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At Between the Buns in Potsdam, interesting possibilities

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POTSDAM — There’s a new restaurant in town that specializes in gourmet burgers and upscale beers and bills itself as a sports bar.

Between the Buns opened in early April in the building on Elm Street that formerly housed La Casbah, a Moroccan restaurant that closed last year. It’s the brainchild of Marc Morley and Megan Martin, who also own the Hot Tamale restaurants in Potsdam and Canton.

It has been redecorated. The tin ceilings throughout have been painted a rich bronze, as have the age-old pipes that hang from the ceiling. Many of the walls are accented with brick — brick wallpaper, as it turns out (we had to get up and touch it to find out). The dining room floor sports impressive new tile; the barroom floor is original wood that has been sanded and polished.

It feels more like a restaurant than a sports bar. There are numerous TVs hanging on the walls in the bar area, but they were so unobtrusive that we hardly noticed them. We were there for lunch, so maybe they don’t crank them up until later in the day.

The full bar offers a modest selection of craft brews on tap and plenty of bottled beers. Kevin, the bartender, is friendly, competent and unflappable.

The menu is simple: a good number of house-made appetizers, a dozen creative burgers, gussied-up hot dog choices and a handful of unusual sandwiches.

There’s plenty of seating at new tables and chairs, although the tables were rather plain — no placemats or silverware or condiments of any kind. Not even salt and pepper shakers.

Our server, Will, handed us menus along with forks and knives wrapped in paper napkins. He was quite well-versed with the menu, able to answer our questions and even offer some astute advice.

After placing our order, he started us out with complimentary bread and butter pickles, made in-house and cleverly served in a small mason jar. Since there were no plates to put the pickles on, we merely passed the jar around the table and ate right from the jar with our forks.

They were quite good — on the sweet side, as they should be, very crisp and certainly a different and fun way to begin the meal. If you want more pickles, as well as house-cured carrots and marinated olives, they’re on the menu, priced at $5 a jar.

The mac and cheese appetizer ($5), while touted as “creamy,” was a little on the dry side. While it may have been made with four cheeses, it was surprisingly not very cheesy. The panko breadcrumb crust added a nice texture, but the rosemary tomato sauce on top didn’t seem to go with it.

We couldn’t figure out why it was served cold. Was that intentional or an oversight?

I like boneless chicken wings ($10/dozen) because they’re actually made with breast meat and your fingers don’t get all sticky because you can eat them with a fork. Here they’re coated in a buttermilk/panko batter, then fried. They were moist and tasty.

The usual sauces are available, but we tried the “BTB signature sauce,” a non-offensive combination of hot and sweet. Some at the table thought it was a little dull, but for others who would rather taste chicken than a burn-your-face-off hot sauce, it was quite enjoyable.

Steamed clams ($12), attractively served in a tall cone-shaped metal pail, were tasty, good-sized littlenecks steamed in white wine, garlic and fresh parsley. They were good quality domestic clams from Rhode Island, according to the menu, served with a side of clarified butter and lemon.

How could we not try a burger named “the Hangover” ($12). As with all Between the Bun’s burgers, it’s an 8-ounce patty made with “a custom beef blend from Philadelphia.”

The Hangover is topped with a sunny-side up egg, cheddar cheese and perfectly cooked, flavorful applewood-smoked bacon. It came on a nicely toasted bakery-made brioche bun that was richer than a standard bun because it was made with eggs.

They have a color coding system for the doneness of their burgers: red = rare, pink = medium, brown = well. We ordered the burger “red,” but the order was entered as “pink.” Unfortunately, the “pink” burger came out as “brown.”

Regardless, there was enough fat content in the meat to still make it relatively juicy and a really tasty burger, especially with all the good fixin’s on top.

Turkey burgers can be pretty bland, but not the one at Buns, a pretty good value for $9. The ground turkey had a pleasing blend of seasonings, with sage taking center stage. It was served with a pile of perfectly grilled sweet red onion, melted smoked provolone and a delightful basil aioli that brightened every bite.

Both burgers came with a pile of good-tasting french fries that could have been a little crisper and coleslaw that was sweet, creamy and crunchy. Will placed a small bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table as he delivered the burgers.

A Reuben hot dog ($6) was a Glazier dog from Malone with house-made sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Islands dressing tucked into a nice brioche roll. The kraut had great vinegar overtones. The combination of ingredients worked well together on the fancy roll.

When we ordered their fish sandwich ($11), Will was quick to make sure we knew what we were getting. “It’s not a fish sandwich like you’re used to,” he said. “It’s ahi tuna that we grind and shape like a burger.”

The menu indicates that the fish/burger is sesame seed-encrusted and comes with pickled ginger, cilantro slaw and wasabi vinaigrette. Thin slices of pickled ginger were there and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. But the slaw was identical to the side of coleslaw that came with the other burgers. And where was the wasabi vinaigrette?

Bottom line: The tuna was dry and lacked flavor. And we couldn’t figure why would you’d want to grind up nice Ahi tuna, either.

Here’s where we all agreed there should be a selection of condiments on the table. Salt and pepper, for starters. Frank’s hot sauce. Sriracha chili sauce. Worcestershire. A-1. Mayo. Mustard. Maybe even some wasabi.

The Cuban sandwich ($10) was disappointing. It was just wrong.

A Cuban is a variation of a ham and cheese sandwich. It’s a pressed sandwich that calls for ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard.

Very little about the sandwich was classic Cuban, from the untoasted bread to the dry and tough pork, the bacon instead of ham, sweet pickles rather than dill pickles, whole-grain mustard rather than tangy yellow mustard.

It probably wouldn’t have been bad if they hadn’t called it a Cuban, but it certainly wasn’t a great ambassador for this wonderful sandwich introduced to our country by early Cuban immigrants.

We ordered a Southwest burger (haystack onions, smoked bacon, battered and fried jalapenos, provolone, barbecue sauce) to go. Rather than showing up when the bill did, it arrived in its Styrofoam container along with the other burgers and sandwiches and sat next to us for the remainder of lunch.

By the time it reached its destination, the haystack onions were soggy, as were the fries. There was a lack of sauce that would have helped moisten the burger and add a blast of flavor. For $12, and considering the tangy ingredients, it seemed rather ordinary.

Will should have put the “to go” order in later than he did.

Desserts were disappointing commercial products.

Five chocolate chip cookies ($6) came straight from the microwave, all mushy and gooey, but chocolate has a way of saving most anything, especially with the plate and the cookies painted with additional chocolate syrup.

The apple tart, more like a galette, really should be avoided. Another microwave special, the dough was soft and flavorless, as were the apples. It was tough paying $9 for this misguided confection.

Food for five eating lunch at the restaurant cost $99.51 before tip. The menu is the same for lunch and dinner, served from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Our waiter was friendly and accommodating. He did a good job of keeping our water glasses full, but missed out on making sure we had replacement silverware and extra napkins.

We were happy to hear him say they were still working out the kinks, because they certainly were.

It was well over an hour-and-a-half lunch from start to finish. Granted, they were busy, but nothing on the menu is really that complicated.

The management should be aware that, in the middle of the day, there were no paper towels in the men’s room (or electric dryers). And we’re told there was absolutely no paper in the ladies room — no toilet paper, no towels.

The owners have created a great concept with Between the Buns. Running a restaurant takes a good deal of know-how. There are some glitches here; hopefully it will come together in time.

Between the Buns is a welcome addition to the eclectic and flourishing restaurant scene in Potsdam. We certainly want to see it succeed.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.







Between the Buns

6 Elm St.

Potsdam, N.Y.

265-8888

A new restaurant in town that specializes in gourmet burgers and upscale beers and bills itself as a sports bar.



HOURS: Food is available from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., bar stays open later.



OUR PICKS: Bread and butter pickles, boneless wings, steamers, Hangover burger, turkey burger, Reuben hot dog



RATING: 3 forks

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