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Sugar Shack changes site, not its service

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POTSDAM — The Sugar Shack Bakery & Café has moved to a new location.

It opened recently in the building that for many years had housed Tardelli’s Restaurant on Outer Market Street. The Sugar Shack didn’t gain any space by moving (in fact, it may have lost some), and the dining room doesn’t quite have the quaint cottage-y charm the original location had.

So why the move? “The landlord doubled our rent,” owner Karen Rayburn told us, “from $1,200 to $2,400 a month.”

That’s a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches.

But the fact that the dining room is a little stark looking has nothing to do with the quality of the food coming from the kitchen. It’s as good or better than we remember from when we visited the newly opened Sugar Shack nearly two years ago.

And judging from the packed parking lot on a recent weekday lunch hour, we’re not the only ones who feel that way.

But what really hits you when you walk in is the warmth of the staff. You can hear it in their voices as they smile and talk with their customers. And the ladies who served us were genuinely happy and uplifting people.

While the Sugar Shack calls itself a café, it’s really just a modern-day diner. That doesn’t mean bad; it just means a limited menu with favorites from the ’50s — grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, homemade soups, club sandwiches, homemade pies — and some newer additions like Reubens and wraps.

It’s timeless comfort food, and the Sugar Shack serves it up proudly and competently in that tradition.

We started with soup — beef chili ($3.25/cup) and chicken noodle ($2.95/cup). Both were clearly made on the premises and were mighty good.

The chili had a tomato freshness that is easily (and often) cooked away. Flavorful diced tomatoes were plentiful along with lots of tasty ground beef, kidney beans and just enough spicy heat.

The chicken noodle was full of firm chunks of chicken in a delicious stock that tasted as if it had been started with actual chicken bones. Tiny ditalini pasta gave it an updated touch.

In keeping with true diner tradition we ordered a hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes ($7.50). The beef was cooked to well done but nicely seasoned. As expected, the bread was white. The gravy was probably out of a can, but it was attended to so it was respectable.

The mashed potatoes were fabulous — not whipped till they resemble whipped cream, but hand-mashed, smooth and solid and tasting like real potatoes.

Grilled chicken Caesar wrap ($6.95) was quite good, too. Our server, Nicole, asked if we wanted our chicken grilled or “crispy” (meaning deep-fried, we assumed). We chose grilled after she explained that it is marinated in Italian dressing.

The chicken had a definite char-grilled taste, wrapped together with leafy green romaine, zesty Caesar dressing and some fresh Parm. Like eating a salad with your hands.

It comes standard with french fries, but we spotted potato salad on the specials board and asked Nicole if we could have that instead. No problem, and no up-charge.

The potato salad was excellent, a little touch of summertime even though there was still snow on the ground. Perfectly cooked potatoes, a little celery, a little green pepper and a just-right amount of mayo enhanced with a touch of mustard and vinegar.

Dessert consisted of a slice each of raspberry and pumpkin pies, generous portions priced at $2.50 apiece.

“Bakery” being part of the Sugar Shack’s name might have unnecessarily dialed up our expectations. The raspberry filling was fine, but the crust was pretty dense and had no flakiness to it at all. The pumpkin filling was watery and bland with the same tough crust.

There’s quite an array of baked goods available. Maybe we just picked the wrong ones.

Lunch for two came to $28.52 before tip.

Our server, Nicole, was fast, friendly and competent. Her cheerful demeanor would lead you to believe that it was her first week working the restaurant, but, in fact, she’s been there since the restaurant’s inception nearly two years ago.

The eatery occupies just half of the Tardelli building, but we learned from Karen Rayburn, the owner, that they soon will be expanding into the other half to accommodate the capacity crowds that have been showing up for breakfast and lunch.

The Sugar Shack aims to be a family diner and it hits the mark squarely and with a smile.

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



The Sugar Shack Bakery & Café

141 Market St.

Potsdam, N.Y.

265-0500



The Sugar Shack his now in the former Tardelli’s Restaurant building.



HOURS: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday.



OUR PICKS: Beef chili, grilled chicken Caesar wrap, mashed potatoes, potato salad



RATING: 3½ forks

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