It wasn’t exactly a dark and stormy night. It was more akin to a frigid late afternoon on wind-swept, snow-packed country roads where icy lanes merged into single tracks as we slid toward Warner’s Lake in East Berne.
Two parking lots were adjacent to the bar and dining-room doors of the sprawling, chalet-type building as well as another lot across the road. A generous sprinkling of salt barely prevented us from sliding up the ramp leading to the dining room door. We stomped our feet on a large mat to knock off the crunchy snow clinging to our boots and to stir the slushy blood in our blue toes.
A small banquet room opened into a dining room with an enclosed bar to the left and continued to a curved enclosed porch lined with windows overlooking the lake. “What a beautiful location!” exclaimed loyal Dinner Date JP as we sat down opposite a small fireplace looking beyond the faux wood table, graced with a bud vase of orange alstroemeria, toward the frozen snow-covered lake.
As the day mellowed into a pinkish-gray, server Shannon handed us laminated, two-sided menus and took our drink orders. Maple on the Lake’s menu was straightforward: appetizers and soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, full dinners (including prime rib served Friday and Sunday, $21 and $27), seafood (haddock, shrimp, salmon, fried clam strips, from $13-$18), pizza and calzones ($7-$16).
Daily specials are announced at the table, which our server neglected to do. By the time I recognized the omission, we had already ordered. Neither of us was disappointed, however. Both dinners came with the small but adequate salad bar and a thin Cajun corn chowder. What rescued the salad offering was the freshness of its limited ingredients (two kinds of lettuce, chickpeas, cottage cheese, grape tomatoes, sliced canned black olives, cucumbers, red onions, pickled beets, croutons). Dressings were lined up across the back, making them difficult to reach.
John’s measure of a restaurant is its French onion soup ($4). He found it too salty and ate very little of it. Shannon did not inquire about the still-full bowl when she cleared the table, but John mentioned the chef’s heavy hand with the salt. There was no response.
The highlight of the meal for me was the shrimp cocktail ($9). Six very large, slightly warm shrimp (they had just been cooked) were hooked on the rim of a footed glass dish, itself lined with two large, curly-edged lettuce leaves. Tucked in this nest was a small glass of sturdy cocktail sauce. The essence of elegance is simplicity. This was an elegant shrimp cocktail at a moderate price.
Our entrees arrived piping hot, but prematurely. Soup, salad and appetizers were still unfinished. We moved them aside to make room for the large plates of steaming food. Like a fine painting, composition with food is important. So it was with my Wienerschnitzel ($18). The two potato pancakes with a hint of onion closely resembled in appearance the beautifully breaded and fried veal. The deep brown mushroom gravy covering half the cutlet was balanced by the maroon sweet and sour red cabbage, while a small dish of applesauce was placed opposite the potato pancake/veal quadrant. Only missing was a sprig of parsley hinting at the promise of a still distant spring. I enjoyed pairing various components on my plate — applesauce with pancake, cabbage with veal, then reversing combinations and even being brave at times to form a trio.
Adventuresome John fared just as well with his Cajun shrimp alfredo ($18) — a dish he had never before experienced. Succulent shrimp, large enough to cut in half, were tossed with penne pasta and alfredo sauce. Although grated cheese was on the table, he felt no need to use it. The Cajun spice was sufficient to provide flavor without overdoing the heat.
Desserts are made in-house and recited at the end of the meal. I requested coffee ($1.50) and John chose the peanut butter pie ($5) to share. The chocolate crumb crust was piled with a fluffy peanut butter mousse, topped with large peanut butter chocolate crumbles and a creamy topping strewn with more crumbles. A spritz of whipped cream on the side gilded this lily. Incredibly rich, we managed only a spoonful or two before requesting a to-go box.
Maple on the Lake has a room dominated by a large, jovial L-shaped wood bar with an equally large fossiliferous limestone wood-burning fireplace revealing fossils of creatures that lived in a shallow sea about 400 million years ago. Fascinating to this amateur paleontologist!
Maple on the Lake
WHERE: 141 Warners Lake Road, East Berne, NY 12059, (518) 8720-9433, www.mapleonthelake.com
WHEN: Tue.-Thu. 3-10 p.m., Fri.-Sun. 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., closed Mon.
HOW MUCH: $57 for two people, without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Accessible, parking lot in front and across street, takeout, all major credit cards accepted, no reservations, daily specials, locally brewed beers, open year-round except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.