GOUVERNEUR For years, every time Ive driven past the Gouverneur Elks Lodge on the outskirts of the village, the sign out by the road has been promoting the clubs Friday night dinners.
One week its meatloaf with mac and cheese. Another week, its chicken Parmesan. More recently, when prime rib went up on the sign, we decided we had to check things out.
Ive had some great dinners at north country lodges and legions over the years bullhead feeds, fish fries, chicken barbecues and the like. Theyre always cooked with pride by the members and their wives, so we were looking forward to something pretty decent here.
I was the first one to arrive at the Gouverneur Elks, a little before 6 p.m. the Friday before Thanksgiving. There were about 10 cars and trucks in the parking lot, a big area that could probably hold 100 vehicles. Seemed to me I remembered the parking lot being packed on Fridays in the past.
The couple joining me had not yet arrived, so I did some snooping around inside. Its a concrete block building with walls painted off-white. To the left, theres a lounge with a bar. Thats where all the people who owned the cars outside were.
Straight ahead, theres a big open room with tall ceilings and bright lights. Kind of reminded me of an elementary school gymnasium, but much smaller. There were a dozen or more folding tables set up, picnic table style, those white plastic ones that you see on sale at Walmart.
Four of the tables were set with paper napkins and silverware. A young girl peeked out from the kitchen and made eye contact with me. Other than that, there wasnt any sign of life in the room.
I killed some time in the hallway, reading notices on the bulletin board, hoping to find information on the nights menu, what it included, what it cost. Nothing.
An older couple entered the building and seated themselves at one of the tables for eight in the deserted dining room. Regulars, I figured.
Finally, my friends arrived and we seated ourselves at one of the large tables. It seemed like forever before a teenage lad who acted like he didnt want to be there arrived with an order pad in hand.
What would you like? he asked.
What have you got? we replied.
Prime rib or fish.
What kind of fish?
Two prime rib and one fish, then.
Something to drink?
Got any iced tea?
Two waters and a coffee, then.
And that was it for the ordering process. He returned with a pitcher of water and placed it on the table with three empty glasses along with a cup of black coffee.
We needed to flag down an equally uninspired young co-worker to get some milk for the coffee. She returned with a handful of those little individual creamers and tossed them on the table. Not her fault, but the cream curdled as soon as it hit the coffee.
But we didnt go expecting great atmosphere or stellar service. We went for the food.
The salad bar had limited pickins, fresh iceberg lettuce being the focal point. Three small bowls of veggies accompanied slices of skinned cucumber, a diced tomato (singular) and chopped onion plus your choice of several standard commercial dressings.
Our dinners were wheeled out from the kitchen on a plastic service cart.
The prime rib really needed help. It was a relatively thin, visibly overcooked piece of meat that didnt have much flavor at all. It sat there on the plate bone-dry, not a speck of juice coming out of it.
We were never asked for a doneness, so assumed what we got well done was how it was being served that night.
Some au jus would have helped even a can of Campbells beef broth warmed up would have worked.
Green beans came with it, right out of a #10 can. I thought I was back in summer camp eating over a campfire. Except these beans werent even hot.
The saving grace on the plate was the baked potato wrapped in foil. It looked like a russet but had the taste of a Yukon gold. And unlike the meat and the beans, it was actually hot.
The fried fish, we were pretty sure, was haddock. Our server wasnt sure. The batter wasnt quite sticking to it. And it was way past golden brown more like dark brown bordering on black.
The coating was pretty tasteless and nearly burned, so we flicked most of it off with our fork. The fish needed seasoning. A little salt helped out. A wedge of lemon would have really come in handy.
The fish dinner came with the same lame beans and foiled potato. We did notice french fries with the fish fry at the next table, but that option hadnt been offered to us.
Our server came back with his little plastic cart to clear our plates. We asked him if there was anything for dessert. No, not this week was his reply.
The prime rib dinners were $14 each. The fish dinner was $10. Total for three came to $38 before tax and tip.
On the way out, we reflected on the lack of business at the Elks club that night. Too close to Thanksgiving, people saving their appetites? Hunting season, guys out of town? People at the mall doing some early Christmas shopping?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Dont tell my friends, but I stopped at the Stewarts on the way back through Gouverneur and got a tuna fish sandwich and an ice cream cone.
The Potsdam Food Co-op will be holding its 14th Annual Baking Contest & Silent Auction from noon to 4 this afternoon in the Co-ops Carriage House Bakery (behind the Co-op) at 24 Elm St.
This has been a holiday tradition for the past 13 years a festive time for members and nonmembers alike. You can sample delectable holiday confections and savory treats donated by friends and neighbors, and vote for your favorite in each category: cookies, desserts, special diet (gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free) and savory, a new category this year. You can bid on the culinary creations in the auction showcase.
All proceeds will be donated to the Potsdam Neighborhood Center.
For more information, go to the Co-ops website: www.potsdamcoop.com
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gouverneur Elks Lodge #2035
1419 State Route 11
Serving home-style dinners every Friday evening with the public welcomed.