We always love welcoming an ambitious new restaurant to the Ithaca area, and this week the 14850 Dining Report is on east hill visiting the new Agava Restaurant. This new "southwest-inspired" eatery in the former home of Coyote Loco and Olivia is just a couple of months old, but has already won a loyal following with wood-fired-oven flatbreads, fish and seafood, tacos and burgers, with lots of fresh local ingredients all around.
Several seating areas include the large main room, with space for a couple of large groups, the bar area with a few cocktail tables and some comfortable seating, and a spacious patio that fills up fast on nice days. The wood-fired oven is in one corner of the dining room, with a few bar seats offering a ring-side view of the action.
That wood-fired oven provides not just the flatbread pizzas, which are at the core of the menu, but also wood-grilled wings, the pita for the delicious hummus appetizer, and even the roasted cauliflower.
We've had some great flatbreads, including the Beat It, with roasted beets and goat cheese; the Rita, with mozzarella, hydroponic basil, and charred tomato; and the Chupacapbra, with bacon, smoked garlic, mushrooms, and mozzarella.
The Agava Burger is made with local beef topped with aged cheddar and crispy fried onions, and we're looking forward to trying the black bean burger, served with poblano and lime crema. Burgers and sandwiches are served with a side of crispy, thin fries.
Don't miss the tacos, served three to a plate on soft corn tortillas, like the Lone Ranger, with grilled steak, and the Easy Rider, braised greens and black beans. As you may have gathered, it's easy to enjoy a vegetarian or even vegan and gluten-free meal at Agava. Just double-check with your server to make sure there aren't any unexpected ingredients in what you're contemplating ordering.
The menu is still evolving as Agava's chef and managers figure out what works well and what doesn't, but there are even nightly changes, with rotating specials like a flatbread of the day (on a recent visit it was sustainably raised duck breast with chard and goat cheese) and a ceviche of the day (outstanding scallops both times we've tried this sharable dish). Another recent special was a succulent and tender roasted, spice-rubbed pork chop served over roasted root vegetables, and we'd love to see that again.
The bar offers local wines and beers, from nearby Six Mile Creek Winery, Ithaca Beer, and Roosterfish Brewing in Watkins Glen, as well as a creative cocktail list that begins with a tasty and generous $5 margarita. The smoked margarita adds a smokier tequila and smoked salt on the rim, and bartenders are inventing new drinks like a minty version of the John Daly, already a boozy adaptation of an Arnold Palmer.
Weekend brunch, available on Saturdays and Sundays, features lunchy items like the burger and tacos, but also some breakfasty variants like the Softy flatbread, topped with bacon, egg, tomato, and onion, and a simple bacon and eggs plate. With ingredients from local sources like Autumn's Harvest Farm, such dishes may well be the best breakfast you've had in ages. The bold coffee blend is from another local source, a Finger Lakes coffee roaster you may not have heard of. Forty Weight Coffee is also available at Stella's, Northstar Pub, and several Brooklyn eateries.
Owner Gregar Brous, of the Brous & Mehaffey clan known in town for its Collegetown Bagels and Ithaca Bakery chain, envisioned Agava as a tapas-style sharing experience, and the restaurant started out with a policy of cooking food as it was ordered, and bringing each dish to the table as it was ready. That works well when everyone's sharing everything, but as managers quickly discovered, it causes confusion and frustration when folks have each ordered their own item and some end up letting their food get cold, politely waiting for a dining companion's dish to arrive.
Servers now explain the tapas option to customers, and offer the choice of having dishes come out together or as they're prepared. We're glad managers have come up with a good solution to what was, at first, a frequent customer gripe. If you're up for sharing, try it Agava's way.
It's hard to remember after a couple of decades of restaurants have come and gone here, but this building is the East Ithaca railway depot, and in the last renovation, Agava's owners have done a beautiful job of combining reclaimed wood and fresh paint to evoke a little of the building's age.
They're open from lunch to late-night, 11am to midnight weekdays and 10am to midnight on weekends with brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Plan on spending $10-25 per person on a meal. Find Agava at 381 Pine Tree Road next to East Hill Plaza and at agavarestaurant.com, or call 607-319-4366 and tell them you heard about them here.