Where the locals eat on Seneca Lake

Just the way I like my tuna, raw in the center

These photos are from the Ports Cafe and Big Johnson’s restaurants in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Both are probably the best places to eat if a person was visiting. Of course the cuisine offered is polar opposites, but hey, I am all about fancy and dive locations. I’ll start with a meal from the Ports Cafe.

Fresh tomato salad

The really amazing thing about the Ports Cafe is that though they have a regular menu, it would be foolish to order from it. Everyday the chef creates a list of specials almost as long as the menu from the many fresh local ingredients available in the region.

Clams in garlic broth

Fresh scallops with roast lamb in a balsamic demiglace

Make a reservation because it is always packed

On the other end of the spectrum was Big Johnson’s. A true dive bar with one of the most prolific collections of stuffed animals adorning the walls. Most of the animal kingdom is represented short of an elephant. The food is simple bar but, it is prepared fresh on order and made with excellent ingredients. Don’t expect to eat quickly, the food does take awhile to cook, but it is worth it.

True hot wings, enough said

I went to school in upstate New York and, while there, ate a lot of hot wings. The thing about hot wings is no one outside of New York seems to know how to make them right. They need to be spicy, but have excellent flavor in the sauce and don’t even talk to me if they are baked. I have tried many restaurants all over the country and none of them ever get close. What really amazes me is that no one has succeeded in exporting this food outside of the state. I guess it is a lot like fish tacos, the ones you buy in California are just better.

A true hole in the wall hangout

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About Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

This blog attempts to collect some of the things I try to create with food and booze. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. My hope is to entertain and maybe help people think a little harder about what they decide to eat and drink.
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50 Responses to Where the locals eat on Seneca Lake

  1. Love that restaurant name. Hehe.

  2. rutheh says:

    I’m going with the dive bar menu! Mmmm. Enjoyed reading your reviews. Upstate NY is wonderful in the summer…do you ever miss the winters now?

  3. ChgoJohn says:

    Having that tuna salad served to me would have made my day.You are so right about the wings — and the tacos, too. Great analogy!

  4. The tour of America continues, and I learn more every day – bravo.

  5. I would like a plate of everything please. :-) Mandy

  6. These are wonderful recommendations. Thank you for the front seat view.

  7. The top photos looked amazing, but if I was travelling in your fair country, I would want as dive-y as possible.

    • You would love Johnson’s then. There were three giant buck heads on the fireplace. Another buck was by an American flag. Katherine said it should be in movies. There was a dog, an Australian shepherd, that greeted us. I didn’t take pictures inside because it was so dark. Didn’t want to go lighting the whole place up!

  8. Kelly says:

    Oh my…. fantastic looking food. It’s only 7:45 am here, I’m sipping coffee and half asleep but these pictures are launching me into a completely different time space. The fresh tomato salad – wow, and those pan seared scallops… I love hot wings with blue cheese dip… happy to have these resto recommendations.

  9. ceciliag says:

    Scallops and lamb. Though I think I would prefer the scallops on one plate and the lamb on the other. It seems so .. hurried ..to have them served on the same plate. Also what was in that tomato salad, it did look good.. c

  10. Stef says:

    An authentic Pepsi sign and a religion-related message are the true hallmarks of a great dive bar. ;) (Seriously!)

  11. Food Jaunts says:

    Jealous of your dining experience! I would have gone crazy over that tuna if it had beem. Served to me. And I love that you contrasted it against the dive bar. I’m a huge fan of hole in the wall bars/restauranta.

  12. I used to own a country store that had a sign like the one with the “God Bless America” on it. When I bought the place (it was out in the country in the middle of nowhere) the customers all told me they didn’t care what I did in the store but to please not put Bible verses on the sign. The previous owner was a preacher. Anyway, I made a list of birthdays and put everyone’s birthday up. They loved it and some of them would drive several miles on their birthday just to see if I remembered it and posted it on “their” day. So funny! I still have that list of birthdays and that has been almost 20 years ago! Have a great weekend.

  13. egg me on says:

    Go upstate New York! Those are some great looking scallops. And the wings look fantastic.

  14. Judy says:

    Gorgeous photos! This food looks incredible–YUM!

  15. Sissi says:

    Do you make sometimes true hot wings in your lovely green kitchen too? (Not that I suggest anything…) I also love tuna this way, actually I prefer it raw and when I order sushi, 90% of it is tuna. The thing I would have never thought about it pairing scallops with lamb! It looks shockingly good though!

    • You know. We really hate to fry and that’s the right thing way to do it. So I’ve never made them. We eat fried food, but when we make it… well it’s just such a mess and so much oil. We did it for the okra recently and before that it had been at least six years since I fried. So maybe in another six years! I love raw tuna too!

      • Sissi says:

        It’s true, the oil splatters a bit, but I’m too weak to resist when I crave something I can’t get in a restaurant…

  16. “I wonder what Rufus is up to today” and you never disappoint. Wish I could visit these places… I tried to make Buffalo wings and had two failed recipes… the search continues! Let me know if you find one!

    • Ha, ha. OK, I don’t fry much at home. Here’s how wings should be done in my not so humble opinion. Deep fry the wings, no batter with the skin still on. The sauce is an equal parts mixture of Frank’s Hot Sauce and butter. (See why I don’t make them at home.) Then add another cayenne pepper sauce to your taste, which adjusts the heat. The wings are then tossed in the sauce hot out of the fryer and sometimes cooked for a few moments to really let it set in. They are then served with celery, blue cheese and a melon wedge.

  17. nrhatch says:

    Great photos and write up.

    So . . . what kind of pickle are you in today? ;)

  18. I’m a dive bar girl… some hot, hot wings and some ice cold beer… a night don’t get much better than that!

  19. Never been up to that part of New York, but it’s looking better all the time!

  20. I love the sign…fine food and friendly folk
    really enjoying your trip photos…thank you for sharing

  21. Lea Ann says:

    Love that Pepsi sign. Looking at those wings made me instantly hungry. Loving your trip photos.

  22. Young Wifey says:

    All the food looks fantastic. Can’t wait to get back to the Finger Lakes…

  23. ambrosiana says:

    When I wait for food at a restaurant and it comes out tasting great, is a good sign. To me it means that even if it is not prepared from scratch, they took the necessary time to cook it and prepare it correctly! Big Johnson’s rules! Excellent post on your trip! Keep ‘em coming!!

    • When we were in St. Louis at a really nice Italian place, the couple next to us was complaining it was taking too long to get their risotto. Katherine was so irritated! She almost gave them a tutorial on how long it takes to properly prepare risotto.

  24. sanjapanja says:

    I agre with you about the hot wings, the best ones I’ve ever had was when I lived in New York.

  25. niasunset says:

    Seems so delicious with your beautiful photographs… Thanks, dear Rufus, with my love, nia

  26. Great write up on the restaurants. I just got back from eating dinner but could eat more food after your wonderful pics. If I ever travel to NY, I’ll keep these restaurants in mind! Thanks for the tip!

  27. Kristy says:

    We’ll have to check these out the next time we head out that way! Missed them this time. :)

  28. Karen says:

    It sounds like you had a really good time on your road trip and enjoyed the whole spectrum of food along the way.

  29. rsmacaalay says:

    That clams look amazing! Love the rich flavours of that dish

  30. Charles says:

    Oooh, that tuna… looks SO good! One of these places I read about that I’ll probably never in my life have a chance to visit! Glad I could read about it through you :)

  31. ....RaeDi says:

    What a wonderful trip for you and Katerine and I see you ate (drank) your whole way through… if the pictures are any indication you all did good…. really good! ….RaeDi

  32. Yuri says:

    Drooling over here. It’s a bad idea to visit food blogs before having dinner! That’s how I like my tuna too. YUM!

  33. Wait.. you went to school in upstate NY? I learn something new everyday lol. And I’ve heard of Big Johnson’s before but never visited the place. I guess I may have to take a drive up and see what the hoopla is all about. And those scallops are definitely calling my name right now.

  34. spicegirlfla says:

    I remember Seneca Lake!! So many years and years ago and obviously I never ate at a place like this cafe! I’d take one of each they all look so good!

  35. Thanks for sharing. I love vacation food pictures and these were great. If I ever find myself in the area I know where I’m going to be eating!

  36. Great post! I love to find good restaurants – just in case we happen to be in the neighborhood one day!

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