Many of us have warm memories of Easters, Mother’s Days, birthdays or rehearsal dinners celebrated overlooking the park and lake from the Taughannock Farms Inn’s glassed-in porch, with warm sweet breads on the tables and veteran waitresses who could ramble through their long list of desserts without taking a breath. Because the inn itself has been in business for seventy years, there are plenty of us whose relatives managed not to cry there during our first parents’ weekend, and whose parents, four or so years later, celebrated being able to begin once more saving for retirement.
For Joe and Carrie Regenstein the inn holds memories of a slightly different good time, crowned by a good deed. On their first dress-up date in the summer of 1964 (he recalled she was wearing pink), the two Cornell students took a taxi to the inn for a much-anticipated fancy dinner “to celebrate ourselves,” she recalled. It cost every cent they had. That left them with the choice of walking many miles back to campus or hitch-hiking. A woman who stopped for them said, “You look like you have an interesting story. If you’ll tell me about it, I’ll give you a ride home.” And they did. And she did.
“Most memorable for us always is the beauty of the surroundings,” said Carrie. “Through the years of dining there, we often stop by the falls beforehand to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. We generally get to the restaurant early enough to enjoy the view.” The Regensteins will celebrate 50years of wedded bliss and adventures on June 12, at the Taughannock Farms Inn. “I mean, really, where else would we go in Ithaca on that date?” she asked.
Another couple with deep connections to the inn is groundskeeper and facilities manager Dan Wright and his wife, master baker Yvonne Wright. The couple, who have been married for 40 years, met at the inn where Dan has worked for 50 years and Yvonne for 42. Dan’s father worked there too for many years as the chef, and his mother was the original baker for the inn starting in 1946. Their family’s connections to the inn run deep, reflecting the property’s place in area history.
In the beginning, well, actually in 1873 when Philadelphians John and Molly Jones built their magnificent “summer cottage,” they owned most of what was to become Taughannock Falls State Park. Looking down from the building’s dining room, you can still see the oval track where they exercised their racehorses. Their portraits still preside over the inn’s formal Jones Room. They sold the greater part of the property to New York State for the park in the 1920s, but the home and twelve acres remained in their family until 1946, when their heirs sold the property to Maude and Merritt Agard, whose family, including Keith and Nancy Agard LeGrande provided stewardship, added buildings, and turned the property into an inn, and it passed to Tom and Susan Sheridan in 1997. This February, the Sheridans sold the property to a group of investors with ties to the local area, Ithaca College, and Hollywood. According to general manager Brian Simon, the new owners plan to retain the warmth and charm of the place while advancing community ties and updating and expanding the facility.
And while chef Mark Alamond has updated and revised the menu considerably, the inn continues to serve many of the house favorites. Patrons can still find home-style meatloaf, spaghetti and house-made meatballs, roasted chicken, and the favorite Taughannock traditional turkey dinner, which has been on the menu for the past 70 years.
But the menu also features plenty of modern-day ocean-going specialties: tuna tartar, Maryland crab cakes, and Chef Mark’s award-winning Nantucket clam chowder lead it off, and diners might progress to Cajun seared ahi tuna, day boat scallops, swordfish, or Maine lobster. Turn to the grill for their gourmet Kobe burger, grilled lamb chops, filet Mignon, or New York strip steak. Vegetarians and the gluten-free will find soups and salads, as well as fresh pastas with house-made sauces, and sides that cater to their palates and needs.
While updating the facility to attract visitors to both the park and the Finger Lakes, new management is putting stock in maintaining local relationships. “It’s a gem,” said Simon, “and people treasure it.” He himself worked at the inn when he was a Cornell hotel school student years ago, and, after working with Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., and then with WTS International as a consultant for luxury hotels all over the U.S., he considers this job “a dream fulfilled.”
One small example is the transformation of one of their inn houses into a pet-friendly hotel, Tails at Taughannock, its rooms outfitted with dog beds, bowls, and dog treats.
There are bigger plans in the works, too, including a partnership with the park to install seating space at the trail head for Taughannock Falls gorge hikers, with steps up to the inn. They hope to see this installed by summer’s end. A bistro is part of their 2017 plan, with a juice bar, sandwiches, and burgers for hungry hikers. They are also planning to expand outdoor dining and to start a picnic basket service for visitors who’ll be able to reserve a lunch basket to be delivered to them in the park. Also planned is a dock for park patrons and inn guests, with chauffeur service, or at least golf cart service, to the inn, and, because the new owners are firmly planted in both the 19th and 21st centuries, they plan to provide Tesla docking stations.
There will be other facilities expansions as well, according to Simon, the largest of which is an event center that will seat 200 guests indoors, providing space for weddings, conferences, and other happy events. Those plans call for a two-story building with a flat croquet yard, bluestone patio, and flexible space for meetings and groups. They see it as a year-round destination that will bring mid-week business to the inn and the surrounding community. They plan to accommodate motor coaches and limos, and hope to give wine trail visitors a place to eat and enjoy. As of June 7, the restaurant is open for dinner every night of the week, and for brunch on Sundays, ready to make more memories. §