Taking a Cotton to It

I feel like I’ve taken you on a bit of a raunchy journey with me lately, Big Hungries. From pictures of the Red Light District in Amsterdam, to describing sexy results with Adam Levine on TV, Big Hungry Shelby may have taken a left at Chaste & Taste Blvd and ended up on Debauchery Lane. But fear not, the more conservative of Hungries! Just a few weeks ago, I visited fair New England, where Puritans reign and gentlemen blush when you use the word, “tweet,” as a verb.

In Manchester, NH, there’s a great restaurant I’ve heard a lot about from colleagues and my blogger friend Pav alike. It’s called Cotton. My co-worker, Jeff, takes his wife there for fabulous martini flights and date nights. Pav told me it’s one of the only stand-out places around, although I found Firefly on our last visit to be more than adequate. Our hotel food is quite another story, but my dining out experiences in the Granite State have been satisfactory.

The interior at Cotton is industrial chic, and very, very dark. A little darker than I like, honestly, but I did admire the bare, rough-hewn granite wall and the farm-to-table concept working hard in the space. I also loved the rustic, super sour and super crunchy sourdough bread adorning the table. It was divine, as was our Heart Song Farms Baked Goat Cheese appetizer, which sang (get it?) with pungent, earthy, creamy goat cheese and punchy basil flavor. My colleague Ancia was spooning it off her plate as to not miss a morsel, and I had half a mind to lick the bowl, but decided against that lascivious behavior in light of my company.

Karen chose our second appetizer, the chicken satay. I’m usually not a fan, but for the second week in a row, I’m giving two thumbs up to this most ubiquitous of catered appetizer specialties. I mean, if I really want a sliver of rubbery, dried out chicken, sprinkled with a little turmeric and served alongside a cup of peanut butter with a few drops of soy sauce mixed in, I can suffer that at home, right? But this dish was the best I’ve ever had. The chicken was coated in a superfine, crunchy crust, and was thick, tender, and juicy. The spicy Indonesian peanut dip accompanying it was absolutely delicious, with nary a hint of cloyingly-sweet peanut butter taste, and the cilantro cucumber salad was mellow and cool. WTG, Karen, you hit a home run with this order.

I think Boss K ordered the pork chop, but I can’t remember for sure. I do remember that it was flavorful and juicy, and that the brining in New England-appropriate cider had left it wonderfully tender. The cranberry apple chutney up on top was redolent of fall: sweet, tart, chunky, and yummy.

Luscious chop, but I feel like that plate has seen better days

I knew what I was ordering before I even walked in the joint, because you just never see this on a menu: turkey schnitzel. Plus, it leaves me open to making all kinds of hilarious Tenacious D jokes about schnitzel that my co-workers might not get, but my boyfriend would love. One thing this dish had going for it was a fantastic interplay of textures. The brittle almond coating sheathed a turkey cutlet that was tender, and not even a little greasy, the mashed potatoes were creamy and chunky, just like the ones I make at home, and the green beans were crisp, sweet, and fresh, to break up all that comforting carbohydrate goodness.

Sloppy plate, sloppy plate, it’s not your fault

Ancia always orders fish. And on this night, she acted in accordance with the prophecy and chose the mahi-mahi from the specials menu. I love it when foods get two names. This soul-soothing plate was well-seasoned in a mildly exotic way, the fruited salsa topping complimenting the luscious protein and perfectly-cooked basmati rice really nicely. I was impressed, overall, by how well all the meats at Cotton were cooked. Everything was cooked-through and still juicy, which is an under-valued but important indication of a chef’s talent.

Jeff got the meatloaf, which I did not taste, but let me tell you this: Cotton’s meatloaf plate is all you can eat. Ha! Now, no one in their right mind is putting down two plates or more of this hearty meat-and-potatoes meal, but what a fun gimmick with which the restaurant toys!

We got dessert, of course. When my department is together, we are loathe to miss a caloric opportunity. Liz and I went for the bananas foster bread pudding. I’m not gonna toy with your emotions, it was pretty damn luscious. The bread was rich and moist, with a definite liquor flavor coming through, but not dominating, the bananas and brown sugar. The caramel sauce underneath had a browned-butter quality, nearly toasted without any bitterness, but also without too much sweetness.

Someone else – maybe Ancia? – had the pistachio gelato topped with more of that great caramel and chopped pistachios. The gelato was pristine – light and magnificently complimented by the deep, rich caramel sauce.

We awarded Cotton an eight on the BHS scale, and I would gladly dine there again, maybe to try the fried chicken, crab cakes or lamb steak, which is served (be still!) with tzatziki sauce. You know what a slave I am to a good tzatziki! I will say this: presentation was a little sloppy, with some of the plates not wiped around the edges, and the restrooms were pretty crappy, which are both peeves of mine. Look, a place charging $14 - $28 an entrée, and doing what appeared to be a bustling bar business, can afford nicer bathrooms. That’s a rule in my book. Speaking of the bar, I also had a Jailer’s Peach Marg to kick off my meal, and enjoyed the mix of whiskey, peach puree and sour mix very much indeed. So bring your big-girl panties with you when you visit Cotton, and get a proper cocktail, OK?

My heart is going out this week to those victimized by that bitch Hurricane Sandy. While we had not so much as a branch down in our yard, I have many friends with no power, or worse. If you can, please reach out to the Red Cross or your favorite disaster relief agency and try to help out, Big Hungries. Even as our bellies are full, we must empty our wallets to help our neighbors. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Cotton on Urbanspoon


Won't You Be My Liebster?

What's a Liebster? I don't really know. What's a Hurricane Sandy? I don't really know that, either, but I thawed out a pound of delicious pepper bacon and made a huge roast pork dinner last night in preparation in case we lose power tonight. What else is up? Melinda encouraged me to watch this past week's American Horror Story because there was a guest appearance, including sexy results, from Adam Levine. I'm now hooked. I mean, Adam Levine. How could there not  be sexy results?

OK, this Liebster thing is a blogging award system based on paying it forward to other up and coming bloggers you like, and to encourage more networking throughout the blogosphere. My friend Snotty AKA Stephanie Mellor at Life According to Steph nominated me, and I'm tickled orange (which I enoy so much more than pink). What is a Liebster? Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. So basically, the opposite of schadenfruede, also one of my favorite German words.

Here are the rules for receiving this award:
  • Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
  • Answer the questions that the tagger set for you plus create 11 questions for the people you’ve tagged to answer.
  • Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
  • Go to their page and tell them.
  • No tag backs!
 See? It's fun playing games like this, especially when big, demon storms are threatening to ravage your hometown, and the bread aisle at Wegmans looks as barren as a 1920s dustbowl prairie. In the spirit, here are 11 random facts about me, BHS:
  1. My favorite color is orange; it's happy, it looks good on me, and I find it appetizing
  2. I was not the only Shelby in my high school. There also was Shelby Wearne, who became a good friend of mine in college and who, even though she was two years older than me, my parents nicknamed Little Shelby, because she's wee. There also was Shelby Washer, whom our friend Keith asked to Homecoming my sophomore year on the morning homeroom news show with a bouquet of yellow roses, and just for a brief nanosecond, I thought he was asking me.
  3. I drink upwards of 120 oz of water a day, and obsessively track my intake via an app on my iPhone
  4. I am in the midst of a particularly wicked Kit Kat craving, and am giving in to it in somewhat tragic proportions
  5. When I was little, because Canada was so close to us, I thought it was another state, not another country
  6. Growing up, I couldn't pronounce my stepbrother's name, Joel, or my Stepdad's, Gary, so they were "Dole," and "G," to me.
  7. Also Dole related, one time when I was about five, I got so mad at him, I wanted to use some choice expletives, but knew I would get in trouble. Instead, I came up with the creative, "brickblock." Dole is such a brickblock.
  8. I firmly believe it is entirely possible I am the long-lost Queen of Romania. I understand that Romania already has a royal family, but I'm pretty sure they're missing me.
  9. I don't remember what color my hair actually is
  10. I used to get panic attacks in math class. Sweating, nausea, the whole works.
  11. My Mother chose the name Shelby for me because she wanted a Shelby Mustang and couldn't afford one. Oh, if only she had know how expensive I would turn out to be!

Shoulda known better
Steph's Questions for me:

1. What is the beauty product you use that you recommend to everyone and anyone? I love Caudalie anti-aging products, and recommend them to all. Also: coconut oil for the body.

2. Preferred dessert? My faves are banana cream and pecan pie, but I'm partial to hot fudge sundaes as well.

3. What's your favorite meal to prepare? Oh, I don't think I have one. I love cooking and trying new recipes!

4. If you could be a character in any movie, who would it be? Mame in Auntie Mame

5. Where did you go on your last vacation? Hilton Head, SC

6. Silver or gold jewelry? These days, I'm really into gold.

7. Your favorite restaurant? Blue Duck Tavern in DC.

8. Do you subscribe to magazines? How many? I do! Rachael Ray Everday and Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. I'm about to subscribe to a half year of People for a friend's daughter's school fundraiser, as well.

9. What's your favorite season? Fall

10. What show do you look forward to every week? So many! I'm a TV junkie. I love Homeland, Parks and Rec, Happy Endings, The Office, The Good Wife, Top Chef (in any iteration), Glee, Family Guy, and DIners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

11. If you had an unlimited account funded by a mystery millionaire to use at one store, which store would it be? Oh goodness, this is a hard one. I think I'd have to choose a department store, so I could get jewelry, clothes, homegoods AND shoes. So let's say Nordstrom.

New Earrings - Alexis Bittar

By the power vested in me by bacon and Stephanie Mellor, I nominate the following bloggers for the Liebster and recommend you follow them!

  1. Katie Rohleder at Digital Dalliance
  2. Kim Davidson at Something Is Always
  3. Mike Therieau at Pavlov's Blog
  4. Lonna McCary at Miss Thousand Islands 2013
  5. Kelly at View Along the Way
  6. Jill Krugman at Straddling30
  7. Katie at Cardigans and Couture
  8. Maggie Rizer at Bea Makes Three
  9. Mallory Hagan at Miss New York 2012
  10. Chelsea Brumagen at You Don't Need a Crown to Be Miss America
  11. Andy at Just Add Some Bacon
And in accordance with the scriptures, here are my questions for them:

  1. What is your favorite dish containing bacon?
  2. What is the foreign country you've most loved visiting or would most love to visit?
  3. What were the top five meals of your life?
  4. As a child, did you have an imaginary friend? Who or what was it?
  5. What color is your bedroom painted?
  6. Do you have recurring dreams? If so, of what?
  7. What two people, living or dead, real or ficticious, would you want to be stranded with on a deserted island?
  8. What is your favorite kind of lip balm?
  9. Do you have a favorite spice or herb? What is it?
  10. Who is the person who always brings a smile to your face, and why is that?
  11. What is your favorite children's book?
Thanks for humoring me and playing along, boys and girls. Stay safe out there, and don't let Sandy rough you up too much. I'll be back to you Wednesday with a a restaurant review from stormy New Hampshire. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


Dispatch from Amsterdam: Europe’s Vegas

My grandmother, Muriel Bush, was the Auntie Mame of our family. If that reference doesn’t hold water with you, consider the movie’s best quote, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving half to death. You’ve got to live, live, live!” Grandma lived far, she lived wide, she laughed and golfed and ate and danced and sang her way through my childhood, peppering her adult life with exotic travels she never could have imagined as a young woman whose mother died when she was little and whose father’s second wife rejected her completely and shipped her off to live with two madcap, spinster aunts. I can remember her bawdily belting “Open all the windows, open all the doors, let the merry sunshine iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!” as she prepped the kitchen before one of our improvisational cooking sessions, and I remember her bringing back various hats, jackets, cookbooks, cooking vessels, and taste sensations from her adventures all over the world.

Earlier this month, I attended a trade show for my company in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I don’t know in what year Grandma had visited Holland, but I do remember brightly painted wooden shoes and tiny, tinkling, blue Delft windmills adorning her home. As I walked around the gorgeous city, buzzing with bicycles and criss-crossed with canals, I felt Grandma’s presence, and knew she was happy I was experiencing one of her favorite places.

Nowadays, Amsterdam is maybe a little less famous for windmills and delft, and more so as the debauchery capital of Europe. Just as Americans flock to Las Vegas for an escape from decorum and tedium, Europeans, Asians and Middle Easterners alike seem to flood Amsterdam to visit the Red Light District and marijuana-laden coffee houses guilt-free. While I avoided the prevalent coffee houses dotting most blocks in the city, our little group did wander through the narrow alleys of the Red Light three times during our stay, marveling at the curiosity of mostly beautiful, well-groomed women displayed in crimson-lit windows, waiting for anyone with 50 euros to start the bidding. I heard that the city has had quite an issue recently with German teenagers coming in to party on the weekends, and driving home in the middle of the night higher than the Alps, only to crash their Peugots and BMWs on the way, and that sanctions may be coming on tourists’ use of the coffee shops’ wares. But that kind of worry was neither here nor there for our group, who were in town to work. The naughtiest things we enjoyed in Amsterdam were some mighty tall Heinekens.


Home base, and a very nice one, indeed, was the Marriott Amsterdam, in the Leidsestraat neighborhood of the old city, adjacent to the museum district. Located across the street from a square that marks the entrance to one of the city’s most bustling shopping districts, the Marriott has a posh executive lounge and clean, modern rooms with black-out curtains that velcroed closed so light couldn’t sneak in. I was quite comfortable there for our four days in town.

We sampled a lot of international cuisine in Amsterdam, very little of it actually Dutch. And I’m sorry, but pickled herring is just something this girl isn’t keen on chowing down. But something the Dutch have in common with the Swedes are open faced sandwiches. A breakfast and lunch staple whose most common iteration is brown or white bread with a couple thin slices of very good ham, a layer of slightly melted Swiss cheese, with a sunny-side up egg on top, these sandwiches are served in most cafes across the city. My favorite was at Café Americain, located in the American Hotel, which is kitty corner to the Marriott. The American Hotel is a landmark, built in 1900, and houses “Amsterdam’s living room,” which is how locals refer to Café Americain. My colleague D and I enjoyed lunch there our second day in the city, and tried to take the larger group back for a dinner, but couldn’t score a coveted reservation. At the café, I took in the gorgeous architecture, but also one of the top five cups of coffee of my life, and a pretty tasty sandwich. Each cup of coffee was hand-pressed, with that delicious topping of crema that you only get from hand-crafted brews, and served on a silver tray with a small pastry and a shot glass of water in case you can’t handle the java. You’ll see how scrumptious the sandwich was, given you fancy eggs. I do, very much, and this should be a dish featured on more American brunch menus. Simple, clean, delicious, with all the decadence coming from the runny, rich egg yolks and salty, finely-textured ham. The café also serves high tea, which I bet is a real treat.

On our first night out as a large group – 10 reps from my company in all, to man our booth at the trade show and attend the accompanying conference – we dined at a Thai restaurant nestled between Amsterdam’s Chinatown and the Red Light, called Chao Praya. I wouldn’t say my knowledge of Thai food is vast. For years, I would get chicken fried rice whenever I went with friends to a Thai place, loving the cuisine’s less greasy, lighter take on the Chinese takeout staple. At Chao, D in our group ordered this, and it looked delicious indeed. I went for one of the noodle dishes, which was just average, but also an appetizer sampler that had the best darn chicken satay on it I’ve ever had. The peanut sauce was dense, complex, thick, with the tiniest whisper of sweetness, and coated the thick-cut, tender, white meat chicken rather alluringly. Yum. As I usually avoid peanut sauces due to inherent sweetness, which I don’t care for in meat dishes, I was surprised by how much I liked this, and kind of wish I had ordered pad thai for my entrée. I realize that neither chicken satay nor pad thai are necessarily the most authentic Thai dishes of which I could extol the virtues, and I welcome any readers who are also Thai food experts to educate me.

If none of that is interesting to you, maybe this will be:

There is a lot of fine detail in this photo, from the pot ashtrays, to the bowls down in the bottom left, but my favorite are the very classy and very fancy penis-shaped Delft salt and pepper shakers. If this shop had been open the second time we passed it, its entire stock of these babies would have been mine, and Christmas Day 2012 would have been a lot funnier than it probably will be without them. Now I have a reason to go back to Amsterdam! (insert inappropriate giggles here)

Night two, I led our group on a fantastic journey of Leidsestraat’s alleys in search of Bo Cinq, a Lebanese/French restaurant recommended by our concierge. Ever since our epic feast at Zahav in August, I’ve been trying to get another taste of fantastic Israeli cuisine, and was hoping Bo Cinq would equal it. While the restaurant is lovely in atmosphere, and the service was terrific, the food here didn’t come close to Zahav’s heights. But I did have a pretty tasty duck liver with red onion compote over a thick, slightly sweet plum macaroon. If my grandmother would have been proud of all the sightseeing I did in Amsterdam, good ole grandpa would have been ecstatic that his little brown eyed girl now freely orders liver off almost any menu featuring it.

While Bo Cinq’s food was only OK, its nightclub space in the back was posh and exotic. I would definitely choose this bar for a night out on a return visit. Or  you could go here:

In case you needed to know, that little menu on the left reads: topless service, gogo girls, lapdancers, lapdance starts at 10 Euros. I don’t know your life, but if you fancy any of these pursuits, Stripclub La Vie Lapdance may be on your must-see list. If life has led you down, let’s call it a more puritan pathway, then perhaps you’ll want to gaze upon this:

I know, the city is stupid beautiful. As for other eats we enjoyed, I was at a company trade show with men who work in aerospace, so naturally our trip included a couple steakhouses. In Amsterdam, this translated to the Argentinean variety, with pretty good results. We ate one night at Ranchos:

And another at Gauchos. I mean, this is some inventive restaurant-naming we have here. At both, I had tasty, juicy, well-seasoned steaks, and an odd disparity between what the establishments called chimichurri: a chunky sauce based in roasted red bell peppers, and what I would call chimichurri, which is a green, herb-based olive oil sauce. Oddly, my version of chimichurri was present on both plates – topping a broiled tomato at Ranchos, and on top of my steak at Gauchos. I felt like Alice – things kept getting curiouser and curiouser. But hey, maybe this is one of those lost in translation kind of deals.

Of course, there are roughly a trillion museums in Amsterdam, not the least of which is the exhibit at the Anne Frank House. My feet were not about to put up with trudging through these after the first day’s jaunts all over the city, however, so I chose to do the Blue Boat Tour twice – once by myself, and once with colleagues. I have to say, that first canal tour was the highlight of my trip, and afforded me a view of the Anne Frank House, plus many more sights in Amsterdam than I could have ever covered on foot. If you’re more intrepid, you may want to brave renting a bike and toodling around, but please be forewarned that bikes are the main mode of transportation here. There are no helmets, and while you’ll have dedicated paths on every street and the right-of-way at all intersections, the bike traffic is absolutely staggering. Oh, and one wrong turn, you end up in the drink.

Anne Frank hid out and wrote her famous diary in the attic of the building with the lantern overhead. Please notice the lack of guard-rails along the canal. We even saw a mini-van parallel park alongside one, coming within 10 inches of a tire going over the edge

So you know Amsterdammers live on the edge. This fast paced yet breathtaking city mixes bustle and beauty in equal measure, and I now understand why Grandma loved it so. Oh, and I even managed to pop in to Bourdain-recommended Febo, an automat quickie stop, for a cheese pastry that was like a grilled cheese mated with a mozzarella stick. Easy cheese goodness, for less than two euro! Thanks for the tip, Tony! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


A Brief Update from Sackets

You all know how much I love Sackets Harbor. From near-weekly visits to my Aunt Vicky as a child, to fun lunches with Grandma at The Boathouse with my cousins Karen and Jennifer, to leading up marketing efforts for the Chamber of Commerce there when I first graduated from college, this lakeside landmark holds a special place in my heart.

Blogging at The Boathouse earlier this year

I recently found out that Hops Spot - one of my newer favorites on W. Main St., had added a brunch service to their offerings. While I'm not providing a full on review, as I've already done so for this restaurant, I wanted to update you with this recommendation: EAT HERE.

We started with serve-yourself coffee, which is an odd touch for such a small place, except for the fact that it's nice just to grab another cup when you're low. Next up, beer donuts:

These were a little undercooked, as I suspect the dough hadn't been allowed to rise long enough, but there also were completely delicious. The menu didn't stipulate what beer was used in the batter, but I'm guessing it was a dark one. It leant a complex bitterness and smokiness than you can't get at Dunkin Donuts. The maple syrup drizzled on top wasn't bad, either.

My entree was the biscuits and gravy, which you know I'm a sucker for. The biscuits were perfect - fluffy, light, and not overdone. The poached eggs on top were a tad past how I prefer them cooked, but tender nonetheless, and the housemade sausage was bright and earthy, made with cloves and a hint of citrus. The gravy was creamy and packed with sausage and onions. The chunks of onions were a little more prevalent than I'd like, but they leant more lightness to the sauce, which is nice in a dish that can often sit in your stomach like a stone. The fresh parsley on top was the perfect crown to this satisfying breakfast.

Dad had The Hangover. LMAO. He did not have a hangover, mind you, but wanted to try a variety of foods, and this gut-buster seemed the best way. He was less enthusiastic about the cloves in the sausage than I was - he prefers fennel - but absolutely raved about the thick, well-griddled french toast, which was served with real maple syrup. He said his poached eggs were cooked perfectly, and echoed my fandom of the biscuit.

Mom had the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on Italian toast, and declared it her new favorite breakfast sandwich in all the land. Unfortunately, she also started housing it before I could snap a picture. I tried a bite and loved it, too. The egg wasn't overdone, and the balance of the ingredients was such that the whole enterprise was gooey, flavorful, and rich without being greasy. I overheard the staff discussing using their fantastic bacon cheddar bread heceforth as the vehicle for this sandwich. Trust, you want this.

As we drove into the village towards our destination, we noticed the hoards outside Tin Pan Galley. I've known the owner of Tin Pan, Andy, for years, and I like it there, but have never understood why people will wait there for more than a half hour when there are other great places in town to eat. If you're planning on a Tin Pan Sunday breakfast, and the line's out the door this fall, mosey on down the block and try Hops Spot. Or skip the crownds alltogether and head here first. They even brought us a complimentary basket of delectable, tender, tiny mini-muffins, in cranberry-orange and snickerdoodle flavors, just so we could try them! The blues blasting through the speakers may have been a little louder than our old ears like it, but the staff was beyond friendly, and the food was so good, we talked about it the whole rest of the day.

The Hops Spot has a table open - no waiting!

I'll be back this Wednesday with a recap of my recent trip to Amsterdam. It's a doozy, believe me. Meanwhile, stay tasty, big hungries. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!

The Hops Spot on Urbanspoon


Touring the Thousand Islands with Miss TI

A couple weeks ago, my parents and I welcomed our new Miss Thousand Islands, Lonna McCary, up to Watertown for a get-to-know-you weekend, and also, for her headshot sitting with new photography sponsor Priscilla James of High Key Photo. Because my trips up to the Northcountry have been hampered this year by near-constant travel, I couldn’t miss getting out and about and reviewing a tasty spot for my Big Hungries, of course.

We kicked off the weekend with dinner at The Fireside at Partridge Berry Inn with old friends. I use the term “dinner” loosely, as it was simply terrible. My goodness, how this place has gone downhill the past two years! Consider this fair warning: don’t eat there.

We also had a chance to tuck into some solid breakfast fare at The Clubhouse at a meet and greet for Lonna, with a bunch of our Miss TI pageant peeps. Several of our former beauty queens joined us, and we crowned our new Star Princess, Veronica Neff:

Who says upstate girls aren’t gorgeous?

After that, it was a stop at the wonderful A Touch of Grace shop to peruse pageant gowns with Lonna and bridal gowns with my sis, Mary, followed by a fun jaunt to Alex Bay and a ride aboard Uncle Sam Boat Tours with Lonna and her sweetheart Joe.

High atop Boldt Castle, Miss TI surveys her queendom

After all that fun, we met up with my parents at The Edgewood Resort for dinner at Oscar’s Harborside, a restaurant I hadn’t given a thought to in about 10 years, but which has received some good press this summer. Granted, we’re now well past summer’s golden season, but the views just a couple weeks ago were yet unmarred by winter’s icy grip, so you may yet have a few weeks to fit this in.

I won’t set you up for undue excitement. Oscar’s is not setting the world on fire with its pristine dining room and cutting edge cuisine. However, Edgewood’s mix of Adirondack chic and TI-tinged nautical bric-a-brac is comfortable, and as usual, you just can’t beat a view of the St. Lawrence River. The menfolk and I chose the prime rib buffet for our dinners, while Lonna and Mom ordered off the regular menu, giving us a good sampling of Oscar’s offerings at our table.

We started with a plate of pretty solid flatbread, abundantly cheesy and kissed with fresh basil and garlic. This dish went a long way in making up for our flaky waitress, who flubbed wine orders, completely confused Mom and Lonna concerning whether or not their meals came with a salad starter, and had no idea what beers were on tap. She was spacey, but nice, I guess. I will say that every other member of the staff I encountered went out of their way to try and be helpful and courteous.

You don’t see a lot of salad bars these days. They’ve gone the way of ashtrays, Tang and phone booths, I guess. Chefs want to make you a salad themselves, combining de rigeur spring mix with tomatoes shipped in from Chile, a couple insipid cuke slices, impossibly wee strands of julienned carrot, and either some sliced almonds or dried cranberries given a cursory dollop of the all-pervasive balsamic vinaigrette. I wish what we had instead were more modern, tricked out salad bars, with various greens, some Mediterranean olive bar-inspired toppings, and lighter, homemade dressings. Alas, Oscar’s was fairly plain. No bacon bits or cheese, even, just a bare bones selection of iceberg lettuce, sliced, canned black olives, tomato wedges and the like. My vegetable beef soup, also on the buffet, was better – a nice tomatoey beef base, not too salty, with tender crisp vegetable chunks.

Instead of grabbing my prime rib off the buffet, I took advantage of our hostess’ offer to special order a medium-rare slice from the kitchen. It was cooked perfectly, and hit all the proper prime rib notes: yummy, beefy, salty. I’ve had better, and much, much worse (Ahem, Fireside), but this passed muster quite nicely.

Mom had had an alfredo primavera dish at a special event she attended at Oscar’s in June, and while that exact dish wasn’t on the menu, and our waitress had a bit of difficulty understanding what Mom was requesting, she ultimately liked it very much. The alfredo was more of a cheese-enhanced veloute sauce, lighter and less cheesy than a traditional alfredo, but still velvety and rich. It may have been finished with a touch of sherry or brandy, and the pasta was pleasingly al dente. The well-seasoned vegetables in this were standouts: big chunks of wild mushrooms, fresh broccoli and zucchini – no frozen veg used here. Bonus points for that, because so many kitchens are taking that shortcut today, and it’s a disservice to us Americans who need more vegetables in our diets.

Miss Lonna ordered the gnocchi, and I don’t know if it was house-made, but it was among the more successful of restaurant-variety gnocchi: big and tender, like potato pillows. The red sauce enveloping them was earthy, well-seasoned and chunky.

Well-seasoned and chunky would be a hilarious album title

You know what marks a good buffet, when you come right down to it? Good bread and good desserts. Oscar’s has both, and I found myself partaking not only in the cheesy flatbread I showed up above, but also some soft, yeasty rolls on the buffet. The dessert buffet was replete, verging on grand. I sampled the pecan pie, which has an almost maple flavor to the corn syrup layer, which gave it a pleasant twist.

Earth-shattering, ground-breaking, avante garde gastronomy is not to be found at Oscar’s Harborside. There are no fried chicken skins here served with housemade hot sauce. Then again. I’m not sure a menu full of parmesan foams and beef disguised to look like a rock would really play in Alexandria Bay, NY. I did, however, overhear a man at the table next to ours declare, “This is the best meal I’ve had at the River this year!” While I wasn’t blown away, per se, my fellow diners were happy, each giving Oscar’s a seven on the BHS scale, while I’m going with the somewhat more muted six. There’s good, solid food to be had here, and it’s above average on the Northcountry scale, but I really would have liked to see more thought put into the salads, and better service would have helped.

Let me state for the record that the veggie mix, on the left, was really delicious

I am heading up to Watertown this weekend, Big Hungries, so hopefully we can squeeze in a visit to the new Italian place on Arsenal St., or maybe The Gill House, if it’s still open? Or maybe I’ll throw caution to the wind and go for an old favorite I haven’t visited yet this year, like Café Mira or the Hops Spot, which is now doing what I suspect is a killer Sunday brunch. In any event, I can’t wait for next week’s post, in which I’m taking you with me to Amsterdam (in Holland, not NY) for a series of international delights, followed by my review of a dinner with my colleagues at a delightful martini bar and upscale comfort food joint in Manchester, NH. And don’t forget you can always catch up with my global gallivanting on our Big Hungry Shelby Facebook group or @BigHungryShelby on Twitter. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Oscar's Harborside on Urbanspoon


Dispatch from Charleston: Unholy Treats in the Holy City

Last week, I told you about all the high profile, fancy-schmancy places Boss K and I hit up in Charleston a few weeks’ back, including our celeb-ridden hotel, Charleston Place, and Sean Brock’s sublime Husk. Today, I want to tell you about the less headlining eats of Charleston that were still pretty good, including one hell of a biscuits and gravy plate. Be still, my bypassed heart.

Turndown service AND chocolates on my pillow. Sigh.

My first day there, I ventured out to grab a very late lunch and do a little exploring on King St, the main shopping thoroughfare of Charleston’s hoi polloi and spoiled college kids, alike. Although I admired the wares in Kate Spade and J. Crew, I most enjoyed the Tory Burch, Emi-Jay and Ella Rose finds at the carefully-curated Finicky Filly boutique. The ladies there recommended I grab a bite to eat from Caviar & Bananas, just up the street and around the corner, closer to the college. From there, I procured some of Charleston’s famous benne wafers, (thin, slightly sweet sesame cookies, reminiscent of peanut brittle if it were made into a cookie and spread with a smidge of hummus) plus a tub of delicious pimento cheese and some crackers on which to spread it. Caviar & Bananas was immaculate and lovely on the inside, and had it not been going on 4 p.m., I would certainly have indulged in one of their decedent-sounding duck confit sandwiches or some Carolina tomato pie and broccoli slaw.

On my last night in Charleston, two friends I met at my conference from Abu Dhabi, Australian Tony and Brit Kelly, had drinks with me in Charleston Place’s luxe bar before we ventured out for a late dinner in the neighborhood. We set our sights on the renowned Fig, but they were full up and we were run down. We settled for a BBQ feast at Sticky Fingers, a place I wouldn’t ordinarily choose (I like my BBQ from a shack), but that my foreign friends were delighted to try.

I’ve had really bad chain BBQ and some not-so-bad. My Southern friends cringe when I tell them I’ll happily eat Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ, but hey, I’m a Yankee and I don’t know any better. Sticky Fingers fell somewhere in the moderate range of what I consider acceptable, but it was not without its merits, and Tony and Kelly liked it quite a lot, considering Abu Dhabi isn’t exactly a porcine-friendly eating locale. I had the brisket platter, from which I enjoyed the beef brisket and the Carolina Classic variety of their five sauces, though what I thought was going to be dirty rice was very bland and dry. Tony and Kelly very much liked their rib platter, and had fun sampling the different, sweet sauces. Sticky Fingers would not be on my must list for Charleston, but if you’re trying to feed a family, it’s laid back, has a great wait staff, and completely serviceable food.

My final morning in Charleston, I got ready early and hit the City Market for some souvenirs for my Mom. The Market is one of the cooler sights in Charleston, being that you can sight-see AND shop there, plus score a famous and extravagant Sweetgrass basket, crafted by the Gullah people of Coastal Carolina. The Market is located on (Duh) Market Street, which I perused while waiting for the stalls to open. I happened on a completely old, creepy and charming cemetery just a block away. I just love old graveyards.

Also in that neighborhood is Dixie Supply & Bakery, a really cool place to grab breakfast or lunch if you want to eat like a local instead of a tourist. I discovered Dixie Supply via Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, natch, and could not wait to wade through the extreme heat and humidity to walk the few blocks to this place, cop a squat, and grab the biscuits and gravy breakfast AKA the State St. sandwich. It’s not on the set menu, but it’s what Guy made when he was there, it’s what I ordered, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll eat it, too. Guy really does know best.

This truly hometown spot will be chock-a-block with friendly local patrons and Food Network fans like me, and you’ll see food deliveries made throughout your meal from local producers, which is encouraging. For the first time ever dining at a Triple D joint, the chef I saw on TV was in the kitchen, which is roughly the size of my downstairs powder room. I grabbed a seat at the window counter and gently eavesdropped on the locals enjoying their hearty breakfasts while I waited for my nuclear-temp coffee to cool enough to sip. The place is so tiny and unassuming, I can’t even imagine how disruptive Guy’s crew was when they visited, but the sheer volume of customers made me smile – we all should be supporting our neighborhood eateries this way.

State Street Sandwich

The grits here are supposed to be some of the best in the South, but I’m glad I didn’t order them, because after this massive breakfast sandwich, I couldn’t tolerate another morsel of food. The fried chicken breast cutlet may seem an out of the ordinary breakfast item for my Yankee compatriots, but to those with a Chik-fil-A in their neck of the woods, this is commonplace for the most important meal of the day. The biscuit was stellar – fluffy and soft inside, with the tiniest, most miniscule touch of chew to the crumb, and light and crisp on top, with a salty, buttery taste on the tongue. The gravy was showstopper – tons more sausage than you usually get in so-called sausage gravy (Cracker Barrel’s doesn’t even have sausage in it, period!), but surprisingly lighter than most cream gravies. If you saw the Triple D episode at Dixie Supply, you’ll learn that this is because Chef Woodham uses blasphemous corn starch instead of flour in his roux, which may render him a Southern pariah, but is 100 percent A-OK with this little piggy.

From that single, solitary, mammoth sandwich, I’m going to go ahead and give Dixie Supply a 9 on the BHS scale. When I return to Charleston, I will bring others here, and we will eat green tomato pie, shrimp and grits, and some baked goods. I wish I could have crammed in some more food this visit, but how much can a Big Hungry pig out at 9:30 in the morning on a weekday? Overall, I was charmed by Charleston and everything there. From swanky King St to historical Market St and our amazing tour of Boeing South Carolina, I simply loved it there – save the ungodly heat. For a Holy City, it’s awfully Hellish, humidity-wise. Thank Heavens they have enough good food to sooth the sweatiest of beasts.

I’m off to Amsterdam for a work trip next week, hungries, so I don’t know for sure what my availability or connectivity will be like. If it’s good, I will try to post my review of the Edgewood Resort’s Oscar’s Harborside prime rib buffet and dinner service. If not, I’ll be back the following week with that review, and trust, I’ll be tweeting @BigHungryShelby all of the weird eats I encounter in Amsterdam as well. Herring, anyone? My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon