SANDY CREEK — Our journey to the new Sandy Pond Steakhouse didn't get off to a good start.
We had heard that the Irish Wigwam Restaurant, a fixture in these parts for many years, had new owners and a new name. We searched the Internet for information and came up with nothing.
So we took a chance and called the number listed for the Wigwam. Bingo. We told the lady who answered that we were looking for some menu information. She confirmed that they did not have a website. When asked if she could fax the menu to us, she confessed they didn't have a fax machine.
In the year 2011, I'd think you'd have to have one or the other, or more likely both. It's just the way to do business these days.
Had I not been on assignment, I probably wouldn't have been making the late-dusk, late-winter, half-hour drive from Watertown to the-restaurant-formerly-known-as-the-Wigwam. The fact that we had a babbling GPS to talk our way to this off-the-beaten-path eatery took some worry out of finding the place.
And lucky we did. The machine guided us right to the parking lot, which was nearly full with cars, pickups and snowmobiles. Nowhere was there a sign that said Sandy Pond Steakhouse.
We entered through a large bar area that was packed with noisy and happy regulars who gave us a frank but friendly once over. The dining area also was surprisingly large, and the sparseness of diners didn't discourage us, given the weekday night and the season. Our quiet table was in a very long enclosed porch that we surmised would offer a great view of the pond and the countryside in the summertime.
Our friendly waitress, Leslie, still learning the ropes, recited the specials but couldn't describe them. But from that point on, proved very competent and responsive. She was particularly skillful at bringing beer and cocktails to us in a timely manner, a prerequisite for the crowd I was with.
The menu is fairly extensive, with a good number of offerings that require more than just a Fryolator operator in the kitchen: pork chop stuffed with apple, cranberry and walnut dressing; haddock "casino" topped with seasoned bread crumbs, bacon, peppers and onions; chicken "Neptune" with shrimp, scallops and mushrooms in a white wine, garlic cream sauce.
The appetizers include some decent choices, too. We ordered mushrooms Florentine ($5.99), New Orleans crab cakes ($7.99) and scallops wrapped in bacon ($7.99).
The mushrooms were stuffed with chicken and spinach (although we had to double-check the menu to determine what the meat was) and topped with mozzarella that melted and became part of the lemon butter sauce after being baked.
Pan-fried crab cakes were squashed down with a spatula and plated with a tasty salsa made with smoked tomato and roasted corn. Mild Cajun remoulade (mayonnaise with a little spice swirled in) completed the dish.
The scallops took first prize. It's tough to cook bacon and scallops together and have both turn out exactly right, but these turned out exactly right — tender scallops and crispy bacon. A maple mustard sauce underneath complemented nicely.
A crock of baked French onion soup ($4.50) was different, yet good. There was apparently cheese on top of the soup initially, but there was no crouton to support it as it melted, so the cheese disappeared into the soup. What we had, then, was onion soup, nice and flavorful and just a little fatty, as though it had been made from leftover prime rib. There was a hint of booze in the broth, and pieces of scallion greens floating on top for a garnish.
Crisp salads on chilled plates came with our dinners. Several of us ordered blue cheese crumbles, and rather than serving it in those unappetizing plastic cups, Leslie plunked down a bowl of blue cheese on the table for us to dive into. Little extras can make a big difference in feelings of satisfaction at a restaurant, and this was one of them.
There's the usual selection of steaks — sirloin, New York strip, T-bone and filet mignon — but we were intrigued by the double-cut pork chops. They were twice the size of a normal pork chop, weighing 16 ounces, and offered with creative preparations.
We tried the steak house chop ($15.99). It was a honkin' hunk of meat, 3 inches thick, miraculously cooked to perfection, surrounded with a chunky sauce of hot cherry peppers with bacon and mushrooms. There should have been a warning on the menu that the hot cherry peppers were really hot, because they were REALLY hot.
It appears they serve "herb-crusted, slow roasted" prime rib daily. Three cuts are available: 22- to 24-ounce bone-in ($22.99), 12- to 14-ounce boneless ($14.99) and an 8-ounce boneless portion for $10.99.
We chose the middle option, ordered it medium and it came out just shy of that, no problem. It was standard, but there isn't much you can do to prime rib to make it anything but standard. It came with green beans and Parmesan mashed potatoes.
I tend to shy away from chicken cordon bleu ($13.99) when I see it on a menu. Guess I've had too many of those boring freezer-to-fryer miniature footballs at weddings over the years. And while this version looked perfect enough to be prefab, I don't believe it was — it was actually stuffed with prosciutto and provolone as opposed to basic ham and cheese. And it came with a very nice brandy scallion cream sauce. Baked sweet potato was great.
Broiled salmon ($16.99), a hefty portion, was served with a simple and effective lemon-caper sauce. The plate came with fresh cauliflower in a light cream sauce jazzed up with some bacon bits and a customary baked potato.
For a pasta dish, we got seafood ala Rosa ($17.99). Shrimp, scallops and crab were sautéed with creamy Alfredo sauce with a touch of marinara and tossed with fettuccini. This was one whopping portion. We were particularly impressed with the perfect cooking of the scallops, and the overall seafood flavor in the dish.
For dessert, it was a toss-up between bread pudding and lava cake or another Stella Artois and a Shock Top. So we decided on all of them.
The lava cake ($5.99) was undoubtedly from a supplier, an example of a dull dessert that should have gone away years ago. But who can argue with an inside-out chocolate cake that oozes molten chocolate from the center after a zapping in the microwave?
Wild berry bread pudding ($6.99) was probably made there, a little heavy on the bread, perhaps. It said it was drizzled with Myers dark rum crème anglaise, but it seemed to have gotten lost in all the colorful plate painting that went on. We would have preferred less painting and more anglaise-ing.
Dinner for five came to $138.14 before tip and drinks.
Whoever's doing the cooking in the kitchen has come up with a menu befitting an urban restaurant, way better than we expected at a place in the boonies. And for being open merely a month, things were pretty much together on the food end and the service end.
We look forward to the evolution of the Sandy Pond Steakhouse.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandy Pond Steakhouse
45 Wigwam Dr.
Sandy Creek, N.Y.
The Wigwam Restaurant is now the Sandy Pond Steakhouse.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
APPETIZER PICKS: Scallops wrapped in bacon with maple mustard sauce; mushrooms Florentine in lemon Parmesan butter; crab cakes with smoked tomato/roasted corn salsa
ENTRÉE PICKS: Chicken cordon bleu with brandy scallion cream sauce; steakhouse pork chop with bacon, mushrooms and hot cherry peppers (if you like things spicy hot); seafood ala Rosa (shrimp, scallops and crab in an Alfredo/marinara sauce over fettuccini).