The quintessential Capital Region food?


The Esperanto Doughboy is on the list.

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeLet me get this out there right off the bat: I AM NOT A FOODIE. I know about as much about food as most people know about the rules of cricket. Do I like to eat? Yes. But I am not a food expert, nor have I ever claimed to be one. Surely, the following treatise is going to spark a great debate, rage perhaps. But take my list here with a grain of salt. I. Am not. A foodie. I'm just an average dude, looking for some meaning in local food.

Philadelphia has cheese steaks. Boston has baked beans. New York is known for pizza and bagels. Chicago for deep dish pizza. Kansas City has made a name with their BBQ, New Orleans is brimming with jambalaya and Baltimore has blue crabs. Sure, the these cities are major metropolitan areas, but Utica is known for Tomato Pie, Binghamton has Spiedies, and all Western New York towns claim beef on weck as their own. Hey, Buffalo invented wings.

So what have we got? What is Albany's, or rather the Capital Region's, claim to gastronomical fame? I have wondered far too long.

I reached out to a few Capital Region friends and asked them this question: What qualifies as a "quintessential" local food?

The qualifications :

+ A food that was invented here

+ A food completely unique to this area (seldom found someplace else)

+ A food that, while not unique to this area, is served in a peculiar way, or is widely recognized/notorious

+ Also, if not unique to this area, be unusually prevalent here and in few other places

My nominees:

The Doughboy
This late night treat is served by Esperanto in Saratoga Springs. In 2008, AOA told you how delectable this treat is, describing it as "the best damn hot pocket you've ever had. Real golden brown pizza dough -- crunchy outside, just the right amount of chewy inside -- stuffed with grilled chicken breast, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, Colby cheese (yay cheese!) and a secret mix of spices. The doughboy is just about the best thing you can eat for only three bucks." I can't say it any better myself. This is certainly NOT a hot pocket. It's 100% unique to Esperanto, so far as I know.

The Bombers Burrito and Jimbo Margarita
Are burritos unique? Nope. Is Bombers recognized as culinary royalty? No, not exactly. Did Bombers invent the burrito? Certainly not! So why? Because they are FAMOUS. I've been around the country a few times and once in a while, upon telling people where I live they respond "OMG! That's where Bombers is! I've been there!" More people around the US seem to know Bombers than know Albany is the capital of New York. Putting us on the map? Good enough for me to qualify the burrito, and the interesting/weird/should-be-nasty/but-tastes-good Jimbo martini.

Mini Hot Dogs
Again, not unique or invented here, but on my list. Why? Have you seen how many places serve mini hot dogs around here? Gus', Hot Dog Heaven, Hot Dog Charlie's, Famous Lunch, Jack's Drive-In -- and the list goes on. It seems to me that the ratio of wieners to people here is exceptionally high.

The Peppermint Pig
From the website of Saratoga Sweets, the confectioner that is best known for this locally famous, and trademarked, sweet treat: "Behind the oaken doors of gingerbread-sized candy shops that dotted Saratoga, tireless old candy makers, bathed in amber glow of crackling hearth and bubbling candy pots, labored on into the night creating... and continuing a holiday tradition known to all as the "Peppermint Pigâ„¢... And while the pig is honored in Victorian holiday tradition as a symbol of good health, happiness and prosperity, these special "Peppermint Pigs",â„¢ unique to Saratoga Springs, came to represent much more..."

Doritos Nachos at the Fountain Restaurant, Albany
This nomination is all yours truly. Although it deserves note because these nachos are delicious, and because the Fountain doesn't skimp on toppings, these are on my "quintessential list" simply because I have never, ever, eaten nachos at any place that served them on Doritos as opposed to tortilla chips. What gives?! I don't know. It's kind of ghetto if you think about it, but I assure you this: The odd concoction tastes great, and you won't find another place daring enough to make 'em this way.

Mozzarella Sticks and Raspberry Sauce
I must admit, this is the sole item on my list I did not think of on my own. When I put my feelers out there, asking friends and colleagues what foods they would consider unique to the region, many of them came back with this combination. To be honest, I'd never have known. Many of my pals, including those who moved here from other places, and those who have moved elsewhere after living here a while, assured me that mozzarella sticks and raspberry sauce were an "Albany thing."

Honorable mentions

+ Seymour Skinner's Steamed Hams (thanks to The Simpsons)
+ Sturgeon, once known as "Albany Beef"
+ potato chips (because their Saratoga origin story)
+ Freihofer's Chocolate Chip Cookies (because they are the best)

So there you have them, my nominations for Capital Region Quintessential Foods. I'm sure it will spark rabid debate among the great number of actual foodies that read AOA -- so I'm excited to see your suggestions for what you would have as the region's most well known food!

Martin has very appropriate username on Twitter: @daleyplanit.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Awesome Albany Architecture
+ Historic Albany's endangered building list
+ What's your favorite Capital Region building?


This question again? We are a indecisive folk around here because we seem to always come back to this topic. Mini-Hot Dogs is my vote. NEBA would be another one, but the real NEBA has sort of died out.

I just don't think Albany has that particular item. Fortunately, we do have a lot of different items. For example, the region does really good at having a bunch of places to go for good ice cream.

Don't forget that Utica has Chicken Riggies and Half-Moons as well!

The Capital District, home of the GBB: Giant Bland Burrito.

Stewart's Make Your Own Sundaes
Perreca's Bread
Pie A La Mode - invented at Cambridge Hotel

"Freihofer's Chocolate Chip Cookies (because they are the best)"

the capital district where "best" almost always means "ubiquitous"

Fish frys! Yes, other places worldwide offer "fish frys" but they are fried fish on a plate with a side of tarter sauce or vinegar. No where else on the planet has a long piece of fried fish served in a hotdog bun with red chili sauce. Yay for capital region fish frys!

Gus's, Gus's, Gus's, Gus's, and did I mention Gus's?

We used to have Joe's Deli on Madison Ave in Albany.
It was known nation wide.
Jack's and Lombardo's have been a disappoinment lately.
Now we have one cookie cutter chain after another!
Curver Creme is still wonderful, as is Gershon's, J.C.'s, and Saatti's.
Krauses chocolates

I agree with Jbird- Fish Fry's, specifically Bob and Ron's Fish Fry, has to be on this list of Albanian foods- although I suppose one might argue it's more Upstate NY than Albanian.

How about craft beers? I know they have it everywhere, but I feel like around the Captial Region, we are really proud of our craft beers (Brown's, Ommegang's, etc.) more than i've seen in other locales. Especially because (some) bars in the area carry our regional beer (Brown's again) unlike other place's I've been where the only place you can usually get a specific company's craft beers is either at it's restaurant (a la Pump Station) or in stores.

Mini hot dogs for the win. I have family members in other states who have had mini hot dogs mailed to them from the Capital District, usually from Hot Dog Charlie's.

Interesting post.

I definitely agree with a few of your choices and the comment that nominates fish fry in the style that it is served around here. The cider doughnut is also a ubiquitous fall treat for the area.

I don't know that any of these would be recognized outside of the area as "Albany foods;" they're basically versions of nationally (or internationally) recognized things that we do our own little way.

I don't think that's really a problem, and I don't think we really need to try to shoehorn things into this to try to have that validation.

That said, being that, as Mike Engle said, we have great ice cream in the area, and that we have a wide array of apple orchards, and that Pie a la mode (allegedly) originated at The Cambridge Hotel (which will be featured on TV soon), as Joanne pointed out, I'd love to see pie a la mode become something the region is known for. But that's just wishful thinking.

How about beverages?
Saratoga Water heads up my list!

Doughboy's. It's one of the only specific food recommendations I make to new and visiting people of the area. All other recommendations are experiences, spaces and particular places.

It's annoying that the Bombers burrito would even be considered for a list like this.

"Welcome to Albany! Home of the exceptionally disappointing burrito!" - Not what I would want our area to be known for.

lol @Snark-on-lark True that.

Friehofer's chocolate chip cookies, NEBA roast beef sandwiches and Stewart's Ice cream are the foods that I always thought were identified with Albany.

First thing I thought of was Stewarts ice cream and friehofers chocolate chip cookies. But really, who cares? Does it count if we are so unsure, have so many nominees and its not just obvious?

Wait a minute ... people actually LIKE ordering a fish fry and getting a long skinny piece of fish on a hot dog bun? No wonder Albany doesn't have a regional food identity.

I love this area, but even if we managed to become known for mozz sticks w/ raspberry sauce, Utica would still destroy the Capital Region when it comes to regional foods.

eeuw that's the second time I've heard about mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce (after seeing the NYS Regional Food Map shared on FB). I have yet to encounter these in Albs in any restaurant, thank god. (mozzarella sticks with red sauce I've seen, but avoid).
Another vote for Stewart's ice cream--really a regional food, not an ethnic food (ie. burritos) co-opted by the area. If that was the criteria then it seems sushi would be the contender.

Nope. We got none.

If you asked Buffalonians what their quintessential local food was, most would probably say Buffalo wings (sans cupcake, of course). For Rochestarians, you'd probably get the garbage plate as the common response. If you asked Binghamtonians, you'd get the spiedie. The point is, you'd have general agreement.

No general agreement = no local dish.

But, based on this post and the comments, we do have a lot of folks who love their food.

If only we could agree on one.

Fish fry! Fish fry!

Actually the best fish I ever had was in some small pizzeria in Cooperstown... close enough to Albany to me!

I think that what makes a local or regional food truly integral to the region is that you don't know it's something local until you go somewhere else and can't find it. For instance, I lived in Syracuse for years and didn't realize that I wouldn't be able to find coneys or lunas outside Central New York.

I think what we do best are things that are seasonal, like fish fries and cider donuts -- they combine the local aspect with a celebration of a time of year. But I'd agree, three's nothing that is Albany-specific. I say this goes back to our being the only city in the area without a proper nickname.

I think this survey kind of shoots itself in the foot by requiring that the food be something that is rarely found outside the Cap Dist.

If foods are good, their reputation will spread. Cf the potato chip and pie a la mode. If it stays local it's either because it is quirky and doesn't reward the effort to find/make it (eg Nora's Turkey Joints ) or the Doughboy (which to me tastes like a deep fried football, sorry).

Meanwhile, I'm going with the mini-dogs and please add some Michigan sauce (which is of course from upstate, not Michigan).

As some others have said, the fact is that Albany is *not* known for any particular food item, and conducting a poll on a blog is not going to change that. I agree that the "fish fry" is something unique to this area, but I have never heard anyone from outside the area mention it or express a desire to come here to eat it.

Fish Fry. Ted's, Gene's, B&R.... plus other joints and how many places with a friday special. It's the irish catholics and albany is too far from the sea for a alot of real seafood choices. I don't even like fish, actually I hate fish, but I eat fish fry's.

those rules are way too strict and result in a bunch of odd menu items and fav spots that a few people might like, but that don't come close to qualifiying as quinticiential anything.

was pizza in invented in NY? no , and they certainly have it everywhere else. Were cheesestaask invented in philly? I don't know, they certainly have it elsewhere.

I didn't realize until I moved away that it was unique to upstate New York... but Apple Cider Donuts! Not only are they a very upstate New York thing, we make the very best around here.

I like the idea of potato chips being the quintessential food. They were 'invented' locally, but like cheesesteaks and buffalo wings, are made/served by lots of different establishments.

My second choice would be fish fry on a roll. I really missed that when I lived in a different part of the country.

I wish I could back the Dough Boy, but only one place makes them. I don't think that's enough of a presence, ya know?

please add some Michigan sauce (which is of course from upstate, not Michigan).

And Philadelphia cream cheese originated in Philadelphia, NY (think Watertown, but further away), not the City of Brotherly Love. I enjoy annoying people with that fact.

It's already been said - we don't have one. Get over it and move on.

Fish Fry? Icky chocolate chip cookies? Little weenies? Please. Just give up. There are no uniquely indigenous Capital Region dishes.

This reminds me of that NY food map that was floating around facebook over the weekend.

I don't think I had even heard of cider donuts before moving to this region.

Other than that, I think we should probably get creative and invent something new and incorporate Albany into the name, just to be sure.

I'm sorry but we don't get to decide what food we're famous for. It's what outsiders know our area for that matters and hands down that is mini dogs. As seen here:

Coccadotts Chicken Wing Cupcakes have some momentum. If they stick around it could be just what the cardiologist ordered.

Chobani yogurt. Worldwide now they just opened a plant in Australia

The Rectangle Pizzas at The Orchard Tavern! Who's with me here!

What qualifies as a "quintessential" local food?


Apple cider donuts either Indian Ladder or Golden Harvest the best around can't find them in Buffalo, Philly, Boston , NYC or any other city.

Quintessence Chicken Teriyaki with Spinach Noodles

Moonshine wings!!! Never seen them anywhere outside of 518.

Columbia County for pepperoni sandwiches. People go to the Chatham Fait just to get them. We had them at my father's funeral and people fom Ithaca and Middletown had never had one . A friend in n.c. Used to get pepperoni sent to her from Hudson because she couldn't find it in the grocery store! She made sandwiches for her friends who had never heard of such a thing but loved them! I've discussed it with friends who've moved elsewhere and said it really is a Hudson and Columbia County thing. I'm salivating right now thinking about one. I saw a chef on Food Network who grew up n Hudson and has them on his restaurant menu somewhere down south, so maybe they're spreading.

Sorry folks, an over generalization, the issue is that most people in this region are not exactly worldly food people. We are a generic meat and potatoes place. Fish Fry here are around average at best. The hot dogs are ok.. Pizza, really? Stewarts, good stuff, but the guys in VT beat that as Stewarts is the knock off. Face it, we just don't have the one single thing because we have it all. Perhaps we are more of a "we have it all, and a lot of it."

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