When was the last time you went to a restaurant – for the first time – and immediately started discussing with your partner, “who can we bring here?” wanting to share your good find as soon as possible? We just did last Friday.
Our conversation took place at a restaurant and bar on River Road in Upper Black Eddy, formerly known as the Canal Bar, now reborn as “1821 Steaks & Cocktails.”
If you knew the Canal Bar, you probably won’t recognize 1821, starting with the corrugated modern steel siding that now cloaks the building. When Kate Barker and Louis Giliberti bought the bar in 2002, it was a beer-and-a-shot bar that had an interesting history. Kind of rough but beloved to many locals – and sometimes a little scary to others. Kate and Louis took over and kept the place as it was, improving the food and respecting the community that had grown to love the bar.
But food is their passion, and their dream was to renovate the bar and make it into a restaurant. So eight months ago they closed the doors and began the metamorphosis. Down came the low ceiling and the second floor above it. A beautiful pitched roof with windows appeared in its place, shedding a soft light over the stained pine boards. The bar shrunk – when it was the Canal Bar you practically walked into the bar upon entering, and it took up most of the place. Now it is a sleek brushed steel surface fabricated by Louis, and the perfect complement to the warm wood floors and walls. The bar seats about a dozen patrons. Add the three booths in the bar area, four more a few steps down from the bar and a table in between and you’ve got a cozy place. Just the way Kate and Louis like it.
“We want it to be a celebration of people being together,” Kate told me as we sat in the empty restaurant on a quiet Tuesday afternoon. Kate and Louis are customers at the Pineville Tavern, and they hope 1821 will evolve into the same kind of warm and welcoming place. If the dinner we had there is any indication, it’s well on its way.
While Kate and Louis spend their time in the kitchen, the front of the house is run by Stacey Bliss and Cyndi Heckman most nights. Stacey was a chef at Villa Richard and more recently ran The Mansion Inn in New Hope. Cyndi, the bartender, “kind of came with the place when we bought it,” says Kate. And you can see why they kept her on. Experienced, sweet, and welcoming to all customers, she is the heart behind the bar. Together they project the kind of atmosphere that welcomes both new customers and the old regulars.
The restaurant only reopened five weeks ago yet it filled up quickly after we got there. The bar was an obvious mixture of patrons – some new and some from “before” – but everyone cheerful. We spoke with some of the Canal Bar regulars to get their opinions of the new place. Change is always difficult, but everyone was unanimous in their praise of Kate and Louis, the food they serve and the feel of the bar.
Ah, the food. Usually that’s my main focus, and I apologize for taking so long to get to it but I fell in love with the space. The menu is simple, printed up to accommodate changes in the season and availability of quality product. It’s pinned to a clipboard along with a page describing Kate and Louis’ philosophy: “We are dedicated to keeping our prices reasonable, preparing our meals with the finest quality ingredients, and doing everything we can to guarantee an exceptional experience while you are here.” That includes local, seasonal vegetables and meat that comes from suppliers that guarantee the animals are “raised humanely, …fed superior grains, drink pure clean water, and receive no added hormones and growth additives.”
They go on to explain how they can keep prices reasonable. Because they own the building, keep labor costs down (Kate and Louis do the cooking, Stacey and Cyndi take care of the front), and believe you don’t automatically triple the food cost to get at the customer price. They also believe good, quality food shouldn’t cost a small fortune.
To start, Mark ordered the garlic roasted snow crab claws ($6) which had him making quiet, happy noises for awhile. I went for the crispy calamari served with a garlic aioli mayo ($7). They were indeed crisp, light and pleasantly chewy (why can’t more restaurants accomplish this?). The menu offered four salads: a fresh mozzarella salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil ($7); an Iceberg wedge with blue cheese, applewood smoked bacon and tomatoes ($5); grilled romaine caesar, with romano and a “tiny bit of anchovy” ($7); and a baby arugula salad with fresh vinaigrette and shaved parmesan ($6).
I’ll preface my description of the entrees with a warning to vegetarians: this is a serious steak place. However, I will add that Kate makes delicious vegetables, including a simple slow roasted cherry tomatoes dish that made me want to crawl into the kitchen begging for more.
Louis does the steaks – grilled with love and attention. The beef comes from two well-known all-natural ranches, Strube Ranch in Texas and Painted Hills in Oregon. They include a 16 oz. ribeye ($20), a 16 oz. NY strip ($22), an 8 oz. filet ($20), an 8 oz. Black Angus ribeye ($11) and a 16 oz. Strube Ranch American Kobe (Wagyu) ribeye ($24). Done to order and accompanied by the house french fries (a side of vegetables can be ordered for $2 – $3). In fact, Kate and Louis warn you ahead of time on the menu, “Due to the thickness of the steak cut, the wait may be longer than you are accustomed to elsewhere. We reserve the right to refuse to prepare a steak well done depending on the selection.” Like I said, a serious steak place.
If you’re not in the mood for beef, try one of the fresh fish entrees – Alaskan Coho salmon or halibut ($15), the night we were there, or a shrimp scampi ($10). There’s also an 8 oz. cheeseburger offered.
Don’t be taken aback either when they put your name on the order. “When we ask your name on a ticket it’s so I know in the kitchen,” says Kate. “Maybe you like your romaine a little more charred or a little more cheese, or you like blue cheese in a little pile beside your steak, etc. If you tell me what you liked and what you didn’t, I’ll remember for next time. I’m like a savant that way and I love making it special.”
1821 Steaks & Cocktails
1821 River Road (Route 32)
Upper Black Eddy, PA 18972
Thursday — Dinner 6:00 – 9:00 pm
Friday & Saturday — Dinner from 6:00 – 10:00 pm
Open Sundays for special parties and events
Closed Monday – Wednesday
Update: 1821 is permanently closed as of September 2015.