Aug 25, 2011 Josef Lorenz Uncategorized
A sunny summer afternoon called for lunch at Darwin, a quaint and tiny deli tucked away on Clinton Street just north of Clinton Square. The restaurant springs out of the mind of Terry Riley, owner of Riley’s on Park Street, and has been serving up gourmet sandwiches to weekday downtown lunch-goers since opening in the spring of 2010.
Darwin’s menu is simple, smart, and borrows influences from New York, Chicago, California, and New Orleans, to name a few places. The ingredients are homegrown, homemade and cleverly incorporated from other local business such as DiLauro’s Bakery, Pasta’s Daily Bread, and Liehs & Steigerwald. On this particular visit, sandwiches included the “Pork Cubano,” with ham and shredded pork served with mustard and dill pickles, the “Midnight Train to Georgia,” with sliced prime rib, red onions, and horseradish mayo, and the “Ships Passing in the Night,” a veggie sandwich consisting of marinated portobellos, mozzarella, parmesan, onions, spinach, basil, tomato, and finished with a creamy balsamic dressing. Soups, salads, sides, as well as fried haddock on Fridays, round out the rest of the lunch offerings. The menu evolves and changes each week so a helpful tip is to check their website for updates at darwinonclinton.com.
The interior is small yet cozy and clean. There’s enough room to eat inside at the butcher-block counter by the window (a wonderful touch to the decor), but the tree-lined street provided enough shade to enjoy a meal at one of the outdoor tables.
NYC lobster roll: $11
Roasted red pepper bisque: $3
Chocolate chip cookie: $2
Total spent with tax and tip: $17.28
On a previous visit, the “Pineapple Express” ($8) proved to be a delicious Cajun-dusted chicken breast sandwich topped with melted provolone, fresh baby spinach, pineapple salsa, and chili sauce and tucked between Pasta’s stretch bread. The combination of tender chicken, tangy pineapples, and a pinch of chili, gave it a pleasantly sweet, fiery, and Asian-inspired taste.
But for this lunch, Darwin’s NYC lobster roll was just about the best I’ve ever had. The huge portion came filled with tender lobster meat practically falling out at all points, thinly dressed in mayo with pieces of chopped celery and scallions, fitted on a bed of Romaine, and stuffed in a lightly toasted roll with butter and a hint of garlic. It was to die for. If you’re craving a lobster roll in Syracuse, look nowhere else as this is about as good as you’ll find here. And $11 isn’t bad as these can fetch $15 in Boston or New York. The highlight for me was the great taste of lobster meat, how the pieces remained whole, and how it wasn’t overly dressed with mayo and fillers. It was a great tasting roll all-around.
Just as delicious was the Roasted Red Pepper Bisque ($3), a wonderful garlicky, zesty tomato-based puree with onions, scallions, garlic, and roasted red peppers. Perfect for dipping a slice of stretch bread.
Overall, it was a superb lunch. The chefs at Darwin are showcasing smart, unpretentious, creative ideas complete with fresh ingredients, thoughtful and flavorful recipes, and executing them perfectly. And best of all, they are accompanied by friendly service and a smile.
Josef Lorenz is a Syracuse resident and blogger who contributes bi-weekly to The Eagle. His extensive list of restaurant reviews are online at pulledintosyracuse.blogspot.com.