Restaurant Review: The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond (Auburn, NY)


The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond
The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond

The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond is located on the wooded lot of Elderberry Pond Farm in Auburn, NY, overlooking their orchards, vineyards and seasonal vegetable crops.  The 100-acre farm is a Certified Organic Farm, producing a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and heritage pigs and chickens.

This seasonally operated restaurant has been on my “must visit” list for some time.  I first read about it in one of Mike O’Brian’s “The Getaway Guy” books.  This summer, I finally made the drive to Auburn, NY to check it out.  On the way, my passenger and I visited an art co-op, featuring art. jewelry and gifts made by local artists.  We browsed a bit and then sat in on part of a painting class. On the way home, we visited a local farm market, making it a nice day trip.

Surroundings

As I tentatively drove down the road on the way to this restaurant, I did not immediately see the small and partially hidden ground-level sign for The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond.  After a quick turn-around, we were on our way down the bumpy, gravel drive (gravel roads are a pet peeve of mine, even in the “country”) leading to a semi-circular parking area.  We came upon the red-shingled building, which we assumed to be the restaurant. We had to assume that because there was no other signage welcoming us there.  As a result, we weren’t sure where to enter and thus soon found ourselves peeking into the exterior door to the kitchen.  After another quick turn-around (walking this time), we made our way to the only other door, which proved to be the front entrance, with its tiny sign showing the hours of operation.

This restaurant would definitely benefit from a paved road and improved signage.  Also, some flowers, hanging baskets and other outdoor decor would have helped soften the look.  I was a bit irked already because they referred to themselves as a “fine dining restaurant,” but by the looks of the place from the outside, you wouldn’t think so. Was I about to be disappointed that I drove 1 1/2 hours to have lunch here?

Atmosphere

The restaurant’s website describes the restaurant as follows:

“The building is new, but has been constructed with the same materials that were used 150 years ago, when our farm house and other barns were built. The foundation was laid from stones we picked from our fields.  The board and batten frame was made from local hemlock, and the beams in the dining areas are from fallen local barns. Much of the interior was built from materials we collected from old houses in the area . Our huge fireplace was made from a single pine board taken from an abandoned house not far from the farm.  Our goal was to create a relaxing home style environment for our customers to enjoy our fresh farm fare.”

 

Hostess Stand and Waiting Area at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Hostess Stand and Waiting Area at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Upon entering The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, guests come upon a small, wooden hostess stand in a quaint but tiny waiting area, with seating for three. To the right of the hostess stand is a large glass pane door leading to the open-air concrete patio, where several wrought iron tables welcomed up to 16 diners who prefer to eat outside.

Doorway to main dining room at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Doorway to main dining room at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

To the left  of the hostess stand is a beautiful doorway leading to the main dining room, which seats about 40 people. French wooden doors with inset leaded glass welcome guests to the dining room. Ornate carpets led the way inside where I noticed a dozen or so tables set with tablecloths and place settings, ready for lunch service. I was pleasantly surprised by this spacious and inviting dining room, with its beautiful wood floors, substantial fireplace, exposed beams and stained glass.

Although well it with beautiful hanging lights and a few sun-soaked windows, the dining room still had a heavy, masculine feel.

Dining Room at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Dining Room at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
More Dining Room Tables at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
More Dining Room Tables at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Dining Room Tables at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Dining Room Tables at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

As we made our way through the main dining room, the hostess inquired about our seating preference: main dining room inside, patio outside, or sun room inside. I noticed that none of the lunch guests had chosen the main dining room, as it was empty.  Taking our cue from the other patrons, we chose the inside sun room, hoping to get the feel of outdoor dining, but still benefit from the cool air conditioning on this hot late-June afternoon.

We were shown to a table in the corner of the room, with a great view of the patio and the dining room.

 

 

What a beautiful sun room! With seating for 20 people, this room featured large, white French doors, oversized windows and a pretty view of the patio, where I did finally see some flowers and careful landscaping.  It was bright and cheery, compared to the darker, heavier feeling main dining room. A massive yet elegant chandelier in the middle of the sun room provided a hint of the “fine dining” experience I mentioned earlier.  I started to think that this just might be a wonderful lunch after all.

Sun Room Seating at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Sun Room Seating at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
One of only two washrooms at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
One of only two washroom at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

I would be remiss not to mention that the washroom facilities, while although clean and charming, were not sufficient to meet the needs of a restaurant full of patrons. This was clearly illustrated by the long line of women waiting to use the facilities as the lunch service concluded.

Menu

Once seated at our pretty sun room table, we were presented with two menus: a Summer Lunch Menu and a Wine List. The menu covers consisted of a folded, laminated sheet, with a printed sheet held inside by a gold string, making a four page interior.  The first page contained an entry from The Farmer’s Journal , dated June, 2016; in it the proprietors (The Legos) explained the farm’s history and sustainable farming philosophy.

Elderberry Ponds Menus: Summer Lunch Menu, Wine Menu, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
The Restaurant at Elderberry Ponds – Summer Lunch Menu and Wine List, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

The seasonal menus is described on their website as follows”

“…based on the use of  fresh seasonal ingredients from our farm and on the availability of the highest quality meats and fresh fish.  Many of our meat dishes are prepared from local organic and/or grass fed livestock including our own Pork  and beef from farms in upstate New York.  We are proud to promote farms like ours that produce high quality meats by raising their livestock humanely, replacing growth hormones and antibiotics with healthy diets, free access to pasture, and respect for their comfort and well being.

This Summer Menu offered options for Soups. Salad, Pizza, Entrees, Desserts and Beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Soup options included the Soup of the Day or Vegetarian Vegetable, both priced at $4 per cup or $7 per bowl. The Pizza of the Day was a savory white pizza with three cheeses, garlic, shaved fennel, fresh tarragon and a port wine reduction, priced at $12. I noticed a menu note mentioning gluten-free and vegan options.

Entrees included:

  • Angus Burger – with organic greens and cheddar cheese – $14
  • Heritage Mild Italian Sausage Sandwich – with peppers and onions – $14
  • All Natural Chicken Salad – with grapes and walnuts (on greens or in a wrap) – $14
  • Organic Quinoa Salad – with fresh vegetables and toasted almonds on top of organic spinach $12
  • Vegetable Pasta – with seasonal organic vegetables, topped with Feta cheese – $12
  • Mussels and Spring Greens with Whole Wheat Linguine – topped with a Parmesan and almond crumble – $13
  • Signature Crab Cakes – tropical blue crab served on a bed of greens – $15
Elderberry Pond Summer Menu Entre' Page. Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond Summer Menu Entree Page. Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

The Dessert section of the Restaurant at Elderberry Pond’s menu announced seasonal fruit desserts, a flourless chocolate Ganache Torte and a Chef’s Brule’, all priced at $7.  In addition, our server told us of a few other special desserts.  Freshly ground and brewed coffee could be ordered as either certified organic regular or full-flavored decaffeinated, priced at $3 per cup. Other beverages included hot or iced tea, home-made apple cider (made from organic apples), organic milk, Pepsi brand soda and organic lemonade, all priced at $2.50.  For $3, you could order a bottle of Pellegrino Sparkling Water.  Beers ranged from $3.50 for standard brands to $5 for a few New York Craft Beers.

Overall, the menu was more sparse than most, but what it lacked in quantity, it made up in quality.  Although only offering seven choices, the list of entrees was obviously well planned.  Executive Chef, Chris Lego did a great job featuring a variety of options to appeal to almost any taste and dietary need, including organic, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Food

Bread Basket at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Bread Basket at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

The hostess brought us a basket of bread soon after taking our lunch order. It contained four very small slices of bread, which my lunch companion described as “dainty portions.”  The bread was wrapped in what appeared to be a white wash cloth. I thought that was odd and would have expected a linen napkin instead. Accompanied by whipped butter, the bread was tasty, but not plentiful.

I scanned the menu several times, struggling with the decision of what to order.  I waffled between the Crab Cakes and the Angus Beef Burger.  Finally, I decided on the Signature Crab Cakes on a Bed of Greens ($15) and a bowl of the home-made, gluten-free  Lentil Soup ($7), followed by a slice of Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie ($7) for dessert,  and a glass of unsweetened Iced Tea ($2.50) to wash it all down.

The hearty Lentil Soup was filled with a variety of vegetables including fire roasted tomatoes, kale, spinach, Swiss chard and celery. With a healthy dose of pepper, this soup had a spicy kick. The lentils were cooked just right, so that they split, lending creaminess to the soup. The owner/chef confirmed that the soup was made with vegetables grown either on this farm or locally.  She made it just yesterday, which was not surprising, based on how fresh and delicious it tasted.

Lentil Soup at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Lentil Soup at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

As I consumed last spoonful of Lentil Soup, my Crab Cakes arrived.  Admittedly, I was disappointed with the miniature size of these crab cakes. You can see by the photo below that they were barely larger in diameter than the cucumber slices.  Although they were thick, they were still quite small.  They were served on a bed of greens with a chipotle mayo dressing and a wedge of lime.

The tropical blue Crab Cakes were flavorful and moist.  They had a nice seer on the outside, which was a pleasant contrast to the smooth and creamy inside.  I enjoyed both crab cakes and  easily could have eaten two more!  I didn’t particularly care for the dressing, but a squeeze of fresh lemon added brightness to the crab cakes.  The greens on the slide were mainly lettuce and shaved carrots, with two slices of cucumber; more of a garnish than anything else.

Signature Crab Cakes from The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog.
Signature Crab Cakes from The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog.
Crab Cakes (close up) from The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Crab Cakes (close up) from The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Once my lunch companion eyed my bowl of wonderful lentil soup, and saw how much I enjoyed it, she decided to order a cup of her own.  She seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did.  She also ordered the Vegetable Pasta ($12). The menu described it as “prepared with Elderberry Pond seasonal organic vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and artichoke hearts, topped with feta cheese.”  I was little skeptical, thinking that there wasn’t much protein in that dish.  However, once it was delivered to the table, I knew that she had made a good choice.

Vegetable Pasta from The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Vegetable Pasta from The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

The deep bowl was overflowing with a heaping portion of penne pasta with fresh vegetables, topped with plump crumbles of beautiful feta cheese. Even as she dug into it, the portion seemed to go on and on.  She enjoyed the Vegetable Pasta, commenting that it was fresh and very filling.  She did note that it was highly flavored with quite a bit of lemon and black pepper – after tasting it myself, I agreed.  Still, she slowly worked her way through the entire bowl, enjoying each spoonful along the way.  I was impressed that she recognized some of the greens as beet leaves, which was confirmed by the chef!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Finally, it was time for dessert!  I carefully listened to the list of sweets offered by our server.  After some consideration, I decided to bypass the various chocolate confections and opt instead for a slice of the Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie ($7). It was a great choice. Both sweet and tart, this large slice of seasonal pie was a great way to end my savory meal. I especially liked the presentation, with a leaf made of dough and perched on top of the slice of pie.  Congratulations to Pastry Chef, Cheryl McDonald, for a job well done on this wonderful pie.

Service

Overall, the service was pretty darn good. We were pleasantly greeted by the hostess upon our arrival at our appointed reservation time, and seated promptly. I liked that we were give the choice of where to dine and that our choice was easily accommodated.  Our server at The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond was initially quite attentive and pleasant, smiling often and responding to our requests for food recommendations. Once our food was served, however, she seemed to become a bit distracted, most likely due to the increasing number of patrons being seated.  As her service area increased, her patience and spirit of hospitality slightly decreased.  She wasn’t rude, but just aloof and somewhat rushed.

However, the other service staff seemed to pick up the slack.  Another dining room employee ensured that our water glasses were kept full and the chef/owner stopped by to ask about our meal and our experience. She was gracious, sweet and happy to answer our questions about various ingredients and preparation methods.

Country Food Store

The Country Store at Elderberry pond Farm, Courtesy: www.elderberrypond.com
The Country Store at Elderberry pond Farm, Courtesy: http://www.elderberrypond.com

When planning this lunch outing, I was especially excited to visit the Country Food Store at Elderberry Pond, which advertised seasonal vegetables, fruits, flowers, and pasture raised pork from their farm. However, when we inquired about it after lunch, we were told that there just wasn’t enough produce to open the store at this time. I was so disappointed!

Interestingly though, as I look at their website again, I now see that they have posted a new note, advising that the store is temporarily closed while they rebuild the adjacent barns which were destroyed by fire last year.

Overall Impression

I enjoyed my visit to The Restaurant at Elderberry PondThe atmosphere was rustic, yet elegant and the service was pleasant.  The Sun Room was a great venue for a summer lunch.  A few opportunities for improvement which are not related to the food, include paving the drive, adding/improving the signage, and expanding the restroom facilities.

Although not as expansive as many menus, the Summer Menu offered something for almost everyone.  My favorite part of the meal was the Lentil Soup, followed closely by the Strawberry-Rhubarb pie.  Some menu items might benefit from a larger portion size, but I understand that the high-quality ingredients may make that hard to do while staying within an already higher-end price range.  A lunch visit  (versus dinner) will yield the best bang for your buck, although even that was not an inexpensive meal, so be sure to bring your wallet.

The fresh (and often organic) ingredients are definitely the secret to the success of this restaurant.  I most likely would not make the drive just to visit this restaurant again, but if I happened to be in the area, I would stop in for a bite to eat from their seasonal offerings.

If you go:

The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond
3712 Center Street Road
Auburn, NY 13021
Phone: 315-252-6025
Website: http://www.elderberrypond.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elderberry-Pond/126361637413179

Details:
Business Hours:  Wed-Sun for lunch and dinner (mid-March – December).
Seatings:  Lunch: 11:30 am – 2pm, Dinner: from 5pm
Cuisine:  fresh, seasonal food in a relaxed country setting
Meals Served:  Lunch, Dinner seasonally
Alcoholic Beverages: Beer and Wine
Children’s Menu:  No
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Attire: informal
Requires Reservations: Recommended
Table Service: Yes
Outdoor Seating: Yes, as weather allows
Parking:  Free and plentiful in adjacent gravel/stone lot
Valet Service:  No
Bar Seating: No
Coat Check: No, but coat rack is available
Date opened:  this location December, 2015
Date visited:  Saturday, June 25, 2016 for lunch

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