In the summer, it’s fun to dine al fresco in downtown Saratoga Springs. But if you crave the Adirondack scene and the indescribable peace that emanates from mountains, water and trees, travel 30 minutes north to the quiet village of Lake Luzerne.
The UpRiver Café is outdoor dining at its best, on an old-fashioned back porch overlooking a wild, rushing river. That would be the mighty Hudson, and it’s moving fast because it’s seconds away from bubbly Rockwell Falls. The Sacandaga River, where tourists go rafting and tubing, and Hadley Mountain, with its popular hiking trail, are in the neighborhood, too.
Because it was Saturday night and the tables along the porch railing are prized, husband Dan and I booked
a reservation via the restaurant’s Facebook page, which links to Open Table. On our way to the front door, we checked out the canoe docked on the roof and admired the Bruno LaVerdiere sculptures and golden irises in the herb garden. On the front porch, a 6-foot-tall statue of Elsie the cow, the old Borden dairy mascot, is dressed in a floral-patterned frock. You can snap a selfie with Elsie if you want.
Lots of people do.
Restaurant manager Betsy Brandt, who owns the place with husband and chef Andy Van Bourgondien, escorted us to the back porch.
Menus were handed to us but we waited to pick them up as we focused on the ever-present sound of a churning river, the late afternoon sun glinting off the water and an egret standing on a rock.
At UpRiver, the mood is casual, with families and couples in shorts and T-shirts. The menu, described as New American cuisine, offers burgers, sandwiches and fish tacos in the $13 to $14 range, or entrees like lobster mac & cheese, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, barbecue ribs and New York strip, all under $30.
The smoked trout appetizer was my starter: a generous piece of fish with plenty of chopped tomatoes, capers, chopped red onion, creamy sauce and extra-crispy crostini. The trout was a bit dry, but more than acceptable when dressed up with the other fixings.
While I poked around with the trout, Dan dug into a good-sized house salad of mesclun and tomatoes topped with a filigree of spiraled purple carrot. The salad came with his entrée, mushroom ravioli with wild mushroom cream sauce, which he ordered with grilled shrimp. The house-made ravioli were extremely tender, the sauce nicely subtle, he reported.
I picked the pan-roasted duck breast with New York maple-strawberry sauce. “Good choice,” said Kelsey, our attentive waitperson. “The chef suggests medium rare.” The medallions of meat were fanned out attractively on the plate and capped with crisped pieces of duck fat.
This dish is a favorite here, and now I count myself among its devotees. The luscious sauce was perfect, with a hint of sweetness. And let’s not forget the sweet chili mashed potatoes. Oh my, they were good, even if I couldn’t figure out if it was sweet chili, carrots or sweet potatoes that gave them their bright orange color.
While we dined under whirling fans and twinkle lights, we gazed at the water, noting how the scene shifted with the setting sun. We also noticed how the chef came out onto the porch and chatted with diners.
Kelsey gently interrupted our reverie again. “All the desserts are homemade,” she announced. Crème brulee, warm Nutella pudding, cheesecake, Swiss milk chocolate pots de crème. Oh yeah, this is dessert heaven.
We shared a hefty wedge of key lime pie with a scatter of wild blueberries and a pompadour of whipped cream. It was the real deal, with authentic yellow, not green, innards.
While the back porch is the place to be, don’t miss the art gallery indoors. Betsy is an artist and her colorful works hang on the walls. In the bathroom, you’ll smile at the vintage paint-by-number landscapes.
UpRiver Café is not too big. There are only about 15 tables, many of them for two, on the porch. Remember, the intimacy is part of its charm.
There is some indoor seating, too. But why would you want to miss the view?
WHERE: 29 Main St., Lake Luzerne, (518) 696-3667, Facebook
WHEN: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesday.
Open spring, summer and fall. Closed during winter.
HOW MUCH: $75.10 without tax, tip and wine
MORE INFO: Parking lot and street parking, doesn’t take American Express, noise level permits conversation, outdoor and indoor dining, lunch and dinner, takeout, catering.