WELLESLEY ISLAND —“Joey's” is history. After six years of providing upscale Italian dining at the historic Thousand Islands Club, the popular Syracuse-based restaurant, Joey's, is not returning this season.
Instead, T.I. Club owners Mike and Julie Chavoustie have taken over management of the food and beverage operation. They've hired experienced chef Michael Madsen to run the kitchen and execute a totally new menu. Julie, along with family members, will oversee the front of the house.
Chef Madsen comes to the Thousand Islands with impressive credentials. He has worked at world-class resorts in Florida and the Caribbean, was employed by top-notch hotels in Europe and has appeared on the syndicated TV show “Great Chefs of the World.”
At the same time, the expansive property has undergone a million-dollar transformation. It appears that no expense was spared to revitalize a tired old building and restore it to its luster of yesteryear.
Elegant stone walkways and classy signage guide guests to the new entrance at the end of the sprawling structure. A brand-new bar and lounge are now centrally located toward the front of the building. Dining rooms have been remodeled from top to bottom with faux tin ceilings, neutral-colored walls and attractive carpets.
Chef Madsen has created a menu with appeal to both the well-heeled residents of Wellesley Island and casual boaters renting dock space in the well-maintained, Chavoustie-owned marina on the river side of the Club. He has incorporated some of his award-winning signature dishes along with other original, inspired appetizers, salads and entrees.
A stop at the new bar was in order. The horseshoe-shaped bar is well stocked with beer, wine and liquor and is so well designed you'd think it was part of the original building that was constructed almost 100 years ago. We were capably served by a young bartending team, one returning for his second year at the club and a very competent gal new to the restaurant since it opened a month ago.
It was a beautiful, warm summer evening, so we chose to eat on the expansive outdoor patio overlooking the pristine marina and the St. Lawrence River.
Our waitress was Brenna, another newbie with a good attitude and an infectious smile. She had obviously received good training, had a good knowledge of the menu and knew how to pour wine properly in the new one-size-fits-all stemmed wine glasses.
We began with appetizers, including an appetizer-sized salad and a chilled soup.
Gruyere and tomato casserole ($9) was excellent, a generous portion that would suffice as an entrée for a light eater. Soft, white beans were mixed with heirloom tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic and kalamata olives, baked with a breadcrumb topping and garnished with a large, round Gruyere cheese crisp in the top.
Calamari steak ($12) is one of the few items carried over from Joey's. It's a slab of center cut meat from a large squid. Hard to imagine that at one time the lowly squid was used for bait before someone breaded it and deep-fried it and renamed it calamari.
Anyway, this block of fish is pounded, breaded, fried in butter and olive oil, finished under the broiler with Asiago cheese and sauced with marinara. It wasn't as greasy and garlicky as the Joey version. However, the marinara sauce had turned a dark red, as though it may have sat under a heat lamp too long.
Adult mac and cheese ($13) was very tasty, with a nice combination of grown-up noodles, River Rat cheddar and lobster meat you could actually see. A touch of white truffle oil added a unique taste. Adult ID required. Kidding.
We loved the gazpacho soup ($5), a chilled puree of tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and garlic with a bit of a kick. Presentation was stellar: It was served in a margarita glass, the rim decorated with minced parsley and a chilled shrimp hanging from it.
Ever had a compressed watermelon salad ($6)? It was a new one for us.
Slightly frozen cubes of bright red compressed watermelon were set over a bed of arugula touched with vinaigrette and garnished with goat cheese and thin slices of red onion.
To compress watermelon, thick slices of seedless melon are sealed in a vacuum bag to extract moisture, then frozen and cut into cubes. The watermelon resembled large dice. Amazing!
We shared a Margherita flatbread ($12), fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil baked with a thin, crispy crust, finished with Parmesan. It was good but not overly exciting and not served very warm.
There was a considerable wait for our entrees. A party of 24 arrived shortly after us, and it appeared our entrees were fired and served along with theirs.
Colorado lamb rack ($34) was excellent, one of the dishes the chef prepared on “Great Chefs of the World.” It features a crispy Dijon-hazelnut crust, a framboise (raspberry) demi-glace with fresh raspberries, Anna potatoes (similar to scalloped potatoes) and fresh vegetables that included asparagus and summer squash.
Pancetta-wrapped filet mignon ($31) was a lovely piece of beef tenderloin, close to 8 ounces, we guessed, served with a Cabernet reduction, parsnip puree and the same great, buttery Anna potatoes.
It was served medium-well rather than the medium-rare we ordered, a little disappointing.
The shrimp and scallop entrée ($27) made up for any shortcomings of the filet. Large shrimp and plump diver scallops were pan-seared along with lentils, Asian vegetables and candied walnuts, finished with soy cream and served with “forbidden” rice, a trendy black organic rice from China.
This was a to-die-for dish. The seafood was cooked absolutely perfectly. The sauce was terrific, subtly flavored with seafood base.
Grilled ahi tuna ($29) was served exactly the way it was intended to be served— rare! The beautiful piece of fish was quickly seared and served over a noticeably salty bed of white beans, capers, olives, red onion, cherry peppers, fennel and arugula.
The combination of flavors would have been just right except for the over-seasoning. Brenna was sharp, and offered another entrée when we replied to the “how was your dinner” question, but we declined. We just wanted the kitchen to note the problem so it would be corrected for future guests.
Pasta dishes are available in dinner and appetizer portions. We got the full-sized lobster ravioli portion ($22), large, house-made ravioli filled with lobster and scallops, served with a Cognac lobster sauce and garnished with chives and crispy leeks.
The sauce tasted like it had a touch of seafood base making it a little too salty. But the crispy leeks were really neat, very thin strips of leek coated with seasoned flour and flash-fried.
Throughout the meal, we watched nearby tables being offered dessert “shooters,” an assortment of three-bite desserts served in oversized shot glasses. So when Brenna approached with the tray of shooters, we were ready.
They're $2.99 each and perfect for satisfying the sweet tooth without going overboard. The peanut butter shooter was OK, if you're a peanut butter lover. The tart rhubarb pie shooter was even better, and how could you not like the one made with velvety chocolate mousse?
From the regular dessert menu we tried the key lime pie ($6) which was excellent, an authentic recipe straight from the Florida Keys made with a graham cracker crust and topped with raspberries.
Dinner for five came to $231.66 before figuring in wine and tip.
Speaking of wine, they've really put together a great wine list with a nice variety of price points and representations from around the world. Maybe a little light on New York state wines, but that was OK with our table. We enjoyed a La Crema Chardonnay from California and a Ruffino Classico Reserva from Italy.
After dinner, we got to play with an iPad that listed the wine selections along with descriptions and food pairing recommendations.Pretty neat. It's still in the trial stages but will eventually be made available to diners. You can also make instant reservations at the restaurant from your computer or smartphone via the Open Table program on their website.
The Thousand Islands Club has long been a favorite summer place for many, and with its revitalization and new restaurant, it's even more special. The Chavoustie family should be proud of their hard work, investment and vision.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thousand Islands Club
21952 Club Drive (four miles east of the T.I. Bridge)
Wellesley Island, N.Y.
There's a new restaurant at the newly renovated T.I. Club, owned and operated by the Chavoustie family. Michael Madsen is the executive chef.
HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Monday
Lounge open at 4 p.m. for drinks and snacks, last call 11:30 p.m.
STARTER PICKS: Gruyere and tomato casserole, adult mac and cheese, chilled gazpacho, compressed watermelon salad
ENTRÉE PICKS: Colorado lamb rack, shrimp and scallops, grilled ahi tuna
DESSERT PICKS: Key lime pie, any of the dessert “shooters”