The Wildflower Café is adjacent to and part of the same business with the Crooked Rooster microbrewery. It is a delightful combination: good food and excellent fresh beer. The café is easy to find, located on North Franklin Street, right in the village of Watkins Glen. They have placed a bright red London telephone booth on the sidewalk to help you find it.
For a bar and grill the menu is eclectic and extensive. Even the stand-bys of American cusine, like the hamburger, are available in several varieties with a few innovative twists. In addition, acknowledging the restaurants alliance with a microbrewery, every item on the menu is paired with a recommended Roosterfish pint.
The Bleus Burger ($10.95) is one of the less offbeat variations on the burger theme. Many regional restaurants offer a burger with blue cheese, but not all of them give you grass-fed beef topped with local cheese. They suggest that you eat a Bleus Burger with their Pale Tooth Pale Ale, but the robust flavor of the cheese stands up well against their Hop Warrior India Pale Ale. This heavily hopped IPA is delicious, but is also 8 percent alcohol, so caveat emptor.
The bacon cheddar burger ($10.95) takes a similar course of presenting the expected item, but with high quality and local ingredients prepared carefully. The goat-cheese burger ($10.95) is an example of something further off the beaten path; it too uses local ingredients, this time from Lively Run Farm in Interlaken.
The Philly Cheese Steak ($9.95) is a standard item on almost any corner of its eponymous city, but in its home quarters it tends to be drowned in orange American cheese (or worse, Cheez Whiz) and grease. The Wildflower’s version of this canonical meal is the polar opposite of the standard. The beef is organic and cooked to an uncommon tenderness and the cheese is a horseradish cheddar used in moderation. Furthermore the peppers and onions retain exactly the right amount of their original crispness.
All of the entrées on the burger page come with your choice of fresh-cut fries or a salad. During the warmer months their “summer salad” is worth trying: slices of cucumber and tomato are served in dill yogurt dressing, providing a novel and more substantial accompaniment to the main meal.
The other entrées are split between seafood and chicken or turkey dishes. These can be characterized as deriving inspiration from the definitely different—but not actually clashing—regional cuisines of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean (and by extension, Louisiana). Those who enjoy spicy hotness have plenty to choose from, including Jamaican Jerk Chicken ‘n’ Shrimp and a jambalaya. For people who like flavor without having their tastebuds scorched there are a choice of paninis: turkey with pesto and the “California Rachel,” a turkey-based variation on the standard Reuben.
The Wildflower acknowledges the growing number of vegetarians in the U.S. populace (and perhaps its proximity to Ithaca) by including a number of vegetarian items on the menu, but only one acknowledge vegan-friendly mean: a black bean burger. The only item that can be vouched for by experience here is the “Portobello” burger, which deploys the eponymous mushroom, combining its substantial and eerily flesh-like texture with roasted bell peppers. The Wildflower does this often-encountered meat substitute well.
The restaurant and the bar proper are separate spaces, but you can pass from one to the other through a door near the front. During the summer months the restaurant remains closed and air-conditioned, while the bar folds back the window that cover the entire storefront to create a Mediterranean-style interior that is dramatically open to the outside. Both interiors are entirely paneled in dark, burnished wood ornamented with nearly Rococo carved trim. It is cozy in the colder weather and a nice return from the scorch of summer.
The Wildflower Café and Crooked Rooster microbrewery are at 223 - 301 North Franklin St., Watkins Glen. Call 607-535-9797 or see www.roosterfishbrewing.com