On your way out of Syracuse, make one last stop in its Southernmost neighborhood, the Valley, for a Central New York ice cream classic. Gannon’s Isle Ice Cream (1525 Valley Dr.) has been serving dozens of flavors of its homemade hard serve from this spot since 1982. Grab one of cones concocted by the Gannon family for the road; some of Gannon’s most popular flavors include maple walnut (brown sugar ice cream with walnuts) and butter pecan (complete with roasted and salted pecans).
From Gannon’s Isle, proceed down the Seneca Turnpike to U.S. 11/ South Salina Street, then make a right. As you leave Syracuse, you’ll pass Green Hills Farms, an independently owned grocery store that began as a farm stand on this road in the 1930s. You’ll soon enter the Onondaga Nation Reservation, one of the five original nations of the Iroquois Confederacy of Native Americans who settled across New York State centuries ago. The Onondaga are the “People of the Hills” – a fitting name as the terrain begins to change before your eyes as you enter the Central New York countryside.
Proceed onto Interstate 81 South towards Binghamton as it winds its way through rolling hills and past farms and country roads. If you’re in need of a pit stop on the way down, make it the Byrne Dairy convenience store off of the U.S. 20 exit in Lafayette, which sells milk and ice cream from the iconic nearly century old Central New York dairy company.
It would be easy enough to follow the interstate all the way down to Binghamton – but you’d be missing out on some of the heart of Central New York. Instead, exit at Preble, and follow N.Y. 281 South for six miles, past the Anderson Farm Market (run by five generations of the same family) until reaching Bob’s Barbecue (5290 NY-281, open seasonally). The open-air stand surrounded by a park-like setting with picnic tables and a pavilion is one of the only eateries that sells Central new York’s signature food, the salt potato, every day of the week. Served with butter and topped with salt, these salt potatoes stand apart on their own, and also make a fine side with the stand’s pulled pork, brisket and BBQ chicken. (See Syracuse section for more on the salt potato.)
Continue on N.Y. 281 South for another mile, then make a left onto Clinton Street and proceed onto U.S. 11 South in the village of Homer, which features an impeccably preserved business district seemingly out of a time capsule. This community hearkens back to a simpler era, from its longtime retailers (The Village Food Market has been there since 1888, and Homer Men and Boys since 1951) to the stately 19th century homes that line its streets and a central village green with a gazebo.
On your way out of Homer, make time for the Central New York Living History Center. Themuseum features a series of exhibits that showcase the region’s rich industrial, agricultural and military heritage, including collections of antique tractors and Brockway trucks made locally for more than 60 years.
Continue on U.S. 11 into Cortland, a city of 18,000 anchored by the State University of New York college bearing its name. Recharge at Coffee Mania, a local drive-thru coffee chain that roasts its own beans and operates its flagship location (160 Port Watson St.) inside a converted vintage Hess gas station. And step inside Gilded Age opulence with a tour at Cortland’s 1890 House museum, the preserved and restored Victorian mansion of wealthy industrialist Chester Wickwire that’s also a stop on New York State’s Haunted History Trail (ghost hunting experiences outside of normal operating hours are available upon special request.)
Follow U.S. 11 South until reconnecting with Interstate 81 and continue towards Binghamton for another 20 miles. Exit at Whitney Point, then proceed on N.Y. 79 east as it winds its way along the Tioughnioga River for another 16 miles until reaching an off-the-beaten path gem in the countryside that will satisfy any sweet tooth. Windy Hill Candle Factory, Home of Candyland, features aisle after aisle of thousands of vintage candies seldom found elsewhere, from Necco wafers, wax lips and Mallow Cones to Fireballs, Bazooka bubble gum, Lemonheads, Sugar Daddys, Pez and Pop Rocks. Owner Larry Marano first started selling homemade candles at this shop a quarter century ago, then expanded into candy during the 2008 recession.
Head back in the other direction on N.Y. 79, then continue straight onto N.Y. 369 and follow it to Interstate 88 (one of Binghamton stops on the trail, Beer Tree Brewing Co., will be on your right.) Continue on I-88 West until it merges into Interstate 81 South for the final few miles of the journey into the city of Binghamton.