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From the sea all the way to the Adirondacks

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TUPPER LAKE — You don’t expect to drive by a restaurant in the Adirondacks and see “Live Lobster Fest” on a sign out front.

But that’s exactly what we saw driving by the White Birch Café in Tupper Lake last month. A subsequent phone call and we found out they get fresh seafood “almost every other day.” Lobsters, clams, scallops, haddock, salmon, crab …

So we made plans to stop by the Friday before Labor Day. We called earlier in the day to make reservations, only to learn they do not take reservations. We asked the lady on the other end of the phone, “Do you think there’s going to be a line out the door?” To which she responded, “I hope so.”

We arrived around 6 o’clock to a line out the door. It took another few minutes to find a parking spot on the street because the parking lot was filled.

But the line moved along quickly, taking us past a live lobster tank, and before long we were seated in a large, comfortable dining room. It has a rustic-casual feel with lots of wood on the walls and ceiling, booths along the walls and a breakfast/lunch counter near the kitchen.

An overturned canoe outside with “Adirondack Family Dining” painted on its bottom set the tone. The cover of the menu reinforced it with “Freshly prepared foods in a warm Adirondack setting.”

The selection is extensive and reasonably priced. Basic pasta dishes — angel hair, penne or fettuccine — with meatballs or sausage are just under $10. Most everything else — chicken dishes, pasta sautés, seafood entrees — is $12 to $16. Even ribs, steak and lobster are under $20.

And you don’t have to have a big dinner. Appetizers, sandwiches and salads are available right through the dinner hour, with prices from $4.95 to $8.95. Pizza and burgers, too.

We were there to explore the dinner possibilities and got started with appetizers — bruschetta ($6.50), mozzarella triangles ($5.95) and steamed clams ($8.95).

The diced tomatoes on the bruschetta could have used a few more days ripening. The bread underneath wasn’t very toasty, but a dunk in the tasty homemade marinara sauce that came with it took care of most of the shortcomings.

We got the fried mozzarella, breaded cheese triangles made right there in the kitchen, because the tubular commercial ones are the same all over. Unfortunately, the breading was soggy by the time they made it to the table. The great marinara sauce saved the day again.

Steamed clams were the real deal, fresh East Coast little necks (almost top necks, a size between little necks and cherrystones). They were excellent — sweet, succulent and perfectly steamed, so sweet they really didn’t need the melted butter that came with them.

Entrees come with a trip to the salad bar. This one had iceberg lettuce as its only green along with the standard array of dressings. Containers of pepperoncini, pickled beets, roasted red peppers, Bermuda onions and a shell pasta salad kicked it up a little.

Warm, crusty loaves of cut-your-own fresh-baked Italian bread were a highlight of the salad bar.

But it was lobster that drew us in, so let’s start there.

A bright red, beautifully steamed lobster ($19.95) arrived in its entirety on a platter — absolutely perfect. It came with all the customary accoutrements — nutcrackers for the claws, drawn butter, wet naps and even a lobster bib. Like the clams, the lobster probably didn’t need the butter. But what’s lobster without butter?

We got mashed potatoes for a side, since our waitress confirmed they were homemade. Buttery, salty and slightly lumpy — Adirondack comfort food. Could have done without the canned-tasting brown gravy, however.

Scallops prepared scampi-style ($15.50) were served over angel hair pasta. There were at least eight nicely sautéed scallops over perfectly cooked pasta. I admire anyone who can cook angel hair pasta correctly, don’t you?

Garlic, traditional with scampi sauce, was a little overpowering — more like they sprinkled granulated garlic on at the end rather than fresh garlic in a butter/wine sauce.

Café salmon ($13.95) was their version of salmon Florentine. Sautéed spinach topped a big portion of poached salmon which then was finished with lots of melted provolone, perhaps too much. The salmon by itself could have used a little seasoning and the skin taken off.

It came with salt potatoes that were actually more desirable red skin potatoes, and not overly salty.

I’m pretty fussy about my veal, so I wasn’t expecting too much when I ordered veal parmesan on the menu for $13.95. (A pound of top-quality veal can cost more than that wholesale.)

Yeah, the hand-breaded veal was pretty chewy, but once again, the tasty marinara came to the rescue, along with melted aged provolone and al dente penne. All in all, a good, hearty dish.

Other than the lobster, perhaps our favorite was chicken artichoke ($13.95), a huge portion consisting of good-sized chunks of chicken sautéed in olive oil with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, onions, black olives, garlic, mushrooms, green peppers and roasted red peppers tossed with penne. Lots of flavors going on here. Lots of leftover to take home, too.

For dessert, they offer a combination of homemade and commercial treats. We ordered the ones made in-house. Dessert prices average $5.

Strawberry shortcake was a winner, with fresh strawberries and homemade biscuits. If only the whipped cream had been homemade it would have been a perfect late-summer treat. An extremely generous portion … great for sharing.

The crisp casing on their restaurant-supply cannoli was filled to order with a sweet, homemade ricotta filling. The ends were dipped in the traditional chocolate chips. The plate was painted with both chocolate and raspberry sauces. This was one large cannoli, big enough for two.

Pecan pie wasn’t the greatest. The crust appeared to be a prefab job, and the filling was distractingly gel-like. The pecans seemed soft, too. Maybe it had just been around a little too long.

Total for three appetizers, five entrées and three desserts came to $156.79. There are no alcoholic beverages available.

Our young, personable waitress — and the kitchen crew — did an admirable job on a busy Friday night with customers lined up out the door waiting to get in.

Overall, the White Birch Café provided decent food, a comfortable family atmosphere, quick service and friendly hospitality.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.



White Birch Café

218 Park St.

Tupper Lake, N.Y.

1 (518) 359-8044



Specializing in freshly prepared foods in a warm Adirondack family setting.



Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6 a.m. daily except Tuesdays.



APPETIZER PICK: Steamed clams



ENTRÉE PICKS: Steamed lobster dinner, chicken artichoke pasta



DESSERT PICKS: Fresh strawberry shortcake, cannoli



RATING: 3 forks

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