Hidden Gem: Whole in the Wall Restaurant

Binghamton locals refer to the Whole in the Wall restaurant as the best kept secret on the Southside of Binghamton.  But the word is out and I was thrilled to see the place full of people when I recently visited the restaurant with my mother for lunch.

What is Whole in the Wall?

The Whole in the Wall restaurant is a farm-to-table, all-natural and organic restaurant that is located on South Washington Street in Binghamton. The restaurant is close to downtown Binghamton but far enough away to provide adequate parking.

The restaurant has a cool, funky ambience when you enter. Additionally, local art work on the walls gives it a more creative, personal feel. The seating is intimate and not too formal, which allowed us to sit back and relax while we looked over the menu.

Garlic Ball – A Must Have!

We started off our meal with their famous garlic ball. It is pure yumminess!! The garlic ball is a huge fresh wheat roll, warm from the oven and is smothered in garlic butter.  It is totally worth the breath mint!!

The very yummy garlic ball.

More Must Haves

Since it was a bit of a cooler, rainy day, we both opted for the homemade cream of mushroom soup. The soup is another signature item on the menu and it surely did not disappoint.  You can tell that the soup is homemade, really fresh and just seasoned enough to not be overpowering.  I love mushrooms and they definitely did not skimp on the mushrooms in the soup.

At this point, our bellies were getting full. But as my mother reminded me, “we had to eat our veggies,” so we both ordered the house salad. The salads were just the right size and filled with tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.  Everything was very fresh and we both cleaned our plates!

Don’t Miss

On our way to the counter to pay our bill, we grabbed a container of their homemade sun dried tomato pesto to take home. The Whole in the Wall chefs make their own homemade pesto in several varieties. It is sold nationwide

If you’re in the Binghamton, N.Y. area, and you grab a bite to eat at the Whole in the Wall, you and your belly won’t be disappointed!

The Details

 Whole In The Wall
43 S Washington St, Binghamton, NY 13903
(607) 722-5138

Hidden Gem: The Westminster Staircase

Referred to by some as the “Stairway to Heaven,” the Westminster Staircase in Syracuse holds special meaning for those of us who use it.

Starting on Euclid Avenue and leading to a small circular park at the dead end of Westminster Avenue, the stairs are a startlingly serene departure from the hustle and bustle of the University Neighborhood.

From the crest of the hill, you can catch some of the best views of Syracuse depending on the time of year. The stairs and park have been the scene of countless heart-to-hearts among friends, breakups, and even wedding ceremonies. But the stairs remain relatively unknown to the larger Syracuse community.

Is It Really “Hidden?”

To the untrained eye, yes! With the tree cover, you might mistake the base of the staircase for the steps to one of the neighboring Euclid Avenue homes built into the hillside. More observant passersby and those “in-the-know” will see the entrance to one of Syracuse’s more whimsical urban features.

What’s So Great About A Staircase?

Walking up the stairs recently, I could hear the sound of summer cicadas all around me (terrifying for some, calming for me). The noise of traffic was blocked by thick trees and I was surrounded by the lovely smell of earth and greenery. Even though I went on a 90-degree day, my walk up the stairs felt cool and relaxing in comparison to the sidewalk below.

At top of the stairs is Westminster Park, a modest patch of grass surrounded by a loop of road. Mature trees shade part of the park, and there is a solitary bench for weary stair-climbers. Above scrubby trees and bushes covering the sides of the hill, you can see the Carrier Dome and other iconic buildings on the Syracuse University campus. Milkweed growing among the brush is a sign the park may be a good place for watching for butterflies, and I saw a cardinal perched in one of the tree branches.

One More Thing

The staircase is used by many as an outdoor workout course. On my recent climb, I saw several people using the staircase to get in their steps for the day. Even just walking up the stairs will get you winded, so running up them is a great challenge!

The Details

Access the stairs from the south side of Euclid Avenue, between Maryland and Lancaster avenues. Or, enter from the dead end of Westminster Ave.

Please use caution as many of the bricks and cobbles have been worn away by the elements and there are many uneven surfaces. Only those with sure footing should use these stairs.

Hidden Gems: LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo

Have you ever stopped at a fresh produce stand and found the perfect healthy recipe to feed your very picky kid(s)?  While by chance I did!   Just 25 minutes east of Rochester, off Route 104, the LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo is an enchanting hut that offers a wide variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables at very affordable prices.

Ava LaMora’s Tasty Zucchini Pizza Bites

My sons and I discovered the gazebo last year when we were in need of corn.  We stopped by the stand and were greeted by the friendly farm staff and quickly discovered what many locals already knew: This is a great place to get local fresh fruits and hardy vegetables.

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The produce is grown at LaMora Farms, a 90-acre farm in Ontario, Wayne County.  The Gazebo also offers recipes.

My oldest son, 7, found a recipe card for Ava LaMora’s Tasty Zucchini Pizza Bites (see recipe below) and insisted that we buy the biggest zucchini I had ever seen.  (Did I mention the prices are extremely affordable?  My local grocery store offers zucchini at half the size for double the price!)

Not only did we easily make the zucchini pizza that night, but my son has continued to request the meal on a weekly basis.   (Eating every last slice!)  Check out their website for weekly recipes using your favorite fruits and vegetables: http://www.lamorafarms.com/recipes.html .

The perfect family apple

Zucchini is one of our family favorites.  We discovered another favorite last year when we tasted the farm-grown Honeycrisp apples. This is the only type of apple that met both the sweet and tart tastes of my entire family.

In full disclosure, my youngest son and his kindergarten class also enjoyed sampling them, as the LaMora’s kindly shared some of their harvest as an opportunity for the children to learn about healthy eating.

Check out the LaMora’s decadent apple dessert recipes at: http://www.lamorafarms.com/recipes.html

A family in the community

The owners, Lindsay and Earl LaMora, focus on sharing easy and healthy farm fresh food.  Lindsay is always looking for healthy ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into snacks and meals.    Daughter Ava, 10, the namesake of the beloved zucchini recipe, and her son Chase, 5, also help mom and dad on the farm.

This year, the first-generation farmers opened the doors to their farm for U-Pick opportunities, starting with strawberries, apples and pumpkins.  (Check out their website, www.LaMoraFarms.com, for the schedule.)    They are also sharing their lives as farmers in their blog, Out on a Limb (http://blog.lamorafarms.com/growwithus/).  And that beloved gazebo?  This year there will be two gazebos to accommodate more fruits and vegetables.

In addition to selling produce at the garden gazebos, the farm can also be found at the CNY Regional Market (Row D) on Saturdays and the Ginegaw Farmers Market on Tuesdays.  In addition, they sell to The Good Food Collective, Upstate Collective and several other food collectives and retail/wholesale outlets.

Best time to visit

While the late spring and summer are great times to visit the garden gazebo, my favorite time to visit is the fall.  The gazebo is always lovingly decorated. But the fall is when the true pumpkin lover, Lindsay, shows off her craft skills. She hand decorates many pumpkins that are available for purchase.


The Details

LaMora Farms Garden Gazebo

Website: http://www.lamorafarms.com

Hidden Gem: Kershaw Park Beach

As a born and bred New Englander, I’m definitely an “ocean beach” snob. Give me waves and salty air over, well, a sometimes questionable lake beach experience. I thought my first trek to a Rochester-area lake had traumatized me for life. I don’t know if it was the green lake sludge or putrid lake smell that scarred me the most, but it was bad.

After visiting Kershaw Park Beach in Canandaigua, Ontario County, I changed my mind.

Is it really “hidden?”

No – it’s right at the north tip of Canandaigua Lake, near the bustling heart of the City of Canandaigua.

Then, what’s the “secret”?

I didn’t realize how relaxing a beach trip can be! It was just my boys, ages 2 and 5, and me. Usually, with ocean beaches, I’m constantly following my kiddos into the water, making sure they stay safe. I don’t want fierce ocean waves dragging my extremely lightweight 2-year-old out to sea!

I love playing with my boys in the water. But – WOW! How nice it was to lounge on a beach towel, watching them splash and swim! The water was super calm (no waves!) as they played in a roped-off swimming area under a lifeguard’s watchful eyes. The water was also clean—no scary green lake sludge!

Favorite Parts

We went right as the beach opened at 10 a.m. on a Monday; for the first 30 to 45 minutes, we had the beach practically to ourselves. There’s even a grassy area if you don’t like getting too sandy.

You can buy food–ice cream, pretzels, nachos, etc. The surrounding park  includes walking paths around the lake, a playground and picnic tables.

The views were breathtaking. Puffy white clouds dotted the clear blue skies. Powerboats, sailboats and paddle boarders bobbed about in the area outside the roped-off swimming area. Lake homes and the rolling hills of nearby towns hugged the shoreline

The Details

Season: May 27, 2017 to Sept. 4, 2017
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (hours are different in June)

Price: Resident tags are $1 per person. For non-residents, it’s $5 for an adult and $2 for a child (ages 6-18), and free for kids 5 and under.

For more information, go to: http://www.canandaiguanewyork.gov/index.asp?SEC=97D1D0A4-3F38-4499-8D39-600155294C96&Type=B_BASIC


Hidden Gems: Downtown Rochester

I’m a Buffalo native. As far back as I can remember, the “City that Smells like Cheerios” was the most welcoming, happiest place I knew. So when I moved to the Rochester area, to attend The College at Brockport, I didn’t know what to expect. I then snagged an internship at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in downtown Rochester.

Along the way, I’ve come to learn that there are many beautiful treasures that the average passerby might miss without a keen eye. Thanks to some tour guides, that have now turned into friends, I have seen parts of downtown Rochester that I never knew existed.


In the middle of downtown Rochester, just a few paces from Geva Theatre, you’ll find Washington Square Park. This park isn’t “hidden” because you have to drive very far or follow a secret path to get to it. In fact, I drove past the park every day for two weeks before I even realized what it was. This attraction blends into the city so well; you might not even notice it, too.

Don’t miss
Strolling through Washington Square Park puts your mind at ease. My favorite time to go is on my lunch break. In the middle of the park there is a memorial to Civil War soldiers! If you glance upwards, you’ll see Abraham Lincoln looking toward the city.

An Italian Twist
The park usually hosts an Austrian cannon that the Italian government bestowed to the City of Rochester in the 1920s. The cannon honored local Italian-Americans who supported Italy during World War I by either joining the Italian or American army. The cannon, however, fell into disrepair so it was removed from the park to undergo restoration.

For more information: http://www.cityofrochester.gov/article.aspx?id=8589935120


What’s the secret?
Unlike Washington Square Park, you have to search for this Rochester treasure. It’s at the Bausch and Lomb Public Library Building, in the Children’s Center, but that’s all the help I’m going to give you!

Somewhere in the Children’s Center, which is filled with colorful books and paper animals, there’s a secret passageway that takes kids through a story book- like adventure, into a room that you can’t see from the outside.

What else?
Anyone can explore this treasure, and while you’re there, check out the rest of the library! They have a reading garden, multiple cafes, meeting rooms, and sections dedicated to the arts, social sciences, and travel.

For more information: http://www3.libraryweb.org/article.aspx?id=514035

Lush Gardens

This peaceful sanctuary is nestled in the shadows of St Mary’s Church and the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield building. The pictures hardly capture how truly beautiful it is!

Don’t miss
Check out the “Madonna of the Highways” statue. Surrounded by a variety of flora, this monument is tucked away toward the back of the garden, but is such a great place to sit and gather your thoughts. This isn’t the only monument here, though!  A couple yards away you can find one of the fiberglass pieces from Rochester’s Horses on Parade in 2001.

There is just enough shade to feel refreshed in the summer heat, but the sun still shines through the surrounding trees. The garden is filled with a variety of shrubbery.

Flowers vs. Hot Dogs
I would recommend stopping and taking in the scent of flowers, but it might be overpowered by the delicious smell of a beloved hot dog vendor,  just a few feet away on Court Street. So, while you’re sitting on the benches, enjoying the beauty of nature in the middle of a busy city, you can also get lunch for a reasonable price.

Genesee Riverway Trail

Are you’re looking to squeeze in exercise while working or living downtown? Then walk, run or bike down the Genesee Riverway Trial. The pathway runs along the Genesee River and passes so many historic points of Rochester. It’s a great way to get a walking tour of the area.

Don’t Miss
If you love taking pictures as much as I do, be sure to bring your camera on this walk! You can get a great shot of the Rochester skyline, as well as parks, waterfalls and scenic gorges.

For more information (and to download a trail guide): http://www.cityofrochester.gov/grt/

A once unfamiliar city is now starting to feel more like home with each passing day. Although I’m still adjusting to the change in scenery, and Buffalo will always be my favorite place in the world, I think Rochester is one I could love as well.

Hidden Gems: Cornell Botanic Gardens

The rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom, from magenta to pale pinks and creamy whites, when my work colleague, Linnea, and I visited the Cornell Botanic Gardens in June. This little gem of a park is not so little. It covers acres of land that are part of the Cornell University campus and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Gardener’s Delight

If you like nature, flowers and trees, then this is the place for you. Linnea and I spent a couple of hours enjoying the beauty of the landscape, pausing to enjoy flowers close up and sniffing their delicate fragrances. We snapped a lot of photos, especially of plants we favored for our own gardens. Each plant is tagged with its common and scientific names for easy identification.

Not only did the garden’s beauty delight us, but also its statues, buildings, including a pagoda, and meandering trails.

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Would you believe there are 17 themed beds? They include ornamental and practical herbs, heritage vegetables, perennials, ornamental grasses, groundcovers, conifers, containers, and plants of winter interest.

Herbs to Dye For

In particular, I wanted to visit the herb garden. I was not disappointed. Plants are grouped as:

  • Ancient herbs
  • Bee herbs
  • Dye herbs
  • Edible flowers
  • Herbs in literature
  • Herbs of Native Americans
  • Medicinal herbs
  • Ornamental herbs
  • Sacred herbs
  • Salad and potherbs
  • Savory seed herbs
  • Tea herbs

Tussie mussies and nosegays, gatherings of fragrant herbs and flowers. invoked images of Victorian ladies.

The site also includes a 100-acre arboretum. More than 100 different species of birds have been sighted there. If you’re into hiking, there are several trails.

I discovered the gardens when I was writing a story about herb gardening for this blog. My Google search for Cornell Cooperative Extension, a free, excellent resource for farmers to weekend gardeners, brought me to this place. I had no idea it existed, even after living in upstate New York for more than 40 years and visiting the Ithaca area several times.

The Details

Location: 124 Comstock Knoll Drive, Ithaca, NY, 14850
Approximate driving times: Binghamton, 75 minutes; Rochester, two hours; Syracuse, about 80 minutes; Utica, a little more than two hours.
Hours: Open dawn to dusk year round.
Accessible: Yes, a few stairs on some paths.
Dog friendly: Yes, on a leash.
Admission and parking: Free.
For more info: cornellbotanicgardens.org/our-gardens/botanical or 607-255-2400

More to Explore in Ithaca

Although there’s plenty to explore on the Cornell campus, Ithaca has much to offer, including the Cayuga Nature Center, Museum of the Earth and the Sciencenter and its Sagan Walk, a ¾ mile 1:5 billion scale model of the solar system that’s also a memorial to Ithaca resident and astronomer Carl Sagan. Ithaca Commons is a mix of restaurants, shops and events. Linnea and I were lucky enough to visit the gardens at the same time of Ithaca’s Annual Festival.

Check them all out on the discovery trail.

Hidden Gems: Washington Grove

What’s the secret?

A “forest in the city,” Washington Grove is a unique, oak-hickory forest. It’s located on the eastern edge of Cobbs Hill Reservoir in Rochester, New York. The park is a grove of giant old trees that transports visitors into a quiet, secluded woodland. Here, it’s easy to forget how close you are to the city.


Washington Grove offers all the marvels of a forest in close proximity to other amenities of Cobbs Hill Park and the City of Rochester. It’s a great place for hiking, jogging, cross-country skiing, bird watching, dog walking and observing local flora and fauna. In addition, as you wind your way through the many trails of the park, you experience firsthand our region’s glacial topography and 200-year-old trees.

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The Details

Designated as Washington Memorial Grove in 1932, the park features about 26 acres of a relatively undisturbed forest of oak and hickory trees.

Easy entrances:

  • East entrance – end of Nunda Blvd (14610)
  • West entrance – top of Reservoir Road in Cobbs Hill Park.

The park is maintained through a partnership with the City of Rochester and a citizen group, the Friends of Washington Grove. The group works to preserve the park’s natural history by removing invasive plants and re-introducing native forest plants as part of the Washington Grove Restoration Project.

It’s important to protect and preserve this hidden gem by obeying park rules, including:

  • Walk bikes through the park area
  • Keeps dogs on a leash
  • Stay on trails

Don’t Miss

 The water tanks near the northern edge of the grove – they feature beautiful local artwork!

Still exploring? Just a short drive away is Corbett’s Glen Nature Park.

Hidden Gems: Letchworth’s 1,000 Steps

Letchworth State Park lends its beauty to the Rochester area, and if you’ve ever been there you know just how breathtaking the “Grand Canyon of the East” can be.

The Story:

My aunt, who lives about 10 minutes from Letchworth, almost always took me to the state park when I visited. When we did go, we made a day of it, which included some sight-seeing, a mini-historical tour, a picnic lunch, and of course the daunting 1,000 step trail that we took to earn our lunch.

(To be honest, I’m not sure if the trail I’m about to describe is exactly 1,000 steps, but it sure did feel like that when I was growing up!)

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Why You Should Go

The rugged hiking trails, beautiful waterfalls, and an annual arts and crafts festival are part of a beautiful state park that’s in our own backyard. You can also embark on guided walking tours, white water rafting trips and take a hot air balloon ride over the park.

The park even won a USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Award for Best State Park in the U.S.

The Trail

As a child, the author hiked from the Glen Iris Inn to the Upper Falls and back. He now hopes to return and hike all the way from the Lower Falls to Upper Falls.

We almost always started our trip to the Upper Falls near the Glen Iris Inn, mostly because there’s more parking around there and it was a good point to start for beginning hikers. From there, we hiked along the Gorge Trail leading up to the best viewing point for the Middle Falls, and after that is where you start to get your cardio. I remember being glad I brought my toughest sneakers because after the Middle Falls, the elevation got higher, and so did my heart rate.

There were a lot of stairs leading to the Upper Falls, and by making the train trestle our end point, we had a clear goal to the top! As 14-year-old me breathed heavily, my aunt and I would trek, talk, and have a good time while seeing some incredible sights. After we reached the top, we carefully walked down the road leading back to the Glen Iris, and ate our packed victory lunch.

Important Note!

Part of this trail – from Middle Falls to Upper Falls – is currently closed for the rest of 2017. But you can still access Park Road and Middle Falls. Click HERE for more details.


Location: 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427
Hours: Open year round
Entrance Cost: $10 per vehicle , Non-Profit Buses $35, Commercial Buses $75 (Collected: 5/7 – 5/27: 9 am – 5 pm, weekends only, 5/28 – 10/16: 9 am – 5 pm, daily)
For more: Visit https://parks.ny.gov/parks/79/details.aspx

Last Thoughts

This summer, I hope to take on Letchworth again, but this time hiking all the way from the Lower Falls right to the top at Upper Falls, as shown in the trail map above, which is nearly 2 miles.  If you’re even more of a hiking enthusiast, here is a full trail map of all of the different routes you can take.

Happy hiking!

Hidden Gems: Wild Wings Bird Sanctuary

Have you ever wondered whether the owls in Harry Potter could actually carry a Nimbus 2000? Or maybe you just want to see some birds of prey up close?

Why You Should Go

Wild Wings is a charming non-profit raptor rehabilitation center located about 20 minutes south of Rochester, NY. Nestled in Mendon Ponds Park, the facility is home to bald eagles, hawks, owls (big-and-super small), and other birds-of-prey who’ve been injured and rehabilitated and can’t be released back into the wild.

Be sure to note the hours. Wild Wings is only open Fridays through Tuesdays.

Meet ‘Barf’

They have a friendly, welcoming staff who are more than happy to give you the inside scoop on the different birds—‘Barf’ the Turkey Vulture, for instance, got his name because of a particularly unusual (and gross) defense mechanism.  The facility is totally family friendly (even the gift shop!) any time of year. During the spring and summer, they have beautiful gardens and in the colder months they offer hot cocoa to warm up your adventure.

My son insisted on taking home a stuffed Turkey Vulture from the gift shop. I was afraid what would happen if he squeezed it.

What to do

There’s a lot to see in a small space. Ask the trainers if they’ll be taking any of the birds out for socialization or educational programs. The times we’ve gone, my kids have been lucky to see many of the animals out of their cages.

The owls at Wild Wings are always a big hit.

Don’t Miss

You’ll probably only spend 20 minutes or so exploring the facility (especially if you’re with little ones), so be prepared to make a day of it in the surrounding Mendon Ponds Park. Pack some bird seed—but not for the Wild Wings birds (once you’ve seen a Bald Eagle’s talons up close, you’ll understand why). Right outside the bird sanctuary is the Bird Song Trail, where you can hand feed chickadees, nuthatches, and other tiny, wild birds. Just be careful of the squirrels. I had one run up my leg and into my kid’s diaper bag to get at my bounty of bird seed.

The Songbird Trail, located just a few yards from the sanctuary, is a great place to get up-and-personal with some feathered friends.

The Details

Location: Mendon Ponds Park, 27 Pond Road, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Hours: Open year-round; Friday – Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. (If the weather is really bad they may put some of the birds inside.)
Suggested donation: Admission is Free, but they recommend a $5 per family donation
For more: Go to http://www.wildwingsinc.com

Hidden Gems: Lamberton Conservatory

As a born and raised Western New Yorker, I fully understand that snow and wintry weather can live anywhere from October to April and everywhere in between. And by the end of March (or February, or January…) it starts to get old. That’s why the Lamberton Conservatory is my favorite hidden gem in Rochester.

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A little nature goes a long way – all year long.

Located on Reservoir Avenue in Highland Park in Rochester, the Lamberton Conservatory is open year round. My favorite times to visit are winter and early spring, when colorful plant life is the perfect escape from the white and cold and gray.

When you enter, you’ll be greeted by coat hooks, a small counter shop, and a fish tank filled with anything from plecostomus to baby turtles. Hang up your coats, because the next door will take you on a warm journey through greenhouses heated to sustain flora from warmer climates.

Follow the brick path through tropical and desert lands. You’ll see red flowers, green cacti, and hanging moss. Breathing in the warm air and seeing plants of blue and purple and every other color is sometimes exactly what I need to soften the edge of winter. There’s even a coffee plant, if you’ve ever wondered what your java looks like in its natural habitat.

Beyond the plants

The Conservatory is one of my two-year-old’s favorite places, though I suspect his reasons are different from mine. If we go anywhere near Highland Park, he asks to see the “turtles and birdies.” Two ponds within the greenhouses are home to piles of turtles. While I’m guessing a “pile” is not the technical term for a group of turtles, visit the pond in the tropical room and you’ll see what I mean. My wild child son, whose constant energy never ceases to amaze me, will happily sit quietly and watch the turtles.

The “birdies” are a handful of quail who may cross your path at any point before entering the desert room, which my son has renamed the “Hop on Pop” room. It makes sense if the only other place you’ve seen a cactus is a Dr. Seuss book.

And if those aren’t enough reasons to visit, there’s also a tortoise named Chuck Norris. I’ve never seen him do martial arts, but word on the street is he’s the strongest shelled citizen around. His need to prove his strength made it necessary to separate him from the rest of the tortoise settlement of Shellville. I’m not making this up.

The Details:

So if you need an escape from a snowy or rainy or otherwise gray day, here’s what you need to know before you stop by:

Lamberton Conservatory
Highland Park
180 Reservoir Ave
Rochester, NY 14620

Open daily 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Kids 5 and under are free
Kids 6-18 and seniors 62+ are charged $2
Adults 19 – 61 pay $3 for admission