963 Friends Lake Road
Reservations: 518 494 4751
“Do you know how to make a million dollars in the restaurant business?”, the bartender asked as we sipped on our glass of wine. “Start with $2 million” is the answer. The circumstances that occasioned this line of discussion was the restaurant’s full dining room and the winter specials necessary to make that happen on a Thursday night in January. The bartender in question should know of these things, as it was the inn’s proprietor, John Phillips, behind the stick that evening.
Restaurants have two seasons in the Adirondacks – summer which lasts from July 4th through Labor Day and is their ten week opportunity to make a living – and the rest of the year when they try to keep the doors open and keep the help fed and clothed. If they are lucky enough to have a ski slope nearby, and the snow gods cooperate, you can hope for a few extra good weekends to stock the larder. Friends Lake Inn also offers their own system of cross country ski trails which draws many patrons on weekends. The establishment also hosts wine themed dinners during the winter (and also a winery’s off season), often with the wine-makers in attendance, which always make for an educational and entertaining evening.
Friends Lake Inn’s reputation was well established by the original owners, Greg and Sharon Taylor. They passed the torch to the current owners, John and Trudy Phillips, who continue to burnish the Inn’s laurels as a culinary mecca. The inn is particularly popular with those of us who enjoy spending some time perusing the contents of the inn’s spectacular wine cellar. The wine list at the Friend’s Lake Inn is among the best in the North Country, if not the entire state.
Even that wine list and the ski trails are not enough to fill the seats on a Thursday, so like many Adirondack restaurants, the inn offers dinner specials on Thursday’s in the restaurant’s “Wine Bar”, which accounted for the crowd. I should mention here that the inn also offers winter specials on Sunday from 2 PM – 7 PM (after the weekend ski crowd leaves) where four selected entrees are priced at $7.The Thursday night deal is extraordinary, and includes three courses – a choice of soup (which included the lamb stew) or a salad, a choice of entree, and dessert. For this two diners can eat for $30 ($15 per person). After looking at the menu and the crowd in the room I commented to John that it was amazing how busy you can be if you are willing to go broke doing it.
Our fifteen dollar meal left me with enough room in the budget (and enough guilt) to ask for the wine list. The list’s strongest selections are on the high end, but there are ample choices in the $50 range if you look to Rhone and Beaujolais and Barbera, which is where I was heading on Thursday. The Barbera grape is the red headed step-sister of Piedmont, where the prime planting locations are reserved for the Nebbiolo grape, which will be made into the more expensive Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Barbera grapes are usually planted on what’s left. The good news is that Barbera doesn’t have the necessary tannins to age well, so it is ready to drink early on (unlike Barolo which usually needs at least ten years in the bottle to age). A Barbera from a good producer can be a tasty find at a very reasonable price. We ordered a bottle of Cuscina Luisin Barbera d’Alba to share with our dinner.
Our appetizer choices included the aforementioned lamb stew, a warm spinach salad served with pecorino cheese and candied walnuts, or a roasted beet salad tossed with chevre and frisee, and a pumpkin bisque. The restaurant’s signature app (my signature, not theirs) is the lobster and corn crepe, served with a vanilla bean beurre blanc sauce. Killer dish. I really wanted the kitchen’s fantastic chick pea encrusted crab cake appetizer ($10), which wasn’t included in the $15 deal, so I left it to our server Nicole to work it out and re-do the math.
Entree selections included a vegetable lasagna made with a Spanish “Drunken Goat Cheese” (also available on the cheese board) and chanterelle mushrooms. Mary ordered the sirloin steak with a side of sauteed mushroom and onions, broiled to a perfect pink medium rare. Other choices included a pan seared Atlantic salmon, braised beef short ribs, and an elk steak. If you are pondering venturing into the world of “wild” game for the first time, I highly recommend elk, which is a very mild tasting venison, without the “gamey” taste of some wild white tail deer or the domestic red deer served in most restaurants. (Caribou is even milder, should you ever have occasion to be dining in Labrador.) I opted for the braised short ribs, which was served as a boneless rack, along with a side of sauteed spinach. If there is snow on the ground I frequently order short ribs. Somehow they seem to go together well, especially when accompanied by a fireplace and a bottle of red wine.
Dessert choices included a very nice rendition of crème broulee, prepared with a little spiked apple cider and a luscious chocolate brownie topped with a scoop of ice cream. They went very nicely with our espresso and a dash of Sambucco. A perfect way to end the meal.
No list of Adirondack dining destinations would be complete without The Friends Lake Inn. The picturesque setting is a wonderful backdrop for a culinary adventure. The Inn’s most capable kitchen is complemented by a friendly and knowledgeable wait-staff and very comfortable surroundings. The winter Sunday and Thursday night specials offer an opportunity to experience one of the best restaurants in the area at a most attractive price.
A complete menu for Friends Lake Inn Wine Bar can be viewed here.
The regular dining room menu can be viewed here.
The regular dining room menu can be viewed here.
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