Monks on the Commons: A New Soulful DIning Experience

Monks on the Commons: A New Soulful DIning Experience

Story Originally Written and Published by the Cornell Daily Sun 2/1/2017: READ HERE

Monks on the Commons: A New, Soulful Dining Experience

 Photo: Allison Wild, Cornell Daily Sun

Photo: Allison Wild, Cornell Daily Sun

Monks on the Commons is the newest addition to the hoard of restaurants that fill downtown Ithaca. It’s the kind of place where you could go for a business brunch or when your parents come to town. Located in the new Marriott Hotel, Monks has a classy yet welcoming atmosphere. It isn’t the kind of place where you would feel out of place in day-to-day clothes, but at the same time, it’s the kind of place where you would feel right at home if you were in the mood to dress up a bit. It is also the perfect spot for Saturday morning brunch.

As soon as we sat down, our waiter appeared and left a massive pot of coffee on our table. I have to say that it made for some pretty artsy pictures when we poured it into the restaurant’s rustic mugs. The menu was chock full of unique combinations and delicious-sounding dishes. The sweet potato hash caught my eye, and I knew I had to go for it. Our server was extremely accommodating when my dining partner and I both asked to modify our dishes.

After a bit of a wait, our food came out, and it was everything we hoped and more. My eggs were perfectly cooked with just a slightly runny yolk, and the whites were well done without being dry. The sweet potatoes were ever so slightly crunchy on the outside but extremely tender on the inside. I became full very quickly, but the breakfast was so delicious that I just couldn’t stop eating.

 photo: Ryan McCune, Communique Design & Marketing

photo: Ryan McCune, Communique Design & Marketing

Monks boasts soulful food on their Facebook page,  and they definitely don’t disappoint; soulful was the best word they could have used to describe my brunch. It was both comforting and filling, and it left me without any of the stomach pain or lethargy of an overly decadent meal.

Breakfast ran us about $15 per person, which is slightly more than I ordinarily go for, but the meal was most definitely worth it. If I were to go back to Monks, I think it would be for a birthday or a visit from my parents. It’s one of those places that feels a little bit too decadent for just any miscellaneous weekend. That being said, I would absolutely love to go back and try their dinner and other brunch dishes. I think a lot of Cornellians would agree that if Monks were located a bit closer to campus, it would be a destination for students looking for a bit of an upscale restaurant to contrast with Collegetown classics like Jack’s and CTP.

Much like Agava and Carriage House, Monks might not be the place to go if you’re a college kid on a budget just trying to grab a quick breakfast, but it’s perfect if you’re looking for a bit of a treat.

St. Paddy's Day specials at Monks On the Commons meld Irish and Southern eats

St. Paddy's Day specials at Monks On the Commons meld Irish and Southern eats

Story Origninally Written and Published by the Ithaca Voice 3/18/17: READ HERE

St. Paddy's Day specials at Monks On the Commons meld Irish and Southern eats

ITHACA, NY -- Perhaps it is the luck of the Irish as Monks On the Commons is offering a special St. Paddy’s day menu March 17! This unique menu marries the classic St. Patrick’s Day flavors with Monks' signature Southern influence.

Their most anticipated dish, the smoked corned beef sandwich, is served with Alabama slaw, Irish whiskey barbecue, Dubliner cheddar and pancetta potato salad.

Monks will also be offering their standard menu and reservations are not required.

 

 

Monks on the Commons expands downtown dining scene

Story written and published by the Ithaca Journal on 12/14/2016 : READ HERE

Monks on the Commons expands downtown dining scene

 Photo: Jim Catalano, Ithaca Journal

Photo: Jim Catalano, Ithaca Journal

 Photo: Ryan McCune, Communique Design & Marketing

Photo: Ryan McCune, Communique Design & Marketing

Monks on the Commons, the full-service restaurant housed in the new Ithaca Marriott Downtown, opened to the public Monday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

 

Located on the first floor of the hotel (which also opened Monday) at 120 S. Aurora St., Monks features a “soulful food and sinful cocktails” concept devised by the culinary team of food and beverage director Robert Gedman, executive chef Bryan Keller and beverage supervisor Roland Coggin.

Monks is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. The dinner menu features shareable items such as Monks breads, grouper tacos, chicken wins and “Nona’s Meatballs and Braised Beef”; small plates such as chili, braised pork belly, brussel sprouts, soup and scallops; large plates such as New York strip steak, pork shank, short-rib pappardelle, bourbon-peach brisket and braised lamb belly; and a variety of burgers. The breakfast menu features a variety of omelets, pancakes, fritattas, chicken and waffles, French toast and other staples.

“The menu is designed as food and drink with soul,” Keller said in an interview last week. “We try to bring a soulful element to our dishes. Our approach is to be really accessible, nothing too over the top. But we put a lot of thought into it — we’re trying to take it a notch above anything around us.”

“I sometime describe it as Finger Lakes farm-to-table with a Southern soul twist,” Coggin said. “Bryan’s family is Italian, so there are definitely some upstate Italian-American influences in there.”

There are strong local connections as well.

“We’ve partnered with F. Oliver’s to co-brand bottles of olive oil and spices that are on our tables for dinner,” Keller said, noting that Ithaca Coffee Company, Life’s So Sweet Chocolates, Lively Run Goat Dairy and Bacchus Beer are also contributing to items to the menu.

For the roster of cocktails, Coggin spent months creating the drinks from scratch, describing it as a “mix tape” of offerings. “Everything is new for me, my recipes have never been on a menu anyplace,” he said.

Monks will host a social hour every day at 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., with tastings offered by local wineries, breweries and ciders and small plates from the kitchen. On Thursdays, there will live music, starting this week with Richie Stearns and Steve Selin, and followed by Nate Marshall and Alyssa Rose the following two weeks.

Monks on the Commons describes its offerings as “soulful food and sinful cocktails.” (Photo: Jim Catalano / Correspondent)

 Photo: Jim Catalano, Ithaca Journal

Photo: Jim Catalano, Ithaca Journal

A return to roots

An Ithaca native who returned last year after spending five years in Maryland and Washington, D.C., area, Keller recently helmed Luna Inspired Street Food, with locations on Stewart Avenue and in Lot 10 on S. Cayuga Street.

 

“It was an exciting opportunity to get involved in something on a grander stage,” Keller said, “and to take what I’ve been experimenting with and working on over the years to another level.”

Coggin, who’s also an Ithaca native, tended bar for nearly five years at Lot 10 Bar and Lounge, where he created the cocktail menu. “I feel really good about the effect it had on the way people drink and socialize in Ithaca,” he said.

He also wanted to return to a hotel-based restaurant after working for many years in similar settings in San Francisco and San Diego.

“I really missed the hospitality side,” Coggin said. “Working at a bar venue is exciting, but I get a thrill by the blend of travelers and locals. Also, I grew up in Ithaca and it’s important to me that this place is all that it can be for Ithaca, and that both locals and business travelers will enjoy it. This job is part social engineering and part being able to serve a broader range of people, age-group wise, than the just late-night bartending.”

What’s in a name?

Hotel general manager Cathy Hart came up with the Monks concept after consulting with Stephani Robson, who teaches at Cornell’s Hotel School.

“I asked her what Ithaca needed, and she said a place where people can come together and gather,” Hart said. “A lot of places are tiny or designed with small tables — you need a place where you can sit down, have a glass of wine, share some food and meet people.”

The pair also came up with monkey (pull-apart) bread as a signature dish for the restaurant, which inspired a middle-of-the-night “eureka” moment for the venue’s name. “At 3 a.m. I woke up and thought, what about Monks?” Hart said. “And I started researching it and found the name embodied everything we were trying to accomplish — creating wines and beer, farm to table, gathering and sharing. Our goal is to be the clubhouse where everyone wants to hang out, with great food and cocktails, with a colleague, friends or family.”

Despite the Monks name, Coggin stressed that the venue is not a Belgian beer bar.

“We’re more channeling the spirit of Monks as the original farm-to-table people -- very self sufficient, winemakers, beer brewers,” he said. “Bryan and I are sort of obsessive — for example, I source honey from a local beekeeper from across the street. It’s very much about that spirit.”

Actually, rather than a Belgian beer, Richie Shallcross of Bacchus Brewing created a special signature beer for Monks.

“It’s a nice light hoppy blonde ale, something really accessible for the people who will be coming through there all year long from around the country and world,” Shallcross said. “It’s a cool opportunity for me and the brewery to have our name on something that is permanently going to be there and greet all the guests.

 Photo: Ryan McCune, Communique Design & Marketing

Photo: Ryan McCune, Communique Design & Marketing

Not just a hotel bar

The 159-room Marriott Downtown Ithaca is run by Urgo Hotels & Resorts, a Maryland-based company that manages more than 30 hotels in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. (Keller is friends with Michael Urgo, one of nine sons of the company’s owner; he attended Ithaca College and lived for years in Ithaca.). But Hart stressed the Monks on the Commons is a separate venture from the hotel itself, with its own staff and customer demographic.

“We don’t want to Monks to be known as a restaurant and bar in a hotel,” she said. “That’s why we came up with our own logo for Monks — we really look at it as not only are we opening a Marriott in Ithaca, we’re also opening a fabulous restaurant and bar on the Commons. We’ve really attacked the two separately, with separate staffs that have different training. It’s a different entity and feel.”

Keller and Coggin noted that Ithacans’ perceptions of the project have changed as it came closer to fruition.

“I’m friends with the most stickler politically correct folks, but when they hear that me and Bryan are involved with this, they’re happy for us,” Coggin said. “They know we’re going to make it work for Ithaca, too. People want that for us, and they’re excited that they get to have drinks that I make in a nicer setting.

“I’m excited to feed you in a place where you can sit down,” joked Keller.

“We’re going to make a beautiful blend of locals and travelers,” Coggin promised.

Hart added: “We want to be a integral part of the community. We know where we’re heading, and we hope everyone else embraces it.”

Follow on Twitter @IthacaDining and on Facebook at facebook.com/ithacadining.

If you go

Monks on the Commons

Where: 126 S. Aurora St., Ithaca, at the east end of the Ithaca Commons. Parking available in the adjacent Green Street Garage

Hours: breakfast, 6:30-11 a.m.; lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; shareable menu, 2-5 p.m.; dinner 5-10 p.m.; late night, 10 p.m. to midnight; Marriott “Fresh Bites” available from midnight to 1 a.m. Social hour is 5:30-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Owners: Urgo Hotels and Resorts

Opened: December 2016

Phone: 607-272-2111

Cuisine: “Soulful food and sinful cocktails”

More info:www.ithacamarriottdowntown.com