SOUTH COLTON In 2008, a young couple opened South of the Rock Inn, a very nice restaurant in this tiny town on the edge of the Adirondacks.
The name was based on Sunday Rock, a huge boulder and national landmark just up the road. While it was no longer an inn, per se, it had the flavor of the olden days with a barroom at one end of the building and a dining room at the other.
People were saddened to see the restaurant close in early 2010. It was well-received and well-patronized. But the young couple even though they had prior restaurant experience decided it was too much work for them.
Earlier this year, Mike and Linda Pratt came to the rescue. Mike is a pharmacist by trade; Linda is a real estate saleswoman. After waiting what seemed like forever for their liquor license and other permits, Mikes South of the Rock Inn opened in June.
Their ace-in-the-hole was a chef who had worked at the now out-of-business Julians Restaurant in nearby Potsdam, considered an upscale eatery. He designed a menu perfect for South of the Rock, upscale-casual food for the bar crowd and good, solid creative choices for the sit-down dinner guests.
Casual Fine Dining, theyre calling it. Char-grilled wings, potato-wrapped shrimp, spanakopita and interesting sliders for starters; chicken Marsala, New York strip steak, surf and turf, salmon primavera and several more choices for dinner entrees.
The bar entrance is closest to the parking lot. On the way in, we walked past a few friendly smokers just outside. Inside, the bar was occupied by a number of locals plus the owners. We grabbed the last four seats for a quick round before heading into the dining room. Nice bar. Good bartender.
The dining room hasnt changed much, from what we remember. There are some old black and white photos on the walls now and some antique plates. Other than that, its pretty much the same. The bar area as well.
We had our choice of seats since we were the only ones in the dining room. But it was a Wednesday night and the weather was summery and a night diners might prefer to dine outside on a patio or deck. Scratchy country-western music was playing over the sound system. Luckily, someone turned the volume down after we were seated. Thank goodness, because Im allergic to country-western music.
Our server brought us menus, poured water, noted that we brought our drinks with us from the bar and removed the table tent wine list to make more room. I went to the next table to check out the house wines and they were a decent choice, C.K. Mondavi. I assume there wasny anything more interesting than those, or selections by the bottle, or we would have been told.
For appetizers, we ordered things easily shareable among the four of us: potato-wrapped shrimp ($7), Portobello rollatini ($7) and the slider board ($12).
For the sliders, you get to pick three from a choice of five: Cuban, Buffalo chicken, Portobello, meatball or barbecue pork. We ordered the first three.
What a great concept a chance to sample totally different flavors, presented on mini hamburger buns. Cuban consisted of pork, ham, Swiss and pickles; the Buffalo was chicken, blue cheese and wing sauce; the Portobello was grilled mushroom, roasted red pepper and cream cheese. An unusual starter, but a person could almost make a meal of it at the bar with a beer or two.
Maybe for the price they could have used a little nicer bun. French fries served with them were standard.
Portobello rollatini wasnt exactly rollatini; more like a Portobello sandwich two grilled Portobello caps with roasted red peppers and cream cheese in between, cut into quarters and speared with a frilly toothpick for easy eating. The plate and the mushroom pieces were drizzled with a balsamic reduction.
It was similar, if not identical to the Portobello slider. Very tasty.
Our server spilled the beans the potato-wrapped shrimp was a premade job from one of their suppliers. But not bad, really. They were battered and wrapped in strands of potato that resembled string. They looked like a large version of those cone-shaped snacks called Bugles. A sweet and sour sauce served on the side kicked them up a notch.
We tried the soup of the day, creamy chicken vegetable. It was quite thick you could almost stand the spoon up in it. It would be great on a cold winter night. But it didnt taste like cream more like one of those powdered cream bases available from restaurant suppliers. More starchy than creamy.
It was right about now that we learned that the original chef (the one who designed the menu) was no longer there. It was Marci Arbos first night as the new full-time chef. Marci had been a bartender at South of the Rock until this point. She comes with impressive credentials, having attended New England Culinary Institute.
Our server was good at keeping our water glasses filled throughout the meal. She often asked, as though trained to do so, Is there anything else I can get for you? every time she finished placing food on the table, and Are you all done with that? preceding the removal of dirty plates. A little bothersome at times, especially when we were in the middle of a conversation.
Then Mike, the owner, made his way into the dining room to say hello. Without any introduction he asked, Do you have any questions? There was a strained silence as we were contemplating a response. I kind of figured out who he was, but I think my guests at the table were thinking of asking, Who are you?
We had the choice of a house salad or Caesar salad with our entrees.
The house salad utilized fresh but limp greens green and red leaf lettuces that tend to be limp anyway with three grape tomatoes and three cucumber slices dressing up the plate. Diced red onion was tossed in with the greens. House balsamic dressing was nice, and just the right amount.
Caesar salad was made with Romaine, as it should be. The dressing, on the oily side rather than creamy, lacked the usually lemon and garlic punch. Boxed croutons were not crisp, probably a victim of the summer humidity.
All entrée presentations were quite appealing.
Chicken roulade ($16) was creatively served. The roulade, stuffed with asparagus and prosciutto, was cut into large pieces and set atop slices of roasted potatoes. The chicken was seasoned nicely and cooked just right, still moist and flavorful, drizzled with a light Parmesan cream sauce.
When we saw salmon primavera ($17) on the menu, we pictured strips of salmon tossed with fresh veggies and pasta in an Alfredo sauce.
It turned out to be a nice piece of grilled salmon set next to sautéed carrots touched with a tarragon/citrus glaze (sweet, but not very citrusy) and a pile of roasted potatoes (more like cubed breakfast home fries). Again, the salmon was perfectly seasoned and quite tasty.
I was impressed with the pork chop ($16). I asked for it to be cooked medium-rare, if possible, and Marci did just that. The bone-in, Frenched chop was still slightly pink, perfectly seasoned and very moist. A splash of bourbon demi-glace was a nice touch.
Prefab garlic mashed potatoes were just OK. Personally, Im over garlic mashed. Just give me the real thing made with cream and lots of butter! Sautéed fresh zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper were delightful and colorful as well.
Risotto ala scampi ($17) was just OK. A large portion of risotto was surrounded by five seasoned, pan-seared scallops and two large shrimp were positioned in the mound of risotto with their tails protruding. While the seafood was fine, the risotto lacked a certain creaminess that results when it is cooked to just the right point. It tended to be dry and on the al dente side.
As we were finishing, Mike made another stop at our table, then Marci made an appearance to say hi as our server asked Are you all done with that? pertaining to the dirty dishes that had been on the table for some time as the parade passed by. We know they were just trying to be friendly, but ... too many interruptions.
Earlier at the bar, we overheard Linda saying that Marci was making a peach cobbler, but it wouldnt be ready to serve until the following day. We were elated when our server told us that the peach cobbler was, in fact, available ($6).
Marci sent out enough for us to share, warm from the oven with a nice, crisp oat/brown sugar topping, the fresh peaches in a sweet and flavorful Bourbon sauce underneath. The peaches were cooked just enough to soften but not be soggy.
Vanilla ice cream was thoughtfully served on the side in individual silver soufflé cups. This prevented the ice cream from melting due to the warmth of the cobbler.
Dinner for four (three appetizers, four entrees and one dessert) cost $109 before tip.
Other than the staff being distractingly over-attentive, we enjoyed our time at the new South of the Rock Inn. Its a pleasant place with a nice atmosphere and good food.
Marci did a great job executing a menu designed by the previous chef. We look forward to her contributions to the menu.
■ While in South Colton, be sure to visit Boyces General Store. Theyve got everything under one roof, from groceries to fish bait to plumbing supplies.
Their ground chuck makes the BEST hamburgers!
■ Between Sunday Rock and Mikes South of the Rock, Thomass farm stand is now selling fresh corn. You cant miss the big red barn on the right. Boyces may have the best burger meat around, but Thomass has the best corn ANYWHERE!
■ Petes Restaurant, 111 Breen Ave. at the bottom of the Arsenal Street Bridge in Watertown, has opened under new ownership. Geoff Puccia is the new proprietor. The Watertown native brings to Petes his experience as a chef at Ives Hill Country Club, the Italian-American Club, and prior to that, Frankies Italian Grille in Charlotte, N.C.
You can contact Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mikes South of the Rock Inn
3927 Route 56
South Colton, N.Y.
Casual fine dining in a pleasant atmosphere
HOURS: Dinner served 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Full bar opens at 2 p.m. daily except Tuesday.
Theres a limited bar menu on Monday
APPETIZER PICK: Portobello rollatini
ENTRÉE PICKS: Chicken roulade with asparagus and prosciutto; pork chop with Bourbon demi-glace
DESSERT PICK: Get the peach cobbler if its available
RATING: 3 forks