In the 1999 – 2001 timeframe, the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company was alive, exciting - a hotbed of activity and a bastion of good eats. The brew master – I think his name was Alex? – was always hanging around, preaching the gospel of good beer and good times. Steve and Errol were hospitable and generous, participating in chamber activities and volunteering whenever we needed their help. And Karen Cornish was a gangster in that kitchen! I still remember a hand-breaded, fresh mozzarella ball she served, fried crispy, ooey, gooey in the middle, sitting in a pool of chunky tomato sauce and garnished with homemade pesto. That was my first taste of pesto, which has since made me its bitch. She also used some small-batch, gourmet steak sauce from Kansas to make a compound butter that she would melt over their steaks. The filet mignon I had there in fall 1999 is still stuck in my head as one of the top five steaks I’ve had in my entire life.
After all this history, you can imagine why I was eager to return as a food blogger and enjoy an epic repast at this temple of my youthful food obsession. With this in mind, my parents, Shawn’s mom, Shawn and I hit up the brew pub for dinner a couple weeks ago. I’m gonna warn you: our experience was not as rosy as my memories.
Look, I know February is not exactly prime season in Sackets Harbor. This is a summer town, fueled by Lake Ontario boaters, fishermen and cottage-dwellers. I expected it to be less than packed. But like I said, when Karen was cooking, Alex was brewing, and Steve was hawking, this place was bananas. Even in the dead of winter, the bar was jamming and the food was plentiful. But this time….not so much. We were one of two tables occupied in the chilly dining room. And while the bar was crowded, not much food was being moved out of the kitchen. Never a good sign for a place still claiming to be a five star restaurant on its website.
I will say, the bread was good, if utilitarian. I think the brew pub of yore made its own compound butter than came in a little dish with the bread. This bread was yummy, though – yeasty, soft, with a good chew and a light crumb. The butter packs were frigid, like the room – the dreaded Iron Butter in full effect. Our waitress remedied our cold feet and hands by pulling a portable heater up to our table, but there was no magic fix for the uninspired meal awaiting us.
Our round of wine and beers was similarly satisfactory. Dad and Shawn sampled the Thousand Islands Pale Ale and War of 1812 Amber Ale, and were pleased. My glass of pinot grigio was South American in original, cheap in price, and crisp in flavor.
I will say, my Mom absolutely loved her meal, which she ordered off the appetizer menu: crab cake with caramelized parsnips over carrot coulis with arugula. She graded her dinner a nine on the BHS scale on the strength of this dish, which I actually didn’t find all that amazing despite my fondness for parsnips. The crab flavor wasn’t predominate, and I suspect jumbo lump crabmeat was not used, despite the menu’s description. The parsnips were delicious, but an odd addition directly to the thin cake. This was a nice dish screaming with the flavors of fall, but not screaming with that crab cake richness and lushness I want from such an offering.
Please note: the excess coulis was not wiped from the edge of the plate
I ordered the 10 oz sirloin with sautéed onions and mushrooms, wilted spinach and mashed potatoes. It was fine. There was no sign of that terrific butter Cornish used to employ to great effect. Nothing interesting was added to the onions or mushrooms to differentiate them from something I could make at home. The spinach was nice, but again, no zippy seasonings or art to the preparation. It was steamed spinach. The mashed potatoes were mashed with some roasted garlic and again, were fine. Nothing special, which is why I’m annoyed. Look, I’m fine with ordinary food when it’s billed as such. I don’t expect new American cuisine at Bud’s Place in Apalachin, NY, or avant garde gourmet dining at Outback Steakhouse. But, according to SHBC’s website, the brew pub is peddling “five-star, upscale, gastropub fare.” This dish, completely sloppy on the plate, edges not even given a cursory wipe, was not modern, gastro-pub fare. It was your typical, NNY steak and potatoes dinner. Filling and boring. Don’t write checks your food can’t cash, people.
Sloppy plate, version 2.0
I will say, Stephanie’s seared scallop stack was pretty. She enjoyed the perfectly-cooked, large scallops perched on top of their roasted portabella mushroom cap, with red peppers and goat cheese. It smelled and looked delicious.
Dad’s sirloin echoed mine in its boring OK-ness. His side of zucchini was grilled crisp-tender, but with no special herbs or additions. His potatoes were roasted instead of the baked sweet potato promised on the menu, and he liked the bourbon steak sauce over top, though he didn’t rave about it or even insist I try it.
Shawn didn’t have anything remarkable to note about his blackened steak salad, except that he shouldn’t order steak salads anymore. LOL, Shawn’s not exactly a foodie, but that might tell you all you need to know.
I can’t tell you how depressed I am to just have described this meal to you, Big Hungries. I have had some fabulous meals at the Sackets Harbor Brew Pub in the past. I wanted this to live up to that standard. But it’s like the place has lost its mojo. Even the atmosphere felt different, stale…aging. I’m giving the brew pub a four on the BHS scale, with an admonition to shape up! You now have the revitalized Boathouse and inventive, hip, Hops Spot with which to compete! Whomever is running this place (I read somewhere it was a group out of Albany?), go find Karen Cornish, entice her back, and return the brew pub to its splendor. Don’t squander your amazing locale and built-in tourist trade to boring food and lifeless surroundings! And for crap’s sake, hire an expeditor who will make sure every plate’s edge is wiped before it leaves the kitchen. Sloppy plates are my pet peeve!
I’ve got a bunch of travel in my future, Big Hungries, so expect reports from Philadelphia, Merrimack, NH, and Verona, NY in the coming weeks. Don’t forget, BHS t-shirts are now on sale for $20, and Santa Fe Ole Food Company is giving 15% off to all my readers with the code bighungry2012 until April 16. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!