Ithaca, N.Y. — The Moosewood, the vegetarian restaurant in downtown Ithaca that gained worldwide fame after its launch in 1973, has reopened this spring under new ownership.
But it’s still connected to its past: The new owner is Danica Wilcox. She’s the daughter of Kip Wilcox, a founding member of the Moosewood Collective, which operated the restaurant and helped pioneer the concepts of “plant forward” dining and farm-to-table cuisine in the 1970s.
The Moosewood, located in the ground level of the Dewitt Building at 215 N. Cayuga St., reopened at the end of March after being closed for several months during renovations.
It will keep it focus on a vegetarian menu, but with renewed emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and some innovations, Danica Wilcox said.
“We’re trying to adapt, reimagine and introduce Moosewood to a new generation,” said Wilcox, who is running the restaurant with her partner, artist Nicholas Woods.
“The menu has often included fish throughout the years – which we may reintroduce – but our focus right now is to highlight the beautiful produce, grains, dairy and wine available in our region,” Wilcox said in a news release. “The first new menu celebrates authentically vegetarian cuisine.”
The menu includes longtime Moosewood favorites like its Fudge Brownie, Spanakopita, and Poached Pears with pistachios. New seasonal dishes include a Rosemary Crepe with local Japanese sweet potato, red quinoa, roasted leeks, gruyere and lemon bechamel and a Spicy Coconut Curry with local sweet potato, rutabaga, romanesco, and turnips, served with a cashew daikon raita.
There’s also a locally sourced New York State Cheese Board and a cocktail menu featuring spirits from Finger Lakes area distilleries. It also serves a collection of New York state wines.
The restaurant is moving from a diner-style service plan to one that is a “more elevated, fining dining approach,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox, who owned a design store and art gallery in Spain for a decade before returning to Ithaca, is also changing the decor a bit to reflect the original “Deco-era” design from the early ‘70s. It features Shaker-style wood furniture, modern lighting and artworks created by Woods. The Moosewood has both indoor and outdoor seating.
The Moosewood has about 40 employees, several of whom have been with it since the start. Both host Ned Asta and chef Sara Robbins have been at the Moosewood for 50 years.
In those decades, the Moosewood’s reputation grew not only from its food and service, but from the many cookbooks it inspired. The original, The Moosewood Cookbook, was written by original collective member Mollie Katzen, She went on to a successful career with other cookbooks, while the collective produced more Moosewood books of its own.
Wilcox plans a new cookbook for 2023, in recognition of the restaurant’s 50th anniversary. It will include recipes, and stories about the Moosewood’s enduring influence on the “vegetarian lifestyle.”
“The reach and reception of the cookbooks have been incredible over the years,” Wilcox said. “While some are out of print now, there’s always interest and inquiries on social media for recipes, so we’d love to pick up the momentum again.”
And Wilcox is ready to bring momentum to restaurant itself.
“I grew up in the Moosewood kitchen. It is my home,” she said. “Taking ownership of the restaurant is important to me as I have a legacy to uphold. We intend to take the restaurant back to its roots, restoring the original values that made Moosewood special while also refreshing the menu and dining experience.”