7 Days Vermont
John's interview with NCPR's Todd Moe 11-3-09
National Geographic Adventure Magazine- October 2009
Saranac Lake, New York
Plan a long weekend getaway with our Saranac Lake adventure guide, featuring great outdoor escapes, where to stay, and where to eat. Then chime in with your picks.
GPS: 44°19'N 74°07'W
Temps can hit -35°F here, but that’s about the only time Saranac Lake makes headlines. This Adirondacks retreat is a low-key alternative to the tourist hubs nearby. It started as a tiny lumber mill on the Saranac River, until its cool climate and fresh mountain breezes established the town as a major center for tuberculosis treatment. You can still enjoy the fresh air, but we recommend you do so from atop a nearby mountain, or out on any of a dozen or so local lakes. Canoe-camp the Saranac River and hike in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park.
Your Turn: Tell us about your favorite Saranac Lake adventures, restaurants, and hotels in the comments section below.
It would be easier to tell you what you can’t do. Saranac Lake is the unofficial capital of the wild, rugged Adirondack Park. For a day paddle, Adirondack Lakes and Trails offers guided out-and-back trips on a lazy, meandering stretch of the Racquette River (from $225 per person; adirondackoutfitters.com). For a three- to four-day trip, start in the wild St. Regis Canoe Area and paddle your way to the village of Saranac Lake, pitching your tent on islands and fishing monster northern pike from Oseetah Lake. The epic, well-trod trails of the High Peaks are just a half-hour drive, but Kevin Burns, who’s been a ranger in Saranac Lake for ten years, recommends local secrets Ampersand Mountain (5.4 miles roundtrip) and Haystack Mountain (6 miles). “Both mountains offer amazing views of the High Peaks, but they’re way off the beaten path,” Burns says. In the winter he backcountry skis the same mountains, and Nordic skis a stretch of the 33-mile Jackrabbit Trail that traverses McKenzie Pass into Lake Placid.
Downtown’s Eat 'n Meet Grill and Larder may be the classiest, quirkiest take-out joint you’ll ever visit. The tiny, three-table dining room doubles as the pantry, and an Elvis statue presides from the second-floor porch, but it’s the food you’ll remember after you leave. Chef-owner John Vargo grills an incredible array of first-rate food, including his locally sourced Blue Line burgers (which come in beef, pork, lamb, and veggie varieties). Order one of these with a stick-to-your-ribs side of mac ‘n’ cheese or plantain dumplings (eatnmeet.com). It’s BYOB, so stop first at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and pick up a growler of their smooth, hoppy Ubu Ale to wash it all down (ubuale.com).
The Adirondack Motel is a cozy little mom-and-pop operation that’s been in business for upwards of 50 years. Most likely that’s because they offer personal service and cheap, comfortable waterfront rooms (doubles from $75; adirondackmotel.com). If you prefer a more luxurious base camp (think drinks on the hearth followed by a massage and a soak in the hot tub), The Porcupine Bed & Breakfast will meet your needs—and then some (doubles from $172; theporcupine.com).
© 2009 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.
Watertown Daily Times: Walter E. Siebel - February 25, 2007
Something completely different in Saranac Lake
SARANAC LAKE — There's a new hole-in-the-wall eatery in Saranac Lake, and it's absolutely amazing.
It's the Eat-n-Meet Grill and Larder. It opened last fall, but it looks like it's been there forever. There are just three small tables and they take up half the place, so if you plan to eat in, you'd better get there early. The tables share the space with a good-sized, well-equipped open kitchen.
In the front window there's a life-sized statue of Elvis crooning into a microphone. What a hoot!
Chef-proprietor John Vargo, who migrated north from the Hudson Valley, was a one-man cooking machine the day we visited. His wife, Colleen, is the intermediary between the chef and the customers, working the counter and, even though there are no waitresses, serving as our waitress for the two midday hours we spent there.
The entire place is decorated with larder items: shelves and cubbyholes filled with provisions, much of which are no doubt used for everyday cooking. But it's not everyday stuff that you and I have in our pantries, unless you have things like canned conch, pickapeppa sauce and local heirloom tomatoes in yours.
Everything is homemade, and I mean really homemade. The menu is as interesting and diverse as the place, with pierogies, pork schnitzel, linguine and clams, Jamaican curried goat, oyster stew, po' boys (fried fish on baguette), slow-grilled skewers of chicken, pork, beef, lamb or shrimp, gyros, fresh fish, homemade sausage and the most unbelievable corned beef brisket, brined and smoked right there.
Sides are equally eclectic, with fresh-cut onion rings, Southern-fried okra, sweet potato fries, plantain dumplings, mac and cheese, hush puppies, jalapeño cornbread and potato pancakes.
And have you ever heard of a place that offers hot drinks that include chicken, fish, beef and miso broths?
We began our culinary adventure with vegetarian shiro miso broth ($1.50).
Miso is made from fermented soybeans and is sometimes salty, but this was not the case. Very soothing. Very healthy, too. It was served in a cylindrical cardboard to-go soup container with a plastic spoon.
Chesapeake oyster stew ($3.25 a cup) was on a par with the famous Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The balance of broth and cream and butter was perfect; the oysters were finely chopped, and sautéed fresh leeks were in abundance. A sprig of fresh thyme was added into the stew at the end. Same container and spoon routine.
Soups of the day were creamy heirloom tomato, chili con carne, or the one I chose, an excellent seafood bisque ($3). It was entirely different from the oyster stew, thickened with a roux and heavy cream, lobster-like orange in color with a bit of texture, probably from minced clams.
Hudson Valley-grown baby field greens ($5.95) were amazingly fresh and tasty, with dried cranberries and some kind of crunchy things that we couldn't figure out (not nuts) on top (salty and good), with maple-Dijon-sherry vinaigrette.
Pierogies ($7.95) were as good as you'd get in the best ethnic eatery in a big-city Polish neighborhood. They're mashed potato-filled dumplings in the shape of a half-moon, pan-fried in butter, served with caramelized onions and sour cream.
We tried the classic Greek gyros ($5.95), small grilled patties of ground lamb, beef and spices. They were served in one of those old-time diner paper boats filled with "fresh gyros fixin's" — chopped lettuce, tomatoes and feta cheese, drizzled with cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce.
There were three "fishes of the day": Atlantic salmon ($10), walleye fillet ($11) and yellowfin tuna ($13). I got the tuna. You name your preparation, and John does it up. At Colleen's suggestion, I had mine pan-seared and Jamaican-jerked.
It was served in a round aluminum foil to-go container with a pile of hard-to-identify cooked-down ingredients on top. Maybe pancetta, leeks and hot peppers?
It was a fabulous piece of fish that had probably arrived earlier that day, and it was cooked to a perfect medium-rare — and I didn't even have to ask. It was easy to negotiate with the plastic fork and knife.
Hands down, the pièce de résistance was smoked corned beef brisket on rye.
You can get it Reuben style or NYC Jewish deli style, large ($8.75) or regular ($5.75). I got the deli style, regular. A friend had gotten the large version a week previous and said he had to practically unhinge his jaw to eat it.
Forget about Boar's Head. This is the real deal, a fat-laced, flat-cut rectangular hunk of peppery smoked brisket that John slices right before your eyes — breathtaking to look at and delicious to eat. Halfway across the room, we could smell it when he took it out of the fridge and unwrapped it.
Desserts are a mix of locally homemade and high-end commercial. Key lime pie ("kinda, but better" says the menu), celebrated French chef Joel Robuchons's chocolate tart, warm bread pudding with rum and raisins, caramel flan (Spanish custard) and warm apple pie are each priced around $3.
The "warm" part of the apple pie sucked us in. Again, it was served in a to-go container, nice and warm with a dollop of real whipped cream on the side. It wasn't as tall as the all-American apple pie we were envisioning, but it sure tasted great.
We'd gotten advanced reports on the Key lime pie. True it's not traditional — more like chiffon pie, light and smooth and great tasting — a lot less dense than the original version.
This was an extended lunch hour that we didn't want to ever end. Our table was littered with half-eaten soups and sandwiches and pies. We didn't have to ask for to-go containers; they were already on the table. Colleen brought covers and a plastic bag, and we were ready to travel. The entire meal cost $60.
Eat-n-Meet Grill and Larder is a culinary happening that needs to be experienced.
"It's not fast ... it's food," it says on the front of the menu.
Amen to that.
You can contact Walter E. Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eat-n-Meet Grill and Larder
1 (518) 891-3149
A hole-in-the-wall eatery serving a varied and eclectic menu that includes pierogies, pork schnitzel, linguine and clams, Jamaican curried goat, oyster stew, po' boys, slow-grilled skewers of chicken, pork, beef, lamb or shrimp, gyros, fresh fish, homemade sausage and the most unbelievable corned beef brisket, brined and smoked on the premises.
Open six days a week 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday).
Melting-pot Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Eggs to order, corned beef hash, crêpes, bagels, complimentary coffee and tea)
OUR FAVORITES: Chesapeake oyster stew, NYC Jewish deli-style corned beef sandwich, pan-seared yellowfin tuna prepared Jamaican jerk style, pierogies with caramelized onions and sour cream.
RATING: 5 FORKS