The Brewster Inn, Route 20, Cazenovia, a pleasant 30-minute drive from downtown Syracuse, is probably best thought of during the summer months, when you can sit outside and enjoy the breeze and views of Cazenovia Lake. Boaters come right up to the dock and come ashore for drinks. But the inn has some special offerings during the winter season that should entice you to take the drive.
The Brewster was built in 1890 as the summer residence of financier Benjamin B. Brewster, co-founder of the Standard Oil Company. It is a grand old mansion located on the southern end of Cazenovia Lake with guest room accommodations, three formal dining rooms, dining in the bar area and a lovely outdoor terrace for warm-weather dining.
My favorite place to eat is in the bar; I find it warmer and cozier and more relaxed. The innkeepers are the Hubbards, who do nice things in the community like hosting dinner for Cazenovia High School students who get perfect scores on their History Regents exams.
We started at the bar on a Sunday night. My husband likes scotch, so what a hoot when he ordered some over ice and we got to watch the Macallan ice ball maker in action. What is an ice ball, you ask? Well, we had never seen one before ourselves. It involves freezing a large ice cube in a special tray and then perching it on top of a very heavy metal stand. The matching lid is lowered over the cube and it melts and carves the cube into an ice ball that fills the glass of scotch.
The idea is that with less surface area vs. a couple of regular ice cubes, not as much water dilutes your beverage. Plus it was entertaining to watch and apparently fun to twirl around in the glass with your finger. I know what somebody is getting for his birthday. . .
You are not going to get a bad meal at the Brewster. The repast starts with warm bread and focaccia for dipping in the Brewster’s herbed olive oil. I love their Thai calamari, coated with a sweet chili sauce, pineapple and Virginia peanuts. Raw Oysters were fresh and sweet. Their seafood chowder is yummy and I know lots of people who take it to go and serve it on special occasions.
The surprise dish of the night was a mushroom and chevre ravioli that was served with a pomodoro sauce. I couldn’t get over how well the goat cheese married with the tomato sauce and contrasted at the same time. House specialties like veal and lobster served on a bed of wild greens and topped with tarragon beurre blanc or truffle-encrusted big eye tuna with balsamic teriyaki, shichimi aioli, sautéed spinach and fresh pasta get ordered again and again by the regulars.
I have dined at the Brewster many times before. On a more memorable dinner, my mother accompanied us and spent some time explaining to me what a soft shell crab was and letting me try some of hers; I was hooked forever. I have enjoyed more than once the Brewster’s rendition: pan fried with oven-roasted tomatoes, lemon caper sauce and roasted garlic mash potatoes. The rest of the offerings, be it scallops, chicken francaise, chops, steaks, lamb, shrimp or tuna, are all done well and consistently so.
The desserts likewise disappeared before my eyes: a chocolate lava cake with ice cream and an early taste of February’s dessert—a vanilla panna cotta with a Bing cherry sauce made from cherries harvested locally in the fall and frozen only to emerge as a sweet contrast to the creamy custard.
Nor are you going to get bad service. Bonnie Morris, our server, was a consummate professional, available but not too intrusive. Manager Kirk Gibson will seat you and ensure your evening goes smoothly.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are for sale along with other local items like Primo and Mary’s awesome salsa at the little store inside the inn. They also have a fresh seafood store within, with many of the opinion that this is the best seafood around. The wine list is extremely extensive, with domestic offerings and other wines from France, Italy, Chile and Germany, to name a few. The entire list exceeds more than 750 bottles before you even get to the dessert wines.
So while a lovely and elegant evening can be had at the Brewster, don’t assume that deals aren’t available during the winter. On Monday nights for $10 you can get a pint of beer in the bar and your choice of four burger options, including a fresh tuna burger.
If you want to dine high-brow on the cheap, check out the chef’s tasting menus offered on Wednesdays and Fridays. These are varying three-course prix fixe menus for $38 and include items like oxtail, lamb, foie gras, duck confit and oyster tastings. These evenings will be offered through March. The Brewster has also continued a BYOB option on Tuesdays and Thursdays, wherein you bring your own bottle of wine, which of course will save you even more coin.
The Brewster Inn, 6 Ledyard Ave. (Route 20), Cazenovia,
is open for dinner nightly from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday brunch begins again
in April. For information, call 655-9232, or visit thebrewsterinn.com.