OGDENSBURG The vacant restaurant space in the Stonefence Resort on Route 37 has a new tenant.
Simplicity Restaurant opened its doors a few months ago. Chef-owner Trevor Brunet has returned to his hometown to run his own restaurant on the river. Hes serving three meals a day with a very ambitious menu.
And to make more of a challenge for the Culinary Institute of America graduate, he has two different dinner menus: upscale on weekends and more casual during the week.
We stopped by on a Wednesday. We felt a little uncomfortable in the brightly lit dining room, with its strange mix of music Latin, classical, Sinatra, 50s rock on the sound system and staff loitering around the virtually empty room a lack of ambiance that could have been resolved by at least dimming the lights.
It was pasta night. A long table with portable burners was set up on one side of the dining room, a lonely chef manning the cook-to-order operation, waiting for customers. We would have thought pasta night to be a big draw, but there was only one table occupied when we arrived.
We decided to stick with the weekday dinner menu it covered a lot of bases. We counted more than 50 options from various categories: starters, salads, soups, burgers, Kaisers and hoagies, pastas, entrees, sweets and nonalcoholic beverages. The restaurant is patiently awaiting its liquor license.
We were impressed with the variety of starters, all made from scratch on the premises. Things like bruschetta bread. Panko mozzarella. Spinach and artichoke dip. Buffalo chicken dip. Hummus.
Potato dumplings ($7) sounded yummy: bacon, scallion and blue cheese dumplings with grainy mustard. What a great way to use up mashed potatoes from the night before.
The balls of potato spent too much time in the fryer, arriving dark brown to just-shy-of-burned. We didnt get a hint of bacon, scallion or blue cheese. The puddle of mustard underneath them didnt make any sense.
I love deep-fried pickles. But not Simplicitys deep-fried pickles ($6). They seemed to lack one thing the pickles.
Paper-thin slivers of pickle were breaded and deep-fried and, like the potato dumplings, arrived at the table overcooked. They were mostly breading, and not even tasty breading. Why go through the trouble of making these yourself and skimp on the pickle? There are some excellent breaded pickles available from restaurant suppliers.
Butternut squash and apple bisque ($3.50 a cup) was probably the most unusual soup weve ever had, sweet and rich to be expected with maple crème floating on top. Good-sized pieces of bacon added a salty smokiness that countered the sweetness. It was a perfect soup for a chilly fall night.
Wedge salad ($8) is another favorite of mine. Whats not to like with a wedge of iceberg lettuce smothered with blue cheese dressing, bacon, grape tomatoes and more blue cheese?
But what a surprise half a head of iceberg! We split it among the four of us, and there was still some left. Tasty toppings, but they were out of proportion with the huge amount of lettuce.
For our main courses, we sampled from several categories.
HVFD beef burger ($10.50) was a winner, dedicated to the nearby Heuvelton Volunteer Fire Department. Its an 8-ounce burger with sausage, caramelized onions, jalapenos, American cheese, lettuce and tomato and chipotle mayo.
The beef was cooked perfectly to our call of medium moist and flavorful and would rival any burger around. The jalapenos and the onions were the perfect hot and sweet addition to this wonderful burger.
Fresh-cut fries were large and they were good. We were pleasantly surprised with their crunchiness.
The Cuban hoagie ($10.50) was made with honey ham, slow-braised barbecued pork, pickles, Swiss cheese and mustard.
The barbecued pork made this Cuban nontraditional, and along with an excess of barbecue sauce really overpowered the other ingredients. The store-bought-tasting barbecue sauce didnt mesh at all with the mustard. We didnt find any Swiss cheese. And there were those little paper-thin pickles again.
It came with housemade potato chips. They were good, well-salted and quite large. But dont mess with a classic. Putting pulled pork on a Cuban is like putting pulled pork on a BLT.
From the entrée category we chose white wine risotto ($14) and walnut-encrusted haddock ($16).
Risotto is always a great treat in a restaurant. Often it is available as a side, so we were surprised to see it as an entrée.
The chef did it up right, cooking the risotto until just al dente and adding roasted tomato, Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic syrup. We added the option of grilled chicken on top which added $3 to the price.
The menu notes that risotto orders require 20 minutes of cooking time since its made from scratch, so plan ahead if youre in a hurry.
Walnut and cranberry-encrusted Icelandic haddock with basmati rice, garlic, sage and brown butter sounded great, but it really wasnt.
The overly salty walnuts were distracting. Where were the cranberries? And the garlic and sage? They werent with the walnuts. And they didnt seem to be in the rice.
The fish was dry. It needed some kind of sauce. The brown butter must have been left behind in the pan. There was a little soufflé cup with plain butter in it, but we didnt know what we were supposed to do with that.
Now we were the only table in the place and it felt a little awkward, just us with the pasta chef standing all alone at his station, so we ordered four of their homemade desserts to take home, each priced at $6.
As we were awaiting our bill, a complimentary dessert was delivered to our table a gift from the kitchen: deep-fried Oreos.
Yumm-yyy. Just like being at the county fair. Unfortunately, the deep-fried coating was spongy and greasy. There must have been some kind of problem with the fryer the night we were there, because everything deep-fried wasnt coming out quite like it should have.
Cheesecake lollipops were a fun and creative presentation of a favorite dessert. There were four balls of cheesecake dipped in chocolate with lollipop sticks for a handle. The cheesecake was very dense and rich. They were sprinkled with graham cracker dust a perfect addition and complemented with strawberry coulis.
We were surprised to find not one but two slices of raspberry pie in our to-go container. It was good pie, even warmed up in the microwave.
Fresh baked apple dumplings were nicely done as well. The apples were peeled and cored and baked with a maple glaze, served with caramelized milk (sugar slowly cooked with milk until sweetened and thickened) and whipped topping. Delicious and homey.
Chocolate custard bread pudding was the least impressive. Rather than being light and custardy, it was more dense and cakelike. If you had your eyes closed, youd swear you were eating a brownie. It was covered with strawberry coulis. It tasted fine; it just didnt taste like bread pudding.
Dinner for four we each had a starter, a main and a dessert cost $110.21 before tip. The bill was presented on an iPad; you got to input the gratuity, either in dollar amount or percentage. An invoice, printed in the back, was presented by our waitress.
Our server was friendly and chatty. Maybe a little too chatty. She asked us questions every time she came to the table. Where are you from? How did you hear about us? Who are your friends? Something you expect from a good diner waitress, not a server in a supposed upscale restaurant.
The chef needs to narrow down the menu and find an identity. You cant be all things to all people. Why change the menu to fine dining on the weekend? We were hoping for fine dining on a Wednesday. Should we have waited to go on the weekend? We shouldnt have to make that decision.
Prices were reasonable. Although its not their fault, its too bad they dont have their liquor license yet. The weekday menu with its overabundance of burgers and hoagies bar-style food cries out for a frosty brew or two.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: email@example.com.
7191 Route 37
A new restaurant in the long- vacant space at the Stonefence Resort on Route 37.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday for brunch
OUR PICKS: Butternut squash and apple bisque, HVFD beef burger, white wine risotto, cheesecake lollipops, apple dumplings