Ports Café began as a small grocery store when owners Jeff Ritter and David Harvey bought the lakeside property in 1990. It was a tiny operation at first, just offering provisions and an eatery that served ice cream and hamburgers to folks coming off the lake looking for a quick bite. By 2007, the pair made some additions to the building and brought on self-taught chef Josh Erskine.
Since then, the small dining room (seating about 100 people) on the West side of Seneca Lake has become so popular that patrons cannot expect to get a table unless they make a reservation. Chef Erskine believes that Ports is a favorite because of the restaurant’s philosophy. “We treat the staff well, and they, in turn, treat the customers well. We take pride in providing a nice atmosphere where we show our appreciation to the customers who love our food, and we strive to treat them like family.”
Location: Ports Café is located at 4432 West Lake Road (Route 14) in Geneva, New York.
Menu: The regular menu has something for everyone from ravioli to New York strip, but people love the extensive specials menu that changes daily and is explained by your server in detail at your table. The staff is very knowledgeable about each dish so if you have any questions or dietary concerns, the kitchen is happy to make any accommodations that you may need.
The appetizers and salads on both the menu and the specials menu are made for sharing. The house favorite, baked brie, is wrapped in luscious, buttery phyllo dough and always topped with a fruit compote that varies but there are a few other cheese options as well. There is always a soup of the day, a ravioli of the day, and seafood choices like bang-bang shrimp or shrimp boil.
Staples on the regular menu include Atlantic Salmon with sautéed onion chutney spinach and basmati pilaf, house-made gnocchi with a meaty short rib tomato sauce and a Tandoori chicken with almond onion curry over basmati rice with grilled pitas.
Thoughts: The servers spend time with you and offer to help with any questions you may have about either the regular menu or the daily specials. The evening we ate at Ports, there were two appetizer cheese courses, fried goat cheese with crispy prosciutto, sliced pear and balsamic reduction and a burrata with red pepper jam, roasted asparagus, ramp pesto and grilled house sourdough bread on the menu.
The salad specials included a gem lettuce wedge with creamy bleu cheese dressing and a beet salad with baby arugula, blood orange vinaigrette, honey -chipotle chevre, dried cherries, and red onions. We tried the beet salad with baby arugula and enjoyed the unique pairing of the spicy chevre and sweet beets. It was a winner.
The dinner specials are fresh, and the proteins are bought in smaller quantities, so they are in demand. The later you choose to dine, the chances are, they might be out of what you were eyeing. I was disappointed to discover that the sesame-crusted yellow fin tuna with Thai veggie-walnut lo mein and warm ponzu was sold out. I quickly recovered when informed that the halibut with heirloom carrot-peas risotto, littleneck clams, and ramp gremolata was still available. The fish was fresh, flaky and delicate. It paired beautifully with the pea risotto and was a satisfying but light choice. My husband ordered the tandoori chicken which was tender and spiced perfectly with traditional Indian flavors. The toasted pitas were a nice addition to dip into the curry sauce.
The desserts are all made in-house and vary daily, so remember to leave room to try them. If you would prefer to drink your sweets, there is a specialty cocktail at the end of the dessert menu that is certain to be a terrific way to top off your meal. The wine list is extensive and includes both local, domestic and international selections.
Price range: The price for appetizers ranges from $4.50 for a smaller soup to $15.00 for a bowl of Littleneck clams. Salads range from $4.00 -$12.00 and entrees range from $14.00 to $37.00 for a prime New York Strip with King Crab béarnaise butter. The menu is meant to be accessible for any diner, so there is a variety of delectable choices.
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