As you may or may not know from touring Cornell, Ithaca has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the country (my tour guide actually did inform me of this fun fact when I was touring). This means that there’s pretty much an endless supply of restaurants to choose from for brunch, so I decided to compile a simple guide to some of the brunch places most relevant to Cornell students. The nine restaurants listed below are by no means an exhaustive list of the brunching options in Ithaca, but hopefully they will get you started on your brunching adventures and help you match your mood to the right brunch spot.
Carriage House: The Quaint, Homey Classic
Location: Collegetown (305 Stewart Ave)
This is where you go for a full-out, no stops, painfully filling and decadent brunch of stuffed French toast and artistic espresso. To be honest, the first time you go to Carriage House, you’re likely to be astounded by the beauty of the building itself and by the interesting assortment of vintage decorations and electronics. The one drawback of Carriage House, other than danger of eating so much delicious food you feel like you’re going to burst, is the painfully long wait time that is pretty much a permanent fixture.
Agava: The One With the Quintessential Boozy Brunch
Location: Near East Hill Plaza (381 Pine Tree Rd)
Agava pretty much has it all. The fabulous food — everything from massive waffles to design-your-own flatbreads to traditional eggs Benedict — and the $4 coolers are a killer combo. It is normally so packed that the last time I went there, while there was no wait, despite the fact that it was a Saturday morning around 11, the hostess very pointedly told me that in the future I should make a reservation. If you’re thinking about going to Agava, I would definitely recommend making a reservation. Actually, one of the best things about Agava is that they’re one of the few restaurants that do accept reservations and that allow you to make reservations on Opentable.
Coal Yard Café: The One that’s a Hidden Gem
Location: Near East Hill Plaza (143 Maple Ave)
The best way to describe this tiny café is by saying that it’s probably like your grandmother’s living room. Warm, fresh home-cooked meals are served to you as you wait in a small, cozy room with an electric fireplace. Though I might be a bit biased, as it’s my personal favorite and go-to Ithacan brunch spot, Coal Yard provides a lot that none of the other brunch spots can offer. For one, the service is fast — and when I say fast I don’t mean you sit down, order immediately and get your food in ten minutes. I mean you order at the counter and your food is ready in a flash. There have been times that my food was ready before I got a chance to pick a table and sit down. The rustic setting is a wonderful backdrop for a casual brunch with friends or even a quiet study spot. Plus, their food is unique and tasty. Coal Yard features classic eggs and bacon, breakfast Asian-style rice bowls, mouthwatering pastries and sandwiches with combos that have definitely never crossed your mind.
Monks on the Commons: The New Modern One
Location: The Commons (120 S Aurora St)
Monks, located in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, is a new addition to the many restaurants of Ithaca. They serve a fairly classic American brunch with a bit of a modern twist, meaning that the eggs are accompanied by a sweet potato hash as opposed to simple hash browns. Their breakfasts tend to be tasty but a bit expensive, so it might not be the place to go if you’re a college kid on a budget just trying to grab a quick breakfast, but it’s perfect if you’re looking for a place to go for an occasion.
The State Diner: The One That’s a Classic Diner
Location: Near the Commons (428 W State St)
When you walk into State Diner, you feel as if you could have entered any small town diner. It has a feel that is so classic that it transcends the physical location. From the decor on the walls to the vinyl booths to the slightly greasy aroma of bacon, eggs and pancakes, there is no question that this a diner straight out of the movies. When it comes to the menu, there is no shortage of traditional diner options — from steak and eggs to waffles topped with ice cream, they truly have it all. However, if you’re looking for a fresh and healthy meal full of vegetables, this might not be the place to go.
Sunset Grill: The One With the Greasy Hangover Cure
Location: Near Ithaca College (823 Danby Rd)
When you go to Sunset, expect a great cup of coffee. Coupled with their classic, all-American breakfast, this is the place to go for a magical hangover cure. If you are in need of comfort food, Sunset Grill has got you covered. Sunset is pretty much always busy during brunch time, so expect a wait, especially if it’s a typical Ithacan day and the outdoor seating cannot be used. The only downside (other than feeling a little out of place with all of the Ithaca College students) is that it’s fairly hard to get to without a car.
Taverna Banfi: The Fancy One to Go to With Your Parents
Location: In the Statler Hotel (130 Statler Dr)
This is Cornell’s famous Sunday brunch. It is located in the Statler Hotel and is quite literally central to Cornell. It’s the kind of place that my dad knew about 30 years ago when he was a student here and still talks about when he comes to visit me. That being said, it is definitely more a place to go on a special occasion or when your family is visiting. It is a bit pricey and a bit nicer than most students go for an average weekend. As far as the meal itself, it is exactly the kind of food you expect at a classy hotel. There is an extravagant buffet that offers pretty much everything under the sun, as well as an extensive a la carte menu with French toast, waffles, pancakes, eggs, a section just for healthy choices and even a section for smoothies. Fun fact for all Cornell students: you can use your Cornell card this amazing restaurant.
CTB/Ithaca Bakery: The One That is the One-Step-Up-From-Just-a-Regular-Bagel-Shop Bagel Shop
Location: Collegetown, East Hill Plaza, the Commons, downtown Ithaca, Triphammer Marketplace
I’m pretty sure everyone knows CTB. It’s a Cornell staple. It’s the all-around go-to with a classic college coffee shop vibe. There’s pretty much always a line and there’s no question why: It’s quick, easy, delicious and offers a wide range of options. The only twist that might surprise you is that there are a lot more locations than just the CTB in Collegetown. While they differ slightly, each location offers mostly the same options. There’s the one on College Ave, which tends to be most convenient if you’re in Collegetown or on campus; there’s the one in East Hill Plaza, which has a lot of parking; there’s the one next to the Commons, which is frequented primarily by Ithaca College students and townies; there’s an Ithaca Bakery in Triphammer Marketplace, which also has a lot of parking; and there’s the Ithaca Bakery on Meadow, which is by far the largest location with the most options.
Cafe Dewitt: The One That Is Deceptively In The Middle of a Mall
Location: Near the Commons (215 N Cayuga St)
Cafe Dewitt is definitely less well-known among Cornellians but is fairly similar to Carriage House. It’s the kind of place to go if you’re looking for a similar style but a different atmosphere and less of a wait. Don’t get me wrong, there will still most likely be a wait, but it’s more enjoyable. This cafe is inside the Dewitt Mall where there are small Ithacan shops and mini-marts to wander through while you’re waiting. In terms of the ambiance, it is far more modern than Carriage House but retains the same quaint feel that is essential to a great brunch spot. It is a little surprising at first because it’s literally right in the middle of the mall, but it definitely adds a great deal of character. Their specials are out of this world and always worth checking out. Their stuffed french toast is so extravagant and indulgent that if it happens to be one of their specials when you’re there, order it without hesitation.