It’s always exciting when a new restaurant opens in Saranac Lake, especially when that restaurant is as good as Bitters & Bones. My wife, Anna, and I met a couple of friends at Bitters last week and tried some of the offerings, and we weren’t disappointed.
First, a little history. Bitters and Bones occupies the space Captain Cook’s once inhabited. The new owners did major work on the interior, and transformed it from a typical bar atmosphere to a classy-yet-rustic joint that beautifully balances artistic style with a rough-around-the-edges aesthetic. But despite the intentionally worn facade, the bar is new, the tables are new, the decor is new, and, perhaps most importantly, the kitchen is new. Brand new.
That's a good thing. When I visited Bitters shortly after their grand opening last year, the place had a menu that mostly consisted of paninis. I'm not crazy about grilled, smooshed sandwhiches, so when I heard talk of a bigger and better menu, I patiently waited. And waited. And waited. Then, one day, I learned the new kitchen was functioning and the expanded offerings were unveiled. Excited, I skipped on down there. It was worth the wait.
Monday night out
Our group went to Bitters on a Monday, and the place was about three-quarters full — a good turnout considering the day. Our waitress, Olivia, easily sold me on the pork belly special. Anna ordered the Mediterranean wrap and Georgeanne and Pete ordered the taco trio and Cuban panini, respectively.
I don't eat fast food and I'm not keen on the "get food fast, eat food fast, and get out fast" culture found in some restaurants. I like the experience of going out to eat — and that includes conversation. Bitters is the kind of place where that can happen. The tables are high and easy to sit at, the music isn't too loud, and the lighting creates that warm, campfire glow that I'm particularly fond of.
I'm also happy to report that there aren't televisions lining the walls, and the ones that are there aren't all playing sports. I don't go out to stare at a TV, but it is a nice change of pace to glance away from the people I'm with and see idyllic nature scenes on the tube instead of men chasing a ball. But if sports are your thing, rest assured — you can still go to Bitters and watch the game. It's there, it just might not be the only thing on.
What's your pleasure?
Atmosphere is important, but you want to know about the food, right? First, the prices are typical for pub-fare, with almost everything costing less than $15, but the food is anything but common. For an appetizer you can order wings, they're $6 for six (and they're excellent), or you can get fried chickpeas with kale chips for $5, vegan nachos with lentil/cauliflower chili and cilantro cream for $10, or a pickle plate that's made in-house with local ingredients for $8.
That's just a sampling of the appetizers, but it should give you an idea of how diverse the menu is. The main courses reflect that, too. The paninis are still there, but now they get to share the space with things like Thai veggie sliders, spicy coconut noodles, roasted chicken quesadilla, and beet and goat cheese salad.
If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, Bitters has you covered. Everything on the menu is labeled accordingly, so it's easy to pick something that's vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free.
The main course
Our food came out within 15 minutes of our ordering it, and it all looked great. Pete's Cuban panini and Anna's Mediterranean wrap both looked good, but I was particularly interested in my pork belly and Georgeanne's taco trio. She confirmed that it was good, which is all I needed to hear to convince me to order it next time. Unless, of course, they have the pork belly special again.
Let me explain. The pork belly special, also known as Fatty Heaven on a Plate, is a dish that's as simple as it is delectable; as creamy as it is bacony. Imagine something that tastes like a cross between bacon and a pork chop, that's as tender as a rare Ahi tuna steak, and that's served on top of Brussels sprouts cooked in a cream reduction sauce. It's awesome.
There's just one problem with ordering such a thick cut of paradise — everyone else wants to eat it, too. I left the table for a few precious minutes and returned to find a very satisfied Anna smiling over a half-eaten pork belly. Not cool.
Bitters & Bones is a great food destination for sure, but it's also a fine place to tip a few back. The bar has a healthy selection of microbrews, and it also has the best running drink special in town — beer and bourbon. If that doesn't sell you, keep reading. At the expensive end of the special is a shot of top-shelf bourbon and a pint of craft beer for $10 called "The Gentleman." I like to start there and work my way back to "The Townie," which is a shot of well bourbon and a 16-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $5. There are four pairings in between the two extremes, all of which are an outstanding value.
Bitters also has live music once in awhile, and when you combine that with its rotating selection of food specials, it pays to stop by on a regular basis and see what's going on. I know we'll be back!
Put these places on your ADK must-visit list!