I'm on a Boat...house

Another weekend, another two hour, twenty minute trip up the I-81 corridor from Whitney Point to Watertown. I sped into town Friday night and hurriedly changed clothes to meet my extended nuclear family – Father, stepmother, brother and sister for a very belated Father’s Day dinner at The Boathouse
Restaurant and Bar on Main St. in Sackets Harbor. A note about my family – my Mom and Father divorced when I was wee, but decided years later to set aside any quarrel they may have had in favor of my half-siblings and I being able to cultivate a close relationship. Fast forward to the present – the four parents vacation together once a year and get together for meals when the three of us kidlets are nowhere to be found. Cool, huh? So in addition to my father, Patti, Richard and Mary, my Mom and Dad joined us for dinner last Friday night. I love a night out with a large group – a better variety of food to taste!!

We got a big table right out on The Boathouse’s gorgeous deck. Ah, this is my happy place. When I was little, my grandma would bring me to lunch at The Boathouse on Saturdays in the summer, and we would eat yummy, crispy little new potatoes; as a college kid, my friend Jenn bartended there, and there’s a certain attorney with whom I used to drink beers and sing Marcy Playground’s Sex and Candy during that era. Good times! I’m glad to report that a couple years ago, they completed a stunning renovation at this Sackets institution, with the following results:

Pretty, huh?

They’ve also changed the menu entirely, to a nice mash-up of well-executed bar food, worldy and inventive appetizers, standard and eclectic sammies and a few, diverse entrees. Fried pickles are one of the bar food items that are certainly more popular in the South than in these parts, but you should try them. Now, these don’t compare to my favorite fried pickles on the planet: the thin, crispy, barely battered dill chips at The Penguin in Charlotte, NC. But the Boathouse is cranking out a decent version that’s more common north of the Mason-Dixon: dill spears in an herbed breading, deep fried and served with ranch dressing. The pucker-up dill flavor concentrates inside that breading, and is a yummy foil for the tangy ranch. Another starter my brother wisely selected was the chipotle wings. Holy cats, were these hot! But beneath and following the lips-on-fire, dry-rubbed, flame-on heat were juicy, fat chicken wings and fantastic pepper flavor. Make sure you use the blue cheese or ranch on the side of these babies, and think about ordering a glass of milk. They are not for the faint of heart, but fortune will favor the brave.

As I mentioned, we had a large party, but there were some copy-cats among us. My Father took my word for it and ordered the fish and chips, as did I. My Dad and brother both got the blues burger, while my sister ordered the more mundane American Classic. Patti chose the grilled chicken sandwich and Mom had the Boathouse salad and a sampler of delicious fried things. I’m telling you first about the fish and chips, because it’s my favorite thing on the menu, and probably my favorite fish and chips ever. Pretty simple formula, right? Fish, fry it; potatoes, fry them. But so often it’s a frozen, thin piece of forgettable, tasteless whitefish breaded in soggy, greasy blah blah blah with blah blah on the side. The Boathouse peeps must have gone to England and learned this recipe from a real chippie, because they’re serving up a great, thick, flavorful slab of haddock in a crispy, light coating over really good fries. The one oddity was that, upon my request for some cocktail sauce, the waitress brought me ketchup and horseradish, having me make it myself. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I made a really bomb cocktail sauce with those raw ingredients. But can’t the chef handle that task?

Hello, gorgeous

Dad and Richard reported out that the blues burger was fab: the caramelized onions and blue cheese were delicious and their burgers were cooked just right. Mary’s America Classic was big, beefy, juicy and just… YUM. Nothing creative or overly special, just goodness. Check out my beautiful little sis with the burger bigger than her face:

Little sister, big burger

Patti’s grilled chicken sandwich, sadly, was little over-served in the mayonnaise department. She had forgotten to request mayo on the side. Gooey-ness aside, she reported that the caramelized onions were out of this world. Mom’s house salad with ranch dressing (our family has a bit of a ranch tooth, can you tell?) was very good, replete with onions, tomatoes and cucumbers. Her sampler platter was gone before I could really sneak too many bites. The beer-battered onion ring I snagged was good – not stratospherically awesome, but above average – and the basket also had chicken fingers and more of those fried pickles of doom. Some of the sandwiches also came with The Boathouse’s homemade chips, which really are homemade potato chips! I snuck these off Mary’s plate, and Patti’s. Listen, I am a shameless mooch when it comes to crispy, salty fried things. Deal with it. The chips could be a little bit more well-seasoned in the kitchen, but they’re a nice touch, and I approve.

Our group rated the meal an eight out ten. A few inconsistencies, but enough oohs, ahhs and yummies (!) to rate this food above average. And of course, like with so many of the places I’ve been telling you about lately, you can’t beat the view, or the chance to walk around beautiful little Sackets after dinner to walk off all that fried goodness. Dinner for seven, with beers for a few of us, came to $164, which is pretty reasonable. You can wear anything you want here – from swim trunks and a tee if you’ve just docked your boat, to a light summer dress, and everything in between. I’ve heard rumors this summer that the service was less than stellar, but other than the cocktail sauce blip, we had no complaints in that department. What they’ve done here is preserve one of the iconic restaurant locations in Sackets, a patented view that’s been around for more than 20 years, and revamp just enough to make it enjoyable for the next generation of lake-goers. Brills! I only hope that the Colemans can manage the same for The Barracks next summer, because I miss that place terribly, and we cannot afford to let these prime properties go to waste during a season as beautiful as this one has been!

As a side note, my brother is getting married this winter to a fantastic woman named Liz, whose bridal shower was on Sunday at Ives Hill Country Club in Watertown. The restaurant at Ives Hill was redone in 2007 and opened to the public, as I understand it, but this was my first chance to sample the wares there. Now, I can’t do a proper recommendation, because what we had was obviously a special menu for the special occasion. However, I’m giving honorable mention, because both the soup course and salad course we were treated to were exemplary, and so rare for a catered fete. First of all, the dining room is absolutely lovely. You have to check this place out if you haven’t seen it since the renovation! So pretty! The soup we were served was a red pepper and artichoke bisque. Rumors were floating around the room that there was avocado in there, but I think the gossip mongers got their A-words mixed up. In any event, this bowl was dynamite. It was silky, bright and deep, with a strong Italian cheese flavor, and the lemony kiss of fresh artichokes. Delicious! Next up were huge salads of mixed greens, caramelized pears (what is up this week with caramelized things?), grilled chicken, gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. It was dressed in a very light lemon vinaigrette, and was hugely successful. I’m not a big salad person, nor am I a big blue cheese person, but I literally polished off mine, then leaned over Mary’s plate to “help” her out with her pears. OMG, go there and get this. Enough said? Trust that I’ll be heading back here in the future to do a full review, because my interest has been piqued.

So, if you’re sticking to the Northcountry this weekend like scotch tape and tissue paper to a bridal shower guest-of-honor, take that quick scoot up to Sackets for a fried-and-caramelized feast at The Boathouse or over to Ives Hill for what’s promising to be a great meal. Eschew the Arsenal St traps with their neon signs and overpriced, mediocre plates of blah, and patronize our locally-owned establishments. They need you! Listen to Big Hungry. She only has you and your tummy’s best interests at heart. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!!

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