If you were tell people who grew up in a very-small-town-outside-of-what's-already-a-small-town that their hometown probably has the best restaurant in the area, they might not believe you. Particularly those who have since moved away from said very small town. I imagine a lot of our friends from Trumansburg, NY, which is a few miles away from my husband's charming hometown, will have that reaction.
But the good people of Trumansburg, the "progressive yet rural community" that houses many small organic family-run farms and such, are lucky to have the Hazelnut Kitchen around. (The quoted description above of T-burg comes from the restaurant's website.) Part Americana cafe, part sophisticated bistro, and part venue for encouraging locavore-ism, it's a friendly, delicious restaurant I'd be absolutely thrilled to have in my big city neighborhood. It likely would be packed all the time. Instead on a Thursday night it's a low-key, quiet, well-worn but not at all shabby room with high ceilings, wood booths, an open kitchen and checkerboard floors -- the space was the funky town diner for many years -- with a smattering of happy customers and a couple of loud crazy toddlers running around (our fault).
Hazelnut Kitchen is the next logical step for the post-Moosewood generation who have come to expect the legacy of Chez Panisse and some classical techniques in this type of neo-crunchy context, versus meals that make you feel like you just "ate the lawn," as my father in law would say. Which isn't to dis the original wonderful institution of which my fabulous cousin David is still a part.
Back to the kids; the little ones have NO idea how good they have it there. The grilled cheese on thick country white bread with sesame crust plus two sides combo was truly exceptional, and easily would cost twice as much than its modest $6.50 elsewhere. Us adults wound up polishing off the sandwiches after the tots filled up on fries and peas.
We also loved the delicate fluffy pea flan that was redolent of spring in the area and served with a refreshing radish, asparagus and minty salad. The pork chop special with okra, both sauteed and served under the chop as well as with a couple battered and fried pieces, was a major tone shift, but perfectly prepared and full of flavor. I didn't finish the tart with local beets, potatoes, local goat cheese, and chunky that was heavy on the pepper because dessert was an absolute must. How could I refuse apple bourbon strudel with ice cream on a bed of creme anglaise, and hazelnut butter cake with fresh plums integrated into the cake, creme anglaise, and hazelnut ice cream?
So should you ever happen to be passing through Trumansburg, Ithaca, or anywhere in a 30 or so mile radius, this is the spot, folks.
53 East Main Street