|If you live in, grew up near or frequently visit the Burden Lake area, you’re already nodding your head in anticipation of a good review of a place you revere. That’s what it is. That’s what it has to be. Gourmet fare? Hardly. Fancy dining? Far from it. A completely unique and satisfying experience? You bet. Provided you’re not ochlophobic.|
The crowd probably begins in the parking lot, as those intending to leave remain caught up in chatter with friends, some of whom may be in line for a table. As you press closer, you see that the dining room looks full, its long red-and-white check-covered tables lined with people and pizzas and pitchers and plates. Others crowd the bar; some (younger, disenfranchised) work the video-game consoles. If you’re new to the place, the prospect of a seat of your own will appear daunting. Don’t be discouraged. “First come, first served,” hollers one of the young, busy servers, abandoning you to what seems to be a non-line going nowhere. This is when you plunge in and have faith. And get ready to meet people, because chances are that the space you find will be at a table with someone else’s party.
“We have a lot of repeat business,” says Bob Wagner, who owns and runs the seasonal restaurant with his wife, Susan. “We also get a lot of new customers that say they heard about Kay’s from friends. I’m certain the table sharing is a surprise to some new customers, but if it’s not for them, they can always wait for one of the smaller tables and have their own space.”
The Wagners bought the restaurant in 1982 from Bob’s parents, Hazel and Charlie, who themselves purchased it from Kay and Vic Campagna, who opened it as a restaurant in 1958. Website photos show the building as far back as 1939, when it was Minko’s Inn, and it may have been a tack building for horses even earlier, when a hotel stood on what is now the parking lot.
I visited recently with my wife, who is a dab hand at sussing out accommodations. “We’ve got one,” she whispered, tugging me from bar to dining room where, indeed, a large party had just eased away from a large table. We took seats at its inner end. Soon a threesome grabbed the other end. We weren’t close enough to socialize.
We studied the menu. And right off the bat, we were lured down the path of unhealthy indulgence. It’s summer, the evening seemed to whisper. You’re relaxing. Enjoy yourself. That’s why a basket of fries and bacon covered with melted cheddar cheese ($6) soon hit the table. “This is an awful thing to do to ourselves,” we assured each other as we polished ’em off.
Other starters include wings ($7.50 per dozen, Buffalo or barbecue style; $7 boneless), rings ($5.75), poppers ($5.65), clams ($7 steamed, $5.75 fried), crab cakes (two for $9.75) and more. Salads include tossed for $3.25, chicken for $8 and antipasto for $8 (serves two) and $9.49 (serves four).
Pizza remains the most popular menu item, and Wagner notes that the recipe doesn’t change. What makes it so special? “I believe the dough and sauce are the main contributors to the taste of the pizza,” he says. “Other factors are the way it’s put together. That’s why we work in the kitchen every day, and why only I make the dough and the sauce.”
The staff is made up of high school- and college-age kids who hustle their butts off to serve the crowded room. I don’t know how they make sense of the chaos, but at one point there were so many pizzas arriving that it looked as if an army of pepperoni-spangled flying saucers were arriving to attack. Your basic cheese pie runs $7.60 for an eight-cut, $9 for a 12. Each topping adds $1.50. Among the predesigned combos is a vegetarian option with six toppings ($15.10/$18), Hawaiian (Canadian bacon and pineapple, $10.10/$12), all meat (six types!, $15.10/$18) and a 12-topping-laden everything pizza ($22.60/$27). We ordered the Kay’s Special ($11.35/$13.45), a delicious array of sausage, peppers and mushrooms that was as tight and tasty as a thick-crust pizza should be, the crust itself crisp where needed, chewy elsewhere. There’s good reason why people keep coming back for this.
Among the many hot sandwiches are meatball, sausage, roast beef, turkey. Or you can get turkey, ham or roast beef stuffed and cooked in pizza dough, then finished with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Subs are built around roast beef, turkey, ham, or an Italian meat-and-cheese combo. Each of the sandwiches is in the $8 range.
A brief list of Italian entrées includes spaghetti ($6.75), lasagna with meatballs or sausage ($9) and chicken or eggplant parm ($9.25).
Among the half-dozen seafood dinners are fried clams ($9) or scallops ($11.20), crab cakes with fries and coleslaw ($13), a fish dinner with fries and coleslaw ($9.50) and the one we ordered, still in the indulgent mode: a seafood platter ($11.75) with fried cod, shrimp and scallops. We took the alternative to the fries and coleslaw, which is pasta—a plate of ziti with sauce, in this case. I can’t say it was anything intrinsically special, but standard-issue fried fish and pasta is still fun in a setting like this.
With no heating, insulation or foundation, the building hosts a warm-weather-only operation. A prominent feature of the website is a counter that ticks down, by the second, the amount of time you have left to visit Kay’s this year. Keep it in mind. After Oct. 15, you don’t get a shot at it until early April.
Kay’s Burden Lake Restaurant
10 Walsh Lane, Averill Park, 674-5413. Serving 4-11 Mon-Sat, 3-10 Sun. D, MC, V.
Cuisine: pizza and pub fare
Entrée price range: $6.75 (spaghetti) to $18 (large all-meat pizza)
Ambiance: bustling roadhouse