Reading Time: 5 minutes read
1st of August, 2015
We caught up to Christopher Bates—restaurateur, chef, Master Sommelier and vintner–at his Dundee New York establishment, FLX Wienery.
It was a perfect Saturday afternoon in the Finger Lakes, and the restaurant was doing a brisk business. Christopher was in the kitchen, slicing onions for the crispy, spicy onion rings. I’d made tentative arrangements to drop by and talk with him, but the place was so busy that I was sure he wouldn’t have time.
I was wrong. In between chef-ing and fielding phone calls, Christopher took the time to sit down and chat with us about food, beer, future enterprises, and his love for the Finger Lakes region.
Between them, Christopher and his wife, Isabel—who is the General Manager at FLX Wienery—have close to forty years of experience in the hospitality industry. Christopher owns the Element Winery in Arkport, NY, which he runs with his father, Robert Bates.
Not just a wine guy
What with his wine-intensive professional background and Master Sommelier title, you might think that beer and sausages would be strange direction for Christopher to go in, unless you’d been to the Wienery. Or seen his profile on the—necessarily wine-focused—Element Winery page, which mentions that, “Aside from his wine work and cooking, Christopher is equally obsessed with beer, distillates, cocktails, charcuterie and cheese making.”
No kidding. At first glance, the Wienery is a neat little place serving up fresh dogs, brats, burgers, and fries. That’s basically how the restaurant website describes it, too. But in addition to the laid-back atmosphere and super friendly staff, the Wienery is a legit foodie joint with an astonishing beer selection. They make their own sausages, bacon, and other charcuterie (for a look at what it takes to home-cure and smoke bacon, check out this Depraved Artist post), house ferment their kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles, and make ridiculously tasty fries and onion rings. Even the mustard is house-made. As Christopher put it, “We make everything but the hot dogs and buns, basically.” When asked if they make their own cheese, too, he replied, “Not yet.”
FLX Wienery opened in May 2014, about a month after the lease signing. In that time, they completely redid the interior, including hand-built furniture, transforming what had been a hots (local term for hotdogs) stand into a locavore hangout with a family-friendly vibe. Old-fashioned sodas, milkshakes, and such off-the-wall treats as deep-fried Snickers round out the menu, giving everyone something to look forward to.
On this particular visit, Ben and I each got The Kraut, a brat on a bun with brown mustard, fresh herbs, and topped with the best fried onions I’ve ever tasted. We also split an order of poutine, a classic Montréal dish that, while simple, takes skill to get right. I haven’t tried the fresh-ground burgers yet, but they sound amazing; especially the K-Town, which includes fried egg, kimchi, cilantro, miso mayo, and Korean BBQ sauce. The K-Town fries sound tasty, too.
Oh, yes. I am generally a fan of meat, but it’s only fair to mention that you can order your burger made from beef, chicken, or black beans. There’s a handy menu legend to let you know which foods are house-made, vegan, local, gluten-free, or vegetarian.
Christopher Bates is no stranger to being interviewed and written about in publications large and small, most of which have focused on his considerable gourmet and wine qualifications. But he also has an appreciation for the brewer’s art that shows in the FLX Wienery beer selection.
The draught list is short; only four beers. But, somewhat surprisingly, not one of them is local. Instead, Christopher prefers to showcase “beers from around the world” and other parts of the U.S., keeping the selection “always rotating, always different.”
On our last visit, Ben had a Garún Imperial Stout, an 11.5% ABV offering from Iceland; a bold choice to have on tap in the middle of summer. When I asked about it, Christopher explained that he always keeps a stout on tap, because it goes in their Oreo Stout Milkshake.
I went for the Molotov Lite, an 8% Imperial IPA from EvilTwin Brewing that is only ‘lite’ in comparison with its namesake—or the stout Ben drank. Draughts are served in wide-mouth canning jars, which made me happy because I could finally order an actual half-pint.
At the time, they had a Heffeweizen on tap (I don’t remember whose), which Christopher said he’d been enjoying quite a bit. And the prices are worth commenting on, too. As Christopher said, “the Beer program’s set up to be really reasonable.”
The same is true of the bottled and canned options, which, in many cases, cost the same or less than I would pay for them at a bottle shop. Among others, I spotted some bottles from Prairie Artisan Ales. Christopher loves the Bomb, another Imperial Stout, and said he’d been eyeing the Brett C., a strong Saison with Brettanomyces.
For you wine-drinking types, FLX Wienery has some impressive bottles on offer, which, like the beers, aren’t local. But in the spirit of shared community—and economy—the Wienery welcomes guests to bring bottles purchased from neighboring wineries.* “We try to keep wine and beverages central,” Christopher said.
Planted smack in the middle of the Finger Lakes Wine Trail, the Wienery is a place where the folks who work in the wine and tourist industry feel comfortable hanging out and bringing their families, rubbing elbows with out-of-towners. Unlike many local businesses, FLX Wienery doesn’t shut down for the winter. “People need a reason to want to live here in the winter,” Christopher remarked with conviction.
Speaking of winter, Christopher told us briefly about his plans to open a restaurant in Geneva, which will be four doors up from the Microclimate wine bar.
Christopher described the new place, which he hopes to have operational at the end of November, as a “smaller, high-end concept,” and with only 12 seats, somewhat exclusive. Christopher’s plans for the Geneva restaurant include a nano brewery (with himself as brewer) next to it, and doing co-op wine tastings. Being a college town, Geneva starts to pick up about the time that business in the rest of the region slows down, which should bode well for Christopher’s next venture. In the meantime, I’m happy to drop in now and then to eat Christopher’s excellent food and discover more curated beers at FLX Wienery.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Benjamin Wilson
“Brett C. Ale | Prairie Artisan Ales.” BeerAdvocate. Accessed August 27, 2015.
*Dowd, Bill. “Finger Lakes Winery Owner Now Wienery Owner.” Times Union, June 14, 2014, Dowd on Drinks sec. Accessed August 27, 2015.
“Garún Icelandic Stout NR.19 | Borg Brugghús.” BeerAdvocate. Accessed August 27, 2015.
“Molotov Lite | Evil Twin Brewing.” BeerAdvocate. Accessed August 27, 2015.
Disclaimer: No one paid for, or even requested, an endorsement of FLX Wienery. I just like them a lot, and figured you might enjoy reading about them.