In this series we aim to feature all of our favorite restaurants in Ithaca. Stay tuned – we’re going to be at this for a while!
Since writing this article Bandwagon Brew Pub’s downtown location on North Cayuga street has closed. However, their Tasting Room in at 3582 West Ave. in Interlaken, NY – just 30 minutes outside of town – is still open and serving Bandwagon’s signature beers.
Ithaca has a huge variety of restaurants, and we’ve heard it said that the saturation of good options makes it difficult to stand out from the crowd. That may be so, but Bandwagon Pub, Farm, and Brewery manages it seemingly without any difficulty. The restaurant is located on Cayuga Street in Clinton Hall, recognizable by the yellow awning over the stairs down to its entrance. Walking into the basement-level restaurant is almost disorienting at first. It is dimly lit, a bit echo-y, and (almost certainly) filled to the brim with people. Really, it’s exactly the atmosphere a pub should have. As you pour over the menu, you’ll first notice pretty standard pub fare – french fries, fish & chips, mac & cheese, wings, burgers, etc. But before long, you’ll start to notice what makes Bandwagon truly stand out.
Bandwagon’s menu is seasonal, and as locally sourced as possible. Over 40% of the food served comes from the Fingerlakes region. This means the menu changes four times per year with new variations on standard pub food, as well as interesting diversions from the norm. Alex Apuya, General Manager, told us that their goal is to “find a balance between pub food and really good fresh clean flavors, incorporating things that you don’t typically find in a pub but still fit the atmosphere”. Thanks to this exciting outlook, you might also find things like spanakopita, beet salad, burgers with tomato jam and brie, and more. One of their signature dishes, the Bandwagon Waffles, is a cornmeal waffle smothered in Andouille sausage, shrimp, sautéed veggies, and a chili cream sauce. It is astoundingly tasty, and unlike any other waffle we’ve ever tasted. Even the most basic of pub fare – the french fries – are elevated by Bandwagon’s inventive take on the concept. On the menu you will find five different treatments of french fries, all served with exciting flavors and toppings. Our favorite right now? It’s gotta be the Salvatore – fries with mac & cheese, minced onion, and homemade Commons Ale barbecue sauce.
The food, however, is far from the only attraction at Bandwagon. It is, after all, also a brewery. Originally, Bandwagon’s brewing facility was in the back of the restaurant, but in January of 2016 they opened their off-site production brewery and farm in Interlaken, NY. Moving out of the restaurant allowed them to greatly expand their volume and variety of offerings. It did not, however, cause them to forget their roots. Bandwagon still brews all beers in batches of no more than 10 barrels at a time. This allows them to maintain stock of favorite beers while also experimenting with new recipes, introducing small batches of something new to see if people like it. If not, they’ll simply move on to the next idea, no harm done. This practice of experimentation – followed by listening to the response of the community – makes them one of the most innovative breweries around. And, they’ve just expanded!
On September 3, 2017, Bandwagon opened a new tasting room at their brewery and farm location. We were lucky enough to swing by for a drink and pretzel during their grand opening. The pretzels were provided by Wide Awake Bakery. Located in Trumansburg, Wide Awake Bakery is about as locally-focused as you can get, using grain that travels a grand total of 16 miles from the fields to the oven. We are really excited to see Bandwagon partnering with such a sustainably-minded bakery. The pretzels were fresh and warm, the mustard bold but balanced, and the beer was varied and innovative. Our favorite was the raspberry-jalapeño ale. The aroma is noticeably raspberry, with just a hint of heat under it. The initial flavor is that of a sweet-and-tart amber ale, immediately followed by a rush of raspberry flavor. The finish is all jalapeño, just spicy enough to satisfy that itch. Truly an innovative experience.
Outside the tasting room there were a few tables and a lovely band playing. It harkened to the future potential of the location – will they add a beer garden? An event space? We don’t know yet, but we’re certainly excited to see what they do next with their new expansion. Until then, we’ll continue to stop by when we’re in the area to see what fresh ideas they’ve brewed up. And here in town, we’ll be enjoying extraordinary pub-style food – and the best french fries in Ithaca – on the regular.
Find Bandwagon Brew Pub at 114 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY
Find Bandwagon’s new tasting room at 3582 West Ave, Interlaken, NY