Tag Archives: Shirley’s Restaurant

Oh la la poutine!

30 Jan

French-Canadian poutine comes to Saratoga Springs, courtesy of Shirley’s Restaurant 

Rambling

One of the best things about living in Upstate New York is our proximity to a bunch of diverse and really interesting destinations: New York City, Boston, Montreal, the Adirondack Park, the Finger Lakes. Each place has its own unique character, topography, culture, and, of course, cuisine. For sheer variety and number of restaurants, though, I’d have to say Montreal is tops. It is second only to NYC as having more restaurants per capita than any other North American city. These folks love their food. I, in turn, love them.

Hubby and I visit Montreal at least twice a year, once in the winter–when these snow-loving citizens celebrate with a half-dozen festivals–and once in the summer, when we try to take in the annual NASCAR (yup, NASCAR) or Formula 1 racing event. Each time we visit, we attempt to broaden our dining horizons. Because in Montreal, just about every culture and cuisine is represented: from the traditional Italian and French, to regional Québécois, to the more exotic Hungarian, Lebanese, and Russian…even Ethiopian! But Montreal also boasts really good diners, and our trips across the border just wouldn’t be complete without the most quintessential of Québécois greasy spoon dishes: poutine.

For the uninitiated: Poutine (pronounced sort of like pooTEEN) is a French Canadian specialty. Literally translated, I think it means “potato-gravy-cheese heaven”. Thick, hand-cut French fried potatoes, topped with oodles of fresh Cheddar cheese curds (not shredded cheddar…we’re talking about the lumpy bits sold in little plastic tubs at the grocery store specialty cheese counter…you know, like what Miss Muffet ate with her whey), and drenched in dark brown,  gelatinous gravy. There are variations on poutine, with my personal favorite calling for a generous helping of Montreal smoked meat (which is salted, cured, spiced beef brisket, resembling corned beef).

Incredibly, this tasty concoction is now available just a few miles from the ol’ upstate homestead. Remember Shirley’s? My new breakfast mecca? Well, Jean-Pierre Lareau, the newer owner of this establishment, is a Montreal transplant. With him, he has brought a few mannerly Montrealais wait staff, and no less than five variations of the beloved poutine. A recent lunch time trip saw me hungrily devouring this heart attack on a plate. Complete with smoked meat! Oh la la!

Local folks: Try it, Shirley’s style. Everyone else: Whether for poutine or any other no-fail Montreal meal, make like Anthony Bourdain and get gobbling Canuck-like.

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Chocolate-covered bacon and other Southern Adirondack wonders

17 Jan

Rambling

It isn’t often that Hubby and I are up early on weekends. This past Sunday, we had occasion to be up with the sun, and decided to put the time to good use. We hadn’t taken any road trips in a while–for fun, we drive without maps or navigation and see how lost we can get within a 1-2 hour drive-time radius–and so decided to take a ramble in The North Country.

But like I said, we don’t use maps. So what started out with northerly intent ended up being westward wandering. At least in the beginning. Hubby suggested we start with breakfast at Shirley’s Restaurant, on the west side of town. Despite living in Saratoga for over 15 years, and passing this place dozens of times, neither of us had ever been. It’s been around for about 50 years, owned by the same family. I remembered news of the place’s namesake dying quite suddenly a few years back. But the restaurant was carrying on without Shirley, still being run by family members, so that’s nice to hear.

But I hesitate about going. As shallow as it is, I have been judging this book by its nondescript cover: a pretty odd 1960s brick edifice wedged between a Mobil station and a seasonal ice cream shack. Stepping inside, my outlook doesn’t improve much (bland, dated decor; drop ceilings and wood paneling; ho-hum breakfast menu). But the place is pretty busy for 8 a.m.–a mix of hunter/snowmobiler types, older couples, and a few families–so I think they must be doing something right. We seat ourselves, and the waitress arrives promptly with really good coffee, rattling off the morning’s specials. Hubby latches on to the homemade-hash-and-eggs special. I decide on the Eggs Benedict with home fries, and also ask for a grilled pumpkin muffin. Within 10 minutes, we are served up two piping plates of sheer breakfast bliss.

OK, so maybe that’s an overstatement. I mean, it’s diner food. But really, really good diner food. Check out these Eggs Benedict. Perfectly poached orbs atop crisp English muffins and two slices of Canadian bacon each, enveloped in sublime, silken Hollandaise heaven. The home fries are among the best I’ve had, not too salty/over-seasoned, not greasy at all, and absent those unsavory burned bits. Just uniformly browned and crisp, perfect for mopping up the extra egg and golden saucy goodness. And the pumpkin muffin is so good that Hubby–who isn’t typically a “sweets” guy, and who rolls his eyes every time I order this indulgent extra bit of carb “on the side” when we have breakfast out–sheepishly asks for half, and then wants to know if I am going to eat the rest. His homemade hash is equally as good (though not as pretty to look at, so no photo). Total bill comes in at under $20. This day is off to a good start. Fueled up and ready to hit the road with happy bellies.

(Important update! When searching online to see if Shirley’s had a website, I found this article that appeared recently in the Business Review. Apparently, Shirley’s was bought last month by a fashion designer and former president of a now-defunct horse racing facility (funny career combo) from Montreal. He isn’t/won’t be making many changes to Shirley’s, except for adding things like poutine…man, this place just keeps getting better. Next time: Lunch a must!)

We decide to start rambling northward by way of Route 9N, a winding but well-traveled road that travels north and west out of town, going through the towns of Greenfield, Corinth, and Luzerne, before looping back east and ending in the village of Lake George. We’ve taken this route before. Wanting to change things up, we opt to turn left off Route 9N on the outskirts of Corinth, onto County Route 10, following signs and heading west for the Great Sacandaga Lake. Our travels take us up, up, up, on a narrow and winding road–to where the snow from a few days ago still clings to the trees and the plowed banks seem curiously high compared to home–before we descend down, down, down, ending at the northern end of the Sacandaga. We follow the lake’s eastern/southern edge for a time, until we tire of it, and then, before we have to commit to going around the entire lake’s perimeter, we take a bridge (under sizeable construction, hence the crane) across to Northville . This is a huge lake. And sort of an odd one, too.

Former homes in the now-flooded valley

The Great Sacandaga Lake was formerly known as the Sacandaga Reservoir. It lies in a valley, and is actually a man-made reservoir created in the 1930s to control the disastrous springtime floods that impacted businesses and communities downstream of where the Sacandaga River meets the Hudson. Thousands of people then living in the reservoir area were displaced, and their homes were destroyed or moved to make way for the new lake. I used to work with someone who had a summer camp on the lake. He had a reputation for telling tall tales. He recounted stories of going diving in parts of the lake, where he could see the ruins of buildings that used to be in the valley before the flooding, things like church steeples. I couldn’t find anything about that sort of “Atlantis” online. But I did learn that there used to be a popular amusement park and railroad on the valley floor in the late 1800s. And that the reservoir was built at a cost of $12 million, fully funded by contributions made by area business owners who benefitted from the flood protection provided by the resevoir…not a bit of tax money used for its construction!

The fabrication of this lake renders it less appealing to me, and makes it much less authentically “Adirondack”, where it serves as a sort of southeastern gateway to the state park’s wild expanse. The views from the road winding along the lake are pretty enough. But knowing the history of this lake, I feel a sadness. And am haunted by thoughts of what used to be, before billions of gallons of water rushed in to drown the valley…A place where people lived and played and worked and died…gone, because a bunch of business people wanted to safeguard their downstream establishments from flood damage…

Which is why I am glad to leave the lake area, and to head north along the not-man-made Sacandaga River on Route 30. A tranquil stretch, with snow-laden pines and the occasional year-round cottage circled by chimney smoke. Glimpses of mountains in the distance, whose tree-topped peaks look like they are coated in confectioner’s sugar. I’d love to meander this stretch longer, right up to Lake Placid if time allowed; this route runs roughly parallel to the 133-mile Northville-Placid hiking trail, which I’d like to explore in the warmer months.

But Hubby and I make the decision to start homeward. We turn off Route 30 onto Route 8 and then Route 28, heading eastward now, back toward the Northway which will carry us swiftly back to reality and to home. But not before we make a quick detour to cruise the packed parking lot at the base of Gore Mountain, and then head into the village of North Creek. This hamlet is seeing a renaissance of sorts, since the Saratoga & North Creek Railway began running passenger service again this past summer, bringing tourists to the area for foliage in the autumn, Polar Express rides at Christmas, and now skiers. We are hoping to land a nice hot cuppa at Sarah’s Place on the main drag, but abort when a bevy of downstaters fills the place and begins barking out their cappufrappelattecino orders to the overwhelmed hipster behind the counter. The price of success, I guess.

One last stop before we hit the interstate: Oscar’s Adirondack Smoke House in Warrensburg. This place is legend. A mainstay for 50 years, Oscar’s was leveled by a fire in 2009. But liked a smoked pig with wings, it has miraculously taken off since. Oscar’s has all manner of smoked meats, from beef and pork, to venison and boar. Not to mention cheeses (some with smoked meats in them, of course!), sauces, local foodstuffs, desserts, and…wait, what’s that? Do my eyes deceive me? Could it be? Is that for real, or have we been on the road too long? Chocolate-covered bacon. Oh yes they did. Hubby gags at this, but I jump at the chance to experience this taste sensation, adding a few pieces to the armful of edibles we have gathered to take home. Verdict? Smoky-salty-sweet yum.

A mere thirty minutes later, we pull back into the driveway. A fun ramble, a few new discoveries. And the fixins for dinner later in the week…

Want to ramble? Map below…click on the pins for descriptions of the route along the way!

 
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