Winter 2015: 36 Hours Syracuse

Beat the winter blues in the Salt City

By Lorna Oppedisano

Clinton Square at night. Photo by Creative Core.

Clinton Square at night. Photo by Creative Core.

Syracuse a nearby retreat for great food, fun

Syracuse is known for a few things: the mall, the Orange and snow. You’ve probably elbowed through crowds at DestinyUSA — and congratulations if you held on to your sanity in the process. If you’re a sports fan, you’ve either cheered, jeered or flat-out cried at a Syracuse University game, depending on the day. And this is the north country so you know snow.

But the Salt City offers more than shopping and a ball game. Whether you want to explore downtown or venture outside the city center, Syracuse has restaurants, museums, boutiques and outdoor activities for days. If you only have a weekend to spare, here are your best bets.

1 p.m. Friday, Checking in

Syracuse is loaded with nationally branded hotels. But this is a weekend get-a-way and you want the best.

Home base this weekend is the heart of the heart of the city: Armory Square in the city’s downtown. It’s a small, chic and quaint area, bustling with new life, no matter what the season.

Your first stop is the Jefferson Clinton hotel. Check-in time isn’t until 5 p.m., but the staff would be happy to accommodate you if the room is clean and available, and hold your bags if not.

The Jefferson Clinton opened in 1927. Through the decades, the hotel has gone through its fair share of changes, but has since been restored to its original glory. A member of the Historic Hotels of America, the Jefferson Clinton has eight rooms and 60 suites, and great personality.

Downtown parking can be a hassle. Lots and garages are scattered around, but they charge. Off-street parking on the weekends in the winter can be downright hazardous. Luckily, the Jefferson Clinton offers free parking, and all your downtown destinations are walkable.

Armory Square in the winter. Photo by Wainwright Photography .

Armory Square in the winter. Photo by Wainwright Photography .

1:30 p.m. Friday, Unwind

You’ve been cramped in a car for at least an hour or more, so stretch out and relax at one of Syracuse’s best-kept secrets, Roji Tea Lounge.

Tomomi Yoshida opened Roji in 2004, bringing a taste of her native Japanese culture to Syracuse with teas, desserts and snacks. Mrs. Yoshida died of cancer in 2012, and her staff carries on her legacy.

So sit back at a couch or table, take in the local art that lines the exposed brick walls and get acquainted with Syracuse through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The tea list is pages long, so there’s something for everyone. If you want something sweet, try the green tea cake. Topped with adzuki beans and homemade whipped cream, this delicacy does not disappoint. But don’t forget to save room for dinner.

2:30 p.m. Friday, afternoon art

The Everson Museum of Art is “a work of art for works of art,” according to the museum’s website. While the collection traces its roots to the early 20th century, the Everson has been at its present location since 1968. Its contemporary architecture was designed by internationally renowned architect I.M. Pei, and is flanked by huge outdoor sculptures.

The permanent collection includes American paintings, sculptures, drawings and graphics, not to mention a hands-on area for children and the world’s largest video collection. Exhibits include “Prendergast to Pollock: American Modernism from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute,” “Enduring Gift: Chinese Ceramics from the Cloud Wampler Collection” and “Video Vault: The 70s Revisited,” all on display through May 10.

Cost ranges from $5 for general admission donation to $30 per family for special exhibits. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.

The museum closes at 5 p.m., so head back to the hotel, freshen up, and get your stomach psyched. The main course of the day is coming up.

Everson Museum of Art. Photo by Wainwright Photography.

Everson Museum of Art. Photo by Wainwright Photography.

5:30 p.m., Oh, the Pastabilities

Tonight you’ll be dining at a Syracuse staple, Pastabilities. Established in Armory Square in 1982 and at its present location in 1985, Pastabilities is a reason Armory Square has evolved into a sophisticated social stomping ground. One of the most popular restaurants in the area, Pastabilities boasts three dining rooms, a full bar and exposed brick walls covered with local art. This Salt City favorite doesn’t take reservations, but is well worth the wait.

The meal starts with complimentary stretch bread and the restaurant’s signature Spicy Hot Tomato Oil. If you love the ‘Hot Tom’ as much as we do, you can buy it by the jar tonight, or during the day tomorrow at Pasta’s Daily Bread, the restaurant’s bakery across the street. Pasta’s sells the stretch bread and a variety of other breads as well.

For appetizers, we recommend garlic stretch bread if you want to try a kicked-up version of the first course, or salad if you’d like something lighter. The salad of the month always promises something flavorful and unique.

For dinner, try the chicken riggies — warning: not for the faint of heart, you’ve got to like it hot — or a special, many of which change seasonally, so get them while you can. Regardless of your choice, you will not be disappointed. Portions are heaping, the atmosphere is classy and welcoming, and the service and presentation are impeccable.

Don’t want to wait for a table? The restaurant does takeout, and is open for cafeteria-style lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Pastabilities owner, Karyn Korteling. Photo by Brenna Merritt.

Pastabilities owner, Karyn Korteling. Photo by Brenna Merritt.

7 p.m., Night on the town

Syracuse isn’t New York City, but there is always something happening. If you do your homework, you’ll find plays, concerts and other evening events.

Check out Redhouse Arts Center, the Landmark Theatre, the Oncenter, Funk ‘n Waffles and Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge.,,,,

10 a.m. Saturday, Head east

Saturday requires a car, a pair of boots and winter gear. It’s time to experience the great outdoors, CNY style.

But load up on a Syracuse essential first, breakfast at the All Night Eggplant.

The Eggplant has been a ‘Cuse staple for decades. The restaurant has a huge selection of breakfast and lunch options, including a myriad of pancake flavors and omelet options. You can get hot fudge in your eggs, if you want it. With every dish served in hearty and huge portions, the Eggplant doesn’t disappoint.

Our recommendation is the toasted honey bun. If you’re feeling adventurous, get the honey bun sundae, complete with ice cream and whipped cream.

The only thing you’ll find missing from the menu is eggplant – but that’s ok, we had Italian last night.

Noon Saturday, Go green

After all that food, you’ll need fresh air and exercise; it’s time for Green Lakes State Park. The park offers hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter, not to mention the most beautiful views Central New York has to offer.

Green Lakes has 15 miles of trails for skiing and hiking, and an 18-hole golf course for snowshoeing. Snowshoe rentals are available; call ahead to ensure conditions and availability.

If you want to come back once warm weather hits, Green Lakes has a beach, boat rentals, campsites and cabin rentals.

4 p.m. Saturday, Happy hour

Chances are the exercise got your blood pumping, so head back to the hotel, regroup, change into your evening attire and make your way to the Blue Tusk for a drink.

The Tusk made its debut on the Armory scene in 1995 with a “mission of providing flavorful, heady refreshments and tasty gourmet munchies,” according to its website. It has three beers on tap. Now it has 69, as well as a fine wine list and full menu. Pull up a stool, grab table or booth, and order a drink and appetizers. We recommend the kimchi and Havarti quesadilla. After that hike, you deserve it.

6 p.m. Saturday, Go Irish

So far you’ve had a taste of Japan and Italy, and a hearty American breakfast. Now it’s Ireland’s turn.

Kitty Hoynes was founded in 1999. Featuring live music on the weekends and the largest selection of Irish whiskey in Upstate New York, Kitty Hoynes is a tried-and-true Irish pub.

Check out the mahogany bar and stained glass windows on your way into the restaurant. Don’t be scared off by the noisy bar crowd — they’re Irish, or at least aspiring to be — and head into the quieter dining room.

Kitty Hoynes, like many other Armory Square restaurants, prides itself on using the freshest and most local ingredients possible. If traditional Irish food is your thing, get the Reuben fritter “Irish Cannonballs.” If you don’t have that much Irish in your blood, try one of the specials or just stick with traditional pub fare. You can’t go wrong with a burger.

Syracuse St. Patrick's Day Parade. Photo by Wainwright Photography.

Syracuse St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Photo by Wainwright Photography.

10 a.m. Sunday, Get funky

For breakfast, it’s time to get funky at Syracuse’s favorite waffle house.

Former Syracuse University students Adam Gold and Kyle Corea opened the original Funk ’n Waffles right off campus in 2007. Since, owner Mr. Gold has been serving waffles and soul to Salt City diners. Funk’s second location opened downtown at the end of 2014, offering not only the same menu, local art and funky vibes as the original, but also a full bar.

But for now, it’s the perfect breakfast joint. Need your morning coffee fix? Funk offers a full espresso bar. Any waffle combo you can conjure up, they can whip up. If you’d like something else for breakfast, the restaurant also offers sandwiches, salads, fruit smoothies and even ice cream.

We recommend the buckwheat waffle with chocolate chips, strawberries and real maple syrup. It’s delicious.

Noon Sunday, Last stop: fun

This one is for the children and young at heart. Before you hit the road, head to the Museum of Science and Technology.

Even if you’re an adult and not a Bill Nye lover, you’ll enjoy the MOST. Located in what used to be the historic Armory building, the museum houses an IMAX theater, planetarium, space gallery, earth science discovery cave and more. Admission is reasonable, with prices ranging from $10 to $16, depending on what you plan to see.

And if you only see one thing, make sure it’s the giant play place. Think huge jungle gym. Even the oldest of adults could spend hours monkeying around.

Getting there

To get to Syracuse from the north country and most points north, make your way to Interstate 81. Follow I-81 south. For Armory Square, take exit 20 toward Franklin St./West St.

Syracuse University basketball game. Photo courtesy Syracuse Visitors Bureau.

Syracuse University basketball game. Photo courtesy Syracuse Visitors Bureau.

Lorna Oppedisano is a staff writer and editorial assistant for NNY magazines. Contact her at or 661-2381.