Readers of Richard Ford’s fiction may expect depressed upstate New York towns, but Utica is quietly on the rise. This small city, 4 1/2 hours from New York City, is conveniently right off the NY State Thruway, so driving here in winter is a breeze. There is also a direct Amtrak from Manhattan, arriving at the landmark Utica Union Station.
Even if you drive to Utica, you will want to see this glorious marble lined building. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs train tours from here; there is a fall foliage day trip, a holiday themed Polar Express and an adult oriented Beer & Wine Tasting train that features different Finger Lakes wineries and New York State breweries.
In fact, spearheading Utica’s comeback is F.X. Matt Brewery, makers of Saranac beer. The kid-friendly brewery tour (kids can sample the sodas at the end and munch on pretzels) takes you through a gorgeous historic building.
In warm weather, the free Saranac Summer Concert Series offers live music in the outdoor beer garden. The family friendly concerts feature local and nationally known bands. On Thursdays in summer, the outdoor concerts cost $5; the money is donated to United Way.
The Adirondack Distilling Company (ADK) , making craft vodka from corn, just began operations right down the street from the brewery. Kids can stop by with their parents and meet the company’s cats, Gin and Tonic (gin and whiskey are also being developed) and have a Hershey’s Kiss while their parents sample the smooth vodka.
But man (and woman & child) cannot live on fermented grain alone. The farm to table Tailor & the Cook brings locally sourced produce and protein to diners. The year old restaurant, in a former tailor shop, lists the organic farms and dairies used in its fresh, innovative food: we had risotto with goat cheese, shrimp & grits, scallops with a beet puree and char with quinoa.
In a particularly nice touch, salad is served as an additional course, at no charge. But the salad is no throwaway. On the night we dined at Tailor & the Cook, the salad included hydroponically grown greens, watermelon radish, local sunflower seeds and dried cherries.
The owners have also sussed out great local craft beers (from Saranac and around the region) and wines. McKenzie Finger Lakes Rye Whiskey is used in cocktails, as is ADK vodka.
Next door, Utica Coffee Roasting Company, which provides the coffee for Tailor & the Cook, has high quality beans perfect for a gift or your own coffee pot.
If a more substantial breakfast is your thing, treat yourself to a night or 2 at Blueberry Brooke B & B, in a small town nearby. The B & B, on an organic blueberry farm, is a marvel of whimsy and comfort. Built from the ground up by the owner, Virginia Palusky, the B & B features super comfortable beds and bedding,
Kids can stay at Blueberry Brooke (and small dogs, too) though they may be overwhelmed by the breakfast choices. We had just had eggs, so we asked to stick with sweets. We were served fresh crepes, with hot banana sauce and blueberries, blueberry pancakes and warm blueberry muffins. There was also fresh blueberry juice (delicious; it would make an amazing cocktail with that ADK vodka) and coffee with hot milk.
Time to hit the gym!