Nouvelle York Cuisine
Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar updates the Adirondack dining scene
Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar
Lake Placid, N.Y., is full of touristy eateries, but townies used to favor a dive down by the train tracks called the Handlebar. It had a following, “since as long as I can remember,” says Keegan Konkoski, a decadelong resident.
It still does, but not as a dive. Last summer, Konkoski, a longtime bartender, and her business partner, chef Tim Loomis, took over the space and turned it into a restaurant with a concept unlike the old rough-and-tumble pub — or anything else in the Adirondacks.
Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar is the region’s first gastropub, a showcase for exuberantly creative cuisine that makes use of a burgeoning local community of young farmers. It is also very likely the only restaurant in the Adirondacks with a mustache-and-bicycle theme.
Bike parts decorate the establishment, which seats 60 inside and 20 in its outdoor lounge in the back. Posters of handlebar-sporting, turn-of-the-last-century penny-farthing riders cover the walls. A pair of giant wooden mustaches, crafted by the restaurant’s “handyman,” Loomis’ father, hang from the ceiling, inviting guests to try on some comically large facial hair.
Loomis sports a wild beard of his own. When he emerges from the kitchen to greet guests, Konkoski says, “People are like, ‘That can’t be the chef; he’s so young and bearded and not in whites.’”
Both in their early thirties, Loomis and Konkoski are restaurant veterans, former personal partners who are now coupled only in business. Loomis, a Lyndonville native, left the Northeast Kingdom to study culinary arts at Paul Smith’s College. After doing rounds as a chef, butcher and winemaker in Sancerre, France, he settled in Lake Placid, where he cooked in venues from dives to upscale resort restaurants. Before striking out on their own, Loomis and Konkoski worked together a combined four years at different establishments around town. When they moved forward with their own restaurant, they met with a business consultant, but they already had a vision in mind. “We had both decided we don’t want the white tablecloths; we just wanted awesome food and great presentation,” says Konkoski, the more talkative of the pair.
The presentation begins with the bartender herself. Konkoski wears artfully heavy bangs with not a hair out of place. On a recent hot Saturday, she is dressed in a black-and-gray-striped tie-neck blouse and a black ruffled vest. Her darkly romantic look turns out to be a play on another visual theme at the restaurant. Both the men’s and women’s bathrooms are decorated in a similar stripy motif — pink-on-pink for girls, gray-on-gray for boys — and plastered with current and historical burlesque photos.
Konkoski’s friendly demeanor and eye for style may bring some regulars to her bar, but it’s her unique drinks that are getting her name out there. How about a cilantro daiquiri with spiced rum? Or Smoked Ale, flavored with smoked ginger, cardamom and coriander syrup? Though the Lavandula, with its raspberry purée and lavender syrup, sounds awfully appealing, Konkoski says the Salad & Gin has become her trademark. “When I came up with it, I said, ‘This will make me famous, or no one will like this,’” she recalls. “But we’ve sold so many,” she adds in wonder.
The refreshing cocktail is made from five-times-distilled No. 209 gin; herbaceous, chlorophyll-green Chartreuse; and a veritable garden of cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and thyme. It’s lightly salted, with fresh lemon and lime giving it the illusion of a vinaigrette-dressed summer salad.
Konkoski makes all of her syrups and purées herself and says her inspiration is whatever is local and fresh at the moment. “Same with Tim and how he makes his own stocks,” she says. “That’s why we don’t have high prices.”
Loomis is crafting more than just stocks from scratch. He and his team make everything at the restaurant except the bright-red Glazier franks featured in his pigs in a blanket. The quirky, juicy, regionally popular hot dogs are wrapped in puff pastry and accompanied by stripes of blisteringly hot mustard and cooling puddles of sweet zucchini relish.
Most of the Liquids and Solids menu consists of small plates, with only five entrée-size dishes and a few daily specials. The bill of fare changes constantly; according to Konkoski, about 20 new items appear each month. The prices are smaller than the plates. A saucepot filled with ultra-crisp, bistro-style fries is just $2.
At $12, the charcuterie board is the most expensive of the “smalls.” The creamy, French country-style pork terrine; sweet and comforting chicken-liver mousse; and saline, fatty duck prosciutto could feed a table of four. The slices of grilled baguette, enough to accommodate all the meat, are spread with tangy cranberry mustard and topped with pink pickled onions. There are also pinkie-sized gherkins, only lightly pickled and tasting of summer.
Loomis says that when the restaurant opened last year, local diners considered charcuterie little more than a curiosity. “Now, as word gets out and we build our reputation, people are more willing to try,” he says. They’re also sampling the beef-tongue taco, oxtail scrapple and even fried Brussels sprouts, which the chef considers his breakout success. “People always come in for it, wanting the recipe,” Loomis says. “That’s a surprise hit that will never go away.”
As they geared up to open last summer, the two worked hard to establish relationships with familiar faces from the Lake Placid Farmers Market, as well as with young farmers just starting out. After only a year of word of mouth, Loomis says, “Farms are approaching us. It eliminates a lot of legwork.”
“They’re realizing that they can pawn off all the nasty bits on him,” adds Konkoski.
The business plan from the beginning was “farm to fork.” The restaurant’s logo features that motto, along with a chicken with a spoon and fork for legs preparing to take a sip from a shot glass. The choice is ironic, says Konkoski, because “chicken is the most over-farmed animal” — and rarely appears on the menu at Liquids and Solids. Duck confit and chicken-fried steak are more common choices.
Because so many farms supply the restaurant (Konkoski reels off five beef suppliers, each for a different cut), the menu offers no sourcing information. But if the farms don’t get printed props, they get business — and sometimes more. “We want to give back more than we consume,” says Konkoski. To that end, the kitchen sends its compost to a farm called Atlas Hoofed It in Vermontville, where the scraps feed eight hogs. In return, their flesh eventually makes it onto diners’ forks.
The pigs at Kilcoyne Farms in Brasher Falls never ate Loomis’ handiwork, but their crispy pork belly with grilled frisée lettuce is a revelation. Cubes of pig flesh are rendered so that not a hint of fat remains. The velvety chunks are breaded and fried into something like meat croutons atop the warm, char-speckled lettuce. Mustard vinaigrette provides an acidic counterpoint to the earthy flavors, which also include toasted pumpkin seeds. Sweet figs and musty blue cheese add even more complexity.
Cookbooks from famously carnivore restaurants such as Au Pied de Cochon and Ad Hoc line the shelves of Liquids and Solids. A menacing photo of a skull and crossbones carved from a steak, with bullets for teeth and knife and fork crossed like femurs, looms over the bar.
While there’s no shortage of meat here, desserts also provide an exciting reason to visit Liquids and Solids. That said, sometimes even the sweets include flesh. Special cannoli recently noted on the brown-paper menu above the bar were filled with crisp, salty bacon and rich, ultra-dark chocolate cream.
A regular offering of vividly hued banana ice cream is no less creative. It’s covered with tempura-fried chunks of banana and frozen slices of chocolate-filled crêpe that resemble tiny pinwheel cookies. Elegant, homemade, rosemary-scented whipped cream and a decidedly un-homemade maraschino cherry complete the fun.
If such a dish sounds not just eclectic but random, that’s kind of the point. Just as the art on the restaurant’s walls came from generous friends, the food appears on plates as farmers make it available.
“Really it’s all cobbled together,” says Konkoski. “And it turned out OK.”