Smiths’ Boathouse bikes and socks

Photo: Prince Edward Island Mussels appetizer

By Paula Johnson

To describe my meal at Smiths’ Boathouse as uneven is probably an understatement. Schizophrenic swings from really terrific to really not left my companions and me perplexed. What we found that was good was quite so. The mistakes in execution and missteps with ingredients in other dishes left us scratching our heads. PIP (Palate In Progress) summed it up in the most perfect way: “It’s kind of like Christmas morning. There’s a pile of wrapped presents but you don’t know what they are till you open them. One is a really cool bike. The next one is socks. In this case it’s like what you are eating is one or the other.” 

PIP, dining pal Jurgen Durstler, and I ventured to Troy’s Treasure Island Park for a nautically themed dining experience at Smiths’ Boathouse Restaurant. The renovated historic structure was built in 1946 and turned into a restaurant opened in November of 2016 with a combination of public and private funding from owner Larry Smith. Smith, along with his sons, has experience in the restaurant industry, and they were approached by the town to open the business as part of redeveloping the park.

The nautically themed building and its interior space could not be more charming. There’s even an actual full-sized boat in one of the dining rooms. Another room features a lovely wall of large windows allowing for a view of the water, beyond which is a patio spanning the length of the building. We chose to enjoy the ambiance of the patio since the weather was cooperating, and began with a signature cocktail, The Boathouse Bourbon, strawberry infused Benchmark Bourbon and Giffard Creme de Fraise des Bois shaken with coconut ice juice. (We were charged $9. The online menu lists it as $10.) Our unanimous consensus: This cocktail seemed one dimensional, missing the tang and brightness of a counter note to offset its overwhelming sweetness.

Socks and Bikes

The Boathouse menu isn’t extensive but features a lot of classic favorites. We began with appetizers Snow Crab Stuffed Mushrooms ($12) and Prince Edward Island Mussels ($14). The mushrooms were described as “domestic buttons, crab meat, Italian cheeses, sun dried tomato, and fresh basil,” a combination which sounded perfect. However, we were disappointed and puzzled when they arrived on a bed of thick, tomatoey marinara leaving no chance for the delicacy of the crab stuffing to emerge, not to mention that this dish didn’t match its menu description (sun dried tomatoes?). The steamed mussels were a better choice, appealing to the eye with a colorful confetti of fresh scallions, spinach, and tomato atop the mound of dark shells. However, the white wine butter sauce was thin and watery, seemingly absent of the promised wine or garlic. I spooned in some of the mushrooms’ marinara to boost the flavor. These appetizers were socks.

Things took a much brighter turn with what came next: a Caesar Salad made tableside, the old school supper club way. Our server pleaded inexperience and enlisted owner Larry Smith to prepare it for us. He enthusiastically wheeled over the cart laden with all the ingredients and began by pouring a ribbon of olive oil into a large wooden bowl. (Smiths’ Boathouse menu states they use the original Cardini recipe developed by Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who ran restaurants in the U.S. and Mexico. His original recipe did not use anchovy, and was much improved by its addition later.) Smith did indeed use real anchovy, and a lot of garlic, wisely calling for even more than what was on the cart as he prepared. He proudly let us know that they make their own croutons as he added some Parmesan. Next a dash of Worcestershire and a generous splash of lemon and our plates were heaped with what could be Plato’s form of a Caesar Salad—perfect in every way. This was a shiny new bike.

Burnt Offerings

We had to try the soups, French Onion ($8 a cup) and Clam Chowder ($9 a bowl). One we wished we hadn’t, while the other was a terrific interpretation of an old classic. One word sums up the clam chowder: scorched. “Somebody left it on too long and burned it,” was Jurgen’s assessment, explaining the bitter smokiness we were all tasting as we pushed it away. However, the French onion was a delight, topped with flaky puff pastry and a four cheese custard and a dash of ruby port, adding depth to a broth which is often overly salty and lacking complexity. There was no giant gob of sticky cheese, but instead a delicate cheesy crusty dome crowning the cup. This might be one of the best French onion soups I have tried anywhere. So one pair of socks, and one new bike.

PIP can’t not order fish and chips when he sees it on a menu, so he looked no further than the Boathouse Fish & Chips ($16). Jurgen went for the Chicken Oscar ($23), and since it was a boathouse I had to try the catch of the day, in this case Pompano done in an Asian style ($29). As we debated our choices, owner Larry Smith suggested we try the Dauphinoise potatoes. When he realized that our choices would preclude ordering them, he graciously sent some over for us to try. This dish is made with thinly sliced potatoes and cream, cooked in a buttered dish rubbed with garlic. The Boathouse’s version was a little golden stack of potato shingles, rich and buttery and sweet—not to be missed. We all loved it.

PIP’s beer battered fish fillets were also a win, served with delicious thick spiral potato wedges and caper-dill tartar sauce. My Pompano was nicely prepared, but the rice it was served with was overcooked and mushy. The same rice was unfortunately served with Jurgen’s Chicken Oscar, another classic dish featuring crab, asparagus, and Hollandaise. However, the execution of the dish was clumsy rather than classic. The crab should have been higher quality lump crab instead of the salty shreds used. The primary issue was the cut of chicken—a whole thick breast. Thinly pounded slices would so much better fit the elegance of the dish, as well as provide a more appropriate ratio of sauce and ingredients per bite. 

We finished with a couple of good desserts, a Strawberry Shortcake and a Coconut Brownie Sundae (both $6). As we reflected, we all agreed that we would come back to Smiths’ Boathouse. The French Onion Soup, that Caesar, the Fish and Chips, the Dauphinoise potatoes, good desserts—these things outweighed what we found disappointing. There were more bikes than socks in the end. This is a charming place run by people who clearly care and are committed to good service. We watched the owner make the rounds of every table to engage his guests about their experience. Here’s hoping a little feedback might inspire Smiths’ Boathouse to bring what’s lacking up to speed to be a little more seaworthy!

Smiths’ Boathouse is located at 439 N. Elm St. in Troy. For more information, please call 937.335.3837 or visit SmithsBoatHouse.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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