Moosewood Restaurant

Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca (Tompkins County, NY)-
The Moosewood Restaurant, the legendary vegetarian restaurant that has been serving delicious meals in downtown Ithaca (the home of Cornell University) for 30 plus years, naturally came to mind when we were developing the farm to table directory of restaurants. A well-used cookbook from the 1970’s called “The Moosewood Cookbook,” by Mollie Katzen (Berkeley, California, Ten Speed Press, 1977) has a prominent place on my rack of cookbooks in the kitchen. This cookbook describes Moosewood’s “cooking style” as “an eclectic cuisine, with vegetarian, international emphases, using the freshest ingredients available.” A more recent Moosewood cookbook, entitled “Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special,” by the Moosewood Collective (New York, NY, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1999) describes the Moosewood Restaurant’s approach to food in this way: “We serve generous portions at moderate prices and see ourselves as part of an important movement toward cultivating more healthful diets based on the creative use of the freshest high-quality ingredients and natural whole foods. So at Moosewood, the focus is on preserving the integrity of the basic ingredients and paying careful attention to all aspects of preparation.” Thus, it was a surprise in examining Moosewood’s website that local foods were not specifically emphasized.

A phone conversation with Jenny, one of Moosewood’s four menu planners (or executive chefs) resulted in the decision to include the restaurant in the farm to table directory. According to Jenny, Moosewood supports many local Ithaca businesses and farmers, including Finger Lakes Family Farms, Cayuga Pure Organics, and Denis Caso, a local ice cream maker. In the summer, the restaurant works with a supplier that provides regional access to local farmers, and obtains greens, tomatoes, squash and fruit all within 50 or 100 miles of Ithaca. In fact, Jenny explained that the restaurant has a commitment to local agriculture and helping local, smaller farmers is a priority. She also provided a thoughtful response to a query concerning Moosewood’s decision to market a frozen product line of organic foods that is sold nationwide. She understood the concern about the sustainability of distributing their products, produced in Brockton, Massachusetts, to such a wide market. By providing a line of frozen organic foods, Jenny suggested that Moosewood is creating an alternative to industrially-grown frozen foods. After 30 plus years, Moosewood has indeed become a brand name. Nonetheless, it is a brand name that deserves respect.

A friend and contributor to this website, Kiera Crowley, who calls Ithaca her hometown, has sent us a review of her most recent meal at the Moosewood Restaurant which we share. It is observed that Moosewood, known widely for the creativity of its vegetarian dishes, has expanded its menu to include fish (FB 6/29/10). Here’s Kiera’s review:

Set a block away from the bustling Ithaca Commons, but still in the heart of downtown, Moosewood is a landmark that has been well-loved by residents and visitors for more than 30 years. The interior is warmly decorated with saffron orange walls and paprika red accents, while the waiting area is embellished with a homey yet celebratory array of lit-up plants and trees. To the left is a bar where you can enjoy a glass of wine, a beer, a cocktail, or even a smoothie while you wait to be seated. To the right is the indoor seating area, followed by a set of stairs and a door that leads to an outdoor seating area, enclosed only by a low fence topped with potted flowers. This seating area is very pleasant because it gives you the benefit of enjoying the fresh air without being too close to the road. Every day, a new appetizer and entrée menu is put together by one of the four head chefs. This is done largely in order to incorporate the foods that are available locally, which can change weekly. The tossed salads, served with the entrees, are consistently local throughout the summer, which is surely why the greens, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes are so fresh and flavorful. The wide variety of salad dressings add just enough flavor to add some spice, without overpowering the taste of the veggies. My dinner partners tried the feta garlic and house (creamy spinach-basil) dressings, and I went with the lemon tahini – my personal favorite. The entrée choices for the night all sounded irresistible: Jail Island salmon, corn and cheese burrito, lasagna with two sauces, Thai curry, and pasta Putanesca. Unfortunately for us, the pasta dish had been extremely popular and was all gone. I decided on the salmon instead – and wow, what a good choice that was! The sustainably farmed, oven-poached fillet was done to perfection – firm but moist and tender. The arugula-basil pesto topping had a delicate but flavorful taste, while the complimentary mashed potatoes were deliciously creamy, and the seasoned asparagus spears still had that crispness that comes from being cooked just enough. My dinner partner had the lasagna, layered with Italian cheeses, savory tomato-basil-wine sauce, and topped with a rich spinach béchamel sauce. Although we were too full for dessert, the variety of unique desserts sounded absolutely delectable. They included locally-made ice cream, maple rhubarb upside down cake, mango peach blackberry crumble, and the old standby, a fudge brownie. The prices for entrees range from $15 to $19, and for desserts from $3.50 to $5 – well worth it for a deliciously organic and largely local meal (KC 6/19/10). [Moosewood Restaurant, 215 North Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY 607.273.9610, Lunch: Mon-Sat 11:30AM-3:00PM, Dinner: Sun-Thurs 5:30PM-8:30PM, Fri-Sat 5:30PM-9:00PM www.moosewoodcooks.com]

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