The best pork chop in the North Country?

We introduce a new occasional contributor to All In: Phil LaMarche, whose columns will appear (about) every other Friday, maybe more, maybe less. Phil loves food, so expect many of his columns to explore North Country fare.

When my wife and I first moved to Canton we found ourselves in one of those lonely streaks common to the recently relocated.  We were living out of boxes, imagining the friends we might one day have as we watched local television that came to us free of charge from the sky.  It was during this time that I found myself walking across town to the Blackbird Café.  This is a clean, well-lighted place with good coffee and a high-minded sensibility that either leads you to feel like you are smart, charming, and sharply dressed , or like a dolt surrounded by suave charmers who will figure out who you are at any moment.  Unfortunately, I lean a little towards the dolt option, but this seems to have less to do with the Blackbird than it does with my particular disposition.  I enjoy the idea of a café much more than the reality. When I look in the window, I imagine myself comfortably slumped among the other patrons, sipping an espresso and paging last month’s New Yorker.  Then I step inside, and something goes wrong.  I feel watched, judged.   I could make something up about the snobbery of all the St. Lawrence types, but the truth is that I am probably just too insecure at heart for café life.

And yet, I still return to the Blackbird, time and again, and this speaks to the power of their pork chop.  I don’t order pork chops anywhere else, and at the Blackbird, that’s all I order.  Their sandwiches and soups are plenty sufficient, but their Pork Chop Marsala is the swine d’or of the menu and the kitchen has a knack for nailing the proper cooking of the cut.

Let’s face it, the pork chop is often abused in our world.  While the chop is ensconced in a rind of fat, the muscle lacks interior marbling, making it an easy victim for being overcooked.  We’ve all suffered through the dry, mealy chop that someone has seared to the consistency of your car’s spare tire and then hopelessly applied applesauce or gravy like defibrillator paddles attempting to breathe life back into the victim.

The Blackbird Cafe on Main Street, Canton.                      (Photo:  Tara Freeman)

Such is not the case at the Blackbird.  Their pork chop remains supple and succulent while having a sufficient sear to caramelize the fat and provide a rich depth of flavor.  The silky marsala butter that pools in the plate is the perfect lubricant to both the chop and mashed potatoes.  The stuff is so good they should sell it by the shot glass.  Go ahead and lick the plate clean—it feels like a classy joint but don’t fear, you’re still in St. Lawrence County .

The entrée is served with a side salad for fifteen bucks, and while I usually find myself wishing there was a second chop on the plate, the management is probably just saving me from future coronary disaster.  Since the Blackbird purchases its produce locally and their pork from the Cook Family Farm in Heuvelton, you can be happy that your money isn’t getting hauled out of town in the backs of those big, shiny Sysco trucks.

I hereby nominate the Blackbird’s Pork Chop Marsala as the best chop in the North Country, but I’m a relative newcomer to these parts and there may be chops out there lurking in the shadows that I have yet to experience. So my challenge to you, NCPR listeners and readers, is to prove me wrong.  Tell me I’m an ignorant fool.  Tell me I wouldn’t know a good chop if it bit me in the ham.  Tell me about your favorite chop, what’s so great about it, and where to find it.  We’ll eat, we’ll talk, and then we’ll eat some more.

– Phil LaMarche

Phil is an Assistant Professor at SUNY Canton. He describes himself as an author and chowhound.  While generally known for out-eating men twice his size, he sometimes gets mentioned for his novel, American Youth. You can hear Chris Robinson’s conversation with Phil about his novel here.

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10 Responses to “The best pork chop in the North Country?”

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  1. Kristen says:

    It is nice to hear of news from home. Sounds like a great restaurant!

  2. Katrina says:

    Dear Phil,

    Please do not worry about feeling like a dolt at the cafe. I always have on mis-matched socks, (my husband) Ken comes in daily with his grubbies on, and every table in the joint wobbles.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Katrina Hebb
    co-owner of the Blackbird

  3. tootightmike says:

    I’m part of a family that is blessed with several very good cooks, and we eat like kings most of the time. This sounds great, but presents a different kind of problem: every now and then, we’d just like to go out and have a lovely meal, and let someone else do the dishes. Far too often, the meal looks better on the menu than it turns out on the plate, leaving one with the feeling that “I could have done better than that”. So it’s nice to hear that this pork chop really pleases, and pleases again and again. I’ll have it next time I’m in Canton. Thanks Phil.

  4. Phil LaMarche says:

    We are cut from a similar cloth, Tootightmike. Homecooking, great. Dishes, bah! I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I have sat at the kitchen table and said, “It’s tough to go out when we can eat this well at home.” Try the chop and you won’t be let down. Get the NPR discount card during the next pledge week and you can use it at the Blackbird! Also, give me some ideas of your North Country favorites.

    And Katrina, I know you guys spend hours every morning getting just the right ‘authentic’ wobble to those tables. Great cafe! Beautiful job on the upstairs. And don’t take it personally, I feel equally dolt-ish in the dollar store down the road or the bank drive through around the corner.

  5. bob washo says:

    Well done Phil, pun intended!
    I’m kinda partial to our home raised heritage breed chops.
    Brined in the dregs from any of our left over pickled delights is one of my favorite ways to go.
    Come on over for dinner sometime, eh?

  6. Jerseygirl says:

    The best pork chop in Watertown is Texas Roadhouse…talk about being juicy and thick….it’s one of my favorites. Try it.

  7. Sharon Marti says:

    Hi Phil,
    Welcome to the North Country. We live in Lewis County and eat out about once a week. If you like pork chops try the Superior Grill in Carthage, NY. If you are ever in the area I am sure you will find chops as delicious as the ones you described. They are served with either perfect french fries or mashed potatoes, salad, apple sauce and a roll. I usually ask for cole slaw rather than tossed but both are very good. We plan to be in your area next Fall when our Granddaughter will attend college in Potsdam. Thank you Phil. We will visit the Blackbird Cafe.

  8. Phil LaMarche says:

    I am all for brining fowl, swine, game, olives, most anything really, but chops in pickle juice, Mr. Bob Washo? And heritage breed chops from the Little Grasse CSA no less? This is something I must try. Do you prefer to saute said pickled chops, or are we firing up the grill or oven or are we getting cave man and searing these pickled swine loins on some hot stones we’ve just pulled from the fire? Whatever your method, you say where and when and we’ll be there.

    What does it say about our region that the folks who have responded thus far seem to enjoy their own cooking more than anything they get out on the town? Is it our rural, rugged individualism? Our self reliance? Or do we inhabit a vast culinary desert populated by legions of pre-formed frozen patties and pre-packaged industrial ‘delights’? Please, say it isn’t so! Someone tell me I’m wrong!

  9. Phil LaMarche says:

    Thank you for the welcome and the lead on the great pork chop in Carthage, Sharon! While I’m relatively familiar with your fine hamlet, I must say that when in that neck of the woods, I’ve always bypassed the the town on Route 3A. Apparently I’ve been missing out. Next time I pass through, I’ll stop in to the Superior Grill and give those chops a gander.

  10. Tim says:

    I purchase my pork from the same place that the Blackbird does. That would be The Serenity Acres Farm Store
    which is located on St.Rt. 68 just outside the city of Ogdensburg. The pork there is raised all natural and very well cared for,not purchased as Mr. Cooks is.