That’s what’s led us to places like The Hamptons and Saratoga Springs. We go to sample the good life, in tiny, affordable chunks. This past week, rather than fight the Black Friday crowds in Watertown or Syracuse, my parents and I drove up to Lake Placid for the day to do a little shopping, a little eating, and a little sight-seeing.
Of course, the Adirondacks were the playground of elite New Yorkers long before the Olympics came to town. With both Mirror Lake and Whiteface Mountain surrounding this tiny Alpine village, its appeal and charm is magnified by its own natural beauty. But more than just skiing and skating, Lake Placid has great dining options, remarkable lodging and fun shopping.
Opening day at Whiteface Mountain, for your skiing pleasure
Because it’s kind of a hike up to Placid from Watertown (about 2.5 hrs; a little more if you get stuck behind someone slow on Rt. 3), we were already hungry for lunch upon arrival. That also may be due to the fact that instead of a proper breakfast, I ate leftover pumpkin crunch bars that morning. So we decided right away to have lunch at the Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Company. There are lots of cool restaurants in Placid, not the least of which are housed in either the Mirror Lake Inn or the Lake Placid Lodge, but what I like about this particular spot is its prime real estate right on Main St overlooking Mirror Lake, and the great micro-brewed beers, due to the restaurant’s Great Adirondack Brewing Company, located right out back.
Not wanting to let all those delicious brews go uncharted, I began the meal with the brewery’s Haystack Blonde Ale. The brewery flyer on the table describes this choice as clean and crisp with subtle malt flavor. I detected a mild hoppiness; it was yummy and light with just a hint of bitterness. My parents both had Uncle Rob’s Old Tyme Root Beer. I don’t know Uncle Rob, but he has good taste. This brew was both creamy and spicy – absolutely delicious.
Since we were feasting the day after the biggest BHS day of the year – Thanksgiving – our appetites were not sufficient to order any starters. But if that had been in order, I would have explored the North Country “MAC and Cheese,” which is NYS cheddar and Macintosh apples with a pomegranate reduction, and the French onion soup, which my Mom has had before and says is fantastic.
Instead, I zeroed in on the specials menu, which boasted some real lookers. I went for the Belgian Abbey Pot Pie. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love pot pie? What I expected from the description on the menu was a rich, heavy beef stew-like product, but what was delivered was even better: big chunks of veggies and tender beef in a light, flavorful beer-based sauce with fresh herbs and a puff pastry crust. I am a sucker for anything with parsnips this time of year, and the pot pie was full of them, along with rutabaga, pearl onions and carrots. This dish was comfort food on a fine-dining level, and a complete homerun.
Mom ordered the prettiest meal of the lot, and it was a humdinger in the taste department as well: The Comforter sandwich, which is grilled cheese with bacon and tomato, with a side salad. In a stroke of what I can only call genius, she ordered the sandwich on rye, and this is where we veer off into the promised land. Holy cats! The combination of the cheddar cheese (which I contend must have had beer in it, in some way), smoky bacon, ripe tomato and rye bread was magical. Magical! They give you a choice of bread, but trust me, get the rye. It’s all about the rye. The salad went over well, too, with crumbly blue cheese and a creamy balsamic dressing that both parental units found delicious.
If this sandwich came in blanket form, as the name implies, I would be giving it out as holiday gifts!
Dad ordered the surprise of the day: Black Diamond Bison Chili, also off the specials menu. I’m not a huge fan of chili – I crave it about once a year, and then I’m over it. But this chili could change my mind: it was much meatier (beefier, if you will, except that there was no beef in it) than any chili I’ve ever had, and less tomato-ey. Dad was making yummy noises before I could even write anything down about it, and I backed those up a minute later when I sampled it. Sporting both black and cannellini beans (my two favorite beans), it had just enough spice and was covered in really excellent cheese.
It’s hard to believe anyone was eating better than we were last Friday
The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Company has more going for it than just kickin’ food. First of all, it is immaculate. Wait staff were plentiful and bustling, and the restrooms were modern and spotless. The Adirondack-styled interior is common in the region, obvs, but it’s done well and with restraint here. It was comfortable and rustic without being kitschy, there were fresh flowers on the table, and even a fire pit roaring outside the entrance in case you need to wait in the winter for a table. A family vote rendered an 8.5 on the BHS scale (would have been a 9 if they’d upgraded the napkins to cloth). Best of all, we were treated to great food in a cozy atmosphere in a posh village – the good life – without having to take out a second mortgage on my parents’ house. Eating in a resort town can really break the bank, but lunch here was reasonable, and you just know you’re dining in a spot that’s served world-class athletes and glitterati.
As I mentioned before, there also is some pretty good shopping within these little town limits. Being that shopping is my favorite sport, and Placid is a sportsmens’ fantasy, we had to take part. Plus: it was Black Friday! My favorite stop along our way was right next door to the old Olympic speed skating track, on which you can still skate, in season. The store is called There and Back Again, and it has everything from scrapbooking supplies to souvenirs, art to candles, and ornaments to potpourri. The owner of the shop was an absolute doll, and we showed her our appreciation several times over – every time we thought we were leaving, we would find something else to buy! Don’t miss this great one-of-a-kind gift shop on your next visit to Lake Placid.
We had an absolutely idyllic day in Lake Placid, and felt so thankful for the bounty of New York’s landscapes, and for the cool little places to visit tucked away all over the state. I may not be rich nor famous, but the ability to get away from it all for a day with my family, and enjoy scenic stops along our way like this one…
How gorgeous is this gorge?
…are priceless. Oh, and a bonus to a trek to Lake Placid? Coming from Watertown, you go right through Harrisville, NY, home of the Bonaparte Candle Company. Shawn’s Mom, Stephie, turned me on to Bonaparte’s superior candles years ago, and I was so excited to stop by on Friday. It was after dark by the time we were driving by, but the owners, Mel and Leanna, opened the store for us anyway. They were incredibly gracious hosts while we accomplished some extensive holiday shopping, and I encourage you to stop by if you’re ever in the area. The candles totally kick Yankee Candles’ butts with strong scents that fill a room, and the shop has lots of other goodies and gifts to behold, as well as an adjacent liquor and wine shop. Don’t miss it!
So even though winter is upon us, it’s never the wrong time of year to explore the hidden treasures of Upstate New York. The Adirondacks really come alive this time of year, and just think about this: if you’re heading east, you may escape the lake effect snow! You don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy little trips to the more posh areas of the state, either. Lake Placid is an incredibly accessible town, even as it plays host to five star resorts and world-class skiing. So plan your getaway this winter to Lake Placid or other gorgeous mountain retreats! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!
Dad is toasting all the Big Hungries out there; I am taking notes for you!