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Dining al fresco at the new Channelside in Clayton

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CLAYTON —There’s nothing better than a good dinner on a comfortable deck overlooking the beautiful St. Lawrence River on a perfect summer evening.

That’s exactly what we got when we visited the Channelside Café on Riverside Drive.

The new owners of what was formerly the Riverside Café have done major renovations that have modernized and lightened up the look of the interior. It’s fresh and clean with a muted, urban color scheme of browns and greens.

We were especially impressed with the hand-dimpled copper bar and with our friendly and knowledgeable bartender who filled us in on the makeover while providing a tutorial on the pouring of a Black and Tan. (In a nutshell, don’t try this at home.)

After a round of drinks, we were escorted through the small dining room and out onto the deck, just in time to witness a beautiful sunset over nearby Canada. The deck décor is of the casual, no frills variety: white plastic chairs positioned around faux-wood plastic tables. The addition of tablecloths certainly would have kicked it up a notch.

The menu covers a lot of bases: interesting appetizers ($7 to $13), a variety of salads ($8 to $10), upscale entrees ($12 to $35) and, for lighter dining, sandwiches, burgers and paninis.

Our server, Jenny, a one-night-per-week worker, impressed us by reciting a long list of specials from memory. She gave us attention when we needed it, conversation when we wanted it and time by ourselves in between. She conveyed a friendly, laid-back river vibe.

In fact, the entire staff looked professional and focused on their jobs without being either harried or distant.

We began with a round of shareable appetizers.

Preparation of their flatbread pizza ($8) changes on a regular basis. It was margherita the day we were there — fresh tomatoes and basil (lots of it) along with melted mozzarella. It had an extremely thin crust, generous toppings but was unfortunately tepid at best (seemingly the nature of flatbreads, we’re finding out).

Deep-fried cheese curd ($8)? Aw, what the heck, bring it on — especially since it was made with local River Rat cheese, packaged right around the corner in downtown Clayton.

It was beer-battered, light and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside (losing its squeakiness in the frying process) and came alive with a creamy horseradish sauce. Spicy raspberry sauce was served as well, but seemed a little too foo-foo for cheese curd. Delicious and delightful.

We got a pear and goat cheese salad ($10) to share: mixed greens with crumbled goat cheese, sliced pears, mandarin oranges and candied walnuts tossed with poppy seed vinaigrette. Enjoyable, but a little sparse on the toppings for 10 bucks, we all thought.

Truffle fries ($9) are kind of trendy, a way for a restaurant to turn a $2 plate of french fries into a $9 profit center. Splash some white truffle oil on them, toss ’em with grated Parm and some sea salt, and there you have it: tasty, overpriced fries.

Here’s another one: arancini ($7). Deep-fried rice balls. Potatoes are cheap, but rice is even cheaper. And it’s just plain food with a fancy name.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system … the two meatball-sized “stuffed” rice balls (just rice and cheese with a few peas, from what we could tell) weren’t half bad, breaded and deep-fried till crunchy on the outside, served with “tomato relish,” basically marinara sauce.

Dinners come with soup or salad. The soup was spicy black bean, not really spicy but slightly sweet. Jenny sleuthed the kitchen and found out there’s a bit of honey in there. The salads were a plate of spring mix lettuces and assorted veggies, doused with our choice of homemade dressings.

On to our entrees. It was a hot night, so we tended to go with lighter dishes, passing on the 16-ounce cowboy rib-eye ($35), the bone-in veal chop ($28), the pork tenderloin ($16) and the stick-to-your-ribs “cottage pie” ($12), the Channelside’s version of shepherd’s pie.

Scallops on a creamy polenta cake ($20) was delightful, drizzled with lime aioli and served with fresh asparagus. The plump scallops were touched with garlic, seasoned just right and cooked to perfection. It’s impossible to make a polenta “cake” creamy—it’s one or the other—so we were a little disappointed there, but overall, the dish was a winner.

Seared tuna ($23) was a healthy 8-to-10-ounce portion, cooked exactly to my specification of VERY rare, sesame crusted, sliced and attractively fanned on the plate. Creamy wasabi and a hoisin/terayaki-like sauce accompanied.

Bone-in frenched pork chop ($22) was a simple, memorable presentation, the big, fat 16-ounce chop with its criss-crossed grill marks on a white plate, bright green asparagus next to it along with a cup of apple/cabbage slaw. Even though the medium-rare chop came out well done, it was still juicy and flavorful and absolutely delicious.

The salmon filet ($21) is “fresh from the Bay of Fundy” in Nova Scotia (which meant nothing to us) or perhaps could have been more simply stated: fresh Atlantic salmon. Whatever. It was a very nice, sizeable piece of fish, lightly dusted with Cajun spices, pan-seared and finished in the oven — crispy on the outside, moist, flaky and flavorful on the inside.

Finally, we absolutely had to get the “St. Lawrence Guides Shore Dinner Experience” ($27). We took a gamble, kind of like investing 27 bucks in Lotto, and as with Lotto, we weren’t sure if it would pay off.

I’ll just give you the details straight from the menu: “A three-course river guide tradition! To start, a fatback and onion sandwich served with a river salad (lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber with 1000 Islands dressing), followed by lightly breaded perch fried in the fatback and served with a bowl of salt potatoes and a half-ear of corn on the cob. We finish with a double-thick slab of fried French toast served with real maple syrup. A shot of Jack Daniels can be added to the top of the toast for a true traditional touch.”

This really is an authentic river guide tradition, we’re told. And we must have missed the drum roll for this dinner, but for sheer fun, it deserved one.

The fatback and onion sandwich. Can’t go wrong there, yes? A nice, dense hunk of white bread was piled open-faced with deep-fried pork fat pieces and lots of sliced, raw onion. A piece of the fat, by itself, was intensely flavored, salty and, well, fatty. It really was OK with the soft bread and the onions.

The main event was fun, too, although not so unusual. The little pieces of fried perch were overdone but still tasty, with a hint of cinnamon (we were pretty sure) coming from the crispy batter. The salt potatoes, served in a very hot ramekin and floating in melted butter fair-style, stayed piping hot throughout the meal.

The corn was sweet but tending toward starch.

Wonder why you only get a half ear of corn? If a whole ear of corn doesn’t fit on the plate, just saw it in half and serve both. At home, you’d eat a whole ear, maybe even two, right?

Now for the deep-fried french toast, thoughtfully timed to arrive with the other, more traditional (but less conversation-provoking) desserts ordered at our table.

It looked like the same white bread that came with the fatback sandwich, deep-fried until thoroughly saturated with fryer oil, plated with a small soufflé cup of maple syrup on one side of the “toast” and a shot glass of Jack Daniels on the other.

Why do they make you eat your way through $27 worth of shore dinner to get to that? Just make it a menu option. It really deserves to be. Even the $2 additional for the Jack was worth it.

The other desserts that we tried paled in comparison (well, sort of). They were all made in-house. Actually, the rice pudding was exceptional, creamy and dreamy, topped with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon. Graham cracker Napoleon-like éclair cake was light and not too sweet. The Toll House pie was full of chocolate chips and reminded us of eating cookie dough.

Dinner for five came to $181.19 before tip and before adding in our drink tab.

The Channelside has a welcoming atmosphere, the food preparation and presentation were definitely noteworthy, the service was no-nonsense and totally competent. Yes, there were a few overcooked miscues and, yes, some of the prices didn’t match the food on the plate, but this is a place that has certainly enticed us into a return visit.

The Channelside does not have a website. In advance, we called and asked to have a menu faxed to us and no one knew how to work the fax machine.

Correction

Last Sunday’s review of Liquids & Solids in Lake Placid gave the hours posted on the restaurant’s website. We’re told those are the winter hours. Summer hours are 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

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





Channelside Café

506 Riverside Drive

Clayton, N.Y.

686-2940

The news owners of what was formerly the Riverside Café have totally renovated the eating space and offer an entirely new menu with interesting appetizers, a variety of salads, upscale entrees and, for lighter dining, sandwiches, burgers and paninis.

HOURS: “From noon on” seven days a week

APPETIZER PICKS: Fried cheese curd, margherita flatbread pizza

ENTRÉE PICKS: Scallops with lime aioli, filet of salmon, frenched pork chop, seared tuna and, for sheer adventure, the St. Lawrence River Guides Shore Dinner Experience

DESSERT PICKS: Creamy rice pudding, Toll House pie

RATING: 4 forks

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