Putting a finger on the Finger Lakes
Summer is in full swing, which is a good excuse to get out of the city. Head south on Route 64, down toward Canandaigua Lake, through Bloomfield, past Bristol Mountain Ski Resort (marvel at the green summer slopes), and stop before you reach Monica’s Pies and downtown Naples. Near the “Y” where Route 64 meets Route 21, sits the Brown Hound Bistro. If you haven’t yet dined there, you’re in for a treat. Simply put, it is one of the best restaurants in the region.
Availing itself of locally grown produce and meats, Brown Hound takes its cues from the season and consistently turns out delicious food. In some restaurants, that might lead to an air of superiority or pretentiousness — not here. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and there to make you happy and comfortable. The interior of the space is warm: Tuscan yellow walls, natural woods, braided rugs, paintings from local artists on the wall. The restroom, tucked under the stairs leading up to the kitchen, is an homage to the restaurant’s namesake, owner Trish Asher’s departed hound, Henry.
Don’t let the occasional pompous patron scare you off. (Guy who groused that his favorite out-of-state microbrew wasn’t on the menu: understand where you are and order the local beer.) If you do, you’ll remove the possibility of having a meal with tastes, scents, and colors so memorable that dishes might bubble into your thoughts at unexpected times. For instance, driving on 490 last week, I found myself longing for a slice or floral-scented apple, deep rose in color, light rose in flavor, gently sweet and slightly firm to the teeth that I’d enjoyed at Brown Hound two weeks earlier.
The rose petal-apple conserve in question is paired with a customer favorite: pan-seared yellowfin tuna with a scoop of risotto and a scattering of micro greens ($30). Like the majority of dishes on the menu, it’s both familiar and unexpected. Each meal’s star attraction is a well-prepared and satisfying rendition of a classic dish. But it’s in the sides where you’ll find the surprises: lovely shocks of color, texture, and flavor that, together, make eating at the Brown Hound both reliable and delightful.
Take the spring house salad ($7). It’s not a plate where you’d expect novelty. In some restaurants, it’s thoughtless: iceberg lettuce, shaved carrots, limp tomatoes, and maybe some corrugated cardboard posing as croutons. Here, however, the house salad plays with sweet (apple, maple) and sharp notes (red onion, shallots, vinegar), making you eager for the next bite. The lively and fresh greens are sourced just miles down the road from Ambrosia Acres Family Farm. And then there’s the scattering of diced and candied bacon. Food writing is oversaturated with declarations of love for bacon, but when it’s good, it’s very, very good. And when its smokiness is enhanced with a touch of sweetness and a bite of pepper, it’s wonderful.
Similarly, the artisan cheese plate ($11) features a mild chevre, muscular blue, and sharp cheddar cheeses — solidly appetizing choices for a Finger Lakes restaurant. Baguette crostinis, crunchy and flavored with olive oil, are eager to be piled with the cheese and — more importantly — the house-made onion marmalade. The marmalade has the texture of chutney: onion slices stand firm against the jam-like background. Cooked for a long time to develop a deep caramelization, the onions are sweetened with brown sugar and perked with ginger and (apple cider?) vinegar. Brown Hound is looking into to bottling the marmalade for sale; home cooks — myself included — will be lucky if it happens.
A few words about chicken. The menu’s chicken breast ($24), locally sourced from Sweet Grass Farm, is plump and juicy, but it’s still a chicken breast. What interests is its pairing: carrot sambal. Unlike South African or Asian carrot sambals, this is pureed smooth but retains a sambal’s spicy, warm heat. It’s the star of the entree, elevating the entire dish in the way a bold necklace can enliven a simple black shift dress.
A few more words about chicken: the chicken Moroccan ($38) is a shared plate, with two robust thighs and drums, a heap of couscous studded with dried fruits, and romesco sauce. The chicken’s skin is a deep tawny and crisp, almost as if fried, and the meat is succulent. Here, again, the sides shine: fat, sweet dates recall the dish’s namesake, while the romesco sauce reflects the piquancy of red peppers.
Lest I’ve made you think that there’s only poultry on the menu, pay attention to the Incredible Wellington ($32), a fillet of beef topped with Lively Run Cayuga bleu cheese and wrapped in puff pastry, served with bordelaise sauce, mashed potatoes, and mushroom duxelles; and the spring risotto ($21), showcasing seasonal vegetables and parmesan cheese.
If you go for brunch, make an effort to sit out on the wrap-around porch, shaded by a brick-red-and-white-striped awning. (Don’t worry if it’s chilly; the bistro has fleece blankets on hand to keep you warm.) Among my favorites are the French onion soup ($5), a hearty crock that gets the balance of salty and savory with crunchy and cheesy just right; the Sweet Grass lamb burrito ($11), featuring grass-fed lamb topped with tomato, red onion, and Lively Run feta; or the French Hill Toast ($7), made with homemade cinnamon-swirl bread and served with local Sugarbush Hollow maple syrup. (Go early if you want to order that last dish; I’ve often found that the restaurant runs out of cinnamon bread if I get there after 11:30 a.m.)
And last, but not least, if pastry chef Emmy Wilk’s toffee blondie sundae ($6) is available, order it. A blondie is a soft and chewy bar cookie flavored with vanilla and brown sugar. The blondie here is studded with toffee and the sundae is drizzled with salted caramel sauce for a sweet, salty, buttery, chewy treat. Even if you have to eat dessert after breakfast — even if you ate the Omega pancakes ($5 for a short stack) made with buttermilk, Birkett Mills’ buckwheat, ground flaxseed, and blueberries — who cares? It’s worth it