Eating the Adirondacks :: A Locavore’s Dilemma in the North Country
There's no better way to start an Adirondacks tour than with a boat ride. The fact that it was not a penile boat, (some call them cigarette boats), but a pontoon boat was, at first, disappointing. It looked more like Tom Sawyer's raft than a stylish, cut-thru-the-water and be SEEN-IN boat. Not that there was anyone to see us. Cranberry Lake, the third largest lake in the Adirondacks, was devoid of other humans in any mode of transportation. It's definitely not the party center of the universe, but since wilderness cruising is more our speed than bar cruising, Cranberry Lake proved perfect.
The boat's charms quickly became apparent. While there would definitely be no water-skiing, it was quiet enough for a conversation, and it rode high enough in the water to navigate the shallows. If I fished, this would be the way to do it. Instead I looked and listened, hoping to see an eagle - Cranberry Lake is that isolated. We had a lazy afternoon exploring the inlets, skinny-dipping, drinking Land Shark beer, and eating the delicious picnic lunch the Windfall Restaurant provided, while we contemplated all the dinners to come. The first full day of our attempt to eat our way through the Adirondacks began with barely a ripple.
What’s A Locavore To Do?
Our trip came about from a conversation I had with a chef during the winter. We were talking about slow food, 100 mile diets, and consumer and restaurant supported agriculture (CSA & RSA). From that idea, sprung the idea of a week-long tour in the Adirondack Park. My partner, EWL, who supports me in all my food adventures but seldom joins me, scheduled a rare vacation so he could come along.
Once the trip began we almost immediately gave up on being strict locavores. I say it happened when I was offered French Champagne (Taittingers!) instead of New York sparkling wine at The Point. He remembers it was the delicious spice-encrusted Arkansas catfish and hush puppies at the Windfall Restaurant. Either way, once we got over ourselves, we ate and drank some of the best meals I’ve ever been served. It seemed as if each place we went the chef tried to outdo our previous meal in an over-the-top culinary contest. Our motto? Let the games begin!
Tupper Lake Celebration
In Tupper Lake we drove past an old-fashioned lakefront motel called Sunset Park several times before ruling out the classier, in-town locations in favor of its water views. Ducks, loons and water lapping gently outside the window as the sun set into the lake made up for the drive we would have to take for dinner. Two guys asking for a motel room - no problem. For about $80 we got a kitchenette and directions to the best eats in town. They even gave us each a coupon good for a free appetizer!
The 19th Hole Restaurant at the Tupper Lake Golf Course was all it was touted to be. The menu looked so good that I ordered three appetizers, Chicken Rangoon served first, with shrimp on green beans to be served as my entree and the cheese and fruit board to be our shared dessert. The last came with wine! EWL was more conventional, ordering a salad, with seared bay scallops as a main course. Counting drinks we spent less than $60, about half what the down-state cost would be. My only complaint was that there was no New York wine on the menu. New York’s Finger Lakes is the third largest wine-making region in the country, while the Hudson Valley is the oldest. (The waiter’s eyes rolled as I told him that.) After dinner I promised my long-suffering partner not to give any more lectures about New York wines and to stop adding up the costs. What I got in return rose with the full moon that night, our anniversary moon.
Windfall Restaurant in Cranberry Lake
I’d been looking forward to visiting the Windfall Restaurant in Cranberry Lake for several years. If it had been closer than a five hour drive I’d have been there sooner. As it was, John Dragun, one of the chefs I follow, and his wife Roz fed us and put us up in country style. Their restaurant is an old bar & grill officially in the middle of an unpopulated area. John brought his Culinary Institute of America skills and Roz her B&B expertise to an outpost of civilization in New York’s last great wilderness. Make no mistake, you’d be as comfortable here in mukluks and Carhartts as Gucci and Ralph Lauren (and far less conspicuous), but there isn’t a more honestly procured, prepared, and served meal available in the park. Everything is made from fresh ingredients when you order it. Look for deliciously breaded and expertly sauced simple dishes, and be sure to order the capellini (and the shrimp, and the catfish, and definitely the steak!) I’d suggest that you make a reservation, or be prepared to wait to be seated. If you’re really lucky, Roz will have rooms available. Play your cards right and she’ll even give you directions for a hike to Rainbow Falls in the morning. Remember, food is fuel - you’ve gotta burn it!
The Point Is Superlative
We went from the Windfall to the most rarefied of exclusive resorts in New York, perhaps the country. The Point is a tiny, but elegant, Relais & Châteaux bit of perfection. It is the last of the traditional Adirondack "Great Camps", built in the ’30s, still all original, and filled with Hudson River School of Art paintings. The Point only deals in superlatives, then builds on the experience. With eleven rooms, each guest can be expertly pampered, and they are! Our stay at The Point was heavenly.
When we made reservations we filled out dietary preferences, so that even though we ate a communal dinner with a fixed menu, each person’s comments contributed to the final recipes used. What began as a table of strangers came together as fellow adventurers sharing the delicious food and exemplary ambiance of The Point. Dinner started with breaded and fried avocado, as crisply luscious as it sounds, followed by rare bison served on a well-done risotto, and sea bass served on a bed of clams and drizzled with an olive/clam sauce I could have bathed in if someone would promise to lick me clean. For dessert, a layered glass of rhubarb, cream, and vanilla pudding topped with iced melon, the cold/sweet/tart sensations mingling with each spoonful, was accompanied by a sugared brioche "donut" to complete the meal. From Taittinger Champagne to Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot, each wine was paired expertly with the food. Excellent!
More To The Point
The Point has hiking trails, every kind of boat including a dining boat, plenty of quiet places to relax, swim, play - your every whim is catered to. I was overheard muttering into my monitor "why am I checking my emails when I could be boating?" Five minutes later a gentleman told me my boat was ready when I was. That is the kind of service I mean! There is an open bar stocked with top shelf booze in the main lodge where our room, The Iroquois, is located. There is another in the rec house with a pool table, antique juke box and game tables on the ground floor and rooms above. There was a third in the boat house where the electric boat was waiting as promised when I arrived. But, the best example of just how over-the-top The Point is, at the lean-to on the actual point of land the estate was named for, there is an "emergency" bar. It, too, had an open bottle of Taittinger Champagne chilling. Needless to say, I had many "emergencies" while I was there.
The Adirondack Alps
While everything from here could have been downhill, it is fair to say our next stop was more a step in a different direction. We went from a 1930s Great Camp to the 100+ year old Hohmeyer’s Lake Clear Lodge, billed as the Adirondack Alps. Here we found a whole different atmosphere. Built as an Inn, not a luxurious "camp", Hohmeyer’s has always been a family resort. Again we found kayaks and canoes on the lake, miles of trails, and the crisp clean balmy air of a mountain resort. The difference here is the focus on slow cooking. The Hohmeyer’s specialize in using age-old European traditions and recipes combined with local ingredients to create a unique dining experience.
Ernest Hohmeyer created a Rathskeller in the basement of his ancestor’s Lodge where guests begin the dinner event. His collection of over 200 old-world "biers" - real boutique brews - and specialty wines, is the largest in the Adirondacks. The food from the pub menu is served here, as are the appetizers from the dinner menu. To truly appreciate the experience, let Ernest suggest an imported beer while he explains the menus. Then, as you enjoy your appetizer, your personal table for the evening will be set with antique crystal and silverware in the upstairs dining room, while your dinner is prepared from scratch. The care and attention to the creation of each dish is his wife Cathy Hohmeyer’s trademark. Three kinds of schnitzel, spaetzle, and home cured red cabbage are highlights of this traditional alpine menu. They epitomize the reason Cathy is such a popular cooking instructor. So, sit back and relax. The table is yours for the evening to enjoy the fine dining experience before you.
Culinary & Nutrition Destination
Rooms in the Lodge, and in various duplexes scattered around the grounds, are spotless and creatively decorated. Much of the Adirondack-style furnishings Ernest and his boys built themselves. There is a newly completed multimedia wellness center where Cathy plans to give culinary lessons and nutrition classes, currently held in her kitchen. So what is Hohmeyer’s? A Lodge? Restaurant? Convention Center? Cooking School? Holistic Nutrition Center? - Who’s to say? This whole place is poised to take off, and with the skill and energy both Ernest and Cathy share, it could be in all directions! You definitely want Hohmeyer’s Lake Clear Lodge on your radar.
Home of the Winter Olympics
It is curious the attachments we make in this journey through life. When we left Hohmeyer’s Lodge I felt as if I was leaving my grandmother’s house where all my cousins were having a family reunion. It is a place to know better, but before I could wax too nostalgic, EWL was telling me of Lake Placid’s Olympic History. The next big spot on the map east of Saranac Lake is Lake Placid, the home of two Winter Olympics. Even though the last one was almost thirty years ago, they feature prominently in the identity of this picturesque town on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness. There is even an Olympics store tucked amidst the many boutique shops and eateries. We toured through the High Peaks Resort, (a former Hilton) disappointed that their Reflections Restaurant was closed, and opted for lunch at my second choice, the Brown Dog across the street. Lake Placid is fun and funky.
The Adirondacks is that odd place where the Village of Tupper Lake is on the Raquette River, the Village of Saranac Lake is on Lake Flower, and the Village of Lake Placid is on Mirror Lake. Fortunately, we found the Lake Placid Lodge rightly located on the shore of Lake Placid, looking up the lake at Whiteface Mt. We had a stunning view of the ever-changing clouds and shadows playing across its scarred face from every vantage. What a beautiful location it is!
Lake Placid Lodge
Lake Placid Lodge is the sister resort of the Point, with the same owners here presenting the greater part of the largest collection of Hudson River School of Art in private hands. The place feels like a museum, but one where you can actually touch the paintings! If anything, it was difficult to get far enough away from the larger ones to truly see them. The experience is intimate. Lake Placid Lodge is a brand-new expanded version of the original lodge, which burned down a few years back. Everything is made to look old, or to evoke a feeling of age, but the new construction allowed all the modern amenities to be seamlessly incorporated. It is a handsome, functional and very user-friendly collection of buildings.
All Things Offal
Our room, with two fireplaces, was called Raquette, after one of the Fulton chain of Lakes. It is one of six suites made from what was nine rooms in a three-story building adjacent to the main lodge. In all, there are 30 residences that can accommodate from one to eight people each. Here, children over twelve and well-behaved dogs are welcome. It is very family friendly, but we were there for the food.
When the waitress told us that Chef Kevin McCarthy would cook us anything we wanted, I replied "we will eat whatever Chef Kevin wishes to prepare!" (I love to do that!) and we were off and running. We wisely left the wine pairings to the excellent sommelier, Christian Lacombe, whose wine cellar I’d explored earlier. It is amazing! At 3500 bottles he feels it is about one third completed. (The fire completely destroyed the original cellar, too.) The meal proceeded with my partner and I being served different dishes for each of seven courses, accompanied by almost as many wines. All I can say is - WOW!
The Farmhouse Restaurant in Lake George
After another visit to the Windfall Restaurant in Cranberry Lake (that place can be addictive!) and a few days with friends on Cape Vincent, we visited our final restaurant - The Farmhouse, in Lake George. The Farmhouse is a seasonal restaurant located in the Top of the World Golf Resort perched high on a mountain overlooking Lake George Village. It is a B&B, a chemical-free farm, and a CSA, as-well-as a restaurant. Coincidentally, the chef is also named Kevin. He’s a Cornell Hotel School alumnus who used to cook at the famed Stone Barn Center for Food & Agriculture. Now you know why we were there! Together we walked through the fields picking the herbs and vegetables we would be eating that evening. Then we collected the free-range eggs we’d be served for breakfast before settling into comfortable rooms above the kitchen.
That evening Chef Kevin London and his wife Kim served us a creative series of small dishes from their sampler menu, paired with a few different wines. It was as varied and delicious as the Lake Placid Lodge dinner, with fewer wines, and a different view. Whereas the Lake Placid Lodge meal can not be ordered from the menu, our Farmhouse sampler was on the menu. Definitely go there and order it. You will not be disappointed!
Return Home To Rest
There you have it. Lodging from $80 to $1350 (plus tax) and meals from $43 to $239 (plus tax and tip). We experienced a commitment to the best service and the freshest most local food available everywhere we went.
Eight days, five hundred miles and seven additional pounds later we arrived home from one of my best tours yet. All those people who think the Adirondacks is a series of take-out places serving fries and burgers are going to have to rethink that prejudice. There’s some great chefs cooking good, fresh (often local) foods for an increasingly discerning clientele. You just have to seek them out and encourage them by making reservations for lunch or dinner. This list is just the beginning - there’s so much more to see and do in the Adirondacks.
Bon Appetit, everyone!