This weekend I was up at Syracuse University to congratulate my brother, Stephen, as he graduated with a triple major in international relations, economics and Russian language, literature and culture. If a triple major wasn’t enough, he also was selected to deliver the undergraduate commencement speech, representing the more than 6,000 graduates.

Syracuse 2012 Graduation

Allow me to continue to brag for a moment. Over the course of his four years at Syracuse, Stephen has been presented with numerous awards, recognitions and honors, culminating in this weekend’s commencement speech. And it won’t stop after graduation. Come September, he will be headed to Kazan, Russia on a Fulbright Scholarship. (Who says a $1,300 plane ticket will stop me from visiting?)

Ok, enough about him. Onto the Syracuse food scene! With my parents at graduation as well, meals were paid for this weekend (thank you Mom and Dad) and we took full advantage.

Blue Tusk

Hello Piggy at the Blue Tusk, Syracuse, NY
Hello Piggy and Red Pepper and Crab Chowder

A true gem in Syracuse’s Armory Square with 69 beers on tap. The interior is your typical nicer bar scene but the food is what separates it from your bar next door. I ordered:

  • Hello Piggy: pulled pork, kimchi, sprig of cilantro, red onion, mayo and a squirt of sriracha hot chile sauce on a round roll
  • Red Pepper and Crab Chowder

The soup was delicious and I could clearly taste the red peppers, giving the chowder a slight kick. The sandwich was equally as good (and spicy). The pulled pork had a great flavor. My one suggestion, ease up on the hot sauce next time. It overpowered a lot of the ingredients in the sandwich.

Boom Boom Mex Mex

Boom Boom Mex Mex
Boom Boom Mex Mex

After a 20 minute drive into the woods of Camillus, NY, we arrived at a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant. One of the owners, chef Lupe Bryan, is originally from Mexico and heads south of the border every year. Based on this, I had high hopes. Food here is served cafeteria style and it reminded me a lot of Chipotle. Unfortunately, the food reminded me of Chipotle as well. I wasn’t impressed with any of the dishes we ordered, ranging from tacos to nachos to various meats to quesadillas. The plus was the dirt cheap prices and BYOB policy. If you’re in the area, stop on by. If not, don’t go out of your way.

The Clam Bar

Blue Crab Stuffed Sole
Blue Crab Stuffed Sole

This restaurant is your hole in the wall, local dive seafood joint. Prices are extremely inexpensive for what you get (around $15 for any piece of fish) and while not incredible, the food is good. I ordered the Blue Crab Stuffed Sole with Salt Potatoes. The fish was much thinner than I expected and the crab meat stuffing had way too many chunks of vegetables for my liking. The taste of this dish didn’t stand out to me. However, for the price, it was good and the potatoes were delicious.

What I think makes this place is the atmosphere. You can tell that inside everyone is having a good time. Whether it be at the bar or at one of the tightly packed tables, the customers are smiling and drinking, and the waiters/waitresses are having fun serving and joking around with the customers.

Asti Caffe

Extremely disappointed with this restaurant. Asti’s managers and hostesses don’t seem to know how to run a business. In fact, I never even got a chance to sample any of the food. We had 7:45 p.m. reservations here on Saturday and when we arrived, the people that had our table before us were just being served their food. The restaurant had no solution for us and we were told that we couldn’t take tables that were wide open because they were being held for people that had later reservations. Huh? Why don’t you bump them back as well? Next time, you have our number so at least give us a call next time to let us know the situation so we can come up with alternative plan. I won’t be coming back to this place next time I’m in Syracuse or recommending it.

Francesca’s Cucina

Luckily, Asti Caffe’s screw up was a blessing in disguise. We ended up at Francesca’s Cucina, a quick five minute walk down the street and a must try if you’re in Syracuse. We sat in the outdoor back patio area which had a fire pit lined with extra large comfy padded seats and about 10 tables underneath semi-dimmed outdoor lighting.

Francesca's Crab Stuffed Chicken Breast
Crab Stuffed Chicken Breast

This was an incredible meal with seemingly endless amounts of food being served to our table. Additionally, each dish was a work of art and the presentation was extremely well done. Below is just a sample of what was ordered:

  • Utica Style Greens: sautéed with prosciutto, hot peppers, garlic, and onions. Finished with toasted bread crumbs and Romano cheese
  • Cheese Ravioli: filled with fresh seasoned ricotta cheese with your choice; marinara sauce
  • Crab Stuffed Chicken Breast: packed full of fresh jumbo lump crab meat salad, wrapped in phyllo dough and baked to perfection. Served with a shrimp and lobster chive veloute, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus

I ordered short ribs which were delicious, but I couldn’t get enough of the Utica Style Greens. The bread crumbs gave it a nice crunch and the prosciutto enhanced the flavor of each bite. (I’m sure all the butter it was cooked in didn’t hurt either.)

Definitely go here if you’re in the area.

A La Mode Cafe & Catering

Albakurkey Turkey
Albakurkey Turkey

A La Mode is your basic sandwich shop kicked up a notch. Its sandwiches are enormous to say the least and very tasty. The picture on the left is the Albakurkey Turkey, consisting of hot roasted turkey, bacon, avocado, melted cheddar cheese and homemade green chile mayo. I was glad to see a departure from your typical deli sandwiches and some unique combinations that had my taste buds happy.

The Verdicts

We all had some great food over the weekend, with the highlight being Francesca’s Cucina. Go to this restaurant. I’d recommend Blue Tusk if you’re in the mood for a bar scene with a seeming infinite amount of beers on tap and some tasty and unique bar food. The Clam Bar makes my recommendation list if you’re looking for a fun atmosphere, just don’t expect too much with the food. A La Mode is also worth visiting if you’re looking for a quick sandwich that is going to fill you up big time. You can skip Asti Caffe and Boom Boom Mex Mex.

All food aside, congratulations to Stephen, Steve, Scuba (whatever you call him) and the entire graduating class of 2012.