Growing up in New Hampshire, Chef David Buchanan's mom would slice bacon she got from a neighbor down the road, and fry it up in a cast iron skillet. After the bacon was crisp, she'd swap it out for eggs, cooking them in the rendered bacon fat. Then, she'd toast slices of bread in the pan, and when it was all done, serve a hearty breakfast.
The same kind of satisfying food can be found at Woody's Café, a relaxed and unfussy breakfast and lunch spot that opened last winter in Canandaigua, with a menu and atmosphere reminiscent of a rural, New England kitchen. Woody's is co-owned by David, a classically trained chef, and his spouse, Liz, who also serves as manager.
The Buchanans have years of experience working in restaurants — David opened seven restaurants for other owners — in addition to running a catering business. Woody's is their opportunity to run a restaurant in the way they want: slow food in a comfortable space. Ingredients are largely organic and locally-sourced. The dining room is painted in fall colors, decorated with vintage dining sets and rustic art. The small, 10-by-15-foot kitchen has only eight burners, two ovens, a three-basin sink, and a refrigerator — no deep fryer, no griddle, no microwave. Everything but soup is cooked in or on cast iron, which holds heat, sears beautifully, but cooks more slowly than standard commercial cookware.
"I've done all the 'fancy' stuff," David says. "Now it's back to basics. We go through life at 90 miles an hour; it's way too fast. I want people to come here, slow down and enjoy the food."
The food at Woody's is uncomplicated and earnest. Half of the menu features rotating specials, made with what's in season, and some are only available for a day. I'm still bummed that I missed out on the warm cheddar and apple cobbler with whipped cream; all the slices sold out before noon. But I snagged the last order of seared Andouille sausage and chicken poutine ($12), a Saturday morning special. At its base were home fries: cut like French fries and cooked in cast iron with bacon fat, resulting in potatoes that were tender with bits of crispness. Both meats were thinly sliced and smoky; the sausage had a touch of snap and chew, with a lingering spice, and the chicken had a mellower texture and flavor. Yancy's Fancy cheese curds melted into long strings under a bed of deeply-flavored gravy, beefy and redolent of onions.
The other half of the menu is mostly static, and includes skillet grilled cheese, sausage gravy over cheddar biscuits — and the best French toast I have ever eaten ($7, or $10 with two eggs). It starts with English muffin bread from Rise and Shine, a white bread with a medium-tight crumb. Thick slices soak for hours, sometimes overnight, in a bath of beaten eggs, Pittsford Farms heavy cream, a touch of sugar and vanilla, and fresh ground cinnamon. When an order is up, David cooks the saturated bread in a pool of butter, so much so that the bread starts to taste like brioche. Cooked slowly over low heat, the outside becomes golden crisp but stays tender and custardy inside. Served with a side of Everson's pure maple syrup, it's the kind of breakfast to make you close your eyes and groan with pleasure.
There are two things to know about Woody's. One: Woody's is committed to making a low-impact on the environment. Food and drinks are served on compostable paper goods. According to David and Liz, this allows them to help enrich the local farmland while preventing chemical-laced dishwater from running off into the Canandaigua watershed.
And second: the restaurant is located in a strip mall next to Vision Nissan, a place I never thought could successfully support a cafe. But new customers come in every day, existing customers keep coming back, and Woody's first farm-to-table community dinner sold out in 4 days, so it looks like the location is doing just fine.
"Everything we do is carefully thought about, including our location, music and atmosphere," Liz says. "We leave a small footprint and serve really beautiful food."
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