WTGW 5/20/15: Howie’s on the Lake, Portage Lakes

Standard

So as you probably noticed, we were technically off last week, as I was in NYC for a work conference. Although the rest of the group did keep up the tradition of ruining their livers at least getting out of the house on a Wednesday night, and decided to do a throwback to one of our recent favorites, the Blue Rock Cafe in Hudson. Which, if you recall, we left with thumbs up all around and an assurance that we’d be back.

Yeah, that changed.

Apparently this time around the group was outrightly ignored, eventually given drinks but not even asked if they wanted menus – all the while as the owner/server (who had waited on us the last time) obliged all of the other tables around them. Dost thou offend? After about 25 minutes, and as they were pretty much getting up to head out the door, he finally gave them a halfhearted “oh, did you want to eat?” No, it’s only dinner time on a weeknight. So I guess they didn’t look hungry enough? I mean, I don’t think we proved ourselves to be complete raging alcoholics the last time we were there, did we? They even went back and re-read the blog post, thinking maybe my snarkiness in the review might’ve offended in some way (what, me? No!) – but let’s face it, if you can find something in that post that offends you enough to deny repeat paying customers, then maybe you should rethink your line of work.

So instead they ended up down the street at Kepner’s – another repeat, although I don’t think Ted’s post-dinner-at-another-establishment order of XXX hot wings really counts as a complete dining experience. I’m not sure what they all had this time around – well, other than to say that they did not have those wings – but they said the food was good, the atmosphere was fantastic, and they made new friends … which I received photos of them doing shots with via text messages at 12:30 AM while I was in the Big Apple.

Because we all know shots and post-midnight WTGW outings are the staple of a good time in our books.

Ironically, that’s is a perfect segway into this week’s adventure …

Howie’s on the Lake is a little neighborhood bar right on one of the Portage Lakes. And I mean right on the lake. As in, if Mother Nature had cooperated with us like she did a few weeks ago and given us a beautiful 80+ degree night perfect for patio drinking, we would’ve been parked on one of the picnic tables outside on the water’s edge, enjoying the view and the sunset over the lake as we ate our dinners and sipped our beers.

But no, instead she was back to her usual whoreish ways, and served us up an evening of wind, grey skies and temps hovering around 50. Thanks for that. Glad to see our relationship is back to the level I’m used to.

Although I have to admit, had we not sat inside at the bar on this particular evening, I doubt we would’ve left with the new friends, laughs, fond memories – and of course rounds of shots – that we ended up enjoying. So there’s that. The world works in mysterious ways, I know. Take that Mother Nature.

Anyway.

So remember when I said Howie’s is a neighborhood bar? Yeah, not only does that speak of the atmosphere inside, but also the actual location. It’s smack in the middle of an actual residential neighborhood. Which – knowing Shane’s penchant for finding the scariest places around (um, The Annex, anyone?) – made us more than a little worried as we were driving in.

Me: So, did you call ahead to this person’s house and let them know to expect four more for dinner this evening?

Shane was not as amused by that as the rest of the car.

Howie’s is a bit on the small side inside, although that seems perfectly understandable considering their big draw is the lake and the patio outside. We ended up sitting at the bar partially because that was one of the few places left inside to sit on this blustery day, and also because that’s apparently where all the cool people sit these days, so that’s our new thing. Trying out that atmosphere for a bit, why not.

That's a big fish

That’s a big fish

It took us a hot minute to figure out that you actually have to order your food at a little walk-up counter on the other side of the place (called “The Shack) and then they bring the food over to you. Yeah, we’re a bit slow, we know. Ironically, alcohol actually makes us better when it comes to these things. Crazy, I know.

The bartender on Wednesday was Claudia, who we later found out was part owner or married to the owner or something of that nature. She was great, and once she realized we would be drinking her out of Summer Shandy she made sure to bring out enough to keep on ice for us for the duration of the evening, which we very much appreciated, even if we then did feel obligated to drink ALL of them before the end of the night. Twist our arms, I know.

Yes please

Yes please

Although I will say that the drink prices at Howie’s are a bit on the high side – $4 for a bottled Summer Shandy was reminiscent of what I’d paid for drinks in Manhattan the week prior, and a bit surprising considering the rest of the atmosphere. Again, not to say it stopped us from drinking them, but just pointing that out.

Claudia recommended the wings, saying they’re a crowd favorite, along with something called the Howie Sandwich – which appeared to be a variation of a hot ham and cheese. We all went with wings. Because, well, us.

We had a bone to pick with chickens this week

We had a bone to pick with chickens this week

Although the boys were thrown a curve ball when we went over to the window to order and saw the sign announcing Wednesdays as “Steak Night.” What’s this, you ask? Well, it turns out that you can get an 8 oz strip steak, salad and fries for just $10. $10! I know, right? And because this just happened to be the last Wednesday steak night before Howie’s took the summer off from the special … well of course the boys had to partake in it. I mean, because what if they decide not to bring it back in the fall and they never have that opportunity again?? The horror!

Exactly.

It should go without saying that of course they also still got wings in addition to the steaks. Because, well, them.

So because apparently he’s majoring in game time decisions this week, Shane’s second choice on the fly came in the form of the dry rub for the wings. Which came after the cook poured a bit of it into a little cup so he could sample it before he made up his mind. I had already pretty much decided that was the sauce I was going to get for my wings, but I will say that being able to sample it to make sure I would like it was a nice touch. It was definitely tasty, just spicy enough to have a kick (especially on the after taste) but not enough to make it unedible (a.k.a. Ted’s wing choice from Kepner’s last summer). I ordered six of those wings, and was not disappointed.

I also ordered a side of breaded mushrooms, which would’ve been 150% better if they’d actually been hot when they arrived. I eventually took the breading off and just ate the mushrooms inside. Hey – it makes me feel like I’m eating some vegetables, so step off.

You may want to check your heat lamps

You may want to check your heat lamps

By contrast, Amanda’s side order of breaded mushrooms about took a layer of skin off of her fingers just picking them up. I could see the steam rising off of them as she bit into them. And was insanely jealous. Clearly they made both of our orders together, and mine got to sit while the rest of mine and Shane’s dinner order (*ahem* someone’s steak *ahem*) was cooked. Boo.

Amanda also ordered 12 of the spicy bleu cheese wings, which she said were good, but could’ve used more sauce on them.Howie's on the Lake, Portage Lakes

Shane had six of the dry rub wings along with his steak special, all of which he enjoyed. While he’s clearly easier to please with rare steaks as opposed to his rare-but-not-so-rare-I-think-you’re-going-to-kill-me burgers, this one was done to his liking and said it had good flavor. Especially for $10. I mean, to put it in perspective – we pretty much each had that price surpassed in rounds of Summer Shandy by the time we were done with our dinners.

Shane's eating vegetables? Is that allowed?

Shane’s eating vegetables? Is that allowed?

All this for the price of 2.5 Summer Shandys

All this for the price of 2.5 Summer Shandys

Ted also enjoyed his steak, as well as six of the Sweet Heat wings. Because apparently Ted’s quest is to order that particular seasoning at every place we go to these days. He said that the spice on these wings was less salty than The Basement’s Sweet Heat – and also not a dry rub like theirs – so he said it had a lot more flavor and he liked it a lot better.

So if you’re keeping score, so far it’s Howie’s > Basement in the race for the best Sweet Heat wings in the area. Stay tuned for more.

Ironically I think it was this very conversation about The Basement that introduced Ted to the guys sitting next to him at the bar – and who became our new BFFs for the night. They were very cool and fun to talk to – turns out one of them also runs a Facebook group showcasing “Life on the Lakes,” which highlights all of the cool bars, boats, events and people in the immediate area. We of course became members of the group, and initiated ourselves with photos with these guys and the 5-ish(?) rounds of shots we ended up doing with them as the night wore on. Remember my saying about knowing how much we like a place based on how long we stay and how many rounds of shots we end up doing? Yeah, at this rate we better put Howie’s on our secondary address list, because I’m not sure we wanted to actually leave.

And that of all things was what I think impressed us the most about the place. You can tell they have their regulars, and there’s definitely a “Hey Norm!” Cheers-esque kind of vibe in the place … but conversely the record didn’t screech to a halt and no one stared daggers at us when we first walked in either. People were friendly and talkative. Shane and Ted scored random free desserts from some of the locals seated on the other side of the bar. Claudia was later joined behind the bar by the owner (Eric), and the two of them are fantastic at making people feel right at home there. I mean, of course you can’t go wrong by serving up some free shots – but even if it was a ploy to win our business, it definitely worked, as we then bought several rounds after that. What can I say, we’re easy like that.

It all starts with free shots ...

It all starts with free shots …

Shots with new friends

Shots with new friends

New friends, minus the shots

New friends, minus the shots

We gained a few more ... and more shots

We gained a few more … and more shots

Guess what? More shots!

Guess what? More shots!

Are you keeping track here?

Are you keeping track here?

It's all fun and games until the shot-ski comes out

It’s all fun and games until the shot-ski comes out

Howie's on the Lake, Portage Lakes

This is definitely our kind of place. Now we just have to figure out if we can get them to open a second location closer to us, or if we need to sell our house and move closer. Ha.

Steph

Steph

Amanda

Amanda

Ted

Ted

Shane

Shane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPSULE

Picked by:  Shane

Drinks:  Bottles and a few craft beers on draft. A bit on the pricey side for bottles, but you know you can win our love just by having Summer Shandy available, no matter what the price tag.
Food:
 Not a huge selection, mostly burgers and things that can be cooked in a fryer – but again, you know that bodes well for us. The wings were good and the steak special was definitely a winner.
Service: Excellent. We were in love when she brought out the new case of Summer Shandy and restocked to make sure we had plenty of reserves.
Overall: The atmosphere was what really won us over. We felt like we’d been accepted into a new family. Will definitely return, especially on nice patio days.

Next Pick:  Steph

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3 thoughts on “WTGW 5/20/15: Howie’s on the Lake, Portage Lakes

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