LOWVILLE Youve probably driven right past Doyles Pub in West Lowville and didnt even know it was there.
The tiny eatery is at Routes 12 and 177. The outside of the pub has no curb appeal whatsoever it looks like an old trailer that has undergone crude additions over the years.
The parking lot was overflowing. We had to join other cars parked on the shoulder of the highway. There was a noticeable smell of fryer grease wafting from the building.
We entered through the small bar area tight, cramped, slightly odoriferous with a worn tile floor bustling with locals and a few end-of-season snowmobilers on a Friday evening. A friendly crew with a few f-bombs flying at the far end. I tried to strike up a conversation with an old-timer on a barstool next to me and couldnt understand a word he was saying.
Its been a while since Ive seen Genny and Genny Cream in a bar, but there they were staring at us from inside the large glass-front cooler that separates the bar from the dining room and the rest rooms. But there are choices like Sam Adams Alpine Spring, too, and a good selection of liquor for mixed drinks.
The beer was fairly priced at $3.75, and a Captain & Coke was a real deal at $2.75. Our bartender didnt have any rye to make a rye and ginger, she said, so we spotted Seagrams 7 and asked for that with ginger ale instead, similarly bargain-priced.
On to the dining area small and cozy, a little bright compared to the bar, shellacked knotty pine and brick veneer walls from the 70s. There were six tables, at best, all occupied throughout the evening. We were seated at a table across from the open door to the kitchen.
Our pleasant young server, Randi, was tableside in a flash, order pad in hand, and asked, Are you ready to order, or did you need menus? Guess the regulars have the menu memorized, but being out-of-towners, we decided to look it over first.
Dinners are served every Friday and Saturday night. The menu contains about a dozen down-home, home-cooked, right-priced choices. In addition, fish fry is the specialty on Friday, prime rib on Saturday.
Appetizers consisted exclusively of typical deep-fried delicacies that weve all had elsewhere before, so we decided to dive right into dinner.
We ordered maple chicken ($9.99), hamburger steak ($10.49), pork chop ($8.99) and fried haddock dinner ($11.99).
First impressions mean a lot, and the glob of ketchup caked on the outside of the red ketchup squeeze bottle on the table was not a good one.
A trip to the bathrooms was interesting too. It was cold in there. REALLY cold. We thought wed taken a wrong turn and ended up in the walk-in cooler. More complaints from the ladies than the guys. Understandable.
Back to the food.
Salads came with our meals, nice, crisp torn iceberg lettuce, uniformly diced fresh tomato, large slices of yellow onion and cucumber. Perfectly acceptable bottled dressing was served in a plastic side container.
The maple chicken was quite unusual and very good. A chicken breast with a bit of the skin still intact was lightly breaded and quickly fried. The chicken was moist, the breading was exceptionally light and crispy, and real maple syrup was drizzled over the chicken which was surprisingly not soggy. A small side of syrup was supplied as well.
Hamburger steak was nicely done. Its pan-seared ground beef which, by itself, would be nothing special. But Doyles version was smothered with a thick, tasty brown gravy with large slices of sautéed onions and canned mushrooms.
Randi had asked earlier for our preference of doneness, and our request of rare was pretty much honored. We were expecting metallic-tasting canned gravy, but someone in the kitchen had taken the time to make this gravy flavorful and homemade-tasting.
As for the pork chop, we were not asked for doneness. It arrived appetizingly char-grilled but was cooked more than we would have liked, so it was a bit dry and a little tough.
There is an option with the pork chop and the maple chicken where you can get an additional chop or chicken breast for a $2 upcharge.
Finally, the piece de resistance, the reason we had to park on the highway, the reason we had to wait at the bar until a table opened, the reason we were there: Doyles Friday fish fry.
On the menu, the fried haddock dinner is $11.99. On a chalkboard on the wall, the fish fry is priced at $9.49. We asked Randi what the difference was. She said nobody had ever asked her that, but she was pretty sure the fish fry included just the fish.
So we went with the haddock dinner. Two thick pieces of haddock were lightly battered and nicely fried. We would have preferred it had a little longer dip in the fryer for an extra crispy bite, but it was certainly OK tasty and relatively nongreasy (compared to the aroma outside the building earlier).
We assumed the kitchen has a dedicated fryer for fish, or at least changes the fryer oil regularly, because the fish actually tasted like fish no hint of chicken wings or onion rings or anything like that.
A side of mashed potatoes, according to the mashed potato expert at the table was AMAZING smashed red-skin potatoes with some of the skin still intact that had great taste of butter and milk and lumps of spud-lisciousnes!
The mashed potatoes came with all of our entrees except one that came with commercial french fries. Peas and carrots were the veggies du jour, and reminded a teacher at our table of school lunch. Coleslaw was creamy with a hint of sweetness excellent.
Homemade desserts were $3 each: peach cobbler, coconut cream pie, chocolate cream pie and apple pie sundae.
Peach cobbler was the real deal, seasoned with cinnamon and served with a blob of fake whipped cream.
Coconut cream pie had grated coconut in the custard, a nice touch, we thought, but the custard itself was an unnatural yellow color. Chocolate cream pie was basic chocolate pudding in a basic pie shell.
The apple pie sundae was outstanding, a parfait glass filled with homemade applesauce with thinly sliced apples and cinnamon mixed with scoops of vanilla ice cream. The sauce was warmed so that the ice cream melted in the tall glass as you worked your way to the bottom.
Dinner for four, before drinks and tip, came to $58.15. Be forewarned: Doyles does not accept credit cards.
All during dinner, we watched customers walk right into the kitchen and strike up a conversation with, we assumed, the cook. We jokingly asked Randi if we could wander around the kitchen too, and she said sure, go ahead.
We didnt have to. Chef/owner Sue Doyle came out and worked the room while we were finishing dessert. She plopped herself down at an available chair at our table and started chatting away.
Shes owned the place for over a decade. Before that, she had experience cooking at the fine-dining restaurant Greystone Manor. Shes a good cook with a loyal following, as evidenced by her greeting guests in the dining room and the parade through her kitchen.
She also revealed the secret to her apple pie sundae: I stole it from Rachael Ray on TV!
Too bad you werent here when we had some of my berry pies, she commented.
Then she looked at me and said, So when are we going to be in the newspaper?
And I would have had some fun with her, except Im pretty sure Sue has the ability to arm-wrestle me to the floor.
Randi, as it turns out, is Sues niece. She was quite attentive, brought the food out in a timely fashion, despite a busy night. And she never had to ask who got what.
Turn up the heat in the bathrooms, clean up that ketchup bottle and well be back some Saturday to try out that prime rib.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: email@example.com.
Intersection of Routes 12 & 177
West Lowville, N.Y.
Serving home-cooked country-style dinners every weekend. Fish fry is their specialty on Friday, prime rib on Saturday.
HOURS: 11 a.m. until whenever Wednesday through Saturday
Dinner served Friday and Saturday
Sunday breakfast 8 to 11:30 a.m.
Try the Friday fish fry. From the menu, the maple chicken is pretty special. Red-skin mashed potatoes are excellent. Get the apple pie sundae for dessert.