A couple of weeks ago I took a whirlwind weekend trip with my in-laws from Wisconsin to the Adirondacks to look at a house we’re considering. We rose at 3:30 AM on a Friday and drove straight to Lake Placid, arriving late. We were tired in that road-weary way that invites impatience along with fatigue.
We desired a good late dinner without any more driving, so I suggested the always-reliable Lisa G’s right down the block. Unfortunately it was closed for cleaning. But I remembered that on a recent visit to Lisa G’s the waitperson had recommended Liquids and Solids across the street. “Their stuff’s really good,” she had said. So we made our way to the other side of Station Street in hopes of being rewarded with decent food.
As soon as we walked in I became concerned that it might not be a good fit for us that particular night. It was noisy; seating was at bar stools; the wait staff exuded an aura of, shall we say, the perfunctory; it took some time just to get water. In short, I girded myself for a bad match for three tired, impatient travelers.
Then came the menus. Printed on reused printer paper (as in stuff was printed on the other side and had been crossed off with a pen) they exuded the same kind of irreverence as the wait staff: here it is, take it or leave it, like it or don’t like it. A couple of the footnotes at the bottom of the menu make for a good example:
*PUT AN EGG ON IT FOR A DOLLAR
**BUY THE KITCHEN A BEER FOR A DOLLAR
Irreverent. All of this produced upon my face an expression as close to bemusement as a weary traveler can get.
But then I perused the menu itself and hope fled the building. Here, with no clarifying language, were a variety of selections offered in list form, separated by commas, opaque to the point where we weren’t sure what we might be ordering. Seriously, I get that trendy small-plate sophistication is a thing these days, but would these combinations have a prayer of working? Here are two examples:
BEETS, FENNEL, CUCUMBER, ORANGES, CHIC PEAS, LICORICE
MEATBALLS, HABANERO GRAPEFRUIT BBQ SAUCE, PINEAPPLE, BLUE CHEESE PUDDING
Look at the first one. Licorice? Really? With chick peas? And is not the spelling of “chic” a dead giveaway? I ordered the meatballs, by the way, along with a Vermont cheddar cheese plate and prepared myself to be annoyed. I have little tolerance for trendy.
At this point I must digress. After all, I suppose I could be taken for a Midwestern, mashed-potato-eating rube who wouldn’t know sophisticated food if it slapped him across the soup sipper. To the contrary. For one thing I live in Madison, one of the best restaurant cities there is, with the highest per capita concentration of restaurants in the United States. Not only can you enjoy good examples of virtually every cuisine on earth (something I will miss a lot when we move to the Adks) but the general restaurant milieu here is progressive. That progressivism cuts both ways, however, giving rise to my suspicion of trendy things. From trattorias to gastropubs, from small plates to macrobiotic, local-sourced menus Madison has gone through it all. One thing great cooks know is that the basic things are critical; impressing with a lot of falderal and thirty-two ingredients doesn’t cut it.
I know my way around a kitchen. I also have had the good fortune to enjoy meals at a number of the best restaurants in the world. That makes me one of those ever-dangerous dilettantes: the food snob. So for all that I was ready to be disappointed.
Boy, was I ever wrong. Here’s the bottom line: Liquids and Solids would stand out if it were in New York City or Chicago. It’s that good. It’s certainly the best restaurant I’ve been to in the park.
The irreverence so clearly in evidence at this restaurant is the irreverence of the artist who with passion and integrity offers his or her voice for the sake of the art itself. The chefs at Liquids and Solids have a deep understanding of excellent cooking, of the ingredients they use, of balance. They are mature enough to be creative and essential at the same time; there is nothing trendy about anything they’re trying. The combinations we had at our table – all of them – worked and worked beautifully. These were plates to be savored, to experiment with, play with a little, to delight in combinations that surprised and brought out the essence of the wonderful ingredients they use, especially the meats. The sauces were impeccable. Heck, even my crazy cocktail was excellent.
The cheese plate came first. The Grafton Vermont cheddar was nothing special but the selection of accompaniments was a delight. My mother in law, a gourmet cook in her own right, had the jambalaya boudin, a Cajun version of the French boudin sausage, made with a pork rice mixture. This was served with toast, vegetable garnish and a smoked tomato vinaigrette. I stole it halfway through the meal; the sausage was done perfectly and the vinaigrette was just enough. In lesser hands my meatball choice could have been overrun by the blue cheese, but not here, where the pudding had an expertly understated flavor that contrasted beautifully with the habanero BBQ sauce. The only thing I remember about my father in law’s dish were the irresistible fries with a home made ketchup that was a revelation. We puzzled over it before deciding that it had hints of apple and cinnamon. Perfection.
The Adirondack region, so rich in wild and mountainous sublimities, has always been remarkable for how human sublimities – in art, music, literature, psychology – have been drawn to it, as though in synergy. Here we have a gastropub worthy of that legacy.
More more about Liquids and Solids, check out Kim and Pam’s High Peaks Happy Hour post.
Photo by Kim Ladd, co-owner author with her sister Pam, of the Happy Hour in The High Peaks pub and bar guide.