There's a new pizza joint in Watertown and a nearly decade-old diner in Potsdam that we visited for lunch recently.
They're entirely different in style and offerings, but both offer freshly made food that warrants a return visit.
Here's what we discovered.
222 N. MASSEY ST.
There's a new pizza place in town. It's called OIP (that would be O.I.P., which stands for original Italian pizza) and it's located on North Massey next to Colonial Laundromat.
OIP is small chain based in Syracuse, where there are six locations. They have expanded their operation to Pottsville, Pa., and within the last few months, Watertown.
OIP reminds me of one of those pizza places you see in big airports where there's always myriad colorful specialty pizzas luring you over to their concession. At OIP there were a half-dozen on display at the counter, all available by the slice.
The other specialty is grilled chicken wings — rather than being deep-fried, they're char-grilled. They also offer salads, subs, calzones and strombolis. A few prepackaged desserts, too.
The cafeteria-line ordering process was a little awkward. One gal behind the counter was pulling slices of pizza to warm in the oven; another was inputting our order into the cash register. If we asked a question about something, rarely did both (sometimes neither) know the answer, so a third person was hailed from the back.
And you'll like this one: While we were ordering, I asked the gal at the register how long OIP has been open. She looked up at the clock on the wall and said, "I think since about 11 ..."
We got our own self-serve sodas and picked out our own table. Magically, someone delivered our hot-from-the-oven slices to the table.
The three of us made good pizza choices. Chicken and broccoli used fresh ingredients and good quality mozzarella. Chicken bacon ranch was slightly smoky, just a little greasy, but oh so tasty. The slices were substantial, overlapping the paper plates.
Price seemed right at $2.80 apiece.
Something new, "Grandpa's special," was a rectangular pizza, Sicilian style, cut into rectangular pieces. The thick, doughy crust was topped with garlicky cheese (similar to a white pizza) with a swath of red sauce. Simple and effective.
And very good.
OIPs "famous" grilled wings ($7.75 for a dozen) were good — nice and crispy. We ordered ours medium, which was achieved with a spice rub rather than the customary Frank's Red Hot sauce.
My guests loved them, but I'm still on the fence. I found them a little dry. Seems like deep-frying locks in some fat that keeps wings moist and juicy. Grilling just gets rid of the fat. Fine if you're on a diet, but if that's the case you shouldn't be eating chicken wings in the first place.
The calzone ($5.50) we ordered must have gotten lost in the busy lunch rush. But shortly after we went to the counter to ask about it, it arrived fresh and hot, nice and crisp on the outside, steamy hot ingredients on the inside.
Molten mozzarella oozed out as we cut into it, along with our call of spinach. A plastic cup filled with tasty marinara sauce complemented nicely.
Desserts are self-serve, stored in a glass-front cooler alongside bottled Pepsi products. They're quality sweets from the prestige supplier Casa Imports.
I've never had a prefilled cannoli ($2.50) that wasn't soggy, and that was the case with the chocolate-coated one we tried. Cheesecake ($3.95) was good except for the daub of clotted cherry topping. Best was the thick and rich chocolate cake ($3) with chocolate frosting.
OIP is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Friday and Saturday they're open until 10 p.m.; closed Sunday. They deliver in the city of Watertown only for orders of $10 or more, with a $1 fee tacked on.
22 DEPOT ST.
(MARKET SQUARE MALL)
I haven't visited the Village Diner in downtown Potsdam since Mary and Greg Circe opened it in 2003 as a "retirement project."
Last weekend, on Saturday morning, we stopped by around 11:30 and were lucky to get the last table. The place was packed. Seniors were having a late breakfast. Families were there for lunch. College kids were doing the diner's "Flapjack Challenge."
And in the hour or so we spent there, as each table vacated, the staff would quickly reset it for the never-ending parade of customers coming through the door.
It took more than a minute for us to digest the menu. Breakfast sandwiches. Buttermilk pancakes. Local maple syrup. Overstuffed omelets. Diner lunch standards. Signature sandwiches. Ciabatta selections. Homemade soups. Burgers. Salads. Sides. Homemade desserts.
The table next to us was doing the "Flapjack Attack Challenge." Four hoodie-clad college girls were each sitting in front of a turkey platter (for real) piled high with pancakes. The deal is, if you can clean your plate in less than 45 minutes, you get a souvenir T-shirt, you get your picture taken, and you get your name on a wall plaque under the college you attend.
We stuck to some more traditional dining options, starting with both of the daily soups ($2.50 a cup). Beef barley was like something grandma used to make — ground beef, barley and vegetables in a perfectly seasoned beef stock. A Creole-style soup was thickened with a traditional dark roux and had all the right veggies in it — even okra.
They offer six ciabatta sandwiches. We got the "Mary Diana" ($6.50) — warm, thinly sliced turkey breast, a touch of melted cheddar, a little lettuce and a delightful cranberry mustard. The roll lacked the crustiness that we're used to in a ciabatta, but that didn't stop us from polishing off the entire sandwich.
A side of mac salad was simple macaroni noodles and mayo, lightly, if at all, seasoned.
They proudly proclaim in the menu "Breakfast Served All Day," so we ordered one of their omelets. From a choice of six, we narrowed it down to the Mexican ($7.95).
It was a three-egg omelet stuffed with seasoned ground beef, kidney beans, green pepper and onion. A little melted pepper Jack cheese topped the creation, garnished with julienned roasted red pepper. Tasty home fries accompanied.
A hand-formed chili cheddar cheeseburger ($6.75) hit the spot, grilled perfectly to our request of medium. Crisp, flavorful seasoned fries filled out the plate.
All of a sudden, Greg came through the room ringing a huge bell, headed for the table next to us with bright yellow T-shirts slung over his arm. The girls did it!
From a selection of more than 10 freshly made desserts, we tried apple pie with ice cream, cheesecake with a caramel drizzle and a lemon ricotta cake with lemon icing.
The warm apple pie was a real treat, from the flaky crust to the scent of cinnamon wafting from the apple filling. We loved the buttery graham cracker crust under the cheesecake. The lemon ricotta cake was a light, refreshing finish to a gut-busting meal.
Lunch for three came to $43.75 before tip. Come with cash, because they don't take credit cards.
Four waitresses were very friendly and incredibly attentive, given the mob of customers they were dealing with. Greg was constantly working the crowd, greeting regulars, even busing tables when the waitresses couldn't get to them.
The Village Diner is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week.
A message from the owners on the front page of the menu says they're committed to "quality, cleanliness, friendly old-fashioned service and a bright, fun atmosphere." After our visit to the Village Diner, we couldn't agree more.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.