Thursday, October 9, 2008
Road Trip! Adirondacks
Imagine the scene: A lakefront rustic cottage accessible only by boat. Loons, beavers, bald eagles, and the occasional bear sighting. Pure wilderness. One would think that a paddle into the nearby middle-of-nowhere town would find a snack shack or maybe a diner. But instead, the only restaurant for miles is the upscale Lodge on Lake Clear.
The Lodge on Lake Clear in the eastern Adirondacks is owned by husband-wife team Ernest and Cathy Hohmeyer. Cathy's ancestors built the lodge in 1886; Ernest's European family bought it in 1965. Together they fuse fresh Adirondack produce and local game with old world dishes.
Dining at the lodge is more than a meal; it is a whole body experience. Guests start their evening in the "rathskeller", which is German for "I have a selection of 150 rare imported beers in my dark basement where there is a big, stone fireplace and overstuffed chairs." Unable to choose, Leah and I decided to split the smoked beer sampler.
First up was the Saranac Rauchbier. It proved to be a pleasant lager, with only the slightest hint of smoke. Next was the Schlenkerla Rauchbier Maerzen. It was by far the most phenomenal of the beers, and definitely my favorite flavor of the night. This hearty beer had the aroma of smoked bacon with a light fruit flavor in the background (I could have had a few more of these. Would go well with breakfast, too). The last beer was Aventinus Weizen Eisbock. This complex, slightly sweet ice bock tasted of toasted malt and barley and was a great beer with which to wrap up our beer hour.
It was almost disappointing when it was time to leave the rathskeller and venture upstairs for dinner, but the aromas coming from the kitchen quickly made me forget my hesitation. Let me warn you: If you do not eat meat or game, the Lodge is probably not the restaurant for you. You will be happier buying a box of pasta and a jar of Ragu from the nearby general store to take back to your camp. As a recovered vegetarian myself, I overwhelmed myself by ordering the sauerbraten, local beef that was marinated for three days in a crock before being cooked in a wine sauce. It came with killer dumplings. Next time I would try their vegetable strudel.
Leah got the game sampler which came on a loooong platter with cornish hen, quail, and what she referred to as "the most beautiful sausage balls I have ever laid eyes on," which the waitress later told us were made with cute furry woodland critters such as rabbits. The sausage hopped quickly into her mouth. Though the quail was headless, Leah was convinced it was staring at her and for some reason could not bring herself to eat it. This is the problem with eating game: frequently it is served still resembling its natural state in the forest, making you honestly face up to exactly what you are eating. Kind of like frog legs.
Our prix fixe meals also came with hearty beef dumpling soup, salad and a side of fermented red cabbage; appetizers and dessert cost extra. We were too full for dessert, but if we had room for anything else, it would have definitely been more beer. My only complaint of the evening is that the coffee (which we took back down to the rathskeller to drink by the fire) was lukewarm at best, and i prefer mine hot enough to burn the flesh off of my tongue and require asbestos gloves to pick it up. Total cost of the meal: $120 before tip.
While I personally would not consider the Lodge on Lake Clear a destination all by itself (though they do have some fantastic lodging), if you are in the Adirondacks, it is worth at least an hour drive (or paddle) to get there, even if all you did was drink beer in the rathskeller. Remember, it is so dark at night in the Adirondacks that you can't see your beer in front of your face when you are paddling home. Be prepared for some good arguments (-Where the hell are we? -What do you mean where are we? I thought you knew where we were!) and make sure you leave your cottage light on.