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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Bring On the Bacon

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s Metroland review took me to Scotia NY’s newest casual eatery, a worthy successor to O’Leaary’s, which previously occupied the space.

I ASSUME THAT MY DOCTOR doesn’t read this column, or else he’d be all over me for the excesses to which I too often confess. The latest may be the most alarming of them all, although it’s also so delicious that I’m surprised it hasn’t become a standard menu item long since.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“I love bacon,” says Michael Martini, “and I can never get enough of it on a burger. So I decided to see what would happen if we ground it and made a burger that’s half-beef, half-bacon.”

The 50/50 leads the burgers listing on the Mohawk Taproom & Grill menu, an $11 plate served with fries (cheese is a dollar extra). Like all the burgers, it features eight ounces of meat. To ask for a layer of cheddar was superfetation, of course, but the affinity between bacon and cheese should not be denied.

What’s most remarkable about this burger is its agreeable flavor. Of course we go together well, it’s saying. You’re already accustomed to this combination. What’s missing is the bacon’s crunch. It’s like hearing the “Eroica” Symphony without its first two notes.

I made up for the missing crunch, however, with fried green beans. They’re available separately as an appetizer for $7, but only a buck and a half extra if you sub them for the burger-plate fries. The beer batter with which they’re coated has the added texture of (I’m guessing) cornmeal, making them all the more addictive. A dipping sauce of chipotle-seasoned garlic mayo completes the dish.

Not that there’s any reason to eschew the fries. My friend Bonnie joined me for lunch, and I hadn’t the heart to steer her away from getting the same burger I got. While it’s nice to have a variety of items to write about, I’d paid an earlier visit—and it was Bonnie who first told  me about the 50/50 burger, so who was I to deny her? And she got hers with fries, so we were able to poach from one another.

The fries resemble the fast-food variety only in size and color. They’re cooked to order, so you have a helping of crunch here as well, and aren’t flavored with anything but potato. Which only affirms that the Taproom has the pub-food part of the equation down pat.

Mike and his wife Stephanie have been in the business since each was 18; most recently, they worked for the Wheatfields restaurants. “With all the effort we’ve put into the business, which we both love,” says Mike, “we wanted to try running our own place.” They began planning this over a year ago, putting money away and bringing on board a chef who understood the kind of food they wanted to serve.

“His name is Nick Constable, and, because he’s a big guy, his nickname is ‘Big Country,’” Mike explains. “That’s why you see items like ‘Country’s Homemade Meatloaf’ and ‘Country’s homemade BBQ sauce’ listed on the menu.”

Also on the menu: Taproom wings ($10 for 10), which I sampled during an earlier visit, choosing the bone-in option because I’m a purist, and ordering them with garlic parmesan sauce because I was with people fearful of anything spicy. Much as I enjoy wings, I’m not discriminating enough to find a vast variety out there: As long as some basic prep rules are followed, they’ll be good. And these were very good.

Clams are steamed in an Ommegang Witte broth ($11), you can get fries on their own for $7, which includes bacon and cheddar or a “Buffalo Bleu” style. Fried pickles, which I also enjoyed, are dipped in buttermilk and batter and then fried, and while there’s a struggle between the wet of the pickle and the dry of the batter, enough of a crust remains for a while to make it a great vehicle for an unusual flavor combo—served with ranch or horseradish sauce ($7).

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
An appetizer special during my more recent visit was a plate of “Scotia chips” ($8), which have proven popular enough to become a menu item when the lineup changes later this month. Homemade potato chips—always a boon—are topped with (as if you couldn’t guess) cheese and bacon, with jalapeno slices and scallions to up the flavor ante. Potato-based nachos, if you will, which will fill you more quickly, so share them with friends.

Salads include Caesar ($5/$10), steak and feta ($15) and Asian Mandarin ($11), the last-named a mix of greens, feta, dried cranberries, walnuts and Mandarin orange slices.

Among the other sandwiches are a BLT ($9), a pair of hot dogs ($8), a Reuben ($10) and a meatloaf sandwich ($10), each served with fries; other burger stylings include bacon and blue cheese ($11), fried pickles and ranch dressing ($10), mushrooms and Swiss cheese ($10), a turkey burger ($10) and a veggie burger ($9).

And there’s a brief entrées list: fish and chips ($15), steak frites ($19), grilled chicken breast ($14) and the aforementioned meatloaf ($15) prominently featured.

“I was worried,” says Mike, “that this might be too much of a Bud Light area, but we’ve been offering craft beer since we opened, and our mug club has 200 members and is growing.” The Bud is there, of course, but it takes a backseat to such brews as Ommegang Scythe and Sickle, Lake Placid Ubu Ale, Blue Point Hoptical Illusion and one that knocked my tastebuds for a pleasant loop, Rushing Duck’s Beanhead Coffee Porter. They’ve got 20 taps working, so you’ll find something that pleases you.

Sit at the bar and there’s a TV in sight with some kind of sporting event in progress; the adjacent dining area feels more like a family gathering area. Easygoing prices and friendly servers should guarantee return visits. Just don’t tell my doctor about this place.

Mohawk Taproom & Grill, 153 Mohawk Ave., Scotia, 357-8005, Serving Tue-Thu 11-10, Fri-Sat 11-11, Sun noon-9. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 2 October 2014

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