By Laura Byrne Paquet
We came for dinner but got a side dish of golf.
It all started when our daughter spotted a half-abandoned mini-putt course on the knoll behind the Eat ‘n’ Meet Grill, an off-the-wall restaurant in Saranac Lake, New York.
In the time it took for our tasty jerk chicken and fish tacos to arrive, Stephanie had tracked down the free putters and balls, and was partway up the hill. It took some persuasion to get her to come down and eat. After a quick nosh, she scampered off again to finish her game under the gaze of a huge Elvis statue on the restaurant’s balcony.
Like many things in this scenic mountain region, the mini-putt course owes its existence to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Like many locals, the restaurant’s previous owners wanted to capture the attention of at least a few of the many tourists who came to the region in the wake of the event. The current owners hope to restore it eventually—if they can ever find the time.
That might not happen soon, as the Eat ‘n’ Meet is a hopping joint from lunchtime until evening. Insider tip: choose your meal early in the day from the frequently changing online menu. It will be ready and waiting for you when you arrive.
For a small town, Saranac Lake has a surprising variety of good restaurants. We also had a superb meal at Nonna Fina, an Italian restaurant with a big terrace with excellent views of Lake Flower (I can highly recommend the chicken piccata).
Nonna Fina was almost right across the lake from our home away from home, Harbor Hill Cottages. I was a bit sceptical about Harbor Hill at first, as it seemed more urban than wild—Route 86 is just across the water, after all. But on our way home from dinner, we spotted a pair of deer wandering the residential neighbourhood. In fact, the two-floor Skylight Cottage was just my kind of rustic: it has lots of water views and is surrounded by trees, but it also has wireless Internet and is close to downtown Saranac Lake.
Saranac Lake, by the way, is home to several intriguing art galleries, and the nearby mountains offer excellent hiking. An early-morning “walk” up Mount Baker was a bit more challenging than I’d counted on (did I mention I’m out of shape, possibly due to eating too much pasta and jerk chicken?), but it was worth it. From the summit, a patchwork of small lakes glittered at my feet.
Further afield, the two-hour guided canoe trips at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake are well worth the money; naturalists will enthusiastically give you the scoop on everything from lilies to herons. Closer to Saranac Lake, the Visitor Interpretive Center (everyone in town simply calls it the VIC) at Paul Smith’s College is another good choice for birding, hiking, canoeing and special events.
Finally, don’t forget to drop in on hopping Lake Placid. At Whiteface Mountain, where Olympians once competed, you can go mountain biking, luging or bobsledding from spring through fall. And in terms of accommodation, I’ve heard raves about High Peaks Resort on the shore of Mirror Lake, where a spa awaits to ease your aching bones after all that hiking, paddling and cycling.Laura Byrne Paquet’s first encounter with the written word was not promising: her birth announcement appeared in the newspaper classifieds under the heading “Livestock for Sale.” Despite that, she became a writer. She’s covered destinations around the world for more than 80 magazines and newspapers, and has written or co-authored 12 books. A member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the Society of American Travel Writers, she edits two blogs: OttawaRoadTrips.com, focusing on day trips, weekend getaways and longer escapes from Canada’s capital; and FacingTheStreet.com, looking at ways travellers can live like locals.
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