Bolton Landing’s gem, an instant lake classic


I’d had a hard day’s work the night I showed up at the Gem in Bolton Landing and snuck in a dinner order as the kitchen closed. Within minutes, I was chomping on the St. Louis ribs, sighing in satisfaction as the smoke-blackened rind peeled away to reveal the deep burgundy of the slow-cooked meat and drizzling it all over with four tail-style sauces. state in compressible bottles deposited before me in an old milk crate. It was dinner for one, but I demolished a two meat combo with sides.

For those who spend time on Lake George, the queen of American lakes, The Gem has been on the radar for a good two years. Owners Kirby and Kristan Keck Farmer along with Richard and Patricia Boccato are well known in downstate circles. Kirby Farmer opened Wm. Farmer and Sons in Hudson, bringing influences from his childhood in the mountains of North Carolina to the local upstate scene and earning an admiring press from Manhattan to London.

Famous mixologist Sasha Petraske, credited with galvanizing the craft cocktail renaissance after opening her Milk & Honey speakeasy in Manhattan and London, was in Hudson to develop the cocktail menu and train staff at Wm. Farmer and Sons before his sudden death. His friend and business partner Richie Boccato, owner of Dutch Kills in Queens and clear ice company Hundred Weight, drove the program to fruition and the Farmer-Boccato connection was born.

The Farmers and Boccatos did what we patiently hoped they would do: create an instant lake classic with so much thought to the decor, cocktails and slow smoked meat. The old Sagamore pub has been transformed with dark paintings, natural woods and a water ski logo that captures vintage Chris-Crafts and Hacker-Crafts on the lake. (As locals know, waterskiing on the still-morning lake must, for credit, be done on a single ski.) Antlers adorn the walls alongside felt flags common at Adirondack camps; the bench seats are covered in striped Pendleton blankets; the soundtrack is The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors. It is absolutely relevant.

The Gem is a smokehouse, and it’s shamelessly about meat. Now let me extend my apologies to those who say I should cover all dietary restrictions. Of course, keto and gluten-free can slip into three-meat and four-meat combos; vegetarians can suck on tangy pickles and pink pickled onions from The Gem, separate potato rolls from Martin and fill up on coleslaw. But the meat is in charge with Schaller & Weber gold medal-winning German beer brats smothered in homemade red pepper relish and resplendent Texas beef brisket slices on paper-lined metal trays. Even the tangy baked beans are loaded up front with burnt ends, shoulder trim and leftover brisket. You might have meaty sweats. These are not for the faint of heart.

Joining the family is Little Gem, the brothers liquor store next door. (The names Gem and Little Gem are a nod to the islands in Lake George.) You usually struggle to find good wine between the southern basin and Ticonderoga to the north, so Little Gem is a game-changer. A quick look and I spotted the favorite natural wines you’d expect in Hudson or Troy, and walked away with a $22 txakolina and a lightly sparkling rose vinho verde for $12.99, both easy to drink for a day on the lake.

Behind The Gem, a tall smoker Smithfield Pride holds the fort next to neatly stacked hardwoods; a smaller one smokes heritage chicken racks. The wood, of local origin, is cherry, apple or hickory, depending on the week. Ribs, butts and breasts are slowly smoked at 250 degrees for 10-12 hours in this magician’s box, with the meats first rubbed dry and then wrapped in peach-colored butcher paper to protect the bark.

With the smoker as the focal point, Adirondack chairs are set in the gravel around a fire pit with Pendleton blankets in National Park stripes draped across the back. Under the tent, chandeliers hang above Adirondack chairs and rustic picnic benches that are workhorses for glittering platters of meat, spilling sauce bottles and a diverse crowd ranging from chatty families to guests. of Sagamore in country club pants.

Petraske’s legacy lives on in a Milk & Honey classic: Gold Rush bourbon, honey and fresh lemon, shaken hard and served over impeccably clear ice trucked in from New York and cut on site. Order a perfectly chilled martini with olives, lemon twist, or Gibson style with house-pickled cocktail onions. An Aperol spritz, the hallmark of summer, rolls out Cappelletti to good effect, though I suspect it’s the white wine syrup pushing the balance too sweet. There are homemade sodas for those who don’t drink alcohol. The cherry lemonade is superb.

Gem’s Bloody Mary is a bar-kitchen collaboration using charcoal salt, a Wm. Farmer and Sons staple; the former is properly built on a lump of sugar soaked in bitters, the slow-melting rock taking away the heat from pure bourbon. If you end your night here, order an old-fashioned, sticky caramel pudding, the hot, gooey 1980s sponge cake dessert steamed retro in a box. Instead, I end that first night with a Ramos Gin Fizz, another classic that normally requires a long shake. Boccato has tweaked the recipe for faster delivery. It’s made in a blender, with powdered egg white doing some of the work, RPMs the rest, for a light, ethereal cocktail flavored with citrus peel and orange blossom water.

Went back with kids, and while I wanted the family combo – a pound of pulled pork, half a pound of brisket, two brats, five ribs, half a smoked chicken – the youngsters had ideas different for the family meal. One chose pulled smoked chicken in a sandwich, to be drizzled with one of four state sauces: Alabama white, Carolina copper (a variation of German-influenced Carolina gold mustard) , Georgia mustard with brown sugar and apple cider vinegar, and Texas barbecue. The other wanted a juicy watermelon salad topped with shredded BBQ chicken sprinkled with paprika and extra virgin olive oil – a real eye opener to repeat at home.

I enjoyed the restraint of the mayonnaise in a thinly sliced ​​southern coleslaw and a beefed up Texas potato salad with a chopped boiled egg, celery for the crunch and pickles for that flavorful flavor. European. No room for bland here. I only disagreed with the Kansas City Cheesy Corn in which shredded cheddar and creamed corn coexist rather than blend together. The inspiration, I’m told, is the cheesy corn bake at Kansas City’s Jack Stack Barbecue. Maybe I was expecting the spicier garlic, cayenne and cream cheese formulation of Korean Cheesy Corn.

Despite opening summer in a popular tourist town, there were some hurdles during their first few weeks. As Boccato rotated craft bartenders from his Long Island bar to train The Gem’s bar staff, the kitchen lost both a chef and the much sought-after pitmaster who had moved from Oklahoma to Bolton.

Like many restaurants, front and back of house staffing has been difficult, and while The Gem has tried to piggyback on international students working at the Sagamore, it’s chef Kirby Farmer which loads smokers at 5 a.m. and works full shifts with a crew of just three. Despite the claim that dining is back, restaurants in Bolton are eerily quiet during the day. It made The Gem stop lunches on weekdays, stick to dinner Monday through Friday, and all-day service on weekends.

The gem

Address: 983 Lake Shore Drive, Bolton Landing

Hours: Kitchen, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed on Tuesdays. The bar stays open about two hours after the kitchen. Reservations accepted on

Prices: Food, $5 to $49; family plate, $89; dessert, $8. Cocktails, $11 to $15; wine by the glass, $9 to $18; by the bottle, mostly in the $40 range

Information: 518-240-6083 and

Although the Field Notes guestbook presented with the check is full of entries begging The Gem to stay open year-round, it’s likely to be a summertime adventure over Labor Day this year. That gives you a month to go check it out.

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