LOWVILLE After hearing all good things about Sunday brunch buffet at Tug Hill Vineyards just outside Lowville, I finally got to experience it two weeks ago.
On a clear day, there are few vistas in the north country as fine as the view from the Tug Hill Vineyards. You can see for miles across the farmland to the Black River Valley and the Adirondack Mountains in the distance.
Situated at the top of a hill with grapevines spread out below, the building, with its huge stone fireplace, hewn beams and wraparound screened porch, is three floors of rustic charm. Owners Mike and Sue Maring have applied their previous talents in the landscaping business to the buildings surroundings, which are lavishly landscaped.
The day we were there, the inviting porch offering stunning views of the valley was not yet open for the season. But we could still appreciate the view from our table in the light and bright dining room, which is charming with its light wood floors, big rustic beams holding up high wood ceilings and windows all around.
The tables are attractively set and well spaced. The sprawling buffet is set up in the same room, featuring both breakfast and lunch specialties and decadent desserts. All of the food is attractively arranged and well tended. Its all made in the kitchen on the premises, much of it displayed in classy roll-top chafing dishes.
There are more than two dozen items on the buffet. The selections showed an attention to detail that fit the specialness of the surroundings.
Among the four of us, we tried most everything. Heres our report:
n Asparagus quiche: Generally flavorful. The crust was a little soggy.
n Eddies breakfast sausage: A local smoked sausage (from Eddies Meat Market in Croghan) with a subtle flavor not your average extremely salty Jimmy Dean-type breakfast link.
n Herbed scrambled eggs: You could see it was loaded with fresh basil, but the flavor wasnt overly intense.
n Poached eggs: How do you poach eggs for a crowd? A couple of dozen poached eggs were bobbing in just a bit of water in one of the chafing dishes. If youre lucky, youll get one thats nice and runny inside. If youre late to the party, youll get one that has set up to hard-boiled consistency.
The hollandaise that accompanied was a nice change of pace, with a fresh and lively flavor made from scratch, we thought, not the pasty Knorr mix so often found on buffets.
n Seasoned home fries: Nothing special, about what youd expect with any breakfast. They were tasty, if a bit limp.
n Strawberry-banana stuffed french toast: We were excited when we saw this on the menu. It sure looked great thick slices of beautifully browned bread.
But what was that glop in the middle? The fresh strawberries and bananas we were expecting turned out to be some kind of off-putting fake-flavored paste.
n Honey Dijon deviled eggs: These didnt work for me. Ill take the Dijon in the eggs, no problem, but the honey just seemed to mess it up. Sweet where it didnt need to be.
n Chicken and wild rice soup: This was good, really good. It compared favorably to some of the best homemade chicken soup Ive had, with its huge chunks of meat and great broth.
n Roast pork and stuffing: Finally, pork thats not overcooked moist meat atop savory stuffing with a subtle sweetness that paired well with the tasty brown gravy on top.
n Glazed ham: Tender and sweet and not overly salty.
n Green beans with bacon: Uhhh I dont think so. While most items on the steam table fared OK, this one didnt.
We could tell just by looking that these werent going to be good. They were soggy and overcooked, dotted with little chunks of greasy bacon.
n Shrimp and scallops in garlic cream sauce: Do they make security cameras for buffet tables?
People shouldnt be allowed to pick the seafood out of the dish and leave the pasta behind. The garlic cream sauce was lovely, infused with tasty fish stock. But most of the seafood had been snatched up by patrons ahead of us in the line.
Punishment should have been a bowl of those nasty green beans.
n Lemon tart with meringue kisses: Sweeter than we expected but still delish. A perfect meringue kiss a small cookie added a nice touch to each slice.
n Fruit salad. The fresh fruit tray was beautiful to look at, rows of assorted cubed fruit with a barely Kahlua-flavored topping available on the side.
n Cinnamon buns: These were thoughtfully cut into pieces and quite good.
n Black Forest angel trifle: Heres a dessert that probably looked gorgeous, if you were the first one in line. But by the time we got there, the glass bowl painstakingly filled with layers of angel cake, whipped cream and berries was more like a bowl that had been attacked with an immersion blender.
n White chocolate raspberry cheesecake: Very nice flavor and consistency. Extremely small wedges difficult to negotiate onto your plate, resulting in upside-down cheesecake.
n Orange cranberry bread pudding: Bread pudding is easy to make. Really easy. So we couldnt understand why it was noticeably dry, lacking the typical custard constancy we expect in a bread pudding. Serving it cold didnt help matters, either.
Brunches are tricky, and a good brunch is no small accomplishment for a restaurant. For a patron, a good Sunday brunch is an elusive but simple pleasure, and Tug Hill Vineyards did an admirable job.
The service was OK, but of course, there wasnt much service to give. A crew of young ladies in classy black server aprons emblazoned with the vineyards distinctive logo continuously removed used dishes and filled water glasses.
Our server inquired if there were any military personnel or senior citizens (awkward!) at our table, and left the bill for four adults at $19 each for a total of $81.89 before tip. Then there was a more-than-reasonable wait for her to return to cash us out.
Brunch is $17.50 for military and seniors, $10 for children under 12 and free for kids under 5. But theyre only allowed to have the green beans. Kidding.
Alcoholic beverages including wine, bloody Marys and mimosas are available for an additional charge.
The management has taken care to create a somewhat upscale menu to match the impressive building and breathtaking setting. On its own, perhaps, the food wouldnt blow you away, but as part of the whole package its worth changing out of the jammies and bunny slippers, leaving the house and heading for Tug Hill Vineyards Sunday brunch.
Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday. Reservations are recommended.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tug Hill Vineyards
4051 Yancey Road
A somewhat upscale Sunday brunch with a free extra: an impressive building with a spectacular view of the Black River Valley and the Adirondack Mountains in the distance.
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday
OUR FAVORTIES: Poached eggs (if you get the runny ones) with hollandaise, Eddies smoked sausage, chicken and wild rice soup, roast pork with stuffing and gravy, lemon tart with meringue kisses.