ITHACA, NY -- Having covered the greater Ithaca dining scene for about 20 years, I have come to admire any restaurant that survives, and thrives, for a long period of time. Moosewood, still at its original site in the Dewitt Mall, has done just that. It opened in January 1973 so is now approaching its 50th anniversary. In fact, my first assignment for the Ithaca Times was to write a feature article about Moosewood’s 20-year anniversary in January 1993. When it opened it had eight co-owners. Over time that has increased to 19 co-owners, and at least two of the original group still work there, both in the kitchen. Each of the co-owners has adopted a specialty that fits his/her individual interest.
Moosewood has developed a national reputation based on their cookbooks – there are now 14 – and their original and creative vegetarian recipes.
The menu changes frequently – usually weekly – and the major categories like bowls, entrées, lighter fare, and even burgers and wraps feature the incorporation and combination of a multitude of ingredients.?
For example: I recently ordered Red Bean Jambalaya ($13.50) from the entrées section. That one dish included sautéed onions, celery, organic red beans, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, okra, tomatoes, garlic, creole spices, thyme, basil, a dark rice flour roux, organic red quinoa and kale, and was topped with smoked New York State cheddar cheese. Unfortunately, among the ingredients that found their way into my mouth that were not listed on the menu were two inedible bay leaves. I was surprised that the chef hadn’t remembered to remove them.
At lunchtime during a subsequent week, I tried the Indian Cashew Curry ($13.50) and wasn’t surprised to find 17 ingredients listed in its description. Noteworthy among them was karee, a yellow, mild curry paste often used in Thai recipes. In Thai cooking, karee is often combined with coconut milk, and at Moosewood, one of the ingredients was, indeed, coconut milk.?
It should be mentioned that the staff is diligent in presenting original fare from foreign lands and, after eating a meal at Moosewood, I always feel I’ve had a healthy meal.
The cooks use a wide variety of seasoning and spices from various ethnic regions around the world, usually Asia, and adapt them to local tastes; these recipes are sometimes adopted into their cookbooks.
I’ve enjoyed an Autumn Black Bean Burger ($12) which is usually available. Unlike some veggie burgers that arrive at the table thin and dry, this was thick and moist and was served on a multigrain bun. Some salty taco chips were also provided.
During another recent visit I tried the Thai Rice Bowl ($10 ). There are often Asian-type selections and that day, the other “bowls” selection was the Gochujang Noodle Bowl. The rice bowl included Thai black rice, carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, baked tofu, roasted peanuts and cabbage slaw, all served on spinach with a Thai peanut dressing, which was a standout taste and texture. I enjoyed this dish too.?
When a restaurant combines and blends so many ingredients in one entrée, they take a chance that individual flavors will be sublimated and the dish will be nondescript. This sometimes occurs at Moosewood, where, while I generally enjoy everything I eat, individual items are rarely memorable.?
I also like the desserts at Moosewood. Most recently I tried a Peach-Raspberry Crumble ($6.50). The crumble came from an oat-cornmeal topping. It was served in a bowl that was so large I actually took some home. Speaking of desserts, you can almost always find a Fudge Brownie, a Fruit Crumble, a Vegan Chocolate Cake and homemade ice cream in a few basic flavors.
The wine menu, although not extensive, is adequate. The five reds offered cover the major grape varietals. The five whites include a dry Riesling; however, I think some customers would also enjoy a Riesling that would have a higher residual sugar level and therefore be a bit sweeter. By the glass, wines are $6-$11. The three hard ciders and nine beers in bottles and cans might provide a happy alternative for some. There are a few beers on tap that are changed from time to time.?
Tidbits: Moosewood is closed Monday and Tuesday.
If a dish doesn’t come vegan (v) or gluten free (gf) you can ask your server and chances are it can be prepared for you.?
One of the managers, Alex Gerau, estimates that during the pandemic, Moosewood’s takeout business has increased from 10 % to 25% of the total business.?
If you remember the former awkward restroom setup which involved obtaining a key and venturing deep into the mall to access a public restroom, you’ll be happy to learn that there are now modern restrooms available adjacent to the restaurant.?