HARRISVILLE — Driving east from Watertown along Route 3, you'll pass through Harrisville. But unless you heed the "Business District" sign out on the highway, you'll miss the one-street downtown altogether.
We made the turn and stumbled upon the Village Inn, housed in a row of old buildings with that early 1900s look to them. Inside, a young, enthusiastic waitress invited us to seat ourselves in the small dining room just inside the front door.
The walls are a mish-mash of '60s barn board and '70s dark paneling. The dining room is separated from the bar by a half wall with lattice that continues to the ceiling, so you can easily hear the bar chatter at your table. The night we were there, a guy hacking away with a terrible cough distracted us throughout dinner.
The menu is pretty basic — steak, ham steak, chopped sirloin, pork chops, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parm, baked ziti , broiled haddock, deep-fried haddock, deep-fried chicken, deep-fried shrimp, deep-fried clam strips ... you get the picture.
And I'm certainly OK with basic, as long as it's prepared OK.
We were fortunate to have a friendly and personable young lady for a server. Unfortunately, that turned out to be one of the few high points of our evening at the Village Inn.
Appetizer choices were mostly deep-fried things, so we decided to share a small pizza with sausage, mushrooms and peppers ($10.95). It was good, and we were very impressed with the crust, a kind of self-rising dough that we found interesting.
Onion soup is offered "when available," and it wasn't available the night we were there. So we got to try the soup of the day ($3), boiled dinner soup loaded with cabbage, carrots, potatoes and lots of ham. The stock was generally weak and watery.
It was a perfect night for chili. A cup of chili ($1.75), thick and hearty looking, had all the right stuff, a tomato base with ground beef, kidney beans and diced green pepper. While it looked fine, it lacked in flavor — needed something to spice it up.
The entrées we ordered were preceded by ordinary dinner salads — iceberg lettuce, carrots, onion and tomato. However, they were delivered before they were completely assembled in the kitchen. So the tomatoes and onions arrived on a separate plate a few moments later.
There's an extra charge for ranch dressing because it's homemade — 50 cents, no big deal. But it really wasn't anything special. I'd take bottled Hidden Valley any day.
New York strip steak ($13.95) was described as "tender and tasty, grilled your way." Unfortunately, it wasn't tender or tasty. And it wasn't grilled my way.
I ordered it medium-rare and got medium-well. Actually, it was well done except for a glimmer of pink in the very center. While it might have started out tender, overcooking it nixed that. And tasty? It wasn't that either. It was accompanied by OK french fries and canned peas with an occasional pearl onion.
"Succulent" pork chops ($10.95) were similarly incinerated. Two boneless, center-cut chops were so overcooked and tough, you could barely cut them with the serrated knife. Too bad I left my chainsaw home in the garage. Sweet potato fries were OK. Canned peas weren't.
Baked ziti ($9.75) was underwhelming, too. The pasta was limp and overcooked, the homemade sauce was lackluster, the melted mozzarella on top was probably the best part of it. But the entire creation was no better than someone could easily make at home.
We were hoping that their signature platter, Icelandic haddock broiled in lemon and garlic butter ($14.95) would save the day. Not a chance.
First of all, Icelandic is a frozen product. It's a good quality product, but you still have to know how to cook fish before you send it out on a plate to a customer. It was so blanketed in paprika, you could hardly tell there was fish underneath. And it was under the broiler too long, so the paprika had burned spots on it. Any lemon and garlic butter also went up in smoke in the cremation process.
We were excited after we heard that the mashed potatoes were homemade. We weren't excited after we tasted them. They were stiff, dried out and tasteless, almost as if they were mashed with water instead of milk or cream. You could even taste the nastiness through the canned turkey gravy on top.
Our plates weren't even cleared and our waitress placed our check in the center of the table. OK, we had a lot of food, but at least ask us if we wanted coffee or dessert. So we asked her if we could have some coffee and dessert.
Apple crisp used nice, tart apples and wasn't overly sweet. The topping was loose, crumbled brown sugar and oatmeal. There was no "crisp" to it.
Brownie sundae consisted of a very thin brownie square with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, covered with real fudge sauce, whipped topping and a cherry. It tasted OK, but the size of the brownie was disappointing.
Coconut cream pie looked like it should have been thrown away a week ago. It was dried out and rubbery. REALLY rubbery.
Even the coffee was nasty — noticeably bitter.
Dinner for four at the Village Inn cost $93.56 with tax, dessert accounting for $12 of that. And you'd better have a wad of cash in your pocket, because it wasn't until I tried to pay with my credit card that we found out they don't take credit cards.
Maybe we just hit them on an off night, or ordered the wrong stuff, or the cook called in sick and the dishwasher was cooking. But the Village Inn in Harrisville was not a good experience.
Angelo's Fresh Seafood and Takeout in Potsdam has closed its doors. Owner Angelo Landi Jr. attributes the closing to the poor economic climate and the escalating cost of his supplies.
Fans of Angelo's restaurant will still be able to enjoy his cooking. He has been named executive chef of the restaurant at Deer Valley Trails in St. Regis Falls. He is in the process of re-evaluating and updating the menu.
Deer Valley Trails is a modern facility with a large dining room and bar and a few cabins for overnight stays. It's a popular stop for snowmobilers in the wintertime, but easily accessible by road as well.
Head south out of St. Regis Falls on Route 358 for three miles. Take a right on winding, snow-covered Blue Mountain Road. Three more miles and you're there.
To learn more about Deer Valley Trails, go to their website: www.deervalleytrails.net.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
8208 Main St.
Basic food poorly prepared.
RATING: 1 1/2 forks