1.03.2012

The Allure of a Neighborhood Pub

It is a blessing and a curse that Shawn and I don’t live on Flower Ave West in Watertown. A blessing, because I like our house and we don’t work in Watertown. A curse, because A) It’s my second favorite street in Watertown after Ball Ave, and B) People who live on Flower Ave W just have to cross the street to eat at Ives Hill, whereas we live in the country and it’s more than 10 minutes in any direction for me to enjoy a well crafted meal that didn’t spring forth from my own two hands.

My parents and I hit the bar side of Ives Hill Friday night for a long-anticipated dinner, and found most of the residents on Flower Ave W whooping it up in the spacious, high-ceilinged space. Now, my parents actually live close enough to Ives Hill that they can walk there anytime, but seeing the true locals crowding the tables by the windows had me waxing jealously all night about how if Shawn and I lived across the street, we would be there every single night and I could stop cooking. Heaven! We would most likely also be ten years nearer to liver failure, but that’s another matter. I have a feeling my parents will be walking to Ives with some frequency this summer season, because our meal was not only outstanding, but affordable, and the atmosphere and ambiance were warm and just raucous enough for fun.

The impetus for sampling the lounge menu at Ives was our dining room dinner there last summer, which we enjoyed immensely, and during which we saw tray after tray of delicious-looking bar food transverse the room. Seven months later, the bar food was equally appetizing. We sat right at the bar, where our first round of drinks was cheerfully brought to us by Barkeep Andy, and immediately settled on fried pickles as our appetizer. Please note, Southern Hungries: we tend to get our fried pickles up north in a different format than you do. Whereas you get the little dill chips, fried up super crispy with a bit of cornmeal in the breading, we tend to get dill spears and a more traditional bread-crumb coating. The Southern version of this delicacy is at its pinnacle at The Penguin, in Charlotte, NC, and while the adaptation at Ives Hill is vastly different, it is no less addictive. These dill spears were coated in a deliciously crisp, dark brown breading with no hint of greasiness, and served with one of the best ranch dressing dips I’ve ever had. The creamy, herbaceous ranch just had to be homemade. I will say a crisper pickle would have elevated this snack even more – these were a little mushy inside. But we devoured the plate in record time, and all commented on the great dressing.


In a pickle

For years, I have heard my parents wistfully remember Dante’s pizza. I believe this joint existed on the North side, and to hear them tell it, all of the angels in Heaven conspired with Lucifer himself to create this best.pizza.ever. Well, guess what? Ives Hill still has it, right there on their lounge menu, replete with pizza MVP pepperoni. So, you know, I ordered it. And I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t know if it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had, but the spicy, premium pepperoni, hand-stretched dough, light as air tomato and earthy mozzarella were pretty damn good.


I also liked the brown, bubbling cheese; undercooked pizza is a personal pet peeve

Mom went for the turkey and avocado burger, which shocked me. I don’t ever remember her ordering a turkey burger before. Way to step out of your comfort zone, Mom! And she loved it. Bursting with fresh flavor, the burger was juicy and delicate, not overpowered by its slice of swiss cheese and sheltered perfectly by a yummy hard roll. The hand-cut fries that came along for the ride were kind of a big deal. They actually tasted like potato! I know that sounds nuts, but sit there and try to remember the last time you ate a fry that tasted like actual potato. I bet you can’t. They were deep brown, earthy, perfectly salted russet wonders. Yum.

I wish the turkeys pecking around in my backyard last week would magically transform into this burger at my command


Dad picked the black and bleu burger. Good choice. The little wedge he sliced off for me was like getting a birdie on the 17th hole (is my golf metaphor right?): huge flavors of smoky beef and funky gorgonzola cheese balanced out with fresh slices of onion and tomato. This didn’t taste like a pre-packaged, pre-made-, pre-formed burger. It tasted like something you’d handcraft at home, if you really cared about burgers: robust, spice-dusted, grill-marked, adorned with bubbly bleu cheese that competed with, but didn’t outshine the smoky beefiness of the patty.


Cowabunga!



This is what a happy burger eater looks like

Despite the fact that we were sitting at the bar, Andy let us know we could order off the dining room menu if we so chose. It’s also worth noting that while there was live music and the noise level was high, eating dinner at the bar didn’t make us feel conspicuous at all. On the contrary, it was very homey and comfortable, with cloth napkins and more than attentive service. And one of the fun features of sitting up there is watching the goings-on up and down the bar – while Dad and I were happy with our beer and sauvignon blanc, respectively, Andy was mixing up some pretty serious cocktails back there, including a raspberry concoction he called a vampire martini. The granite bar top and gracious fireplace on the opposite wall make the lounge at Ives Hill feel cozy and just slightly upscale – exactly the kind of place at which you want to become a regular. Oh man, I want to become a regular.

The three of us locked eyes as I paid the very reasonable check (around $50 for two beers, two wines, a soda, appy and three entrees) and agreed that the lounge at Ives Hill is an eight on the BHS scale. Honestly, if the speakers had been just a hair lower so we could have talked more easily, it would have been a nine or 10. The singer they had was fantastic, but just a little loud for our ears to take. I have a feeling my parents will become new regulars here, and I encourage my Big Hungries to try it out – you won’t be disappointed.

Before I leave you this week, I just want to remind everyone in Big Hungry Nation that BHS t-shirts are now available. Why wouldn’t you want to look this good?:


Big Hungry Beauties

They are $25, and easily available if you message me here or on Facebook. So when you’re trolling the great state of New York this summer for treats and eats, you can be sporting your hunger right on your chest! Cool, right?

BTW, let the joyous news be spread, spring is trying really hard to come to Sackets Harbor! Behold:


Springtime for Sackets

And with it, a new locale for artisanal microbrews and associated foods:


Hops Spot: Coming Soon

Wanna meet me there when this place debuts? My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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