“I like the atmosphere,” said my nephew, Jonathan, as we looked out from our table in the shade to the busy Victoria Pool at Saratoga Spa State Park surrounded by folks at umbrella tables. The food is good enough, though it’s hard to measure up to such spectacular scenery.
Catherine’s in the Park has a lot going for it: What’s not to like? Dining outdoors in Saratoga Springs on a summer day, a unique, living vista and beautiful surroundings.
New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a strong proponent of a healthful environment and supported the building of the Victoria Pool, along with the baths and spa, in 1935. The surrounding buildings are in a traditional architectural style of classical brick and graceful arched colonnades, with limestone deck and lion water spouts.
The restaurant, essentially the clubhouse, is run as a concession with the golf course, and opens and closes with it from mid-April to mid-November. The kitchen will stay open at night, as will the bar, if it’s busy.
Catherine’s, in full swing for summer, was staffed by a squad of ponytailed servers hustling and, mostly succeeding, at keeping up with the crowds at the indoor tables, porch and pool surround. On a busy day, they can seat 500 people. The size of the kitchen is limited — and sometimes they have a hard time keeping up.
The menu is composed of “lite fare,” as they call it, and you’ll find wings and fried stuff among the starters, along with hummus ($9.75) with veggies (prices on the website may be out of date). They may have had ballerinas in mind when they put nine salads on the menu, including apple bleu cheese ($8 small, $11 large), and grilled eggplant and mozzarella ($12). You can get a burger for $10.75, including a side. Sandwiches also include a side; there’s a Reuben, wraps are in Caesar, veggie and turkey permutations.
So it’s lunch, or a light early dinner, with a terrific view at reasonable prices.
An Arnold Palmer (half iced tea, half lemonade, $2.50) was perfect, not too sweet. Jonathan had a Pepsi ($2.75), which gave him unlimited refills, even a to-go cup with paper straw. Points for the paper straw.
Jonathan orders Buffalo chicken wraps often enough to consider himself an authority. The one at Catherine’s? “One of the better ones,” he said.
Theirs is made with their “famous julienne, lightly floured and fried boneless chicken wings,” per the menu, and blue cheese dressing in a tomato basil wrap.
The Buffalo seasoning was mild, as requested, and “they don’t skimp on the blue cheese,” he said, pleased.
It was “very good,” according to Jonathan. “The homemade blue cheese dressing is delicious.”
The side of house-made potato salad got praise as well, with slices of hardboiled egg and vegetables, with just enough mayonnaise to hold it all together.
I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich ($11.75), a breast-shaped piece with careful grill marks. The chicken was moist enough but with gristly bits, and the meat shredded in an unconvincing way for a real breast. Lettuce, and thinly sliced tomato and onion, were all held together with a toothpick and bread and butter pickle. It needed mayo, or better, marinade.
I learned later that the chicken should be marinated in an Italian dressing-type immersion. I would definitely try it again on another visit.
The hearth-baked roll was heavy for the sandwich, with just sufficient flavor, and it wasn’t toasted nearly enough.
Excellent French fries, though, crispy and freshly cooked, sprinkled with kosher salt, so tasty they didn’t need ketchup.
We’d ordered a side of Saratoga chips ($6), but “there was a mix-up in the kitchen,” said our server, apologetically. We didn’t get them until we were almost done with lunch, but boy were they good.
“I could eat these all day,” Jonathan said, dipping a crispy chip into the dressing in the plastic cup on the side. “It’s like a mix of ranch and blue cheese dressing,” he said, and though he’d ordered one of each, decided whatever he got was “really delicious.”
They’re the best fresh chips I’ve had, crisp without being hard or chewy, fried until just browned but not at all greasy. They do the Saratoga Springs signature snack really, really well at Catherine’s.
Saratoga Spa State Park is upstate New York at its best in summer, and you couldn’t ask for a better spot for outdoor dining. You’ll talk about the view, the historic pool, the classic architecture and perhaps, the food.
Catherine’s in the Park
WHERE: 58 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, 518-583-4657, www.saratogaspagolf.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m seven days a week, from mid-April to mid-November
HOW MUCH: $35, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. ADA compliant. Lots
of parking a short walk away.