NATURAL BRIDGE The only eatery in Natural Bridge has changed hands again.
What was most recently Dars Place is now the Bear Claw Bakery & Café. The location on Route 3 in the center of this little village has been a restaurant in one form or another for decades.
As soon as we entered, we immediately got the feeling of a warm, friendly hometown atmosphere. Large windows facing the street let in a huge amount of late-morning sunlight. The antique checkout counter next to the bakery display case came from an old hotel across the street that was torn down many years ago.
We grabbed one of the tables by the front window. Nothing like the warmth of the sun on a chilly late-winter morning with snow still on the ground outside.
Diane was right there with menus. Nothing fancy just good, basic stuff. Turkey, roast beef, tuna salad and egg salad sandwiches. Fish sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches and hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches.
Burgers are available, made with natural, hormone-free black angus beef from a nearby farm in Lowville. Pizza and wings are available, too. And, of course, the bakery display case would have to be explored before we left.
Theres soup and chili, too, which is where we started.
Soup of the day was homemade turkey vegetable, which was very good. We loved the robust turkey stock and generous pieces of meat. The veggies were pureed, something wed never seen in a turkey soup before, but delicious nonetheless.
Chili is available seasonally, and from the looks of the weather, we might just have gotten one of the last tastes of the season. It was not as impressive as the turkey soup, however good but not outstanding. Lots of beans and short on beef. But the tomatoey flavor was pretty OK. It just needed more meat.
We ordered a side garden salad ahead of our main courses. It consisted of crisp iceberg lettuce, fresh tomatoes, some diced green pepper, carrots, boxed croutons and sliced red onion (easy to pick off if youre not an onion fan). The dressing was served separately, a creamy, sweet Italian made on the premises.
It was a Friday, its Lent, so we got a tuna melt. We were expecting it open-faced but it arrived as a regular grilled cheese sandwich with tuna salad. It was great; the bread was toasted light and crisp and the American cheese perfectly melted.
The Philly cheesesteak sandwich was made with precooked meat from one of their suppliers. Not Steak-Umms, though, Diane assured us.
Whatever it was, it was surprisingly good chopped up seasoned beef with diced green peppers, grilled onions and American cheese, all sautéed and nestled in a super-fresh hoagie roll. Very tasty.
In most diners, you cant go wrong with bacon and eggs for breakfast or a hot turkey sandwich for lunch. We got the Bear Claws hot turkey, and it did not disappoint.
The sandwich was made with white bread and a generous amount of gravy. The filling was real turkey chunks, not sliced processed turkey loaf. It was served with french fries and a pickle and made for a generous midday meal.
The bakery display case wasnt exactly packed with confections like the name of the café would lead you to believe. There were three items available, so we tried each of them.
We got the last piece of cherry pie. It was made with canned cherries, we all agreed. What we disagreed on was the crust: homemade or commercial? I went with homemade (it was pretty flaky even though it had been around for a few days) but I was out-voted. Whatever, we found it enjoyable.
Carrot cake was excellent. We got the first piece from a brand-new (and definitely homemade) cake moist with a liberal amount of rich cream cheese frosting. There were bits of carrot in every delicious bite.
Red velvet cupcake was our least favorite. It was a little dry. Not bad, but not great. Maybe it would have been better had it been a slice of cake rather than a cupcake, and thus less exposed to the drying air.
Lunch for three came to $34.08 before tip.
It was comforting to have an adult server with years of experience in the restaurant business waiting on us. She was polite and efficient, a professional at her craft.
The breakfast menu includes eggs with bacon, ham, hash or sausage; omelets with various fillings; pancakes; french toast, and homefries. For dinner, theres haddock, chicken, strip steak and pasta dishes as well as nightly specials.
Sunday night theres chicken and biscuits, Monday chicken Parmesan and scalloped potatoes. On Tuesday you can get beef barbecue, Wednesday taco salad in a tortilla bowl and Thursdays its your choice of fried or broiled fish or chicken Parmesan.
The restaurant is open every day except Saturday.
Natural Bridge is a little out of the way for most people, but we feel worth the drive to dine at the Bear Claw Bakery & Café.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bear Claw Bakery & Café
44005 state Route 3
A neat little café/diner in the heart of downtown Natural Bridge serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday