A Breakfast Odyssey

Picture it: a cold, sunny Sunday morning, just after Thanksgiving. My parents and I hop in the car, hungry, looking for a blog-worthy breakfast. We drive over to Adams Center, hoping to knosh at The Depot, only to find that former gem shuttered once again. Hopeful, we stop into Pearl’s Pastry Shoppe, right next to Café Mira on Main St., but they don’t serve full breakfast. Back in the car again, Mom recalls hearing about somewhere that might be good in Sandy Creek, and we venture on, but she can’t remember the name, and a drive through the main drag reveals nowhere promising. Finally, peaked and cranky, we roll into Pulaski, and the journey darkens when Dad chooses Ponderosa and neither Mom nor I have the cognizance to object.

Love this tagline

There is a very good reason that most of you reading this won’t have eaten at a Ponderosa since childhood. That reason being: they don’t serve actual food there. The breakfast buffet was almost unspeakably disgusting. The eggs were powdered, the bacon precooked and packaged, the fruit, canned, and the syrup, made with corn, not maple. I think you know I’m happy to while away calories on junk as long as that junk is grounded in real food, but this was inedible. I’m ashamed to admit I wasted several plates of “food” just trying to find something I could eat more than one bite of before getting completely grossed out. Even the coffee was terrible. Yet the place was packed – a sad commentary on our society, as Pulaski used to have several good breakfasts joints and now seems to only sport this grease shack and Dunkin Donuts, across the street. As Americans, we need to stop accepting processed food-adjacent crap and demand better food, whole food, real food.

Luckily, at Pearl’s Pastry Shoppe (God, I love the extra “pe” on the end of that word), we had been wise enough stock up on donuts, brownies and other treats, so after my one-bite sampling of the safer looking Ponderosa offerings that still left me ravenous, I was able to enjoy a maple bacon donut. That’s right. At a tiny bakery in Adams, NY, someone is embracing the hog and making maple bacon donuts. Guess what else? They’re selling individual slices of bacon, enrobed in lovely milk chocolate. For those of you who still wrinkle your nose at this delicacy and haven’t been initiated into the sacred sisterhood of bacon chocolate, hold back the judgment and give it a try. Trust Big Hungry, she wouldn’t lead you astray. As for the donut, it was sweet with mapley goodness and just touched with a few savory bacon bits on top. The texture wasn’t perfect – I like a yeast-based donut to collapse completely once in your mouth and dissolve into fried, sugary nirvana – but after the swill at Ponderosa, it was manna.

An assortment of joy

Something really special offered at Pearl’s is the homemade English muffin. If you read my post earlier this fall about London and the beautiful English muffins I saw at Borough Market there, then you know I was excited when I spied these babies, sitting taller and prouder than any supermarket variety:

Get a load of these nooks and crannies

The following weekend, as I was up north again to meet my gorgeous, dribbling, giggling, baby nephew, Dad was determined to make up the Ponderosa malfeasance with an epic meal. Enter: Tug Hill Vineyards, which has been cranking out what is probably the Northcountry’s finest Sunday brunch for some time now. And I’m sorry I’m letting you know about it so late in the year, because this coming Sunday is the last one they’re doing until Spring. You know what that means, Big Hungries…call now to reserve your seat for this weekend! I mean, just look at how gorg this place is:

Tug Hill Vineyards

Bar area

This buffet-style brunch makes Ponderosa’s monstrosity seem like filling for a barnyard trough. Choices ranged from gorgeous herbed scrambled eggs and broccoli quiche (made with real eggs), to minted fruit and garden salads, to chocolate mousse cake. Particular stand outs on the Sunday we visited were the baked ham, sweet and tender and studded with orange zest for extra zing, blackberry-stuffed French toast made with French bread, so the pieces were small enough to not overwhelm the tummy, and a light sprinkling of granola up top to add some texture, and butternut squash soup topped with buttery, crunchy croutons to give it some personality.

My first (not last) plate of food – I did more than sample a bite of each

The caramelized onion macaroni and cheese was tasty – the onion flavor was good and added a quirkiness to the overall taste – but the cheese wasn’t assertive enough to make my favorite list. I like a really sharp cheddar in my mac, and that tang was lacking here. Similarly, I was unimpressed with the mashed turnips, which needed the zip of a few parsnips or more spices to lift them out of blahsville. What I did love were the garlic mashed potatoes with the excellent, rich, savory sauce of the salisbury steak. The roasted garlic flavor sung, and although the steak was a bit greasy, the beefy essence was full-on satisfaction paired with the creamy-textured potatoes.

Turnips love parsnips, and cheese loves aging

The use of citrus was evident in the chef’s wheelhouse – I detected notes of it in the light and deliciously-frosted yet lacking in strong cinnamon-sugar flavor sticky buns, and the lovely hollandaise, which topped a make-it-yourself eggs benny station I (of course) bastardized with bacon. The ham was the best of the citrusy offerings, but the subtle hints detected in the other dishes lent a nice continuity to the meal.

Dad’s festive plate

The dessert assortment was not one to miss. I tried both the pumpkin praline pie and the vanilla bean custard. The pie was light and spiced appropriately for the season, but the crust was a little mushy. This is excusable – I can’t imagine the preparation involved in the small kitchen here for this brunch set-up each week, and I’m sure the pie was made at least the day before – but a graham cracker crust would have held up better. The custard? Well, it was stunning. This creamy, dreamy wonder was dotted with vanilla beans painstakingly scraped from their pods – no wonder the pie succumbed to a soggy crust, all the attention was paid to the pods!

Dessert Bonanza

Brunch at Tug Hill Vineyards completely erased the scars left by Ponderosa’s ugly dark mark the week beforehand. Our waitress was friendly and went out of her way to ensure we had a pleasant meal, the décor was homey yet elegant (I would have liked to sit closer to the fire, although the sunlight through the window was nice for my pictures), and the coffee was excellent. While brunches are soon over for the season, this space is available for private parties, so you should try to get yourself invited to something planned here. Start being nice to everyone you know from Lowville now! We awarded this outstanding repast an 8.5 on the BHS scale, and will be back in the spring with more folks to enjoy its offerings.

I should finish up by letting you know that Pearl’s is taking custom orders for pies, rolls, breads, cheesecakes and rum balls through December 23. Call them now to reserve your sweet treats for the holidays. And remember to stop by next week for the second annual BHS Awards! I’m so stressed already; thinking about making a choice on a favorite appetizer of 2011 is going to make me break a sweat. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!

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