Ithaca soul food, Indian cuisine and comforting waffles

Have you ever smelled or tasted foods that bring back fond memories? That’s how I feel about Ithaca’s food –– it’s a place where people put their love, their life stories and their history on a plate.

I’ve lived in Ithaca for three and a half years: first as a student at Cornell University, and now as a new food, drink and culture journalist, clinging to a new diploma. In this new role, I want to pay homage to the people and places that nurtured my body through my tumultuous undergraduate and, now officially, adult life. This is my love letter to them.

In the coming months, I hope to build relationships with new and returning restaurateurs, grocers, farmhands, and others who are part of Ithaca’s food scene through narrative storytelling, so that the community of Ithaca may experience hard work better. and the care given to the meals they eat.

Follow me back in time as I navigate the seasons of my favorite Ithaca comfort foods: waffles, soul food, and Indian cuisine. Welcome to the very first “Caroline Eats!” column.

Waffle Frolic: A springtime weekend brunch worth the wait

When I think of spring, the welcoming smell of Waffle Frolic food comes to mind. It’s 2021, the waterfalls have thawed, the flowers have started to bud, and my parents are visiting for the weekend.

We sit at my small gray dining table, stomachs rumbling, doing our usual routine of bickering and circling to decide on food. That said: dad asks me what I want, I ask mom what she wants and she answers: “I will have everything you want.” What could satisfy the concerns of such an indecisive family in this foggy window between morning and noon?

I consult my dear friend Google and come across Waffle Frolic, a place that has been recommended to me for about two and a half years, but which I have never visited. The menu is divided into savory and sweet waffles, vegetarian options, cornbread dough and breakfast sandwiches. Ah! A brunch spot that can satisfy everyone’s cravings.

Our order reflects our unspoken agreement to order different items so that we can try as many things as possible on the menu: a “Hangover Sammie” (a bacon, egg and turkey sausage sandwich), “Chicken and Waffles” and a “Mr. Populaire” (strawberry waffles, Nutella and whipped cream).

Pictures:Ithaca’s Pyramid Mall, photos from the 1990s, 2000s

Around the city:After a two-year hiatus, the Ithaca festival plans to return in June

When I first enter the establishment, the warm smell of waffles, the buzz and chatter of its patrons, and the smiling eyes of its Waffle Frolic employees greet me. I’m quite a clumsy person who fumbles and struggles to maneuver in busy places, but the welcoming vibe helps.

I’m here, swinging the bag of our food home, waiting to open it. And when I do, my mouth is watering. To imagine. Sweet, salty and a mild spice all in one place.

The “Hangover Sammie” is a cornbread waffle (which I’ve never had in my life) because the sandwich patties, cheddar cheese, crispy bacon bits, turkey sausage and hot sauce maple mix to create the perfect balance on my taste buds. The “chicken and waffles”, a staple of my brunch outings, does the trick. The sweet and decadent Nutella and strawberries of “Mr. Popular” waffles melt effortlessly.

If you want a place that will fill your belly, provide a great assortment of flavors to share with friends and family, and take you to a sleepy haze or an invigorating start with a cup of coffee to balance it out, I recommend stop here. My only advice–– eat as soon as you get it so you can enjoy the warmth and non-mushy structure of a fresh waffle.

Open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekends and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at Ithaca Commons, 146 E. State St., Waffle Frolic does not disappoint.

Soul of the South Cooking: a memorable “moving experience” in summer

When I think of summer, I think of sharing lunch in 2018 with friends new and old. With the sun beating down on our skin during the summer before my first official year at Cornell, I take comfort in the coolness of one of the buildings on campus. Gleaming with sweat and stressed from schoolwork, it’s a great relief when a classmate from my summer program invites me to a late lunch with two other people.

His name was William Henderson, a chef whose kitchen would continue to grow in size, flavor and scale.

At a wooden table, he lays down a classic southern meal: collard greens, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and candied yams, which I later found out in a recent interview I had with him is his favorite dish. to prepare. In a single plate, the sweet, salty and melting flavors mix perfectly and completely.

“It’s a bunch of steps, but when you put them together on the plate, it makes it so perfect,” Henderson said, when I asked him about his favorite dish. “It’s like magic.”

After weeks of dining in the dining room that summer, having home cooked food in the hands of someone who placed their love on a plate was a real joy and a warm memory that lives in me at this day.

This meal reflected his years of cooking experience – a journey that began as soon as he was old enough to reach his kitchen cabinets in suburban Kentucky. “My parents didn’t want me to watch a lot of cartoons when I was younger. So instead what I always ended up watching was the Food Network.”

Although he graduated in December from Cornell University and is currently expanding his client base in New York, Ithaca provided a place to expand his palate (when he began hosting Caribbean student organization events and African), its consumer base and resources so that it can channel more of its passion into the meals it hosts.

“It’s a moving experience,” he said of his food. “It’s not just the food that stays on the plate. It is the hours of work that come behind. So when you get some, you will understand that the flavor. Everything is so much more complex than just the visuals.”

As he grows his client base in New York in hopes of one day establishing a storefront in Atlanta, he will return to Ithaca in March with meal prep plans available and large catering events (for groups of 12 people or more). If you’re looking for a taste of the South or want to eat a meal prepared by a brilliant chef who offers an array of foods, including vegan options, visit Henderson’s Instagram to place an order.

Sangam Indian Cuisine: Dining on Eddy Street in Autumn and Winter

When I think of my comfort food dinners in the fall and winter, I think of a warm, colorful plate of chicken tikka masala, garlic naan, and veggie samosas on a Friday night. The place that comes to mind is Sangam Indian Cuisine at 424 Eddy St. –– the same restaurant that fed my friends and I following a massive snowstorm in 2019.

Across from Cascadilla Hall on the Cornell campus, the restaurant sits next to a deli.

With freezing temperatures outside, the bracing breeze from the aftermath of a snowstorm in Ithaca, two of my best friends who lived on the same floor as me during my sophomore year are stunned. The dining rooms are too far out in freezing temperatures, our brains are scrambled from being cooped up inside all day, and our taste buds are craving something that can lift our mood with its flavor and love. The answer is Sangam.

In the warmth of the restaurant and the blend of flavorful overlapping scents, we sit by the window and watch the cars slowly pass by, the cold wind dusting the snow in the air and people curling up in bundles as we let’s share the hot food in front of us. The garlic naan is for garlic lovers, the chicken tikka masala is an inviting, tender-to-crunch orange-red delight, and the vegetable samosas are crunchy.

Now every other Friday night I order to enjoy this wonderful meal.

Their restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily, now available for take-out and delivery.

Now it’s your turn

Thank you to all these places and people for being there when I needed them most!

What are your favourites? What dishes remind you of the different seasons? Where would you like me to test? I look forward to hearing from you and exploring your comfort foods.

Caroline Johnson is a food, restaurant and culture reporter at Ithaca Journal. Email him at [email protected]. Follow her on @carolinewrites2 on Twitter for more stories and graphics.

Freeda S. Scott