In Lake Country, many things change as the seasons change. This time of year is especially exciting because the lake scene shifts dramatically from bustling summer activities to a near standstill.
Boats leave the lake for winter storage, piers are removed and stored and water toys are removed and prepared for winter storage. Leaves turn to present their awesome autumn grandeur and the water cools as the sun drops in the west starting with the autumn equinox Sept. 21.
As the days get shorter, the garden produces much less although there are still root vegetables to be dug. Only a few tomatoes remain so for obtaining local produces, chances diminish except from those farms that have invested in greenhouses. For example, we recently found at least three local farms still offering fresh greens, fresh-picked beans and plenty of root vegetables at the Goshen Farmers Market.
Since we face the west, we always welcome the first sunset passing Cedar Point around Oct. 8 every year. From that time until around March 8, we get glorious sunsets throughout the winter months, many with breathtaking skyscapes. When the lake freezes, there is double excitement when the sun sets — not only do we get the sun setting over the horizon, but also a bold reflection off the ice.
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Over the years, too many of theses spectacular scenes — each unique in their own way — have been recorded and the best published. We thoroughly enjoy the empty lake, uninhibited views, migratory birds, a couple local bald eagles and the quiet that becomes anonymous to Golden Pond.
There are still days remaining where we might have to bundle a bit but still sit on the deck and enjoy the sunset with a cocktail in hand. A Ketel One vodka martini, otherwise known as Bullet Time, is the Lake Country cocktail of choice during this special time to close a full day. We never get used to this ever-changing scenario and are very thankful for the privilege to witness such changes in seasons every year.
RESTAURANTS CHANGE WITH THE SEASONS
Along with the change in seasons, many restaurants change menus to adjust to the loss some local seasonal produce. As with most high-end restaurants, The Pier Restaurant in the Oakwood Resort is no exception. Executive chef Mark Royer and director of food and beverage services Rick Gibson are hard at work to convert a hugely successful summer menu into one that will draw crowds even when the boating and most of the special event seasons are over.
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Mark relies heavily on his New Orleans’ roots to create several NOLA-style dishes (the fried green tomato and shrimp remoulade starter dish on the summer menu was out of sight) and the new menu reflects several of those influences. All the while, Rick searches for new sources that can provide unique products for creative dishes even in the colder months. Duck and cheeses are easily found in Lake Country, but other ingredients are not so easy.
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As a result of these combined efforts, Mark and Rick have moved from the heavily-laded starter summer menu to, as Rick says, “A more comfort food menu that suits the season best.”
The Pier Restaurant’s new fall/winter menu breaks down into five categories: starters, greens, hand held, entrees and desserts.
Fortunately, Mark and Rick chose to keep Mark’s Cajun classic duck and smoked andouille sausage gumbo, which incorporates local Maple Leaf Duck Farm duck coupled with New Orleans-sourced andouille sausage. This dish has nearly become a signature at The Pier Restaurant.
A new starter are the bacon-wrapped figs. This dish is so sweet and mellow that it makes you swoon. The bacon-wrapped fig is stuffed with local goat cheese then topped with delicious mango chutney that creates a perfect finish to this dish. Positioned nicely on a bed of greens, this dish is not only gorgeous but overwhelmingly tasty.
The remaining starter dishes are carryovers from the summer menu to satisfy the weekend bar scene that usually hits the resort.
Six salad choices are offered to satisfy the range of folks that visit the restaurant. New to the greens collection is the blackened salmon spinach salad, which is a combination salad of salmon and spinach with a nice blend of cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, fried leeks and boiled egg crumbles. Topped with the house-made poppy seed vinaigrette, this dish is nearly an entree.
Hand held is trendy synonym for sandwich but presents a broad enough description that goes beyond something stuffed between two pieces of bread. New choices include:
- Lemon Pepper Perch: Fried (but you can order it grilled) and served with house-made slaw and a dill tartar sauce.
- Muffaletta: A classic brought to New Orleans by the French and includes mortadella (an Italian sausage made with ground, heat-cured pork and sold as a large cold-cut), salami, ham, provolone and an olive tapenade between two luscious slices of focaccia. It’s served with house-made potato chips.
- Curry Chicken Salad: Incorporates chicken with apple, cashews, celery, grapes, lettuce and tomato all mixed with a curry-mayo dressing and stuffed between two slices of oat bread.
Last, but certainly not the least by any means, is the dish called “Buck Town.” This dish plays on the famous Louisville Hot Brown, but goes far beyond by jamming hot roast beef, ham, Swiss cheese and gravy between two slices of French bread.
“This dish pays homage to the New Orleans’ shrimpers”, where it apparently was served to starved shrimpers when they returned from long fishing trips, Mark said.
The “Beef and Reef” concept remains, where a 12-ounce ribeye is coupled with grilled prawns. Adding to this robust dish are roasted fingerlings and grilled kumato (a tomato varietal developed in Spain) then served with a chimichurri sauce giving this combo dish an Argentinean flare. This is truly an international dish!
The Chipotle Rubbed Salmon is a Southwestern influenced dish coupled with black beans and poached millet then mellowed with wilted spinach. The dry rub on the salmon spikes the melt-in-your-mouth fish.
Roasted Duck is a huge dish incorporating half a Maple Leaf Duck Farm duck. Served with dirty rice, sautéed ramps and a peach-brandy glaze, this dish is nearly a meal for two. The flavors pair so well that you savor every bite.
Mark and Rick also added a Butter Poached Halibut. The halibut is coupled with roasted winter vegetables, asparagus and served with a spearmint coulis, quite different I would say!
The halibut and salmon dishes offer customers two distinctively different fish dishes worthy of returning to try both.
Lastly, Mark did not want to incorporate just any conventional chicken dish, so he included an Italian classic. Chicken Fricassee is laid over a bed of white rice with a mushroom and leek medley. This is sort of a chicken confit where the chicken is braised in a white sauce then served with the sauce on top of the rice and vegetables.
Most desserts are made in house and all are elegantly decadent. Save room for:
- Kathy’s Apple Pie
- Crème Brulee
- Bananas Foster
Besides these standards, the winter menu also includes Turtle Cheesecake and Ultimate Chocolate Cake, both made specifically for The Pier Restaurant.
On Nov. 10, The Pier Restaurant will host a special, five-course dinner with wine pairings by a national wine distributor. There will be Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, Frisee and Walnut Salad, Wild Mushroom Risotto, a choice of entree and dessert, each served with a professionally-selected wine.
The Pier Restaurant always hosts a classic Thanksgiving brunch with all the fixings. To change it up a bit this year, Mark is also featuring prime rib.
Dec. 13 brings Santa to town and The Pier Restaurant offers kids the opportunity to mingle with the jolly elf and make their own pancakes.
New Years Eve will be a special blast with two bands, a four-course chef selection where you can choose special entrees. This event can also be a package deal with a room at the resort and a champagne breakfast.
More events are scheduled after the New Year, so check out the resort website regularly.
In choosing this new seasonal menu, Mark said “We try to ascend seasonal ingredients while still focusing on alternative tastes.”
With this new, highly creative collection of dishes, The Pier Restaurant presents an outstanding option for any pallet. To keep the restaurant fresh and evolving, they change the menu three times per year while keeping abreast of the ever-changing seasonal ingredients in Lake Country.
For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.