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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
Food for Thought
By Walter Siebel
Special to the Times
Fork Rating Key
5 — Fabulous — Don’t miss it
4 — Excellent
3 — Good
2 — Fair
1 — Not worth it
The “fork” ratings are based primarily on food quality and preparation, with service and atmosphere factored into the final decision. Reviews are based on one unsolicited, unannounced visit to the restaurant.
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Food for Thought

Smuggler’s Cafe a good midday hideout

First published: April 20, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: April 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm
Smuggler's Cafe

OGDENSBURG — Smuggler’s Café, located at Hosmer’s Marina in downtown Ogdensburg, was a little difficult to find, but worth the effort.

The café is on the Oswegatchie River where it empties into the St. Lawrence. It was a beautiful spring day as we traversed the back streets of downtown Ogdensburg on our quest for the marina. Big piles of dirty snow left over from the long winter didn’t exactly paint a picturesque portrait of the area.

But there it was, Hosmer’s Marina, a big blue building on the shores of the churning Oswegatchie. There wasn’t a boat in sight — on the river or in storage — that we could see as we walked around the exterior. And nowhere was there a sign for Smuggler’s Café.

However, inside most of the space was devoted to the restaurant — plenty of café tables, a fully stocked bar with sturdy stools, high-top tables lining the windows facing the river.

It was a little before noon and Andrea was getting the place ready for the day, putting her cash drawer in place, getting the specials from the kitchen crew and doing whatever you do to the QuickDraw machine to rev that up for the day.

We grabbed a high-top to take advantage of the view of the river. Andrea presented the menu, laden with cutsie nautical-themed categories like “seaweed” (for salads), “waterfront wraps,” “paninis from the pier,” “boorlegger’s burgers” and so on.

We began with something from the “galley grub” section, the café’s soup of the day, vegetable beef ($2.50/cup).

It was served steaming hot, chock full of potatoes, celery, carrots and sizeable pieces of meat swimming in dark, hearty broth. There was more than enough for two to share. It was just a touch too salty for our liking, but other than that, delicious and satisfying.

Time for some seaweed. We got the B.L.T. salad ($7). Andrea explained that it’s a larger version of their Caesar salad (romaine/Parm/croutons/dressing) with the addition of bacon and tomatoes.

The bacon was really good — wonderful, large, meaty pieces. The romaine was crisp and fresh. A choice of dressings was offered; we went with the homemade Caesar, creamy with just-right seasonings. Croutons were crunchy and tasty.

This salad for one could have easily served two — no skimping on ingredients here.

Under the panini category, you can order a half panini with choice of cup of soup or side of homemade fries for $5.50.

We got the turkey apple panini (turkey/provolone/Granny Smith apple/cranberry mayo) with fries. It was a good-sized half sandwich, nicely grilled with plentiful, flavorful ingredients. As promised by our server, the fries were hot and crispy.

So often, “homemade” fries tend to be soggy. It’s all about the type of potato used and the temperature and cleanliness of the oil they’re cooked in. The kitchen nailed this one.

A tuna wrap ($7) was also nicely done. Tuna salad, made with white albacore tuna and good quality mayo, was wrapped with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and the perfect amount of red onion to not overpower. The flavors in the garlic herb wrap served to further enhance what could have been an ordinary lunch choice, but in this case was quite special.

We ended our lunch with … what else? ... dessert!

Throughout lunch, we had been eyeing a sign touting “Homemade Cupcakes by Melissa Baker.” Melissa, we found out, is quite the baker. She makes fancy cupcakes for the restaurant, reasonably priced at $2.75 each.

Her “turtle” cupcake was a killer, a delicious, moist, almost sponge-like chocolate cupcake was topped with whipped cream drizzled with caramel and chocolate.

Another with butterscotch frosting was equally good, the same chocolate cupcake with a tasty topping that was more creamy than butterscotch-y, but totally yummy.

Lunch for two came to $27 before tip.

Andrea was great, always smiling, always accommodating. The restaurant has been open for about a year, she told us. In the summertime, they set up tables with umbrellas and patio chairs by the river for outdoor dining.

We were favorably impressed by Smuggler’s Cafe at Hosmer’s Marina. We think you will be, too.

Walter Siebel has been part of the Northern New York restaurant scene for more than three decades, cooking in restaurants from casual Adirondack eateries to fine-dining establishments, and lending his culinary talents to numerous charity events. You can contact him at wsiebel@wdt.net.

Smuggler’s Cafe at Hosmer’s Marina

54 East River St.

Ogdensburg, N.Y.

393-3324

www.hosmersmarina.com

A nice little café on the shores of the Oswegatchie River in downtown Ogdensburg

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday

10 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday

Contact them for expanded summer hours

OUR PICKS: Vegetable beef soup, B.L.T. salad, turkey apple panini, albacore tuna wrap, Melissa’s cupcakes

RATING: 3½ forks

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11 North Bar & Grill the out-of-the-way place to be

First published: April 13, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: April 11, 2014 at 1:12 pm
11 North Bar & Grill

PULASKI — Located on Route 11 between Sandy Creek and Pulaski, 11 North Bar & Grill doesn’t look like much from the outside.

It appears to be an old, rundown house with a hodgepodge of additions. The siding consists of cedar shakes that look like they’ve been painted with that gray paint you put on a cellar floor.

The interior is another story. The bar/lounge area has been updated with lots of knotty pine. The tabletops look like they’re made from huge tree trunks, big slabs of wood with a gloss finish. It’s clean and rustic-looking.

If you’re a fan of guitars, they’ve got a collection of Fender and Washburn beer logo solid body electrics lining one wall. There are several flat-screen TVs in the bar area and a pool table in an adjacent room.

There was one bartender on duty, doubling as a server. The lunch crowd was pretty sparse, so she was able to handle both chores without a problem.

The menu is quite extensive for a little out-of-the-way place. Deep-fried starters, wings, soups, chili, salads, burgers, pizzas, hot and cold sandwiches, subs and wraps, and for the evening crowd, a dozen fish, meat and pasta dishes.

It took us a few minutes to digest the lunch menu, so to speak. We spotted a gem hidden in the fried food area, simply listed as “portobello mushrooms” ($7.50).

A quick quiz of our server revealed that it’s a large portobello mushroom topped with roasted red peppers and melted Swiss cheese. Bring it on!

We knew it had to be made from scratch (as opposed to the rest of the freezer-to-fryer starters). The large mushroom cap was quickly broiled, then topped with diced roasted red peppers and a good amount of Swiss, then back under the broiler until the cheese reached its gooey goodness. It was quite tasty.

We noticed a prime rib sandwich special on the board when we entered. That usually means there’s leftover prime rib in the kitchen that needs to be used up. So we figured the soup of the day, vegetable beef ($3/cup), was probably a product of the excess rib-eye, so we went for it.

Lots of beef, but light on the veggies — a few cut up string beans, some diced potatoes — in a broth that could have used some more beef base. Actually, the addition of some carrots, celery and onion (mirepoix) in the stock would have helped a lot.

French onion soup ($3.50/cup) was good, also homemade, we assumed. Again, the broth was a little weak, but we were impressed that they offer French onion in a cup portion — most places only offer it in one size, a standard crock. And they dressed it up in full battle garb, the cup being finished off with the traditional crouton and golden melted cheese on top.

With such a wide selection of sandwiches, it was difficult to choose. We decided on a Philly cheesesteak, a Yuengling-battered haddock sandwich and a teriyaki chicken wrap, all priced at $9.50, as are the majority of their sandwich offerings.

The Philly was good, as we expected it to be. We found out that the husband and wife owners are originally from the Philadelphia, Pa., area where the now famous Philly cheesesteak originated back in the 1930s.

It’s made with shaved rib-eye, sautéed onions and green peppers, and occasionally mushrooms and melted American cheese. This version was quite authentic, right down to the Amoroso roll.

Amoroso is a bakery in Philadelphia that has been in business since 1904. It is considered the standard for a good Philly. Local restaurant supplier Renzi Brothers Inc. in Watertown supplies 11 North with the Amoroso rolls.

What cheese to use on a Philly is another cause for debate. American and provolone are most popular, but some say that Cheez Whiz is used in Philadelphia restaurants that make authentic cheesesteaks.

Bottom line, the cheesesteak we had was mighty tasty, the roll was big and the fillings were plentiful. The cheese had disappeared by the time the sandwich arrived at the table from the heat of the meat, but the taste was still there.

The Yuengling-battered haddock also was served on an Amoroso roll. The batter was very good, light and crispy. The fish was cooked just right, resulting in a flaky interior. It was presented with lettuce on the roll, with tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon on the side.

The teriyaki chicken wrap was a real winner. They diced up grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, green peppers and grilled onions, threw in some shredded Swiss, hit it with a not-too-salty teriyaki sauce and rolled it all up in a wrap.

A little messy to eat, but what great flavors!

Deep-fried thick-cut potato chips came standard with the sandwiches, a crisp and tasty product. Traditional french fries can be substituted for an additional $2.50.

There are no homemade desserts, our server confessed to us. She listed the commercial products that they offer, but we decided not to order dessert. We were pretty full at that point, anyway.

Lunch for three came to $52.92 before tip.

Our server was pleasant and helpful, refilling our beverages several times. She delivered our food at a relaxed pace.

For future reference, the beer list is quite extensive, with over 30 beers, mostly familiar domestics. The wine selection is more limited, with Barefoot being the most recognizable offering.

During the winter, 11 North Bar & Grill is a popular snowmobile stop. Hopefully fishermen and locals will continue to support this out-of-the-way restaurant in the warmer months. They offer live music most weekends.

The landmark for the restaurant is the sprawling F.X. Caprara Ford dealership north of Pulaski on Route 11. The restaurant is a stone’s throw from there.

TIDBIT

In last week’s review of Tailwater Lodge, we noted that the restaurant was closed on Saturday. That is incorrect. It is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday as well as Friday, and from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Walter Siebel has been part of the Northern New York restaurant scene for more than three decades, cooking in restaurants from casual Adirondack eateries to fine-dining establishments, and lending his culinary talents to numerous charity events. You can contact him at wsiebel@wdt.net.

11 North Bar & Grill

5233 Route 11

Pulaski, N.Y.

298-5858

www.11northbar.com

An out-of-the-way bar/restaurant with an extensive menu that includes pizza and wings, soups and salads, burgers, sandwiches, subs and wraps, and for the evening crowd, a dozen fish, meat and pasta dishes.

HOURS: Noon to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday

Noon to 11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday

Nnoon to midnight Friday

11 a.m. to midnight Saturday

Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday

OUR PICKS: Portobello mushroom with roasted red peppers and melted Swiss, Philly cheesesteak, Yuengling-battered haddock sandwich, teriyaki chicken wrap

RATING: 3 forks

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‘T’ stands for Tailwater, and ‘terrific’

First published: April 06, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: April 07, 2014 at 8:55 am
Tailwater Lodge

ALTMAR — This has got to be the best-kept secret in the north country.

The abandoned Altmar Elementary School was purchased by a Syracuse-based property development company and transformed into a luxurious upscale hotel and convention center.

Tailwater Lodge is a 42-room, 42,000-square-foot facility that opened in February. The multimillion-dollar fishing resort features a classy, upscale restaurant and bar, large meeting rooms and hallways with former classrooms retrofitted into hotel rooms.

It’s less than 10 minutes from Pulaski off exit 36 on Interstate 81. Head east on Route 13. When you enter Altmar village limits you can’t miss the unmistakable 85-year-old school building on the left.

The exterior is slightly modified with a large, green drive-under veranda that immediately suggests you’re at a remote Adirondack-style lodge. Inside, the suggestion is confirmed: Common areas are filled with leather chairs and fur rugs. There’s a classy front desk area and a fly-fishing shop filled with high-end clothing and gear.

The resort manager, Nick Miller, took us on a quick tour of the facility. One of the rooms set up for tours was spacious and modern: featherbed mattress covers, Chinook bedspreads, large flat-screen TV; a bathroom with tile, granite and glass. The modern yet casual style completely fits the concept.

Then there’s the old gym-auditorium, now an area that contains a bar, lounge, restaurant and conference rooms. Directly behind the gorgeous horseshoe bar is the old stage, outfitted with a handcrafted, rustic wood pool table and dart boards surrounded by leather seating. We were stunned by the beauty and work that went into this space.

The lighting is warm and the leather bar seats were inviting, so we decided to start there with a before-dinner drink. Kim, our bartender, was friendly and informative.

We were pleasantly surprised with the selection of craft beers on tap and in bottles: Harpoon UFO, Dog Fish Head 60 Minute, Syracuse Pale Ale, Southern Tier 2XIPA, Middle Ages Swallow Wit, Ithaca Brown Ale and more.

There was an upscale liquor selection, too. We tried Crown Royal Black, bolder, darker and more robust than regular Crown Royal, and 90 proof rather than 80. A very healthy (I’d say double) pour with a touch of Coke cost $10. A Balvenie 12-year-old single malt Scotch on the rocks, an equally generous pour in a large rocks glass, went for $12. Both were easily worth the price.

The dining area is next to the bar, separated by a row of birch trees. At the end of the area there’s a stone fireplace with a very large flat-screen TV above with more leather chairs and couches.

The menu could be summed up as comfort food with a gourmet touch. Brittnea, our server, was totally knowledgeable about the menu and able to make intelligent recommendations.

Ordinarily onion rings would be kind of ordinary, but Tailwater’s Southern-fried onion rings ($6) proved to be excellent, a buttermilk-crushed garlic batter fried to crispy perfection, served with Tabasco-herb mayo. They were crisp and light and melted in your mouth.

Lump crab fritters ($9) were Pabst Blue Ribbon/lemon battered and came with a yummy spicy sage remoulade. The bite-sized balls had a generous amount of crabmeat. They were soooo good.

Their smoked fish spread ($7) had great flavor from the house-smoked haddock, served with lemon, capers and dill. Toasted crostini accompanied. The portion size was perfect for the four of us to share. This dish was a standout, and a great deal for the price.

The chef creates a grilled flatbread pizza ($9) each day. We enjoyed his Utica greens flatbread, a lovely crust topped with the Utica original made with wilted escarole, hot peppers, prosciutto, grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs plus the addition of ricotta cheese. Very tasty.

The chef, we learned, spent five years at the Genesee Grand Hotel in Syracuse, another property owned by the development company, before taking over the kitchen here.

Garden salads were included with our entrees. Dressings are all made in-house. For an upcharge of $2.50 we ordered a Caesar salad that came with a really neat Parmesan cheese crisp.

One of Brittnea’s favorites, fried chicken ($17) sounded so ordinary, but the chef’s version was extraordinary.

A boneless breast and a thigh were house-brined, resulting in moist and tender meat, and triple breaded, a crunchy coating similar to the onion rings. The sides — maple collard greens, garlic mashed potatoes and a warm cornbread muffin with local honey — were simply spectacular.

A generous portion of meatloaf ($15) was sliced and spread on the plate with a tasty red wine gravy. Crisp-tender grilled asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes completed the plate. Great upscale comfort food.

Grilled shrimp pomodoro ($19) consisted of five jumbo shrimp sauteed with sliced garlic, oven-dried plum tomatoes, olive oil and white wine, fresh basil and asiago cheese, set over angel hair pasta. Very good!

Braised beef ($16) was served in a large bread bowl. The slow-cooked sirloin was fork-tender, served in a rich rosemary beef gravy with fingerling potatoes, celery, onion, carrots and peas. The bread bowl made for a top-notch presentation. Again, wonderful upscale comfort food.

We were offered the choice of two desserts made from scratch: crème brulee ($6.50) and a peanut butter tart ($6.50).

The lemon mint crème brulee was excellent, rich and tasty, garnished with a sliced strawberry and fresh piped whipped cream. The PB tart was equally good, a rich chocolate top layer emblazoned with the Tailwater’s distinctive “fishhook T” logo.

Dinner for four with tax but excluding tip and drinks came to $124.02. Quite reasonable and more than fair, we thought.

From start to finish, Tailwater Lodge was a wonderful experience, we all agreed.

The staff was relaxed and attentive, never pushy. The surroundings were awesome and the food was excellent.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

TIDBITS

Tailwater Lodge is a property of the Woodbine Group, based in Syracuse. The conversion of old hotels and buildings is their specialty.

In Syracuse, the development company owns and operates the Genesee Grand Hotel, Parkview Hotel and Hotel Skyler, formerly a synogogue built in 1921.

The Skyler, on the campus of Syracuse University, is an eco-friendly and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) hotel.

The company believes the Tailwater Lodge will lure people in from across the Northeast to experience and enjoy fishing and outdoor sports on the Salmon River and nearby Lake Ontario.

There’s 1,700 feet of river frontage on the property. Plans call for building cabins on the grounds as well.

Walter Siebel has been part of the Northern New York restaurant scene for more than three decades, cooking in restaurants from casual Adirondack eateries to fine-dining establishments, and lending his culinary talents to numerous charity events. You can contact him at wsiebel@wdt.net.

Tailwater Lodge

52 Pulaski St.

Altmar, N.Y.

298-3434

www.tailwaterlodge.com

Tailwater Lodge is a 42-room, 42,000-square-foot resort that opened in February in the abandoned Altmar Elementary School.

RESTAURANT HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Closed Sunday and Monday

APPETIZER PICKS: Lump crab fritters, smoked fish spread, onion rings

ENTRÉE PICKS: Fried chicken, meatloaf, braised beef in a bread bowl

DESSERT PICKS: Crème brulee, peanut butter tart

RATING: 5 forks

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At Mike’s Pig Pen in Watertown, pulled pork and more

First published: March 30, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: March 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm
Mike's Pig Pen

The ad in the paper said “Look for the Huge Pink Pig on the Roof!”

That was a pretty good invitation to visit Mike’s Pig Pen on Outer Washington Street by the car dealerships, in the wedge of land backed by Watertown Center Loop road. Mike’s opened last summer in the building for years occupied by Harby’s Hots, an icon on that end of town for decades.

First impressions mean a lot. We were greeted by two smiling employees behind the counter. Ann Coburn serves up the soups and works the cash register; the owner himself, Mike Cornell, mans the grill and the fryer.

Totally renovated, it’s a bright and clean and tidy little place. There’s a lunch counter with a few screwed-to-the-floor round-seated stools where you can watch Mike work under the big exhaust hood, putting the finishing touches on burgers, sausages and hot dogs. Additional stools line the picture windows facing Route 11 and the restaurant’s expanded parking lot.

The simple menu is written on a white board: Hofmann dogs and sausages, hamburgers and cheeseburgers. Toppings are extra: peppers, onions, cheese, bacon and sauerkraut. For sides, hand-cut french fries and onion rings. There are usually three homemade soups. Beverages consist of soda, coffee, milk, iced tea, lemonade and bottled water.

The menu is the same each day they’re open, Monday to Friday. Pulled pork sandwiches are added Wednesday through Friday, fried haddock sandwiches Thursday and Friday.

We grabbed the only table in the place, right in the center of the room next to the neatly organized condiment counter, and placed our order with Ann at the counter. She served up the soups and Mike got to work on the rest of the food.

Tomato macaroni soup with beef was very good, thick with beef, thin on macaroni and a bit spicy. Lots of chunky tomatoes, too.

Bean and bacon, another homemade soup, was on the sweet side. Maybe a touch of honey mustard in there?

Both soups — decent portions, warm and hearty — were served in sturdy Styrofoam cups. Plastic utensils are found on the condiment table.

A cheeseburger with onions and peppers was mighty tasty. It must have been cooked just before we arrived, because it plated almost instantly. That’s the only way to do it if you want to get people in and out in a hurry during lunch hour.

Nothing wrong with that, except you can’t call your temp. While it was well done without a trace of pink, it was still very moist and tasted great — perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper. Good fresh bun, too.

We were all familiar with Hofmann’s German Franks and Snappy Grillers, but had never tried their Italian sausage. (For those of you who may not know, Hofmann’s is one of the oldest and most famous sausage companies in the U.S., based in Syracuse for over a century).

It was good — a pork sausage, not too sweet and not too hot, some Italian seasonings that we couldn’t identify, very flavorful. A side of hand-cut fries was a little soggy, a common trait with fresh fries, but had a true potato flavor. Ketchup comes from a pump bottle on the condiment table.

We added onions and peppers to the sausage. Mike dices and sautés them each morning before he opens, he told us.

Pulled pork was available the day we were there, a generous amount of shredded and sauced pork piled high on hamburger bun. This was good stuff! A side of homemade coleslaw was also a keeper, on the slightly creamy side, which is the way we like it.

Mike explained his process of slow-cooking the pork butt. He first seasons it with spices from Buck’s Seasoning, a company in Mallory, near Central Square.

After several hours he adds Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce and continues to cook it until it literally falls apart.

Sounds easy. Now I can make my own pulled pork! Maybe I’ll open my own pig pen somewhere down South where it’s warm when I retire.

They advertise homemade ice cream, but we didn’t try any. It just didn’t seem right on a day when the wind was howling and the snow was blowing sideways past the windows.

Lunch for three came to $37.93.

We all agreed that we’d return to Mike’s Pig Pen. It’s a nice, clean spot with a friendly staff and good homemade food.

They’re open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. All they do is lunch, and they do it well.

TIDBITS

My travels have taken me past Nolt’s Country Store on Route 812 just outside Lowville toward Croghan for years. I finally got to stop by a few weeks ago.

It’s a Mennonite family-owned store, specializing in homemade baked goods, fresh produce at great prices, bulk foods and spices, jams and jellies. They’ve got a good selection of all-occasion cards, kitchen utensils and cookbooks. Childrens’ clothing and sewing supplies, too.

It’s a big store (they doubled their space about a year ago) with an extensive inventory. Stop by next time you’re in the Lowville area. They’re open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.

■       ■       ■

I had the occasion to be in Saratoga Springs recently and revisited one of its iconic restaurants, the Olde Bryan Inn.

It’s a beautiful circa-1773 stone building. Lots of brick, stone and wood inside and out. Real wood fireplaces in several of the rooms. It takes you back in time with its ambiance and upscale comfort food menu.

We enjoyed the sesame ahi tuna presented over cucumber slices with edamame seaweed salad, French onion prime rib sandwich topped with melted provolone and Swiss served with onion soup au jus and a turkey panini with sweet peppers and pear slices on sunflower wheat bread.

Olde Bryan Inn is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Walter Siebel has been part of the Northern New York restaurant scene for more than three decades, cooking in restaurants from casual Adirondack eateries to fine-dining establishments, and lending his culinary talents to numerous charity events. You can contact him at wsiebel@wdt.net.

Mike’s Pig Pen

Route 11 (Outer Washington Street)/ 18938 County Route 165

Watertown, N.Y.

681-4027

A nice, clean lunch spot with a friendly staff and good homemade food, formerly Harby’s Hots.

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday

OUR PICKS: Tomato macaroni soup with beef, cheeseburger with onions and peppers, Hofmann’s Italian sausage, Mike’s pulled pork (available Wednesday through Friday only)

RATING: 3½ forks

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New life for the River Valley Inn in Lyons Falls

First published: March 23, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: March 24, 2014 at 8:15 am
River Valley Inn

LYONS FALLS — River Valley Inn is open again!

After a brief hiatus, this unassuming little restaurant is back in business, serving up a diverse menu that includes burgers, wings and nachos, but also crab-encrusted yellowtail grouper, beef tenderloin medallions and coquilles St. Jacques.

It’s a little difficult to find, tucked away on a side road 12 miles south of Lowville. Look for Burdick’s Crossing Road and the Valley Brook Drive-In, a good landmark for the turn to the River Valley Inn.

We arrived early on a cold, blustery late winter evening to an empty parking lot. Inside, the dining room and bar area are simple and sparse, but with several upgrades since a previous visit. The bar is now subtly separated from the dining room by a half wall and a set of hanging panels decorated in pastel squares.

We started at the bar in search of adult beverages. Megan was our bartender and half of the husband-and-wife team that owns and operates the restaurant. After she set us up with a round of drinks (a bottle of Saranac Pale Ale as well as Gallo pinot grigio and merlot from small single-serve bottles), we were able to visit with her, learning about the restaurant’s history, her chef-husband’s background and their dozen years of experience in the restaurant/hospitality business around the country.

Chef Andrew joined Megan behind the bar and we talked with him about food, its availability and preparation. Fun for the four foodies on this side of the bar who do their share of cooking at home.

Megan, now acting as hostess, invited us to pick any table in the spacious dining room, tastefully appointed with new wall hangings. We had evaluated the broad and ambitious menu while we were at the bar, so with just a bit of fine tuning, we were ready to get the eating portion of the evening underway, beginning with appetizers.

Calamari ($9.99), hand-breaded and deep-fried to order, was a good place to start. Perhaps the fryer oil was not quite up to temp, resulting in the ringlets of squid being less than crisp on the outside and a little chewy on the inside. It was served with a rather tame horseradish aioli. Nothing special here.

Louisiana crabcake was a different story. We chose the 5-ounce version ($7.99). There’s a 10-ounce one for $12.99.

The crabcake was nicely hand-formed, with an ample amount of lump crabmeat, delicately seasoned to not overwhelm the subtle flavor of the crab and perfectly cooked to a golden brown. No need for improvement here; just plain delicious.

Florida fried gator tail ($11.99) was obviously imported since alligators are hard to find in March in Lewis County, especially with the ground still covered with snow.

These little breaded and deep-fried nuggets were probably dropped off by their restaurant supplier, a commercial freezer-to-fryer product. While none of us really knew how alligator is supposed to taste, we did enjoy the breading and, had we not known we were eating gator, it could probably have been … chicken.

Soup du jour was roasted red pepper and Gouda ($5.99/bowl). It was hearty and full-flavored with a rich red tone, and just thick enough to have some real substance without being too heavy. The creamed red pepper base was nicely balanced by the smoky Gouda cheese, making it absolutely yummy on a cold night.

Side salads were included with the entrees, served with a choice of standard bottled dressings as well as house-made Caesar or the house dressing, strawberry pecan vinaigrette.

The salad vegetables were fresh, cold and crisp. Lots of flavor in the strawberry pecan vinaigrette, but a lot of sweetness too, resulting in what seemed like preserves masquerading as salad dressing. Half joking, we thought they should put the vinegar back in the vinaigrette and save the strawberries for dessert.

By contrast, the Caesar dressing was perfect, a solid rendition of the favorite, making for a very satisfying selection.

Warm, delicate and doughy white rolls were served with the salads, standard fare, but very good just the same.

Entrees were chosen from a range of beef, pork, chicken, pasta and seafood dishes.

The RVI’s version of osso buco ($18.99) adopted a Far Eastern theme and strayed quite a way from the Milanese classic. It featured a 22-ounce volcano-shaped pork shank, an accepted and affordable substitute for the classic veal shank.

It was plated to appeal to the eye, sauced with a Japanese orange barbecue sauce, sweet and smoky at the same time, and finished with sesame seeds. The meat was totally tender, as the menu boasts.

Hey, if a little smoky barbecue sauce and some sesame seeds make an Italian favorite turn Asian, that’s OK with us, but a little confusing at the same time.

Homemade gnocchi, potato dumpling pasta, was served with a choice of sauces. We went with standard red sauce. The gnocchi dish is base priced at $11.99, but various add-ons are available. We chose veal, making our entrée weigh in at $20.99.

It was an appealing-looking dish, the gnocchi tossed with thinly pounded, bite-sized pieces of sautéed veal and the red sauce, enveloped with a blanket of melted mozzarella.

The pasta was light but a bit mealy to the bite. The sauce was thick and on the sweet side. The flavor of the veal was lost in the sauce, but we should have known better and just gone with the plain gnocchi dish.

The chef’s choice “steak of the week” was as good as it gets outside of a big-city steakhouse. Chef Andrew outdid himself on this lovely and generous cut of delicious rib-eye, seasoned perfectly, totally tasty and cooked perfectly to our request of rare. A superior offering and one of the highlights of the night.

The curiosity award goes to the seafood scampi ($18.99).

The seafood was plentiful — large shrimp and scallops dredged in flour, sautéed in butter and white wine, dressed with a lemon velouté, served over al dente capellini pasta.

The sauce was not the traditional butter/oil/garlic/parsley that you expect when you see “scampi.” It was more like a white sauce, and we couldn’t taste the lemon and it was entirely devoid of garlic. The sauce didn’t hurt the seafood; it just didn’t do anything for it.

Desserts were a sweet showcase, headlined by “The RVI” ($4.99), a big goblet containing a double chocolate brownie, a layer of peanut butter, several scoops of ice cream and super-sweet strawberry preserves, topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Enough calories to make any weight watcher shudder.

Chocolate mousse pie ($3.99) appeared to be a commercial product, but that didn’t really matter; the mousse was light and airy and it a very good dessert.

Carrot cake ($3.99) was made fresh the day we were there by our bartender/hostess and, did I mention, our server as well? It was authentic and wholesome, complete with gooey cream cheese frosting.

Dinner for four, not including tip and drinks, came to $140.82.

Megan’s service was good and attentive, certainly considering the sparse dinner crowd, approximately 20, including us. Several guests stopped by via snowmobile and frequented both the bar and the dining room.

River Valley Inn is an ambitious effort with young, hard-working owners who aim to please. They are to be commended for providing good food in a remote, almost frontier, location. Locals, snowmobilers and campers can find hospitality, attention to detail and a wide variety of offerings year-round.

Walter Siebel has been part of the Northern New York restaurant scene for more than three decades, cooking in restaurants from casual Adirondack eateries to fine-dining establishments, and lending his culinary talents to numerous charity events. You can contact him at wsiebel@wdt.net.

River Valley Inn

6670 Burdicks Crossing Road

(County Route36 toward Greig)

Lyons Falls, N.Y.

348-4480

An unassuming little restaurant in a remote location offering a wide variety of food and drink, warm hospitality and attention to detail.

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday

OUR PICKS: Crabcakes, roasted red pepper and Gouda soup, Caesar salad, chef’s “steak of the week,” Asian osso buco, carrot cake

RATING: 3½ forks

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