CAPE VINCENT After a little more than a year and over $3 million in renovations, the historic Roxy Hotel is once again open for business.
Its a landmark in this tiny town on the northern tip of Lake Ontario. Built in 1894, this classic old building was a candidate for the wrecking ball a few years ago. But an enterprising developer came to the rescue, restoring the Roxy to its former luster.
New stained glass entry doors set the tone for Monaghans Irish Pub, a large bar and restaurant that takes up most of the first floor. A wall separates the two. The long wooden bar in the pub and dark walnut woodwork in the dining room are impressive, highlighted by a beautiful tin ceiling.
We arrived a little before 7 p.m. two Thursdays ago. The place was packed with summer residents and locals alike, all wanting to get a first glimpse of the refurbished facility.
With a half-hour wait before we could be seated for dinner (they dont take reservations), we hung out in the pub, enjoyed a black and tan (a combination of Guinness, a stout, over an ale so the Guinness floats to the top) as well as an Alexander Keiths from Nova Scotia on tap, and struck up a conversation with some folks visiting from Albany for a day of charter fishing.
The leather bar seats look sturdy and impressive, but we found ourselves planting our feet firmly on the brass foot rail to keep from sliding off. We thought it was just us, but it quickly became a comical topic of conversation with the patrons to the left and right of us. Theres additional ample seating at tables with pew-like benches around the perimeter of the lounge.
A friendly, young bartendress allowed us to look at a menu. Its impressive, physicallysturdy dark green laminated pages, comb-bound, a page each of appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts.
We thought it strange that the appetizer list started with nachos supreme and chips and salsa, followed by the same old fried stuff you find everywhere else.
On the sandwich page we spotted things like Philly cheesesteak, turkey wrap, Reuben and French dip.
Hey, wheres the Irish food?
Not much better under entrees: chicken Parmesan, linguine and clam sauce, rib-eye steak, baked haddock, butternut squash ravioli and fish and chips (a specialty in England close enough to Ireland, I guess.)
Theyve made a few things sound Irish, like Jameson pork chops, Irish garlic steak and Monaghans filet. But wheres the shepherds pie, the corned beef and cabbage, the bangers and mash and the Irish stew?
For appetizers, we shared spinach and artichoke dip ($7.95) and Guinness steamed clams ($10.95).
The dip was a synthetic-tasting blend of spinach, artichokes and cream cheese from one of their restaurant suppliers. All they had to do (according to the menu) was fry off some pita chips, and that didnt happen. It was served with doughy pita triangles, not the toasted pita chips we were looking forward to.
The clams, supposedly littlenecks, were those tiny white, thin-shelled ones that come from somewhere like China or Bangladesh, definitely not from Long Island or Cape Cod. The broth was simply some salty clam juice with Guinness beer splashed in it, adding a distracting bitter taste.
Baked potato soup had Irish in front of it, so we gave it a try. We ordered a bowl of it ($5.95) but could have sworn we only got a cup ($3.95).
It was actually quite good, thick and tasty, garnished with bacon bits. We asked our waitress if it was made there, but after a bit of hesitation she confessed, Most restaurants dont make much from scratch anymore; they can get some very good premade things from their suppliers.
Such was the case (not the very good part) with their house dressings, all right from big commercial plastic tubs, the only exception being the make-your-own oil and vinegar, delivered to the table in the standard dual cruet holder.
Salads were standard, too, served in what resembled a large soup cup. Coleslaw, another option, was missing something. It consisted of dry, shredded cabbage and carrot no dressing to hold it together, that we could determine.
Irish garlic steak ($17.95) was a modest piece of sirloin hand-rubbed with a garlic paste, charbroiled and smothered with mushrooms. It arrived cooked to our request of medium, topped with a few mushrooms and quite a bit of what looked like minced raw garlic from a jar.
Jameson center cut pork chop ($15.95) was a standout, a relatively thick chop with vivid grill marks, moist and full of great char-grilled flavor. A Jameson-apple glaze further enhanced the dish, as did little wedges of Granny Smith apples.
They ran out of garlic mashed potatoes for both entrees and subbed rice pilaf.
Vegetables, billed as fresh, were fresh out of a bag of IQF (individually quick frozen) and thawed mixed vegetables.
Butternut squash ravioli ($14.95) in a light pesto sauce sounded great, but they were out of it. However, they were substituting wild mushroom ravioli that sounded just as good. Both are quality commercial products.
The mushroom ravioli came in a lovely cream sauce, similar to an Alfredo. This was a solid entrée that they should consider putting on the menu permanently.
Finally, we sampled the shrimp and basil pesto ($15.95). There were six tail-on, decent-sized shrimp tossed with linguini, olive oil and pesto even some pine nuts evident in the pesto. A little oily, but still pretty good.
Desserts were some of the best commercial ones weve had in a while, averaging $5 apiece. And they actually looked as good on the plate as they did in the photos on the plasticized dessert menu, provided by their supplier.
Carrot cake is from an old family recipe. The SYSCO family, must be. But it was pretty much as described dark, fruity and moist. Key lime pie was very good, too tartly refreshing in a granolad crust.
Check out this description of the ChocLate Lovin Spoon Cake a giant mouthful of chocolate pudding between two layers of dark, moist chocolate-drenched chocolate cake. Who wouldnt order it?
The only one I still dont get (Ive had the very same thing in other restaurants) is the crème brulee cheesecake. I like crème brulee and I like cheesecake, but the two together just doesnt work for me.
Dinner for four cost $122.24, excluding beer and before adding gratuity.
Service was good. Luckily we had a seasoned veteran whod jumped ship from another restaurant just outside town, used to taking care of a crazy, busy dining room.
But the food? It was the same safe, middle-of-the-road, ho-hum stuff served at many other north country restaurants. And not one authentic Irish dish in the newest Irish pub in the area? Something is fundamentally wrong with that.
The place looks great, but its going to need to be more than a three dressed up as a nine to succeed. I certainly hope so, for the sake of Cape Vincent and the guy who poured tons of money into this new business.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: email@example.com.
Monaghans Irish Pub
at the Roxy Hotel
111 East Broadway
Cape Vincent, N.Y.
The new Irish-themed restaurant at the newly renovated Roxy Hotel is open for business
RESTAURANT HOURS: noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday
noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
PUB HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday
11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Give the Irish baked potato soup a try. Jameson pork chops were an entrée standout. Commercial desserts were all good.