Turtle Island Cafe
3790 Main Street, Willsboro, NY
Lunch: Friday though Sunday
Dinner: Thursday through Monday
Recently I received emails from two different readers suggesting a visit to the Turtle Island Cafe in Willsboro. (#HatTip to Jack and Mike. Many thanks!) The restaurant’s website piqued our interest, offering hints of a kitchen committed to area farms, a most creative menu, and a serious wine list to boot. We took a detour from Blue Mountain Lake after last weekend’s Rustic Antique Show at the Adirondack Museum, and headed for Lake Champlain.
The restaurant is on Main Street, just past the bridge over the Boquet. It is an unassuming building, with a cluster of umbrella’d tables in front. Given the threatening weather we opted to eat inside. The entrance leads immediately into the dining room, packed cheek by jowl with tables. We grabbed a booth near the front window.
Our waiter arrived lickety-split, and offered a wine list, a beer list, the regular lunch menu, and showed us the day’s specials on a nearby blackboard.
We were immediately faced with a number of decisions we were not expecting. After one look at the menus we knew that our late lunch was about to turn into our main meal for the day, complete with wines.
|Apple and Gouda Sausage with Bean Chili and Cornbread Waffle|
We started with apps and a bottle of 2008 Domaine de la Perriere Sancerre. I tried one of the lunch offerings – a grilled apple and gouda sausage with white bean chili and cornbread waffle ($8.99). This item also appears on the dinner menu as an appetizer. The aroma of this dish arrived a few seconds before my waiter placed it in front of me. A peppery herb scented mirepoix formed the base for a delightful bean stew, plated with slices of a savory corn bread waffle and a large link of the sausage. It was a combination of flavors that I never could have conjured up without help, and it was just fantastic, especially with the Sancerre. The French onion soup ($6.99) was just as good, the traditional broth spiked with chunks of apples. Our friends tried the Turtle Wings ($7.99) which combined chicken wings and roasted potato wedges, tossed is a piquant BBQ sauce. They also selected an order of crab cakes ($9.99). The savory crab mixture was nicely grilled and plated with an Asian style slaw, and accompanied by a chili garlic aioli.
At this point we moved on to a bottle of 2009 Aquinas Pinot Noir from Don Sebastiani and Sons. Around this time we also started wondering – who are these people and what are they doing in Willsboro NY? It turns out that the circuitous route that the chef proprietor – one David Martin – took to get here explains a lot. As is often the case, the story starts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. His culinary CV also includes a stint working with Greg Taylor at Chestertown’s Friends Lake Inn. That, at least in part, might explain the great wine list. (Friends Lake has one of the best wine lists in the region). Most recently Chef Martin was running the kitchen for Jerry Bottcher at The Hungry Trout on the Ausable in Wilmington, which might explain why he likes restaurants on rivers.
|Braised Elk Stew with Egg Noodles|
We moved on to entrees. A special of elk stew was on the blackboard. Elk is the mildest of the venison meats and braising really brings out the flavor. Coupled with buttery egg noodles, this dish was another standout. As good as the stew was, I made my table-mates try the noodles. Definitely made in house, the savory Piemonte style ribbons were the highlight of this dish. We also tried a classic New England Lobster Roll, blended with mayo and served with the appropriate New England sliced bun, and an organic green salad for $12.99. A plate of chicken bacon and Vermont cheddar wrap ($9.99) was just as good the next day when I finished the leftovers.
I’m not sure how we made room for dessert, but a special offering of wild berry tart was too good to pass up. Likewise the creme brulee, which was nicely caramelized before serving, and it complemented the shared tart perfectly.
On the way back to Schroon Lake we tried to come up with reasons to come back to Willsboro very soon. (Counting salmon in the Bouquet fish ladder was my favorite.) The restaurant’s kitchen showcases a playful creativity with the menu, but still grounded in classic techniques. The setting and the service is thoughtful and professional, but also most casual and friendly. It is definitely a cafe, without any pretense or formalities. And that is just the way we like it.
We will definitely add the The Turtle Island Cafe to our list of Adirondack favorites.
If you do stop in please let our other readers know about your visit in the comments section.
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