You don’t have to drive 20 hours to get a taste of Floridian beach paradise.
The Channel Marker has been a Lake Country tradition for many years, but in 1994 Steve Johnson and his father bought the business on Main Channel between Lake Wawasee and Lake Syracuse. Steve’s father soon moved out of the business, so Steve took on partner Keith Wronka.
Through the transition, one vision was constant: “I wanted this restaurant to feel like being in the Keys,” said Steve. The décor throughout the restaurant resonates on the beach theme, and the food does too!
ENTER THE TIKI BAR
In 2006, the restaurant opened the Tiki Bar on the patio adjacent the channel. They already had covered, open-air dining, but the Tiki Bar took the next step toward finalizing the Floridian tropical-beach theme. The bar is a Tiki-style hut and seats 10, but the patio has enough awning-adorned tables to seat close to 125, and often it’s packed. With tropical rum drinks like Swamp Water (mixed by the bucket, they go through 150 gallons of the secret rum mix a week!) and Wawasee Sunset (a spiced rum mix), seven rotating craft beers on tap and dishes like the Landlubber (fried chicken strips), Jetty (a half-slab of barbecue ribs), Shiver-Me-Timbers (a take on the classic Reuben) and others, the Florida Keys beach theme prevails.
Perhaps the most famous item on the Tiki Bar Menu is the Outrigger. This stomach-stuffing burger includes an Angus beef patty, Asian slaw, smoked Gouda cheese, bang-bang-style shrimp and is topped with the house made signature sauce and served on a brioche bun.
My favorite, however, is the Beachcomber. This delightful sandwich is a grilled slab of mahi-mahi with melted Swiss cheese and topped with the house made broccoli slaw and a slathering of thousand island dressing. It is wonderfully gooey and delicious. It’s a perfect sandwich for a smaller appetite and is one of the few items I can finish.
Popular starters are the steak medallions, the baja fish tacos and the lobster tacos. The medallions are particularly tasty strips of flash-grilled flat iron steak and topped with haystack onion rings. Served with the Channel Marker’s barbecue sauce, this dish can easily be shared.
Another unique item on the Sharables section of the menu is the edamame. These are the common steamed soy bean pods, but the secret is the Asian sea salt mix they scatter over the pods.
The Tiki Bar menu is offered throughout the restaurant for lunch, with several of the starters and sandwiches on the dinner menu. The bar also hosts acoustic entertainment Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
THE DINNER MENU BRINGS PEOPLE FROM AFAR
The dinner menu is divided into six sections, with some of the burgers and salads the same as the bar menu, but is only served in the main dining room. The Set Sail section consists of 19 starters, with the aforementioned edamame being popular, along with the seafood fondue. The fondue is a house made blend of four different cheeses and served with shrimp, scallops, crab meat and naan (Indian flat bread).
For Lighter Fare, the restaurant offers seven choices, all off the bar menu, including the steak medallions. But you might want to start with the soup of the day or their New England clam chowder, which is made fresh daily and served in an optional bread bowl. French onion soup is one of the more popular soup specials.
SURF AND TURN FOR EVERYONE
The Surf section includes the popular pan fried lake perch. These fresh lake perch are lightly dusted, pan-fried and served with a wine-butter sauce. People make the Channel Marker a destination for this great dish that’s large, but light on the stomach.
Besides the perch there are nine other fish dishes, including shrimp, salmon, sea bass, crab legs, tuna, whitefish and the Boca Grande seafood and pasta. The latter is made to order from scratch and includes shrimp, scallops, crab meat and mushrooms cooked in butter and Cajun spices. Pasta is added, then it is finished with three wines, peppers and onions. This complex dish is large but filled with many flavors that tingle every taste bud.
The colossal coconut shrimp are dipped in house made coconut breading, fried and served with an orange marmalade.
The Turf section consists of 12 items, including stir-fry, with chicken or shrimp added. The rib eye is popular, but not as much as the prime rib, served only on Friday and Saturday nights. The prime rib is slow roasted for 20 hours then prepared for serving in the late afternoon each Friday.
Freshness is emphasized so the restaurant makes all its sauces, spice blends and salad dressings. Fish is delivered fresh every Thursday.
The Channel Marker also offers a substantial wine list, with more than 40 bottles. They go beyond the norm by offing more than 30 by the glass.
DESSERTS ARE MADE IN HOUSE
Carrot cake, chocolate cake and key lime pie are all made by the kitchen staff, but the pecan pie is Steve’s grandmother’s recipe, and only his mother can make it right. These are served as large slices and can be shared.
There are also After Dinner Delights consisting of eight different specialized martinis, including such unique concoctions as appletinis, mochatinis, Island Blue and a colada martini. You can also get a classic cosmopolitan.
CATERING AND CARRY-OUT SERVICE
The Channel Marker also brings its menu to you, or you can pick-up your phone order. On this day, Steve just returned from delivering lunch for a hundred people at Lutheran Hospital. The restaurant does 20 to 25 catering events a month. Some are custom menus and others choose from the restaurant menu. They have done a myriad of events, including wedding receptions and office parties.
Steve employs 40 people and keeps the restaurant buzzing seven days a week during the summer months.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Located on the Main Channel at 5793 E. Pickwick Drive, Syracuse, you may come by car or boat. There is ample parking for both, with more than 40 spots for boats.