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Sampling Savory’s new place Downtown

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If you live near Watertown you’ve probably heard of Savory Café on Outer Washington Street, and maybe even enjoyed some of their great tasting lunches, or been to an affair they’ve catered.

Now they’ve got a full-fledged restaurant in the Best Western at 300 Washington St. It’s called Savory Downtown.

With their five-plus years of experience at their original location and a little tweaking of the new downtown menu, owners Steve and Jay Baytos may soon have a hit on their hands.

Most recently, the eating space in the hotel was Sonora’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant. Before that it was called Michelle’s Bistro. And for many years, it was the Carriage House Restaurant.

Savory Downtown takes up two rooms. The large bar area has a relaxed feel with subdued lighting and music from the ’70s and ’80s playing over the sound system.

A few steps down the hall there’s another more formal room with high ceilings, tablecloths on the tables and bright lighting that reminded us of one of those stuffy hotel ballrooms at an out-of-town convention somewhere.

We opted to eat in the bar dining area. No tablecloths there, but that’s OK. More of a bistro feel.

The menu had a professional look to it: white lettering on glossy black paper with a suggestion of a red wine glass in the background. The staff had a professional look, too, dressed in black pants, white pleated shirts and bow ties … although I’m not sure it matched the cuisine they were serving or the setting they were in.

Lots of Italian influence on the menu: pizzas, half hot peppers, homemade meatballs and sausage, fire-roasted flatbreads, homemade gnocchi, manicotti and rigatoni; chicken Parm, chicken Alfredo and tortellini Alfredo.

We were intrigued by an appetizer called meatball sliders ($6.99) so we began there.

A very tasty, nicely seasoned meatball was stuffed into a sliced, crusty dinner roll and doused with just enough red sauce and melted cheese to not make things messy. What great bar food this would make, three to an order.

Equally intriguing, certainly different, were the fried green beans ($6.99), a basket of sturdily breaded and deep-fried green beans served hot and crisp/crunchy with ranch dressing. This is a commercial product that I’d be glad to have again in the future.

Three flatbreads are available as appetizers: bruschetta, Buffalo chicken and sausage half hots.

We went with the Buffalo chicken ($7.99), a sturdy, grilled flatbread about 6 inches square, cut into four pieces and generously topped with chopped and spiced chicken, a little diced celery, some melted blue cheese to hold it all together and a dash of Frank’s Hot Sauce for some noticeable kick. It was like eating chicken wings without the bones and the mess under your fingernails.

The food seemed to demand some red wine, so we enjoyed a glass of Malbec from Argentina and a Columbia Crest Vineyard 10 Red from Washington State. The restaurant offers a short but quality wine list.

Entrees were sizeable portions, reasonably priced. Each came with a chilled, crisp side salad consisting of romaine, tomatoes, black olives and a hot cherry pepper.

Warm dinner rolls also accompanied, served with a homemade oil and herb sauce for dipping.

What’s more Italian than lasagna ($13.99)? Layers of noodles, cheese and sausage — at least 3 inches tall — were covered in a smooth, rich red sauce.

The person who ordered it was a little apprehensive at first. Seems someone in his household makes a pretty mean red sauce. But the fact that he devoured the entire huge portion in minutes and mopped his plate clean with the dinner rolls was a pretty good indication that Savory’s red sauce measured up to his wife’s.

The same great sauce came on homemade gnocchi with sausage ($12.99). (Meatballs are an alternate option). Gnocchi are small dumplings. The potato gnocchi were firm — perfectly cooked, which can be tricky. The sausage fell somewhere between sweet and hot with a noticeable flavor of fennel. Very good.

The only meat on the menu other than chicken is steak, and there’s only one: a 16-ounce New York strip with choice of pasta or vegetables ($23.99). We chose pasta, spaghetti with red sauce. Unfortunately, the spaghetti was way past al dente. There were some grilled veggies added to the plate for color that were fresh and crisp and not overcooked.

The steak sure didn’t look like a pound of meat, but we’ll have to go with what the menu said. We ordered it medium-rare, but it arrived a little more done than that.

It had nice grill lines and nice grill flavor but was a little on the dry side. Sautéed mushrooms on top were quite good.

We never heard of a pasta called “sacchettini,” so it was a must that we try pesto sacchettini served with grilled chicken and sautéed vegetables ($15.99).

Sacchettini were the cutest little cheese-filled purses containing six cheeses, we found out. They must use tweezers to fill them at the sacchettini factory.

They came tossed with big chunks of grilled chicken, overcooked for our liking, and an assortment of veggies, mostly cooked properly, which included green pepper, red pepper, zucchini, green beans, onions and mushrooms.

The pesto, as it turned out, was really just dried basil sprinkled into the sauté. There’s quite a difference between good pesto and dried basil. Kind of tasted like someone dumped an ashtray into the dish.

Dessert was not offered, but when we asked, our server believed there was a brownie sundae available. She made a quick trip to the kitchen to see if there was anything else, and came back with several additional choices, all admittedly food service products, so we declined. We were quite full, anyway.

And I really don’t think she wanted to be serving meatballs and lasagna in that tux-looking uniform any more than we want to watch her serving in that tux-looking uniform.

Dinner for four — three appetizers, four entrees and no desserts — came to just a few cents over $100 before tip.

Overall, a good meal but nothing overly exceptional. Friendly server, nice atmosphere, clean and cozy. Plenty of space between tables. Generous portions for a reasonable price.

And it’s not their fault, but it does reflect on the restaurant — the men’s room was in deplorable shape the night we were there. It looked and smelled like the bathroom in a fraternity house after an all-day beer blast.

Strange that there was not one fish dish on the menu. But judging from the amount of pasta and chicken on the menu, high profit items, Savory Downtown is destined to make money and flourish at the Best Western.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: wsiebel@wdt.net.

Savory Downtown

at the Best Western

300 Washington St.

Watertown, N.Y.

782-8000

The Savory Café, noted for lunches and catering, has opened a full-fledged restaurant in the Best Western downtown.

HOURS: 3 p.m. to closing, seven days a week

APPETIZER PICKS: Meatball sliders, Buffalo chicken flatbread

ENTRÉE PICKS: Lasagna, homemade gnocchi with homemade sausage

RATING: 3½ forks

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