Is Clayton Trying to Have as Many Restaurants as There are Islands?

There are many more than a thousand islands in the Thousand Islands region. Just north of 1,800, I believe, studding the St. Lawrence River like chips in a cookie, or maybe herbs in a biscuit. Lately, with Clayton proliferation of great eateries, I've been wondering if the village is trying to rival the river with enough dining locations to match its island neighbors.

The Island Bay Pier House opened up out on State Street last fall, and while it isn't located on an island nor on a pier, it is yet another jewel in Clayton's culinary landscape, and you should make an effort to get there this summer.

The space has been redecorated and spiffed up by its new owners, with nautical touches and a serene blue color story. A recent interview with the couple revealed that they hope to expand down to a waterfront dock area, which I think would bring the sense of the river you want when you dine out in Clayton.

Our meal began with a dish full of cheesy, herbed biscuits that may remind you at first of a certain national seafood chain I particularly dislike, but which turn out to be much tastier - more tender and less salty. We stuffed ourselves silly on them, and started to realize we were in for a really good meal, which is exactly what an appetizer should do.

The Caesar salad with shrimp was dressed to perfection with house made dressing, crisp romaine, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese, and grilled, herbed shrimp. Caesar salad shouldn't be fancy - it should be simple but flavorful, and this one did its job. The five shrimp up on top weren't overcooked pencil erasers, as shrimp like to be. They were succulent and well-seasoned.

When the fish of the day is perch, that doesn't inspire a salivary response in me. Or rather, it didn't until I tasted the fried perch at IBPH. This fresh catch was breaded lightly, but enough to create a crisp exterior, which was in delicious contrast to the actually juicy, clean-tasting whitefish interior. My Dad added copious lemon juice, and a sprinkle of parsley on top worked with the citrus to create a fresh flavor in every bite. Smashed potatoes alongside were a rustic, basic accompaniment. This is one of the better fried fish dishes I've had in recent memory. 

Admiral bleu, a play on chicken cordon bleu, seems like a throwback menu choice. On the contrary, this dish was the surprise of the meal - the swiss cheese cream sauce and the simple fact that the chicken itself was cooked properly and not all dried out made it great. The bite of salty ham stuffed inside the chicken and the smart addition of slender spears of grilled asparagus didn't hurt, either. Once again, a shower of fresh parsley over top may seem like just a garnish, but that herbaceous punch actually lends a considerable flavor component to the dish. 

My little birds tell me IBPH has the best wings in town, but we didn't try those on this visit. Everything we did taste, we were nuts about. Less enticing was the noise level in the main dining room - some more soft surfaces added to the decor would maybe help with this. We could barely hear one another at our small table for three on a busy Friday night. I also think more natural light would be welcome - if they open up the back of the building to the water, that would be a huge improvement on the ambiance of the place. 

All that said, the food here is dialed in, and the variety of entrees, sandwiches, and appetizers seems suited well to the restaurant's likely clientele and juxtaposed with other offerings in the village right now. I give Island Bay Pier House a seven on the BHS Scale, and I look forward to another visit once the owners' expansion plans are realized. This new restaurant is a wonderful additional to Clayton's current lineup of great places to eat, cementing this community as my favorite in TI. That's all this time for BHS - always hungry; never thirsty!