We recently visited two locally owned restaurants that have managed to stand the test of time.
In Watertown, it's Cam's New York Pizzeria where the Square meets Court Street.
In Potsdam, it's Eben's Hearth on Route 11 as you enter the village coming from Canton.
Here's our report.
CAM'S NEW YORK PIZZERIA
25 PUBLIC SQUARE
It's nice to see a family-owned-and-operated pizza shop that has successfully competed with all the chain pizza restaurants that have popped up around Watertown over the years.
Cam's New York Pizzeria has been on the Square since 1996. Many people believe it to be a one-of-a-kind pizzeria but actually it's one of a dozen franchised Cam's operations, most of which are in the Syracuse and Rochester areas.
We hit at the height of lunch hour one day last month. Tables were filled with a variety of customers — uniformed military, city officials, folks from one of the local TV stations and people off the street like us.
There's no waitress service. You stand in line as it inches up to the counter and a competent employee takes your order. Pizzas are being made right there, too, for all to watch. No flipping the dough up in the air like in a big city pizza place, however.
The décor is interesting. Lots of photos and wall hangings that may give you the feeling that you're in for a real New York City pizzeria treat. And it's a little rough around the edges. The unisex bathroom labeled "MAN CAVE" was more than a little intimidating to the female in our party.
For a place that serves your food on paper plates with plastic utensils and gives you a paper cup for you to get your own soda, the surroundings are adequate.
We began with a large antipasto, served in a round, black plastic container that reminded us of take-out from a fast food restaurant. It was delivered to the table with the clear plastic top still in place and four forks.
The salad consisted of fresh iceberg lettuce, large wedges of ripe red tomatoes and sparse toppings of ham, pepperoni and black olives. Most of the lettuce was cut in large chunks, impossible to cut with the only utensil we were given, a plastic fork. Dressing came in plastic packets, decent quality Ken's Golden Italian.
Fried dough was intended to be our dessert, but it arrived next, warm from the deep-fryer, sprinkled with lots of sugar and cinnamon. The centers of some of the pieces were a bit undercooked, but that didn't keep us from polishing off the entire platter.
The calzone was huge. A calzone is a stuffed pizza that resembles a large turnover. It was baked in the oven a little too long, making it impossible to cut with our plastic fork. We asked one of the staff for a knife, and were promptly given a plastic knife.
For our filling, we chose broccoli, banana peppers and black olives. Mozzarella and ricotta are standard. It was good, but near impossible to negotiate as we hacked away with our plastic cutlery. Cold marinara sauce came with it, served in a plastic container.
The best was delivered last: a small pizza with sausage and pepperoni. The crust was excellent, not exactly thin like you'd get in a New York City pizzeria, but it had a good amount of sauce and cheese along with an unselfish amount of meat toppings. Fresh ingredients; made to order.
While we didn't try their wings or subs, we all agreed if we returned, pizza would be at the top of our list. Cam's is perfect for grabbing a quick slice, but not really the place to go for a sit-down meal.
Lunch for four came to $42.
Cam's is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sunday.
115 MAPLE ST.
You can't miss Eben's Hearth as you enter Potsdam. Eben's has been around for well over two decades. It's a big building opposite Clarkson University with one of those gaudy electronic signs blinking and scrolling away out front.
Inside, it's clean and bright and comfortable. There are custom-made booths and tables throughout. It has a knotty pine ceiling and a lunch counter back on the right. On the left is a large bar with all your favorite beverages. Further back is a good-sized eating-meeting room.
But the most impressive feature of Eben's is watching the waitresses come out of the kitchen carrying trays filled with colorful, steaming lunches. Dani was our waitress, smiling and congenial and eager as though it was her first week there.
Actually, she has been there for more than four years and is responsible for training new waitresses. If they're all like Dani, you'll be in good hands.
The lunch menu consists of soups and salads, overstuffed sandwiches, specialty burgers, platters and wings and many fried food favorites, priced from $5.29 to $8.29.
First the soup. My theory of "if the soup's good, then the rest of the food will be good" was about to prove true once again.
Two homemade soups were available the day we visited. Their "famous" tomato/macaroni/beef was excellent, a rich tomato broth with a taste of something we couldn't quite identify. Worcestershire, perhaps? A sign on the wall indicated you could buy it by the quart to take home. A hearty homemade turkey soup also was very good; chock full of celery, carrots and turkey. A bowl of either soup could have been a meal in itself.
We were drawn to the specialty sandwiches on the menu, all named after prominent people in Potsdam's history like Gurdon Smith, Sandra Bickert and George Sisson.
The Emily Clarkson consisted of turkey breast with Swiss cheese, tomato slices and Russian dressing, served on my call of grilled homemade wheat bread. A little messy to eat, but oh so good. Real turkey breast, too, not that deli turkey roll you get some places. Chips accompanied.
I don't know if Big Ben was a prominent Potsdamonian or not, but the sandwich bearing his name was a big deal — sirloin steak sautéed with onions, peppers and mushrooms, topped with melted American cheese, served on a grilled garlic Kaiser roll. A glorified Philly, of sorts. But much better.
Dani asked if we wanted fries or onion rings with the Big Ben. We chose onion rings, a great commercial product, seasoned on the outside and with a nice crunch to them.
We could tell that time was spent in the kitchen making sure each dish was carefully organized and adorned before being presented to our table.
We were offered desserts and considered taking one home. The only one made in-house was something with ice cream served in a tortilla bowl, and the ice cream wouldn't have survived the trip. We figured we'd try it out next time we were in Potsdam. And we will stop back.
Lunch for two came to $25 before tip.
Eben's Hearth is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is closed on Monday.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.