WANAKENA The rustic little restaurant on the Ranger School road has new owners and a new attitude.
Jeff Rabideau and Suzie Thaller rescued the Pinecone Restaurant from what could have been extinction. This popular stop for outdoor enthusiasts and locals alike has changed hands several times in the last decade, not always with the best results.
Jeff and Suzie bought the place earlier this year. While the footprint is the same its a big, open dining room with a bar facing a tributary of Cranberry Lake the place has been cleaned up and the food has been kicked up.
And they subtly changed the name from the Pinecone Restaurant to the Pine Cone Grill.
They know what theyre doing when it comes to food. In the past, a decent burger and a side of fryer food were the extent of the offerings. While theyre still available (in fact, the munchie menu now totals 24 items), the new owners have added homemade soups, hand-formed pizzas, house-smoked ribs, steak dinners and homemade desserts. On special nights they have offered specialty meats like elk, rabbit, venison, pheasant, duck, frog legs and more.
The Pine Cone Grill isnt really a dinner place. They offer a half dozen or so token entrees, but the all day menu is where the action is. So we decided to just pick and choose from that menu.
We stopped by recently on a cold, snowy Thursday night. There were a half-dozen people at the bar, two couples just finishing dinner and the three of us. Not bad for the in between season.
The previous regime often closed from late fall until the snowmobile season hit, usually sometime after Christmas. Suzie and Jeff are committed to year-round hours everyone can count on, open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day except Wednesday.
It was wing night, and while the photos of the wings we saw on their Facebook page tempted us, we found enough other interesting things on the menu that we wanted to sample.
We decided to start out with a personal size pizza ($6.50) when we found out that they make their dough right there. We chose bacon and broccoli for toppings.
The crust was perfection thick on the edges, thin in the middle with a chewy texture under the toppings, crispy throughout. Everything youd want a pizza to be. And a great value for the price.
White chicken chili is a standard menu item along with two daily soup choices. We went for the chili ($3.75 a cup) and were glad we did.
It was a simple blend of white beans and chicken lots of it well-seasoned in a thick, hearty, white sauce. Delicious. It was the perfect comfort food for a cold winter night.
You have to look carefully to find something on the extensive munchies menu thats not the same old fried food you get everywhere else. We found two that sounded pretty interesting, grilled beer brats ($3.95) and seared crabcakes ($6.95).
The grilled brat (only one) was presented quite simply, cut into bite-sized pieces and plated in no particular pattern. It was a little overcooked and dry for our liking. But the stone-ground mustard that was provided for dipping helped with that, making for an overall tasty little snack.
There were two crabcakes, fairly large, which seemed quite generous for the price. They were coated with panko breadcrumbs, producing a crusty exterior and moist middle. But as soon as we cut into them we knew what was up.
Rather than the real crabmeat that we were expecting, the crabcakes were made with that orange-colored imitation crabmeat. It was minced along with other unidentifiable ingredients and spices. The crabcakes were served with a sweet sauce, like an orange horseradish dipping sauce.
The fake crab, or surimi, costs a faction of real lump crabmeat, which explains how they can sell them at such an appealing price.
The Pine Cone offers a handful of dinner entrees along with their all day menu a few Italian items, nightly specials and four steaks: rib-eye, strip, sirloin and flat iron.
We were intrigued with the flat iron steak for under $10 but went with our favorite, a New York strip for $15.95.
It came with a small house salad. Field greens rather than iceberg lettuce was a thoughtful touch along with the usual assortment of veggies. Fresh rolls made at a local supermarket also came with the entrée.
The steak had a few problems. We ordered it medium-rare. When it arrived at the table barely rare we were tempted to send it back for a few more minutes on the grill. But we have no problem with rare and actually prefer it.
The problem was the texture of the meat. It must have been an end piece of the loin rather than a center cut. There was a good amount of gristle at the ends that was almost impossible to chew. We did find some good bites toward the middle of the steak. Those pieces tasted OK, but the steak generally could have used some more salt and pepper.
We chose sweet potato fries as a side; they were crispy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.
Now on to the desserts. Only two were available that evening, apple crisp and raspberry pie. We opted for both and asked our server to put them on one plate for sharing and, per her suggestion, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The pie was nothing outstanding. The crust was tough and the filling was pasty. The size of the piece was generous, though, and we appreciated that it was warmed slightly.
The apple crisp was lacking crisp. A true apple crisp should have a topping made with sugar, butter, flour and sometimes oatmeal which crisps up on top while baking. It was more like a blob of apples and oatmeal on the plate.
The desserts cost $5. Not sure how the math worked out on that because one of the desserts was half price with the steak dinner, a special deal we spotted on their website earlier in the day.
Food for three for the evening came to $45.47. A round of drinks from the bar a beer, a glass of wine and a mixed drink added $12.75 to the bill.
Our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable, obviously a veteran Pine Cone server over several ownerships.
Toward the end of the evening, we found out that Suzie and Jeff were working the restaurant, Jeff doing the cooking with Suzies assistance (she made the pizza).
These two are obviously committed to their new venture.
One more thing the burgers at the Pine Cone are worth mentioning. Theyre REALLY good! While we didnt have one this time around, all three of us have ordered their burgers on previous visits you cant go wrong.
The Pine Cone is off the beaten path, but worth finding. Look for the sign on Route 3 between Star Lake and Cranberry Lake that directs you to the Wanakena Ranger School. Drive about a mile and the Pine Cone will be on your right.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Pine Cone Grill
68B Ranger School Road
This rustic little restaurant in the foothills of the Adirondacks is open once again under new ownership.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday
Be sure to try their white chicken chili. Pizzas are excellent, made with their own dough. Burgers are a sure bet.