There are some greatrestaurants in Saranac Lake, but probably the most unique eatery (and one of my favorites!) is Eat ’n Meet Grill and Larder.
The Real Thing...
Eat ’n Meet, located at 139 Broadway in Saranac Lake, is what owner John Vargo likes to call a “neighborhood joint.” He tries to produce the quality of food you’d get for $40 a plate in a nice restaurant, but his aim is to keep his prices much lower than that because he wants his neighbors to be able to afford a meal there.
The whole restaurant is run around a strong set of community-minded ethics that, while not satisfying everyone, caters well to the kind of customers John and his wife Colleen seek out.
They use real products to make your food, not products manufactured to seem like the real thing. As butter prices rise, John’s salesmen try to sell him butter mixes with things like oil or margarine added, but he continues to pay the premium for real butter, because he knows that’s what his customers expect.
Keepin' It Local, Servin' It Fresh
He likes to have a strong relationship with the people he gets his food from, and he likes to buy products from the farmers and other merchants he works with that share the same philosophy and core values he has, rather than ordering everything from big distributors looking to make as much money as they can. He likes to support local farms and, since he knows a lot of his customers may be too busy with work or other things to stop at the local farmers' market every week, he tries to bridge the gap between farmers' markets and his customers so they can eat fresh, local vegetables without the hassle.
They serve a good amount of fish, but John makes sure he only uses sustainable seafood. He used to run a seafood restaurant in New Paltz, where the clientele was savvy about sustainability issues and demanded that kind of product, so he is quite familiar with it and can talk at length about which kinds of seafood are better or worse in terms of sustainability. Before he orders any seafood, he makes sure to check it out ahead of time.
Because product can often vary when you’re trying to buy it as locally and sustainably as possible, Eat ’n Meet’s menu changes every day, and it’s posted on the restaurant’s website daily. There are some items that you can almost always find on there, but there are also a number of items that only make sporadic appearances.
Take Your Time
Everything is cooked when you order. There are no frozen dishes or sauces to thaw out, there’s no steam table full of rice and beans, there aren’t pre-made foods the chefs can just warm up — every piece of a meal starts when you make that phone call. And the kitchen is open, so you can see everything being made, just in case you don’t believe me.
They also do some great things for vegetarians. I’m not anymore, but I was a vegetarian for 15 years and I had quite a few unsatisfying restaurant experiences during those years, so I really appreciate a place like Eat ’n Meet that is attentive to its vegetarian customers’ need. They write all the vegetarian meals in green on the menu so they’re easy to find. There are usually several meal vegetarian options — veggie burgers, potato and onion tacos, or reubens made with veggie burgers or Brussels sprouts — and a lot of their sides are vegetarian as well. And the best part: John cooks all the vegetarian dishes on a separate grill to keep them totally segregated from the meat and fish. That’s rare, and to me it shows a lot of care and respect on John’s part for his customers.
The food at Eat ’n Meet could be described as comfort food — some of the more popular items are the burgers, reubens, onion rings and Alaskan Pollack fish tacos. It’s healthy in that it’s made from whole, often local foods without a lot of creepy additives and artificial flavorings, but it’s not like it’s health food. John uses a lot of butter, a lot of the dishes are fried and they’re not using substitutions to make your meal lower in fat. The food, however, is delicious, interesting and satisfying. My favorites are their Alaskan Pollack fish tacos, Brussels sprouts and falafels.
On a recent chilly November Friday night, my boyfriend Andy and I got a delicious meal from Eat ’n Meet. We went online to check out the day’s menu, then called to place our order around 5:15 p.m. They told us it would be ready around 6:45 p.m. The wait times are often an hour or more because everything is cooked from scratch, so make sure you call ahead with plenty of time! As their tagline goes on their website, “It’s not fast… It’s food!”
We went to pick it up right on time, and it was all set to go in a paper bag. We paid and brought it back home, where I pulled everything out of the bag and laid it on the table. I got the Silver Tin Special of the day, which was pork cutlets in a caramelized apple cream sauce with potato pancakes, plus a side of Brussels sprouts, and Andy got a veggie burger with cheddar cheese and an order of hush puppies. The pork was delicious, and the sauce was really unique.
Andy loved his veggie burger,
and we both loved the hush puppies, which are probably a little bigger than a golf ball.
And, as always, I devoured the tasty Brussels sprouts.
We gobbled down our main dishes, but had plenty of the Brussels sprouts and hush puppies left to use as sides for the next two days.
One (or Two) For The Road
The restaurant focuses primarily on take-out meals, and that’s what we usually do, but there are a few tables at the restaurant for a total of about 15 seats at which patrons can dine in. (There are also a few tables outside on the patio, if you happen to visit in the warmer months.) And since the seating is limited, Eat ’n Meet allows customers to bring their own booze. John told me he often sees visitors stop by to place an order, go grab a bottle of wine at one of the local liquor stores (Saranac Lake Discount Liquors, Adirondack Wine & Liquor, and High Peaks Wine & Spirits) and come drink them while waiting for their meal.
The restaurant is not decorated to impress. It’s mainly utilitarian — you almost feel like you’re in a pantry, with jars, cans and bottles of sauces and other foods lining the shelving along the walls. The tables and chairs don’t match, and they might be a little worn, but they perform their function well. But there are also quirky posters, mounted fish and art throughout the small dining area that give the restaurant extra character.
Eat’n Meet isn’t for everyone, but you’ll know quickly if it’s your kind of place or not. John said that when he first opened, it took a little while to train his customers on how the restaurant works. But now, all the people who aren’t happy with that kind of experience have dropped away, and he has a very loyal customer base of people who love the way the business is run.
Eat ’n Meet is open seven days a week, usually for lunch and dinner, though they aren't currently serving lunch on Mondays. It's best to call ahead or check their schedule online to find out their current schedule (not to mention to pre-order your meal of choice!).