We spent a pleasurable few hours on a recent Sunday evening at the Turf Tavern, a village institution for more than 60 years.
WHERE: 40 Mohawk Ave., Scotia. Phone 393-3344
WHEN: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays. Dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays
HOW MUCH: $68.43
MORE INFO: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. Handicapped accessible. Children’s meals available.
This is a family-style restaurant, and the eclectic crowd on this particular evening reflected that, with ages ranging from little children to college age to senior citizens, all chatting away amiably, perhaps happy for a brief respite from the gloomy economic news that dogs our every step in the workaday world.
The place was quite full when we arrived, but we had made reservations and waited only a couple of minutes to be seated. The restaurant recommends reservations, though there’s a full-service bar if you do have to while away a few minutes before you get a table. Because the place was full, the tables are quite close and there was a keyboard player providing background music, it was a little difficult to carry on a conversation, but we managed.
The menu offers a variety of possibilities, a selection of wines, appetizers and salads and a great many entree choices, and there were specials of the day, one of which, a honey and bourbon-glazed salmon, sounded tempting to me. From Thursday to Sunday night, you can also get prime rib, though they sell out of it. Our server told us specifically how many ribs were left and their doneness soon after we were seated. They also offer pasta dishes, steaks, chicken and seafood.
We decided to order an appetizer platter to sample several of the Turf’s offerings. They’re priced at $9.95 and are intended for two people, but you can order larger sizes if your party is more than two for $4.50 per additional person. There were three of us, and so I asked for a sampler for three, but apparently wasn’t heard and we got the platter for two.
Our platter came laden with deep-fried lightly breaded artichoke hearts, two large shrimps and two petite crab cakes with little dishes of lemon butter sauce, cocktail sauce and horseradish cream.
Because we were three, we had to do some sharing of the goodies, but it worked. My half crab cake was delicious, crispy brown with just enough crumb-to-crabmeat ratio and it was nicely complemented by the horseradish cream. The deep-fried artichoke hearts were lightly battered and golden and quite good with the lemon butter dipping sauce. They were a bit like an artichokes tempura, not greasy at all and quite delicate but with an interesting piquancy because of the artichokes.
We were all tempted by the soup of the day, a Maryland-style crabmeat chowder with sherry and found it to be an interesting concoction, very thick and rich with lots of crabmeat and a sweet flavor from the sherry. We ordered the cup-sized portion ($3.25) and were happy with our choice because a bowl would have been too much.
Our dinners came with a green salad and I was pleased to see that it was not one of those epic-sized portions, considering that we’d already feasted on appetizers and a rich chowder. The salad is served on small plates and is the perfect size — just enough to satisfy your appetite for some greenery. Besides a nice mix of greens, the salad contained grape tomatoes, black olives and carrot shreds, and the balsamic vinaigrette dressing I chose was quite nice, good enough to make me eat more salad than I might have.
One of my guests loves scrod and was thrilled to find it on the menu — “Our Spectacular Scrod” is described as the freshest fish available, lightly seasoned and baked for $14.50. Between bites, she raved about it. So it seems the menu doesn’t overstate the case.
My other tablemate ordered something called The Savannahs, breast of chicken or medallions of veal sautéed with sliced mushrooms, proscuitto ham and fresh spinach with a splash of sherry. He opted for the veal ($15.95) and pronounced it quite good, though he did note that he was having a sherry overload after the chowder and now this.
I chose a broiled seafood casserole called “Three Cheese Seafood” ($19.95), a combination of shrimp, scallops, chunks of scrod and lobster tail with lemon, “a pinch” of white wine and swiss, mozzarella and romano cheeses and seasoned bread crumbs. I usually enjoy broiled seafood dishes and I found much to my liking in this one, though I’m not wild about dishes that are overly cheesey and found myself rooting around the casserole to spear scallops and lobster morsels while leaving the cheese behind. No complaints about the dish, however, as it clearly is called “Three Cheese Seafood.”
Two of our dinners were to come with baked potatoes but by the time we were served they were all gone and they substituted broiled potato wedges, which were quite good, though we did speculate that they had been fashioned from the last baked potato of the evening.
The only other faux pas was their substitution of the asparagus we were expecting with carrots. By this time, we weren’t exactly ravenous — so we weren’t going to whine about it, but for future reference, carrots don’t work for me in lieu of asparagus.
Those are niggling complaints, however, and we agreed as we left that we had enjoyed a good meal and at quite a reasonable price. For sodas, appetizers, soup and entree, tax and tip, the cost was $96 for the three of us. (Dinner for two was $68.43, again with tax and tip included.)
We drove across the Western Gateway Bridge to Scotia for our dinner at the Turf Tavern and were delighted to discover in the restaurant a large painting of the bridge in its earlier incarnation, a ramshackle assembly of what look like little outhouses strung together to form the span across the Mohawk in 1808.
The painting, by Arthur Olson of Scotia, was presented in 1957 to Steve and Fanny Karamanos, who owned the restaurant for more than 40 years. The Gallant family has owned the Turf Tavern since 1996, and Olson’s painting still occupies a prominent spot on the main dining room wall.
Nearby is a sign that lists the tolls to cross the bridge back then. Six cents, if you were on horseback, but only a nickel if you were afoot.