4.08.2015

Watertown Daily Times Review: Mullins Family Restaurant in Gouverneur,NY

When you cook at home, you slice vegetables; you cram the ingredients you like into soup, even if the recipe dictates smaller amounts; you turn up the music if you like the song; you slice your roasted turkey as thick as you like. 

When you go out to eat, you might expect the cook to cut some of those corners — maybe he’ll make a superb broth, but dice the potatoes small, and dish out only so many per cup; perhaps she’ll use a slicing machine to achieve uniform, deli-thin slices of meat for your sandwich. Many restaurants troop out words like “homestyle” or “housemade” on their menus but fail to take the care with their food that you display in your kitchen when you’re cooking for your loved ones.

This is not the case at Mullins Family Restaurant in Gouverneur, where husband-wife co-owners Dan and Tina are churning out every plate full of food so obviously loved and fussed over, you can’t help but taste the welcome. 

The sizeable building on Gouverneur’s Route 11 is split half and half between a massive, darkened bar, just beginning to warm up with a fun crowd at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, and the lighter, open dining room decorated with exposed brick, wood paneling and new light fixtures. A thoughtful accordion door between the two spaces shielded us from early strains of Toby Keith, but once the party was in full swing, we enjoyed the convivial atmosphere that bled through the screen.

Tina was our server, and my girl crush on her started right off the bat, when she gave us her true thoughts on the evils of reduced-fat cheese and commiserated with me over the trials of being on Weight Watchers. Her casual, friendly, fun demeanor never wavered, and her knowledge and pride in her husband’s hard work in the kitchen transferred to us nonstop throughout our meal.

Tina told us very frankly that the mozzarella sticks and coconut shrimp on the starter menu were freezer products, so we skipped those in favor of Dan’s two homemade soups that night. 
The seafood bisque was heaving with finely diced fish and shellfish, subtly kissed with the sweetness of sherry, and finished with a buttery mouthfeel and flavor. 


The corned beef and cabbage soup, made with corned beef brisket that Dan had marinated, or “corned,” himself from scratch, was like liquid dynamite! That first bite was a salty, fatty, rich punch to my face. It’s a punch I would eagerly request again, too. I loved it. It was over-packed with big shreds of the tender, salty corned beef and chunks of carrots and potatoes still retaining a good bite, plus sweet cabbage cooked down so far, it almost helped thicken that buttery broth. 


Prime rib ($19.99 for 16 ounces) is available on Friday and Saturday nights, and again, the care these folks have for their food was evident in every bite. It was prepared simply, well-seasoned, but balanced — I’ve had prime rib in much fancier joints in which all you taste is rosemary, or garlic. This slab of tender, juicy, buttery-soft beef wasn’t overpowered by any single note, letting the taste of the meat sing. 


Its partner, au jus, was savory goodness, as well — again, remarkably balanced. Mashed potatoes were fine-textured, and a ladle of brown gravy to dress them wasn’t too salty, just smooth and well-seasoned. 

I’ve eaten a lot of hot turkey sandwiches. I am a total sucker for white-meat turkey, potatoes, gravy-soaked bread, gravy-soaked fries, gravy-soaked Shelby … er, excuse me. My fervor for gravy knows no bounds. 


What Mullins is bringing to the hot turkey sandwich ($7.99) game is significant — house-roasted whole turkey breast, real turkey gravy, hand cut fries. That turkey was juicy — you know why? Because it was sliced thickly, like you would do if you roasted your own bird and made yourself the most delicious sandwich you could with that succulent roasted poultry.

I’m going to crawl way out on a dangerous limb of the north country culinary tree here and make a pronouncement: Mullins just might have the best french fries in all of Northern New York. Now, I’m not going to definitely give out the gold medal yet, because I haven’t tried every fry in our tri-county area, but these were pretty dang fantastic, folks. Thick cut, lightly crisp, perfectly seasoned the second they departed their hot tub of oil, and dressed with just enough of that homemade gravy to make them drippy and delicious, but not enough to render them soggy or overshadow the potato flavor. Masterful. 

Beef tips with garlic butter and mushrooms ($16.99) was a much lighter dish than I expected from the simple menu description. Gorgeously tender, lean, thin slices of steak were sautéed with slices of baby bella mushrooms and a few hefty shakes of robust Montreal steak seasoning. Not greasy or overly buttery, it was served with hand-cut mixed vegetables, sautéed until crisp-tender, and seasoned with salt, pepper and butter. 


Let me repeat myself — those vegetables were hand-cut and sautéed in a pan with butter. Not microwaved, and not frozen, from a bag. You know how I could tell? Every carrot, pepper slice, and zucchini coin was irregular, and each one kept its natural texture and unique flavor. You might think I’m crazy to belabor a side of veggies, but I can’t even tell you how many kitchens regard the vegetable side as an afterthought. At Mullins, this dish was treated with as much respect as the proteins and soups, even though in no way will the restaurant make money from a side dish like that. 

A reader had written to me a couple months ago and recommended the baked potato at Mullins after I remarked that this side was scarce on modern menus. Thank you, kind sir, because my stuffed baked potato served me well for two meals! It arrived encrusted with golden brown cheese, cooked perfectly fluffy inside, and crowned with a little real chopped bacon and a couple of broccoli florets. Please note, that bacon did not originate in a jar, nor did the broccoli come from the freezer. Just like the majority of our meal, this was fresh food. 

When Tina came back to check on our drinks, we chatted her up about Mullins’s barbecue offerings, because even though we didn’t order any that night, we do love real, slow-smoked meats. We told her of my college days in rural North Carolina and our love of BBQ done right, so she brought us out a treat — a small scoop of pulled pork and a couple of ribs, on the house. 

My fellow diners loved the uber-smoky, unctuous pork, dressed in the housemade sweet barbecue sauce. I preferred the St. Louis-style ribs, slathered in that same sweet sauce, but with it a little cooked into the meat for a more concentrated, meat-candy sweetness. On a return trip to Gouverneur, I can’t wait to try Dan’s brisket — and Tina told us that for local fairs, they top those glorious fries with layers of pulled pork and coleslaw for about the most delicious BBQ parfait you could ever want. I’ll be dreaming about that dish for weeks!

With all the goodness we had already experienced, dessert was a must. Tina told us they’ve brought a new chef into their kitchen to help update the menu, and he was in charge of our first perfect ending: maple walnut bread pudding ($5). When I tasted it, I wanted to start a slow clap for this newcomer. Think of the most luscious, tender, gooey French toast you’ve ever had, swimming in real New York Grade A maple syrup. One diner declared, “This does happy things to me.”


Peanut butter ice cream pie ($5) was less bossy about its attributes, but still delectable — not too sweet, but anchored with a killer chocolate cookie crust. 


By the time we were moaning and groaning over our sweet treats, the party in the bar was really rolling, and we were swaying to the great mix of Jimmy Buffett and Brooks & Dunn floating through the space. A peek on the other side of the accordion door revealed several couples dancing, and many more enjoying a good time with their great food. You can tell Mullins is a community gathering place, and for good reason. 

Tina clued us in that Mullins is a Pride of New York restaurant, meaning they source their ingredients from more than 3,000 New York state farms and purveyors. The attributes of buying local resonate with me on several levels: Not only does it make sense from an environmental standpoint, but an economic one, too. When you source your products from New York state, I know that most of the money I’ve spent at your restaurant is contributing to the bottom line of families who are working hard right here at home to make excellent food. 

Portions sizes are appropriately hearty for a family restaurant here. There was probably 8 ounces of steak in the steak tips dish, and those cups of soup were filled to the brim. Dinner for three people, with two glasses of wine and two desserts, ran us $76.65, and that was with extras like sautéed mushrooms added to the prime rib and the upcharge for the stuffed baked potato ($2). 

The feeling isn’t fancy, but what you feel here, frankly, is a sense of home. Mullins is cranking out good food, great times, friendly service and a comfortable setting. I can’t say enough about how much appreciation I have for five-star service and thoughtful, crafted, homestyle food. Actually I can: I give Mullins Family Restaurant a nine on the Big Hungry Shelby scale. We should reward restaurant people working really hard to do it right, and Dan and Tina, who feel like old friends even though I just met them a couple weeks ago, are doing just that. You might order your steak medium rare, but I think you’ll find everything is well done at Mullins!

I'll be out of the country on business travel next week, Hungries, so I may not get a post up, but take heart: before I leave on a jet plane, I'm spending the weekend in Saratoga Springs! So you have two delicious reviews coming up from the Spa City when I return! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Mullin's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. A new restaurant opened in Morristown, n.y. called Ellas. It overlooks the St. Lawrence River. Great food. It would be worthy of a review. It's our favorite place.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A new restaurant opened in Morristown, n.y. called Ellas. It overlooks the St. Lawrence River. Great food. It would be worthy of a review. It's our favorite place.

    ReplyDelete