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Paddock Club raises the bar with pub fare

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The Paddock Club, in the historic Paddock Arcade just off Watertown’s Public Square and proudly self-proclaimed as the area’s only martini bar, is now serving food.

Robert Dalton opened this comfortable little pubby place in 2005. He has followed the “slow but steady” system of business expansion. Over the years, this friendly little bar has taken over one Arcade storefront after another, adding plush seating, a stage for live weekend entertainment and, now, a professional kitchen for its expanding list of upscale appetizers and pub grub.

It was the logical next move for Robert, who has more than 20 years’ experience as head chef at Watertown’s former Crown & Feather restaurant and the original Partridge Berry Inn.

The Paddock is one of a limited number of downtown bars popular with office workers, teachers and others for their happy hours. It has always been a pleasant, dark retreat (there are no windows, except those facing the somewhat dreary Arcade hallway) for a quiet drink or an informal business meeting — although it can get mighty full on occasion, especially on weekends with live music that draws an adult crowd.

The main areas include the original barroom with several stools, a booth and a couple of high-top tables. The adjacent room has one booth, some leather and upholstered couches around a gas fireplace, and several more high-top tables and chairs.

Our group of five walked in on a Wednesday evening, courteously eyed the bar patrons who were eyeing us, and proceeded directly to the private and somewhat intimate room with the comfy couches.

The two ladies in our party are Paddock regulars, or “fans,” as they prefer to be called. They took charge, quickly rearranging the furniture in the room, hijacking several of the tall but small tables, pushing them together.

After waiting a few minutes, it was clear that one of us would have to tell the bartender we were there for table service. Clearly, the assumption is still that customers are drinkers who find their way to the bar, rather than diners there to be waited on.

That chore accomplished, Matt, our chatty, capable waiter for the evening, appeared, menus in hand. It’s hard to escape the spirit of the place as a bar. Of the six panels on the menu, four of them list drinks — enough to have our collective parents rolling over in their graves: 80 kinds of martinis, eight beers on tap, 40 bottled beers, wine choices as well as all the popular liquors.

The other two pages are devoted to their new tapas-like food format — more than a dozen made-from-scratch small-plate appetizers, a half dozen imaginative flatbreads as well as create-your-own traditional pizzas from a selection of 15 toppings. All the usual deep-fried finger food stuff is available as well.

To get things under way, we asked Matt first and foremost about the happy hour offerings. From 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, house wines and selected beers and Jose Cuervo margaritas are $3, cosmos (Cosmopolitans) are $4, basic mixed drinks are two for one.

There are also a complimentary martini tastings during the week, but you have to be at the bar to participate. They’re small samples of drinks chosen and prepared by the bartender as the whim strikes him or her any particular evening.

Many have come to think of a cosmo (usually vodka, Cointreau and cranberry juice) as a fruity, girlie cocktail made famous by the TV show “Sex and the City.” The one ordered at our table (not by me) was a fruity, girlie cocktail that came in a big martini glass, a dark pink drink punctuated by the rim of the glass coated in green sugar.

It tasted as pretty as it looked. The alcohol wasn’t readily detectable — but maybe that’s the idea, to hide it amid all the sweet ingredients.

The margaritas were perfect, each served in a very large glass with a portion so large it had to be served with an additional side glass to handle the overflow. A great value, using name-brand booze, for only three bucks.

For beers, we tried an Ithaca Apricot Wheat, a slightly cloudy wheat beer they always have on tap, and an 1812 microbrew, pioneered in nearby Sackets Harbor several decades ago. For wine, we received a generous pour (at least 8 ounces) of Chardonnay from Barefoot Cellars in California.

Time for a confession. I don’t think I’ve ever had a martini. So I asked Matt to size me up and recommend a martini I might like, you know, a manly manly one, not one of those frilly girlie things.

A dirty martini filled the bill, delivered to me in a large, sturdy rocks glass with three big, fat green olives draped across the top on an oversized toothpick. Like the margarita, there was an additional side glass to handle the overflow.

Have you ever had a dirty martini? Don’t. It’s vodka, dry vermouth (which is really wine) and olive brine. I even specified top shelf Kettle One vodka, hoping for the best, and it still tasted like the prep you take just before a colonoscopy.

On that note, let’s talk about the food.

Until recently, the Paddock Club offered just a few thoughtful bar selections like hummus and pita bread and spinach/artichoke dip. And there’s a help-yourself popcorn machine in the corner.

Now there are 14 “Paddock Specialties,” their new appetizer/tapas offerings, perfect for sharing. We tried six of them.

n Panko-Crusted Goat Cheese ($7.99): A wheel of goat cheese coated with coarse panko breadcrumbs, lightly fried and served with pita wedges and pomegranate sauce proved to be a substantial starter and one of our favorites.

Over the last few decades, goat cheese has become less “goaty.” Or as one person in our party commented, “the dirty sock taste is gone.” The soft, warm, slightly grainy cheese, when scooped up with a pita and paired with a tiny amount of the thick and sweet pomegranate glaze, was delightful.

n Paddock Skins ($6.99): Italian seasoned tomatoes, cheese sauce, fresh-cooked bacon pieces and shallots drizzled with peppered ranch dressing.

These were truly loaded potato skins, packed full of tasty ingredients. The addition of the seasoned tomatoes took them to a new and different level.

n Coconut Shrimp ($7.99): Five shrimp, hand-breaded and dipped in fresh coconut, fried to a golden brown and served with sweet-and-sour orange marmalade.

We were a little leery at first. Too many places serve the squashed-down freezer-to-fryer variety that have given coconut shrimp a bad rap. These, however, were relatively large and full of crunch. Even the person at the table with an irrational dislike of coconut thought these were great.

n Queen Anne Fried Olives ($6.99): Two skewers of breaded, deep-fried olives, served with a pepper ranch sauce. Who ever heard of such a thing? Fun and different. A new one to all of us.

If you like olives, then these olives will make you happy. Fried anything makes most people happy, but these large olives kept their snappy bite even after being dunked in 375-degree oil.

If you have to ask why someone would want to eat a deep-fat-fried olive, then you wouldn’t understand the answer.

n Mushroom Risotto Fritters ($7.99): A mix of mushrooms folded into risotto, stuffed with Fontina cheese, rolled into balls, breaded and baked, served in a pool of spicy tomato sauce. New and different. Inspired. Another favorite.

Personally, I could have used a little more mushroom flavor, but the semi-soft, almost nutty Fontina made up for it. Matt warned us that the tomato sauce was spicy, which it was, but not overbearing.

n Bruschetta Bread ($7.99): French bread crostini topped with seasoned tomatoes, bacon and feta cheese, draped with a leaf of arugula touched with balsamic vinegar. A great twist on a standard appetizer. Proof prositive that bacon makes everything better.

The slices of French bread were perfectly toasted, resulting in crusty outside with a soft inside.

Selections from the “specialties” menu we didn’t get to try were escargot, spicy garlic hummus, fried mozzarella, calamari, cheese fondue, shrimp cocktail, Parmesan pesto meatballs and three cheese artichoke dip.

There are five flatbreads: Mediterranean vegetable, caramelized onions, chicken Alfredo, spinach artichoke chicken and the one we tried, roasted cherry tomatoes and portabello mushrooms. Each is priced at $8.99.

This was an excellent treat, the flavor of the tomatoes intensified by roasting and the surprise of little blobs of chive cream cheese spread that added an interesting texture and taste.

Just to say we did it, we ordered a traditional one-size-fits-all 16-inch pizza. The base price is $12, which includes sauce and cheese; toppings add $1.25 or $2 each, depending on which you choose.

We ordered it with caramelized onions and sausage. Maybe our taste buds were shot at this point, but we didn’t come away oohing and aahing. The crust lacked that crunchy-yet-stretchy quality you look for in a good pizza.

We were just about to ask for the check when Matt told us they had just begun offering desserts, not made in-house like everything else, but commercial and of good quality.

Mango-guava cheesecake ($6.50), presented in a tall martini glass, was light and tasty. Chocolate cheesecake ($6.75) was a three-layer confection shaped like a stubby Twinkie covered in chocolate ganache. Neither had authentic cheesecake consistency or taste. But they were pretty good.

When the Paddock kitchen gets around to making their own desserts, we know they’ll be able to put out a much better product with attention to detail like the rest of their food offerings.

Food for five came to $82.43. The bar tab, averaging two drinks per person was $41. Tax and tip were additional.

Our waiter was super, an insurance industry trainee by day who comes to the Paddock with professional server experience, having worked at high-end resorts in Lake Placid. He was friendly, sharp and solicitous without being hovery.

Hooray for the Paddock Club, which has for many years not only been a fixture in the Arcade but also just about the only viable and growing business there. Their idea of branching out into upscale pub food fills a niche in downtown Watertown.

One final observation: The Paddock has attracted a mature, mostly 40-and-over-crowd over the years. Our little group was no exception, as evidenced by the two ladies at our table sharing a pair of those $5 drugstore reading glasses to view the menu and the three guys talking about their latest old-guy ailments and procedures.

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



The Paddock Club

1 Public Square (in the Paddock Arcade)

Watertown, N.Y.

786-6633

www.paddockclubusa.com



The Paddock Club, proudly self-proclaimed as the area’s only martini bar, is now serving upscale pub food.



HOURS: Open 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.

Kitchen open 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.



OUR FOOD PICKS: Panko-crusted goat cheese, mushroom risotto fritters, coconut shrimp, Paddock skins, roasted cherry tomato and portobello mushroom flatbread



OUR DRINK PICKS: Jose Cuervo margarita, Paddock cosmo



RATING: 4 forks

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