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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
Food for Thought is no longer being updated. Please visit our new food blog, Eater's Digest.

Cross the river to Riva for fine dining Italian-style

First published: May 04, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: May 02, 2014 at 10:42 am
Riva

GANANOQUE, Ontario — Gananoque is a little town with big dining possibilities.

It’s just a short drive down “the 401” after crossing the Thousand Islands Bridge. We’ve gone to a number of restaurants in the downtown sector and on the riverfront over the years, and we’ve learned to expect a level of culinary sophistication that you don’t often find in a north country town of the same size.

We were eager to turn our attention to Riva, a new, upscale Italian restaurant that opened this past fall in an old stone house that was home to the Golden Apple Restaurant, an institution in Gananoque for decades.

“Old Stone House” doesn’t adequately set the scene, because Riva’s owners (the same ones who own the upscale Ivy Lea Resort nearby) gutted and renovated the space so that the inside completely belies the outside.

You enter at one end of the building, an entryway that affords a view of the open kitchen to the right. Keep going down the wide hallway and you’ll pass the bar, in a separate room on the left, and finally, straight ahead is the expansive dining room.

The overall impression is of a high-end, beautiful, contemporary space. It’s done in shades of gray-green-blue, with gray ceramic flooring, whitewashed wood paneling on the walls mixed with restored original brick and massive rough-hewn beamed ceilings. Big windows. Big fireplaces. Cool sconces on the wall that looked like crumpled tinfoil.

We arrived without having reservations and were given a choice of a bar-area table or one in the dining room. We chose the bar, with its sturdy wooden tables, wide plank flooring, a realistic-looking gas fireplace and a polished black stone and metal bar. A framed picture of the original stone structure from the 1920’s hung on one wall.

Guests cycled in and out of the room, but we were among the only diners. Down the hall, the large, more formal dining room — with its more open, bright vibe — was pretty full. A number of casually dressed young servers, all wearing black Riva logo T-shirts, bustled around the busy restaurant.

Sarah came over to explain the specials and give us a tour of the menu. It was a typical fine-dining Italian menu, with the “primi” and “secundi” categories as well as “pasta” and “pizze” designations.

There wasn’t a lot of drinking going on in our room. Not one person was seated at the stylish bar. But we tried to make up for that.

A regional porter was good, if a little on the flat side. A red ale had decent body. The selection of wines by the glass is a little limited. The pinot grigio that we tried was a pleasant surprise — a bit effervescent and not overly tart as some pinot grigios can be. Wine is available in a 5-ounce or 9-ounce pour. Martinis and fancy cocktails round out the Riva beverage menu.

Food was next on our agenda. We decided to start with a pizza to share. From a selection of 10 fancy pies, we got the “funghi pizze” ($13) — wild mushrooms, mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmigiano and tomato pesto sauce.

The six-piece pizza consisted of a hand-tossed, thin, crispy crust with modest amounts of mushrooms and cheese over a layer of tomato sauce. If there was pesto in the sauce, it was undetectable. The slightly charred-on-the-bottom crust was a standout, crisp even in the middle. Overall, it was a very tasty pizza.

The “primi” selections included tempting starters like antipasti, aranici (fried risotto balls), wild mushroom crostini, caprese salad and one that we decided to share, “insalata alla cesare” — Caesar salad.

At Riva, it comes with something called “Seed to Sausage” bacon. That’s a brand of bacon made by a small artisanal charcuterie company in rural Ontario.

The salad consisted of a generous amount of crisp romaine tossed with a mild Caesar dressing, finished with shaved Parm along with big pieces of thick, smoky bacon. Rather than croutons, an oblong slice of grilled baguette was placed on top.

It was excellent! Why doesn’t everyone put bacon on a Caesar salad?

“Cozze ai Sambuca” ($13), steamed mussels in a Sambuca cream sauce with chili flakes and diced tomato, was outstanding. The sauce was just spicy enough and just slight Sambuca-ish enough so the anise flavor of the liqueur didn’t get in the way. A very tasty starter.

Our main dishes were all excellent, all with over-the-top presentations.

“Spigola scottato” ($25), European sea bass, was prettily plated with crimson-colored beet risotto and pink peppercorn aioli, the relatively flat filet carefully balanced over cauliflower florets, Brussels sprout halves and the risotto. A light green ring of infused olive oil surrounded the food on the plate.

Sea bass tends to be sweet, and the strong flavors of the vegetables worked well with it. The risotto was good; not quite as creamy as we would have liked it, but it did provide an eye-catching, solid base for the pan-seared, skin-on sea bass.

For those of you, like me, curious about European sea bass, it’s virtually the same as striped bass, only smaller. These fish are abundant and sustainable, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program that helps consumers and restaurants make healthy and intelligent choices.

“Pollo al carciofo,” at $25, tied for the most expensive entrée on the menu. It consisted of an “airline” or “frenched” boneless breast of chicken, skin on, with the drumette still attached, rolled around a filling of artichoke, spinach, roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese, wrapped with a thin slice of prosciutto and roasted.

The salty, slightly smoky prosciutto flavored the skin of the chicken; the skin in turn basted the chicken as it roasted, keeping the chicken moist around its spring-green filling.

The plate was painted with lines of balsamic reduction before the chicken was displayed with garlic mashed potatoes and a small portion — a garnish, really — of roasted vegetables: Brussels sprouts, a disk of roasted yellow beet and a wedge of carrot. A very tasty and subtly flavored dish.

“Vitello di Marsala” ($24), veal Marsala, was pretty straightforward. Thin slices of veal were lightly sautéed in olive oil with mushrooms, served with a very nice Marsala wine demi-glace. The veal could have been more tender, but the tasty sauce made up for it. The presentation was completed with wedges of roasted russet potato.

At the last minute, we decided to share a pasta dish. Pasta entrees are available in regular or reduced portions. Homemade gnocchi sounded pretty appealing, so we ordered the small portion ($13) that comes with short rib ragu.

Ragu is a rich, hearty stew made by braising a relatively inexpensive cut of meat with mirepoix (sauteed minced celery, carrots and onion), wine and stock for hours at low heat. The doughy gnocchi was a perfect counterpoint to the intensely flavored meat sauce. This was a dish of big textures and flavors.

Did we need dessert at this point? Of course not, but in our never-ending dedication to fair, accurate and comprehensive reporting, we ordered both of the desserts offered: chocolate gelato ($5) and olive oil sponge cake ($7).

How can you go wrong with gelato? We were served two scoops of deep, dark, delicious chocolate gelato.

The sponge cake was a whisper compared to the shout of the gelato, an inch-high slice of moist, slightly sugar-crusted cake, with a little dollop of real whipped cream, a little blob of strawberry coulis and a cute little “flag” of basil on top, a leaf deep-fried and lightly sugared that added a touch of whimsy to this little confection.

Dinner for three came to $134 in Canadian funds, plus $17.42 in Canadian taxes for a total of $151.42 before tip. With the current exchange, the bill came to $137.79 U.S. Our adult beverages were additional, as well.

Our server was new at the job, and with only two days under her belt she was understandably tentative at times but smiling and attentive. She had to turn to fellow servers to respond to some of our questions, but always came back with the right answers.

Our trip across the border was one we’d definitely make again, and we probably will this summer when they plan to open two outdoor seating areas. These will undoubtedly be as beautiful and created with the same attention to detail that Riva pays to the food and the indoor surroundings.

TIDBITS

After nearly 10 years of “Food for Thought,” it’s time to say goodbye.

My first “Food for Thought” column appeared in the paper in January 2005. Now, 486 restaurant reviews later, it’s time to turn in the chef hat icon for a real chef hat.

I have been asked to manage the kitchen at a new restaurant in Hannawa Falls, Jake’s on the Water. I will be working with three chefs and two prep cooks along with a number of hydro-porcelain technicians. (Nobody wants to be called a dishwasher, right?)

Months have been spent developing the menu for the owners, Marc and Chris Compeau. Mark is a local entrepreneur, successful businessman and good friend. We’re calling the cuisine “polished pub food.”

My decades of business experience at Northern Music & Video, combined with years of cooking in north country restaurants — casual to fine dining — have given me the tools and the confidence to help make Jake’s a success.

I know many of you will miss diving on the Sunday paper, pawing through the circulars and inserts to get to the Currents section to see what restaurant my team reviewed and how many “forks” it got.

I will too.

Thank you for being a faithful reader, thank you for your emails and thank you for all the kind words of support over the years.

See you at Jake’s on the Water!

You can contact Walter Siebel at wsiebel@wdt.net.

Riva

45 King St. West

Gananoque, Ontario

(613) 887-2487

www.rivarestaurant.ca

A new, upscale Italian restaurant in an old stone house that was home to the Golden Apple Restaurant for decades. Totally remodeled, totally impressive.

HOURS: Dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday

OUR PICKS: Insalata Cesare, cozze ai Sambuca, spigola scottato, pollo carciofo, gnocchi with short rib ragu, chocolate gelato

RATING: 4 forks

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German fare (not) like Nana used to make

First published: April 27, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: April 27, 2014 at 8:13 pm
Danzer's

SYRACUSE — There’s a German restaurant in Syracuse that I’ve heard about for years but for some reason I’ve never been to.

Danzer’s is in an industrial park on the south side of Syracuse, just a few minutes from Interstate 81 near Onondaga Hill. It has been at the unlikely location since 1946, serving up German as well as American cuisine.

Patti greeted us at the door with “Happy Friday.” She was about as non-German as can be, but full of energy and enthusiasm for her job as server and greeter. She did speak with a bit of a foreign tongue, throwing in words like “yiz” and “youse.”

Actually, it was Thursday (which she realized after I said “Is it Friday already?”) just before lunch hour, so we had our choice of seating. It’s a huge place! A big, long bar takes up a good deal of the center of the sprawling building. There are two private dining rooms on the left side of the restaurant and a variety of tables to the right side of the bar for open seating.

The walls are plastered with German bric a brac: steins, mugs, beer posters, travel posters ... that type of thing. Even a working cuckoo clock.

We chose a table by the front window with a great view of Case Kitchen Supply’s warehouse across the street. We had Patti’s full and undivided attention prior to the lunch crowd making its appearance.

We began with coffee, described by Patti as “hot and fresh, just like you.” Hmm. This was going to be a long lunch, I had the feeling.

The menu looked good. Lots of German food that I remember from my childhood. Sauerbraten. Schnitzel. Bratwurst and knackwurst. Liverwurst. Limburger and onions. Well maybe not that one.

Homemade German potato pancakes. German potato salad. Sauerkraut. Red cabbage. Potato dumplings.

Equal time (and maybe a little more) is given to all-American food: Hot sandwiches. Cold sandwiches. Grilled sandwiches. Burgers. Soups. Salads.

Things like BLTs, ham or turkey, grilled cheese, tuna melt, roast beef and hot pastrami. Chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, french fries, onion rings and chicken fingers, too.

While it was five o’clock somewhere, it was just a little before noon at Danzer’s. A little too early to partake in one of the beers offered on the table tent. One side listed all the popular domestics and a couple of area craft brews; the other side offered five German beers along with popular imports like Stella Artois, Guinness Draught and Labatt Blue.

For food, we pretty much stuck to the German fare. Danzer’s touts its potato pancakes, so we started there.

You get four of them for $6.95 or six for $8.95. We went with the small portion, which was not exactly small.

They’re described simply as “Fresh grated potatoes with just a touch of onion, pan-fried to crisp perfection with applesauce or sour cream.”

I was brought up in a German household. Nana Mayer came right off the boat. She and my mom used to grate potatoes and onion by hand on a box grater, put them in an old kitchen towel and squeeze out the moisture, add an egg yolk to hold it together and season them with salt and pepper.

The little blobs of grated potato mixture went into a frying pan sizzling with hot oil, got smushed down with a metal spatula, flipped over till golden brown on both sides, then drained on an old Gristedes brown paper shopping bag. (Gristedes was the popular supermarket back then, when I was growing up in the Bronx. It is still in business with a 100-plus-year history.)

Honestly … Nana Mayer’s were better. These were big, flat, eggy and underseasoned pucks of grated potato. More egg taste than potato. Not crisp by any stretch of the imagination. And they really needed some salt and pepper.

You’d think after 60-some-odd years of making potato pancakes they’d have it down.

Chicken schnitzel on a toasted roll ($9.75) wasn’t a whole lot different. It was a boneless breast of chicken dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, pan-fried and served on a roll with lettuce and mayo. The chicken was very tender, but the breading needed more seasoning … or something. And it really wasn’t very crisp.

The oversized portion of fries that came standard with it were crisp and tasty, however.

Bratwurst sandwich ($9) comes on your choice of hard roll or rye bread. Patti must have made the decision, because the spicy grilled pork sausage came open faced on a piece of rye that could have passed for pumpernickel.

The brat was good, with a nice snap. For 75 cents we took the sauerkraut upgrade. Good sauerkraut. And instead of fries that come with it, we substituted their homemade German potato salad, made with potatoes, bacon and vinegar and served warm.

The lunch portion of sauerbraten ($10.75) would have been OK, if you’d never had sauerbraten before. It consisted of four slices of eye of round over egg noodles with gravy.

The gravy was good, but more like basic pork gravy with some additional spices. The meat was tough as could be. Cutting it with a standard dinner knife felt like you were cutting it with a plastic knife. The noodles were fine, definitely not made in-house.

The meat used for sauerbraten is usually marinated with vegetables, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, vinegar and wine for several days. This tenderizes the meat as well as flavors it. The cooked-down marinade, with the addition of gingersnaps, becomes the foundation for the gravy.

Danzer’s sauerbraten was a poor rendition of the German mainstay. What should have been an intensely flavored traditional dish was akin to getting bland Mexican food at a Taco Bell.

Their Reuben sandwiches are a big deal, it seems. They devote an entire menu page to them, and there are just two versions, the “Big Reuben” and the “Big Red Reuben,” the only difference being that the Red Reuben is made with red cabbage rather than sauerkraut. Both are $10.95 apiece.

Both are made with the traditional corned beef, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on toasted rye bread, but the sandwich is presented open faced, which is not traditional.

We got the one with the sauerkraut. The rye bread appeared to be untoasted. The corned beef was on one slice of bread, sauerkraut and melted Swiss on the other.

Not exactly “piled high” as you would expect from an open-faced sandwich, but fresh and tasty nonetheless.

Dessert, their homemade apple strudel ($5.75), was wonderful. The pastry was flaky, the apples were firm, the spices were right and it was served nicely warmed.

Lunch for four came to $60.64 before tip.

Patti was full of energy, knowledge and witty comments. A little gruff at times, but she always made sure we had everything we needed and took a genuine interest in us. She’s a six-year veteran of Danzer’s and has spent nearly 40 years in the food service industry.

By the time we left, Danzer’s had a pretty good lunch crowd. It was obvious that many were return customers; several were greeted by name as they came through the door.

If you plan to visit, you’d better fire up your GPS. And unfortunately you can’t check out their menu in advance because they don’t have a website or a presence on Facebook.

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.

Danzer’s Restaurant

153 Ainsley Dr.

Syracuse, N.Y.

422-0089

Danzer’s has been in Syracuse since 1946, serving up German as well as American cuisine.

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday

11 a.m. 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

OUR PICKS: Bratwurst on rye, apple strudel. Be sure to try their sauerkraut. And you may enjoy their German potato salad.

RATING: 2½ forks

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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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