You guys know I have a thing for bacon. Maybe that's an understatement, but please stop judging me. It's not nice! I loved the bacon braised collard greens that came with my fried chicken at the Tailwater Resort, near Pulaski, but the 2015 Best Bacon was at Maestro's in Saratoga Springs. Maestro's pork belly with barley risotto and crispy fried onions was unctuous, savory, earthy and utterly luxurious.
I always like to award a best surprise, because face it: sometimes local restaurants change our minds for the better. Once in awhile, a place you thought was just OK will come out with a dish that knocks your socks off, or you'll be dragged to a place you had written off, only to be pleasantly impressed by your meal. That was the case with my Best Surprise of 2015, Lampy's in Endicott. I had three bad experiences with service and food at Lampy's years ago and had simply taken it off my list of places to dine. But a work dinner was planned there recently, and everything, from having two servers, to fantastic, spicy, garlicky pickles made by our waiter, to the absolutely flawless braised lamb shank over earthy, nutty Parmesan risotto that I had as my main, was great. I stand corrected, and I'm back to liking Lampy's!
So that's it, kids. The best of what's around, at least as far as this big mouth is concerned. I'm going to take a little break now from blogging, to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, and maybe revisits some of these awesome restaurants! Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to every reader who has stuck around all year to see what I've been up to in my culinary tavels. May tidings of comfort and joy come to you, Hungries! Happy Holidays!
I have a wee obsession with Kate Middleton/Duchess Catherine of Wales. Part of that obsession includes stalking her appearances though various fashion blogs, and Kensignton Palace's Instagram account, which revealed to me last year that Kate had done a special pottery pattern with British company Emma Bridgewater. Whilst perusing that brand's website, I discovered its Black Toast line, which combines British cheek with fun and functional serving pieces. I haven't bought any yet, but I want to. I'm willing to bet you can find a piece in this line to make anybody on your gift list smile. Check out the entire line at emmabridgewater.co.uk
Keeping right on the housewares track, my handbag and jewelry fave, Kate Spade, has been making chic tableware for a while, but it's always been kind of higher priced. This year, the line has debuted some more affordable items, like melamine travel coffee mugs and feminine, fun coasters, plus kitschy kitchen towels, glam notecards and an adorable recipe book. Pick something like this up for the fancy ladies in your life, and don't worry about breaking the bank. You can get them on Katespade.com and Macy's.
I've read this online magazine called Good. Food. Stories. for years. When its editor, Casey Barber, started mentioning that she was writing a whole cookbook solely on pierogies, I knew I had to have it. The master dough recipes are the keys to the whole book, and are super easy to create at home. The next ones I'm making are the French onion soup pierogies, topped with crispy Parmesan frico. God, just writing about that makes me drool, you guys. I actually won this book from my friends at Go Fug Yourself, but you can grab a copy on Amazon. It's only $20!
A restaurant focused on seafood seems … unlikely to succeed in a landlocked locale like Norwood. I have this general rule about eating seafood solely near the shore. But on a recent visit to The Lobster House, about 100 cars clogged the parking lot of this north country institution that’s been cranking out hearty dinners since my parents were newlyweds. That's a good sign.
Inside, despite the large dining room and hordes of guests, the space was restful, hushed and homey, with artwork depicting wintry scenery lining the pale green walls.
Our party of five settled right into a circular table in the center of the action with a round of very reasonably priced cocktails and a basket of The Lobster House’s much-lauded cheesy biscuits, lightly crispy on the outside and tender and steamy on the inside — the tastier, more finely crafted cousin to the biscuits you may have had at a certain national seafood chain restaurant.
Stuffed mushrooms ($7.99) were positively jammed with a breadcrumb and crabmeat mixture and drenched in enough gooey, melted mozzarella cheese and garlic butter to make my more health-conscious readers blush. They were baked in that highly seasoned butter, to lift the earthy, woodsy mushrooms and sweet crab into a very decadent territory.
Coconut shrimp ($6.99) were large, plump and perfectly cooked, the shrimp sheltered inside deeply golden, sweet coconut shreds and served with a slightly sugary, slightly sour, fruity dipping sauce. Our waitress led us to believe these were battered in-house, which I can’t guarantee, but they certainly had more flavor than your typical frozen coconut shrimp — and dunked in the sauce, they were crowd-pleasers at our table.
Clam chowder ($3.99 a cup) was deeply flavored and rich, the cream and fat brightened by celery and fresh parsley. One diner found it to be too salty and inferior to the lobster bisque ($3.50 a cup), which was quieter in flavor. I found that broth silky, creamy and accented by the zing of Old Bay spices, but with not much lobster running through it. I prefer bisque finished with sweet sherry, and this version was lacking that flavor, so the chowder won the day, for me. This is why I bring other mouths with me - everyone likes different things!
Homemade dressing on a Caesar salad was a bit on the piquant side for me, with a squeeze too much of lemon juice and not enough egg and Parmesan in the mix. But the romaine was crisp, the croutons crunchy, and the diner who ordered it as his starter was pleased. Apparently, he can handle the sharpness of lemon juice better than I can.
Shrimp scampi ($15.99) could have been as buttery and garlicky as the mushrooms, but instead I found this entrée surprisingly light, full of fresh, sweet shrimp flavor. The garlic butter sauce was plentiful but not heavy, and the sautéed veggies served with the shellfish were crisp-tender and well seasoned. A squeeze of lemon here was well placed and brightened up the flavors even more.
The same shrimp came with the Triple Play ($25.99), along with a tender, petite lobster tail and chateau tenderloin, a steak cut from the tenderloin filet of beef. It was cooked medium-rare and was perfectly juicy and very well seasoned — an uncommonly good steak for a combo platter and a very upscale trio of proteins for just $26. The Lobster House seems to be a place where hearty portions are doled out for fair prices, which may explain the packed parking lot.
I was less enamored of the baked rigatoni ($13.99), which was an equally generous portion, but composed of those stuffed, frozen pasta shells crimped uniformly at the edges. You know the ones, they come in a bag from the dreaded food distributor. Plus, the cheese blanketing the top of this baked dish was not browned or bubbly — just a swath of white. I think we can all degree that when faced with topping a dish with cheese,browned and bubbly is the right going to do, yes?
The pasta was cooked correctly and avoided being gummy, but I found both the tomato sauce and melted mozzarella to be bland. However, the diner who ordered this entrée loved it, describing the marinara as extremely tomato-y. Different strokes, you know? Again, this is why I bring friends to dinner!
The maritime platter ($17.99) was bursting with seafood: fried clams and shrimp, plus scampi and broiled white fish. I found the clams tasty, with a burst of shellfish brine and a crunchy cornmeal coating, but the fried shrimp tasted like breading only — the shrimp flavor was completely lost in there. Again, the diner who ordered it loved everything, noting the flaky, fresh fish and the shrimp among her favorites. Maybe we were just an agreeable bunch that night.
The stuffed lobster ($26.99) was a beautiful, whole-creature presentation splayed across my plate in majestic style. Before anything else, this thing was a feast for the eyes, and I don’t even mind putting that cliché down for you all to read.
The crabmeat stuffing was redolent of celery, bell pepper and rich, sweet crabmeat, but there was almost too much of it — my palate wore out quickly from the sheer amount of this opulent dressing. The lobster itself was no slouch, weighing in at 1½ pounds and with lots of tail and claw meat, but it was just a tad overcooked and therefore really tough. It’s always a pretty good deal to eat lobster, but this could have been done a bit better.
A baked potato served on the side was fluffy and cooked perfectly, dressed up with butter and sour cream, a delicious, tangy and earthy break from the heavy crab stuffing. Yeah, I get that a butter- and sour cream-laden spud should not qualify as a break from anything.
Desserts were all straight from the food distributor, and we were full anyway, so we skipped this course in favor of heading south a half hour earlier.
The crowd here was as varied as the menu: Everyone from date-night college students and very casual families to larger groups dressed up for a special occasion were tucking into the big plates from the big menu.
One of the things I really liked about The Lobster House was the higher-end food served without the fuss of fine dining. No white tablecloths here — just grab a fork and dive in.
I give The Lobster House an eight on the Big Hungry scale. While not every dish was executed absolutely perfectly, the value and portions make up that point, and our waitress, Ashley, brought it home with her attentive and good-natured service.
I absolutely understand why this is a destination in St. Lawrence County. Any member of your party will find a dish on this menu. Indeed, we didn’t even manage to order one of the eight chicken dishes offered, and we barely made a dent in the pasta and beef entrees! Our dinner for five, with four adult beverages and two appetizers, totaled $154.89, a fraction of what it would have cost in just about any city in the country.
So head to Norwood and bring your appetite! The Lobster House may not be near the sea, but it has your seafood fix on lock. Landlock, you know?
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