied the knot last Saturday.

Yes, it's a castle, open to the public as a hotel/winery/restaurants/spa combo in 2004. We booked The Bamboo Room for the weekend, in part because we wanted to experience Belhurst's famous hotel wine spigot, which dispenses complimentary red wine to hotel guests.

On Friday night, we went to downtown Geneva, which has a small-town vibe that reminds me of Kent, OH, where I went to college. Mike found a restaurants called The Red Dove Tavern, a husband-and-wife-owned gastropub that specializes in farm-to-table foods.

We split the gemelli (that's twisty pasta; I had to Google it) with pesto, grilled shrimp, & burrata. It was so good, & it was a surprisingly large portion, so splitting it was the right choice. Mike got the oysters - his new obsession, & definitely not mine - while I got the sugar snap peas with ricotta & basil, which were so fresh & refreshing. I needed something green!

I was excited to see Allagash Saison on the drink menu because I haven't had an Allagash beer since my D.C. days., but they're based in Maine & always remind me of my time living in New Hampshire. Hey, Allagash Brewing Co. folks: Make your way to the Buckeye State so I can drink your beer way more often.

Afterward, we headed over to Lake Drum Brewing, a small, intimate brew house in downtown Geneva - the first one there since Prohibition! It feels more like a coffeehouse, with live folk music playing in one corner of the room & huge shelves of books lining one wall. There's not a ton of seating, but it all feels very close & communal.

Lake Drum originally specialized in sours, but I wasn't sure I could handle one of those (sensitive stomach over here!) so I went with the Gateway Kolsch. Mike, ever the IPA lover, went with the Bad Dog IPA, & we drank them on a bench just outside the brew house so we could enjoy the unseasonably cool weather.

We called it an early night, but on Saturday morning, we woke up earlyish & headed downtown again. This time, our destination was the H.J. Stead Company, a cozy eatery in an historical building that once housed a bifocal company of the same name.It only has a few tables, & you're expected to share the space with others, which can mean communal eating. That's not quite our jam, so we were glad to find spots open at the bar.

Look how adorable all of this is, from the street art to the street itself to the crowded-but-cute inside of this spot!

It took us ages to order because everything on the menu looked so good.

Mike went with the FLX Burger, done In-n-Out style with two smashed patties, & though it didn't photograph well, he loved it. I decided on the chicken & egg breakfast sandwich, served on a big, beautiful brioche bun & topped with cheddar, greens, aioli, & pickled veggies. Fried chicken is a toss-up food for me, but I had a good feeling about this one... & I was so right. I left feeling satisfied but not gross or overly full.

H.J. Stead & Company also has a great beer & wine menu, so Mike, ever the brunch boozer, went with The Big Broadcast, a double IPA from War Horse Brewing in Geneva. I got the cold brew, which was damn strong.

We stopped in at the new Finger Lakes Welcome Center because I wanted to take a pic with the "I ❤ NY" statue you see in the banner photo in this post. You know I'm a sucker for a good Instagram spot! Unfortunately, there were people sitting all over it watching their kids play on a nearby playground. Maybe not the best idea to put it right there? Alas, it's the only shady spot in the area, so I can't blame those parents too much.

We took some pics by the water & went back for an "I ❤ NY" pic before we left town on Sunday. Can you even with how gorgeous this place is? Everything just felt so serene - even with kids on monkey bars screaming in the background. 

We headed back to Belhurst Winery for a wine tasting in the hotel's gift shop. Chrissy, the bartender, was friendly, knowledgeable, & efficient as hell, running all over the place to conduct multiple tastings as once. You can do cheese or chocolate pairings, too, but we went straight for the wine.

We didn't love any of the wines, but they were all fun to try. I tasted ice wine for the first time (which tastes like liquefied strawberry jam), & we also sampled a couple beers brewed by their own beer company, the weirdly named Mabel's Oat Soda Co.

In the end, we bought a bottle of the Belhurst Red (Semi-Dry) to drink on the patio outside, & when we finished that, we grabbed a cheese board from Stonecutter's. It was a really solid cheese board, I've gotta say. Just look at that thing! Pesto hummus!

And then it was time for the wedding! We saw Sam, Ryan, & their families while sitting outside at Stonecutter's, which only made me more excited for the big event. The weather was so perfect. They tied the knot under a rose-studded canopy in front of Lake Geneva, their two young kids their only bridal party. It was a quick ceremony, followed by cocktail hour on the castle lawn & a reception inside.

I'm so bummed that this photo of Mike & me on the water didn't turn out well, in part because I loved my dress, a glittery, sequined bodycon with a low-cut mesh V at the chest - that was still classy & subtle despite that mega-trashy description. You can sort of see it in the selfie below.

The wedding itself was so lovely & fun, despite the fact that we didn't know many other people in attendance. Mike got to catch up with some of his high school friends, & we spent a lot of time laughing at all the little kids on the dance floor. Why do kids dance like all their bones are breaking?!

At one point, the groom rapped the entirety of "O.P.P." for his bride - "You asked for a ballad," he said - & the night ended with personalized wine bottles & hand-rolled cigars & s'mores. Oh, & some more spigot wine, of course. 

Seneca Lake, the closest-to-us of the Finger Lakes, is about a five-hour drive from Cleveland, & it's an easy, straight shot. We left around 2pm on Friday after working almost-full days, & we made it there before sundown. On Sunday, we had brunch at the castle, took photos at the "I ❤ NY" sign, & headed home by noon, with plenty of Sunday to enjoy when we got back. I'd really like to go back to the Finger Lakes region for a fuller wine tour sometime in the future. Way cheaper than Napa!

I loved this little weekend getaway, but I'm also glad that it was the last out-of-town trip on our calendar for a couple months. We're going to the Marblehead Peninsula on Lake Erie for a wedding in September, but for now, we're just enjoying Cleveland & spending some time in the home city.

Have you ever been to the Finger Lakes region? What's the last weekend road trip you took?

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