By Jacob Pucci
If The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond were a few hours north of New York City, it’d be a weekender’s delight.
The 100-acre farm, of which about one-third is Northeast Organic Farming Association-New York certified organic, helps supply the adjoining restaurant, housed in a red barn atop a small hill.
The restaurant is surrounded by trim lawns and lush trees. Fields and apple orchards line the quiet road at the bottom of the slope.
Our meal started, as many good things often do, with a glass of Finger Lakes Riesling and a pint of IPA from Good Shepherds Brewing from nearby Auburn while we sat on the restaurant’s back patio.
The yard was an oasis; what little traffic there was on the main road was silenced by the tall trees.
We chose to continue our meal on the back patio, though the restaurant’s main dining rooms — rustic, but refined with exposed wooden beams and chandeliers — were like the inside of an old farmstead. It would have been a great setting for our meal had the weather not been perfect.
Dinner started with an order of bruschetta ($11). At Elderberry Pond, the bruschetta is sliced from a crusty batard, larger than the traditional narrow baguette. The menu changes nearly daily, so we were lucky to stop in when the bruschetta was topped with a warm mix of mozzarella, parmesan and artichoke hearts.
Bites of briny artichoke and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar kept the potent cheese in check. The generous portion disappeared in minutes.
Much of the menu was sourced from the farm, or in the case of my T-bone steak ($38), from a nearby farmer, where the cattle are grass-fed and pasture-raised. The steak was prepared simply — salt, pepper and deeply browned to the desired medium-rare — but properly.
The accompanying mushroom demi-glace — rich, but not cloying — was an excellent pairing.
Both the steak and seared duck breast ($34) were served with potatoes and green beans picked from the farm. The potatoes were boiled, smashed and served with butter, salt and pepper. The nooks and crannies on the redskin potatoes allowed for the butter and demi-glace to soak in, creating a product far greater than its humble parts. The green beans, with just a bit of snap and a generous grind of black pepper, were evidence of a restaurant that isn’t afraid to season its food.
The duck breast, seared to a rosy medium, was among the most tender bites of duck I’ve ever eaten, with a pleasant gamey flavor often absent from an inferior product.
The warm weather called for a refreshing dessert and the lemon cake tower fit the bill. The lemon mousse sandwiched between the two pieces of cake was zingy and packed with fresh lemon. Even the cake, which has a tendency to be overly sweet, but otherwise dull, had a great zip of lemon flavor.
Like the cake, the blueberry sauce that topped the tower relied on fresh fruit, rather than sugar, for flavor. When the raw ingredients are so good, it’s best to let them speak for themselves and that’s exactly what Elderberry Pond does.
The sun began to set through the trees as we wound down from dessert. Though Elderberry Pond is only minutes from the city of Auburn and the village of Skaneateles, its secluded perch off a winding gravel road makes guests feel further away from civilization.
The restaurant won’t blow you away with unique flavor combinations or high-tech cooking techniques. Rather, its focus is on high-quality ingredients prepared simply but excellently, and served in a setting few restaurants in Upstate New York can top.
Elderberry Pond is one of the region’s best examples of ingredient-driven cuisine. It’s a pastoral but elegant restaurant that serves as a welcome reminder that the farm and countryside are never far away.
The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond
3712 Center Street Rd,
Auburn, N.Y., 13021
Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed from January to mid-March.