It was one of the most significant additions to the Village at Winona Lake when renovations of the area near Warsaw began more than a decade ago. It is still going strong.
The BoatHouse Restaurant is the biggest structure at the arts community, the one you see first when you wind your way down Park Avenue. It has seen several newer, flashier restaurants come to the area since it opened in October 2000, but it has remained a fixture with its classic continental approach.
The offerings are pretty straightforward with a mix of freshwater fish, seafood, steaks and chicken, and its atmosphere is contemporary and comfortable. The emphasis is on light wood that covers much of the walls, frames the windows and even surrounds the ductwork overhead to create a pillared effect. The carpet was spotless, the restrooms are beautiful and well-kept, and the view of the lake is outstanding from pretty much every table. Al fresco dining is available, and I was impressed that when the sun started streaking through the windows that the view was not lost when the translucent shades were dropped.
The BoatHouse’s soups sure did shine. The Tuscan potato impressed most and was one of the best soups I have found anywhere. Large pieces of sweet red potato joined zesty Italian sausage and kale in a light, loose, chicken broth dotted with red pepper flakes and topped with fresh parmesan cheese. The pepper was just enough to give it some kick, the kale still had some texture – it only spends 10 minutes in the pot, owner Peter Christos said – and the sausage was plentiful.
Offered in bowl-sized servings only, the soups vary daily. The cauliflower-chicken soup had a nice herbaceous flavor, thanks to fresh rosemary. It was pretty much a standard chicken stock otherwise with carrot, onion and celery, but there was also orzo pasta and, of course, cauliflower. The BLT soup was sort of falsely named, but still delicious. It was a creamy white potato soup that would have stood fine on its own, but the BLT was simply the garnish on top of chopped tomato, julienne-cut lettuce and freshly fried bacon that was super crisp and still hot from the pan.
Speaking of super crisp, the french fries at the BoatHouse were just that. These double-fried beauties really helped take the emphasis off my lunchtime New York strip sandwich, which was way overcooked, tough and clumsy to eat.
Even better were the sweet potato fries, which were also double-fried. They were served plain – no brown sugar or cinnamon-sugar dusting – but were still very sweet and hard to stop eating.
The velvety, rich lobster cream sauce covering my salmon filet made it impossible to stop eating, too. The somewhat sweet and buttery sauce really worked well with the mild, flaky fish, which was just on the edge of being overcooked. I also didn’t mind when a little of that sauce leaked onto my smashed potatoes, which also boasted a lot of flavor from the garlic and bacon mixed in them.
The cream sauce covering the champagne chicken wasn’t masking any problems. The grilled breast was tender and moist, and the salty-sweet sauce was cut nicely by sautéed button mushrooms.
The California vegetable blend was rather boring, but when mixed with the angel-hair pasta, sauce and other ingredients, the still-crisp veggies were a welcome textural change.
The appetizers I tried were on opposite ends in terms of quality. The spinach con queso arrived with freshly fried double-layer tortilla chips that were warm, crunchy and just great, but the dip looked as if it was made with that bright orange imitation cheese we all know – and some of us love – and frozen spinach. It was salty, there was little spinach and the chips were actually better without it.
The gourmet pizza feature, however, was a wonderful surprise that truly lived up to its moniker. The grilled portabella version offered during my visit was made on a thin, chewy crust made with garlic-chive oil, and was topped with the mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, fresh basil and rosemary, and a delectable blend of mozzarella, fontina and goat cheese. The cheeses were the star of the pie as the goat cheese added a level of creaminess and helped tame the pungent fontina and salty mozzarella.
The dessert offerings were not from-scratch, but respectable, and included several Cheesecake Factory creations. The Key lime cheesecake was great; tart and surprisingly light, it had a thin graham crust that did not get in the way. The Oreo ice cream pie was also wonderful, but, then again, it would be hard for anything made with Oreos and ice cream to be anything but enjoyable.
Address: 700 Park Ave., Winona Lake
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Gourmet pizza feature ($8.49), spinach con queso ($7.49), soup ($3.99), salmon filet ($16.99), champagne chicken ($13.99), NY strip sandwich ($10.99), Oreo pie ($3.99), cheesecake ($5.49)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).