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A new choice for Italian fare in Massena

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MASSENA —Just when you thought there were more than enough Italian restaurants in Massena, another one pops up.

River Run Restaurant opened at the Massena Country Club earlier this season. Billed as “Authentic Italian-American Cuisine,” it has all the potential to be just that.

Veteran restaurateur Amadeo “Dede” Cappione is in charge of the food operation.

Dede has decades of experience, owning or managing restaurants in Potsdam and Massena and, most recently, 37 West Steakhouse on the nearby St. Regis Mohawk reservation.

It’s a lovely drive down Route 131, “the river road,” to the club, following the shimmering St. Lawrence River all the way. The clubhouse is an impressive brick-fronted building. Inside, a spacious dining room is reasonably separated from the bar area and the post-game golfers who sometimes become unaware of their volume and language.

We were seated by a young hostess, spiffily attired in all black. She presented us with menus offering an extensive selection of previously frozen and from-scratch appetizers, specialty sandwiches with cutesy golf names, salads, fried-food baskets, a few pizzas and a kids menu.

Not to mention the bilingual, full-fledged dinner choices: pesci/fish, carni/meat, pollo/chicken, vitello/veal and, of course, pasta.

We began with several appetizers that we thought would show off the skills of the kitchen crew.

Right after being told that our appetizers would be right out, we were told that the crab-stuffed mushrooms we’d ordered were not available, so we substituted escargot ($7.50).

These were just OK. The escargot were stuffed into mushroom caps and doused with a garlic/butter sauce. Not nearly enough flavor from the sauce — it was as if it had been splashed on top after, rather than before, cooking.

Bruschetta ($6.95) is available with either “tomato salad” or “Italian olive spread.” We got the tomato version, good-tasting diced tomatoes with a light balsamic touch, freshly made in-house. The bread underneath just didn’t have the texture to stand up to the juicy topping. It turned into a soggy mess.

Melanzane al Italiana ($7.95) was a Napoleon-style appetizer with layers of eggplant, garlic, spinach, prosciutto, mozzarella, provolone and Romano. The three cheeses were present in delicate amounts. The prosciutto wasn’t the best; it could have easily passed for baked ham.

The stack was surrounded by a garlic/oil sauce containing parsley, basil and roasted red peppers. Overall, it was an appealing dish that we’d be happy to order again.

We practiced pronouncing “melanzane al Italiana” before we ordered it so we wouldn’t sound too foolish, but as it turned out, our young waitress had no idea how to pronounce it either.

You rarely see frogs legs on a menu anymore, so we had to order them ($8.95). They were pretty darn good, and they sure were big. We didn’t expect the tasty, slightly burned chicken wing-like breading, but it served its purpose, sealing in moisture and allowing the meat to fall off its bones.

Except for the frogs legs, everything needed a touch of salt to bring out the true flavor.

The hostess was also the water girl. She’d stand behind us at the table, awkwardly asking, “Does anyone want more water?” rather than just picking up an empty glass and taking care of business.

House salads that came with our entrees featured mixed greens with red radicchio, a wedge of roma tomato, a round of cucumber and several thick slices of red onion. They looked pretty good, but lacked crispness, as though they’d been sitting around a little too long. House Caesar dressing was nothing special. Too bad the dressings had to be served in those little plastic cups and plopped right on top of the salads.

We sampled one entrée from each category.

Veal Francese ($18.95) was a decent piece of veal and generally prepared as advertised — egg battered, pan-seared (actually, lightly sautéed), topped with sautéed fresh mushrooms in a sauce of lemon, butter and wine. Actually, there was no taste of lemon at all. And someone forgot to season the meat or the batter with a little salt and pepper. We took care of that.

The 12-ounce Delmonico ($20.95) was a beautiful, juicy piece of choice rib-eye, prepared to a perfect medium-rare as ordered. It sorely needed salt and pepper, but there was plenty of that provided on each table.

A side of lovely homemade marinara sauce over penne accompanied both the steak and the veal (even thought meat sauce was ordered with one of them). It was excellent, after we brought it to that point by adding several pinches of salt.

The tentative water girl was back, waiting for a break in our conversation so she could find out who needs more water.

Pasta Pescatore ($21.95) — Italian for “fisherman’s style” — gave us a chance to try out their pasta as well as their seafood.

It contained lots of seafood—shrimp and scallops (both a bit overcooked), good calamari (lots of tentacles) and very good mussels. But the bland scampi sauce hadn’t been tossed with the linguini and the seafood. It was sitting on the bottom of the plate with dry linguini on top of it. Things got better when we realized there was a sauce for us to mix in, though we still did need to add salt and pepper.

Chicken Marsala ($16.95) just might have been the most flavorful entrée on its own. Very little seasoning was needed on our part. We appreciated the fresh mushrooms on top. But the chicken breast itself had an odd tenderness to is, as though it had perhaps been tenderized. A side of roasted red potatoes was a little shriveled up from sitting in the steam table too long. There were no other vegetables offered.

After a lengthy and conflicting chat with our waitress regarding the origin of the desserts (“I think they come from a bakery in Waddington.” “No, maybe a lady from Waddington comes here and makes them.”). The boss, Dede, stopped by to confirm the latter.

Anyway, they were about the same quality as you or I would make at home.

Banana cake looked perfect, just like the picture on the front of the Duncan Hines box. Red velvet cake was as red as we’ve ever seen. Too bad they weren’t selling better so the baker could make fresh ones sooner. Cherry pie used canned filling and had a rather thick crust with perfectly fluted edges. Each dessert cost $4.95.

In an attempt to dress them up, someone haphazardly squirted runny whipped topping around the desserts. The banana cake, plated on its side, had the tired topping smeared along the bottom of it. And we sat there looking at each plate, thinking the white stuff looked more like toothpaste than cream.

Dinner for four cost $158.25 before tipping our server and her associate.

Our waitress never lost her composure or her friendly demeanor in spite of being befuddled by people who would order more than one appetizer (she was on her way to the kitchen as soon as we ordered the melanzane), need fresh bread plates and silverware (when we lacked a fork and called it to her attention, she was kind enough to bring us a complete wrapped-in-paper napkin set), ask questions about the kitchen (Mike somebody and another guy were doing the cooking). And now we’re pretty sure (I think) we know the origin of the desserts.

Our servers were a couple of nice young ladies who aimed to please. We’re quite certain they could do much better with a little coaching rather than just sending them out on the floor. A good waitress is more than just a food delivery person.

Finally…did those golf guys in the bar really attempt to sing “Happy Birthday” to one of their buddies and substitute “Old Fart” for his name?

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

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River Road Restaurant

at the Massena Country Club

829 State Highway 131

Massena, N.Y.

764-4061

www.massenacountryclub.com



Veteran restaurateur Amadeo “Dede” Cappione offers “Authentic Italian-American Cuisine” at the Massena Country Club.



HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week



Try the frogs legs or the “Melanzane al Italiana” for appetizers.



Homemade marinara sauce is very good. Get it on anything and everything you possibly can.



Keep a salt shaker handy.



RATING: 2½ forks

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