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Table Talk: New Year’s Eve at Friend’s Lake Inn

By Blaze Marshall

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Some things get better with age, including wine, cheese, fine art, classic automobiles, David Ortiz and yes, the Friend’s Lake Inn.

Built in 1860 and known as Murphy’s Friend’s Lake Inn, it became a popular watering hole and “home away from home” for men working in local tanneries. Vacant for several years, Greg and Sharon Taylor purchased the Chestertown landmark in 1989 and completely refurbished the 17 room inn from top to bottom.

Sitting proudly on a hill with a glimpse of Friend’s Lake, they created an Adirondack Inn with a bar on the porch, a wine cellar, and 25km of cross country trails. It immediately became a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.

In June of 2004, they turned ownership over to John and Trudy Phillips who retained much of the staff, and continued to upgrade the Inn into one of our regions premier dining and accommodation destinations.

The Friend’s Lake Inn is in the middle of nowhere, perfect for a relaxing dinner or stay, but just minutes off Route 28, turning just before the river at The Glen.  Up a lonesome country road, past a beautiful horse farm and you are there!

Guests can park on either side of the Inn and enter a large foyer, up a staircase and into the stately small lobby.  Wonderful, enticing gifts are scattered about, many highlighting the Friend’s Lake Inn logo. There’s the dining hostess stand and a small check-in desk. The entire Inn is definitely Adirondack, rustic but quietly elegant and cozy.

Friend’s Lake Inn offers three dining areas plus a private table downstairs in the award-wining wine cellar. The inviting bar area, with couches, lounge chairs and a large TV, now serves a light menu as well. There’s also an adjoining dining room for larger private dinners as well as the main dining room and glassed-in porch.

Constant Companion and I were there for New Year’s Eve as well as dinner and our overnight stay.  We reserved the Fieldstone Room which deserves a whole column unto itself.

We came down for dinner in advance of our reservation time and were treated to live music by Richie Ortiz, one of our personal favorites, strumming away on his guitar.  Rich has been playing the Inn’s New Year’s Eve celebration for several years and he is perfect for the room and the appreciative crowd.

We were seated promptly at our reserved time in what I must describe as one of the area’s most comfortable, romantic, casual dining rooms.  Here we were, in front of a huge, stone fireplace blazing away, at a table for two with fresh flowers, candlelight, exquisitely decorated dinnerware and real crystal wineglasses.

We drew Joyce as our server and gazed together at the Inn’s extensive and varied wine list.  Tonight the Inn had John, a local lad and well trained sommelier on duty to assist us in our choice for this special night.

I had tried a wonderful crisp Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc at the bar but our dinner choices called for a red.  Constant Companion chose an Elude Pinot Noir that exuded hints of cherry, cedar and long on aftertaste.  It met all expectations.

Ice water was poured as we perused the menu and a basket of warm, French bread came with softened butter. The dining room was full, and in walked Richie to serenade us at our table. What a thoughtful and appreciative touch.

The Inn’s new American cuisine is distinctly different, creative and takes advantage of local farms and produce as well.  Chef Matthew Bolton uses only fresh, organic ingredients and over the years has achieved perfection without pretense.  His presentations are not overbearing, but are ample and not complex.

Appetizer choices include a scallop and lobster stuffed crepe, Hudson Valley foie gras, a green apple fig tart, squash ravioli and Prince Edward Island Mussels with Italian sausage.  Tonight’s soup was a lamb and celery root.

Entrées ranged from cast iron seared elk strip loin to seared pork tenderloin.  In between a herb-roasted chicken breast, grilled beef tenderloin, a Scottish salmon filet, and a special chef’s vegetarian combination.

We opened with a simple platter of artisan cheeses chosen from the Inn’s list of local and international cheeses. A very strong, creamy goat-like and mild cheddar were our choices all served with a house chutney and baguette.  All were wonderful with our wine.

Our salads included diced beets, toasted pumpkin seeds, and Nettle Farm’s fromage Blanc over tiny spinach, all doused with rich balsamic vinaigrette.

Companion finished off 2013 not with her usual entrée of salmon but instead a grilled 16 oz. ribeye, served with a spicy roasted demi-glaze, roasted red bliss potatoes and sautéed spinach.  It was prepared perfectly medium rare and lived up to its reputation as one of the most flavorful cuts of beef.

Yours Truly chose a lamb osso bucco, slowly braised, fall off the bone tender in a succulent au jus, garlic mashed potatoes and caramelized mire pox.  The latter, a mixture of diced carrots, onions, celery and herbs sautéed in butter.  A fabulous accompaniment to this wonderful dish.

Now, usually here I would say we were full and would normally pass on dessert.  We were, but this was New Year’s Eve and it’s the Friend’s Lake Inn.  Their specialty; tableside flamed Bananas Foster.

Created in the 1950’s at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, this desert consists of lengthwise sliced bananas quickly sautéed in a mixture of rum, brown sugar and banana liquor.  It was named after Richard Foster; a regular at the posh New Orlean’s restaurant.  At the Inn, it comes with two huge scoops of vanilla ice cream while expertly prepared tableside by Joyce.

This was our third New Year’s Eve dinner at the Friend’s Lake Inn.  John and Trudy Phillips, the owners, are in evidence throughout your stay, insuring high quality service, not pretentious but genuinely friendly and helpful.  It’s so near perfect, it’s a bit scary.

It was a wonderful way to end 2013; watching the ball drop on the Inn’s huge plasma TV, Rich Ortiz doing the countdown, sipping a glass of champagne, and dancing away the ninth year with my Constant Companion.

Have a great New Year everyone!!

963 Friend’s lake Road, Chestertown, NY 518-494-4751

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Table Talk: Cirelli’s Osteria

By Blaze Marshall

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

So this great, well-known Italian chef says he’s going to take over a Mexican restaurant in South Glens Falls.  Not just any restaurant, but one that housed Jake’s Roundup, one of the area’s finest while under the ownership of Elliot Heyman.

The folks across the falls knew something different was coming in 1992 when a huge mural was painted on the outside wall, rope lighting lined the porch and a horse placed outside.  Inside, everything imaginable dotted the walls including plastic chili peppers, bison heads, stuffed beaver and moose, along with pinto prints on the chairs and bar stools.

For several years, it was one of the best, but times change, families grow, priorities are refined and Elliot decided to exit the demanding restaurant business.  Most recently the Ranchero Steak House and Cantina occupied the spot.

Now let’s get back to my friend, the well-traveled Italian chef, opening a Mexican restaurant.  Didn’t make a lot of sense, but we tried it, and it still didn’t make much sense.  Suddenly Cirelli’s Osteria appeared out of nowhere while providing a new atmosphere, new menu and hopefully a new, vibrant outlook to a longtime great location.

Osteria in Italian is an eating establishment where the owner hosts people in an establishment offering Italian food, less formal than a restaurant yet much like a tavern or bistro. Here Michael Cirelli is doing just that.  Along with his wife Kathleen, the eclectic décor is slowly disappearing and a cleaner, casual atmosphere is evolving.  The bar still has those two beautiful draught stations but most remnants of the deer and moose heads have been replaced with mirrors and new chandeliers.

Chef Mike’s menu starts with a sesame encrusted tuna, deep fried artichokes, beans and greens, white mussels Fra diavolo and yes, a touch of Mexican cheese quesadilla.

Salad offerings are a chopped Caprese, nutty spinach and a panzanella with garlic, onions, peppers, olives, parmesan and bread capers.

Chef’s favorites include chicken parm, seafood Fra diavolo, veal Marsala and eggplant parm as well as “The L. R. Big Ass Pasta Bowl.”  This is described as penne pasta and meatballs, enough for you and your friends!

There is a great assortment of beef offerings including a New York, Cowboy, filet, “house steak” as well as various burgers.  There is also a 6 oz. top sirloin; bourbon glazed with bacon bits and crispy onion straws. All dinners are served with a house salad, rolls and butter.

Companion and I chose the large dining room and drew Andrew, a relative in training, for our waiter.  He dutifully read the night’s specials and brought us some wonderful bruschetta bread anointed with fresh basil, garlic, diced tomatoes and onions.

We split a heaping bowl of salad that included fresh roasted beets, goat cheese, fennel, candied walnuts and balsamic dressing.

Companion opted for the catch of the day: two generous filets of tilapia, pan seared and accompanied by spinach in a light white bean broth and basil oil.  The fish was tender, moist and lived up to her expectations.

For Yours Truly, I chose a heaping platter of chicken ala Toscana.  Chef Mike’s version is a chicken breast and mushrooms sautéed in lemon white wine sauce and layered with prosciutto over angel hair pasta.  All this was covered with a thick layer of melted mozzarella.  A nice combination yet somewhat overwhelmed by all the cheese.

Even though we were destined to take half of our generous servings home, we checked the dessert selections that included a huge chocolate layer cake, churros (Mexican style donuts and a dipping sauce), cheese cake and a mud pie.

A great raspberry sorbet bomb doused with chocolate and whipped cream was our choice and fit the bill nicely.

Andrew did the family proud.  He delivered friendly, very attentive service and in the Cirelli tradition, will be an asset.  Michael and Kathleen have made the right decision to do what they do best; serve up excellent Italian fare in a friendly atmosphere.

Now he’s right down the road from Mama at Luisa’s, so South Glens Falls can lay claim to two great Italian restaurants.  I sincerely hope that Michael has found his new home and enjoys the popularity and success that was once Jake’s, while making it completely his own.

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Table Talk: Let’s Talk Breakfast!

By Blaze Marshall

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

For many, it’s the forgotten meal you grab on the run, make on weekends, look for on vacation or forget altogether. But many will tell you it’s the most important meal of the day.

Breakfasts charge your battery for whatever awaits you daily; at home, work or play!  It can be something as grand as an Easter brunch, taking mom out on her special day or just a leisurely cup of java with the boys. The variety of offerings in our area is enormous, ranging from McDonald’s and Denny’s to the Silo and the Sagamore.

Let’s begin by setting some standards.  We usually don’t want to wait to be seated.  Coffee or juice offered right away, and refills a must!  The table should be clean, ambiance relatively quiet and a great variety of choices.

Locals will steer you to the best places; don’t be turned off by the appearance. Sometimes the ‘greasy spoons’ deliver the best ingredients and values.  Remember sitting at a counter, the owner has his back to you on the grill, his wife is pouring coffee in those big mugs and if you miss a day they want to know where you were?  Bill Gate’s diner in Bolton, Potter’s in Warrensburg, Slim’s and Zeke’s in Lake George and the Palace in Glens Falls were those kinds of places. All great and all missed.

Today each town or village has remnants of those places like Bill’s in Warrensburg, Prospect Mt. Diner in Lake George, Poopie Di Manno’s in Glens Falls and Latham’s in Hudson Falls.  Good, long standing local establishments that you can always count on.

First, let’s throw out all the chains of the world; the places that put your breakfast in a bun, or wrap it in aluminum foil and the home fries resemble a fried hockey puck.  On the road I’ll give Denny’s and Friendly’s a shot. I truly miss Howard Johnson’s although the one in Lake Placid is still standing and great.  Stewart’s coffee is excellent and Nice ‘n Easy’s breakfast pizza is a real treat.

Some accommodations should give you free breakfast, lunch and dinner too!  Ordinarily, the tureens are filled with low-grade bacon, dime-sized pancakes, scrambled eggs that taste like rubber and a toaster that takes way too long. Some places though, like the Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn’s and Marriott Courtyard’s truly do breakfast justice.

For those special occasion breakfast days where they change the name to ‘brunch,’ like Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day or New Year’s Day, it’s hard to beat our local hotels.  The Queensbury, Holiday Inn, Fort William Henry and Sagamore really deliver.   A little further south The Gideon Putnam does it almost weekly. They have the room, staff and facilities to spread it out, provide live music and give you an enormous amount of choices. You’ll pay for it, but you’ll go home stuffed and happy! Right here in our own backyard, the East Cove’s Sunday brunch has been a long standing tradition and an excellent value.

Café Vero in Lake George Village is a great stop.  Sitting by the fireplace is a real treat and they have an excellent selection of pastries and omelets. Art Leonard’s Prospect Mountain Diner is a popular breakfast choice 24/7.  Their eggs Benedict are the “Filet Mignon” of the morning crowd. Sutton’s in Queensbury and Gamble’s Bakery are also great places that serve fresh, wholesome food and excellent service.  The Tamarack Inn on Canada Street in Lake George is a cozy, family run establishment that features stuffed French toast and a variety of pancakes during the season.

The owners of the Silo in Queensbury have just expanded their cozy, Adirondack themed dining area to accommodate the daily locals. Their breakfasts are fresh and offer everything from pancakes and waffles to eggs and homefries. One of the area’s best!

Lastly, a real enigma in our area for breakfast is the Lone Bull on Lakeshore Drive, Lake George.  Don’t let the aroma of the horse stables across the street turn you off.  Try to get there around 9am to beat the long lines that usually wind into the parking lot.   Inside, a veteran wait staff serves huge portions of everything imaginable.  You get a pot of coffee on your table, the eggs are extra large, the English muffins are sandwich size and platters are heaped to the rim. The homefries fresh, Canadian bacon sliced thick and corned beef hash is made daily.  A lot of food, but you can skip lunch!

So, roll out of bed, smell the coffee, call a friend and treat yourself to the most important meal of the day. In our area we are fortunate, as we have many options to satisfy!

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Table Talk: Bistro Tallulah

By Blaze Marshall

Monday, April 29, 2013

The North Country area is blessed with several fine dining establishments. Those of us who love to go out to dinner whet our appetites each time we drive by one of these restaurants, catch a glimpse of all the cars in their lot, and oft-times wish we were there.

I have been telling my followers “Don’t miss Bistro Tallulah” on Ridge Street in Glens Falls ever since it opened in 2007. The small storefront bistro that once was Harold’s Country Kitchen is tucked in between Scoville Jewelers and City Hall.

If you’ve been there, you’ll surely remember it as a small, casual, bustling bistro with New Orleans themed paintings, an open kitchen, small bar and absolutely delightful food. A glimpse into the kitchen and of the dishes leaving evoke sights, smells and sounds of one busy, successful spot. Chef Shawn Whalen will likely be there, dutifully checking every dish and periodically peering out into the restaurant making sure all is right.

Companion and I made a reservation for 8pm on a busy Saturday. Upon entering, nary a seat was to be found, but a hostess reassured us a table for two would be ready in minutes. Folks were dining at the tiny bar, newcomers were entering and I had my doubts if ‘ready in minutes’ would prove true.

Nevertheless, in less time than it took the bartender to open a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc 2007, we were shown to a corner table newly set with a paper covering and wrapped silverware.

Our waiter, Bill, brought our wine bucket to the table with fresh glasses, ice water and the Bistro’s French bread with olive oil for dipping. From memory he recited daily specials, much too fast for me to record, yet deftly included every ingredient and accompaniment.

Chef Whalen’s menu is innovative, creative and sprinkled with his New Orleans experience gained while at Martin’s Wine Cellar, and the world famous Brennan’s. You know, the “Breakfast at Brennan’s” Restaurant. Most of Chef Whalen’s salads and entrees come in a choice of large and small plates.

Tonight’s soups were a roasted chicken and andouille sausage gumbo and a smoked cheddar and ale bisque with rye croutons. Salads included a butter head lettuce and roasted beet with toasted pecans, roasted fennel, arugula goat cheese, red onion and sherry pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. No iceberg lettuce here!

Starters consisted of shrimp ‘n grits with jumbo shrimp sautéed with smoked sausage tossed in a southern etouffee sauce over creamy cheddar grits.

Bistro Tallulah in Glens Falls

You can opt for a bar-b-que pulled pork sandwich with a mango BBQ sauce, as well as an 8 oz. Angus burger, grilled cheese Braeton roasted asparagus with wild mushrooms, gruyere and brie cheese on a cracked pepper parmesan bread.

Bill also mentioned two of the Bistro’s specialties; macaroni and cheese bowl and an 8 oz. lamb burger. This is a nice thoughtful touch as many patrons do not want an entire meal.

Entrée choices, all explained in detail on the menu, range from a whole roasted suckling pig, pulled and re-crisped atop sweet potato puree to PEI mussels sautéed with sun dried tomato Italian sausage and artichoke hearts. Other interesting choices include a char-grilled White Marble Farm’s pork chop, herb crusted sweet breads, duck two ways and a seafood cioppino with shrimp, scallops, mussels and salmon in a saffron tomato broth.

Yours Truly opened with a platter of duck liver and port wine pate, sliced, with cornichons, pepper jelly pickled red onions, whole grain mustard and crostini. Fit for a king and enough to feed his court.

Companion had the house salad with fresh mixed greens, raisins, Maytag bleu cheese, roasted pecans and delightful balsamic pepper jelly vinaigrette.

Many of the Bistro’s dishes are served with their specialty fries. Their reputation had preceded our visit and I almost subbed my entrée accompaniments to try them, but Bill must have read my mind, as he delivered a small bowl to our table to bridge the gap between our apps and entrees. The bowl had about a dozen, hand cut, skin-on potato fries, sprinkled with cheese, salted, with some wonderful roasted garlic aioli for dipping. A nice garlic flavored mayo texture sauce on the side. Wow!! All I can say is Wow!! Chef Whalen should never give that one away.

In the meantime, Companion was raving about her salmon; pan roasted, rare, with oyster mushrooms, Yukon gold puree, roasted baby carrots and asparagus, topped with pine nuts and an arugula citrus salad. Twice she showed me the pink center, hinting and asking for my future consideration as a home chef. I took the hint in good faith!

Now, for me, I chose pork cheeks! That’s right, pork cheeks. Succulent, fork tender, juicy pork tenderloins that come from, you guessed it, the cheeks of the pig. I probably will never be satisfied again with regular pork tenderloin after having had this delectable cut.

They were presented with pan fried fingerling potatoes, caramelized onions and baby carrots as well as some of that wonderful garlic mayo aioli.

After all this, we shared a white chocolate bread pudding with praline whiskey sauce and Cooper’s Cave vanilla ice cream. Yours Truly knew that “I’m stuffed” would emanate from Companion several times on our way home; we still could not resist this end to our meal.

Ordinary, run-of-the-mill is not found among any of Bistro Tallulah’s offerings. From the fries to their salads to their pork cheeks, it’s no wonder diners were still pouring through the door as we exited.

Across the street, in contrast, the former “Black Watch” now sits vacant, out of business. A further testament to Chef Whalen, our waiter Bill, the ambiance and absolutely outstanding menu choices offered at Bistro Tallulah.

If you have been there, I do not have to encourage you to go back, but if you have yet to visit the Bistro, call ahead, make a reservation, and enjoy the “Wow” of dining out in the North Country.

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Table Talk: Rene’s Restaurant

By Blaze Marshall

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I was one of many who was disappointed when Chef Rene’ Plattner shut down his restaurant near Loon Lake several years ago. A visit to the quaint farmhouse was a special night out and always worth the trip. My Albany hotelier, Jack Hoffman, and I made many trips together to soak up the atmosphere, perhaps even have a few scotches with Rene’ and savor his French inspired menu.

Well, he’s back!! Smaller, but as good as ever, Rene and his son have teamed up in a former small home to open up…you guessed it, Rene’s Restaurant. Tucked in between two small residences on Elm Street, diners are invited to share one of only seven tables in the former home’s living room and dining room.

Rene’ has put his sweat and hopes into converting this spot into a cozy, casual setting. He and his son work behind curtains cut through an open wall into the kitchen. His own artwork adorns the walls.

There is no bar; diners can bring their own alcohol if they so choose and will be supplied with the proper glassware, ice and buckets. Rene’s serves lunch and dinner and from what I understand also does a brisk take-out business to the nearby medical centers.

Carol is the lone waitress on Thursdays, with Dawn for the remainder of the week. Both are energetic, knowledgeable and outgoing ladies who bring a lot to your overall dining experience.

Our party of four went on a recent snowy Saturday and found all the tables reserved, each with a name card attached. There are four 4-tops and three deuces in the two tiny rooms, yet the tables are spaced to provide adequate room to listen and chat!

Dawn asked if we brought beverages and supplied us with wine and pilsner glasses as well as a round of ice water. She returned immediately with menus, a platter of fresh hummus and a cup of extra virgin olive oil for dipping slices of French bread.

Thankfully, Rene’s menu mirrors his former features; his Swiss potato and leek soup, roast duckling and Austrian Weiner Schnitzel. There is lobster bisque, Greek salad and Swedish gravlax (fish) for starters as well. Other apps were goat cheese, tomato and portobello bruschetta and oriental shrimp with chicken dumplings.

Entrée choices include roast pork tenderloin wrapped with prosciutto, pulled pork BBQ, grilled chicken breast with feta, salmon en croute, macadamia nut and sesame tuna as well as grilled New York strip steak. Almost all entrees, salads and appetizers are offered in two sizes.

Our CPA teammates quaffed down Ithaca pale ales, while Companion and I enjoyed a Wyatt’s pinot noir from Oregon; a truly delicious red with a soft, mellow finish.

Eclectic Gourmet Bistro - Rene's Restaurant

I opened with Rene’s Swiss potatoes and leek soup; it was rich and creamy with shredded cheddar and diced fresh leeks, and steaming hot. A nice opening for a wintry, snowy night.

The others enjoyed the small house salad that was larger than most, with baby mixed greens, apples, cucumbers, grapes and toasted walnuts, accompanied by some wonderful parsley vinaigrette on the side.

Ms. CPA, who almost rivals Miss Picky Eater as a discerning diner, chose a veggie burger made with bulgur wheat, walnuts and pinto beans with lime mayo on Tuscan bread. This rather unique dish came with some wonderful garlic mashed potatoes.

Mr. CPA, who loves to cook and eat, dug into a generous portion of grilled chicken and shrimp with fennel, leeks and asparagus in a roasted garlic tomato sauce over creamy parmesan risotto. He was more than pleased!

Constant Companion’s “Yummy” set the tone for her special dish of salmon, wrapped in prosciutto with spinach and bowtie pasta.

I stuck with another of Rene’s signature dishes, enjoying two large, tender veal cutlets Weiner Schnitzel blanketed with panko breading in a light demi glaze over homemade spaetzle. Next time I’ll request Schnitzel ala Holstein, with a sunny side egg, capers and anchovies. However, it was great plain with just a hint of lemon.

Rene’s was out of our first choice for dessert; bread pudding, but still had tiramisu mousse, chocolate raspberry cheesecake and crème brulee. We were completely satisfied, too much so to delve into dessert, so we passed for another time.

The evening was a great success. Dawn was a gem, running about but never a pause in her friendliness and attentiveness. The food was excellent and very reasonably priced, especially considering the lack of any alcoholic beverages. The lighting could use a slight upgrade, and perhaps the fine quality of the offerings deserves more than paper napkins.

Rene’ loves to play golf and he’s hit an eagle on Elm Street. Great to see him back in his own place, doing what he truly loves. And we love it too!!

Tribute to a Friend

As I write this review, I am saddened by the passing of John W. ‘Jack’ Gates on Wed. December 26, 2012. He was the owner of Jack’s Bistro in Queensbury and worked many years for the DeSantis family at Howard Johnson’s and the Red Coach. I and many will forever remember Jack as friendly, caring, knowledgeable and a major contributor to our local hospitality industry.

Rest in peace!

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Table Talk: Porreca’s Restaurant

By Blaze Marshall

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I began hanging out here in the 60s when Norma and Richard Gumuka ran the property as Nordick’s Motel and Restaurant.  It was a highly popular lodging and dining facility hosted by one of the nicest couples in the North Country.

Hordes of followers would come up from the Capital District, weekenders or vacationers, filling the rooms and bar until 4 am each night during the summer season.  Richard would have his Monday night hot dog roast by the pool and Norma would take care of the kitchen.  However, on most nights Dick was behind the bar and Norma in the kitchen.  While their son Dennis would fill in from time to time, some famous local mixologists like Jerry Kaiser and Steve Garcia began their trade at Nordick’s.

Many locals made it their daily stop, initiating the Gumuka’s Perfect Attendance Award to anyone who did not miss a day during the season.  The late, great Garry Grant would be a constant winner, with Howard MacDonald, Mel Brown, Jerry Kaiser, Angie Root and Yours Truly close behind.

The Gumukas sold to Lake George’s Scott and Mary Flagel who sold to the Trentocoste’s.  In between and after, it became Steve Garcia’s Rosie’s Diamond Café and even Longshots gave the restaurant a shot.

Today the Porreca’s own Nordick’s Motel and operate Porreca’s as a unique Italian restaurant.  Located just after the intersection of Route 9 and Route 9N on Lake Shore Drive, they have completely updated the dining room, added an outdoor deck and maintained the friendly hospitality initiated by the Gumukas.

Inside are huge picture windows overlooking the lake and Scotty’s Motel and there are five cozy tables on the outside deck.  A great u-shaped bar done in wonderful Adirondack wood is on an upper level from the dining area.  Parking is provided in the back and front of the restaurant as well.

Our party of five was offered a nice outside table on the deck, decorated with some wonderful flower pots. Tiny strings of lights intertwine in the railing, affording a nice ambiance and the traffic on nearby Route 9N is hardly noticeable.

Brittany arrived with menus, ice water and wonderful squares of focaccia bread and house churned garlic butter. We were off to a great start!

Veteran Chef Michael Heller’s menu features house made pasta, which, while not extensive, is very creative!

Today’s specials were pepper and sausage raviolis or a salmon piccata.  Appetizers consist of a house mixed green salad, arugula and goat cheese, mozzarella and tomato or crispy calamari with lemon zest and fresh parsley.

Pastas include Bolognese, a “little ear” pasta with pancetta, onion and garlic, fettuccini with pesto, shrimp Fra Diavolo or a Zuppa di Pesce with shrimp, mussels, clams, fresh fish and spaghetti.

Everyday entrees consist of sautéed chicken breast with lemon, artichokes and mushrooms, eggplant rotolini, veal Florentine, salmon portabello and a choice of a 14 oz. strip steak with rosemary pan sauce or two 4 oz. filets topped with oven dried tomato and balsamic reduction.

Owner Carmen Porreca kindly provided our cocktail service while Brittany took our orders.

Two of our party opened with the house salad, a combination of fresh local grown greens and crispy veggies anointed with the house balsamic vinaigrette.  Three of us enjoyed a great classic caesar wherein Porreca’s retains the leaves whole and tosses them with a delightful garlic anchovy dressing and parmesan cheese.  The hit here however were the warm, fresh, croutons made just minutes before serving.

Pinball King enjoyed a second glass of the house Chianti before digging into a generous platter of two huge sausage and pepper cannelloni; two large pasta tubes stuffed with some great Italian sausage and green peppers and baked with a mild red sauce.

Ms. Shopping Queen had chicken parmesan that included three flattened chicken breasts lightly breaded with marinara sauce and a three cheese covering.

School Marm chose the chicken Nicolina that was perfectly dressed with lemon zest, artichokes and mushrooms in a white wine butter sauce.

Mr. Liquor Store Magnet devoured two wonderful lamb chops, seasoned and cooked medium, with a warm red center with a portabello mushroom sauce.

Yours Truly enjoyed a huge bowl of penne pasta covered with a light tomato cream vodka sauce with a hint of Pecorino cheese and diced onion.  Half would go home for another meal.

We all finished the evening with a round of Limoncello, great Italian liquor made from organic lemons, sugar and pure spirits.  We also indulged in cheesecake flavored with the liquor as well.  We never try to mix our drinks!

Porreca’s goes the extra mile and makes many of their offerings in house, including the desserts, pasta and those wonderful croutons.  In a world where many rely on Sysco and U.S. foods for almost everything, Porreca’s deserves honorable mention in any dining out column.

Try to sit outside on the deck and watch all the “unlucky ones” go by as you enjoy a great meal in a fine restaurant.  A restaurant we hope remains here for a long time.

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Table Talk: Villa Napoli

By Blaze Marshall

Friday, August 17, 2012

I try very hard to visit as many restaurants as possible before the short and hopefully very busy summer season begins.  It’s pleasant to be able to sit and enjoy many of our area’s finest restaurants, have a quiet conversation, talk to the owners and just plain relax.

For me, dining out during Americade, the car show, or even Fourth of July is not a good experience. Owners are stressed, the kitchen jammin’ and everyone is trying to accommodate our visitors in the best manner possible.  We locals are fortunate, we are able to dine at these fine restaurants prior to the influx of visitors whom we all need and welcome.

So on this particular preseason evening, NASCAR Nut and his family joined me on a trip to Villa Napoli.  He had heard good things about this long-time restaurant located just off Route 9N on the Melody Manor Resort property.  Opened during the summer of 1992 by Rose and Damian Alessi, it’s a sure thing for lovers of regional Italian fare, prepared with high quality, fresh ingredients.

Surrounded by beautiful, lush landscaping, Italian arches and a babbling brook, even the exterior evokes a charming villa in Italy.

There are two dining areas, one very casual and ideal for families while the other is considerably more formal, with a large hand-carved marble fireplace, hand-painted murals, Tiffany chandeliers and a great, huge wine rack built into the wall.  A well stocked bar separates the two rooms.

We were greeted by Rose as we entered, and we opted to have one at the bar while noticing a long time friend, Andy, as the night’s mixologist.

After exchanging pleasantries, Rose showed us to wonderful window table overlooking the exterior gardens.  Taryn, a 14-year veteran, delivered menus and a basket of wonderful, hot Italian bread.

Chef Nate Dally, now in his third season, is backed up in the kitchen by Lake George’s own Luke Trupia, so Villa Napoli’s menu should please everyone.

Antipasti includes an eggplant caponata with olives and capers, a whole fresh artichoke filled with pancetta, herbed crumbs, Asiago cheese and finished with a lemon-butter sauce.  There is a grilled artisan sausage with peperonata and a wonderful antipasto platter, as well as an individual margherita pizza.

Salads include the house, a Caprese with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil as well as a Sicilian with roasted fennel, olives and onion.

Chef Dally’s pasta list is extensive, including ravioli with a choice of tomato or vodka sauce and potato gnocchi tossed with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.

Entrees include a balsamic, marinated grilled chicken with smoked mozzarella, veal scaloppini, filet mignon, two choices of fresh fish and a very enticing rosemary and garlic grilled pork tenderloin, roasted shallots, tomatoes and olives in a port wine balsamic jus.

We opened by voting for two apps: the house bruschetta al pomodoro and calamari fritti.   Both were handmade with only the finest fresh ingredients.  The calamari was wonderful, crispy, lightly fried and accompanied by a very spicy red sauce that “kicked it up a notch.”

Villa Napoli at Melody Manor

NASCAR Nut went rather ordinary with a generous veal parmigiana.  It was a wonderfully tender Provimi cutlet, sautéed in olive oil.  Fork tender and declared a sure winner.  He who had chosen Villa Napoli for tonight’s dinner was more than pleased.

Ms. “I’m never pleased,” surprised us all and strayed from her usual steak entrée and opted for a chicken parm, a generous plump breast sautéed with breadcrumbs and baked with mozzarella cheese.  Both entrees came with a heaping bowl of spaghetti and rich sauce.

Miss Human Resources enjoyed a bowl of papparadelle pasta in a rich ragu of meat, wine and tomato, with a homemade meatball to boot.

Yours Truly chose the special of veal osso bucco in rich brown gravy, surrounded by creamy mashed potatoes and mixed veggies.  The meat fell off the bone and certainly met my expectations.

NASCAR always has to have dessert even while others are taking doggie bags home.  Yours Truly’s very own mother always said “I always have room for dessert,” and like her, we somehow found room as we all teamed up on a huge slice of cheesecake dotted with fresh strawberries and cream.

Taryn delivered efficient and friendly service throughout, filling ice waters and replenishing the bread without being asked.

Last time I visited Villa Napoli was in 2008 and it has only gotten better. Rose and Damian insist on fresh ingredients and creative dishes that rival those served in only a few local Italian restaurants.  It’s a friendly, wonderful place to dine anytime during the season.

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Table Talk: Shoreline Restaurant

By Blaze Marshall

Saturday, July 28, 2012

There is no better way to end a beautiful holiday weekend in Lake George than with a dinner by the lake. Such a weekend was Memorial Day 2012.  This particular Memorial Day boasted magnificent weather, huge crowds, wonderful parades in honor of our service personnel and smiles all around.

My holiday weekend consisted of having spent Saturday on the lake and a bar-be-que with my family, joined by Lady Fireworks and her close friend. On Monday I again enjoyed our glorious lake while celebrating Companion’s friend’s new promotion as president of a capital district college with a day in Sandy Bay and a choice of dining options by the lake (we hoped).

One restaurant suffered a propane failure, another wouldn’t open until June 21 and another, unbelievably, was closed on Memorial Day.  Undaunted, we set out for one of our favorites; Jim and Ginny Quirk’s Shoreline in Lake George Village.

Tucked in behind a row of Canada Street Shops, behind the Post Office, it is sometimes an out-of-sight, out-of-mind place.  But it’s perfect in many respects, with great views of the Lake, the Village’s walkway, cruise ships and has on-site parking.  There are covered and open decks, as well as two levels inside affording everyone views through large picture windows.

The small bar inside overlooks the lake and mountains and is hosted by Mike DeMeo, a baseball guru and devoted Boston Red Sox fan.  The fresh popped popcorn is a must, as well as pirate hats for the children.

The Quirks have brought back Chef Eileen Arnet for another year and have introduced a new menu that is sprinkled with some old-time favorites including steamed clams, mussels, lobster salad, lobster Reuben and their great corn and crab chowder.

There is also grilled salmon salad drizzled with an orange ginger dressing and oysters on the half shell. Lite diners will find a veggie wrap, steak sandwich, Cajun chicken wrap and a New England style fish fry.

The Shoreline features many lobster choices.  With those critters flown in daily, patrons are treated to wide varieties of soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees.  Selections include lobster bisque, lobster salad, lobster roll, lobster and asparagus quesadilla, a single or twin and surf and turf with a 12oz. sirloin, and of course the new, hot menu item; lobster macaroni and cheese with aged white cheddar, Romano and shredded gruyere.

Landlubbers or other seafood fans have a choice of haddock, baked stuffed sole, shrimp, prime rib, St. Louis ribs, and chicken cordon bleu or Florentine.

The Shoreline offers an above average list of several wines by the glass including some wonderful untamed Toasted Head blends, both red and white.

We three chose the open deck with unobstructed views and were seated promptly by the friendly hostess. The restaurant deck was almost completely full, again making me wonder about other restaurants that were closed on this gorgeous, huge weekend.

We drew Jessica as our waitress and were graciously greeted by the Quirks, dining at another table.

Shoreline Restaurant, Lake George, NY

Companion opened with a very generous house salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, red onions, grated carrots, cukes and house-made croutons anointed with balsamic vinaigrette.  She also topped off the weekend with a wonderful glass of Bella Sara Pinot Grigio from Italy, a very delicate, dry and crisp white with floral accents.

She chose a heaping tureen of freshly steamed mussels served with melted butter. A true one-pound offering.  They were perfectly done and declared dee-licious!

College Pres. and I each opened with a goat cheese salad that most definitely could feed two. Crisp sliced apple, toasted nuts, carrots and cucumbers over fresh mixed greens and dotted with four huge lumps of pan-fried goat cheese in a berry vinaigrette dressing. This was a great combo on a warm evening.

Lo and behold, we both selected the same entrée, an appetizer portion of the Shoreline’s coconut shrimp that could easily fill the entrée slot with accompaniments.  A half dozen jumbo tender shrimp, hand breaded with real coconut and served with an orange marmalade dipping sauce. They were tender, moist and absolutely fresh.  The sauce was a bonus but not necessary for such succulent shrimp.

That’s it!  College Pres. had to drive back to Albany.  No desserts, no more beverages, just great company and good friends on a beautiful weekend in Lake George.

By the water, outside dining, excellent service from Jessica, a Red Sox flag flying from the deck, Mike, the view and the hospitality of the Quirks, topped off one of Lake George’s most memorable Memorial Day weekends.

Try it.  I promise you will love it!

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Table Talk: The Montcalm

By Blaze Marshall

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Most of us love to go out to dinner.  It’s sometimes a special occasion, a get-together with friends or a welcome break for the spouse who does the cooking.  Whatever it is, dining out is one of Americas most popular treats for folks of all ages.

In the past, Mother’s Day and Easter Sunday were hands down the biggest holidays in the restaurant business; however they are now challenged by New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.  Even Thanksgiving has moved up in “dining out” numbers, along with St. Patrick’s Day.

The restaurant scene constantly changes as well, with new places coming and going, and a new mix of chains, coffee shops, and bistros available.  Who would have thought that you could get a meal at Price Chopper or K-Mart?!

This area had a plethora of fine dining establishments in the 50s when Howard Johnson’s was the largest food chain and Interstate 87 was only a plan.  Bergeron’s La Cabana on Glen Lake, Thurman’s Chalet Francaise, Glens Falls’ Colonial on Elm Street and Chestertown’s Balsam House were among everyone’s favorites.  Alfonso’s on Route 9 would become The Red Coach, the Coachman and now of all things, Johnny Rockets.  Talk about change!  Charlie Wood’s Blacksmith Shop on Aviation Road and Russo’s Gourmet on Routes 9 and 149 would pack them in nightly.

In local restaurant history, Queensbury’s Montcalm was born in 1956 on the grounds of the Fort William Henry and moved to their present location in 1984 into what was then Alfred’s.

The Montcalm is one of the areas longest tenured dining establishments, now under the watch of Dean Beckos, following in Gus and Josie’s footsteps.  The huge Adirondack style building immediately commands your attention amidst the outlet stores and “mumble jumble” of other buildings on Route 9 off of Exit 20.  The Montcalm hasn’t changed much on the inside but Dean has tailored his offerings and menu to today’s tastes making this a comfortable stop for travelers, regular patrons, shoppers and special occasions.

The dining area is separated by a foyer that includes the hostess stand and coatroom.  A huge, beautiful fireplace holds forth in the main dining area accompanied by a portrait of whom else, but the Marquis de Montcalm.

An expansive bar and lounge in the rear has comfortable bar stools, tables scattered about and the Montcalm’s complimentary soft cheddar cheese spread.  Long settees line the wall with tables set with linens and silverware.  Three antique carousel horses grace the lounge as well as an authentic telephone booth.

Executive Chef Vincent Cangelosi, a 20-year veteran, now offers a lite menu to compliment the Montcalm’s classic, extensive main offerings.

Through the years, the Montcalm has become known for their succulent, slow roasted prime rib of beef, Long Island duckling, veal, rack of lamb, and a huge copper kettle filled with your personal Maine clambake.

Montcalm owner Dean Beckos with Mayor of Lake George Bob Blais and a descendant of Montcalm

Constant Companion and I were here tonight for something light and were greeted at the bar by Brian; waiter turned bartender.  He graciously offered ice water along with our cocktails and menus.

The lighter menu offers soups, seafood, stuffed portabella mushrooms, shrimp cocktail and house-made fried calamari.  There are also salads, a broccoli and cheddar quiche, filet of sole, Chilean sea bass, chicken amaretto, fettuccini Alfredo and a 10oz hamburger with caramelized onions and fries.

Companion chose a generous tureen of fisherman’s chowder loaded with fresh crab, lobster and whitefish.  Brian was right there with a generous offering of sherry to “kick it up a notch” A classic soup, absolutely one of the finest, completely satisfying Constant Companion in texture, flavor and ingredients.

She followed up the soup with a platter of baked clams casino, prepared the traditional way with bacon, herbs, and drenched in garlic drawn butter.  We both anointed the Montcalm’s rolls, soaking up the juice in the metal tureen.

Yours Truly had a Greek salad with fresh mesclun greens, bits of feta cheese and an interesting, optional offering of fresh anchovies by Brain.  I followed this with a crabmeat cocktail that consisted of several chunks of fresh meat alongside the Montcalm’s great cocktail sauce.  Again, this was accompanied by a tray of fresh horseradish, Tabasco sauce and crackers.

There were other patrons at the bar, waiters and waitresses coming and going at the service area, but Brian made us feel like the only ones there.  The Montcalm is a good stop for a cocktail and some wonderful lite food in a very comforting atmosphere.

Dean Beckos was greeting diners, gathering coats, filling in the gaps, and generally part of the flavor of the Montcalm. The condiments, the extra sherry, complimentary cheese and crackers, ice water…all without asking, are just a few of the reasons the Montcalm has made it through this large, ever changing restaurant scene.

Everyone needs to try a restaurant like this once in a while to not only experience the way it was, but more importantly, the way it should be!

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Table Talk: The Tavern

By Blaze Marshall

Monday, November 28, 2011

The long awaited opening of The Tavern on Aviation Road took place in September.  Matt Sokol, Cullen O’Brien, and John Horgan ventured into the restaurant business and as often happens, it took longer than expected.  But now that well-populated area west of I-87 has a neighborhood tavern to call its own.

Constant Companion and I waited a couple of weeks to try our area’s newest entry. The first few days evoked comments from friends such as “Jammed,” “Packed,” “Too crowded,” and all the usual expected experiences of a new place.  On our visit, on a Tuesday night, The Tavern was less than half full.

One enters through a long hallway, next to a Zumba Fitness center. The walls are covered with old-time photos of the Aviation Road area and there is a long settee for diners-in-waiting.  The open bar and dining area is behind this hallway, with the bar centered in the middle of some high-tops, booths along the wall and individual tables.

The obligatory flat-screen TVs are behind the bar and the walls are hung with Red Wing Hockey and some baseball memorabilia. A huge moose head stares down the entire dining and bar area.  The bar is finished oak, fronted with half logs and the booths are dark plywood.   There is nothing fancy or overdone here.  Interestingly, a large steel refrigerator occupies one wall near the bar. You can sense the blood, sweat, tears and capital that the owners put into this “Cheers” type atmosphere.

John Horgan was tending bar and we chatted for a moment before taking a booth along the front wall. Casey, our waitress, presented us with a simple two-page menu while we enjoyed a Stella Artois draft beer.

Two students from Chef Bill Steele’s SUNY Adirondack class were teaming up in the kitchen that is now just serving dinner.  The Tavern opened with lunches but wisely cut back almost immediately according to John.  Perhaps downtown the lunches would thrive but not on Aviation Road where the largest employer is the Queensbury School District.

The Tavern offers Getcha Goin’ items like chicken wings, beef nachos, mozzarella sticks, Adirondack chili, an Asian trio of pork, turkey and spring rolls as well as choices of grilled thin bread; margherita, ciasto and cebula style with andouille sausage, caramelized onion, spinach and parmesan cheese.

There are two salads; Caesar and Wood Splitter as well as two soups, including a French onion.

Entrees are straightforward American cuisine including a grilled Rueben, a Tanner’s sausage dog topped with chili or cole slaw and a southern style pulled pork featuring Purple Pig bbq sauce, slaw and sweet potato fries.

The Tavern features Sokol’s hand-pressed burgers including Kyle’s major burger with cheddar cheese, onion rings, bacon, lettuce, tomato and bbq sauce.  There is also grilled kielbasa with Monterey Jack and tangy gold mustard.

Companion went with one of her constant favorites; a Holly’s Caesar salad with crisp, ice cold romaine, a very good homemade dressing and fresh reggiano parmesan.  She topped that with grilled slices of chicken breast and gave it a “Thumbs up.”

I chose a bowl of baked French onion soup that was one of the very best I have ever had.  Quite a tribute as I rarely miss an opportunity to have a bowl of French onion.  The Tavern’s is very hearty and consists of all fresh ingredients with crispy cheese.  I followed this great beginning with a Backwoods Chicken sandwich, an interesting combo of grilled chicken breast, pepper jack cheese, chili, cole slaw and a spicy guacamole sauce.  Just a touch of everything on top of a plump chicken breast and it works!

I belatedly received the extra side of sweet potato fries that Companion ordered. However, Casey graciously removed them from our bill.

The Tavern is a no-frills, feel good place that works for a very light, casual dining out experience.  The area could use it and I suspect it will become a local hangout to discuss everything from the Adirondack Phantoms to Queensbury politics.

The trio of owners chose not to rush it, hoping to get everything right!  A few more additions to the menu, some additional exposure and positive word of mouth will make The Tavern what Sokol’s Market has been for years; a good, reliable, reasonable experience for food buffs, away from those damn chains!

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