Brunch is the most exciting part of any weekend because a fresh cup of steaming coffee, sweet, flaky pastries and some beautifully runny eggs are the perfect remedy to the Sunday scaries. I especially love taking an hour on the weekends to try new restaurants in Ithaca with friends, where we can relax and enjoy good food before heading back up the hill to the library. I was excited to find Coltivare, a New American restaurant located in the Commons. Its chic atmosphere was the perfect getaway from campus.
Although it is located in downtown Ithaca, Coltivare has the feel of a trendy Brooklyn brunch spot. I was greeted warmly by a hostess at the door, who walked me past a live band playing soulful jazz music. The entire staff was accommodating and friendly, and they were especially attentive to a diners nut allergy, which was greatly appreciated. I also liked the exposed brick walls, intricate lighting fixtures and collection of plants, which created a rustic ambiance. But all of this ultimately had to make up for the mediocre food.
Coltivare’s biggest seller is their “build-your-own” Bloody Mary bar, which is essentially a tabletop with a pitcher of Bloody Mary mix and about ten bowls filled with seasonal sides, fresh vegetables, pickles and bacon. I don’t doubt that the drinks are something special, as they won the Brunchfest Bloody Mary Battle in 2016, but the bar was visually underwhelming and was not a particularly decadent and elaborate setup. I was, however, intrigued by the seasonal menu, which included items ranging from pancakes, to build-your-own omelets (with an abundance of toppings), to burgers basted in beer. I decided to opt for one sweet and one salty item: French toast and eggs Benedict.
The French toast ($9), which I later learned is vegan, was served with a lemony ricotta and a tart raspberry coulis. The dish had a compelling presentation but was fairly disappointing in taste and consistency. I was hoping for fluffy challah that would soak up the coulis, but instead received what appeared to be a baguette, which was rather hard with crispy ends. The French toast was also lacking any sort of sweet or crunchy caramelization.
The eggs Benedict ($14) comprised of two pillowy poached eggs atop buttermilk biscuits, each one perfectly coated with a rich hollandaise sauce. I enjoyed the contrast between the sweet biscuits and the salty ham, but was disappointed by the flavorless eggs, which were oily and desperate for salt. Nonetheless, this dish was definitely a solid brunch option that was filling and tasty.
Notably, Coltivare runs a unique operation serving as the farm-to-table restaurant of Tompkins Cortland Community College. Some of the restaurant’s staff is responsible for mentoring TC3 students in fields such as the culinary arts, sustainable farming and food systems, wine marketing and hotel and restaurant management, so the students can gain valuable hands-on experience. Coltivare also sources some of its produce from the TC3 farm.
I was initially excited by Coltivare’s fresh and seasonal menu, and I was optimistic that their sleek design and generally impressive operation indicated that I was about to indulge in a delicious brunch. However, nothing that I ate was worth raving about or returning for. The food lacked intriguing and memorable flavors, and I was definitely disappointed. I do believe that Coltivare has great potential, and I am open to trying their dinner menu. If you are tempted to go there for brunch though, it is a good option if you are looking for a cool place to unwind on a Sunday morning. Just stick to the Bloody Marys.
Serves: American/local brunch and dinner
Vibe: Laid back, casual