Mystery Diner in Utica: Take Canal Port’s hint and try the crab cake

Menu favorites were a hit at casual bar and grill

The jumbo lump crab cake at Canal Port in Utica is blue shell crab cake served with savory roasted red pepper sauce, and the sauce is fabulous.

Crab cakes. Burgers. Steak sandwiches. Craft beers.

That’s what was written on the exterior windows of Canal Port in downtown Utica, and it was duly noted by my dinner companion as we entered the bar and grill on Mill Street.

Moments later, we spotted an asterisk on the menu beside the jumbo lump crab cake. This meant the “ocean fresh” blue shell crab cake served with savory roasted red pepper sauce was a customer favorite.

We took the hint, and then were taken with every next bite of it.

My dinner companion and I took turns seizing portions of the appetizer and dipping it into the flavorful sweet and peppery sauce. It was delicious.

Plenty of diners opted to sit outside on Mill Street in downtown Utica, which was an option at Canal Port.

We visited Canal Port on a Saturday night, and Mill Street in Utica was buzzing.

We passed on sitting outdoors, but still were able to gain much of the Mill Street dining experience, as the front door of the restaurant was left open to invite guests, make trips easier on the wait staff, and allow some of the street’s ambiance into the bar and grill. A musician performed on acoustic guitar from the street.

Jumbo shrimps top the andouille and shrimp scampi pasta dish at Canal Port in Utica.

As my dinner companion and I listened to the ’80s and ’90s hits, and watched people and their pets from our perch indoors, we enjoyed our entrees. I ordered the night’s special andouille sausage and shrimp scampi, which featured sizable shrimp and plenty of spicy sausage bites over a hefty bed of pasta.

The broiled citrus and herb trigger fish at Canal Port in Utica is served with rosemary garlic red potatoes and southwest corn.

She followed the cue of another asterisk on the menu and ordered the broiled citrus and herb trigger fish, which was served with rosemary garlic red potatoes and Southwest corn. She had never had trigger fish before, even Googling it, to see what it looked like. It tasted similar to other white fish, including cod. The rosemary garlic red potatoes were a standout item.

Canal Port’s menu has a selection of steak and seafood, with Atlantic cod, coconut shrimp, Norwegian salmon, Canadian walleye and shrimp scampi. The menu also features sandwiches, including a rib-eye steak sandwich (written on the window and marked with asterisk) on toasted Parisian bread with a side of au jus, along with salads, tavern fried chicken and pasta. The restaurant boasts it has the Illinois Valley’s “best fish and chips.”

When diners enter the establishment, the bar is immediately on the left and seating on the right. The bar area with its ornamented tin ceiling is decorated with Chicago sports memorabilia on the walls, and there is a dining room in back to the left of the bar with more seating. The bar featured a number of beers on tap and televisions with the Chicago White Sox game.

Canal Port doubles as a place patrons can have some beers and drinks, as well as a nice dining experience worthy of a date night, but also casual enough to stop in after being outdoors golfing or hiking.

Diners should be patient on weekends, when the state parks are busy, because there may be a wait, especially for patrons looking to sit outdoors. The staff was transparent with customers about the wait times, and it seemed to flow well. With a nice bar and live entertainment outside, it’s an appealing destination for a night out.

And, of course, the food is worth it.

Canal Port Bar and Grill is located at 148 Mill St. in downtown Utica.

• The Mystery Diner is an employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Canal Port Bar & Grill

WHERE: 148 Mill St., Utica

PHONE: 815-396-6145

INFORMATION: www.canalport.com