Sustainable Breakfast with a side of historyDelicious meals are a favorite part of anyone's vacation. The Saranac Lake area of the Adirondacks offers great food with a wellness twist. We love our local farmers, who are known for organic fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs.
Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat, a historic old Great Camp, takes these healthy eating principles even further. From cutting edge Paleo and gluten-free, to the best of Old World techniques from The Weston A. Price Foundation, they offer great dining that is also great for you.
An extraordinary history
I was welcomed by Ernie and Cathy, who have taken this historic resort property into the 21st century without losing a bit of its famous Adirondack hospitality and charm. The Lodge began as a trading post in 1886, built by Cathy's great aunt and uncle. It evolved into an Inn and stagecoach stop under another pioneering family. It began a new incarnation in 1965 when it was bought by the Hohmeyer family. Ernie was six then, and one of his first Adirondack memories was the day he first met Cathy. When Ernie and Cathy married, it created a romantic, full circle, history for the Lodge.
As the Adirondack tourism industry developed in the late 19th century, Lake Clear was one of its centers. Beautifully situated in the midst of an historic canoe route, the Seven Carries, it was a stop on the trail from Paul Smith's Hotel to the Saranac Inn, each one a famous Lodge in its own right. Three miles to the north, on Upper Saint Regis Lake, were some of the most elite of the Adirondack Great Camps. The Adirondack "style" evolved from these inclusive properties which provided dining, recreation, entertainment, and relaxation, all within the borders of each Camp.
The Lodge is dedicated to this classic tradition, and to the natural beauty of the Adirondacks. Their dedication has led to an Audubon International Platinum Award. This attention to detail makes the Lodge a popular destination for group gatherings, family reunions, and wellness retreats, which they can accommodate on the 25 acres of custom chalets and Lodge rooms.
Part of the Lodge's reverence for the past is to use traditional methods of food preparation for all their meals. This morning, I start with a glass of Bavarian yogurt right out of the culturing crock, topped with homemade raspberry puree. The ingredients, few and fresh, made it stunningly delicious.
The breakfast buffet features real New York maple syrup, homemade sourdough French toast, potatoes from Tucker Farms right down the road, and Lodge-made pork sausage using meat from another local farm. The Lodge tries to get as much of their supplies as possible within a 100-mile radius, part of their culinary commitment to their guests. Despite their location in the midst of the unspoiled wilderness around Lake Clear, there are a number of farms in the Adirondacks. They provide such delicacies as goat milk cheese, (part of a signature appetizer, Grilled Figs with Goat Cheese,) wildflower honey, pastured meat, and a wide variety of vegetables.
While the Lodge likes their food to come from close by, their culinary tradition reaches across oceans and back into the past. The village of Saranac Lake spent decades immersed in curing activities, from the complicated research at Trudeau Laboratories to the simple care routines of the patients in the Cure Cottages. They breathed the mountain air and rested from gentle exercise, but they also benefited from their caretaker's understanding that natural foods, properly prepared, will support the body's quest for wellness.
When I made my reservation, I alerted them that I was gluten-free . So there was some cinnamon raisin, gluten-free, French toast for me.
So my choices for breakfast were French toast with real maple syrup, perfectly spiced sausage, a slice of honeydew melon, and butter shaped like leaves and flowers. It's rare to have a banquet at breakfast, but I was certainly having one now.
Chef Cathy is fully aware of the new appreciation of old techniques. Buying local means buying fresh, from farmers who want their food to taste as good as it might look. Herbs and spices, essential oils, fermented foods, and slow cooking all keep the healing nutrients at their peak.
She can follow up any meals with cooking classes, upon request. She can explain the different starters for yogurts and bread. There's a reason why there are two grinders on each table. It is to provide trace minerals from sea salt and the vitamin enhancement of fresh black pepper. Depending on the guest's interests, she can demonstrate the many sourdough starters she grows, organize a tasting of different yogurts and kefirs, explain how classic roasting can be adapted to modern appliances, or the rare art of fermented vegetables.
Chef Cathy sees her classes as "interpretive" culinary experiences. Just as the Visitor Interpreter Center in nearby Paul Smiths interprets natural history for visitors, meals at the Lodge can begin with recipes and bits of food history. It is now becoming recognized that many past food preparation methods did more than preserve foods before refrigeration. They were methods designed to enhance the food's nutrition, as well.
Free-range and creative-minded
They know how to have fun at the Lodge, too. One popular option is for the bride and her bridesmaids making her own wedding cake under Chef Cathy's supervision, while the groom's party can enjoy a special beer tasting, guided by Cellar Master Ernie.
The trails are open for exploration, with provided cross country skis or snowshoes in winter, nature trails and canoes in summer. Anyone is in shape for the horse-drawn sleigh rides on winter weekends. In any weather, guests are encouraged to stroll down to the lake to experience a spectacular sunset on its west shoreline, a highlight of everyone's day, and a auspicious beginning to a lovely evening.
For lunch and dinner the Lodge offers a range from light, appetizer-based meals, to full course dinners with artisan desserts crafted on the premises. The nightly menu usually offers a vegetarian option, wild caught fish, poultry, and a grass–fed meat choice. There's also Old World specialties like a Garden Vegetable Strudel, Slow Roasted Pork Butt with Adirondack Apples and Sage Cream, Bouillabaisse in the Lodge Fusion style, or different kinds of Schnitzels.
Because a fine meal does not have to end with dessert, the Lodge has a hand-crafted wine and beer cellar with over 300 specialty beers and over 350 boutique wines. As few as two guests can take the self-guided tasting, with seasonal favorites or a theme such as History of Lagers. Or, previous "guided tours" have been recorded for playback on the bar computer.
Because the menus are crafted with the freshest ingredients, the offerings are not fixed, but change with the seasons and availability. This is why reservations are suggested, so the meal can be prepared to perfection, and the guests can see if one of their favorites is on the menu. There's specialty dinners and tasting menus, too.
It's really not surprising that the Lodge devotes so much attention, care, and even love to their meals. For four generations now, the owner of Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat, has also been the chef.