The locale: An hour-and-45-minute drive east on I-90. A city of over 13,000 residents, Geneva embraces a dual personality that sets it apart from other Finger Lakes communities. It’s “uniquely urban,” as marketers like to say, and picturesque and rural.
The scoop: For decades, the main tourism draws here were downtown’s art deco Smith Opera House, lake trout fishing and the luxury accommodations at Geneva on the Lake and Belhurst Castle. But in recent years, Geneva has emerged as a foodie town. With a backbone of tried-and-true favorites (haddock or gnocchi at the Deluxe, pot roast sandwich at Beef & Brew, scallops at Halsey’s, chicken French at Torrey Park Grill, and just about anything at Port’s), the city now hosts an array of experimental and farm-to-table cuisine.
It’s also home to Puerto Rican and Mexican restaurants, and to GF, a gluten-free hamburger joint with a stellar fish fry. Several of the newer restaurants are on quaint, one-way Linden Street, which is closed off on summer weekends to allow for piazza-like dining and music under colorful, festooned lighting. With loads of wineries and a growing number of microbreweries in the area, you can expect to find something new to try wherever you go.
H.J. Stead Co., 34 Linden St. — Named for the bifocal manufacturing company that operated on this spot 100 years ago, H.J. Stead’s appeal is the welcoming staff and creative, ever-evolving menu. Local foodies recommend the mushroom ramen bowl.
FLX Table, 22 Linden St. — Unique among Geneva restaurants, it offers two reservation-only seatings a night at a lone table for 14 people who don’t know what they’ll be served until they arrive. FLX’s designation as 2017’s Best New Restaurant (by USA Today affiliate 10Best.com) created a buzz that still fills the table each night. While some gulp at the price ($59/person, plus wine), it helps to remember you’re paying for the experience: A five-course meal, relatively few decisions, full view of the kitchen and, depending on the size of your group, the chance to meet new people in a dinner party setting. Our group was presented with the chance to enjoy a bonus dessert, a homemade marshmallow toasted at one of two spots down the street, Kashong Creek or Left Bank. How great to see business owners creating clientele for other entrepreneurs!
Kindred Fare, 512 Hamilton St. — For an experience similar to FLX in a much larger setting, you can try The Chef’s Menu here, but there’s no need to commit to the unknown. Kindred Fare also has a menu full of interesting options. Favorites range from fried chicken and mac ‘n’ cheese to kale salad (with pickled red onions, croutons, feta and bacon). The cheese and charcuterie plate, with house-made accompaniments, is also popular.
Red Dove Tavern, 30 E. Castle St. — Among the first of the new, creative Geneva restaurants, Red Dove opened more than a decade ago. Early on, the gyro, falafel and fried chickpeas were my go-to items; these days, it’s the Shrimp Pil-Pil that has locals talking.
La Bella Mia Sicilia (or Bella Café), 93 Seneca St. — A fast favorite when it opened less than two years ago, this restaurant is owned by former Syracuse University law school dean Tomas Gonzalez, who shares both his Sicilian and Spanish roots and his baritone voice, regularly singing for diners’ pleasure. Top recommendation: The chicken parmigiana. Plan on leftovers.
Story topics: Travel