Strictly speaking, Fred’s Place in Lake Katrine isn’t Fred’s any more. Genial bartending host Fred Wadnola and his wife, Cynthia (who cheffed), retired a couple of years ago, leaving the restaurant in the hands of their son, Christopher. Like his mom, CIA-trained Christopher is an accomplished baker and pastry chef, and one of his first acts on taking over was to resurrect Cynfre’s Bakery as part of the business. Cynfre’s (Cyn-thia plus Fre-d — get it?) was heralded for everything from breads to wedding cakes, and much missed after it closed in 2000. So that was a smart move.
The food at Fred’s, which Cynthia called “new-fashioned home cooking,” leaned toward Italian fare, reflecting her family background. When Christopher took over, he introduced more eclectic cuisine to take advantage of local produce. But taking classic Italian dishes off the menu caused enough of a rumpus among regulars that he restored the ravioli, the chicken Marsala, Francese, Parmigiana et al., and added a roster of regular specials that change with the season. On that list — a collaboration between Wadnola and head chef Wayne Harding — you’ll find such entreÌes as chicken glazed with pomegranate molasses, cherry-glazed duck, and Asian baked flounder. There are a few vegetarian dishes, one or two nightly specials, and a number of seafood appetizers. Add the “Bar Bites” — burgers, coconut chicken fingers, tacos, spicy shrimp, wings, and robust sandwiches like French dip and meatball sub — and you’ve got a wide-ranging menu to suit any appetite. Speaking of appetites, one of the Bar Bites, the Chicken-N-Waffles sandwich, is described like this: “Fresh bacon buttermilk waffles topped with our crispy buttermilk chicken drizzled with a maple cream and bacon bits served with a side of potato onion hash!” The description (the exclamation point is theirs) kicks off with the query, “Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?” To which, if you’re me, you respond, “That’s breakfast?” Anyway, it sounds good and filling, whenever you might eat it.
There’s a minor challenge to visiting Fred’s Place: How do you get in? You can see the building near the Saugerties exit on Route 209, but there’s no obvious road leading to it. Fire up your GPS, or place your trust in MapQuest to follow the few twists and turns that take you in the back way.
The night we stopped by, most of the action was in the bar, where the lively patrons were soaking up the suds with tray after tray of Bar Bites ferried from the kitchen (and no doubt being tantalized by the rotating carousel of confections in the corner). You can eat Bar Bites in the main dining room, by the way — this is an easygoing place. But ordering dinner will get you an amuse bouche of salty olive tapenade and pita triangles, followed by some fresh-baked bread, in our case a few slices each of multigrain and raisin walnut, both of which more than passed muster with my bread-picky husband.
The salad of mixed greens was fresh and crisp — but please, restaurateurs, I’m begging here: Skip the tasteless winter tomatoes. My broccoli and cheddar soup was tasty and cheesy but could have been creamier. A generous portion of calamari came sprinkled with saffron threads, a nice touch. We chose the sweet and spicy glaze to toss them in, rather than the Fra Diavolo or marinara dipping sauces. The calamari, though, were a little chewy.
My panko-crusted chicken breast, stuffed with Brie, spinach, and black mission figs and topped with caramelized figs in a blackberry port sauce, was enjoyable. It was difficult to discern the individual elements of the dish, but the juicy sweetness of the figs made a pleasing contrast to the savory flavors. The chicken came atop a bed of lightly sauteÌed spinach studded with slivers of garlic. Tiny cubes of carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes added more flavors. In all, it was well composed, and the epitome of new-fashioned home cooking, if that means something you might make yourself, with a few chef-y flourishes.
The prime rib, a special of the evening, was fine if not particularly juicy, but the medley of vegetables on the side — slices of golden beets, yellow and green squash with a few tiny florets of cauliflower — were perfectly al dente and demonstrated the chef’s care with vegetables. The fries that my husband substituted for mashed potatoes were a real treat — as good as Nathan’s, which is my ultimate compliment when it comes to fries.
After a mango sorbet intermezzo, we came to the highlight of the evening: Wadnola’s delicious desserts. The lemon mascarpone cheesecake with a fruit compote was moist and scrumptious, but better yet was my trio of creÌ€me bruÌ‚leÌes: classic vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. Served in small ramekins on a white porcelain tray, with a delicate little scroll of white and dark striped chocolate decorating the top, they were as pretty to behold as they were silky and heavenly to eat.
Service is solicitous, if not very polished. But the plain, mirrored setting with its pine room divider has an impersonal feel and could use a boost. During Fred’s time, the walls were hung with pictures of ships and memorabilia from his time in the navy. Christopher, to his credit, feared that “a military theme” like that might upset some people, and set out to make the space more homey and casual. Casual it is, but some cozy touches would warm up the windowless space.
Still, the impression that everyone is aiming to please helps with ambiance. The kitchen is more than willing to make substitutions on the menu, or accommodate those with food sensitivities, or to do whatever will make you comfortable. I can imagine families piling in for the create-your-own pasta specials, and old friends who fancy some new-fashioned home cooking gathering for a relaxed night out.
Open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Bar Bites $3.50-$12.95; appetizers $7.50-$12.95; entrées $14.95-$23.95; desserts mostly $5.50
11 Lohmaier Ln., Lake Katrine. 845-383-3883; www.fredsplace.us