High Summer Fun

What a gorgeous weekend we just finished…I was up in Watertown for the French Festival and our Miss Thousand Islands contestant workshop. I dragged along my friend, Melinda, and then harassed my parents into going out for a lavish feast so I would have something worthy of sharing with you all. And it was totally worth it!

The four of us – my Mom and Dad, Melinda and me – finished up at the packed and hot French Fest in Cape Vincent on Saturday afternoon, scooted back to Watertown for a quick change, and then journeyed up to Wellesley Island for a dinner at Joey’s TI Club. The TI Club is a relic of 1923, when George Boldt’s son-in-law and Edward Noble were still gallivanting around the Thousand Islands, being all fancy and grand. Our group is neither fancy nor grand, but there was a wedding taking place out on the front patio when we arrived, and the smartly dressed hipsters attending this fete made for great people watching. If you’ve never crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge and toured around Wellesley Island, I highly recommend you add it to your to do list. Between the idyllic little village of Fineview and the enviable properties of Tennis Island, it’s a trip well worth the $2.50 toll to cross the bridge.

The starter to our meal was a great loaf of white bread served with both compound butter and flavored olive oil. The butter had shallots, rosemary, garlic and tarragon in it, we thought. It was simply delicious. We went through more than one little cup of it. The oil was herbaceous, with thyme, rosemary and a little bit of cheese – maybe asiago? We couldn’t stop eating either one, even though I’m not usually a fan of rosemary and my parents overall don’t groove on fresh herbs. Both products had a great balance of herbs, and neither was overpowering. The salad course was pretty standard fare. The balsamic vinaigrette was fine, but I could have taken it or left it. My Dad added crumbly blue cheese to his, and said he loved it. The salads were replete with chick peas, a pepperoncini and olives, which is nice.

Melinda ordered the Italian onion soup as an appetizer, while I chose the scallop bisque. Both were absolute highlights. The onion soup was easily one of the best I’ve ever tasted, with a complex broth that included tomato, just a hint of wine, and possibly some prime rib drippings? There also was basil in the mix, and the provolone cheese topper was just melted, and obviously of very good quality. Melinda commented while eating it that the basil really made all the difference – what a unique ingredient for this traditional staple! The bisque, too, was exemplary. It was absolutely packed with shredded scallops, and perfectly fresh. I’ve had a lot of seafood bisques that were probably vehicles for some questionable seafood of which the kitchen was trying to maximize the shelf life. This soup was silky with cream and sherry, and had only the flavor of fresh scallops to grace the palate.

An embarrassing picture that illustrates how I feel about the onion soup at Joey’s. That light blazing beside my head is the food angels smiling down upon our meal.

We each ordered something different, to inspire maximum Big Hunger. I got the cavatelli altea, which has prosciutto, mushrooms, roasted red peppers and peas in a light white wine cream sauce. Let’s be honest, I was pretty full by the time my entrée came – so I only ate enough to jot down my thoughts, and brought the rest home for leftovers. But this was a great entrée. It had full flavor – the great saltiness of the prosciutto, the earthiness of the mushrooms and a sauce in which I could taste both white wine and asiago cheese. I highly recommend it.

Melinda ordered the tortellaci in vodka sauce. It turns out, tortellaci are just big tortellini, and these were filled with lobster and shrimp. The stuffing was, again, incredibly fresh, and had a nice, shredded texture. The sauce was incredible – really different from the vodka sauce I make, and what has been my favorite in the past, Consol’s in Endicott. It was more subtle and lighter than standard vodka cream sauces, with a really fresh tomato taste. Melinda loved the three huge pasta bundles she was able to eat out of the five she was given, and she also got a box to go.

Your Italian lesson for this week: tortellaci = big, fat tortellini

Dad ordered the Delmonico steak, which came with a really nice portion of mixed veggies, plus a family-style portion of rigatoni in house marinara that he and Mom shared. His steak was juicy and excellent. It was cooked exactly to his medium-rare specification, and pronounced fantastic by both him and me. And that side dish of pasta? Enough for Mom and Dad to share at dinner, with leftovers that I just polished off for lunch today.

Mom chose the chicken parmigiana, which turned out to be bigger than her head. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m going to let you find it. The crust on this dish was herbaceous and light – it wasn’t deep fried crisp like a lot of chicken parms, but juicier and somehow more lightly breaded. The red sauce was incredible – again really fresh and tomatoey – not based heavily in tomato paste.

I will say that while the TI Club is lovely, it is also aging. All too often, it seems like the resorts in the 1000 Islands rely on the view to compensate for infrastructure maintenance. Not that the TI Club is as much in need of cosmetic attention as say, Bonnie Castle, but some modernization, especially in the restrooms, could be had. In addition, the air conditioning on this admittedly hot day was almost overkill, cooling off our food quickly once it was delivered. The bill for four dinners, with two appetizers, two pre-fab frozen desserts, and maybe three adult beverages, was $150 with tip. For the caliber of food we ate, I think that’s entirely reasonable. Because of the wedding taking place on premise, we did experience some delay in the delivery of our entrees as well as the handling of our bill, however our server was personable and sweet. The poll I took resulted in an overall rating of 7.5 out of 10 for this lovely corner of the River. Homemade desserts and snappier service would have easily pushed that rating to an 8.5 or a 9.

Overlook the wedding guests and behold the splendor

Joey’s TI Club is the summer outpost of Chef Joey DeCuffa, who also owns Joey’s and Pronto Joey’s, two of the most highly acclaimed Italian restaurants in Syracuse. It is open seven nights a week for dinner, but I suggest reservations on the weekend, as they were turning people away at the door on Saturday night. Eating here is a great way to feel like you’ve fully escaped to another place, without owning a boat or a house on Tennis Island. Hey, Abbie Hoffman escaped here from federal prosecutors, so why can’t you?

As always, I implore you to explore our great Northern New York hideaways for delicious treats and great eats. Make your way to Joey’s this week, take in the panoramic view of our shared waterway with Canada, and get Big Hungry! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!!

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