The night seeing Boyhood at the Manlius Art Cinema generated a great desire to check out Ironwood, which rests on the corner at 145 East Seneca Street. And this desire and decision was made at first glance. Since that day, there would be consistent discussion about going to Ironwood. Since Boyhood is still playing at MAC, the soon-to-be-shown Cavalry would have made the perfect kill-two-birds-with-one-stone night out in the town. But our impatience got the best due to matters of the heart: food.
The quaint town of Manlius presents itself well: manicured landscaping, quiet atmosphere, sidewalks to walk upon and to venture around town. Depending on where you are, the trip may be a stroll or a trek, but it’s worth every mile. And all of this adds up. Yes, as stated, Ironwood was love at first sight without having the tiniest bite; and the look of this restaurant will not deceive you.
This “Manlius Monday” would be the perfect parents or adult night out. Throwing “mandatory” at the beginning of this is optional, depending on how hell-bent you are with alliteration. Whether you’re on a date or you’re going with friends, spending the evening in that neck of the woods will be rewarding. If the idea of a night out with $10 pizzas across the board, live music, and/or walking down a couple doors to watch a movie doesn’t sound appealing to you … well … sorry(for you).
To get into the restaurant, you have to walk through the license plate spotted fence, which adds significantly to the facade and appeal of Ironwood. The uniqueness of the decor cannot be compared or contested by any other Central New York venue. This type of dining al fresco can beat mall restaurant’s poor excuse for a veranda regardless on how many fake plants are dressed in lights. The interior of Ironwood is an atmosphere that stems from a variety of inspirations. When you compare other CNY restaurants, it could be the offspring of Joe’s Pasta Garage — save the harvest color of the walls, hugging you with a cozy atmosphere in similar fashion of a European grandmother as you step into her home for a fresh-cooked meal — and Detroit Small Plates. Ironwood mirrors the urban and industrial look of Small Plates minus the bland high school cafeteria setup and college mess hall atmosphere.
The burnt-orange walls and industrial bones are accompanied by a rustic tint. Upon entering, the hostess, who was caught en route to complete a mission, immediately turned around mid-stride and greeted her new customers attentively. She suggested heading to the bar while our 10-minute wait time clicked down. However, we found a comfy seat at the penny-topped bar, and asked to be taken off the wait list without any grief. The gentleman behind the bar got us our menus, our beer, and took our order attentively. Not once did he or the other staff members stand still for longer than a minute.
The atmosphere is eclectic, but the interior inspirations never clash, and the staff performs as a constantly moving machine to generate service and product. With the wood-fire stove lighting up the rooms as if it was year-round late fall and winter, your mind is put at ease with that comfort. The smell of the wood swirls around your person and pats the back of your head, lulling your eyelids to close. The shuffling of the pizza’s back across the oven. The crack of the crust as it is broken with by a cutter. (At that moment, we looked at each other and smiled as our heads nodded in satisfactory agreement.)
Along with atmosphere, you anticipate a restaurant’s accommodations for a variety of ages and occasions: family outings, a night out with friends, a guys’ or gals’ night out, and a date night. Who doesn’t want a great date night? Everything adds up, just like the flavors of their food, for an immediate and savory impression. The Ironwood specializes in pizzas, which is boasted on their website. They have starters and salads at the top of the one-sided menu, a larger section for their pizza list, and their one-and-only dessert — homemade gelato in various flavors that change weekly. A chalkboard above the bar boasts specials each day.
Oftentimes, we all look ahead at the online menu and social media that can essentially make a restaurant business flourish. We want to see what we can be offered, what we can look forward to and maybe make a decision ahead of time. As the actual menu looks as it does on the website – there is no indication of specials, daily or weekly. There was no indication of what is on tap – beers that seem to change regularly. There also is no mention of the Monday night live music series. Checking Facebook resulted with unanswered questions: The Ironwood’s Facebook page has not been touched or updated since … May.
In house, our decisions were torn, but we ultimately decided to go with two Romaine salads, which were decked out with tomatoes and roasted red peppers. A pepperoncini relaxed on the side of the romaine lettuce that was graced with Ironwood’s fresh mozzarella and shaved Parmesan Reggiano. As intimidating as the garlic vinaigrette sounds for dressing, the garlic aspect: not overwhelming; it’s date night friendly, but you should still bring gum just to be safe.
The Margherita pizza arrived as the last leaves of salad were being forked out of the bowl. The runners up were the Basil Pesto and Vegetopia pies. Perhaps the Vegetopia with all the fresh veggies atop of it could be a bit heavy for the crust. The option to create your own pie, with the $1.50 charge for each topping, could total up to more than your willing to bargain for regardless if it tastes good. And The Diner, which is boasted on the website and not on the actual menu, is a brunch style pizza that is and appears something like you may have not tasted before, well, at least in this neck of the woods.
Ironwood does not boast a brunch, however; the hours of operation are Monday through Wednesday from 4 PM to 9 PM and Thursday though Saturday from 4 PM to 10 PM. And it’s unknown if The Diner is the one-and-only brunch pizza the establishment has to offer, as the restaurant offers “hand-crafted pizzas from a classic Margherita to brunch pizzas you won’t get anywhere else.” According to the website, they do not deliver or encourage take-out, so there is drastic confusion with ordering specialty pie(s) ahead of time or day-of if you want one for your own brunch — traditionally, Sunday (when their business is closed).
As far as uniqueness — “an experience that is truly unique” as read on the website — the concept of wood-fired pizza is not an unfamiliar thing in the Central New York area: Gilda’s in Skaneateles, Flame in downtown, and The Barking Gull in Liverpool — to name a few. With an audacious decision to use such an adjective, the lineup of pizzas — with the exception of the elusive The Diner — highlights nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, old favorites usually prove to be great favorites.
With the decision of getting the Margherita, the others were decided against because of one aspect: red sauce. People may love cheese or basil or other seasonings, but there is something about the sauce that makes a pie stand out. There is a thing as too little or too much sauce; eating a pie is not supposed parallel eating garlic bread or letting sauce drip through your hands like wet sand.
Ironwood’s sauce, to put it simply, definitely makes the cut. And speaking of actual cuts, four of them total:
The Ironwood’s Margherita was spot on for the style, and it did remind me of the style of Italian pizza personally enjoyed in the old country. The crust was crispy to perfection, and it did not crumble completely away to dust. Having those shards of blackened dough crunch in your mouth are good bursts of texture and flavor that accompany the softer parts of the pizza. The basil tasted as if freshly picked from the garden before heading into the fire. The mozzarella kept everything together and was singed perfectly golden. The shredded Parmesan Reggiano proved itself as a fanfare of brass va-voom.
The bill was just shy of $45 for the two of us, for two medium-sized salads and a basic pizza, and the beer (of course) is what did the most damage, being overpriced. Left Hand Brewing’s Nitro Milk Stout is delicious, but not worth the $7. Ironwood has a distinguished and consistently changing craft beer selection. Their wine list offers a great selection of varieties that do pair really well with the food.
In the end, we could have eaten more. Next time, and there will be a next time, we will eat more. The food was delicious. The staff was courteous, and the atmosphere of the restaurant is one of the best in Central New York. There is a lot going for the fresh and locally-friendly Ironwood — yes, the majority of ingredients come from local farmers. With discounted deals on Mondays, which are accompanied by live music, it’s hard to resist. It’s a great way to spend your Monday night. Cozy up this autumn and winter, relax next spring and summer — this place is not to be skipped.
Christopher Malone plays with more thoughts and words at his blog, The Infinite Abyss(es), and at Kinani Blue. He can also be found creating worlds and playing with invisible objects with the Syracuse Improv Collective. Feel free to tweet at @Chris___Malone, or email him at email@example.com.