BRANTINGHAM You know that old expression, You cant get there from here?
Thats what it felt like as we headed to the Pine Tree Inn in the Adirondack foothills hamlet of Brantingham.
Brantingham is a favorite spot for golfing and boating in the summertime, snowmobiling and four-wheeling the rest of the time. It felt far from civilization as we traveled down backwoods roads, dusk turning to dark on a crisp fall evening.
The Pine Tree is a classic Adirondack lodge/log cabin building, attractive and inviting both outside and inside. Its cozy interior is like a mountain ski lodge with high, vaulted ceilings, an oversized stone fireplace and hanging collectibles of every sort: antique sleds, stuffed wild animals and a unique collection of antique beer taps.
While the spacious bar/lounge area and the dining rooms would no doubt be packed at the peak of summer or height of the snowmobile season, it was very quiet when we stopped by on a recent Wednesday, a few dozen guests at most.
There was only one person on duty out front. Lisa was the bartender and the waitress and held sole communication with the kitchen where brother Mike was handling the cooking chores. Her demeanor was initially somewhat brusque, but as the evening unfolded, she warmed to her guests and delivered a pleasant dining experience.
The Pine Tree was founded by Lisas parents in the 80s. They left a taxi business and a real estate business in Utica and moved to the wilds of Brantingham. A devastating fire in 1996 reduced the restaurant to ashes, but they persevered and built the lovely building that stands there today.
Theres something on the menu for everyone, whether youre just looking to have munchies with a beer at the bar or enjoy a relaxed dinner at a table in front of the fireplace.
I always hold my breath when ordering steamed clams in the north country, knowing the nearest ocean is hundreds of miles away. Thats why many restaurants use those scrawny, frozen, cryovacked clams offered by restaurant suppliers.
Not here! The dozen clams ($7.95), billed as littlenecks, were really topnecks, an appealing size between littlenecks and cherrystones. They were plump and meaty, steamed just right, served with a tasty side of melted butter.
Lisa told us that the clams are, in fact, not frozen and they purchase only a limited amount at a time from their purveyor each week to ensure freshness.
Pizzas come in one size, 16 inches, a homemade crust available with the usual array of toppings. We got ours with pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms ($17.35). The crust was thicker than we would have liked and the cheese made it heavy and even thicker. But if wed just arrived after riding 25 miles on a frosty Ski-Doo rather than 25 miles in a heated SUV, it probably would have been the best pizza in the world.
We passed over salads, burgers, chicken sandwiches and specialty sandwiches (even though the prime rib, the crabcake and the pulled pork sandwiches were pretty tempting) and ordered full-fledged entrees.
Chicken Parmesan ($14.95) was a large, filling portion, a good-sized chicken breast breaded and deep-fried, doused with marinara sauce, finished with shredded mozzarella and served over a good amount of penne. An old standby nicely prepared.
Shrimp Rachel ($16.95) was a rich dish consisting of five nice-sized shrimp along with real crabmeat covered with gooey, bubbling cheese.
We ordered the grilled rib-eye on the menu but it wasnt available. Lisa suggested the New York strip steak ($17.95), telling us that Mike had hand-cut them earlier that day.
This was a 12-ounce piece of chargrilled meat, ordered and cooked medium, topped with blue cheese, mushrooms (pretty sure they were canned) and homemade onion rings. Choice of potato was offered and we went with baked.
The steak by itself without all the junk on top would have been my preference (it was juicy and perfectly seasoned), but the person who ordered it loved the toppings, gobbled it down and practically licked the plate clean.
Leaning to the owners Utica roots, vodka riggies is on the menu, available with grilled chicken ($15.95) or grilled shrimp ($17.95). While chicken is more traditional, we thought wed give the shrimp preparation a try.
It was a generous portion of penne, onions, green peppers, hot peppers and a half-dozen shrimp in vodka sauce, served nice and hot. I think of vodka sauce as Alfredo with a touch of marinara, resulting in its distinctive pink color.
Many believe the vodka does something to counterbalance the acidity of the tomatoes in the marinara. I believe its a terrible waste of good vodka, but thats probably just me.
Anyway, the vodka sauce was right on, creamy and complementary, not overwhelming, with just enough heat from the hot peppers.
Entrees came with soup or salad. Salads consisted of crisp iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots and sliced red onion, drizzled with their top-secret Italian dressing Good Seasons, Lisa told us.
Stuffed green pepper soup was delicious, made with green peppers and rice, tasting exactly like good, old-fashioned Italian stuffed pepper comfort food.
With several Zinfandel drinkers at the table (thats red Zin, of course) we perked up when Lisa told us that they offer a wine familiar to us, CigarZin, Rich with bright, exotic fruit qualities and a palate saturated with notes of juicy raspberries, cherry liqueur, crushed black pepper and a hint of clove, according to the winerys website.
Who makes up that stuff? I want their job.
Dessert wasnt offered, but since we were the last ones in the room, Lisa was probably ready to get rid of us. We certainly had had enough to eat, so dessert wasnt an option anyway.
Dinner for fourthe clams, a pizza and four entreescame to $94.25 before tip and drinks.
Lisa, Mike and the Guillaume family have a good thing going in this corner of the universe called Brantingham. Whether you stop for something to eat or something to drink, we know youll enjoy the ambiance of the Pine Tree Inn.
If youre a snowbird heading south soonor know someone who is here are a few restaurants I discovered on a trip to Florida recently.
■ Pottsville, Pa.: The Greystone Restaurant www.thegstone.com in downtown Pottsville is a small-town gem. Its housed in an restored old hotel with several dining rooms and a comfy-cozy bar/lounge area, which is where we ate.
We stuck to their extensive appetizer/light fare menu, enjoying duck potstickers, crab and roasted cauliflower gratin, house-made meatballs and a Caesar salad with blackened salmon.
Pottsville is also the home of Yeungling Beer Co., the oldest brewery in the United States.
■ Fredericksburg, Va.:The historic downtown boasts some great restaurants. We settled on Bistro Bethem www.bistrobethem.com. Its adventurous daily changing menu is based on the availability of fresh, local ingredients.
We tried gnocchi mac and cheese, Vietnamese beef tongue sammie, Delmarva clams and a San Marzano margherita pizza from their wood-fired oven.
They serve lunch and dinner daily as well as brunch on Sunday.
■ Hilton Head, S.C.: OMBRA Cucina Rustica www.ombrahhi.com has been open barely a year, but there wasnt an empty seat in the house when we visited on a Saturday night last month. Reservations are advised for this popular restaurant located in a posh strip mall.
Marinated beets with arugula and goat cheese, homemade ribbon pasta with classic Bolognese, veal scaloppini with wild mushrooms, seared sea scallops with black truffle sauce, panna cotta with fresh berries and homemade caramel just a few of the excellent dishes we sampled from the extensive menu. Great wine list, too.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pine Tree Inn
7796 Brantingham Road
Far from civilization, the Pine Tree Inn offers food and drink in an Adirondack lodge setting.
FALL HOURS: 3 p.m. to closing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
11 a.m. to closing Friday, Saturday and Sunday
OUR PICKS: Steamed clams, New York strip steak, vodka riggies with shrimp, CigarZin Zinfandel