Pairing at Halsey’s: A Wood Fire Stove and Finger Lakes Wine

2007 Shaw Vineyard Riesling with Halsey's House Specialty Pizza.

Yes, there are ill-advised approaches to a successful wine pairing, but there are far more “right” combinations than wrong, and that is where fun can be had. This series has attempted to demonstrate that anyone who likes wine and likes food can build upon their own experiences to find pairings that accentuate both pursuits. Whimsical pairings are a good way to stretch the mind and broaden one’s knowledge. I have paired wine with chicken wing pizza, beef jerky (the gas station variety) and grilled ribs slathered in homemade whiskey sauce. (The “answers” are, in the same order: a very bold and fruity Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a round and generous Grenache-based red from the Rhone Valley in France and an acidic sparkling brut from the Finger Lakes – sparkling wine seems to go well with smoky barbeque flavors).

A major benefit of residing near a wine region is that both the wineries and restaurants in the area create a nearly endless variety of opportunities to sample wine and food pairings. In this issue we focus on a downtown Geneva-based establishment called Halsey’s. Halsey’s is not perched directly on the lake or in the midst of the vineyards, but it takes to heart its location in the “gateway” to the Seneca Lake wine trail, and dedicates much of its focus to serving quality Finger Lakes wines.

Halsey’s was founded in 2007, opening a somewhat formal and traditional dining room. After some reflection, owner Pete Mitchell decided to renovate in 2010 and change its emphasis and décor. He added a variety of high-quality “comfort foods” to the menu, and installed a wood-fired oven to serve as both the central theme and means of cooking much of the restaurant’s fare. “We exclusively burn fruit wood,” explains General Manager and Wine Manager Julie Adams, “and the fresh bread just fills the place with a great aroma.” Julie believes that the more relaxed atmosphere at Halsey’s has allowed for greater experimentation in the kitchen which, in turn, creates opportunities for wine pairings. “There is a significant representation of Finger Lakes wines on our wine list,” she says, referring as well to the rotating wines-by-the-glass list, which typically has five to 10 Finger Lakes wines available each night. “I try to update the list as much as possible.”

For selected pairings described here, Julie and Head Chef David Buchanan paired dishes at Halsey’s with a Riesling from Shaw Vineyard, a special red blend from Damiani and a Late Harvest Vignoles from Hunt Country Vineyards. The pairings represent a potential meal at Halsey’s, utilizing the wood-fired oven, local ingredients and local wines.

2007 Shaw Vineyard Riesling with Halsey’s House Specialty Pizza (Carmalized Onions, Mozzarella/ Asiago House Blend, Prosciutto, Bleu Cheese Crumbles, Basil Chiffonade)

“Shaw is known for its reds,” Julie Adams states, “but the whites are really good too and are aged for several years before Steve (the winemaker) releases them, bringing out some great elements.” Julie describes Shaw’s 2007 Riesling having a deep petrol flavor, which occurs in older Rieslings, and just a touch of sweetness that
balances out the carmalized onions in the pizza and the saltiness of the prosciutto. “Riesling goes well with cured meat,” she says.

The Halsey’s House Pizza is one of six on the regular menu in addition to rotating specials created by Chef David Buchanan. “When we got the oven, I spent two months experimenting, made hundreds of pizzas to see what would work,” David remembers. “I liked carmazlied onions on things like steak, so I started there and came up with this.” He emphasizes that pizza is not necessarily fast food, but a basis for gourmet combinations that marry all sorts of ingredients.

David calls the wood-fired oven his “favorite tool,” which he uses for all kinds of dishes at the restaurant, even lasagna. “I love it so much I’m building one at my house!” David exclaims, noting that the 15,000 BTU oven, kept at approximately 700 degrees, can cook dishes fast. “With that oven, I can cook a regular cheese pizza in 90 seconds.” The oven features prominently at Halsey’s, and David finds new uses for the oven on a constant basis.

2010 Damiani Vino Rosso with Pasta Bolognese (Traditional Sauce of Veal, Pork, Beef, Tomato, Garlic and Basil)

After tasting David Buchanan’s take on the traditional dish of Pasta Bolognese, Julie Adams immediately thought of Damiani’s Vino Rosso, a special dry red blend of Marechal Foch (35 percent), Merlot (25 percent), Cabernet Franc (20 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (12 percent), and Rougeon (8 percent). “The wine has a pleasing roast meat quality,” she says. “It pulls the flavors right out of the sauce and stands up to the weight of the dish.”

David agrees that the dish has deep flavors that need careful pairing. “I cook the sauce for 12 hours,” he says of the recipe passed down to him years ago a by a Sicilian chef. “The wine has to have a good body to stand up to the intense sauce; something strong will work.”

When available, David sources vegetables locally and plans on exploring local sources of meat in the near future. “I’d say we’re 50 percent local now,” he explains of Halsey’s vegetables and other ingredients. David has become a huge advocate for local food products in the Finger Lakes, noting that dishes made from local ingredients have a lot of nutrients and carry some of the tastes and aromas of the local climate. “The soil here is amazing,” he says.

2007 Late Harvest Vignoles with Lively Run Cheese Board (Goat, Bleu Moon, Smoked Bleu)

Julie Adams knows that most people do not always think of cheese for dessert, but she is convinced that it makes a great end-of-meal accompanied by a local dessert wine. “Vignoles is a classic dessert wine, and this Hunt Country version is sweet and rich,” she says. “The viscosity and residual sugar go well with the earthy, smoked flavors of the cheeses.” Halsey’s carries a series of cheeses from Lively Run, a producer near Interlaken. The smoked bleu is one of Lively Run’s bleu cheeses that is smoked in Halsey’s brick-fired oven.

“This cheese board is just awesome,” Julie says. David says that he is exploring more local cheeses to be used in main dishes in addition to being served directly. “There are a lot of great cheese producers in the Finger Lakes.”

Conclusion

Over the past few years, Julie Adams has noted an increase of regional visitors to Halsey’s to sample the wines and culinary fare of the Finger Lakes. “There’s people coming from all over the place – Pennsylvania, lots of Canadians. It’s great to see the region’s reputation grow.”

David Buchanan spent years in kitchens in New Hampshire, Boston, Florida and New Orleans. He is proud to call the Finger Lakes home. And while he likes to sprinkle Cajun and southern fare on the menu at Halsey’s (including alligator), he is committed to featuring local food as much as possible. “I wish the local movement started years ago,” he says. “The fertile soil here, the scenery, the Finger Lakes has a real bounty. We ship out more than we consume, which is a shame.” A self-proclaimed beer guy, David is happy that wine has become such a beacon for food lovers. “Television shows have really encouraged people to explore food and wine together,” he says. “Wine is bringing more people to this area.”

Julie is excited about the quality wines in the Finger Lakes being made by both older and newer producers. The recent improvements in general quality have given her a sense that something special is occurring. “It’s hard to appreciate a revolution when you’re in the middle of it,” she reflects. “People are coming to the Finger Lakes specifically for quality wine. That’s incredible.”


by Jason Feulner