1.02.2012

Tasty Treasures of Lake Ontario

I consider myself a Lake girl. Yup, I know. We in the Northcountry love The River. Clayton, Alex Bay and the Cape are some of the most beautiful places in the world, and we’re lucky enough to have them in our backyard. We have an international waterway so close that, as a child, I didn’t even realize Canada was another country. I thought it was a just another fun state to visit – like Pennsylvania.

Lake Ontario is less flashy. Cottage rentals are more affordable, boat slips less prestigious. There’s a cultural divide between The Lake and The River, even as they share waters. But I have a controversial and shocking theory to exclaim: The Lake has better restaurants. Hey, don’t hate. I love the Koffee Kove and The Clipper as much as the next gal. But hear me out and please keep reading. First of all, Sackets Harbor is only about ten miles from Watertown. My Mom once clocked the trip over the Sulfur Springs Rd in eight minutes. I’ve rivaled that record many times over the years, including the time I was stopped for speeding and managed to escape from the kind officer by name-dropping my stepmother’s name. Phew.
I digress. Both Sackets Harbor and Henderson have great culinary treats waiting for you. And they’re so close! I’m giving you two recommendations today, but trust that restaurants with lake views will feature heavily in the future of Big Hungry Shelby. I worked in Sackets my first year out of college, and every spring, I can’t wait to get back and stroll those streets, watch the boats at the public docks, and stop in to see Alice at the Candlelight B&B (best place to stay in the village!) for the past winter’s gossip. It’s not just the history of the village, nor its spectacular waterfront. Sackets has a magic to it not replicated by any other community in our area. I find that magic to be a little addictive…don’t you?
About a month ago, my parents and I had a great dinner at Goodfellos, right on West Main St in Sackets Harbor. I haven’t known anyone from Goodfellos since I worked for the Sackets Chamber of Commerce in 2000, but I remember when this joint opened, and I’m so glad it’s never gone downhill. It’s been meticulously maintained and if anything, the menu has become more imaginative over the years.

My parents in front of the specials board at Goodfellos, which proved seductive for my dad and me
I started out my meal with a bloody mary, which was spicy and fantastic. They have an extensive and well put together wine list at Goodfellos, but the night we were there was a bit chilly, and the cocktail suited me just fine. I struggled horribly between the entrée special, which was beef short ribs with creamy polenta and seared broccoli, and a regular menu item, pork shank linguine carbonara. Carbonara is one of my buzzwords, and I will usually always order it when I see it on a menu; plus, pork shanks! But the waitress advised that the short ribs were really good, and I’m glad to have taken her at her word.

Mmmmm. Oh my. Short ribs. See the little brown spheres? FRIED chick peas!!
My meal was fantastic. I know this is a special, but if you see it up on that chalkboard of love, order it. You’ll thank me later. Sometimes, I find polenta a little drab. This was creamy and cheesy and wonderful. The meat was tender, like the best pot roast you’ve ever had, and the fried chicken peas (!) were a delight. My Dad picked another stunner off the specials board, the chicken alfredo pizza. I had a bite, and it was fantastic. Mom was feeling petite that evening and enjoyed the salad she ordered.
All around, it was a very enjoyable evening. It was a Saturday night, and though it was busy, we only waited about five minutes for a table. I’m sure it will be much more congested once the nice weather premiers in NNY, but don’t let that scare you. Check this place out. They have a back porch with heaters so you can sit outside even in the evenings. The décor is casual but contemporary, and the attire would be upscale casual, from khakis to light summer dresses. Maybe I’ll see you there – I’m going to need to try that carbonara. Pork shanks!
Just this past Saturday, I was back in Watertown for Mother’s Day weekend, and had a chance to go to Ryan’s Lookout on Rt. 3 in Henderson Harbor again with my parents. Ryan’s just opened for the season on May 1, so you only have a few months to rush and fit in as many meals as you can before the fall. Hurry up! You’re going to want to eat your way through this menu, from pasta to steaks to seafood. And you will not be able to get enough of the view. Ryan’s is across the road from the Lake, but has uninterrupted views of the water, and a great screened-in porch that’s heated on cooler evenings, so you can enjoy the view without dealing with bugs, wind and other unpleasantries.
There are a bunch of great things about Ryan’s. The view is one. Great specials and thoughtful details, like homemade maple butter, are another. But here’s my fav: Ryan’s is home to NNY’s best waitress. I’m not hating on the great folks at Art’s, The Boathouse, and Fairgrounds Inn, but Sam is the best. For those of you who enjoy breakfast at the Coffee Shop on Coffeen St during the week, you know Sam. She’s friendly, efficient, sarcastic and fun. And in the summer, she’s at Ryan’s. I first met Sam last summer, and now I request her table whenever I’m at Ryan’s. She takes great care of her tables, and bends over backwards to turn dinner into a fun night out.
Saturday night, my parents and I skipped appetizers, because we knew dessert loomed large in our future. But I can tell you that the fried artichokes are divine. They come with a maple-rific dipping sauce that’s creative and unexpected. Delish. This time, we started with the family-style salad and great loaf of bread, served both with dipping oil and that insane maple butter that must have been laced with some addictive substance. I made such a fuss about the butter to Sam that she let me bring the rest home with me. It’s crazy good. The salad is no lackluster affair, with plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives and banana peppers in there so no-one at the table gets stuck with just a bowlful of lettuce.
I thoroughly enjoyed my entrée, which was shrimp mazalan. It was the aforementioned shrimp over cavatappi pasta, with shrooms and artichokes in a garlic cream sauce. The sauce was tasty and light, but flavorful enough to stand up to the vegetables. The large shrimp were perched up on top, all perfectly cooked, daring me not to eat every single one, even though I was stuffed by the end.

Sam hooked me up with fresh parm on top of my pasta. Don’t tell any real Italians I put cheese on my shellfish, please. It’s forbidden.
My Dad was struggling between the tour of Italy entrée and a sliced NY strip steak with harberno gorgonzola. He consulted Sam, who, in accordance with his man-sized appetite, steered him straight for Italia. He was grateful for her guidance, as the chicken parm was moist, the alfredo was light and subtly-flavored, and the stuffed shells were yummy. Mom ordered the stuffed shells entrée, and added meatballs at Sam’s recommendation. Before I had even taken my first bite of food, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, this sauce is wonderful!” She later also mumbled, between bites of meatball, that they were moist and delicious. I’m not accusing my Mom of talking with her mouth full, but sometimes, when your daughter is sitting there taking notes, you need to get your two cents in, right?
I’m going to go ahead and tell you to order any of the Italian entrées on the menu. I had the signature Ryan’s pasta last summer, and was very happy with it. And I saw other pasta entrees coming from the kitchen throughout our evening; they all looked yummy. They don’t seem to have the prime rib on the menu this year. I wasn’t knocked out by it last summer, but I do remember that Dad had a steak last year that he was pretty psyched about. We split the carrot cake and the lemon mist cake for dessert this time, and they were huge and satisfactory. The carrot cake was nicely spiced, but not too sweet. Same for the lemon mist – refreshing and light. I hate really heavy desserts.
If you’re a person who always ends up taking home a doggy bag, Sam wrote on our takeout boxes the date and what’s inside. Thoughtful, right? Love her. I have to give a shout-out to Jasper, who I believe is the owner. He greeted us when we arrived, checked in with us during the meal, and wished us well upon departure. He’s running a tight ship, and it’s paying off. The décor is homey – a little old-fashioned, but clean and nice. In the ladies room, the paper towel holder is even painted to match the décor! We ate early – around 5:45, but it got busy very quickly. You may want to call ahead for reservations. Bill for three, with one round of drinks, ran us about $85, which is on par with what you’d drop at Texas Roadhouse anyway, so make that drive. Above all, go early and go often. Ryan’s is great for families, has a killer view, and fantastic food. Oh, and they have a banquet room, which I hear is just as fab as the restaurant itself.
Give both Goodfellos and Ryan’s Lookout a try this summer. Take it from me, BHS. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Ryan's Lookout on Urbanspoon

Good Fellow Brick Oven & Pizza on Urbanspoon

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