WADDINGTON — I love when we go on a review knowing absolutely nothing about what to expect, and come away thinking, "What a great experience we just had."
We had just such an experience after visiting J.C.'s River Run Bar & Grill down by the river in Waddington.
A restaurant in a bowling alley? I had a little trouble finding willing guests to join me on this review. But that all changed once we got inside River Lanes Bowling. The only evidence of a bowling alley was the sign on the roof outside. Four of the 12 lanes were converted into restaurant space a decade ago. The remainder are partitioned off and being renovated into a fitness center.
After an impromptu tour of the fitness side from some friendly workers, we entered the restaurant. A long bar with affable patrons led to the main dining room, the floor being the original maple wood lanes.
But off to the left we spotted a second bar, visible from the parking lot through what appeared to be glass overhead garage doors. We began our evening there, attracted by the warmth of the radiant heat floor and the warmth, wit and savvy of our bartender, Robyn.
In fact, Robyn's infectious personality convinced us to stay right there and enjoy dinner at the bar.
At a quick glance, the menu looks plain and casual. Appetizers, soups and salads, pizzas, burgers and wings, nachos and quesadillas.
But read carefully and you'll find bruschetta, fried cheese curd, poutine, bleu balls (it says, "Ask if you dare" ... and, of course, we did), taco salad, Buffalo shrimp salad, prime rib fajita wrap and veggie burgers. Dinner choices include prime rib, grilled chicken, porterhouse steak, scallops, haddock, tilapia and walleye along with more than a half-dozen unique pasta bakes.
So let's get started.
Bruschetta ($5.99) was a delicious take on the traditional tomato, onion, garlic and cheese topping by adding diced ham. The ham added a nice flavor without overpowering. It all came on a soft, chewy Italian roll.
You don't see fried pickles on north country menus very often (it's more of a Southern barbecue thing), so we ordered the "pickle tickles" ($5.49). Four battered and deep-fried dill spears had a great pickle crunch, tasty on their own but even better dipped in ranch dressing.
Robyn was hot on their homemade soups, so we gave them a try. Dinners include salad or soup, so why not? Plus, my theory is, if the restaurant's soup is good, then the rest of the meal is going to be good.
Sea chowder was excellent, chock full of clams, potatoes and herbs in a light cream broth. Good to the very last spoonful.
Soup of the day, vegetable beef, really shined. Chunks of tender beef, celery, carrots and potatoes came in a hearty stock that was impeccably seasoned. Absolutely delicious. We didn't want this one to end.
The crisp garden salad was a heaping mix of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, red onion and croutons accompanied by Italian dressing. Fresh and refreshing.
The only steak on the menu is a 16-ounce porterhouse ($19.99), nicely marbled, simply seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and perfectly cooked to our request of medium-rare, rendering its natural juices. It came with light and fluffy homemade mashed potatoes — no garlic or other stuff to mess them up.
There's walleye on the menu, available fried or broiled ($14.99). We got it fried. What a treat. It was meaty and flaky, encased in a beer batter, totally devoid of grease. Onion rings filled out the plate.
They've got seven different pasta bakes on the menu, served in individual casserole "boats."
Buffalo chicken pasta bake ($11.99) combined wing-sauced chunks of chicken with a cream sauce tossed with linguini, topped with cheeses and baked until bubbling hot.
Scallop and bacon pasta bake ($13.99) was similar to the Buffalo chicken bake, with scallops substituted for chicken and bacon for wing sauce. There was a good amount of nice-sized, perfectly cooked scallops in the dish — they weren't skimping on what was important.
A topping of broiled cheese and bacon bits added a crunch and wonderful smoky flavor to every bite. Another winner.
Garlic bread, using the same chewy rolls used for the bruschetta, was fantastic, and great for mopping up any sauce left in the boats.
Other pasta bakes were five-cheese Alfredo, chicken Alfredo, chicken cordon bleu, prime rib Alfredo and shrimp Parmesan.
Robyn was the source of information and entertainment throughout our meal, always there when we needed her, yet giving us plenty of space when we needed that. Yes, she provided the scoop on bleu balls — golf ball-sized balls of bleu cheese deep-fried — and now it was time for us to quiz her about their dessert specialty: beaver tails.
A few jokes and a few laughs later, we learned that a beaver tail is basically fried dough — like funnel cakes you get at the fair.
As we were about to order, chef/owner Nancy Chamberlain made an appearance, taking time to answer our food questions and accept our compliments on her skill at cooking.
And she told us that two pies she had baked that afternoon, apple and pumpkin, were ready to be served. A slice of each, please.
There's nothing better than a great homemade pie at the end of your meal, and these certainly measured up. But the beaver tail was the real star, smothered in non-fresh strawberries, confectioners sugar and whipped cream — an overwhelming portion, easily enough for two. How often can you get fried dough outside the fairgrounds?
An evening of food for four came to $101.91 before tip.
What a great experience we had. We loved the food, the atmosphere and the people who work at J.C.'s River Run Bar & Grill. It was a great find. We're already making plans for a social visit in the summertime when the overhead doors are up, the customers are flowing onto the outdoor patio and the cold beer is flowing from the taps.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
J.C.'s River Run Bar & Grill
17 Bowling Court
Waddington, N.Y. 13694
A terrific find in the former bowling alley in Waddington — great food, great people
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week
APPETIZER PICKS: Be sure to get their bruschetta, and try the "pickle tickles"
HOMEMADE SOUPS: Sea chowder was excellent. Vegetable beef was absolutely delicious.
ENTREES: Everything we tried was wonderful: porterhouse steak, fried walleye, scallop and pasta bake, Buffalo chicken pasta bake
DESSERT: Go for the beaver tails, and any of Nancy's homemade pies
RATING: 4 forks