My crew and I descended on the Harbor Hotel in the windy, frigid, slushy mess of a winter's day and beheld for the first time one of my Watertown Daily Times reviews framed in the lobby. In the lobby! I'm a little verklempt about it.
We proceeded into the ballroom expecting to see all of Clayton's (and maybe some of Alex Bay's) great eateries represented. Sadly, only the Thousand Islands Inn and the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel were offering savory dishes! Nothing from Bella's Bistro, Channelside, Wood Boat Brewery, Attilio's Pizzeria, or Clipper Inn. You know how some towns roll up the sidewalks at night? I guess Clayton actually just rolls them up for the entire winter. Sad face.
Luckily, the Thousand Islands Inn brought it, via Gabe's Taco Kitchen, which I reviewed here last summer. Gabe not only brought the yum but also brought his chef buddy Andy Wehrle, from Bella's Bistro, for double the tiny taco pleasure.
Gabe's Rachael taco was overfilled with the most juicy, tender roasted white meat turkey I have ever eaten. I suspect there was confit prep going on with that poultry, and I shudder to think what that will do to my weigh-in tomorrow at Weight Watchers. Then he went right ahead and gilded that lily with a pile of tangy bacon-laced sauerkraut that avoided the sharpness commercial krauts have and stuck to a savory, salty pop of flavor to offset the luscious turkey. A sprinkle of Swiss cheese melted into the tortilla was required, but was balanced with a final drizzle of the original 1000 Islands dressing, which was invented at the hotel. The dressing added sweetness to each bite, and a creaminess that tied together the tang and salt of the other ingredients. This taco may have only contitued three bites, but they were a concerto in my mouth.
My second favorite was a sweet offering from The Gal's Place, which is on Rt 12 in Alex Bay. Gals is a catering venture, and they were offering chocolate cupcakes with wine frosting. Yeah, you read that right.
For all you frosting aficionados out there who also consider wine your salvation, this cupcake was invented for you. The cake avoided too much richness with a not-too-sweet cocoa flavor, and was very moist. The frosting was lightly sweet and fruity, with none of the heavy sugary flavor that regular old buttercream has. I want these for my birthday this year! You know, when I turn, uh, 27.
The host hotel was serving up little bowls of chili, which seemed like maybe a bit of an after-thought, as if the organizers realized they only had one real savory dish at the party, and begged a line cook to whip this up on the day of. I thought the chunks of carrot in the thick chili were novel, but the predominant flavor here was just dried chili powder, and I didn't taste the care and creativity I discovered at the Harbor Hotel's Seaway Grille anywhere in that bowl.
The Scoop, in Clayton, is a favorite of our Miss TI Pageant crew. We grab coffee, ice cream, and breakfast pastries there every summer during pageant weekend next door at the Opera House, and everything is always good. I liked the thin slice of carrot cake I grabbed from their table at the event, which had fabulous spice, but my Mom really went nuts for the chocolate chip cookie she had. She liked it so much, she used another ticket to get a second cookie! I didn't dare snag a bite from her eager maw, but I assume the lady knows of which she speaks.
1000 Islands Cruet opened last year on James St in Clayton, selling olive oils of many flavors as well as fun and delicious vinegars. At Taste of the Town, I sampled their cranberry pear vinegar, and I will be buying a full bottle next time I'm up north. This light, piquant vinegar had none of the bitterness you'd associate typically with the condiment, and read more like a slightly viscous, sweet wine on the palate. It would be epic on a fruit salad. When my bread was gone, I simply drank the rest out of its diminutive cup.
At River Rat Cheese, we tried a tiny square of chocolate cheese, which had the texture of room temp mild cheddar but the flavor of fudge. Lyric Cafe brought white chocolate caramel shakes which my Dad liked but was pretty meh for me - I just tasted vanilla. We were glad we went - that taco and the wine frosting completely made my $5 worth it, but I hope more seasonal places decide to shake off hibernation and participate next year!
If you're a Southern Tier resident and a foodie, you should know about STIR. Southern Tier Independent Restaurants (STIR) was formed by a bunch of local restauranteurs who believe, as I do, that people need help to learn that the good stuff is at local restaurants, and chains are deteriorating our culinary landscape. I started my blog with the hope that I could convince a few people that a place like Remlik's is more suitable for an anniversary dinner than Red Lobster. But it's hard for these small business owners to afford the kind of marketing that national chains achieve - and that marketing works, right? We see these sizzling, gigantic platters of food on our TV late at night, and we want that. Sure, the food never actually looks like that once it's in front of us and it tastes even worse, but by then it's too late, they've got us.
STIR member restaurants pool their resources to advertise locally and hold events that increase their visibility to the community. The first of these is coming up on Sunday, March 15 at Traditions at the Glen. You can snag a STIR VIP membership card for $25 at some member restaurants, which not only grants you a spot at this event, with tastings from 20 local eateries and six cooking demos, but will also garner discounts and special offers. Basically, if you want to be a food insider in the Triple Cities, you need a card. Here are the restaurants where you can purchase the cards:
Food and Fire BBQ
Zona and Co Grille
Mogul Fine Indian Cuisine
Loft at 99
Traditions at the Glen
Galaxy Brewing Company
But guess what? I'm a board member of STIR. As such, I have an extra card, and I would love to give a membership to someone who promises to support local restaurants and food people. So comment below before Monday, March 2 with why you love local restaurants, and you might win! I'll make sure to get your card to you before the big event so you won't miss out. And I'll see you there. Even if you don't win, please get yourself a membership! I know this group has lots of delicious things in store for our community, and a STIR VIP card is the best way for you to be a part! My hunger is big, my personality is bigger!