Updated on 10-20-2020
Continuation of The Chautauqua Chronicles Part 1: Origins
Continuation of The Chautauqua Chronicles Part 2: Peek 'n Peaking Too Early?
Riding into the downtown of Ellicottville with Jane Eshbaugh from Holiday Valley and Brian from Ski Bum Podcast, I knew it was going to be my kind of ski town. Having covered Ellicottville Brewing Company on a few occasions, I was familiar with what some refer to as the Aspen of the East but ultimately did not know entirely what to expect. Although I get the moniker, the village of Ellicottville was distinctly not Aspen. It was more as if Rhinebeck, one of my other favorite NY state towns, had been dropped not far from the base of a ski resort. And when I say "not far" I mean less than a mile. I'm a sucker for these rustic upstate towns filled with cute local shops and fun restaurants and bars. With a downtown that consists of two main streets (the equivalent of a few blocks) Ellicottville fits this bill perfectly and I was excited to see all that it had to offer for activities both on and off the mountain.
Après Ski That Begins on the Mountains and Finishes in Ellicottville
As I mentioned in my previous post, it is the relationship between the ski resorts (Holiday Valley and Holimont) and Ellicottville that make the area special. Everyone seems to know and appreciate this symbiotic relationship and works hard to cultivate it and grow together. This is a connection that becomes abundantly clear when the ski day ends and après ski begins. Where most people may start on the mountain with a drink and an appetizer, they ultimately make their way downtown for dinner and drinks to finish the evening. That's the exact path Brian and I were on as our schedule had us sampling a variety of local establishments that Saturday afternoon.
The First Step Toward Après Ski Greatness
Our journey began at The Winery of Ellicottville where we parted ways with Jane from Holiday Valley and made our way inside to meet with Mary Kay for our tasting. This would be the first step on our path towards Ellicottville après ski greatness. We were greeted at the door by Maggie the house dog. Tail wagging, she sniffed us and determined we were okay to hang out with. How can you not love a winery with a dog as the front of the house? Talk about the perfect fit for a ski town.
Mary Kay was also ready and waiting and we began tasting within minutes of entering the winery. Damn! This was my kind of place. We would soon be joined by the infamous Barb Pump of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce. After reading her amazing name on our itinerary, Brian and I built Barb Pump up in our minds to almost mythical standards. Standards that she more than lived up to. So much so that we are spearheading her campaign for whatever public office she wants to hold. Joking...she's not actually running for office, but she could and should and when she does...we're all in!
A Winery Fit for a Ski Town
Sorry, I got sidetracked there, back to The Winery of Ellicottville and our après ski wine tasting. The tasting room had an industrial rustic chic look to it and although it didn't appear that there was a predetermined après ski focus there was a consistent crowd that filed in and out during that time. Shopping, sampling and chatting it created a fun ski town vibe within the winery that was not at all pretentious and very enjoyable.
Not to be overshadowed by any of this, was the wine itself. Sam Sheehy, the owner and winemaker (who we would meet later for drinks), was a seasoned pro. Having won 80 or so medals in competitions nationwide, I knew we were in for a treat. All of the wines that I tried were pretty damn impressive, but once again I found myself gravitating towards a varietal that I don't often drink, the Pinot Noir.
Drinking Pinot Noir From and Ending With a Yard Sale
Pinot Noir's characteristic sweetness doesn't always sit well with me but I wasn't getting any of that on the palate this time around. Tasting it straight from the tank this pinot was dry and smooth, and I could see it pairing really well with a nice steak or pork chop. A couple glasses of this followed by a couple more of their fun and playful ski-centric wine, Yard Sale and I was hooked on The Winery of Ellicottville. Seriously, I loved it! I could have hung out for hours, especially on its upstairs balcony, drinking wine and watching the people down below meander around town with smiles ear to ear. This is a great spot to enjoy some sips in true après ski style. There was, however, another place that Barb Pump insisted we check out, prior to our upcoming tour and tasting at Ellicottville Brewing Company and we did have to bounce.
Villagio: Distinctly Ski Town Italian
Bounce we did, right across the street to Villagio. Upon entering and meeting the owner and restaurateur extraordinaire, Nick Pitillo, I knew Barb Pump once again steered us in the right direction. Like I said, she needs to run for public office.
Nick was quite a character. With a raspy, I just ate sandpaper, kind of voice and a look that says, I was in the movie Goodfellas, the Italian in me felt right at home. That also had a lot to do with Nick treating Brian and I like family from the second we walked into the restaurant. Nevermind the fact that he, too, was also down with the Barb Pump 2020 campaign. That was just an added bonus.
Villagio, one of Pitillo's five restaurants, has a rustic, cabin-in-the-woods feel to it. The inside is decorated with reclaimed wood that is dark, yet not too dark. Highlighted by accent lights and a drop down movie screen centered in the mezzanine playing ski and snowboard movies it was the ideal ambiance for the après ski crowd. While filling us in on the restaurant and the town of Ellicottville, Nick insisted that we try some of his signature dishes. Instantly the parade of food began pouring out from the kitchen.
It was like Sunday dinner at my great grandmother's house. Arrancini (rice balls), a softball sized meatball, a beef and hot pepper sandwich, lobster mac and cheese...Dee-Friggin-Licious! I was in foodie heaven and didn't want it to end but alas, all good things must come to an end. And it did, rather abruptly, when I looked at my phone and realized that we had to be at Ellicottville Brewing in three minutes. Informing Nick, he instantly yelled back to the kitchen to put a hold on the porchetta. F*$k! I can't believe I missed my favorite porkalicious delight. Guaranteeing him that we'd be back later for the live music scene we rushed out the door and sprinted the whole block to EBC.
Ellicottville Brewing Company: Brewed to Entertain a Ski Crowd
The exercise did us good, working off some of those calories that would soon be replaced with liquid hops and fried calamari. The brewery was jumping. Our host there, Matt Holtz, said that it was not uncommon for the wait to climb to three at hours on a busy night. Following up with, "And people actually wait! Putting their name in, they'll wander around town grabbing drinks at some other spots before coming back to finally dine at EBC." Talk about the hot spot in town.
With a tagline that says Brewed to Entertain being this busy should come as no surprise. Entertain they do. With a penchant for brewing great craft beer paired with delicious food all in an amazing atmosphere, Ellicottville Brewing is a can't miss stop. The brew pub itself is stunning in a rustic sort of way. The old part of the building has a historic charm with the focal point being it's century old reclaimed bar. The new build out, however, really captures the mind. Less than a decade old, it is all post and beam, with not one nail used in the process, and truly captures the essence of the ski town itself.
A Variety of Craft Beer and Delicious Food
The stunning atmosphere is supplemented by an equally impressive craft beer and food scene. What is cool about EBC is that their taps are not overfilled with hazy IPA's but rather a creative mix of styles. I enjoyed the majority of their beers that I drank but where they really excel is with their fruit beers. Generally speaking, I am not a fruity beer kind of guy. I just do not like the fruit forward sweetness that can dominate the palate. However, in the case of Ellicottville Brewing I found myself really enjoying them, particularly the Blueberry Wheat Ale and the Blackberry Kolsch. In neither case was the fruit overbearing but actually very well balanced and a subtle accent to the beer that was highly palatable.
Although, still a bit full from the day's samplings, I did find a little room in my gut for a few bites of food to pair with my craft beer sampler that I ordered up. You just don't turn down chicken thighs when they are on a menu, especially when doused in Buffalo sauce. But my favorite was the EBC Calamari. Golden brown, delicious and tossed in a sweet ginger, Worcestershire, pineapple sauce, it had a sweet tangy Asian flare to it that was uniquely satisfying. It also paired really well with their signature winter seasonal, Ski Bum, which I found to be a tasty beer on its own but one that worked much better with food.
A Chance Meeting With Ellicottville's Finest
Gorged, yet pushing any thoughts of a food coma aside, we once again said our goodbyes and headed out the door. Feeling a bit bad about ditching Nick at Il Villagio in our haste to get to EBC we headed back over. Walking into yet another packed house (seriously, where do all these people come from) the atmosphere was livelier than before. This was in large part due to the live musician performing in the mezzanine area that was once covered by the movie screen. Nick saw us immediately, greeting us like we were old friends and introducing us to Peter Kreinheder, owner of Ellicottville Brewing. What a stroke of luck? I also took the opportunity to reach out to Sam Sheehy, co-owner along with his wife, of the Winery of Ellicottville to join us. He happened to be across the street and within minutes walked in.
A Ski Town That's Special For Many Reasons
Between Sam, Nick and Peter we got the full low down on the town from Ellicottville's finest. They really hammered home the idea that it is the concerted efforts of the Ellicottville businesses paired with the two local ski resorts that make it special in so many ways. Special because it has two fun ski resorts within a mile of it. Special because it's an actual eastern ski town that grew organically and wasn't fostered and built by big business. But most importantly, Ellicottville is special because the people there make it that way. Jane, Sam, Nick, Peter, Matt, Barb...they treated us like old friends and I felt right at home the entire time. It's the people that make the difference and the locals have all bought into this idea that communally makes Ellicottville a true eastern ski town.
Late Night People Watching and Sharing the Love
Villagio is my kind of place and Nick, Peter and Sam were my kind of people. I could have stayed there the whole night hanging with those guys. But, we did want to check out two other local establishments, The Gin Mill and Balloons before calling it a night. Both serve more of a late night crowd and are pretty awesome in their own way: The Gin Mill for the live bands and Balloons for its club setting that fosters some excellent people watching. The night was abuzz at both and they lived up to the hype.
Eventually catching an Uber back to Holiday Valley, I left ecstatic with our experience in Ellicottville and prepared to share the love back home about just how amazing a ski town it is.