A small, storefront restaurant and take-out operation offering a fresh take on the iconic Central New York fish fry is earning positive word-of-mouth and bringing diners to Solvay.
The Fish Friar opened in late fall on Milton Avenue, across the street from the Solvay Diner. Owners Joel Canino, Giovanni Giardina and Brad Vinciguerra have created a destination for fresh fish -- plus unique side dishes -- that's simply but elegantly prepared. If you like fish fry, or fish prepared more healthily, check it out.
THE VIBE: Clean and industrial. The sleek, stainless steel order counter and open kitchen area feature a series of black and white signs detailing the menu, sides and soups of the day. There's seating for six at a counter along the front window and for about six more at a community table fashioned from an old door and topped with glass. I ate lunch at one of the counter seats and was slightly concerned I might leave smelling of fried fish. Either the place has an excellent ventilation system or I am immune to the smell of fried food.
CHOWING DOWN: The simple menu lists five sandwiches, four "plates," one lunch/supper salad and homemade sides, like macaroni salad, potato salad, coleslaw, rice pilaf, roasted carrots (roasted carrots!!) and mushy peas. When is the last time you had mushy peas -- or saw them on a menu? Not into fried fish? The menu offers broiled haddock and sautéed shrimp, with your choice of sides. How nice to have some healthy options at a fish-fry!
The Friar salad with crispy shrimp ($12; above) called out to me. It features mixed greens, pickled onions, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots and -- surprise! -- chopped French fries as a garnish. The salad, arranged beautifully and served in a stainless steel bowl, was topped with five large, perfectly fried shrimp. I'm not sure what's in the coating, but it's super crispy. Ritz Crackers? Corn Flakes? The homemade salad dressing was light and fresh. Executive chef Giovanni Giardina, who previously worked at Alto Cinco and Otro Cinco in Syracuse, adds basil, mint and other fresh herbs to his vinaigrette.
I took home a container of the soup du jour, Spicy Sherry Cream Haddock Stew, for my other half to enjoy later. The stew was the consistency of a rich, thick chowder, with chunks of haddock and potatoes, and plenty of heat (with a bit of an afterburn). It was delicious, worth driving out of your way for. It is served every Friday.
SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT: One or two chef-made desserts, like cheesecake and cookies, are offered each day. The chocolate chip cookies ($2) would be easy to fall for.
WHAT'S A VEGETARIAN GOING TO FIND? Not much. French fries and salad. Vegetarians could make a meal of the sides, like roasted carrots, mushy peas and rice pilaf.
NEXT TIME: I'll try the lobster roll (offered both as a cold sandwich with mayonnaise dressing and as a hot sandwich, with butter) or the fried/broiled haddock plate with sides.
THE TAB: $14 and change for the salad and a bottled water, plus $9 for the stew to go.
The Fish Friar is at 2409 Milton Ave., Solvay. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
A reader of my food stories in the Syracuse New Times reached out to sing the praises of Basil Thai Cuisine restaurant in Phoenix, Oswego County, and suggest I check it out. That was more than a year ago. I heard more enthusiastic reviews and made a mental note to check it out when out that way. But I'm rarely out that way.
After Christmas, craving something fresh and flavorful, we made our way there. The restaurant is about 25 miles from our home on the east side of Syracuse and a couple miles north of the busy crossroads of Routes 57 and 31 in the northern suburbs.
THE VIBE: No-frills. There's no beer, no wine and not much in the way of atmosphere. The food is the star at this storefront restaurant. There's a TV at the counter and about 10 small booths and tables. Walls are a sage-y green and posters of Thailand, the kind you see in travel agents' offices, decorate the walls. The restaurant is owned and operated by chef Pong Siripornsawan and his wife, both natives of Thailand. She handles the front counter and takeout orders and waits on those who opt to eat-in. He does the cooking. We ordered tea (served in tall Styrofoam cups) and pondered our options.
CHOWING DOWN: From the short, uncomplicated menu of starters, soups, salads, rice dishes, noodle dishes, curry and meat dishes, we each decided on an appetizer, soup and main course. The deep-fried egg rolls ($1.79) are long and thin, stuffed with pork, carrots, cabbage and glass noodles, and served with a sweet dipping sauce flecked with red pepper. We could have eaten six apiece and called it dinner.
Next, we turned up the heat a little with two soups. Robert had the tom kha soup with chicken ($3.49). This classic coconut milk based soup contains lime juice, galangal, lemon grass, straw mushrooms, baby corn and scallions, brightened further with cilantro. The soup, ordered medium hot, lacked heat but was full of fresh flavor. My tom yum soup with chicken ($3.49) had a nice, peppery punch, especially toward the bottom of the bowl, where the pepper appeared to settle. The soup is bright and slightly sour, with layers of flavors, thanks to lemongrass, lime juice and lime leaves, along with baby corn, mushrooms, scallions and cilantro. It's the kind of soup you want to pick up the bowl and sip every last drop.
For our mains, we settled on a noodle dish and a curry. Robert ordered the pad see ew with chicken ($8.99) and was pleased with the al dente "chew" of the large noodles, tossed with broccoli, straw mushrooms, baby corn, carrots, cabbage and shredded chicken. My red curry with shrimp ($9.99), arrived with a plate holding a mound of jasmine rice and a small tureen with the curry. The savory sauce of red curry paste and coconut milk contained green pepper, bamboo shoots, basil leaves and about six perfectly cooked-medium large shrimp. The gentle spice of the curry pairs perfectly with shrimp and vegetables and was a refreshing change of pace after rich holiday fare like turkey, ham and the trimmings.
SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT? The menu lists just two desserts, Thai custard and ice cream sundaes. Neither of them called out to us. We decided to pass.
WHAT'S A VEGETARIAN GOING TO FIND? Plenty! Appetizers like vegetarian egg rolls, mee krob (crispy rice noodles with sweet and sour orange sauce), deep fried tofu with sweet chili sauce, curry puffs. All noodle dishes, several curry dishes, and most "meat" entrees can be made with tofu.
WOULD WE GO BACK? Yes. Especially if we find ourselves in Baldwinsville or Clay -- the restaurant is about five miles north of Great Northern Mall.
NEXT TIME: We'll try the chicken satay with peanut sauce, fresh rice paper spring rolls and pad Thai or one of the beef, pork, tofu or tilapia dishes. And the Thai iced coffee or Thai iced tea.
DAMAGES: $41 (including tip) for two appetizers, two soups, two entrees and two cups of tea.
Basil Thai Cuisine is at 219 County Route 57, Phoenix, in the Three Rivers Plaza (about seven miles north of Liverpool). The restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch, dinner and takeout. Information: 315-695-2545, http://www.basilthaicny.com