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mohawk valley food

The canal side inn in little falls

story and photos by Jorge L. Hernández ’Tis a pity that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. That’s the dilemma faced by diners at the Canal Side Inn, the French-American restaurant at the historic Canal Place district in Little Falls, N.Y. Hands down, the food here is so visually extraordinary that you will want to look at it forever, yet eat it ravenously at the same time. But you can’t do both, so the best course is to savor every bite, hoping the experience never ends. It’s a mystery that the Canal Side, owned and operated by chef James Aufmuth of Little Falls, has somehow managed to remain the best kept secret around. But no more, I say. It comes as a surprise for this first-time visitor that it’s been in business since 1982, patronized by a corps of loyal clientele. James takes that in stride but knows he’s got a satisfied following. “Everything on the menu is popular, starting with the daily specials,” James says, and he does say it modestly. “Consistency and continuity are the hallmarks of a good restaurant,” he opines. “People have to know what they’re getting.” The menu includes basics of traditional French cuisine, with nightly specials. “The specials allow me to do what’s fresh or seasonal, and people love that. I also source things locally as much as I can. I shop at the farmers market in Little Falls.” James, originally from Fly Creek, N.Y., majored in sociology at Villanova University. After working after college in various restaurants and traveling the world, he realized his true passion was in cuisine. “So I thought I’d better learn how to cook,” he says. He first did an apprenticeship in Paris, France. “When I returned, I worked in New Orleans and developed my skills down there,” James notes. When he learned the Little Falls site was available, he returned back to his roots. The restaurant building once housed a longtime restaurant, Henry’s Steakhouse. James gave it his own imprint. His restaurant seats 60, with additional seating in a small lounge that boasts a lighter, bistro menu. The interior is elegantly dark with wood paneling and crisp white napery, subtle spotlighting and walls awash with abstract and landscape paintings. It’s an ambiance that announces that this place is special.

The inviting façade of the Canal Side Inn at Canal Place in Little Falls.

The French cuisine and neat, white table linens will whisk you away to France.

Owner James Aufmuth is a modest master chef.

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