Items tagged with 'food'

Death Wish Coffee has its eye on Albany

empty lot next to Albany Distilling Livingston Ave

Death Wish Coffee is eyeing a spot on Livingston Ave in Albany for its first cafe.

The location -- 71 Livingston -- is currently an empty lot right next to Albany Distilling's bar and bottle shop. The coffee company would build a two-story building that would include a cafe, retail store, and tasting room.

"One of our most valued business partners is Albany Distilling, so the opportunity to be right next to them and be down south in Albany is great," said Shannon Sweeney, Death Wish's content manager.

The company currently produces a coffee-flavored vodka with Albany Distilling.

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Not-so-wild salmon, and other supermarket fish stories as detailed by the state Attorney General

Whole Foods seafood counter

More than one-in-four fish samples from supermarket chains around the state that were collected in a state Attorney General's office investigation tested as a variety of fish different from what they were being marketed as. That's from a report that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) released Friday titled... "Fishy Business."

(Go on, insert your own fish pun or dad joke here.)

Investigators bought fish from 29 supermarket brands (155 locations) around the state and had it DNA tested. From the findings:

While mislabeling affected virtually every tested seafood category, there was rampant mislabeling of certain species. The results suggest that consumers who buy lemon sole, red snapper, and grouper are more likely to receive an entirely different fish. Similarly, consumers who bought what was advertised as "wild" salmon often actually received farm-raised salmon instead. Such consumers had often paid more money--on average 34% more--to avoid farm raised fish.
The substitutes were typically cheaper, less desirable species than the desired species. Snappers sold as red snapper, for example, tended to sell for half as much when properly labeled as another type of snapper. Some substitutes (e.g., lane snapper), had higher mercury levels or came from less sustainable fisheries than the desired species, raising consumer safety and environmental sustainability issues.

Environmental groups and advocacy orgs have been raising this issue going back five years or more. OAG says it believes this is the "first major government investigation in the U.S. to target seafood fraud at retail supermarket chains."

The report highlights that a large majority of the samples that tested as mis-labeled were bought at supermarkets downstate. And it provides a listing of all the supermarkets from which samples were purchased.

Here in the immediate Capital Region, the investigation included 32 samples from six chains: Fresh Market, Hannaford, Price Chopper/Market 32, Price Rite, and Walmart. None of those samples tested as mis-labeled. And the report singles out Hannaford for following some of the best practices in ensuring that the fish being sold is actually the fish being sold (pdf p. 25).

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The new Zaitoon Kitchen location is open

Zaitoon Kitchen Albany

The new Zaitoon Kitchen at Crossgates Commons in Albany opens today. It's in the former Noodles & Co. spot near the McDonald's.

This is the second local Zaitoon location -- the first opened near the Latham Circle last year. Its menu includes a lineup of dishes inspired by Afghan and Middle Eastern cuisine: kabobs, kofta, falafel, salads, hummus, naan wraps, and a bunch of interesting small plate/side options. Zaitoon touts its food as "cage-free, veggie-fed, halal."

As Deanna suggested last year, it's worth going with a group so you can try a bunch of different things. We've been a handful of times and the food has been good each time. Prices are about what you'd pay at Chipotle or a similar fast-casual place.

We popped into the new location Sunday during a soft opening. The new place is bigger than the Latham location, and the design is modern.

The hours are Sunday-Thursday 11 am-9 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-10 pm.

The Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market is looking for feedback about its future, including a new permanent home

Troy farmers market in Atrium

By the way: The market moves indoors to The Atrium for the season this Saturday.

The Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market has a public meeting lined up for November 7 at the Franklin Plaza Ballroom to talk about its future and gather feedback. It's hired Project for Public Spaces -- a NYC-based placemaking consultancy -- to lead the process. Press release blurbage (emphasis added):

The market wants to hear what people feel about the market and how it might evolve. The workshop will also provide the community with a chance to hear about the success stories from public markets across the country.
"The market has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years," said Zack Metzger, president of the Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market. "We are really excited about that growth, but we need to address some of the issues we are facing, such as the need for a permanent home for the market in a space that's big enough to grow. When we consider what that means for Troy and for farmers in our area, we see a lot of potential." ...
"The community has supported the market in a huge way, which has enabled us to create a first rate marketplace. Now it's time for us all to consider creating a first rate Market Hall and discussing what that would look like and how our programs could expand, and what it would mean for the city of Troy and the Capital Region as a whole."

You probably remember that a 2014 proposal for the 1 Monument Square redevelopment prominently featured, at one point, a permanent space for the farmers' market. But the idea later washed out of the plan in 2015, and in 2016 the overall plan crashed.

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Fresh Neighborhood Market

Fresh_Neighborhood_Market_Albany__1.jpg

The Fresh Neighborhood Market -- a new corner grocery that's aiming to offer healthier options in Albany's West Hill neighborhood -- is now open on Judson Street near Clinton Ave.

Said owner Dileep Rathore when we stopped by this week to talk about the new store: "Come in, enjoy, and I hope I got it. And if I don't, I'll get it for you. I want to be a neighborhood deli."

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A handful of upcoming cooking classes to get tuned up for Thanksgiving

unbaked apple pie

It's apple pie season. / photo: Deanna Fox

This time of year is a good time to take a cooking class.

It's cozy to gather around a kitchen as the weather turns cold. A class can be fun to take with a friend. And, of course, the winter holidays are big cooking months for many people.

So here are a handful of upcoming cooking classes around the area -- to maybe learn something new or just get tuned up for Thanksgiving...

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Apples, branded and trademarked

The Vox video embedded above tracks the rise of the branded apples that have been popping up in supermarkets over the last decade or so -- you know, SweeTango, Zestar, Kanzi, even Pink Lady (which is a branded version of an old apple called Cripps Pink).

Two of these sorts of new-school apples were developed by Cornell: the SnapDragon and Ruby Frost.

These new branded varieties are also known as "club" apples and they're production and marketing is usually licensed by a single entity, which an NPR story looked a few years ago, raises some issues for apple growers.

One of the important threads of this story that the Vox video doesn't really touch on is that the universe of apple varieties is huge -- there have been literally thousands of varieties of apples. It's just that many varieties fell out of favor because they didn't fit into the modern supermarket system because of the way they look, or they way they keep, or some other issue with standardization. (The inverse of that: the dreaded Red Delicious, which fits a lot of the modern requirements but generally tastes bad.)

We're lucky to have a bunch of apple orchards in this region. And many of those orchards grow a large variety of apples, both old-school varieties and some of the newer varieties. Examples: Bowman in Rexford grows almost 50 different varieties and Samascott in Kinderhook grows something like 80 varieties (we've seen the spreadsheet).

So it's worth stopping by these orchards and asking for something different or unusual. Not all of the old or unusual apples are great, but some of them are interesting and you might find a new favorite.

Step away from the Honeycrisp
This is our annual reminder that Honeycrisp are overrated. Get yourself an apple like one of those SnapDragons from Cornell -- still has the crunchy texture, but it actually tastes like something more than water.

Earlier
+ Beyond boring apples
+ Growing a wider variety of flavors for cider
+ Lost and found apples

Cider donuts, quietly

Autumnal cooking zen: Take a moment to watch as Cooper Nelson quietly makes cider donuts in his Delmar kitchen for his Silently Cooking YouTube channel.

See also this profile of Nelson from last year by Deanna Fox.

Debbie's Kitchen has returned

Debbies_Kitchen_Albany_2018__1.jpg

Important lunch news update: Debbie's Kitchen re-opened Monday. (We've included a menu and a few pics.)

Debbie Klauber announced back in August that she was working toward re-opening the longtime local favorite at its old spot, 456 Madison Avenue near Lark Street in Albany. She had sold the business back in 2010 to travel and try new things. She spent time in Belize. She did some catering. She worked summers at Siro's in Saratoga.

And Monday morning she was welcoming people back in to the shop.

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A look around Bard & Baker, the new board game cafe in downtown Troy

Bard and Baker The News Troy

The board game cafe Bard & Baker is now officially open in Troy. It's in the street-level retail space at the corner of Broadway and 5th Ave in The News, the redeveloped old Troy Record building.

The cafe has more than 400 games board games that you can play all day for as long as you like for a $5 cover. (You can even leave and come back the same day.) There's also a menu that includes all sorts of beverages (coffee, teas, soda, juice, beer, wine, cocktails), along with sandwiches, snacks, and pastries.

Here's a look around the new place...

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Where to buy Mexican-style chorizo?

chorizo taco La Mexicana Schenectady

A chorizo taco at La Mexicana. / photo: Daniel B.

Sean emails:

Do any of your readers know where I can find any of that good chorizo that crumbles when you remove the casing? Price Chopper used to carry some, but I haven't seen it in quite a while. I've been left having to use "hot-dog chorizo," which is nothing like the good oily, crumbly stuff. Please help!

As Sean mentions, there are two general types of chorizo: the Spanish or Portuguese style that slices up like a sausage, and the Mexican style that crumbles. The Mexican style is excellent in a taco with potatoes or mixed up with eggs (you can get it like that at Viva Cinco de Mayo in Albany).

Our first thought when we saw Sean's question was the Mexican Market on Central Ave, so we called over there and it sounds like they don't have it available for retail. (We wouldn't be surprised if you get it as a taco there, though.)

So then we called over to La Mexicana on State Street in Schenectady. And success -- the person on the phone said they do sell chorizo in the grocery there. (Also: You pretty much have to stop for a few tacos if you go to La Mexicana.)

Got other suggestions for Sean in his search for chorizo? Please share!

All the current Stewart's seasonal summer ice cream flavors, ranked

Stewarts summer seasonal ice cream 2018 overhead

We're already into mid August and that raises a very important fact: Summer ice cream eating season will soon be gone.*

But fear not! To help guide your end-of-season ice cream eating -- which is serious business -- we recently took on the task of trying each of the limited-time seasonal summer flavors at Stewart's. Then we ranked 'em, so you can make the most of this ice cream prime time.

Let's dig in...

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Debbie's Kitchen is returning (with Debbie)

Debbie's Kitchen 2010.JPG

Debbie's reopening the kitchen.

There's wondrous sandwich news in Albany: Debbie's Kitchen is planning to return to its old location on Madison Avenue in Albany -- with Debbie herself at the helm.

Debbie, of course, is Debbie Klauber, whose soups, sandwiches, and desserts were Albany famous for 25 years.

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Follow up: The Dutch Udder

Dutch Udder ice cream two scoops in a cup

AOA is on summer break. So we'll have new follow-ups with people we've met and covered during the last year (or so).

Kehmally Karl and Jeff McCauley started making ice cream as a side project -- creating fun flavors for family and friends. Slowly and methodically, they've turned a hobby, and an incredible talent for creating inventive flavors, into a successful small business: The Dutch Udder.

Flavors found on their ever-changing menu include Nine Pin Cider Sorbet, Grasshopper, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Rice Crispy Treat ice cream.

At first, they sold ice cream from a cart at markets and festivals and special events. And three years ago the then-fledgling business was also finalist in the AOA Startup Grant contest. Since then, Jeff and Kehmally have opened a storefront on River Street in downtown Troy and they've captured awards for their Philly Vanilla and for their other inventive flavors.

Jeff talked with us about their experience in the ice cream biz so far.

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Brewtus Roasting Co.

Brewtus Roasting exterior

We got a chance to stop by Brewtus Roasting Co. in Delmar on Wednesday, a relatively new coffee spot tucked into a space between Delaware Ave and the Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail near the Four Corners.

Brewtus was formerly called Barkeater and based in East Greenbush. Owner and roaster Stephen Pivonka changed the name last fall, and opened the Delmar space this past April.

He'd already been selling his products at the Delmar Farmers Market and said he was getting requests for a spot in the hamlet. The town of Bethlehem also chipped in a grant to help the move.

The other draw: Brewtus is in the same building with the Real McCoy Beer Co. and the Royal Meadery.

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Beer (and cider) ice cream is now legal to be sold in New York

mercers raspberry chardonnay

Wine ice creams, like this one, have been allowed to be sold for the past decade.

Noted: Beer and hard cider ice creams are now legal to be sold in New York State.

The state has allowed wine ice cream for the past 10 years, and this week the governor signed a bill that also allows for beer and cider ice cream or other frozen desserts. From the memo for the bill, which was sponsored by James Seward in the Senate and William Magee in the Assembly:

Ice cream made with wine is a food product manufactured in New York State that has been safely sold and regulated in a manner similar to confectionary that contains alcohol since 2008. This bill seeks to approve similar products made with beer and hard cider. As with wine, this bill would, limit the percentage of alcohol in ice cream to not more than 5% of alcohol by volume, prohibit its sale to persons under twenty-one years of age and require the same product labeling and warning statements similar to wine and confectionary that contains alcohol. This bill will help New York dairy farmers, craft beer and cider producers, dairy processors and manufacturers, and food retailers and restaurants meet the increasing consumer demand for these new and innovative products.

Five percent alcohol by volume is right around the alcohol content of many beers.

To go along with the beer and hard cider ice cream bill, the governor also signed another bill this week that allows wine frozen desserts to be sold in packages of less than one pint. (The original intent of the minimum package size was an effort to keep the products away from kids.) From the bill memo: "The sale of wine ice cream was enacted into law in 2008. Since that time, the demand for smaller packaging for weddings, fundraisers, recreational tours and other events has increased. This bill would lift the minimum requirements that are currently in law to accommodate this demand for smaller packaging sizes."

Both bills take effect immediately.

Earlier: Here's a map of every brewery in New York State

Pick-your-own blueberry season 2018

blueberries in box on grass

Mid summer is here, which means it's blueberry season around the greater Capital Region. And there are a bunch of places where you can pick your own.

Blueberries are are easy to pick (on bushes about waist high), relatively cheap (usually about $3 per pound), and they freeze beautifully, so you can stock up for later in the year. Picking them on a beautiful summer morning is almost meditative.

Here's a list of farms around the region for PYO blueberries, along with a few details.

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New York continues to produce more and more maple syrup

mountain winds maple syrup amber

New York State produced more than 800,000 gallons of maple syrup during this year's season. That's the highest total in 74 years, according to the Cuomo admin.

The Empire State was able to hold off Maine (539,000 gallons) for the #2 spot. Vermont continues to look across the border and congratulate New York on its hobby -- the Green Mountain State produced 1.94 million gallons last year. (But its production has more or less than been flat the last few years and New York is gaining...)

Here's the national production table from the USDA (pdf p. 9). And we rolled together a tree map of the numbers. (It's kind of like a square pie chart.)

The maple syrup production of both Vermont and New York State has been on an upswing since the start of this century. And in just the past five years their running three-year averages are up 50 percent.

One of the reasons: There have been major shifts in technology, as producers have switched over to use miles of tubing and vacuums to collect sap, and then reverse osmosis to remove some of the water before boiling.

Here's an interesting Washington Post article from this past spring about the way the industry is changing, and how the growth is attracting the interest of private equity and companies looking to scale.

Maybe the biggest question, though: Is New York's pancake industry ready to step up to the challenge?

How a strawberry grown from a "wasteland" in Albany helped spread a national strawberry craze

74 Morris Street Wilsons Strawberry

By Justin Devendorf

At the corner of Morris and Knox next to a small neighborhood park stands a two-story brick building, its front bearing a worn coat of paint. Built in 1838 in the Federal Style, it's the oldest still-standing building in Albany's Park South neighborhood.

But maybe more notable than its age is the fact that home and the land around it played a vital role in the growth of the strawberry trade in the United States, helping to set off a "strawberry fever."

This is the story of 74 Morris Street and The Wilson's Albany strawberry.

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Take-along food ideas for Tanglewood?

young Otto with picnic basketSpeaking of Tanglewood... Sean emails:

We're taking some friends from out of town to a show at Tanglewood this weekend on our way out to Boston. Our plan was to grab some takeout to bring with us to the show. I was wondering if any of your readers could recommend some good options, either local to us or to Tanglewood itself (Subway our last resort). Our usual smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, etc won't work this time since our final destination is a hotel (no fridge). We're coming from Albany and will have kids with us, but they shouldn't be overly limiting.

There are no doubt a handful of places either here in/around Albany or across the border closer to Tanglewood. (Making picnic baskets for Tanglewood is probably a whole mini-industry in the Berkshires.)

So, got a suggestion or two for Sean? Please share!

South End Healthy Market

Capital South Campus Center Albany 2018

The South End Healthy Market opens its 2018 season Saturday, June 30 from 10 am to 3 pm at a new location, the the lawn of the Capital South Campus Center.

Opening day will feature live music, kids activities, free Zumba and meditation classes, chair messages, and other activities.

The market sells produce from local and community vendors. It accepts all federal food assistance benefit cards, as well as Healthy Market coupons.

It's organized by AVillage, The Radix Center, and Trinity Alliance. If you're interested in being a vendor or volunteer: southendhealthymarket at gmail dot com.

The Capital South Campus Center is at 20 Warren Street in Albany, on the eastern end of Lincoln Park.

Checking in with Bard & Baker, the board game cafe planned for Troy

The_News_apartments_Troy_1.jpg

The cafe will be in the street-level corner space of the old Record building.

The new board game cafe that's been in the works for downtown Troy -- Bard & Baker -- now has a location.

The developers behind the new News Apartments announced this week that Bard & Baker will be taking one of the retail spaces in the old Troy Record building at Broadway and 5th Ave.

The cafe's owner is Charlotte Guyton, who was a key member of the team at Clark House Hospitality (Peck's Arcade, The Confectionery). And Bryan Connor, who was a pastry chef at Peck's Arcade, will be the cafe's kitchen manager.

Guyton first publicly announced the plan for the cafe during last year's AOA Startup Grant content, in which she was finalist. Even though she didn't win, the judges were very impressed by both her and her methodical approach. And Guyton got a boost last month when she won a $1,500 grant in the business plan competition for the Capital Region Chamber's Entrepreneur Boot Camp. She's aiming to open in September.

So we're curious to hear about how thing are coming along, and what to expect when the cafe opens this fall. And we figured you might be, too...

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Pick-your-own strawberry season 2018

strawberries in basket straw closeup

Strawberry season is here! A few farms opened their pick-your-own strawberry fields this past week, and a bunch of others will be doing so this week or next.

It seems like this year's season is more or less on schedule, though a few farms have noted that some cold and wet weather earlier this year delayed things a little bit.

A typical strawberry season at many farms in this area only lasts a few weeks, though some farms have strawberries for longer stretches -- even most of the summer -- because their fields include a range of varieties that produce at different times. When you're at the farm stand, ask about the varieties the farms are growing. In our experience people are happy to talk about what's available, for how long, and why. It's also a good idea to call ahead or check the website before heading out.

Here are a handful of places in the greater Capital Region that you can pick your own strawberries. Know of a good place not on this list? Please share!

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"My name is Sean Rowe, and I know I got a really low voice, but if you're stuck with me you're going to eat a tree, you won't have much of a choice..."

The theme song makes us smile.

Check it out: Sean Rowe has a new Youtube series in which he talks about foraging for wild edibles and then heads back to the kitchen to cook them up. It is called, appropriately: Can I Eat This.

The first ep is embedded above. And the second posted today.

Of course, Rowe is famous as a musician. But he's also an avid naturalist, and he's taught foraging classes around here. So this series isn't a surprise. And his endearing, nerdy enthusiasm for the topic comes through in the videos. About the series, from his Facebook page:

You're gonna get an earfull and an eyefull of my passion for wild food and living off of the land. I'll be taking you through some of my favorite foraging spots througout the Northeast, showing you what I harvest directly from the wild and exactly what i do with it when i get back to the kitchen! I'll also be encorporating guest spots on the show with touring musicians, local chefs and hmmmm...who knows where this could go?!?!

The episodes look great thanks to Troy-based Chromoscope Pictures, which is producing the series. Over at The Alt, Katie Cusack Cusick recently talked with Rowe and Chromoscope's Nick Spadaro about what's cooking.

Dim sum at Tea Plus

Tea Plus dim sum composite

By Deanna Fox

I've written about breakfast a lot lately, but not intentionally. It just happens that what Capital Region-ers consider breakfast food is expanding. What kind of food writer would I be if I didn't explore that?

Dim sum -- the traditional Chinese course of food that involves small plates of dumplings, buns, and meats -- was traditionally served as a breakfast or brunch-like option.

And after having a few dim sum options at Tea Plus in Clifton Park, I'm thoroughly convinced breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

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The Cheese Traveler has a new owner

The Cheese Traveler Eric Paul 2012

Eric Paul back in 2012 when the shop opened.

The Cheese Traveler has been sold.

Mary Rizzo of Troy has bought the popular cheese and specialty food shop on Delaware in Albany from founder Eric Paul. It sounds like the plan is to keep a lot things the same for now. Press release blurbage:

The Cheese Traveler will continue most of the popular product lines and events our customers know and love. The Friday Night Cook-outs start on May 11 continuing through September. The menu will change weekly and feature local certified organic and grass finished beef from Tilldale Farm and certified organic and grass finished lamb from Hessian Hill Farm. Vegetarian options along with side dishes, starter plates and desserts will be created based on fresh, local, seasonal produce, and cheese plates will feature a variety of domestic and imported cheeses paired with the perfect accompaniment. A curated selection of wine, beer, cider and non-alcoholic drinks will also be available.

There will be reception for Eric Paul and Alifair Skebe, his wife, Sunday May 13 from 1-3 pm at the shop.

Over at Table Hopping, Steve Barnes reports that Paul made the choice to sell so he could focus more time working for a cheese importer and distributor based out of Brooklyn.

Eric Paul's been a fixture as a local cheese seller and expert going back almost two decades, first at Honest Weight, at the Cheese Traveler stand at the Delmar Farmers Market, and then at the shop on Delaware. He has a great depth of knowledge and passion for the subject, which always came through when talking with him at the shop.

The breakfast sandwich at Stacks

Stacks breakfast sandwich

By Deanna Fox

Breakfast sandwiches might as well be an official food of the Capital Region. We have enormous ones. We have taco-styled ones. We have vegan ones. We have everything in between.

When a new one comes to the market, it has to be really special to be deserving of page space. Make it with Taylor pork roll or smear it with n'juda. Custom-mill grains for a hearty, toasted roll. Use the eggs from backyard chickens.

Or just be this breakfast sandwich from Stacks Espresso Bar. That works, too.

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A look around the new Cafe Madison

Cafe Madison North Albany interior

The new Cafe Madison location on Northern Boulevard in Albany opened this week. It's now open 7 am to 3 pm, seven days a week.

It's the second location for the popular breakfast/lunch cafe, a follow-up to its longtime spot on Madison Ave in Pine Hills. The new restaurant occupies one end of the Loudon Plaza strip mall across from Albany Memorial Hospital. It has big windows, a long bar up front, and a brightly decorated interior designed by Jessica Evans. (She also designed Ama Cocina in downtown Albany.)

"This space allows us to do a little more behind the bar, including cold-pressed juices, but it's pretty much same [as the other Cafe Madison]," said Brian Viglucci, the managing partner of BMT Hospitality. The menu is, with the exception of a few additional items, roughly the same as the Madison Ave location. Viglucci said the both spots will eventually have the same menu.

This is the 10th restaurant for the Albany-based BMT, whose holdings also include Junior's (both Albany and North Greenbush), The Point, Madison Pour House, Ama Cocina, Albany Ale & Oyster, Spinner's Pizza, and The Pub.

Here's a look around the new Cafe Madison...

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Enfrijoladas at Cocina Vasquez

Cocina Vasquez Albany enfrijoladas de cecina

By Deanna Fox

I'm down to eat breakfast any time of day. In fact, I would rather eat traditional breakfast food post-noon than any time in the morning.

So when I walked into Cocina Vasquez on a recent Sunday looking to try something from this South-Central Mexican menu, I was on-board when the teenage girl behind the counter told me her favorite thing on the menu was enfrijoladas, a classic Mexican breakfast item.

I took her advice and order a plate for myself.

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A peek inside the new Pint Sized on Lark Street

Pint_Sized_Lark_Street_2.jpg

The craft beverage shop on Lark Street -- Pint Sized -- has re-opened at its new, expanded location at 250 Lark. It's the former Enigma/Ben & Jerry's space at the corner Lark and Jay.

Pint Sized started out in 2014 as a retail shop in a below-street level space at the corner of Lark and State. Owner August Rosa made the move to the new spot so he could have a bar area and seating.

It's a format similar to the one that's been successful at Pint Sized's Saratoga Springs location.

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A look around the new Albany Distilling bar and bottle shop

Albany Distilling bar bottle shop

The Albany Distilling Company has a grand opening for its new bar and bottle shop on Livingston Ave this Friday. The building includes a bar area, a striking outdoor courtyard, and an upstairs room for private events.

The distillery has been working on renovating the building over the past year, an expansion beyond its nearby production space at Quackenbush Square.

Here's a look around the new space, along with a few bits about it....

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Charlie Foxtrot at Mess Hall

Mess Hall Charlie Foxtrot breakfast

By Deanna Fox

It's not lost on me that a military-style eatery is serving up some of my most beloved comfort food, even though I've no military experience myself, and neither do my parents.

My grandfather was a WWII veteran, and I have uncles and cousins who have honorably served multiple tours of duty for the Marines and Army. But the food that marked their military careers had no effect on my own upbringing.

Somehow, still, the food from the bunker outpost that is Mess Hall, in Averill Park, hits me right where it counts when it comes to culinary nostalgia and edible comfort.

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The simple joy of seed catalogs

seed catalogs on table

By Greg

If it wasn't already clear, I'm going to out myself now as a huge dork.

During this cold, wet, gray upstate transition between winter and spring one of my favorite activities is to... page through seed catalogs.

Yep, I like to read about vegetables. And fruit. And flowers. But it's mostly about the vegetables.

And it helps. Maybe it would help you, too.

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Steuben Street Cafe at the State Museum

Steuben Street Cafe at State Museum 2018-03-29

Check it out: There's a dining option in the State Museum once again.

The Steuben Street Cafe opened March 1 in a space on the mezzanine, which overlooks the front lobby of the museum. It's tucked into a space in the back of the mezzanine, and with the seating that was already there out front by the overlook.

The cafe is a spin-off of the Steuben Street Market on Pearl Street downtown. And it offers a range of snacks, sandwiches, salads, soups, smoothies, and drinks, with an emphasis on local and healthier options.

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Kitchen 216

Kitchen 216 Emrys Young

Kitchen 216 owner Emrys Young.

The newest restaurant on Lark Street: Kitchen 216.

The modern soul food spot is currently in a soft-open phase. It's grand opening is set for April 12.

Here are a few bits with the owner about what's in store, her take on modern soul food, and the remarkable DIY approach that got her to this point.

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International Tuesday at The Low Beat

Celinas Kitchen International Tuesday dishes The Low Beat

By Deanna Fox

How many of you out there went to Valentine's in Albany when it was still around? Raise your hand. (**cups hands over brow bone, squints, peers beyond the spotlight into the audience**)

Ok, so all of you. Now, how many of you made the transition to The Low Beat on Central Avenue?

If you made the pilgrimage across town, chances are it is because you love good music. Owner Howard Glassman -- who opened The Low Beat after Valentine's was forced to close as part of the Park South Urban Renewal Plan -- has a reputation for booking shows that span from hometown hero local bands to (inter)nationally touring acts to esoteric outliers that got a blip mention on Pitchfork half a decade ago.

But if you are new to The Low Beat, it's likely for two reasons: You just turned 18 and can get into shows -- or you've learned about the secret that is Celina's Kitchen.

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River Street Market

Hedley Building River Street Market rendering 2018-March

A rendering of the River Street side of the building.

In the works for Troy: The River Street Market, a food hall planned for the Hedley Building* on River Street. Press release blurbage:

Located in 12,000 square feet on the first floor of the Hedley Building, the River Street Market is slated to open this summer and will contain a dozen unique food, beverage, and market concepts that provide a wide variety of farm-to-table quality providers to delight the 1,500 employees within the building as well as the growing downtown Troy population. Local food entrepreneurs, Katie and Luke Haskins will lease, manage, and work at the market while assembling a team of independent operators to take Troy's food scene to the next level.

The Haskins also own Hooked at the Galleria 7 food hall space in Latham -- Steve Barnes talked with them today about the project.

The announced-so-far tenants for the River Street Market:

+ Lord & Montague, and wine and charcuterie bar run by Katie and Luke Haskins. (The name is a nod to Hannah Lord Montague, an early 19th century Troy resident who created the detachable collar.)

+ Sunhee's on the River -- a spinoff from Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen over on Ferry Street.

The food hall is part of First Columbia's long-simmering "Waterfront District" plan for the section of Troy just south of the Collar City Bridge (map).

The River Street Market would be the second food hall for downtown Troy, joining Troy Kitchen over on Congress Street.

* The Hedley Building is the office building on the riverfront that also currently houses Troy City Hall.

Earlier:
+ Eat This: Blackened Fish Po'Boy at Hooked Seafood Co. (2016)
+ Follow up: Troy Kitchen

St. Patrick's Day stuff to do 2018

albany st patrick's day parade

The Albany St. Patrick's Day Parade

We're into mid March and that means St. Patrick's Day -- always a big holiday in the Capital Region -- will be here soon. In fact, it's this Saturday, so there many events are clustered around the day itself.

Here are a bunch of local ways to celebrate the holiday. From the parades, to food and drink, to music for the time of year where everyone is Irish, if only for a day.

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The Lifestyle Farming Conference is back at SUNY Cobleskill this spring

SUNY Cobleskill Lifestyle Farming Conference 2018 spring logoThe Lifestyle Farming Conference is back at SUNY Cobleskill April 7. The event is a full day of classes on all sorts of topics related to farming, gardening, and cooking.

A quick sampling of some of the sessions:
+ Maple Syrup 101
+ Cultivating cider and heirloom apples
+ BBQ and smoking meat for beginners
+ Summer strawberry patch
+ Garden planning and seed staring
+ Advanced brewing: beyond the kit

Here's the full list of sessions with descriptions. The classes are led by SUNY Cobleskill faculty and other experts.

Registration is $70 for all day ($80 with lunch), $45 for the morning only, and $55 all day for veterans. The registration process also involving signing up for the session, so the earlier you register the better your chance of getting into the classes you want.

By the way: In case you haven't been out that way, SUNY Cobleskill is in Schoharie County, about an hour's drive from Albany.

Doner kebab at The Olde English

olde english doner kebab

By Deanna Fox

I recently showed up an entire hour early for a meeting at The Olde English Pub in Albany. Well, more than an hour, I guess: I thought I was finally overcoming my chronic lateness by providing myself an extra 15 minute window to park and account for traffic. Turns out I had the time entirely wrong, because that's the kind of winter it's been.

The bright side: I was still early to the meeting and I had the chance to finally eat something more than fries between slugs of beer at The Olde English.

The doner kebab seemed like a great place to start.

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Ice cream stand season 2018

Tastee Freez Bethlehem exterior 2014-08-14

Looking forward to some warm nights -- and ice cream.

Updated April 10

There's snow on the ground! But spring will be here soon! And that means ice cream stand season!

Whatever the weather, there are already a handful of stands open and more will be opening in the next few weeks.

Here's our annual rundown of many seasonal ice cream stands around the area with opening dates. In some cases the dates are TBA, or we just couldn't find out (yet).

So if you can fill in some of the information in the comments, we'd much appreciate it. Because ice cream.

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There's still time to sign up for a community garden plot

backlit flowers community garden state office campus

March starts this week, and that means a change of seasons -- and it's time to be thinking about gardens.

One of the great local gardening resources in Capital Roots, which administers 52 (organic) community gardens around the area. And there's still time to sign up for a garden plot. Application blurbage:

- Call 518-274-8685 NOW! [also gardens1@capitalroots.org] Orientations are held throughout March and into April for new participants at various locations throughout the Capital Region. In order to register for a garden plot, attendance at orientation is required.
- New gardeners must call to reserve a seat at orientation once the schedule is released. Plots are assigned on a first-reserved seat, first-served basis.
- There is a $30 minimum donation to sign up for a plot. Larger donations are greatly appreciated and help support this program.

Capital Roots has a helpful map of its various community garden locations that indicates which gardens have open plots.

Here's a map of every brewery in New York State

Great Flats Brewing in Schenectady

Great Flats Brewing in Schenectady is one of the many new farm breweries around the state.

As of mid February of this year New York State had 400 breweries, the Cuomo admin announced this month. That's said to be a new record for the number of individual breweries in the state, surpassing the former high count of 393 in 1876.

When that announcement arrived, we put together a map of the 46 breweries in the greater Capital Region.

People seemed to like that, so we figured, hey, why not just roll together a clickable map of all 400 breweries around the state?

So we did. And here it is.

(Also: A quick run though some New York State brewing history.)

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Row 7 Seed Co.

Row 7 Seed Co catalog 898 squash

From the Row 7 catalog.

Each year in the backyard garden we like to try growing something new, a little bit different, or maybe even a little weird. So this caught our eye...

Blue Hill chef Dan Barber and Cornell plant breeder Michael Mazourek have started a seed company -- Row 7 -- aimed at developing new varieties of vegetables with a focus on taste, and then selling the seeds so anyone can grow them.

The company's website is offering seven varieties, ranging from beets to a (heatless) habanero-style pepper to an experimental cucumber. And there's info about the background of each vegetable, along with growing instructions and recipes. From the page for the "Upstate Abundance" potato:

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NY Maple Weekend 2018

mountain winds maple syrup sample

March is almost here, and that means maple syrup in New York.

Maple farms around the state area again participating in two "Maple Weekends" this year -- March 17-18 and March 24-25. Blurbage from the NYS Maple Producers Association:

Maple Weekend is a chance for the public to come to the farm to learn about New York's maple sugarmaking processes and traditions and to provide a chance to taste pure maple syrup in its many forms - right from the source.

The Maple Weekend website has a map of participating maple syrup producers around the state, including a handful here in the greater Capital Region.

As an upstater, you know that maple syrup production is dependent on temperature and how it affects the flow of sap. Many farms will be in action collecting sap and boiling it ahead of those weekends -- example: Riverside Maple Farms in Glenville started boiling this week. And some of these farms have regular visitor hours, so check ahead and you might be able drop by for a more low-key experience.

New York State is the #2 producer of maple syrup in the United States.* And production here has been on an upswing in recent years, setting new records for the state.

* #1 is Vermont and it's not even close. The Green Mountain State accounted for 46 percent of US maple syrup production in 2017. New York's share was almost 18 percent.

Earlier: The art and science of maple sugaring

There are now 400 breweries in New York State

Fort Orange Brewing Albany

Fort Orange Brewing, which opened in Albany last October, is one of the 400.

Bonus: We've added a map of the Capital Region breweries.

New York State now has more breweries than at any other point in history, the Cuomo admin reported Wednesday.

There are 400 breweries operating in the Empire State. The previous high count was 393 in 1876.

The Cuomo admin points out there have been 243 new breweries licensed since 2012, and 202 of them have gotten the OK to operate under the relatively new farm brewery license that took effect at the start of 2013. That license relaxes a bunch of rules for breweries if they use a certain percentage of ingredients grown in state. (There's also a farm winery license that dates back to the 1970s, as well as more recent farm distillery and farm cidery licenses.)

It's probably true that New York is also riding the general rising tide of craft beer over the last decade or so. Example: In 2016 overall production of beer in the United State was flat, but craft beer production was up more than 6 percent and grew to more than 12 percent all beer produced in the US.

Here's the whole list of breweries, which includes 46 in the (greater) Capital Region....

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Spring beer festival season will be here soon

Albany Craft Beer Festival 2017 crowd

Last year's Albany Craft Beer Festival at the Washington Ave Armory. / photo via Albany Craft Beer Festival Facebook

The natural rhythms of late February through April: melting snow, the first green shoots, and migrating packs of beer nerds.

Yes, spring beer fest season will soon be here, and again there are a handful of festivals around the region...

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The city of Albany is seeking proposals for the restaurant space at Capital Hills

The building the restaurant space shares with the pro shop.

The city of Albany is seeking proposals from potential operators of the year-round restaurant space at the city-owned Capital Hills golf course.

The 4,000-square-foot restaurant space shares a building with the golf course pro shop (map), and includes a 1,700-square-foot patio that sits out back above the course.

The current restaurant is Martel's, which has been operating there since 1994. Owner Roger Martel said this week that he would like to continue occupying the space as a family restaurant that also appeals to golfers. "We haven't submitted a bid yet, but we are very much intending to," he said Monday.

Martel said his current contract with the city ends March 31.

A clip from the request for proposals, and a few other bits...

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Sampling at Farmers Hardware

Farmers Hardware exterior 2018-January

By Deanna Fox

I'm back in Saratoga today. That means I've hit my quota for dining out in Saratoga for the year, right?

Maybe not, since the city keeps opening up restaurants with a velocity reserved for more urbane nooks in bigger cities. Maybe it's because of the high turnover (and higher rents) in this tourist town, or maybe it's because hungry Saratogians are demanding more options, but the dining scene keeps expanding.

Farmers Hardware is a good example of that growth -- reason enough to take a gander at the menu and do a little sampling.

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Downtown Albany food tours starting this spring

Quackenbush Square Albany 2016-October

The tours start at Quackenbush Square.

The organizer of the Taste of Troy Food Tours is starting up a "Historic Downtown Albany Food Tour" this spring. Blurbage:

Put on your walking shoes for an entertaining and delicious way to experience Albany. New York's Capital City for 320+ years, is undergoing a culinary and craft brewing boom. You'll sip and sample from restaurants that are spicing up Albany's food scene. Discover stunning architecture and cultural tidbits that will help you develop a fresh perspective on New York's capital city. Each Friday, we sprinkle in history, architecture and culture to kick off your weekend in the Capital District. ...
Our tour highlights 5 tastes from different local restaurants, some history of Albany, architectural accents and culture. Our tour lasts 3 hours and we walk about 1.5 miles, one slight climb up State St., with plenty of rests during our tastes.

The tours start in May. Tickets are on sale now -- they're $59 for adults / $39 for kids.

Tastes and Traditions
The new tours fit into a larger series organized by Discover Albany focused on food this year called "Tastes and Traditions." The recent -- and sold out -- Proost brewing/distilling history event at the Ten Broeck Mansion is one example.

A look around the new Vintage House in Albany

Vintage Albany interior

The new Vintage House tapas bar/gastropub on Broadway next to Wolff's in Albany's Warehouse District had its grand opening this past weekend. The project -- in the works for more than two years -- is a remarkable transformation of what had been had been a rough, old warehouse and garage space.

Here's a little bit about what's up, and a photo tour....

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Muffaletta from Harrison's Corner Market

Harrisons Corner Market muffaletta

By Deanna Fox

A muffaletta sandwich is a glorious thing.

Rich, unctuous, and briny, it has enough substance to make typical sandwich accoutrements (pickle, chips) seem superfluous.The trick is getting the proportions right and keeping each flavor profile balanced.

A new (long awaited) eatery -- Harrison's Corner Market in Troy -- seems to recognize and respect that.

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Belt Line 3

340 Hamilton St exterior 2018-January

The owners of Roux in Slingerlands are planning to open a new restaurant in a space on Hamilton Street in Albany, just up from the Empire State Plaza.

Here's a little bit about what's in the works.

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Oxtail egg rolls at Buddha Noodle

Buddha Noodle Oxtail Egg Rolls

By Deanna Fox

You know those online memes that show a horrifically frozen snowy scene and ask, "Why do I live in a place where the weather hurts my face?"

I know the answer: It's because the soup tastes better here.

Soup -- loosely defined -- could include anything from chicken noodle to chili, and it tastes better in the Northeast. If hunger is the best sauce, then is frigid temperature the best seasoning?

I went to Buddha Noodle on a sub-zero day to find out.

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A good rehearsal dinner spot in Saratoga?

fork on tableNicole asks:

I'd like recommendations for a venue in Saratoga Springs that could host a rehearsal dinner. The dinner would be for twenty people and over the summer, though before track season. I would need a private space, separate from other patrons, and would like something on the more casual end. We're willing to consider somewhat unconventional venues. However, we need to be cost conscious.
If you know of a place that would seem to be a good fit for my needs, and could provide the name of the person you specifically worked with, that would be very helpful, as I haven't had much luck getting responses to some of my emails/phone calls to restaurants thus far.

It feels like there are a bunch new places opened in Saratoga in the last year, so we're curious to hear people's suggestions. (Also:: A little bit of customer service goes a long way.)

Got a suggestion for Nicole? Please share! And a sentence or two about you're recommending a place can be helpful.

Gathering of the Farm Cideries 2018

nine pin cider works exterior

The annual Gathering of the Farm Cideries is back at Nine Pin Cider in Albany February 17. Tickets are on sale now -- they're $25 ahead online / $30 at the door. There are two sessions: noon-3 pm and 4-7 pm, and they're ticketed separately.

Event blurbage:

On Saturday February 18th [sic], join us on Nine Pin's production floor with farm cideries from all corners of the state for a tasting and market experience that only New York State can offer. Enjoy free samples of unique batches of ciders all made from New York apples with the ability to purchase limited and exclusive ciders by the growler, bottle, and can to go!

The list of cideries is still to come. In the past the event has included more than 15 different cider makers from around the state. (As you know, there's been a hard cider boom in New York over the last few years, in part because of the state's new rules for cideries that make their beverages from New York State-grown ingredients.)

This event has sold out the past few years. So if you'd like to go, it's probably a good idea to get tickets sooner rather than later.

Nine Pin advertises on AOA.

Checking out the new Franklin Alley Social Club

Franklin Alley Social Club shuffleboard and bocce courts

The Franklin Alley Social Club -- a new bar/shuffleboard/bocce ball/arcade spot under Takk House in Troy -- opened this past weekend.

Here's a look around and little bit about what's up...

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A kid-friendly brunch or lunch spot?

City Beer Hall Chocolate Decadence French ToastNot enthused about the opening of another drinking establishment, Elena posted on AOA's Facebook page:

Please, share some family caffe options if you know one - I am trying to find a place where I can take my kids for brunch or lunch, that are NOT fast food, old stinky diner, or soggy pizza place. The perfect place for me would be a restourant or caffe with a cute kids play corner.

This is a good question. And, of course, opinions about what makes a place kid friendly or not are going to vary. Maybe it's a menu. Maybe it's the atmosphere. Maybe it's just that there's some space to run around a little bit.

So, got a suggestion for Elena? Please share! And a sentence or two about why you're suggesting a place can be helpful.

A look around Delaware Supply

Delaware Supply exterior

Some quick follow-up on Delaware Supply, the craft beer bar that's been in the works for the space next to The Spectrum that was previously a series of coffee shops.

It opened shortly before Christmas, and here are a handful of pics along with a few other bits...

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Favorite local foods 2017

Oaxaquena Triqui tacos closeup

The tacos at a tiny spot in Albany got a mention. / photo: Deanna Fox

With 2017 about to end, we're talking with people about favorite/interesting things from the past year.

And, as is tradition, we asked a bunch of people around the online Neighborhood about their favorite local foods or drinks from the past year.

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Nutella bacon bagel at Wired Coffee

wired coffee nutella bacon bagel

By Deanna Fox

There are certain foodstuffs that really only exist for those moments when you just don't care about life anymore. Those items that make it hard to believe the eater actually places value on their health, life expectancy or general well-being.

For those moments when all hope is gone, there is the Nutella Bacon Bagel from Wired Coffee.

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Harrison's Corner Market

Harrison's Corner Market deli counter

Now open: Harrison's Corner Market -- a neighborhood grocery and sandwich shop -- at the corner of Congress Street and 4th Street in downtown Troy. It had a soft open this past weekend, and Wednesday marked the start of its regular schedule.

The store is the latest piece of the ongoing redevelopment of the former Trojan Hardware complex there by owner Kevin Blodgett. Since 2012 he's rehabbed spaces in the 35,000-square-feet collections of buildings for occupants such as Rare Form Brewing and The Shop.

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Galaktoboureko at Blue Ribbon

Blue Ribbon Diner galaktoboureko

By Deanna Fox

Galactic burrito!

That's not what we're talking about today, but it's how to phonetically sound out galaktoboureko, the subject of this edition of Eat This!

The galaktoboureko -- a 3-inch high pastry -- is difficult to pronounce at first, and perhaps that's why it often goes by it's more common moniker: Greek custard.

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Window shopping at the grocery, then

B. Lodge (Lodges)  and Grand Cash Market  North pearl albany ny 1940s

Check out this Pearl Street pic from the 1940s posted from the Albany Group Archive on Flickr. The Albany Muskrat highlighted it on Twitter with a Thanksgiving ad for the grocery, Grand Cash Markets.

Recommended: Heading over to Flickr and zooming in on the photo. You can see into the store itself a bit and gawk at the all the vegetables on display.

Also: There's a woman standing under the B. Lodge sign (same typeface as today!), and she has a "I'm an annoyed you're taking my photo" look on her face.

Benedict Trio at Tipsy Moose Tap and Tavern

tipsy moose benedict trio

By Deanna Fox

Thrice I've attempted to dine at Tipsy Moose Tap and Tavern, just off Latham Circle. The first time, not long after the comfort food destination opened, the wait time was over an hour. The result was a visit to Celadon Thai. The second time, during happy hour, was equally unsuccessful. Zaitoon Kitchen stepped in instead.

But three is the magic number at Tipsy Moose, and my third attempt during peak Sunday brunch hours was a success.

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A look inside the new Cuckoo's Nest in Albany

Cuckoo's Nest Albany exterior

Sometimes the right spot is right across the street.

When Kaytrin Della Sala and Devin Ziemann -- owners of the Albany fast-casual burger shop Crave -- heard that the longtime home of The Gingerman was available again, the opportunity was, as Ziemann describes it, "a no-brainer."

The location is just up Western Ave from Crave, and the young restaurateurs -- Kaytrin Della Sala oversees operations, Ziemann is a chef -- had been thinking about a second restaurant.

So they jumped at the chance. And this past weekend, they opened The Cuckoo's Nest, a sit-down restaurant inspired by Southern cuisine. The menu includes riffs on items such as fried chicken, biscuits, shrimp and grits, and fried green tomatoes.

"It's been pretty much a dream of ours to open this kind of concept, with this look, since before we even opened Crave," said Della Sala on Saturday a few hours before the restaurant's first reservations from the general public started showing up. "So it just means a lot to us to see it come to life."

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Pollo mofongo from Mi Ecuador Juice Bar

Mi Ecuador East Greenbush mofongo

By Deanna Fox

I'm not a fan of molded foods.

I'm not talking about moldy foods -- though funky cheese and fermented foods are always ok in my book -- I'm talking about the foods that are manipulated into cutesy forms to somehow exude superiority and sophistication. Save for cookie cut-outs, any food that has been pressed into some sort of ring or mold, including but not limited to: Anything in aspic; anything with Jell-O; chopped salad pressed into a circle; tartar also pressed into a circle. Those ring molds really do nothing except drive up labor cost and convince eaters that they should pay more for the effort.

There are times when I can be persuaded to step outside these boundaries, and pollo mofongo is one of those times.

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A look around the new Fort Orange Brewing

Fort Orange Brewing in Albany opening

The new Albany brewery -- Fort Orange Brewing -- officially opened Wednesday afternoon.

Its space, a combination brewery/tap room, is on North Pearl Street in the Warehouse District. Six of its brews were on tap, along with cider from Nine Pin.

Fort Orange Brewing is the product of Craig Johnson, John Westcott, and Jim Eaton. The three friends from Castleton started brewing at home together a few years back and decided to make the jump to a full brewery. As Eaton told us back in August, the plan is to offer their beers in the tap room, along with snacks. They'll also be inviting food trucks to set up outside. Eaton said the goal is to create a family-friendly atmosphere.

It's the third brewery now operating in the city of Albany, joining the C. H. Evans Brewing (the Pump Station) and Druthers. The craft beverage producer list also includes Albany Distilling Co. and Nine Pin Cider.

Here's a look around the new place...

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Stewart's is selling dough boys from Esperanto

esperanto doughboy

Updated

There is no doubt an alternate universe where this has already happened because it makes sense: Stewart's is now offering dough boys from Esperanto in Saratoga Springs at a handful of its locations in Saratoga County.

Doughboys are, of course, chicken, three types of cheese (including cream cheese), and spices wrapped into a pizza dough. (Esperanto also sells a dough girl that swaps out the chicken for vegetables. Those are not being offered by Stewart's right now.)

They're very popular (especially late at night, because you know). When we talked with Esperanto many years ago about them, the Caroline Street shop's signature item made up a third of its business.

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Beef vegetable soup at Chuck Wagon Diner

Chuck Wagon Diner beef soup

By Deanna Fox

Let's face it, beef can be boring. And most times, it is.

Burger joints focus on loading up toppings instead of creating a flavorful patty. Steak is almost always overcooked and improperly seasoned. Soups made from beef stock are nearly universally oil slicks, too unctuous to sip.

Fortunately for me, I live in a place rife with great beef preparations. I can get house-aged Chateaubriand within walking distance of my abode at The Bears. Quality cuts of farm-fresh meat are just a quick drive away at various farms and a butcher shop.

But it's a humble preparation -- beef and vegetable soup -- that is unrivaled.

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Vegetable stew at Kismet

Kismet vegetable stew

By Deanna Fox

Hey, there you are, autumn!

I've been waiting for you, patiently tapping my foot with arms crossed, hoping you would show up soon. Not that I was getting tired of all those garden tomatoes or anything, but I'm ready for colder weather and hot soup.

Kismet provides.

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Market Bistro cooking school schedule includes two Quintessence classes

quintessence chicken

From the Quintessence revival back in 2009.

There are a bunch of classes on the October schedule for the cooking school at the Market Bistro in Latham, but there were two that immediately caught our eye:

October 7: Hands On & Dine: Quintessence: Shrimp Scampi
"Another Quintessence favorite that customers love! Recipes include: shrimp scampi with green fettuccine noodles, Quintessential salad, and brownie sundae." $60

October 21: Hands On & Dine: Quintessence Chicken Teriyaki
"Back by popular demand! Learn how to recreate this delicious meal in your own kitchen. Recipes include: chicken teriyaki, spinach fettuccine, Quintessential salad, and crepes." $60

Quintessence is, of course, the longtime favorite restaurant that once operated in an old diner building on Scotland Ave in Albany's Park South neighborhood. It's no longer there -- neither the restaurant, nor the building (which was demolished for the redev there). And the chicken teriyaki was its signature dish.

As the list notes, Market Bistro has offered the chicken teriyaki class before and it always sells out. In fact, it looks like it's already got a few people signed up for it. So if you're interested, don't wait to claim a spot.

Cereal sundae from Bumpy's Polar Freeze

bumpys polar freeze cereal sundae

By Deanna Fox

The lies we tell ourselves as adults: It's completely fine to eat ice cream -- just ice cream -- as a meal if 1) you skipped some other meal in the day, or 2) you've been sick/it's been a bad day, or 3) it's the only viable thing you can really bring yourself to make.

The guilt association or judgements of ice-cream-as-a-meal are laid to waste when you add in some sort of traditional meal fodder -- for instance, cereal.

Bumpy's Polar Freeze in Schenectady understands.

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Second Cafe Madison set to open this fall

Cafe Madison raspberry pancakes

Three words: oatmeal raspberry pancakes.

BMT Hospitality is planning to a open second Cafe Madison location at Loudon Plaza on Northern Boulevard in Albany, the developers of the plaza announced Tuesday. Press release blurbage:

Construction has started on the 3,000-square-foot space which will include dining for 80 people with additional seating at the bar and flexible indoor/outdoor dining during the warmer months. Off the bar, windows will open to the outside for ease of food pick up or for guests grabbing a coffee-on-the go. ...
Café Madison is scheduled to open in late fall and will be open daily for dining from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Space is available at night for private events such as bridal parties, rehearsal dinners, holiday parties, birthday parties and more.

Loudon Plaza is the strip located where Northern Boulevard intersects with Route 9/Loudon Road, across the street from Albany Memorial Hospital. It had been in foreclosure until a development company called DF Acquisitions took over the property last year -- it's been working on a total makeover of the plaza. [Biz Review]

Cafe Madison is, of course, a mainstay of Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood, frequently with long waits for breakfast on the weekend. BMT owns a bunch of establishments along that strip of Madison Ave, including Junior's, The Point, and the Madison Pour House. The company's become an Albany restaurant empire -- it also owns Ama Cocina, Albany Ale and Oyster, Spinner's, and The Pub. It opened a second Junior's in North Greenbush last year.

Breakfast sandwich at Wren & Rail

wren and rail breakfast sandwich

By Deanna Fox

A little piece of nirvana exists in the geographical center of Albany County. It's tucked away in a gravel yard in New Scotland behind a series of red barns, an unassuming tin-roofed trailer bordered by enormous pine logs and framed by a few ecru umbrellas.

Unless you were passing by on a regular basis, commuting into Albany or off to buy a load of pea gravel for walkways and patios, it is unlikely you would find Wren & Rail, a food "truck" that serves fresh, seasonal, and locally-sourced food.

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A different take on the snack machine

Capital Roots healthy vending machine

The machine in the Arbor Hill/West Hill APL branch.

Check it out: Capital Roots is coordinating the roll out of new vending machines that offer healthier snack options.

The first two machines are Albany Public Library branches. The org introduced the program Tuesday at the Arbor Hill/West Hill branch of the Albany Public Library, which has one of the machines. The other is at the Howe Branch in the South End. A third machine is headed to the Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls on Hackett Boulevard.

Capital Roots is aiming to place as many as 50 of the machines at spots around the area as part of the program's first phase.

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Neba Sandwich from Mike's Neba

Mikes Neba Schenectady neba sandwich cross section

By Deanna Fox

Whoever coined the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder" probably didn't mean for the quip to apply to a sandwich.

Hey, love comes in many forms, including -- but not limited to -- roast beef layered between bread.

When people speak of comfort food, sandwiches are rarely listed in the ranks, but sometimes a PBJ just the way Mom made it, or a melty grilled cheese, provides a feeling of warmth akin to the embrace of a lover after a detente from distance or quarrels.

The Super Neba from Mike's Neba in Schenectady offers the same.

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Fort Orange Brewing

Fort Orange Brewing Jim Eat

Jim Eaton in the Fort Orange Brewing space. He's part of the team that includes Craig Johnson and John Westcott.

Albany's Warehouse District is in line to add another craft beverage producer this fall with the planned opening of Fort Orange Brewing.

Here's a quick overview of what's in the works and who's involved...

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Wagel bagel at West End Bagels

West End Bagels wagel bagel

By Deanna Fox

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? So it's no surprise that for as much attention as "mindful" or "healthy" eating receives, things like over-the-top bagels exist.

Social media was stormed by the rainbow bagel phenom out of New York City, and now we have our own version, too -- the beast that is the wagel bagel at West End Bagels.

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Canning and preserving classes

Puckers pickles in a jar closeupWe're just about reaching the height of the summer growing season here, which means farmers' markets and backyard gardens will be overflowing with all sorts of produce. There will be tomatoes -- many, many tomatoes.

So, there are a few options:

1. Subsist on a diet made up totally of zucchini.

2. Can and preserve those tasty veggies.

Toward that second option, the local arms of the Cornell Cooperative Extension has a few upcoming classes...

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Halal options at Zaitoon Kitchen

zaitoon kitchen chicken wrap

By Deanna Fox

How bold is this claim: The best new dining hotspot in the Capital Region is that area around the Latham Circle.

I mean it. When was the last time you dined there? I bet you opened social media in the last week and found a photo of someone eating in that area. Superior Thai, Chinese, Eastern European, and pub food can all be found just off Exit 6.

Now there's halal food, too, with the recent addition of Zaitoon Kitchen, another example of why this spot is becoming a premier local food destination.

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Talking about the Veggie Mobile on its 10th anniversary

veggie mobile side

Capital Roots is celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Veggie Mobile -- its rolling green market on a truck -- with a party called The Big Veg this Friday, July 28 at the org's headquarters in Troy. There will be music from a bunch of acts, food trucks, and drinks.

The Veggie Mobile is an established part of the food landscape, making stops around the Capital Region each week, selling fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods that don't have easy access to such products.

But a decade ago?

"Everybody I talked with afterwards thought it was a crazy idea," Eric Krans said to us recently about taking the job back then. He helped start the program and headed it up for almost eight years.

Eric -- who's known as EJ on the Veggie Mobile -- has since moved on to a job at UAlbany, but he's still involved with Capital Roots. And he'll be playing The Big Veg as part of The Parlor, the band he and his wife, Jen O'Connor, have had for many years.

We got together with Eric to talk about the early days of The Veggie Mobile, the power of relationships, what it was like to move on from something he helped build, and what's up with The Parlor these days.

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Pick-your-own blueberry season 2017

box of blueberries at samascott

Blueberry season has begun around the greater Capital Region. And there are a bunch of places where you can pick your own.

Blueberries are just about our favorite PYO crop because they're easy to pick (on bushes about waist high), relatively cheap (usually about $3 per pound), and they freeze beautifully, so you can stock up for later in the year.

Here's a list of farms around the region for PYO blueberries, along with a few details.

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H&L on the Hudson

H&L on the Hudson

Albany has a lot of waterfront. But it doesn't have a lot places along that waterfront to grab something to eat.

So we were happy to find our way to H&L on the Hudson this week, a food trailer set up along the riverfront at the C. Springer Marina on the south end of Broadway.

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Ice cream sandwiches at Different Blend Bakery

Different Blend ice cream sandwich big bite

By Deanna Fox

Summer, man. It's fleeting. It is hard to believe that already, here we are in mid-July. I recently had a conversation with my dad about how time just speeds up as you age, and I feel that phenomenon is finally happening to me this summer. I'm nostalgic for summer before it has ended.

In my house, summer begins on the last day of school. We write out a "summer to-do" list posted to the refrigerator and get busy enjoying the warmest season. Top of the list: Eat ice cream sandwiches.

There's no such thing as too many ice cream sandwiches, especially when they are homemade like those from Different Blend Bakery in Guilderland. And they also happen to be gluten free.

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Follow up: Troy Kitchen

Cory Nelson at Troy Kitchen 2017-June

Cory Nelson at Troy Kitchen

AOA is on summer break this week. So we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've met and covered during the last year.

Troy Kitchen opened its doors in February of 2016 in the former Pioneer Food Coop space in downtown Troy. Entrepreneur Cory Nelson had a vision for a luxury food court and local food incubator in which small food businesses could get a start, learn the ropes, and move on to start their own restaurants. Admittedly, he had no experience in the food business when he began the venture. But Cory Nelson is an optimist.

So, now a year and a half after its opening, how are things going at Troy Kitchen? We stopped by to catch up on what's new and talk with Cory about the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship, some of the lessons he's learned, and the plan for his next food court.

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Follow up: Berben and Wolff's

Berben and Wolffs Joey Berben 2017-June

AOA is on summer break this week. So we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've met and covered during the last year.

A little more than a year ago, Joey Berben and Max Wolff opened a vegan restaurant on Lark Street with the goal of making food that appeals to all sorts of people -- vegan and non-vegan.

As Berben said last year, "It's just good food. Vegetable forward, plant-based food."

And it's worked. Berben and Wolff's has built a following of fans, expanded its wholesale business that sells to other restaurants, and now has an eye on expansion.

We talked with Joey Berben last week in the busy second-floor dining space that looks out onto Lark Street about drawing an eclectic crowd, staying positive, and snowballing small successes.

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Follow up: Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen

Sunhees Jinah Kim 2017-June

By Cristin Steding

AOA is on summer break this week. So we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've met and covered during the last year.

When we first spoke with Jinah Kim in 2016, she had big plans for Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen.

The goal, she said, was for Sunhee's to not only be a Korean restaurant, but also a hub for social services, specifically focused on the refugee and immigrant community. Walking into the restaurant today, you'll find little placards dotting the walls labeling things in Korean and English -- evidence of the English classes currently offered to staff members.

We caught up with Jinah to talk about how things have progressed over the last year, including a bar and a new patio, and how she's balancing between running a successful restaurant and giving back to the immigrant community.

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A look around Great Flats Brewing

Great Flats Brewing interior

Every month it seems like there's a new brewery somewhere around the region. And one of the most recent is Great Flats Brewing in Schenectady.

The brewery opened three months downtown, and this Thursday had its official ribbon cutting.

Here's a look around the brewery space, along with a few bits about what's going on there.

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A look around the new Slidin' Dirty in Schenectady

Slidin Dirty Schenectady

The popular restaurant Slidin' Dirty opened a new location in the Foster Building on State Street in downtown Schenectady Thursday. It's the second location for owners Brooke and Tim Taney, who started out with a food truck in 2012, and then opened a permanent location in downtown Troy in 2014.

The new spot in Schenectady is much bigger than the Troy location, occupying two floors behind a large arch window that looks out onto the street.

Here's a look around the new space, along a few quick bits from the Taneys about why the picked Schenectady and the path from a food truck to multiple locations.

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Bars or restaurants with an Albany skyline view?

Albany skyline from E Greenbush sunset background

A question from Jim:

Looking for a bar or restaurant with a view of the Albany skyline that is also outside... A roof preferably.

You might think there would be a lot of spots like this because Albany does have a rather distinctive skyline. When we thought about it, though, there wasn't much that came to mind. A lot of other cities/metro areas have dining/parks/whatever that take advantage of these sorts of views -- especially along rivers -- but this area not as much (in part because of 787, probably). Maybe that's starting to change with new development on the Rensselaer side of the Hudson across from downtown Albany. And maybe new amenities -- like the proposed/hoped-for pedestrian walkway on the next Livingston Ave Bridge -- would help spur that sort use and development.

But maybe you know of some spots. If so, please share!

Pick-your-own strawberry season 2017

strawberries in basket straw closeup

Strawberry season has arrived! Many local farms just opened pick-your-own strawberry fields this week, and others will be doing so shortly.

All that cold, cloudy, wet weather a few weeks back held up this year's crop. Multiple farms have noted that things are a bit behind schedule. But it sounds like the recent sunny weather has things rounding into shape.

A typical strawberry season at many farms in this area only lasts a few weeks, though some farms have strawberries for longer stretches -- even most of the summer -- because their fields include a range of varieties that produce at different times. When you're at the farm stand, ask about the varieties the farms are growing. In our experience people are happy to talk about what's available, for how long, and why. It's also a good idea to call ahead or check the website before heading out.

Here are a handful of places in the greater Capital Region that you can pick your own strawberries. Know of a good place not on this list? Please share!

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Lamb sloppy joe at Chez Mike

Chez Mike lamb sloppy joe

By Deanna Fox

Sloppy joes were a mainstay in my culinary repertoire growing up -- mainly because you can't burn them.

See, my mother (bless her) went through a period of time when she confused the smoke alarm with the kitchen timer. About the same time, my dad was the volunteer fire chief of our small town, and as a way to live-up to the job, installed 16 smoke alarms in our modestly-sized home that were all connected. When one went off, they all went off. And unless you completely forget that there's meat on the stove (like, go to the grocery store 30 minutes away while dinner is cooking), it's pretty hard to set off that many smoke alarms with sloppy joes.

So when I hear of someone "upgrading" the humble sloppy joe with lamb-sted-beef, I'm all in.

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Restaurants with really good dining experiences, not necessarily fancy?

chiogga beet carpaccioMelissa asks:

Assume money's no issue - what's your top dining experience recommendation in the area?
Any level of fancy is fine, just looking for places that people had really good experiences. The kind of meal that is memorable. The kind of place you go "remember that night, that was really great"
It might be a real "fine dining" or someplace you had a really great pub meal, but the environment and service were really memorable.

We understand Melissa is looking for this spot for a special occasion.

Of course, tastes and preferences are very subjective. But, to us, that last part of her question is key. In our experience, high prices or formality don't necessarily translate into great meals or experiences (in fact, sometimes it's just the opposite).

Got a suggestion or two for Melissa.? Please share!

A chef for at-home celebration?

fork on tableAnonymous emails:

Some friends and I wanted to host a small private dinner to celebrate and we are looking for suggestions of private chefs who could host a weekday meal at our apartment. Can you help?

In addition to private chefs who might be able to cater an in-house dinner, we're curious if there might be other options that are maybe more flexible -- maybe something along the lines of a pre-prepared dinner that can be served with minimal effort.

Got a suggestion for Anonymous? Please share! And a sentence or two about why're recommending a chef or service can be a help.

Pizza at Anna's Wood Fired Pizza

Pizza from Annas Wood Fired at Galleria7

By Deanna Fox

I was recently talking to a Capital Region native who moved to NYC for a few years before settling down back home. He said of all the great things New York City offers, the pizza in Albany is undoubtedly better, and so are the music venues (the little clubs that let you get right up close to the band).

But about that pizza thing...

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A restaurant for regular group meetings?

fork on tableAnne emails:

I am a member of a service group that meets 2 evenings a month, during the week. We are looking for a restaurant/food venue that is reasonably priced and can accommodate 10-20 people, preferably with a separate meeting area or space that is not too loud. Since our members come from all over the capital district, we are looking for something in the Colonie/Latham area. Looking forward to hearing your ideas!

That Anne included "food venue" with restaurant makes us think there might some flexibility here, so we're curious if maybe there are some other options beyond just a straight-up restaurant.

Got a suggestion for Anne and her group? Please share!

Kismet Mediterranean Grill

Kismet Albany exterior

It's in the Junior's/The Point/Cafe Madison/Madison Pour House/Curry House strip along Madison Ave.

We've been curious about what was happening at this space, so maybe you were, too..

A new Mediterranean restaurant called Kismet opened this past Saturday in the corner storefront at the busy Madison/Western/Allen Street intersection in Albany. We saw the lights on the other night and stopped in for dinner, and two things:

1. The transformation of the space is remarkable. There had been a Brueggers in there for many years and the space had looked like... well, a rather lived-in bagel shop. Now it's a tasteful and comfortable sit-down dining space.

2. The food was good! We tried a sampler of the dips as an appetizer and split the mixed grill for dinner. The hummus was smooth and garlicky, the shakshuka was tangy, and the meats in the mixed grill were well seasoned and cooked nicely. (Also: The service was very friendly.) We'd happily go back.

The chef/owner of Kismet is Chingiz Jafarov. He came out during dinner to say hello to diners and ask how everything was.

Hours and a few more pics, along the with the menu...

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Dining around at Troy Kitchen

Troy Kitchen MKIslandHut GrandmaG HalalPalace composite

By Deanna Fox

Call it happenstance, or call it good planning: I ate at Troy Kitchen with friends two days in a row recently. That's probably not a big deal for most people, but schlepping from my rural Schenectady County home (with two kids in tow) over to Troy during the evening commute hours isn't always an easy feat.

The reward was worth it, though, especially since the inaugural vendors have moved out and new vendors have taken over booth space as part of the wonderfully conceived rental limits that are part of the Troy Kitchen concept.

It was the perfect opportunity to do a dine-around and sample what the new menus have to offer.

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Mastroianni Bros bread returning to stores

Mastroianni Bakery logoThe new owner of Mastroianni Bros Bakery announced Thursday that bread from the almost-century-old Rotterdam-based brand will start showing up on store shelves again this week.

A Utica-based company called Pumilia Pizza Shells bought the Mastroianni intellectual property last year at auction after the Schenectady company filed for bankruptcy. Pumilia makes and distributes pizza dough. [Daily Gazette 2016 November]

The Mastroianni products will be produced at a bakery in Utica, the new owners say.

The first of the new/old Mastroianni breads will begin appearing in some Price Choppers/Markets 32 starting this week, with discussions in progress for other outlets. The new owners say they'll first be making the Mastroianni sliced Italian bread and soft rolls, with more products planned for the future.

Mastroianni Bros Bakery had been trying to evolve its business in recent years in an attempt to head off bankruptcy, as detailed by Ned Campbell in the Daily Gazette back in 2015. Among the changes: The company -- known for its huge loaves of bread -- started selling smaller loaves to appeal to households with fewer people.

Matt Baumgartner has sold Bombers

Bombers Lark Street exterior 2016

Matt Baumgartner announced Wednesday that he's sold Bombers to Jimmy Vann, who's worked there for a long time and been managing the local chain for years.


Steve Barnes talked with both of them about the sale -- Baumgartner told him: "In that way it's a little sad, but the 20-year benchmark just felt like the right time. I've not been very involved in it, I feel like I've outgrown it in some ways, and I've got other things to keep me busy." [TU Table Hopping]

There's still Wolff's and The Olde English, and he now has a farm in Rensselaer County. (Mike DeMasi talked with him a bit about the plans for the farm.) [Biz Review]

By the way: Bombers is a reference to a nickname.

Sopes at Viva Cinco de Mayo

viva cinco de mayo sopes

By Deanna Fox

With Cinco de Mayo just days away, it feels appropriate to talk about a place aptly named Viva Cinco de Mayo.

Tacos might first come to mind when thinking about this anglicized holiday that gives we Americans a chance to sip tequila and feel less guilty about the upcharge to add guacamole to our burritos. But consider instead the sope, a cousin to the taco, consumed using flatware and heaped high with filling. It takes on regional flavors, like the taco, and has different preparations depending on when and where it is eaten.

Nevertheless, it is just as crave-able as a taco, and this new addition to the growing Mexican food scene serves sopes up right.

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Tara Kitchen Troy is now open

Tara Kitchen Troy exterior

The Troy location of the popular Moroccan restaurant Tara Kitchen is now open at 172 River Street (the block between State and Congress). Its first day was last Friday. There are a handful of photos after the jump.

This is the second location for the restaurant, started by Aneesa Waheed and Muntasim Shoaib. Their first restaurant space is on Liberty Street in downtown Schenectady, where they've won many fans. Before opening in Schenectady, they sold from a booth at the Troy and Schenectady farmers markets.

Tara Kitchen also makes a lineup of jarred sauces -- you might have seen them in local supermarkets. We've tried a jar of the apricot and prune sauce. It made for a few tasty dinners at home.

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Dutch Udder Craft Ice Cream opening Troy storefront

Dutch Udder Troy storefront pre-opening 2017-April

A quick mention relevant to your ice cream interests: The Dutch Udder Craft Ice Cream is opening a storefront in downtown Troy at 282 River St. (It's the spot on the corner with the Franklin Street alley near the Market Block.) The opening is planned for May, according to the company's Facebook page.

The people behind Dutch Udder are Kehmally Karl and Jeff McCauley, who started the business as a side project and now have a commercial kitchen space in Cohoes. They've been building the business methodically, developing new flavors and selling ice cream from a cart at events and pop-ups. (You might remember they were finalists in the 2015 AOA Startup Grant contest.)

We've sampled their ice creams and sorbets on multiple occasions and they're very good. An example: They make a Nine Pin cider sorbet that's really smooth and nice.

We're hoping to get a few more details about what's in store for the Troy location.

Earlier on AOA: Follow up: The Dutch Udder Craft Ice Cream

Massaman curry at Emmanuel Thai

Emmanuel Thai masaman curry

By Deanna Fox

If you don't work in the Capitol corridor -- that section of Albany stretching from Dove to Broadway, extending a few blocks north and south, with buildings populated by state-related agencies -- you might miss many of the small eateries that are popular for quick lunches.

The grab-and-go sandwich shops, the small sit-down locations that offer momentary respite from the rigors of government -- and now, Emmanuel Thai, a barely noticeable restaurant that has quickly gained a downtown Albany following.

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What's up with that plan for a new food hall in Albany's Warehouse District

Good Market rendering interior 1

A rendering of the planned interior.

The food hall is one of the hot food/dining concepts around the country at the moment, and it's popped up here, too -- in Troy with Troy Kitchen, and Latham with Galleria 7.

There's another new-school food court on the way: GoodMRKT -- "Good Market" -- planned for the Nipper Building conversion in Albany's Warehouse District. Word of the project first surfaced in late 2015 as part of the state's Regional Economic Development Council grant process.

Roughly a year and a half later the project is still on, and the backer is planning to open later this year.

Here are a few bits about what's up...

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Brunch is back at The Low Beat with Celina's Kitchen

celinas kitchen french toast

Coconut-crusted French toast is on the Celina's Kitchen brunch menu for The Low Beat. / photo: Jamel Mosely - Mel eMedia

By Deanna Fox

Celina Ottaway took a circuitous route to the kitchen, but it's paid off. The global influences of her life in business, journalism, and personal endeavors now show up in dishes for her Celina's Kitchen menus: Asian pesto, poulet creole, japchae. Together with chef Pierre Farvil, they're pulling together vibrant, rich flavors that reflect past experiences while looking ahead.

If you want to first hand taste of what they're cooking, your best chance is to bundle up and head over to The Low Beat on Sunday for the spot's latest pop-up brunch.

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CSA fair at Takk House

Hudson Valley CSA Coalition stickers

This could be a good way to learn more about CSAs if you're been curious: Takk House in Troy is hosting a CSA fair April 15 from 11 am-2 pm. The event is a collaboration between the Hudson Valley CSA Coalition, Hudson River Exchange, and Glynwood.

CSA = Community Supported Agriculture, in which you pay at the beginning of the season for a share of a farm's produce and then get regular allotments during the season. Event blurbage:

CSA Fairs provide an opportunity for local residents to learn about the vital role Community Supported Agriculture plays for independent farms, to shop around the various shares available and sign up for their Seasonal Share. From fruits and vegetables to herbal wellness to meat and dairy, CSA shares offer community members access to the diversity of farm fresh products - and land based wisdom - that make Hudson Valley living plentiful and enjoyable.

The event at Takk House will include reps from Colfax Farm, Denison Farm, Field Apothecary, Laughing Earth Farm, Roxbury Farm, and Soul Fire Farm. Also: "Remember to bring your checkbook for share deposits and be entered to win on-site sign up giveaways when you buy a share at the event."

Hudson River Exchange advertises on AOA.

photo via Hudson Valley CSA Coalition Facebook

Buffet dinner at Salsa Latina

salsa latina buffet plate

By Deanna Fox

Every culture and cuisine has its own version of a greasy spoon diner. Places with quick crowd-pleasing menu items that focus less on modern, qualitative platitudes (farm-fresh local zero hormone free range organic sustainable conflict-free!) and more on getting cheap eats dipped, fried, or otherwise laden in fat on the table with haste.

Greasy spoons are abundant in Albany, and in many ways, these sorts of establishments comprise the hallmark of our local eating scene.

When it comes to the Tex-Mex variety, Sala Latina reigns, and its Monday night buffet is one of the best bargains in town.

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Ice cream, A VALUABLE FOOD

albany ice cream for st. patrick's day, 1925
It was a different time. One with ice cream potatoes.

This ad is via the Albany Group historical image archive on Flickr. The Albany Muskrat highlighted it today on Twitter, along with pics of some of the ice cream forms.

The factory for the Albany Ice Cream Company -- "Wholesale and Retail Manufacturers of Plain and Fancy Creams and Ices" -- was located on Pleasant Street in North Albany. (There was that time that the Albany Ice Cream Company realized that -- gasp -- women could work in that factory.)

It also had an important message for its customers of the late 1910s.

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Downtown Albany Restaurant Week 2017

downtown Albany restaurant week 2017-April_logo

Downtown Albany Restaurant Week is set to return April 1-7. (That's Saturday through Friday of the next week.)

Participating restaurants will be offering three-course meals for $20.17. And on the Monday of the run -- April 3 -- students with valid ID can get meals for $17.17 at some of the participating restaurants.

Sixteen establishments are lineup for the week. And that first link above includes links to restaurant week menus for most of them. (We're intrigued by the cauliflower schnitzel with beetroot spaetzel on the City Beer Hall menu.)

As with any restaurant week, reservations are a good idea. And spots often fill up fast.

Ice cream stand season 2017

kurver kreme exterior 2016

Kurver Kreme is set to open mid March, but a few other local stands are already open. / photo: Deanna Fox

It's spring! It's winter! It's winterspring! Whatever it is, it's ice cream stand season again.

A few stands are already open, and more will be opening in the next few weeks.

Here's our annual rundown of a bunch of seasonal ice cream stands, with opening dates. In some cases the dates are TBA, or we just couldn't find out (yet). So if you can fill in some of the information in the comments, we'd much appreciate it.

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Ramen at David's Uptown Noodle

Davids Uptown Noodle ramen

By Deanna Fox

If you are a safe eater, someone unwilling to go beyond your culinary comfort zone, stop reading now.

What I'm about to tell you about can only be described as Chinese grandmother cooking, and for the typical American palate, stagnating in predictable flavors and preparations, that's bad news.

But for you adventurous types in the AOA readership, those who can open their minds (and mouths) to unusual ingredients and authentic, ethnic technique, read on:

David's Uptown Noodle and its ramen menu are awaiting you.

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Drink Schenectady

drink schenectady logo

The The Capital Craft Beverage Trail has an event called Drink Schenectady coming up Saturday, April 15 at the Schenectady Armory from 2-6 pm.

It's similar to the Drink Albany event held in the fall. Blurbage:

Enjoy samples from all local Capital Region beer and cider producers along with local live music, vendors, food and games. All proceeds for the event go to benefit the Capital Craft Beverage Trail Association. ...

Capital Craft Beverage Trail Producers: Albany Distilling Company, Nine Pin Cider, C.H. Evans, Druthers, Helderberg Brewery, Helderberg Mountain Brewery, Indian Ladder Farmstead, Beer Diviner, Wolf Hollow, Browns Brewing, S&S Farm Brewery, Altamont Vineyards, Common Roots, Crossroads Brewing, Chatham Brewing, Upstate Distilling

Early bird general admission tickets are $35 until April 1, after that they're $40. There's also a VIP ticket for $60 that gets you in early for a cocktail hour.

Capital Craft Beverage Trail? Mission statement: "To promote the facilities of craft and farm-based beverage producers in the Capital Region of New York as a unified tourist destination, including representing, protecting and promoting the common business and regulatory interests of its members and their role as part of the fabric of Capital Region and to promote tourism in the region."

Brew goes Pint Sized, plans second location (and a tiny bar)

Brew Pint Sized Albany interior 2017-February

The current shop on Lark Street.

Changes are coming to Brew, the popular beer/coffee shop on Lark Street.

Owner August Rosa says he's changing the name to Pint Sized. And he's opening a second location in Saratoga Springs -- what he believes could be the Capital Region's tiniest bar.

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Cinnamon buns at Fifth Tier Baking Studio

Fifth Tier Baking Studio cinnamon bun

By Deanna Fox

Fifth Tier Baking Studio is tucked into a section of Columbia Street in downtown Albany that feels like an alleyway, hidden away from the typical bustle of North Pearl Street. It's the sort of spot that requires a bit of sleuthing.

With no seating and a limited menu, the shop isn't focused on creating a comfortable lingering experience for its customers. Instead, the focus is on production, churning out scones of sweet and savory varieties, jumbo-sized cookies -- and massive cinnamon buns that blend warm spice with sweet dough in a masterly fashion.

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A handful of upcoming craft beer festivals

NYSBA Craft New York at Desmond 2014

From a previous Craft New York Brewers Festival at The Desmond. / photo: New York State Brewers Association

Whatever you call that in-between season from late February through April -- often not totally winter, but not really spring -- also happens to be a beer fest season.

And this year is no different, with a handful of festivals around the region...

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Fish and grits at The Breakfast Spot in Albany

The Breakfast Spot fried fish whiting grits eggs

By Deanna Fox

People who work in the food industry often play a game of telephone (y'know, the one you played as a kid, passing a message to each other in a series of whispers) when it comes to good food. One person finds a place, mentions it to another, who then passes the news on again. I was the lucky recipient of the message in a triad including Celina and Daniel. Go here, they said. Try the whiting.

Who am I to turn away from news like that?

The place they passed along was The Breakfast Spot, a space vacated by the old Portelli's Joe N' Dough Cafe, a location that's hosted many incarnations of an early morning/late night (depending on how you view it) diner intended to serve locals and the work shifts that miss noonday food carts and regular-business-hour establishments.

Tucked away in a skinny building on Central Avenue in Albany, it's a gem that's due for wider recognition.

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Elevation Burger now open in Latham

elevation burger latham exterior 2017-February

It's tucked in to the corner of the shopping plaza.

Quickly noted: Elevation Burger finally opened in Latham this week. The location for the new-school burger chain in the Fresh Market Commons shopping plaza -- at Route 155 an Route 9 -- has been in the works since 2015.

There's been a boom in more-upscale, fast-casual burger chains lately: BurgerFi, Smashburger, Burger21 have all opened locations in this area in recent years. And they've joined Five Guys and locals such as Crave and Juicy Burgers.

Elevation Burger's claim to differentiation is that the beef for its burgers is "100% organic, grass-fed, free-range." The company says its chicken, bacon, and the beans and grains for its veggie burgers are also organic.

We haven't had a chance to try the food. (Maybe you have?) But we might have to get a crew together and do another tasting tour.

Earlier on AOA:
+ A tasting tour of the new-school burger chains
+ BurgerFi, and the burger boom

Trying the "Super Hole" donuts at Cider Belly

Cider Belly Super Hole donuts 2017

One of these donuts has Buffalo sauce in it.

By Deanna Fox

When you think of the Super Bowl -- that high holy American holiday -- and all the food and feasting it entails, the first thing you think of is donuts, right? Right! We thought so, too.

That's why when Nick at Cider Belly in downtown Albany reached out to Daniel B. (and Daniel B. reached out to us) to come check out some donut creations inspired by the game, we jumped at the chance.

Fun names, interesting flavor combos, and an excuse to eat donuts for lunch like real adults. We're all for it.

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Albany Distilling Co. on the Today Show

Albany Distilling Today Show

Al Roker with the upstate mention.

Check it out: Albany Distilling Co.'s Quackenbush Still House Rum popped up on the Today Show Monday morning as part of a segment about food trends for 2017.

Food & Wine editor in chief Nilou Motamed pointed to the rise of rum distilleries in the United States as one of the trends. (See recent Food & Wine listicle about rum being the "spirit of the year.") ADC's name wasn't mentioned, but Al Roker picked up the bottle and mentioned it was from Upstate New York and Motamed added it was from Albany.

As you know, Albany Distilling is located on Montgomery Street at Quackenbush Square in downtown Albany. It opened in and was Albany's first distillery since Prohibition. It produces whiskey and rum, as well as a coffee-flavored vodka in collaboration with Death Wish Coffee.

screengrab from The Today Show

Albany Craft Beer Week and Festival 2017

Washington Ave Armory Albany exteriorThere's an Albany Craft Beer Week planned for April 17-23, with an Albany Craft Beer Festival on April 22 at the Washington Ave Armory.

The organizers of the week and festival are from Oliver's in Albany and Westmere Beverage in Guilderland. Press release blurbage:

The festival will focus on high-end and limited-release craft beer. Rather than offering an alternative VIP admission that would exclude many consumers from sampling, the organizers are working to curate a selection of hundreds of these exclusive beers making the entire experience VIP. In addition to providing a never-before-seen selection of beer, the festival will offer the opportunity for many consumers to talk to brewers, reps, and other beer enthusiasts. There will be local food vendors, festival-centric merchandise, charitable raffles and giveaways.

Tickets for the festival are $65, which includes a tasting glass, unlimited tastings, and four tokens for limited quantity beers. There's also a $20 ticket for designated drivers which includes a $10 food voucher and one free Stacks Espresso coffee.

It looks like a detailed schedule for the events during the week has not yet been posted.

Tom Kha at Celadon Thai

celadon thai latham tom kha soup

By Deanna Fox

Exit 6 off the Northway is a surprising culinary destination in the Capital Region.

Not hip by any means, nor safely walkable, there are unexpected bright spots of good food that makes one reconsider the notion that the suburbs are inherently void of worthwhile restaurants. Heading west off the exit, find Euro Deli and Ayalada. East, you'll come upon Tipsy Moose and A La Shanghai.

Just across the street is Celadon Thai, a family-run jewel that serves up generous portions of pad thai and fiery curries that glimpse authentic cuisine. Chief among those offerings is tom kha, a classic soup that alone could make Exit 6 a food destination

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Steven Tyler was in Saratoga, saw a movie, flew through ALB, maybe had a cupcake

By Deanna Fox

We had a special order for a certain #rockstar passing through the area...#redwhiteandyou #cupcakes #enjoytroy #bakers #ny #chocolate

A photo posted by Nibble Inc. (@nibbleinc) on


Check it out: Steven Tyler was in Saratoga Springs last night, taking in a movie, as WNYT reporter Mark Mulholland posted the news in a Facebook photo with his son.

What's he doing in Saratoga? Attempts to reach Tyler through social media and his management company haven't provided information yet.

But he did fly on a private jet through Albany International Airport, and his visit provides a peek into how local restaurants provide catering for such stops. It turns out Tyler -- or someone with him -- likes his sweets.

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3Fish Coffee

3 Fish Coffee Albany Emma and Abby Fullem

Emma and Abby Fullem, two of the three fish. (Their older sister, Zoe, is the third.)

Sometimes the push to finally do that thing you've always talked about arrives in the form of disaster.

Almost two years ago there was a fire in the building that houses the Downtube, the well-known bike shop across from Washington Park in Albany. It took a year of reconstruction and renovation before the shop's showroom reopened last March.

At the time of the fire, Emma Fullem -- whose parents, Robert Fullem and Marilyn Kaplan, own the Downtube -- was living in the San Francisco area, working for an organization that helps people learn how to be food entrepreneurs. And as renovation work on the building started up, she got a call from her dad: Come home and let's open a coffee shop.

So she did. And they did.

This weekend 3Fish Coffee -- located in a former garage space alongside the Downtube -- has its soft opening. It'll be operating weekends this month and next before opening full time in March.

We stopped in recently to get a look at the new coffee spot and talk with Emma Fullem about the family story behind the shop, being a part of the neighborhood, and the search for good English muffins.

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Good places for gluten-free desserts?

alleycarte chocolate chip cookie

A gluten-free cookie from a Peck's Arcade pop-up. As the pastry chef there, Gregory Kern, mentioned last year, the items on the dessert menu were gluten free. / photo: Steve Noisseau

Fred emails:

Hey gang, you've never steered me wrong before, and I'm looking for some gluten free restaurants, or some places that offer gluten free menus. I have been eating paleo for a while now, and have started dating a girl who has celiacs (I swear, we're not annoying about it!!), and am looking for some good places for dinner or desserts.

As Fred mentions in his email, we've touched on this topic a bunch of years ago. And the topic of restaurants with good gluten-free options came up again last year.

But we figured it could be good to focus on spots with good gluten-free desserts -- whether they're restaurants or some sort of other outlet. Because what's life without dessert? (It's also interesting from a culinary perspective because of the creativity the challenge prompts in chefs, much like vegan food.)

So, got a suggestion for good spots in the area for getting gluten-free desserts? Please share! And sentence or two about why you're recommending a place can be helpful.

Pizza dinner at Mia Lucci's

Mia Lucci's pizza

By Deanna Fox

As a lifelong pizza eater, I've come to learn there really isn't such a thing as "bad" pizza. Sure, there's pizza that doesn't quite hit the mark of great -- or even good -- pizza, but even subpar pizza is better than no pizza.

That fact became abundantly clear during the last few rounds of the Tournament of Pizza that I helped to judge. (RIP, TOP **kisses hand, points to God**.) A few slices were questionable, in the kindest terms, but I didn't flat-out refuse to scoff down any of them.

Those slices are few and far between, however: As a whole, I'd put Capital Region pizza up against pizzas from any corner of the world. We've got an amazing array of styles and varieties here. The doughy Sovrana's slices. The interesting crusts and no-Parm rule at DeFazio's. The pan-baked pub-style pizza at Kay's. The giant foldable slices from I Love NY and Paesan's. Farm-fresh sourdough pizza from 9 Miles East. (Tell me when to stop...)

If you're going to break into the pizza game 'round here, you better be darn confident in what you are offering. Sometimes that comes via the actual pizza. Other times, it's an experiential thing. Mia Lucci's in Colonie gives us a little of both.

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The restaurant space on the Empire State Plaza has re-opened

Empire State Plaza restaurant exterior

The restaurant space on the ESP near the foot of the Corning Tower is back operating as a restaurant again -- Cornerstone at The Plaza opened this week.

It's serving lunch Monday through Friday from 11 am-3 pm while in the state legislature is in session. There's also a happy hour Wednesday from 3-7 pm.

You might remember this space once housed the restaurant The Sign of the Tree -- it closed more than a decade ago. Mazzone Hospitality -- which also operates a cafeteria on the concourse of the ESP, as well as a bunch of other local restaurants such as 677 Prime -- is running the new Cornerstone restaurant. (It had already been hosting events there during the past year.)

New restaurant blurbage:

The menu will include foods and beverages produced in New York State, including a locally-sourced selection of artisanal cheeses; a warm winter kale salad featuring chorizo from Dashing Star Farm; a vegetable torta made with local farm eggs; and beef short ribs braised in Nine Pin Cider.

Here's the menu.

We stopped in for lunch Thursday. It was nice. The space -- about half of which was set up for lunch service -- has great windows which look out onto the plaza. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the service friendly. The music could use an upgrade. (If you're ever wondering if a chamber orchestra version of "Hotel California" is a good idea, the answer is always no.) There's an elevator inside that connects to the concourse below.

Here are a few pics if you're curious.

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Favorite local foods of 2016

restaurant navona albany exterior

An item at Restaurant Navona in Albany got a mention.

With 2016 about to end, we're talking with a bunch of people about favorite/interesting things from the past year.

First up: We asked about people around the online Neighborhood about their favorite local foods or drinks of the past year.

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A look around the new Save-A-Lot supermarket in Albany

Save-A-Lot Central Ave shelves

The Save-A-Lot chain opened a new supermarket on Central Ave in Albany Thursday, just about two blocks west of Swinburne Park. It's the company's second store in the city, joining one on Delaware Ave.

The store is in a building that, in the immediate past, was an Albany Med office. But its earlier lives include time as both A&P and Star grocery stores. So it's new, but also kind of old.

Save-A-Lot is a discount chain that specializes in small-format stores -- at 20,000 square feet the Central Ave store is one of the smaller supermarkets in this area. And one of the location types it looks for is densely-populated neighborhoods, the sorts of neighborhoods that, at least in the Capital Region, have struggled to attract new supermarkets over the last few decades.

"We're like a well-kept secret from a lot of people even though we have 1,300 stores across the United States," said Tom Kallio, the northeast business unit director of Save-A-Lot, Thursday. "But because we don't have a big footprint, we don't make the big thunder."

Here's a quick look around the new store, along with a quick chat with Kallio about why the company seeks dense, urban neighborhoods.

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Duck drumettes at Rascals

Rascals duck drumettes

By Deanna Fox

Eating at the mall used to mean Sbarro pizza or chicken from a Chinese food kiosk. (You know you always bought it out of guilt because of the free sample.) Maybe you opted for giant hot pretzels with neon "cheese" sauce, Orange Julius, or the week's worth of calories with a Cinnabon.

But malls are no longer just a place for power-walkers, angsty teenage meet-ups, or chain shopping; malls are becoming destinations for everything from underwear purchases to rock concerts.

The dining is changing to keep pace. Take Rascals -- a business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back space -- in Crossgates that allows for fine steakhouse dining in one space, a sports bar with several large TVs in another, and a performance space with its own bar and dining options in the rear.

The menu is designed to accommodate the varied patronage, but Rascals' take on chicken wings is a sure bet in any of the restaurant's environs.

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Phoenicians Mediterranean Palace

Phoenicians Mediterranean Palace Robert Rahal

Robert Rahal

The new Phoenicians Mediterranean Palace recently opened on Fuller Road in Colonie. It's the successor to the Phoenicians Restaurant on Central Ave -- and it's big. The space itself is huge, and owner Robert Rahal has big plans for it.

Here's a quick look around, along with a few bits about what's in the works...

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Plumb Oyster Bar

Plumb Oyster Bar Troy owner Heidi Knoblauch

Heidi Knoblauch

By Lauren Hittinger Hodgson

If you want fresh oysters daily, you'll soon have a new spot.

Heidi Knoblauch, an Emma Willard grad, recently returned to Troy after years in academia to open Plumb Oyster Bar. She's another young person investing in Troy, and she aims to create something a little bit different for this area -- while building a gathering space to serve both oyster lovers and the seafood-phobic alike.

We chatted about oysters, the motivations to leave academia, and why Troy is the right spot for Plumb.

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Breakfast sandwich at Gibby's Diner

gibby's diner breakfast sandwich cross section

By Deanna Fox

There's plenty of things that Gibby's Diner, in the tiny hamlet of Quaker Street in in the town of Duanesburg, does well -- but one thing it doesn't do is screw around with portions.

The classic diner car has been in business since 1952 and little has changed in the 60-plus years of operation. Passers-by come for quick food on the road between hither and thither, while the regulars expect the expedient service and solid food served with a smile and a side of sass.

Your transaction at Gibby's isn't complete unless you are waddling out of the cramped chrome-and-neon coated entrance. Homemade breads and pies and in-house roasted meats make sure that happens, but nothing guarantees the gluttonous feeling (shame?) quite like the Gibby's breakfast sandwich.

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Supermarket Showdown 2016

grocery list written in marker

New list, new stores.

It's back: Supermarket Showdown, in which check prices for a basket of 40 items across multiple supermarkets here in the Capital Region.

The showdown has taken a few years off -- the last time we did it was in 2012 -- and this year it returns with a new basket and three new stores.

Without further ado, let's get to it...

Supermarket Week 2016 CDPHP in-post ad

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Giving ALDI a try

ALDI Deanna shopping cart contents

The haul from Deanna's ALDI trip.

By Deanna Fox

I find that I am often a bit naive about how Americans truly eat at home, regardless of the fact that I make a living from writing about food. I eat out a lot and I when I cook at home, it either leans towards the clean, healthy side (to counteract all the eating out) or it turns into a production somehow related to a story.

That's not to say I live in a vacuum, but I realize that sometimes my grasp of what the typical grocery run looks like it a bit slippery.

Lately, I've noticed plenty of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues talking about ALDI, the low-priced chain of grocery stores with European roots that's rapidly expanding. (According to the US ALDI website, the supermarket will have 2,000 US-based stores by 2018.)

I remember shopping at LDI with my Aunt Laura and her kids growing up. It was the first stop on the bi-weekly shopping trip, followed by Tops, Grand Union, and Price Chopper if absolutely necessary. The generic-looking packaging under ALDI private labels, the fact that you had to bring your own bags, and the way the entire system worked always gave me the impression that ALDI was low-quality.

Now, some of my favorite food enthusiasts shop there... and they won't settle for subpar. So there's got to be something worth checking out.

So I did.

Supermarket Week 2016 CDPHP in-post ad

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Can't afford a brewery? Share one.

glass of nine pin ciderNext year it will become legal in New York State to operate what are essentially shared brewery/cidery/winery production facilities that home brewers will be able to drop in and use.

Legislation allowing these "custom centers" passed earlier this year, and the governor has now signed it, the Cuomo admin announced this week.

From the memo for the Senate bill, sponsored by David Carlucci, a Democrat who represents Rockland County:

[The legislation creates] a new custom beermakers' center license that authorizes the operation of a custom beermakers' center facility to provide individuals with rental space (to make and store homemade beer), the use of equipment and storage facilities, and/or beer making supplies for the production of beer for personal household use and not for commercial use or resale purposes. It defines beer making supplies as products grown or produced in New York in quantity amounts as determined by the State Liquor Authority. A custom beermakers' center licensee would be authorized, if permitted by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau,(TTB) to conduct training classes on how to manufacture beer and conduct certain tastings of beer produced on the premises.

The legislation does the same thing for cider and wine. From a Cuomo admin press release:

New York's craft beverage industry is one of the fastest growing in the nation, however many urban and suburban residents often cannot afford or do not have access to the appropriate space or equipment to make homemade beer, cider, or wine in their homes or apartments. These custom production centers not only provide space and lower the overhead costs of production, but they also provide amateur brewers and wine and cider makers with the local ingredients and expert training needed when first starting out.

The legislation takes effect in six months.

We hadn't heard about these sorts of production centers before, so we poked around online looking for examples and found a few that look somewhat similar -- including one in Boston, and another in New Hampshire.

French toast at Baking You Crazy

baking you crazy french toast

By Deanna Fox

Considering French toast is little more than eggs, milk, and bread, it can be surprisingly easy to screw up. The KISS notion (keep it simple, stupid) is one that evades most of modern society. Bigger is still better, more is still more, and pairing it down to the basics seems like a weakness or cop-out, not an ability to be admired.

Simple doesn't mean thoughtless, though: The opposite is true. Because there is less fluff to mask errors and subpar additions, all ingredients need to be of a particular quality and incorporated with consideration.

Baking You Crazy, the bakery and cafe that replaced a small Italian restaurant at the foot of the Albany-Rensselaer train station on Broadway, employs these ideas across its entire menu.

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Recalling the grocery stores of Albany's past

Empire Food Market Albany Lyon Block storefront

The Empire Food Market -- "Albany's Premier Food Center" -- in the old Lyon Block building in downtown Albany. (The building was knocked down during the Empire State Plaza construction.) / via the Albany Public Library History Collection

By Carl Johnson

The trick of time is that it passes slowly, and changes are incremental, so you can hardly notice it happening. The world of today looks mostly like the world of yesterday to us, and yet there have been a thousand little changes over the years that separate those worlds. When things change all at once, it seems a revolution, but when they change little by little, it just seems the passing of time.

Grocery stores are one example. Sure, 50 years ago, they were selling milk and meats, frozen foods and Cap'n Crunch, just as they are today. And yet everything about them has changed.

Supermarket Week 2016 CDPHP in-post ad

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What's a bit of supermarket shopping savvy that you can share with everyone here?

items in paper grocery bag

Drawing's closed and winner's been emailed!

It's back: Supermarket Week returns to AOA this week. We'll have a bunch of posts about supermarkets -- including a new version of the popular Supermarket Showdown price comparison -- because, well, we all have to eat.

To start things off, we have a drawing for a $100 gift card to the local supermarket of the winner's choice. To enter the drawing, please answer this question:

What's a bit of supermarket shopping savvy that you can share with everyone here?

The range of possible answers is very wide. Maybe it's a tip about how to play the coupon game. Or maybe it's the best local market for finding a certain item. Or maybe it's about your system for doing your shopping quickly. Or maybe it's the best way to pick out a certain type of fruit or vegetable.

We'll draw one winner at random. That person gets the $100 gift card of their choice. (The gift card must be to a supermarket in the four core counties of the Capital Region.)

Important: All comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon on Thursday and must respond by noon on Friday, November 18.

Supermarket Week 2016 CDPHP in-post ad

Mazzone Hospitality cooking classes

cooking class angelo mazzoneWe noticed recently that Mazzone Hospitality -- the restaurant group that includes 677 Prime and a local culinary empire -- is offering a cooking classes at its headquarters in Clifton Park.

The upcoming schedule includes both hands-on and demonstration-style classes, some of them led by Angelo Mazzone himself -- he has a Feast of Seven Fishes demo class set for December 20. (The schedule's next class -- a hands-on holiday cooking decorating session with Kristin Hartman on November 29 -- is already sold out.)

Class prices range from $65 to $110. Here's what the classes include.

A compressed schedule for the rest of the year is after the jump, if you're curious.

A bunch of places around the area offering cooking classes, including Different Drummer's Kitchen at Stuyvesant Plaza, Gio Culinary Studio in Voorheesville, Spoon & Whisk in Clifton Park, Market Bistro in Latham, Honest Weight in Albany, and the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. (It's been a while since we've done a cooking class roundup -- we should do that soon.)

Why Stacks Espresso picked downtown Albany for its next location

Stacks Espresso owners Ron Grieco Tyler Wrightson

Stacks co-owners Ron Grieco and Tyler Wrightson.

Earlier this year Stacks Espresso Bar co-owner Tyler Wrightson was in downtown Albany looking at office space when someone mentioned the retail storefronts on the street level of the Arcade Building on Broadway, the upper floors of which had recently been converted to apartments.

"It was completely busted," he said of a space in the building's northeast corner, which had been vacant for many years.

But the windows. Really big windows. Windows that provide a view in two directions out, and allow light to stream in. So he brought the crew of Stacks down from Lark Street to see it. The conclusion: "It would be killer to do something cool here."

This Monday, November 7, Stacks Espresso will open in that Arcade Building space. And the plan is to be open from 7 am to 7 pm -- seven days a week -- to serve both the daytime tide of downtown workers and the neighborhood's growing residential population.

Here's a quick peek at the space, along with a few bits from a chat with Wrightson and co-owner Ron Grieco about why they picked downtown Albany for their second location, and why they picked it now.

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Dominican icey at Coco Mango's

coco mangos troy icey in cone

By Deanna Fox

My winter jacket has been moved from the attic closet to the main coat rack in my entryway. It's here, friends. Or at least it's on its way.

I'm talking about winter, of course. While my attire choices change, my eating habits often revert to different times. All summer long I crave slow-simmered stews and rich desserts. In winter, I lust after garden-fresh Caprese salads and cooling treats.

Lucky for me, Coco Mango's is finally up and running in Troy, and I can indulge in chilly Dominican icey that keep my insides the same temperature as my outsides to beat winter at its own game. (C'mon, I'm not crazy! It's all using science Parabolic partial differentials! Heat diffusion!)

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Beer Diviner planning Troy spot

461 Broadway in downtown Troy

Update: Here's a press release about the new taproom, which mentions an opening date will be announced in the coming weeks.
____

Check it out: It looks like The Beer Diviner is setting up a bar in downtown Troy.

The brewery mentioned the plan for 461 Broadway recently on both its Instagram and FB page. (Also: The building is owned by Harry Tutunjian, and he tweeted a welcome to the location to the brewery Wednesday afternoon.)

The Beer Diviner currently has a farm brewery and tasting room in Cherry Plain in Rensselaer County. A few years back Casey talked with owner Jonathan Post about the operation, his approach to beer -- and how he became known as the Beer Diviner.

We have an email in with The Beer Diviner and we're hoping to hear back about a potential opening date.

461 Broadway? If that address seems familiar, it was the location for both Nibble, and before that, Francesca's.

New York's farm cideries

fermentation tanks at Nine Pin

Fermentation tanks at Nine Pin in Albany.

The hard cider industry in New York continues to fizz -- there are now 24 farm cideries around the state, according to the Cuomo admin. That's up from eight in 2014, when the farm cidery law took effect.

Farm cidery? It's a type of license issued by the state that smooths out some of the regulations and requirements for running a cidery -- if the operation uses New York State apples to make its products. (There are also farm winery and farm brewery license.) The state's first farm cidery was Nine Pin Cider Works in Albany's Warehouse District.

Of course, the requirement to use New York apples isn't too much of a hurdle. The Empire State is the nation's #2 producer of apples, behind only Washington State. So the hard cider industry is another way to make use of the state's abundant crop.

Given the growth in the number of farm cideries, we figured it'd be fun to roll together a map of where they're located around the state.

Let's have a look...

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Tuna sandwich at Little Pecks

little pecks tuna sandwich overhead

By Deanna Fox

To relegate tuna to the lower levels of the sandwich totem is an easy thing to do: Tuna sandwiches are stinky, leaving your breath, your fingers, and the room they are made and consumed in reeking of tinned fish. More involved but less portable than the PBJ, tuna fish is a fussy sandwich that is open to endless interpretation but always requires the same level of attention. Where a PBJ can be slapped together, thrown haphazardly into a zip-top bag and shoved into a backpack, ski jacket, or lunchpail, the tuna sandwich demands gentle, precise insertion into a storage and transport vessel, constant refrigeration of some manner, and delicate nibbles to protect the integrity of assemblage.

Despite its particularities, tuna fish is sometimes an act of desperation. A can of tuna can be found in most home pantries for last-minute sandwich emergencies, and tuna or whitefish salad is often one of the cheaper options on deli menus.

Still, a good tuna fish sandwich is a thing to marvel at. The perfect mayo-to fish ratio, the inclusion of additives to the salad, the choice of bread... a good combination of those things makes all the downsides of a tuna sandwich completely worth it.

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"Albany's Premier Food Center"

Empire Food Market 119 Hudson Avenue Albany undated

If you head over to the APL's collection at NY Heritage you can zoom in on the photo very close to read the signs in the window.

We stumbled upon this old Albany photo in the Albany Public Library History Collection online. It's the Empire Food Market that occupied a part of the big Lyon Block building on Hudson Ave that once stood alongside the public market space where the TU Center is now. The date of the photo isn't listed.

That big vertical sign -- "EMPIRE FOOD MARKET" -- caught our eye. Wonder what happened to it.

Empire Food Market was a local supermarket chain founded by Henry Schaffer in Schenectady in the 1920s -- it and would later expand to almost 200 stores around upstate and Western Massachusetts, and Schaffer would sell the chain to Grand Union.

Here's a 1932 full-page ad in the Times Union for the Hudson Ave location -- "Albany's Premier Food Center." (And here's another ad, which mentions Fort Orange Toilet Tissue.)

The Albany Muskrat has a post chronicling the history of the open air Albany Public Market area and the Lyons Block building. The building met its end in demolition for the Empire State Plaza project (which, at the time, most people called "The South Mall.")

And over at the Albany Postcard Project, there are cards depicting the old Lyon Block building and the market area.

Turn all those apples into pie

unbaked apple pie

By Deanna Fox

If each month had a food that represented it, February would get chocolate, July would get sweet corn, and October would get apple pie. There are plenty of foods symbolic of autumn, but nothing really says October like a warm apple pie from the oven.

Pie can be intimidating for those new to the experience of making one, especially when everyone has their own ideas on what makes the perfect version.

Regardless of what sort of apple pie you're making, there are a few rules you should be following to make a good one. Don't worry, I'll walk you through them. And I've also included a few recipes to get you started.

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AOA event: Nine Pin Cider cocktail party

Nine Pin Cider Works new tasting room 2016-October

Autumn in the Capital Region is great for a lot of reasons -- many of them involving cider. Hot cider, hard cider, cider donuts. And now, cider cocktails.

Nine Pin Cider Works in Albany has a new tasting room with a New York cider cocktail menu. So we thought it'd be fun to get together a tasting of cider cocktails there on October 25.

Local distillers Derek Grout (Harvest Spirits) and John Curtin (Albany Distilling) will be there that evening mixing Nine Pin cider cocktails, as well as discussing their spirits and their cocktail creations.

What's included

Cocktail class
Derek Grout from Harvest Spirits in Valatie and John Curtin from Albany Distilling Co. in Albany will show us all how to make four cocktails, and they'll talk about using cider and other spirits in new cocktails. They'll send you home with recipes so you can mix your favorites yourself.

Cider cocktails
You didn't think we'd mix up cocktails and not drink them? Each ticket will include four Nine Pin cider cocktails mixed with locally-made spirits.

Snacks
Each drink will be paired with a local snack: cheese, fruit, nuts -- things that pair well with the cocktail.

Tour
Guests will get a tour of the cider works with founder Alejandro del Peral to see how Nine Pin is made, bottled, and canned.

Dessert
There will be a surprise, locally-made seasonal dessert.

The Nine Pine tasting room will be also pouring that night, and the company's different cider varieties and cider cocktails will be available for purchase.

And of course, you'll get to enjoy it all with other fun AOA people.

Tickets

The event is Tuesday, October 25 starting at 5:30 pm at the new Nine Pin tasting room at 929 Broadway in Albany. (The class and tasting will get started at 6 pm.) It's a 21-and-over event.

Early bird tickets (purchased before the end of October 15) are $25 and available online. After October 15, tickets are $30.

Space is limited for this event, and we expect it to fill up, so buying early will both save you a few bucks and ensure you get a spot.

Nine Pin advertises on AOA.

Bullet latte at Kru Coffee

Kru coffee bullet latte overhead

By Deanna Fox

Universality is the philosophical concept that some truths exist regardless of the situation, place, or time. Some things are just universally true. That we will all die someday is a universal truth. Some would say the inalienable rights that our nation's founders fought for are natural, universal truths that cannot be augmented, fractioned, or disputed.

I thought the same was true for butter.

When has there ever been a food situation where adding a little bit of butter did not make the end product just that much better? More than the sum of its parts? Seinfeld would tell you that anything good and delicious was the result of adding cinnamon. He's wrong. It's butter.

But when I first heard about people adding fat -- butter, coconut oil, etc. -- into their coffee for an added boost of energy in the morning, I thought they were daffy. Isn't coffee wonderful enough on its own without being bastardized by pumpkin spice, blended up with ice, and topped with whipped cream -- or lubricated with a healthy knob of butter?

Turns out that butter really is a universal truth.

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Schenectady Wing Walk 2016

Schenectady Wing Walk 2016 posterThe annual Wing Walk returns to downtown Schenectady this Saturday. Tickets are $10 / $5 for students with a valid ID and available online.

How it works: You pick up a map at the Proctors box office (it's also your ballot), then you visit a series of restaurants around downtown Schenectady that are offering samples of chicken wings in a variety of styles. Then you vote for your favorite.

There are 22 restaurants participating this year. The list is after the jump.

The Wing Walk is Saturday, October 1 from noon-5 pm.

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Favorite local apple ciders?

apples in bin in orchard at SamascottSean emails:

I've had the pleasure of visiting a handful of different apple orchards already this season and have noticed that the taste / quality of the cider has varied significantly thus far.
Now I know there's been a lot of documentation done on the region's different cider donut offerings, but I haven't seen much of anything done on the cider itself. I was wondering if some of your readers could weigh-in with where their favorite local apple cider comes from.
Bonus points if anyone has knowledge on how much the flavor changes from month-to-month or year-to-year based on what kinds of apples go into the mix.

Sean's question makes us want to go out a buy a bunch of ciders from local orchards and have a taste comparison. (Hmm...)

We've heard that the flavor of an orchard's cider can change over the course of the apple season as the different varieties of apples are harvested and added to the mix. But we can't say we've had a "Hey, wow, this cider is so much more (something) than it was last month" experience. Maybe you have.

So, got thoughts on your favorite local cider? Or any insight on how the flavor of cider changes over the course of the season? Please share!

Cider donuts at Indian Ladder Farms

Indian Ladder Farms cider donut and beer cup

By Deanna Fox

There is something about September that feels like such a fresh start. More than a birthday, more than New Year's Day, September for me has always been a time of intentional goal setting and beginning again with a clean slate. Maybe it's because for most of us, our year operated around the school calendar in our most formidable years. The start came just after Labor Day, with fresh clothes, new notebooks and pencils, and the promise that this year, anything was possible.

Like most other beginnings, something sweet it required to mark the occasion. If you get a cake on your birthday, why not have a cider donut to welcome fall?

That question is rhetorical, of course: Cider donuts are as much a harbinger for fall -- and that fresh start that rolls in with autumn's crisp air -- as a new backpack.

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Tech Valley Taste Makers

Tech Valley Center of Gravity exterior 2016-JulyHere's a new cooking class series: Tech Valley Taste Makers at the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy.

The lineup:

+ September 29: Bring the Gastro-Pub Home with executive chef Rachel Mabb of The Ruck (Troy)

+ October 19: Fall Foliage Picnic Feast with Lucas Karasavidis, owner of Honeybee Farms (Cobleskill) and From Our Farm to Your Table (Troy)

+ November 16: Sides to be Thankful For with chef Ric Orlando, owner of New World Bistro Bar, Albany and New World Home Cooking, Saugerties.

+ December 7: Holiday Cookies: Tradition with a Twist with chef/Baker Leah Stein of Leah's Cakery (Round Lake)

Series blurbage:

Monthly classes (fall/winter and spring/summer) are taught by masterful chefs and artisanal food makers. Each teacher demonstrates the techniques for making delicious specialties at home, educates about culinary art & science and offers tastings with beverage pairings, both alcoholic* and non-. Proceeds, after expenses, are shared equally between the teacher and TVCOG's fund to fully equip its teaching/making kitchen.

Class prices range from $37.50-$57. There's also a season pass for $170. Pre-registration is required.

TVCOG advertises on AOA.

Next up for Death Wish Coffee: NASCAR

Death Wish Coffee NASCAR

Check it out: Death Wish Coffee is following up its Super Bowl ad with sponsorship of a NASCAR race car.

Death Wish will be the primary sponsor on the #95 car driven by Ty Dillon in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Dover International Speedway on October 2. (The track is nicknamed "The Monster Mile," thus "slay the monster" mention in Richard Childress Racing announcement image at the first link in this paragraph.)

Death Wish Coffee -- the hyper-caffeinated coffee brand ("the world's strongest coffee") that grew out of Saratoga Coffee Traders -- is based in Round Lake. As you probably saw, it won a Super Bowl TV spot this year via a Quickbooks contest.

(Thanks, Andrew!)

image: Richard Childress Racing

The earlier-booze-at-brunch bill is now law

a brunch bloody mary

The Cuomo admin announced Wednesday that Andrew Cuomo has signed the legislation passed earlier this year that allows restaurants to serve alcohol two hours earlier on Sundays, moving the start time from noon to 10 am.

Here's press release blurbage on the brunch booze provision of the legislation:

Expand Sunday Sales: The law expands Sunday sales at restaurants and bars by changing the statewide opening hours from noon to 10 am. In addition, the agreement enables these licensees to apply for a permit, limited to twelve per year, to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises on Sundays between 8 a.m. and the new 10 a.m. opening hour in areas outside New York City.

The shift from noon to 10 am on Sundays takes effect immediately. Those provision allowing the dozen special 8 am permits (apparently prompted in part by NFL games in Europe and European soccer matches) will take effect in 60 days. (Those 8 am permits will cost restaurants and bars $25 plus a $10 filing fee. They also will require a notice filed with the local municipality.)

The legislation signed today includes a bunch of other updates to the state's complicated alcohol laws. Among the changes: Wineries will be allowed to sell wine in growlers and liquor stores will be allowed to sell gift wrapping and gift bags (yep, that was prohibited).

photo: Lauren Hittinger Hodgson

Toast menu at Superior Merchandise Co.

Superior Merchandise three toasts

By Deanna Fox

The first time I heard of a "toast menu" in a restaurant, my eyes rolled so hard I'm pretty sure I sprained something in my head. (My brain?) It was in an issue of Bon Appetit magazine in 2014, regarding a restaurant in San Francisco that did toast so well, it could rightly charge $4 a slice.

'Tis a fad, I thought, but then BA kept on publishing about toast. Later that year, "Toast is still happening. Get on the train." Months later, "27 ideas for toast." And my favorite, published this year, "Life before avocado toast: The 16 ways dining has changed since 2000."

Should it come as a surprise that "specialty toast" has made its way to the Capital Region? Scoff if you want to, but toast isn't going anywhere, so we might as well play with it. That's what Superior Merchandise Company, in Troy, is doing.

But don't take it as child's play. This toast is serious business.

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Upcoming lunch options at the ESP: Bombers, Kuma Ani, The Dutch Pot

Empire State Plaza concourse with artComing to the Empire State Plaza main cafeteria in September: Bombers, Kuma Ani, and The Dutch Pot.

The state's Office of General Services, which manages the plaza, officially announced the upcoming additions Tuesday. Press release blurbage:

Bombers Burrito Bar Hours: Monday - Friday 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Locally owned since 1997, Bombers will serve its signature burritos, bowls, tacos and salads.  Favorites including ancho chili chicken, southern fried catfish, "Red Stripe" jerk pork, quinoa bowls, buffalo chicken salad and more.
Kuma Ani Express  Hours: Monday - Friday 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Kuma Ani burst on to the Albany sushi scene in 2015 and has earned a stellar reputation infusing authentic Japanese dishes with Western culinary techniques. Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, seaweed co‐mingle with, Spanish mackerel, king salmon, madai, rice paper, lobster, soy paper and more for sushi, salads, Shumai, miso soup and more.
The Dutch Pot  Hours: Monday - Friday 10:30 a.m. - 2:30p.m.     A favorite of Lark Street area residents, customers will enjoy fresh Jamaican delights including coconut shrimp salad, jerk chicken wraps, curried goat, rice & beans, plantains and homemade pastry

Kuma Ani is at 287 New Scotland Avenue in Albany's Helderberg neighborhood. The Dutch Pot is at 418 Madison Ave, just east of Delaware/Lark, in Albany. And Bombers, well, you know where the Bombers locations are.

Earlier on AOA: Eat This: Oxtail at the Dutch Pot (2013)

Restaurants with good gluten-free options?

alleycarte chocolate chip cookie

One of the things that's remarkable to us is that many places seem to have at least some gluten-free options now, and many spots work GF items into their menus as a matter of course. This cookie was part of the lunch from the from the Peck's Arcade Alleycarte pop-up in Troy -- it was gluten free. And as Peck's pastry chef Greg Kern notes in the comments, their entire dessert menu has been gluten free for the past year and a half. / photo: Steve Noisseau

Kara emails:

I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease a few months ago, and was wondering if you can solicit recommendations from your readers on area restaurants that are good for someone who has to follow a gluten free diet. I know you did this in 2011, but I'm hoping there are more places to add to the list at this point!
I have been to the New World Bistro Bar and El Loco so far and had great experiences at both. I'm especially interested in places that understand Celiac Disease and how to avoid cross contamination- that is really important but isn't always obvious from seeing a menu or website that has gluten free items listed (and may not be a concern for people who are following a gf diet for reasons other than Celiac). Thank you!!

As Kara mentions, this question has come up before -- and we even turned the suggestions into a map/listing. But that was five years ago, and things change. (Looking at that old listing, some of those places are no longer in business.)

So, got suggestions for Kara? Please share! And a sentence or two about why you're suggesting a place can be very helpful.

An 18th century Albany wedding cake (maybe)

schuyler wedding cake documentThe Albany Muskrat pointed this out today, and given the interest in the early 19th century "Albany Cake" recipe last fall, we figured you might be curious: This is said to be the recipe for the cake served at the 1780 wedding of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany.

The recipe is from a document dated 1941 from the NYS Archives, and posted online by the What America Ate project. The document -- which, somewhat oddly has the title "Schuyler Wedding Cake 1690" -- attributes the recipe to a Mrs. Richard Schuyler of Ballson Spa, "for many years mistress of the ancestral home, The Flatts." (The Schuyler Flatts property is in what's now Menands.)

Anyway, check out the recipe:

12 pounds brown sugar
12 pounds butter
12 pounds of browned flour
12 dozen eggs
46 pounds raisins
24 pounds citron
Molasses [handwritten] - 1 gallon
3 quarts Brandy
1 quart Jamaica Rum
12 ounces each of cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, pounded fine in a mortar.
10 teaspoons salt
12 teaspoons pearl ash
mix in large oaken tub. and bake 16 hours.

This is obviously for a very large batch, but... yeah, three quarts of brandy and one quart of rum.

Pearl ash? As historian Sarah Evenson explained to us last year, "Pearl ash is potassium carbonate, a leavening agent used before baking powder or baking soda. You don't see much mention of this until the late 18th/early 19th century. Prior to that, yeast and whipped egg whites were the chief leavening agents."

The recipe documented appears to be from some sort of almanac, and is attributed to J.A. DeHollander. We mostly came up empty of a few quick searches today, though. Maybe you know more about this person? Update: Pamela provides the backstory in the comments.

Update: Pastry chef Greg Kern tried out the recipe and the cake was... not good.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Baking that Albany Cake
+ What did Albany eat in the 18th century?
+ "You maintain your empire in spite of all my efforts..."

image via What America Ate / NYS Archives

Tacos at Oaxaquena Triqui

Oaxaquena Triqui tacos

By Deanna Fox

Jerry Garcia was right: "Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right."

Sometimes it does take looking in an unlikely spot to find the best things... like tacos.

I think we can all agree on the culinary superiority of tacos. Combining major food groups into a portable, satisfying, wholly-delicious meal makes tacos the perfect food. Find me one person who doesn't like some version of a taco and I will find you 100 more to counter argue that point.

And then let me take that one person to Oaxaquena Triqui, a tiny tacqueria sandwiched between a Mexican bodega and a can redemption center in Albany. The tacos there are cheap and made from scratch, freshly flavored, and served up quickly with a smile.

Honestly, how can you do better than that?

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Chicken spiedies at Excelsior Pub

excelsior pub chicken spiedies

By Deanna Fox

I recently had a conversation with two chefs transplanted to this area from Manhattan. When I asked them what they thought of the Upstate food scene, they answered exactly how you think they might: "There is no good food scene outside of New York City."

I'm pretty sure my immediate reaction was an audible "pfffft" and an eyeroll so strong it shook leaves from trees.

Of course they would say that, stuck inside a tony restaurant for hours upon hours, without any chance to scope out what's unique about the food landscape here.

Fortunately they wouldn't have to travel far to sample the best parts of Upstate cuisine. Excelsior Pub, which reopened a year ago in Albany after a lengthy hiatus, serves up only New York State-produced wine, beer, and spirits -- with a food menu that hits the hallmarks of Upstate eats: Beef on weck. Hoffman's hot dogs, Buffalo wings, garbage plates.

Not to be left off the list is chicken spiedies. Not quite a sandwich and yet not something completely different from a sandwich -- sort of like a hot dog, or maybe a gyro, wherever that falls on the sandwich spectrum -- chicken spiedies are a true taste of Southern Tier food.

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Nine Pin + Ommegang = The Lion's Share

Nine Pin Ommegang yeast cider can mockupOne of the interesting angles to the craft beverage boom around this area has been the collaborations that have popped up. Special brews for a shop and a coffee/vodka collaboration are among the examples.

The latest one: Nine Pin Cider Works in Albany has teamed up with Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown to produce a cider with Ommegang's proprietary Belgian yeast. Blurbage for "The Lion's Share":

This collaborative cider comes in 12 oz cans and is made from a farmhouse blend of apples from Samascott Orchards fermented with Ommegang's proprietary house belgian yeast. The result is a belgian style cider with a smooth mouth feel and complex fruit and spiced notes. The Lion's Share was made in the spirit of the craft beverage revolution happening in New York!

There's a Ciders and Sliders even this Thursday evening (August 4) from 4-9 pm to celebrate the release of 12-oz cans. The Slidin' Dirty truck will be at the cidery on Broadway serving food, and the Dutch Udder Craft Ice Cream will be there serving ice cream.

Earlier on AOA: Follow up: Nine Pin Cider Works

Nine Pin advertises on AOA.

image: Joe Klockowski/Nine Pin Cider Works

Blackened Fish Po'Boy at Hooked Seafood Co.

hooked seafood co blackened fish poboy

By Deanna Fox

Some people say the Capital Region food scene is behind the times, a decade behind the trends in major metropolitan areas like New York City and San Francisco.

That might be true. I think the decade span is waning, though, as social media keeps us connected to the food of elsewhere with unprecedented speed. Nevertheless, I don't mind if we are behind the curve a bit, for it keeps us from going through the same growing pains and trial-and-error slip-ups that more risk-tolerant, innovative cities experience.

Take food courts, for instance. Why not let people like Corey Nelson (of Troy Kitchen) or Richard Rosetti (of Galleria 7 Market) go and suss out what does and doesn't work other places so we can benefit and keep our bellies full of good food here?

A recent lunch at Galleria 7 Market, in Latham, cemented that thought for me. Just gazing into the oyster case at Hooked Seafood Co., which operates from the market, delivered me the option to try a fresh St. Simon oyster -- a perfect amuse bouche and gentle enticement to a lunch of blackened fish on a fresh roll.

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The first group of Park South redevelopment apartments are renting -- and there's a Chipotle going in there

park south redevelopment apartments morris street

Apartments in the Park South redevelopment area along Morris Street (looking west).

A milestone in the ongoing $110 million redevelopment project in Albany's Park South neighborhood: Apartments in the development are now for rent and some are already occupied.

The first group of residential units became available July 1, according to Julie Knox, the sales and marketing manager for Tri City Rentals. She said that as of August 1, a total of 60 units will be in operation and a majority of them are already rented.

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Artisanal Brew Works

artisanal brew works logoIt seems like there's a new craft brewery/distillery/cidery popping up (almost) every month lately. The newest: Artisanal Brew Works in Saratoga Springs. The brewery has an opening party this Saturday (July 23) starting at 1 pm, with food from Nine Miles East.

Artisal Brew Works is in the former Serotta bike factory space on Geyser Road southwest of downtown near SPAC (map). Also located there: Upstate Distilling Co.

The two people behind ABW are both high school teachers. Over at the Saratogian, Lauren Halligan recently talked with them about how they got into the brewery business, and the types of beers they're making (there's an emphasis on Belgian styles).

Pick-your-own blueberry season 2016

box of blueberries at samascott

Blueberry season recently started around the greater Capital Region. And it is an Official Summer Thing To Do.

Blueberries are just about our favorite pick-your-own crop because they're easy to pick (on bushes about waist high), relatively cheap (usually about $3 per pound), and they freeze beautifully, so you can stock up for later in the year.

There are a handful of farms around the Capital Region that offer pick-your-own blueberries. Here's a list with some info. And, of course, if you know of a place that should be on the list, please share.

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School of beer

sccc craft beer course info posterAmong the things we learned this week: There is a US Open College Beer Championship. For making beer -- not drinking it.

And, as it happens, a beer made by students from Schenectady County Community College's craft beer program -- Question Mark IPA -- won a silver medal in the open category of this year's competition.

SCCC piloted a brewer training program earlier this year. And it's planning to offer a craft beer brewing certificate program and a craft brewing associate's degree program starting this fall.

The college has an info session about its intro to craft brewing course lined up for Monday, July 25 at 6 pm at its campus in downtown Schenectady. The course is scheduled to start this October.

Burgers at Crave

Crave burger on tray with fry

By Deanna Fox

There's something about summer that begs for red meat to accompany all those light salads and that fresh produce. An aged steak, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled to medium-rare perfection, topped with chimichurri, served with a corn salad. Yep, that's my idea of a great summer dinner.

But that is my ideal at home dinner. The thing with a steak is that restaurants mess it up often, and consumers usually end up paying a premium for branding and advertising, and not really for a superb cut of meat.

So when I'm craving beef and I'm dining out, I'm going for a burger. I can never get burgers to turn out quite as good at home as I can at my favorite burger joints. I'm a thin-patty kind of lass, but my attempts at home are thwarted by dry meat and crumbly burgers.

I've heard only good things about Crave Albany, the burger and frozen yogurt place on the corner of Western and Quail in Albany's Pine Hill neighborhood. And my hopes to find a great burger came to fruition there -- once I could decide on which burger to order.

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Follow up: The Dutch Udder Craft Ice Cream

Dutch Udder Jeff McCauley and Kehmally Karl

Jeff McCauley and Kem Karl, make ice cream with beer, wine, cider and other local ingredients. / photo courtesy of Rare Form Brewing

AOA is on summer break this week. So we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've covered during the last few years.

Today, we're checking in on the progress of the newly-opened ice cream business The Dutch Udder.

We first met Kehmally Karl and Jeff McCauley they were finalists in last year's AOA Startup Grant contest. The Dutch Udder makes some delicious ice creams and sorbets out of interesting ingredients -- including local beer, wine, and cider.

Kem, a nurse, and Jeff, who works in HVAC, started out by making ice cream for friends, who loved it. It's been a long road from that point to running a business, but The Dutch Udder has been officially open for two months. Now they bring their cart to places like Slidin' Dirty and Nine Pin Cider Works and to local events like Rockin' on the River, the Adirondack Wine Festival ,and the Sunday night concert series at Powers Park in Lansingburgh.

We talked with Jeff about the road to opening up, and how things are going so far.

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Follow up: Nine Pin Cider Works

Nine Pin founder Alejandro del Peral

Alejandro del Peral

AOA is on summer break this week. So we'll have new follow-ups with people we've covered during the last few years.

Next up: Nine Pin Cider Works in Albany.

The first time we met Alejandro de Peral, the startup cidery's founder, it was in the summer of 2013 as they were just getting set up in a space in the Warehouse District. He told us then how meeting a group of cider makers at a tasting in a Burlington, Vermont liquor store set him on the path to starting the business:

"I'm having these conversations with these guys and lightbulbs are just going off in my head. Oh my god, I have all these apples down by where I grew up. This incredible product. These guys are cool, their whole philosophy on cider making and apple growing and the relationship between the two" -- sourcing locally from small orchards -- "is exactly what I believe and feel."

Over the course of the past three years, Nine Pin has grown a lot -- its ciders are available on tap at bars and restaurants around the Capital Region, and its bottles and cans are sold in retail outlets -- all while continuing to source its apples from the greater Capital Region.

And the company recently made a significant expansion to its production facility on Broadway, with more plans for the future.

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Follow up: Lark + Lily

lark and lily exterior silvia lilly 2016-July

Lark + Lily. And Lilly.

AOA is on summer break this week. So, like last summer, we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've covered during the last few years.

Just about this time last year we talked with Silvia Lilly as she was preparing to take over ownership of the popular Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark from Kevin Everleth. As she told us back then:

I understand that I have a lot to learn about the back-of-the-house, day-to-day, running of a restaurant, but I also feel as if I have a lot of front of the house knowledge to share.
I don't define success by making tons of money. Never have. I want to be successful in terms of giving our guests a memorable and positive experience from the moment they walk in the door.

Lilly -- a teacher by day, who has also worked in restaurants for most of her adult life -- has now owned the business for about eight months. She's renamed it Lark + Lily and revamped the menu to include some more casual dining options -- but kept the beautiful courtyard and the knowledgable staff.

So how's it going? We checked in with her to find out.

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Follow up: Nibble Inc

Nibble Inc 2016-June Jesse Cramer

By Lauren Hittinger Hodgson

AOA is on summer break this week. So, like last summer, we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've covered during the last few years.

Today we're checking back in with Jessie Cramer of Nibble Inc, a donut shop in downtown Troy. Nibble is known for its gourmet donuts that are made out of a potato-based dough.

When we first met Nibble, Cramer told us that this inspiration for her shop came from eating an amazingly delicious donut in Maine:

"The best doughnut I've ever had," Cramer adds. "And I thought 'How can I make this donut so I can have it whenever I want?'"

After almost two years in business, Cramer has refined her recipe, grown her business, and is planning for an upcoming move.

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A quick look around Little Pecks

Little Peck's interior

The latest addition to the collection of downtown Troy businesses created by Heather LaVine and Vic Christopher -- Little Pecks -- is set to start serving coffee this Friday. And a soft opening with a menu of food items is lined up for the end of next week.

The concept: A cafe open morning through the evening that serves drinks, pastries, lunch-type dishes, and grab-and-go items.

Here's a quick look around the space, along with a few bits about what's planned, and a few bonus tracks...

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Another record year for New York State maple syrup production

mountain winds maple syrup amber

Sweet.

New York State set a new modern record for maple syrup production this year, the Cuomo admin announced Friday. The Empire State produced 707,000 gallons of syrup, according to numbers from the from the US Department of Agriculture.

That's up from 601,000 gallons last year. And it keeps New York at the #2 spot nationally, holding off a surging Maine with 675,000. Better luck next time, Pine (Not Maple) Tree State.

New York's increased production this year was in part a result of a longer season -- 36 days on average this year, compared to 26 last year. But the state continues to add taps, too. Its tap count was above 2,500 this year -- the Cuomo admin says that's the highest number since 1946 -- and the count has been rising by a couple of hundred each year for the past few years. (The state's yield per tap has also been rising.)

Of course, Vermont continues to dominate the field, where they're just playing a different game.

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Taste of Troy food tours

troy monument squareA business called Taste of Troy, started by Amy Koren-Roth, is offering food walking tours (Or should be that walking food tours?) of downtown Troy. Blurbage for its "Central Troy Historic District Food Tour":

Put on your walking shoes for an entertaining and delicious way to learn about Troy, its ups and downs, and the role food is playing in bringing this architectural gem back to life. You'll sip and sample some New York classic flavors (often with a new twist). Of course, we will sprinkle in history, architecture, and culture to round out your perfect Saturday in the Collar City. Our Central Troy Historic District Food Tour is a leisurely 3 hour, 1.5 mile walk with plenty of refreshing and informative stops along the way, so it's suited for most ages and fitness levels.

The tours are offered on Saturday mornings. Tickets are $49 and must be purchased in advance.

Daniel went one of the tours recently -- here's his recap.

Coconut cream pie at Restaurant Navona

restaurant navona coconut cream pie

By Deanna Fox

Looking back through my entries in the Eat This archive, it seems that many of the things I suggest you go eat start off with me stating my distaste for that item as a whole. Frozen yogurt. Pastrami sandwiches. Salmon and bacon. This post isn't going to be much different.

I don't really like cream pies. Something about the texture always throws me off. I mean, I like pudding well and fine, but so many times I've had cream pie (banana, chocolate, coconut) that err on the side of flan or gelatin more than silken custard. And that's just not something I want to put in my mouth.

The first time I was offered a bite of the coconut cream pie at Restaurant Navona in Albany, I hesitated. I didn't want to cap the delightful meal I just had with something that would just put me in a cranky mood for the rest of the evening, perpetually disappointed by cream pie.

But this coconut cream pie isn't anything like I expected, and that's a good thing.

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You're New Here: Food

youre new here week food composite

By Daniel B.

It's You're New Here Week on AOA. All this week we'll have stuff to help get you acquainted with the Capital Region -- whether you recently moved here, or just want to see this place through new eyes.

You're new here? Well, about nine years ago, I was new here, too.

We relocated from Berkeley, California and I knew the transition would be challenging. Our old apartment had been just a few blocks from Chez Panisse and the famous gourmet ghetto. Good food was the air we breathed, and local, seasonal, sustainable was a mantra everyone took to heart.

Back in 2007 Albany had no Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. There was no place to get a reliably good cappuccino. Heck, I couldn't even find a grassfed hamburger.

So I plunged myself into the quixotic task of attempting to improve the region's food culture. Without a culinary background, I figured the best path to this goal was through consumer education. And that began a nine-year journey which started with an avalanche of Yelp reviews, spawned a food blog, led to a writing gig with AOA, and landed me my dream job of working for Yelp.

And over that time I've learned a thing or two about how to best enjoy the food of the Capital Region.

YNHW in-post ad Linium

YNHW in-post ad CDPHP

YNHW in-post ad Columbia County Tourism

YNHW in-post ad ACCVB

YNHW in-post ad Downtown Albany BID

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Booze at brunch, two hours earlier

brunch bloody mary

Restaurants will be able serve alcohol two hours earlier during Sunday brunch as part of an agreement on new state legislation announced today by the governor and the state legislative leaders. From a Cuomo admin press release:

Expand Sunday Sales: The [Alcoholic Beverage Control] Law includes provisions strictly prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages at on-premises establishments (restaurants, bars, taverns) before noon on Sunday. The agreement expands Sunday sales at restaurants and bars by changing the statewide opening hours from noon to 10 am. In addition, the agreement enables these licensees to apply for a permit, limited to twelve per year, to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises on Sundays between 8 a.m. and the new 10 a.m. opening hour in areas outside New York City.

Earlier this year a Cuomo admin working group released a report with recommendations on how to modernize New York's many (and complicated) laws related to alcohol sales. In addition to citing "the common practice of consuming alcoholic beverages during Sunday 'brunch'," the report also mentioned how bars showing NFL games played in Europe -- as well as European league soccer matches -- were an example of how the soon-to-be-old rules clashed with what people wanted to do. So it looks like the 12-times-a-year exemption pushing back the time to 8 am is a nod to those situations.

The agreement announced today also includes provisions for licensing craft beverage producers, wholesalers, and even the sale of wine in growlers.

It also includes a small provision that in some way really seems to highlight the tangled mess of rules here: The new legislation also will allow liquor stores to sell... gift wrapping and gift bags.

photo: Lauren Hittinger Hodgson

Pick your own strawberry season 2016

strawberries box strawberry field samascott

Summer, it is here.

Strawberry season is here! Many local farms are just opening for pick-your-own strawberries, or will be very shortly.

We get the sense this year's crop is maybe a little slow in arriving because of some of the cool weather. And the early warmth in spring further complicated things.

A typical strawberry season at many farms in this area only lasts a few weeks, though some farms have strawberries for longer stretches -- even most of the summer -- because their fields include a range of varieties that produce at different times. When you're at the farm stand, ask about the varieties the farms are growing. In our experience people are happy to talk about what's available, for how long, and why. (It's also a good idea to call ahead or check the website before heading out.)

Here are a handful of places in the greater Capital Region that you can pick your own strawberries. Know of a good place not on this list? Please share!

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A look around Lucky Strike Social at Crossgates

Lucky Strike bowling lanes

The new Lucky Strike Social opens to the public at Crossgates this Friday. The latest entertainment venue at the mall includes two restaurants, a bar, a concert venue, an arcade, and a bowling alley.

Here's a quick look around...

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Food Truck Festival of NY at Saratoga County Fairgrounds

food truck festival troy 2013 slidin dirty crowdThe Food Truck Festival of NY is returning this year with an event at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds this Saturday, June 11 from 11 am to 7 pm. Admission is free. Be sure to check out the rules.

Here's the lineup of vendors -- the published list includes more than 20 trucks.

The organizer of this event -- Townsquare Media Group -- is the same group that was behind the food truck festival in Troy a few years back. (The pic on the right is from the Troy event.) That event ended up being very popular, and we're guessing this one will be, too.

The big crowds at that earlier event prompted Daniel to write up some suggestions for food festival strategy suggestions.

Fork in the Road
Speaking of food trucks... The Fork in the Road food truck series is back in Tricentennial Park in downtown Albany this Friday from 5-8 pm.

photo: Daniel B

The best place to buy olives?

marinated olivesOmar emails:

My girlfriend and I are starting to become Martini fanatics. We have a ratio we like but have yet to find the perfect olives. We are hoping someone knows a place to get great olives that have good flavor and a decent firmness. Bonus points if they're stuffed with a quality cheese (blue or Gorgonzola).
Thanks for the help!

A lot of supermarkets have olive bars now. But Omar's question makes us curious if there's some place -- maybe it is a supermarket, maybe a smaller market, maybe someplace completely different -- that is the place to buy olives around here. Because of quality or selection or whatever.

Got a suggestion? Please share! And a sentence or two about why they place is worth checking out is alway helpful.

Pulled pork plate at Middleburgers BBQ

Middleburgers pulled pork plate

By Deanna Fox

Here's my theory on where to find good food: If the parking lot is full of a diverse array of cars, from luxury SUVs to old jalopies, the likelihood good food will be there is high.

Middleburgers, an old food trailer given a permanent home in the middle of a field, is a great example of that. Many times I have driven by, but never ventured to stop. That finally changed last month after a hike up Vroman's Nose, when I initially drove past, saw the bevy of cars in the gravel lot, and swiftly pulled a U-turn to check it out.

Good barbecue isn't hard to find in Upstate New York; great barbecue, however, is another matter entirely. And if Middleburgers -- aptly named and found in the town of Middleburgh -- is any indication, an overlooked field is the best place to find it.

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Nine Pin expanding its production capacity in Albany Warehouse District

nine pin cider works exterior

Nine Pin Cider Works is expanding cider-making facility in Albany's Warehouse District, and it'll be showing off the expanded space to the public this Saturday, June 11 from 1-3 pm.

This expansion has been in the works for a while -- you might remember the state awarded it $100k in the last round of Regional Economic Development Council grants in December. And the company has been posting updated on its Facebook page -- here's a quick video of one of the seven new 6,000-gallon fermentation tanks being installed. (The expanded production facility also makes large apple juice deliveries easier.)

The official announcement came Friday via a Cuomo admin press release. A clip:

Nine Pin Ciderworks will expand its operations by 7,000 square-feet at its leased facility in Albany's warehouse district; investing $511,000 to upgrade its fermentation and aging processes to increase cider production by 20 percent. Through Governor Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Council initiative, Empire State Development is providing a $100,000 grant to support the purchase of new equipment and machinery and leasehold improvements as part of the company's expansion of operations. Nine Pin has made a commitment to retain six current employees and create seven new full-time jobs with the completion of this project.

Nine Pin started building out its Albany facility in 2013. And it was the state's first farm cidery, a special license that smooths the way for a cidery to operate if it sources its apples from New York. (There are similar farm distillery and farm brewery licenses.) Nine Pin gets its apples from orchards right here in the greater Capital Region, including Samascott in Kinderhook.

The facility open house on Saturday is part of Hudson Valley Cider Week.

Nine Pin advertises on AOA.

Read and Feed at Basilica Hudson

basilica read and feed logo

Basilica Hudson has a new festival July 30 -- Read and Feed -- that looks to pair food and literature. Blurbage for discussions at the fest:

// Legendary authors Lydia Davis (Can't and Won't: Stories) and Lynne Tillman (What Would Lynne Tillman Do?) will engage with each other and the audience in a wine tasting led by oenophile and power reader Michael Albin of Hudson Wine Merchants.
// "Food, Farming, and Spirituality," will feature celebrity chef and cookbook author Zak Pelaccio (Fish & Game, Eat With Your Hands), author Marie Mutsuki Mockett (Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye), and organic farmer Sarah Chase (Chaseholm Farm), in conversation with renowned chef, cookbook author, and end-of-life doula Rozanne Gold (Radically Simple, Cooking 1-2-3, and many others).
// "Reading, Drinking, Eating, Writing" will explore food as a language, and will be moderated by author, mixologist, fortune-teller, teacher extraordinaire Rosie Schapp (Drinking with Men, New York Times "Drinking" columnist) and feature award-winning poet and President of the Poetry Society of America, Kimiko Hahn (Brain Fever: Poems), author and "urban forager" Ava Chin (Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal), and true crime writer and serial killer specialist Harold Schecter (Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal).

The Basilica is partnering with the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses on the event. There will also be a marketplace with food products and titles from small presses (including cookbooks).

Read and Feed is Saturday, July 30 from 5-11 pm. Tickets are $20 ahead / $25 at the door.

Parts of the event will also be broadcast (over the air and online) by WGXC 90.7-FM.

Earlier on AOA: Basilica Hudson 2016 season

Albany Tea Festival 2016

Albany Tea Festival 2016 logoThe Albany Tea Festival will be returning to Overit in Albany this Friday, June 3. Blurbage:

Capital Region's Tea Professionals will be all in one place for this unique event. Six speakers are scheduled to discuss a range of tea related topics including tea/herb basic, culture, world tea traveling and future trends of tea. Tea and tea related vendors will be offering their products.

(There's probably a reading the tea leaves joke in there about the "future trends of tea" bit.)

The lineup of talks includes presentations from a ginseng farmer, "walk through a tea plantation," and tea trivia.

The event is Friday is from 5:30-9 pm at Overit's space at 435 New Scotland. It's free to attend.

Talking with Berben and Wolff's Joey Berben about vegan food that can appeal to everyone

Berben and Wolff's Joey Berben

Joey Berben

By Cristin Steding

To say the guys at Berben and Wolff's are busy is an understatement.

"I've got to go make 20 pounds of seitan after this," says a smiling Joey Berben at the end of our recent interview. And that's on his day off. He and his business partner, Max Wolff, just opened a new restaurant on Lark Street, but they've been supplying seitan to a bunch of other local restaurants long before theirs opened.

Berben and Wolff's is a vegan deli, which sounds like an oxymoron. But according to Berben, "The definition of deli, as far as we're concerned, is more like specialty foods. It's specialty prepared things. It's going to be along the same lines of a typical deli -- pre-made salads, to-go things. We're selling things by the pound too, like the seitan products that we make."

What sets Berben and Wolff's apart from other vegan restaurants, is that they actually downplay veganism in the business.

"You'll notice the word vegan isn't in here anywhere," says Berben. "We're trying to disconnect from people's misconceptions about vegan food or vegan restaurants. It's just good food. Vegetable forward, plant-based food."

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"Science of Great BBQ and Grilling, with Meathead Goldwyn" at HGS Home Chef

Meathead cookbook coverBarbecue and grilling expert Meathead Goldwyn will be at the HGS Home Chef June 12 for a talk and signing of his new book MEATHEAD - The Science of Great Barbeque and Grilling. Blurbage:

Meathead will debunk the misinformation that surrounds Grilling and Barbeque techniques in a talk called "Old Husbands' Tales: BBQ & Grilling Myths That Need to Die."
Meathead's book is a fount of information that will help you achieve succulent results every time, explaining why nothing is more crucial than understanding the science behind the interaction of food, fire, heat, and smoke. This is the definitive guide to the concepts, methods, equipment, and accessories of barbecue and grilling.

If you've ever looked up info online about making barbecue at home or some about grilling, you've probably come across Goldwyn's popular site AmazingRibs.com.

Goldwyn's new book comes highly recommended from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats The Food Lab fame (he also wrote a forward for the book): "Far more than a recipe book alone (though there are tons of bulletproof recipes), this text will teach you the hard-tested fundamentals of outdoor cooking, giving you the confidence to cook anything, even without a recipe. The myth-busting and equipment tips alone were enough to get me hooked."

The event at the HGS Home Chef is Sunday, June 12 at noon. Tickets are $35 and available online.

HGS Home Chef -- which is related to the Hillsdale General Store -- is in Hillsdale, New York in Columbia County.

Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen

Sunhee's Kitchen Jinah Kim

Jinah Kim

By Cristin Steding

Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen is a new Korean restaurant in downtown Troy with a three-part approach: farm, food and community engagement.

The family farm supplies the restaurant with eggs (and soon, produce), and the restaurant assists and employs recent refugees. It's a family endeavour, with owner Jinah Kim's mother and a longtime family friend as chefs, and her father completing the renovations to the restaurant space.

Sunhee's just recently opened, but Kim has big plans for the future. She's trying a new business model and isn't afraid the blur the line between for-profit business and social service agency.

I got together with Jinah Kim to talk about the new restaurant, her passion for social service, and her favorite Korean foods.

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Buffalo wings from 20 North Broadway Tavern

20 North Broadway Tavern wings

By Deanna Fox

"Can we try Buffalo wings sometime?"

Finally. My youngest child is now a true Upstater.

A kindergartener in public school, it was only a matter of time before he heard about wings and was tempted to try them. He was barely off the school bus when he asked, and then asked again, and asked a subsequent half-dozen times over the next few days.

It was happening. We were going out for his inaugural taste of this quintessential Upstate New York dish. But where do you go to make sure the first bite is a good introduction?

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Ben & Jerry's open again in Lark Street neighborhood

Ben and Jerry's Madison Ave Albany exterior 2016-May

The Lark Street Ben & Jerry's has re-opened -- and it's on Madison Ave now. Specifically, it's at 467 Madison Ave, which is right next to El Loco and just east of Washington Park. (It's the former Little Moon storefront.)

The store opened this past Saturday, and there will be a grand opening set for sometime in the near future. Hours are noon to 11 pm every day.

Rich Wilson, who owns the franchise with business partner Mike Sperduto, was in the store this afternoon working on the wall art when we stopped in for a few minutes. Some of the furniture is yet to arrive, but there's ice cream in the cooler and they're scooping. Wilson said they're enjoying the feel of the new space and the extra work space it affords.

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A quick look around Berben and Wolff's

Berben and Wolff's exterior

That new vegan deli on Lark Street -- Berben and Wolff's -- opened Tuesday. It's in the space at 227 Lark formerly occupied by The Brakes.

The deli is backed by Joey Berben and Max Wolff, who had already been making seitan for local restaurants. As Berben told us back it in March, their plan is to serve "things you would expect in a New York deli, but all plant based." And the menu reflects that aim. It includes items such as a housemade seitan pastrami reuben, a tempeh bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich, and BBQ pulled jackfruit with cabbage slaw on a bun. (We'll have more about the food in the near future.)

Hours currently are Tuesday-Saturday 10 am-8 pm and Sunday brunch from 10 am-3 pm. It's closed Mondays.

Here's a quick look around...

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The buzz on New York honey

lloyd spear honey trioAgricultural fact of the day: New York State produced almost 3.6 million pounds of honey in 2015, according to numbers from the federal government.* That's up almost 9 percent from the year before.

New York's total ranked 10th among all states last year. (It ranked #13 last year.) And it's by the far the biggest producer in the Northeast. (Next up is Maine at #31.)

The state's production was valued at a little more than $10.5 million. The average price per pound that New York producer were able to get was $2.94. (The national average $2.09.)

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Hot Plate from K-Plate at Troy Kitchen

K-Plate Hot Plate

By Deanna Fox

I love the idea of a food court. Part of my college decision came down to the schools with the best cafeterias. There is something so American about being offered a plethora of food options without having to walk too far to explore them.

Sadly, most food courts are depressing. Just look at most malls. It almost gives the term "food court" a biased, bad reputation. Unless -- like me -- you grew up in a magical land shaped by the mythos that is Wegmans and its epic food court, there is little hope when one hears that term.

We have no Wegmans here (yet), but there is light in the dark tunnel of "food courts." Galleria 7, on Troy-Schenectady Road in Latham, is part of it. As is Troy Kitchen, the food court that recently opened in the old Pioneer co-op grocery building on Congress Street in Troy.

As much I love options, I'm basically ruined from trying most things that are offered at the handful of food stalls within Troy Kitchen. Because the Hot Plate, from K-Plate Korean BBQ, is my new go-to.

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Fork in the Road returns this Friday

Fork in the Road Tricentennial Park

Tricentennial Park is the park on Broadway across from Kiernan Plaza/the old train station.

The Fork in the Road food truck series returns to Tricentennial Park in Albany this Friday, May 13 from 5-8 pm.

The truck lineup for this month:
+ The Hungry Traveler
+ Sweet Mama Mia
+ Emack & Bolio's
+ The Chuck Wagon
+ The Hollow will be serving beverages

There will also be music from Morris Code.

This is the second year for Fork in the Road. The Downtown Albany BID has said it averaged 600 people for each event last summer. And the spot seemed to work well, with the trucks lined up along Broadway and people sitting around the park. Here are pics from the first one last May.

The dates for this summer are: June 10, July 8, August 12, September 9, October 14.

The Downtown Albany BID advertises on AOA.

Talking with the new manager of the Troy farmers' market

Troy Waterfront Farmers Market River Street

The Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market starts is it's new outdoor season this Saturday morning on River Street in downtown Troy.

And its 17th season includes a new manager: Liz Hammond. She comes to the job with experiences that include both working on farms and the Veggie Mobile, Capital Roots' mobile vegetable market.

We met up with Hammond this week to talk about the state of the market, its place in the local food scene, and the connections between the market's producers and customers.

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Idea: A farmers' market for Washington Park?

washington park lake house exterior

Ryan emails, not so much with a question as an idea to float (link added):

As we enter outdoor farmers' market season, I have been thinking that the Washington Park Lakehouse would be the perfect spot for a weekend summer farmer's market. Aside from the beauty of the park in summer, the Lakehouse is well equipped to hold markets (as evidenced by the Half Moon Market, which is a welcome addition), and there is plentiful parking around the park. On top of that the development in Park South will likely add thousands more residents within a few blocks of the park over the next several years. Not to take anything away from the other summer outdoor markets in the area, because they are great, but Washington Park seems to be screaming for a farmers' market. If you have any insight, I'd love to hear it.

Ryan had asked if this idea had ever come up before -- we're almost certain it has in some way, but as we were thinking about it we couldn't point to a specific instance.

A quick take on the idea: A farmers' market in the park might work, though there would be organizational (Who runs its?) and logistical (What about Park Playhouse?) issues to address. The overall question we come back to is whether there's enough room for another entry in the already crowded local farmers'-market market. It's not just a matter of there being enough customers to go around, it's also about whether there are enough farms with the resources necessary to show up each week at an Albany market and contribute to a critical mass of vendors. If you're a small farm, showing up at more than a few markets each weekend is probably a big stretch.

That said, there's also the possibility of induced demand. Would an Albany market add customers who wouldn't otherwise be shopping at farmers' markets? Would that make it worthwhile for more farms to participate or expand?

Like Ryan, we're curious to hear your thoughts.

Death Wish Coffee Vodka

death wish coffee vodka albany distillingThe latest local beverage collaboration: Albany Distilling Company and Death Wish Coffee have teamed up to create a coffee-flavored vodka. And there's a release party for the product of the collaboration this Saturday, April 30 at Olde Saratoga Brewing Co in Saratoga Springs.

Vodka blurbage: "Our most recent joint project has been a long time in the making - Death Wish Vodka. This silky smooth coffee flavored vodka is balanced by roasted choclate and just a touch of sweetness."

The release party is from 2-6 pm. There will be samples of the vodka, and bottles available for sale, along with beers on tap from Olde Saratoga. Also lined up: music from The North & South Dakotas, Angels on the Fourth, and Better Pills. Tickets are $5 ahead / $10 at the door.

Bottles of the vodka will be available on retail shelves starting Monday, a spots such as Empire Wine and Exit 9 Wine and Liquor.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Death Wish Coffee gets a Super Bowl ad
+ The Brew Brew

photo: Optimum Exposure Photography / ADC

Ice cream slider at Kurver Kreme

kurver kreme ice cream slider

By Deanna Fox

I have to be honest with you. I don't think there is much more that I could add to this story than this: There is a magical place on the western fringes of Albany proper that serves soft serve ice cream inside a glazed doughnut -- and then rolls the whole thing in sprinkles.

Really? You're still reading? You need more details than that? (sigh) OK, let me share with you that which I have tasted.

And by the way, it's called The Slider, and it is from Kurver Kreme.

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A spot for Mother's Day brunch that's a bit different -- and kid friendly?

City Beer Hall Chocolate Decadence French ToastJamie emails:

Every year or family gets together for brunch on Mother's Day (6-8 adults and 3 children).
This year I'm trying to come up with a unique place that works for kids, but is more than a feeding frenzy around 50 chaffing dishes and 5 year olds in matching khakis lobbing marshmallows and old fruit into a chocolate fountain. Any ideas?

You know, some place should just go all in on the five year olds throwing marshmallows at a chocolate fountain concept. That could be a winner.

In all seriousness, the only thing we'll add for this topic is that if you're thinking about going out for brunch on Mother's Day, MAKE A RESERVATION NOW. Many places fill up. You have about two weeks to go. Do not wait.

Got a suggestion for Jamie and her family? Please share! And, as usual, a sentence or two about why you're suggesting a place can be helpful.

photo: Lauren Hittinger Hodgson

Checking out the new Wolff's Biergarten in Troy -- and Troy Cantina

Wolff's Biergarten Troy

The newest Wolff's Biergarten opens today in Troy in the King Street location formerly occupied by a Bombers Burrito Bar franchise, just off the eastern side of the Green Island Bridge.

The restaurant group headed by Matt Baumgartner and partners took over this location after the franchise owners decided to stop operating last fall. While assessing the situation they decided to switch the concept from Bombers to Wolff's. They also added a new concept upstairs that location -- Troy Cantina -- focused on tacos and tequila.

This is the group's fourth Wolff's, joining locations in Albany, Schenectady, and Syracuse.

We stopped by Wednesday to get a look at the transformation of the space, and talk with Matt Baumgartner for a few minutes about making the switch, plans for more biergartens in other cities, and how he picks out opportunities.

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Pastrami from Chester's Smokehouse

Chesters Smokehouse pastrami sandwich

By Deanna Fox

You can smell Chester's Smokehouse in Albany before you can see it.

In most circumstances, one should take that as a warning. In this instance, I urge you to proceed with haste. That is, go immediately. Once the intoxicating smell of hardwood smoke draws you in, your eyes are treated to yards-long display of meat and cheese, the beneficiaries of all that smoke.

Of course, if you are a vegetarian, this place might not be for you (that smoked cheese, though...), but for the omnivores among us, the sight of all that meat -- from classic Kielbasa to custom takes on Slim-Jims and jerky -- is enough to have you whimper in pleasure. At least that was my reaction.

Needless to say, once I laid eyes on that pastrami sandwich, the cartoon AH-OOO-GA horn in my mind went off and my jaw went slack.

If ever there were a sandwich, this was it.

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"Soul Fire Farm: Reclaiming a Tradition of Black Farming" at Albany City Hall

Soul Fire Farm Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-WolffAlbany City Hall will be hosting a presentation by Soul Fire Farm founders Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-Wolff this Thursday, April 21. Blurbage:

Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, new York was born in Albany's South End in 2006. Soul Fire is both a beautiful working farm and a unique, nationally recognized educational center. Leah Penniman and her husband Jonah Vitale-Wolff's mission is rooted in a commitment to fighting racism and dismantling oppressive structures that misguide our food system. Using strategies like day-long educational workshops to reconnect youth to their innate belonging to land, leah is working so that everyone, regardless of class, color, or creed, has access to fresh, healthful food and an understanding of how to grow their own. This will be a lively presentation and discussion about the connections between producing healthy food, youth empowerment, and social justice.

Here's a 2014 profile of Soul Fire Farm over at Civil Eats that includes some more backstory.

The event is Thursday starting at 5 pm in the city hall rotunda. It's free.

photo via Soul Fire Farm website

Veg Out: Van's Vietnamese

van's vietnamese restaurant exterior 2016-April

By Cristin Steding

Veg Out is short series about vegan dining options around the Capital Region.

Has there ever been a restaurant you've wanted to try for ages but never get around to? Someplace you know you'd love, but put off trying because you know you'll be there all the time once you finally go?

For me, that place is Van's Vietnamese Restaurant in Albany.

When I asked for suggestions of where to go for vegan food in the Capital Region, Van's was consistently one of the top answers given. I love all spicy foods, especially when they involve noodles, so I was pretty excited to give Van's a try. But for some reason, it took me months from hearing about Van's to actually try it. Perhaps it's because, as many fellow Trojans can attest, with so many great restaurants within walking distance of downtown Troy, it can be easy to never venture out to Albany for food. Or maybe I'm just lazy.

Whatever the reason, I finally made the pilgrimage, and man, was it worth it.

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The Brew Brew

brew brew tap handleOne of the interesting things about the fermenting craft beverage scene in the Capital Region the collaborations that happen between the different players.

Here's a new one: Brew -- the shop on Lark Street in Albany -- has teamed up with Chatham Brewing and Barkeater Coffee Roasters to create a line of specials beers to offer in the shop. Press release blurbage:

The Brew Brew will be a rotating line on the shop's growler menu that will feature various combinations of Chatham Brewing beers with the Brew Blend, a private label coffee created specifically for Brew by Barkeater Coffee Roasters.
The first batch (The Brew Brew: Batch 1) will be a Coffee Maple Amber Ale. More concoctions are in the works and will be announced as they are released. The shop hopes to rotate this offering every 2-3 months with different brews each time.

The launch of the first Brew Brew is set for a tasting during 1st Friday on May 6 (also Tulip Fest weekend) from 5-8 pm.

Earlier on AOA: Checking in with Brew

Death Wish/Albany Distilling: It sounds like another local beverage collaboration -- a coffee-flavored vodka from Death Wish Coffee and Albany Distilling Co. -- will also be released soon.

photo via Brew

Call for "pass it on" peer cooking classes at Dali Mamma for favorite dishes

dali mamma window sign old storefrontThis might be fun/interesting to take part in: Dali Mamma in Albany is putting together a series of "pass it on" cooking classes. Blurbage:

Known for a special dessert?
Are your kids or grand-kids always asking for your recipe??
Is your dish always requested for summer BBQs?
Let's take the opportunity to pass on all of those favorite recipes we love so much. Share your knowledge with fellow cooks, both new and experienced! ...
Where: Dali Mamma Cafe
When: Evenings and/or Weekend times available
How: Contact Katrin@Dalimamma.com with your name, contact info and recipe and we'll be in touch! We'll work together to market your class to the community, set up the kitchen, provide teaching tips and be your assistants during class.

The internet has opened up all sorts of ways to learn how to cook -- websites, recipe blogs, how-to videos -- but there's something special about being able to actually work alongside someone as you learn how to make a dish. And for the person sharing a recipe or technique, teaching someone is a way of preserving that bit of culture or shared history.

Maple. Maple. Maple.

deanna fox maple recipe composite

By Deanna Fox

The coming weekend is the last Maple Weekend for 2016. Sure, you could purchase maple syrup year-round at local markets, but there is something charming about traveling to a local sugar house to buy that gallon of syrup to get you through the year. It feels so quintessentially Upstate.

Pancakes are great. Arguably, waffles are better for the syrup-lovers among us. (All those little wells for syrup!) But there is more to maple than just topping your breakfast food. The smoky, rich flavor from maple syrup is taste that is hard to replicate and lends to the overall character of many meat recipes, side dishes, or sweet endings.

Here are a few ideas -- beyond pancakes and waffles -- for using all that maple syrup.

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The Influence of the Dutch on the American Kitchen at the State Museum

Joachim Bueckelaer's Well-Stocked Kitchen

Joachim Beuckelaer's "The Well-Stocked Kitchen" from 1565.

Food historian Peter G. Rose will be at the State Museum for a talk about how the colonial Dutch influence American cooking. Blurbage:

This PowerPoint presentation is based on a 17th-century Dutch gardening- and cookbook, which features a calendar for gardening activities and a cookbook that explains how to use the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden to best advantage. The 400-year old book with its contemporary theme helps in understanding the kitchen gardens of the early Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley and gives insight in our colonial diet. Illustrations include etchings from the book; works by the Dutch masters such as kitchen scenes by Joachim Beuckelaer; market stalls by Quiringh van Brekelenkam and Pieter Cornelis van Rijck; as well as sumptuous still lifes by Abraham van Beyeren.

Rose is originally from The Netherlands and has written many books about the Dutch and their influence on the food and culture of the Hudson Valley. Her latest book is Delicious December: How the Dutch Brought Us Santa, Presents, and Treats.

The talk is in the State Museum's Huxley Theater at 1 pm on Sunday, April 3. It's free.

Earlier on AOA:
+ What did Albany eat in the 18th century?
+ Baking that Albany Cake

Caribbean food at Trinbago

Trinbago oxtail

Oxtail at Trinbago

By Deanna Fox

That old adage that it's better to have one good friend than many mediocre ones is so true. And thankfully I have not only one good friend, but one that's also willing to eat basically whatever I put him up to.

The truth is, I am lucky to be rich in friendship, I just can't say that all of my friends are willing to tag along on all of my food adventures. My pal Craig, though, is one of them. So when we meet up for our regular lunch dates to talk about beer, history, kids, and whatever else is on our minds, I also know I can drag him along to eat whatever I'm feeling at the moment, as long as it's in downtown Albany (to accommodate work schedules).

Feeling tired of our usual haunts, a cursory search for "lunch, downtown Albany," on Google netted me a little jewel I've never heard of: Trinbago. Next door to Lombardo's On Madison Ave, the internet told me, but admittedly I walked past it twice and then went in the wrong door before realizing where the restaurant was.

What a lucky find it was. Bright, spicy flavors of the Caribbean perked up a dreary mid-March afternoon. The kindness of the staff and owner were enough to put a smile on my face. Paired with a great conversation with an even better friend, Trinbago might end-up being my new go-to lunch spot.

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Veg Out: Beirut Restaurant

Beirut restaurant Troy exterior 2016-March

By Cristin Steding

Veg Out is short series about vegan dining options around the Capital Region.

No tour of vegetarian and vegan food would be complete without a foray into ethnic food options. Trying to veganize traditional American food tends to be an exercise in frustration. Dairy-heavy, meat-centered dishes like hot dogs, mac and cheese, and pizza are difficult to replicate with satisfaction. But when you widen your view, the vegan options multiply.

One of my favorite places for a more global meal is the little treasure of a Lebanese restaurant in Troy, Beirut.

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Mexican street corn at Ama Cocina

Ama Cocina street corn

By Deanna Fox

In our college days, my then-roommate Lyndsay and I had exactly two things in common: Our mutual love of certain bands, and our penchant for margaritas. Jose Cuervo (when you are a poor liberal arts student, it's the "fancy tequila"), a jug of neon-green sour mix, and a $15 Target blender were on standby to whip up a frothy, icy, puckery-sweet libation.

Those margaritas were about as authentic to Mexico as our palates would get, but this year we both turn 30. We're more worldly now, with more sophisticated tastes, and the cash to spend on food that doesn't make our mothers hang their heads in shame.

To celebrate Lyndsay's recent milestone birthday, I suggested trying our hand at Mexican once more, but this time at Ama Cocina, just off North Pearl Street in Albany, a neighborhood that peppered our college years in questionable ways. If all else failed, at least the tequila would be better, right?

Right.

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Troy Kitchen grand opening set

troy kitchen pre-opening exteriorSome quick follow-up on Troy Kitchen: The food court's grand opening is scheduled for this Friday, March 18 at 5 pm. The venue has been closed after its initial opening night in late February in order finish setup and final details.

The lineup of vendors announced today (descriptions via Troy Kitchen):
+ K-Plate: Korean barbeque, featuring marinated beef and short ribs
+ Troy Lobster: Lobster rolls, crab rolls, shrimp rolls, soups and salads
+ Magdelena's Menu: Mexican cuisine, including tacos and burritos
+ Butter & Sugar Co.: Cupcakes, truffles and custom cakes
+ APT: Retail home goods and furniture

The planned hours of operation: 11 am-11 pm Monday-Thursday / 11 am-2 am Friday and Saturday / noon-4 pm Sunday.

Earlier on AOA: A look at Troy Kitchen

Lark Street Ben & Jerry's re-opening at new spot

467 Madison Ave exterior

467 Madison Ave is the storefront on the left.

The Ben & Jerry's shop that had been on Lark Street in Albany for many years will re-open at a nearby storefront on Madison Ave, according to a post on the shop's FB page: "We are very excited about our new location and look forward to scooping for you in Spring!" In a comment, the shop says it's hoping to work out something for the annual free cone day, which is mid April.

The storefront is at 467 Madison Ave -- it's the space formerly occupied by the Little Moon gift shop, and it's nextdoor to El Loco.

Owner Richard Wilson stopped operating at the shop's longtime spot on Lark Street earlier this year because of a repair problem and reported dispute between the building landlord and an adjacent property owner. [TU]

Around that same time Wilson talked with AOA for that big collection of perspectives on the state of Lark Street and its future. He remarked that Lark appeared to be in a down period, but he also had some optimism: "It's our little Greenwich Village in Albany -- it would be great to get it back to that."

(Thanks, D)

Earlier on AOA:
+ Thinking about the future of Lark Street
+ It's never too cold for free ice cream (2008)

Now open: Crisan Cafe at the Albany Institute

Crisan Cafe at Albany Institute

Crisan Cafe at the Albany Institute of History and Art

The cafe in the storefront of the popular Crisan bakery on Lark Street closed a little more than a year ago.

But now it's back in a new form. And it's joined by New World Catering. And art.

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Eating a spaghetti sandwich in an alley

alleycarte spaghetti sandwich

By Steve Noisseau

I woke up this past Wednesday, and as I usually do (and I'm sure many of you do as well), I grabbed my phone and checked for any notifications. I'm very active on Facebook, and my wife who was up before me, shared Steve Barnes' post to my timeline about Peck's Arcade launching a food cart they're calling the Alleycarte.

I'm a huge fan of Peck's, and particularly head chef Nick Ruscitto. I enjoyed his food when he was the chef at The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark, and I followed him over to Peck's when he became the chef early last year. I've dined at Peck's three times since they've opened, and I've become convinced it's one of the best restaurants in the area. Needless to say, I was excited about the food cart and decided I'd head over for lunch.

There were two items on the opening day menu, one of which was a spaghetti sandwich.

A spaghetti sandwich?

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Suggestions and advice on local CSAs?

lettuce bok choy radishes in garden

Carrie emails:

Wondering if you guys could do another post on CSA's this year...? I know you did one in 2009, I remember every time I search for updates and that comes up. And the Times Union did something in 2013. But this seems like a growing thing, and (I hope) there have been some new ones and some changes to old ones?

CSA stands for "community supported agriculture" (people also refer to them as farm shares). The way they basically work: People the farm upfront at the start of the growing season and then they get a batch of farm produce at some interval (usually weekly) throughout the season.

This is currently prime time for CSA signs-ups, and many of them fill up.

As those links above indicate, there are a bunch of CSA options in the Capital Region. So... have one you'd recommend? Any advice on picking one that's a good fit for a household? Tips on working through all that produce each week? Thoughts on sharing a share with another household?

If you have suggestions for any of those questions, please share! And as always, a sentence or two about why're suggesting something can be a big help.

Veg Out: The Bier Abbey

bier abbey schenectady exterior

By Cristin Steding

Veg Out is short series about vegan dining options around the Capital Region.

While visiting a friend in New York City recently I found myself at a bar that had no vegan options. Every single option involved meat or butter. The only thing I could order was french fries. Rookie mistake to not research beforehand. I had foolishly assumed that since most places in Albany have veggie options, surely a hip bar in Brooklyn, of all places, would have something.

Here in the Capital Region, being vegan is relatively easy. We have Whole Foods and Honest Weight for all our geeky animal­-free cheeses and most restaurants have at least one veggie option. It's easy to get spoiled.

One great veggie option for a low-key dinner date or after work drinks is The Bier Abbey in Schenectady.

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Ice cream stand season 2016

jims tastee freez bethlehem 2014-August

The Tastee Freez is always one of the first places to open, and this year is no exception.

Updated March 17

Spring, it is near. And ice cream stand season has started!

A few stands are already open (or will be very soon), and more will be opening in the next few weeks.

Here's our annual rundown of a bunch of seasonal ice cream stands, with opening dates. In some cases the dates are TBA, or we just couldn't find out (yet). So if you can fill in some of the information in the comments, we'd very much appreciate it.

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Coming to Lark: Berben & Wolff's Vegan Deli

exterior 227 Lark Street

The space at 227 Lark Street.

A new vegan deli -- Berben & Wolff's -- is set to take over the Brakes Coffee House space at 227 Lark Street in Albany later this spring.

Berben & Wolff's is backed by Joey Berben and Max Wolff. About a year and a half ago they started selling seitan -- a protein product made from wheat gluten -- to local restaurants, as well doing pop-kitchens and event catering. They now make a range of vegan products: breakfast sausage, chicken wings, chorizo, burgers.

"We have both always been very involved in food." Berben told AOA via chat today -- he's worked in the deli at Honest Weight, and Wolff is a restaurant chef. "There has been quite a lack of vegan restaurants in the area, so I began hosting events and cooking for friends. I was approached by Max last year about starting a legitimate business selling some of the seitan products I made. It took off pretty quickly and has been doing very well."

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Egg in the Bread at The Breakfast Spot

egg in the bread

Simple, but comforting.

By Deanna Fox

Do you ever really miss your mom?

I do, especially when I am sick. Growing up, my mom used to make me Campbell's tomato soup with extra saltines, a juice box, and a crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut into triangles.

But now I'm the mom, and moms don't get sick days. No one is there to make me a soothing meal when I'm feeling under the weather, but thankfully there is The Breakfast Spot (TBS) in Cohoes, which serves up meals that comfort from the inside.

Having breakfast at TBS feels like a trip back to childhood, though not my childhood; I was born in the 80s, and the decor at TBS feels straight out of a diner from Leave it to Beaver. Nostalgia never hurt the healing process anyway.

Still, the food at TBS alone can cure what ails you. Case in point: Toad in the Hole -- or what TBS refers to as Egg in the Bread.

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A Journey Rooted in New York State Beets at Dali Mamma

dali mamma window signCould be interesting: Dali Mamma in Albany is hosting "A Journey Rooted in New York State Beets" -- a 7-course dinner with beets as a theme -- on Saturday, March 26. Tickets are $75.

A group of chefs is collaborating on the dinner: Ellie Markovitch, Jillian Naveh, Josh Coletto, Sean O'Connor, Jeffrey Lentz, and Dali Mamma owner Katrin Haldeman.

The menu is listed after the jump. (We note that it does not include a beet/goat cheese/field greens salad.)

There's been a lot of more focus in food circles recently on vegetables. Some of that attention is probably because of interest in vegetarianism and environmental concerns, but vegetable also provide interesting opportunities for chefs to be creative in ways diners might not have seen before.

Dali Mamma is now located in the 41 State Street building (the entrance is on Broadway) in downtown Albany.

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A look at Troy Kitchen

troy kitchen pre-opening exterior

By Lauren Hittinger Hodgson

When you think of a food court, your first thoughts are probably of shopping malls and crappy fast food.
Troy Kitchen -- opening in downtown Troy Friday -- is hoping to change that.

The food court is an amalgamation of food and drink vendors located in the former Pioneer Food Co-op space on Congress Street. The venue is the brainchild of Cory Nelson, who confesses that he has no food service experience, but saw a business opportunity.

I talked with Nelson earlier this week as work was finishing up on the space to get the details on his food vendors, inspiration, and goals for the venue.

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Veg Out: Seitan wings at The Ruck

The Ruck vegan wings

By Cristin Steding

Say hello to Cristin Steding, who will be writing a short series here at AOA about vegan dining options around the Capital Region.

One of the hardest things about eating vegan and spending time with non-vegan friends and family is going out to eat. At family dinners and casual get-togethers, it's easy enough to bring a dish to share and insist no one worry about accommodating you. When someone says "Let's go out!," though, it strikes dread in the hearts of vegans everywhere. Will it be a night of eating unseasoned, overpriced steamed veggies? Or will it be the dreaded plain garden salad with oil and vinegar?

If you're lucky, you can convince the group to go to a place that's secretly vegan-friendly. These darling restaurants will not only mark the menu with what's vegan, but also put an effort at making it delicious.

When the time does come to pick a restaurant, it's good to have some solid choices at the ready, where you know you'll be able to find something to eat and your carnivore dining mates won't whine about the hippie food. The Capital Region is blessedly vegan friendly, something I completely took for granted prior to going full veg. In fact, some of the best vegan food around is hiding in places you might not expect.

Perfect example: The Ruck.

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Fork in the Road 2016

Tricentennial Park is the park on Broadway across from Kiernan Plaza/the old train station.

The Fork in the Road food truck events are set to return to downtown Albany's Tricentennial Park starting April 8. After that there will be one per month through October (the schedule's after the jump).

The organizer of the event, the Downtown Albany BID, is currently looking for feedback from the public about which food trucks and vendors people might like to see there this year, along with any general ideas for improving the event. The BID says last year's series drew an average of 600 people for each event.

And if you operate a food truck or similar business, we get the sense the BID would be happy to hear from you about potential interest in participating -- here's the application info from last year.

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Pancake breakfast at The Sap House at Stone House Farm

sap house stone house farm composite

By Deanna Fox

I recently had dinner with a group of friends -- all but one of us an "outsider" to Albany, growing up elsewhere -- about what it is that makes the city so alluring to us. Why we feel Albany is primed for a resurgence as a modern city where young(ish) people like us can thrive, have families, lay down roots. (And by Albany, what we really meant is both the city and the surrounding area we refer to as the Capital Region.)

Part of the appeal, for us, is the fact that there is just so much to do here. Within a three hour drive, we can experience mountains, lake, ocean, cities, other countries. And in considerably less time, we can be transported to the bucolic countryside for leisurely weekend drives that highlight the agricultural and small-town economies that give the Capital Region much of its charm.

Case in point: Sharon Springs. The town lies on the historic byway of US Route 20 and was once a hotspot for the out-of-towners looking for healing qualities in the town's natural springs. And there are plenty of farms surrounding the tiny town center that offer a plethora agricultural products that city-folk are more than happy to bring home.

Like maple syrup. And really, what's the point of maple syrup if you can't have a good pancake to sop it up with?

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Checking out the pizza at Restaurant Navona

restaurant navona albany exterior

More pizza touring, this time at the recently opened Restaurant Navona. It's the place that took over the Midtown Tea and Tap Room space on New Scotland Ave in Albany's Helderberg neighborhood.

The kitchen now has a wood-fired oven and it's turning out some interesting pies. And we get the impression chef/co-owner Mike Niccoli is serious about their pizza game. (A tip of the hat to Steve N. for mentioning the pizza at Navona.)

So, the Tournament of Pizza crew stopped in to taste a handful of pies...

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A sampling of cooking classes, winter 2016

kitchen tools in metal holder

Even in this winter of non-winter, February and March can be a good time to take a cooking class. It's a chance to gather somewhere warm, learn something new, and eat something good.

So, here's a new a batch of cooking classes over the next few months that caught our eye -- and maybe you'll find them interesting: From Valentine's Day treats, to sausage making, to tagine, to ramen, to sushi, to pancakes.

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The Antipasto Salad at Bellini's Counter

bellinis counter antipasta salad overhead

By Deanna Fox

The fast-casual concept is the hot ticket in restaurants these days. It is why places like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, and the upcoming Troy Kitchen continue to flourish across the dining scene. Sitting down and ordering with a server is so old-hat. We Americans are a busy bunch! Give us quality food on the go and don't make us wait too long for it.

But one cuisine that is unrepresented in the local fast-casual marketplace is Italian fare (save for pizza). Is it possible to get a hearty bowl of spaghetti and meatballs with haste?

Bellini's Counter -- the fast-casual offshoot of the local Bellini's Italian restaurant chain -- seems to think so. And they are willing to bet that the food you've come to expect from more formal sit-down restaurants can be had just as easily in this quick-serve format.

I think it's fair to say Bellini's is cashing in on that bet.

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Death Wish Coffee gets a Super Bowl ad

Death Wish Coffee -- the hyper-caffeinated coffee brand that grew out of Saratoga Coffee Traders -- is going to have a TV commercial during the Super Bowl (er, right, The Big Game). Really.

Death Wish won a contest run by Intuit QuickBooks for the 30-second spot. The coffee brand finished first in a series of public votes. In addition to the ad time, Quickbooks also covered the cost of developing and producing the commercial.

The ad is embedded above.

Death Wish touts itself as "the world's strongest coffee ... created by using the strongest combination of beans and a perfect roasting process." It's available at Saratoga Coffee Traders in downtown Saratoga Springs (of course), as well as the Markets 32 in Clifton Park and Wilton, and online.

Checking out Blaze Pizza

Blaze Pizza Stuyvesant Plaza exterior 2016-January

The Stuyvesant Plaza location.

Blaze Pizza -- a fast-casual pizza chain -- opened last Friday in Stuyvesant Plaza. It's the second location in the Capital Region -- the first opened at Mohawk Commons in Niskayuna last fall.

The Blaze concept is sort of like Chipotle, but for pizza -- you walk in, go through the line telling them what you'd like on your pizza, and then the pizza goes into an oven for a few minutes. They call your name, you take the pizza to your table and eat. It's about $8 for a pizza that can feed 1-2 people depending on how hungry you are/whether you also get a salad.

We're always looking for an excuse to 1) eat pizza and 2) meet up with the Tournament of Pizza crew. So we got the band back together and went to taste some pizza.

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New CEO for Price Chopper/Market 32 parent company

Golub Corp Scott GrimmettThe Golub Corporation -- the privately-held parent company of Price Chopper/Market 32 based in Schenectady -- announced Wednesday that it has a new CEO. And notably, the person is not a Golub.

Scott Grimmett, who had been the company chief operating officer (he was the first non-Golub to hold that role), is succeeding Jerry Golub in the CEO role. Grimmett (that's him on the right) joined the Golub Corp in 2012 after working for Safeway for 37 years. He's been part of the company succession plan since he was hired, according to a press release.

Press release blurbage:

"This is an exciting time for our company," said Neil Golub, chairman of the board. "While international conglomerates and Wall St. continue to consolidate our industry, we are investing in our future as a strong, American-owned, family-built regional chain. The design work that we invested in Market Bistro (circa 2010-2014), coupled with the brand-defining innovation that has given rise to our first few Market 32 concept stores has not only laid the groundwork for our continued growth, but also fueled the acceleration of our plans to modernize our stores under the Market 32 banner. "

Jerry Golub is now vice chair of the company's board and will be leading a committee focused on accelerating the switch from the Price Chopper brand to Market 32, according to the press release.

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Pickle-brined chicken sandwich at 677 Prime

677 Prime fried chicken sandwich

By Deanna Fox

Restaurants, for me, are like bad boyfriends. I take them back time and time again, even when they aren't that good for me. Disappointment looms, but sometimes things can change, right?

This bad habit has mostly waned, at least regarding restaurants. I realize anyone can have a bad night, but if a restaurant does me wrong by way of bad service, poor food quality, or lacking atmosphere, chances are good I'm not going back.

A relapse now and then can be good, though.

Case in point: The pickle-brined fried chicken sandwich at 677 Prime in Albany. I'm glad I went back for a second try.

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Coffee class at Superior Merchandise Co.

superior merchandise coffee cupThis could be something different and interesting to try: Superior Merchandise Company in Troy is offering a "Coffee School" class about coffee tasting on February 1. Blurbage:

Lead by SMCo.'s Director of Coffee Matthew Loiacono, the class will delve into a history of coffee, ideal growing conditions for coffee, general coffee region taste characteristics, how coffee professionals evaluate coffee, an intro to the SCAA taster's wheel and will wrap up with a tasting and discussion of three single origin coffees. The 90 minute class will be presented in a loose lecture-style format, interspersed with flash "taste and describe" breaks.

The class is Monday, February 1 from 6-7:30 pm. Tickets are $30 and available online.

The shop already one of the classes scheduled for January 25 and it sold out. So if you're interested in attending, getting tickets sooner rather than later is probably a good idea.

Earlier on AOA: Superior Merchandise Co.

What was on the menu in Albany back then

delavan house menu 1884 crop

History so often is about dates and places and battles and famous people. But we often find ourselves curious about the day-to-day things from way back. What were people's houses like? What did they do for fun? What were they eating?

We had that last question in mind when we came across a group of historical menus that are online as part of the New York Public Library's collection. And a handful of them are from hotels and halls in Albany during the last 1800s and early 1900s.

So... what was on the menu?

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Electric City Food Co-op info meeting

electric city food coop logoThe in-development Electric City Food Co-op -- "organizing to bring a community-owned, one-stop grocery market featuring local and bulk foods to the downtown area of Schenectady" -- has an informational meeting lined for this Saturday, January 16.

Project blurbage:

The Electric City Food Co-op hopes to expand market opportunities for local farmers and entrepreneurs, bring the healthiest and freshest foods to one of the food deserts of Schenectady on a full-time basis, offer greater opportunity for intentional eating, and strengthen the local economy by keeping our food dollars local.

Here's an FAQ on the co-op's website about its plans.

Co-op organizers say they've gotten financial commitments from 155 households so far. When it reached 300 households, they say they'll be able to begin the process of site selection. (And 1,000 member-owners will eventually be needed to open.)

The info meeting Saturday is at the Schenectady County Historical Society (32 Washington Ave in Schenectady) from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm.

Steuben Street Market

Steuben Street Market Albany interior

There's a new grocery store in downtown Albany. The Steuben Street Market opened at 58 North Pearl Street for the first time Wednesday, and will be open seven days a week.

The market's opening is notable because a grocery store has been a missing piece in downtown Albany's ongoing evolution into a residential neighborhood. Roughly 1,000 new residential units have been added downtown during the last few years, and residents, developers, and other business owners have all mentioned that the addition of a grocery could mark an important turning point for the neighborhood.

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Rice Chicken Soup at Chontong Thai

chotong thai chicken soup overhead

By Deanna Fox

Balancing the annual rite of passage to eat clean and healthy that New Year's resolutions bring with the desire to eat comforting, rich foods during winter's coldest days might be the great dichotomy of modern humanity. At least for Upstaters.

What should one do, for instance, when the temperature dips below freezing (well below), a head cold has taken over, and the desire to indulge and self-soothe with a gluttonous delight contradicts all the abstention from fatty, sweet, and carb-loaded food that winter cuisine is known for?

You order the rice chicken soup from Chontong Thai in Delmar, that's what.

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Favorite local foods of 2015

snowman boston shake

A favorite treat. / photo: Lauren Hittinger Hodgson

With 2016 about the start, we're asking a bunch of people about favorite/interesting things from 2015.

First up: Favorite local foods or drinks of the past year.

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Dutch drinking chocolate at Vischer Ferry General Store

Vischer Ferry General Store drinking chocolate

And, of course, you could probably use a little something to nibble on, too.

By Deanna Fox

I am a sucker for anything "General Store" related: Cooperstown; Hillsdale; Fort Orange. I patronize them all.

It likely harkens to that great general store that was the hub of village activities in my hometown. It's only a memory now, as the building it was housed in -- the Cox Block, the grand madame situated on the corner of the crossroads -- burned just before Christmas last year. Maybe subtly grasping at nostalgia is the general store draw for me.

So when a friend suggested that we check out the recently-opened Vischer Ferry General Store in the sleepy, historic Clifton Park hamlet, I was all for it.

A modest website suggested little on what I might find there (except for charm and an old-timey feel), so I went in blindly, assured by my friend I could at least have coffee there.

She said nothing of Dutch drinking chocolate. These are the kinds of surprises I can fully get behind.

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Where to get a good fruitcake?

fruitcake on plate Flickr storebukkebruse CCBryon asks via the Facebook:

Any suggestions on where to find a good local fruitcake?

Yep, we hear the joke already: A good fruitcake is no fruitcake. But apparently good version of the Christmas staple are actually pretty good.

We'll also expand Bryon's question a bit to include other traditional Christmas cake-ish things, like stollen.

So, got a suggestion for a good local place to snag a fruitcake? Please share! And a sentence or two about why you're recommending the place/product is always appreciated.

Earlier on AOA: Bakeries that sell yule logs/Bûche de Noël for Christmas?

photo: Flickr user storebukkebruse (CC BY 2.0)

Last-minute local holiday eats

bottle of the 10th pin

Nine Pin + Albany Distilling = The 10th Pin. / photo via Nine Pin FB

By Deanna Fox

OH, DANG! You have a holiday party to go to, and you blanked on bringing a gift or a dish to pass, didn't you?

Don't worry, it happens, especially with the hustle of the holiday season.

Fear not: We, your dear friends in the holiday spirit, are here to set you on your merry way with a few suggestions for last-minute grab-and-go items that will have everyone thinking you've definitely got your ho-ho-ho together.

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Restaurants with in-kitchen dining tables?

plates on kitchen passDavid emails:

Do you guys know of any restaurants in the area that have dining tables set up in the kitchen, to see the kitchen in action? Like a chefs table type of setup?

The first place that popped into our mind was the bar along the open kitchen at Peck's Arcade in Troy. But we're guessing there are at least a few other spots around the Capital Region.

Got a suggestion for David? Please share!

Salmon BLT at Public House 42

Public House 42 salmon BLT

By Deanna Fox

I love bacon. I'm just not a fan of it on a sandwich. Unless it's a BLT. And in that case, I'm not even really that enthused about the idea of bacon on a sandwich. Next to pancakes, or sliced into lardons in sautéed Brussels sprouts? Heck yes, bacon all day long. Otherwise, meh.

The same holds true for salmon. I like most seafood and fish, but salmon can be a bit boring sometimes. And being the empiricist that I am, past experience sampling salmon burgers or other types of salmon sandwiches have conditioned me to avoid salmon-between-bread at most costs.

But while recently having lunch with my friend Craig (of Albany Ale fame) at Public House 42 in Albany, he insisted I try the salmon BLT -- a sandwich he had enjoyed before and thought I might like -- and try to quell my doubts on the integrity of the menu item.

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A good restaurant for Christmas dinner?

chow fun at Hong Kong BakeryNancy emails:

For several years we have enjoyed going to Karavali in Latham on Christmas Day. This year we'd like to explore somewhere else. Nothing wrong with Karavali - it's great and very busy that day.
We are looking for something in the nearby Capital Region - NOT a typical Christmas Buffet at a hotel, but an interesting, non-religious restaurant which is open on Christmas Day and provides great food and a festive atmosphere.
May I ask the readers of AOA to make suggestions, please?

We get the feeling from Nancy's email that she's very interested in heading to another ethnic restaurant, or just trying something a bit different.

Anyone have local Christmas Day dining experiences or suggestions to share with Nancy? Please share!

Crepes at The French Press Cafe and Creperie

French Press Cafe Albany exterior

By Deanna Fox

On some of the oldest real estate in downtown Albany -- Clinton Square -- lies a small piece of France. A French cafe, in fact, that churns out classics of French cuisine, like baguette sandwiches, cafe au lait, and crepes.

A taste of France in this area is nothing new: French fur traders were some of the earliest Europeans in the Albany region. Throughout history, France and America have traded barbs are readily as they've supported each other when Le Merde hits Le Fan; regardless, we've embraced French culture and perhaps appreciate it best through food: Croissant, macarons, boeuf bourguignon, wine. Romantic notions of what France is draw American visitors regularly to the country, though experiencing it first-hand is a mere Gene Kelly-esque pipedream for those of us with wanderlust bigger than our bank accounts.

But thankfully, on the cobblestone promenade just west of the Hudson River, we can find a budget-friendly glimpse of France at The French Press Cafe and Creperie, where we can linger en plein air on wrought iron bistro seating, sip our coffee, and indulge in that wonderful French creation: The crepe.

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Baking that Albany Cake

albany cake two versions closeup

Same recipe, two different interpretations.

Last week we mentioned that 1828 recipe for "Albany Cake" (thanks, Pamela!), which prompted a a discussion about some of the quirks of the recipe and what the cake might be like.

Well, Greg Kern -- the pastry chef at Peck's Arcade in Troy -- saw the recipe and decided to actually try it.

So we thought it'd be fun to talk with him about how it worked out...

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Looking ahead at New York's craft beverage boom

glass of nine pin cider

Hard cider is one of the many growing segments of the state's craft beverages industry.

By Deanna Fox

We wrap up Following Food week with a few drinks.

I write frequently about the beer, cider, wine, and spirits industry, and to be honest it is hard to keep up with the frequency at which another craft beverage producer is launching, or when new craft products are being released. New York State is a hotbed for craft beverages, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down.

Just ask Andrew Cuomo. Last month, his administration held the third wine, beer, spirits and cider summit in Albany that brought together beverage makers, farmers, politicians, and bureaucrats to discuss the progress made in the beverage production in New York State.

"Our investments in the farm-based beverage industry have created a synergy of economic momentum for wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries. That momentum is fueling opportunity for small businesses across the state, and we are going to keep it coming well into the future," said Cuomo, who then announced a series of investments and initiatives totaling more than $16 million to support the beverage industry's growth.

Here are some of the obstacles -- and opportunities -- that are still ahead...

cdphp in-post ad local food week 2

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What did Albany eat in the 18th century?

Hawley Family conversation piece 1801 William Wilkie

This scene depicts the Hawley Family of Albany in 1801 -- it was painted William Wilkie and is part of the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art.

Following Food week takes a turn now for the old-school...

We're coming up on the end-of-year holidays and many of us will be serving a lot of the same holiday foods -- turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing. Sure, we all have our own versions of holiday foods, but there are plenty of similarities.

So what about people who lived here, say, 200 years ago? What did they serve at their holiday tables?

Sara Evenson, an MA candidate at Virginia Tech, has been researching 18th century food history -- and she's particularly interested in Albany cuisine from that era. She'll be giving a talk about some of her research at the State Museum Friday afternoon as part of the Researching New York conference.

We chatted with Evenson about how 18th century food here differed from what we eat now, and about what would have been on holiday tables back then.

cdphp in-post ad local food week 2

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Albany Cake

cook and housewifes manual dods cover page

As part the Following Food week drawing, Pamela's pick for a food to represent the Capital Region intrigued us: Albany Cakes (or Dutch Pudding).

The dessert is mentioned in the The Cook and Housewife's Manual: A Practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management by Margaret Dods, which was first published in 1828.

Going through old cookbooks is kind of like digging up old magic -- the recipes (spells) often contain ingredients and methods that now seem rather mysterious.

So, we figured it be fun to look up the recipe.

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How raising steer has changed the way I eat

steers in the corral

By Jon Kunin

Back in the 70s and early 80s, my father-in-law raised animals. Steers, a few pigs, turkeys, and the freezer often had some hunted venison. Most of that had stopped by the time I started hanging around in the early 90s.

In December of 2003, the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in the US. A few weeks later at a New Year's party, my father-in-law asked, "If I did cows again, would you want in?"

Being a little too into all things food -- and a bit drunk -- I was game. And I'm glad I was. Because there is no doubt the experience has changed the way I cook and eat.

cdphp in-post ad local food week 2

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Defining an upstate cuisine

apples in bin in orchard at Samascott

Apples, sure. But the bounty of great local products extends far beyond that.

By Daniel B.

With the harvest from this past summer finishing up, and Thanksgiving just ahead, we figured it would be a good time for some thinking and discussion about local food. So, it's Following Food Week here on AOA.

Is there an Upstate New York Cuisine?

Sure, in the Capital Region we have mini hot dogs, foot-long fish fry, and mozzarella with melba -- but that's not quite a cuisine, per se. And we have a strong tavern culture, but regardless of how soul satisfying a cheesy, doughy, saucy, tavern pie may be in the midst of winter, it doesn't provide the flavor of the region.

Many regional cuisines are based on the unique combination of local ingredients that are available in the area. And here, at the intersection of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, surrounded by farms, woods, and mountains, we have plenty of raw materials from which to draw inspiration.

So, with that as a starting place, we asked some talented chefs: "What would an Upstate New York Regional Dinner menu look like?"

cdphp in-post ad local food week 2

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Re-growing the local grain industry

young blades of pastry wheat

Amy's favorite pastry wheat is planted in the fall near Ithaca.

By Amy Halloran

With the harvest from this past summer finishing up, and Thanksgiving just ahead, we figured it would be a good time for some thinking and discussion about local food. So, it's Following Food Week here on AOA. We start things off with a look at the effort to re-grow this area's grain industry.

Grains are so foundational and basic that we don't give them much thought. I certainly never gave them much mind, even though I'm a heavy baker.

Until five years ago, I had two facts about flour: I knew I liked King Arthur, and that I loved the taste of whole wheat.

Then, I had a cookie that introduced me to fresh, locally-grown oats and wheat. The flavors were so vibrant I had to follow that food back to the field.

And I'm here to report that the road to local wheat is tough traveling.

cdphp in-post ad local food week 2

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Avocado Fries at Slidin' Dirty

slidin dirty avocado fries

By Deanna Fox

Everyone together now, on the count of three. Ready?

1...2...3... (Insert sigh of longing here.)

I think I might have been the last person in the Capital Region to understand the appeal and popularity of avocado fries from Slidin' Dirty (which has a location in Troy, along with a roving food truck). I can barely utter the words without someone interrupting with, "Oh my gosh, avocado fries. My favorite." Sometimes they actually drool, too.

And since this column is designed to highlight great food in the Albany area, it would be antithetical not to take a moment to appreciate the avocado fry, an ingenious use of a humble fruit that makes everyone from small children to large, bearded, beer-loving men giddy with delight.

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He beat Bobby Flay

ric orlando beat bobby flay

New World chef Ric Orlando was on the Food Network show Beat Bobby Flay Thursday night.

And he won!

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Roast beef at Wm. H. Buckley Farm

Buckley Farm Cafe exterior 2015-October

By Deanna Fox

Happenstance is a wonderful thing. You never quite know what life is going to bring your way. If you are lucky, that means many delicious morsels will grace the path (luckier still if you are wise enough to embrace and savor them).

When I went up to Ballston Lake on Friday for a state Department of Agriculture and Markets press conference at Wm. H. Buckley Farm, I was expecting to get some insight on both new stories and story lines I have been following for a while.

I wasn't expecting to eat, let alone taste, some of the most tender and flavorful roast beef I've ever had.

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These burgers have no meat (and that's OK)

veggie burger composite

By Greg

We've had a string of burger-related posts this week -- a sort of fast-casual theme week. And now we're finishing up with Greg taking a look at burgers that don't involve meat.

I like veggie burgers. A lot. And in the past year I've easily eaten more veggie burgers than regular meat burgers.

The reasons include:

+ I've been trying to eat less meat for environmental reasons.

+ The meat I do eat I'd like to be humanely- and sustainably-raised. (I can do a better job of this.)

+ I think veggie burgers are interesting from a culinary standpoint because they're a different spin on something that's so common in our food culture.

So here are quick takes on seven veggie burgers from around the area that I've tried...

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The art of creating a burger

looking into the kitchen at Crave

Looking through the pass into the kitchen at Crave.

We have a string of burger-related posts this week -- let's call it a fast-casual theme week.

Burgers are burgers -- some places might execute better than others, but when you get down to it, everyone pretty much has the same thing, right?

That's not the case at Crave, which recently opened at the corner of Western Ave and Quail Street in Albany. Co-owners Devin Ziemann and Kaytrin Della Sala have created a menu of more than 20 different types of burgers that spans from the classic American cheese burger, to a lamb burger with curry mayo, to a French onion burger, to a turkey burger inspired by pastrami, to a kung pao shrimp burger.

"We get people in here three, four times a week trying to conquer the menu," says Ziemann, a chef who headed up other kitchens around the Capital Region before he and Della Sala decided to open something of their own. "The list is so big because there were so many [burgers] that we were, like, we can't get rid of that one, it's awesome."

So we thought it'd be fun to have Ziemann walk us through his thought process when creating a burger...

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The new-school burger chains: fries

burger chain tasting fries composite

We have a string of burger-related posts this week -- let's call it a fast-casual theme week.

As we made our way along the tasting tour of the new-school burger chains, you didn't think we'd skip the fries, do you? That just wouldn't be right.

And we came to a very important conclusion in doing so. Mainly that, when confronted with mediocre fries, we'll continue eating them even though we know we shouldn't.

As for what we else we learned about fries on this burger tour...

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Mark Bittman at UAlbany this Thursday

mark bittman

Just a reminder that popular food writer Mark Bittman will be at UAlbany Thursday (October 22) as part of the NYS Writers Institute visiting writers series. The event is at 7:30 pm in Page Hall on the downtown campus.

Bittman be talking about his new book A Bone to Pick. Blurbage:

Bittman's latest book complies his most memorable and entertaining New York Times columns into a single volume for the first time. Bittman's columns help readers decipher arcane policy, unpack scientific studies, and scrutinize corporate greed when it comes to defining what "eating well" truly means. A Bone to Pick is an essential resource for every reader eager to understand both the complexities of the American food system and the many opportunities that exist to improve it.

Bittman has written a bunch of cookbooks -- notably, How to Cook Everything. And until recently he had been regularly columnist and writer for the New York Times, in recent years focusing on food policy. This past September he announced he was leaving his regular column at the paper to "take a central role in a year-old food company."

photo via Mark Bittman's website

A tasting tour of the new-school burger chains

burger chain tasting composite

We have a string of burger-related posts this week -- let's call it a fast-casual theme week.

There's been a recent boomlet of new-school burger chains in the Capital Region. Smashburger, Burger 21, and BurgerFi have all opened locations here during the last year or so, with at least one other chain still planning an arrival. And, of course, there's Five Guys, which has been here for years.

These are all fast food places, but their pitches are something sort of along the lines of Chipotle -- fast food with the aim of higher quality and nicer experience.

So we thought it'd be interesting to get a group of tasters together to tour four of these chains all in one day to compare the burgers (and fries!) one after another.

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Drawing: What's your favorite burger in the Capital Region?

favorite local burger illustration

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

This week we have a string of burger-related posts lined up -- sort of a fast-casual theme week. And to get things started we thought it'd be fun to have a drawing in which we ask about your favorite burgers.

The prize: a $50 gift certificate to the establishment that makes the favorite burger mentioned in your comment. (You know, so you can go enjoy that burger with a friend.)

So...

What's your favorite burger in the Capital Region?

Please mention just one burger at one place in your comment. If you'd like to top your answer with a sentence or two about why it's your favorite burger, we'd very much appreciate it. We'll draw one comment at random, that person will the get the gift certificate.

One important restriction: The burger place must be in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, or Schenectady county.

We're looking forward to hearing about your favorites.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on Wednesday, September 21, 2015 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon on Thursday and must respond by noon on Friday, October 23.

Sentinel Butchery

sentinel butchery exterior

The shop is on the street level of the building at 225 River Street, which once housed the Troy Sentinel. (The Sentinel was the newspaper that originally published "A Visit from St. Nicholas.)

A new whole-animal butcher shop -- Sentinel Butchery -- is opening on River Street near Monument Square in downtown Troy this Saturday.

Whole animal? That means Sentinel will be bringing in whole cows, pigs, lambs, and other animals and then making use of every part of the animal for a range of products.

We stopped by this week to talk with owner/butcher Emily Petersen for a few minutes and a get a quick look at the shop.

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Baklava at Athos

athos baklava

By Deanna Fox

Lately, I've been feeling wanderlusty.

Don't get me wrong -- Upstate New York in fall is a wonderful place to be. I relish and marvel in it every year. But I've also had this desire to uproot myself and go explore a less familiar territory. Maybe it is the change in seasons that has me yearning for a change in my own life, too.

Whatever it is, I've got the travel itch; unfortunately hopping on a plane to some exotic locale is not in the cards for me in the moment. I did the next best thing: Took a day trip to explore unknown towns around me, and tucked into food that would transport me to another place.

Cerulean seas were calling my name. I opted for a piece of baklava instead.

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Distilling the next life for Albany's oldest building

Van Ostrande-Radliff House oldest building in Albany 2015-10-01

As the building currently stands.

In a life almost three centuries long, you're going to cycle through a few different careers.

So it is with the Van Ostrande-Radliff House -- AKA, Albany's oldest building -- which has served as a townhouse, a wax factory, and an equipment storage space (among other uses) over its 287-year-old lifetime.

And now there's a plan for the Van Ostrande-Radliff House's next career: as a distillery.

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Photos from the AOA cider pairing event at Nine Pin Cider Works

nine pin tasting event composite

We got a bunch of people together Thursday night for a cider pairing event at Nine Pin Cider Works in Albany.

People got to taste a flight of four ciders paired with four locally-made cheeses, along with a short introduction to each from Nine Pin's Alejandro del Peral and cheese makers and purveyors. Then everyone took a tour of the production facility, and finished off the night with free samples of cider sorbet made by the Dutch Udder.

It was a good time. Thanks to everyone who joined us!

Here are a handful of photos of the night...

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When New York was hopped up

hop farm near Cooperstown 1900 NYS Archives

The photo above is from the NYS Archives, and it's from a hop farm near Cooperstown around 1900.

Hop farm? You know it. From the accompany description on the archives site:

In Ostego County in the town of Madison, New Yorker James D. Coolidge planted the first hops yards in 1808. His commercial opportunity came fourteen years later when blight, insects, and unfavorable weather decimated crops in England. This increased the demand for New York's hops in both national and international markets.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the influx of German immigrants during the first half of the nineteenth century also increased the domestic demand for hops. In 1850, New York shipped 750,000 pounds of hops to British markets. In 1880, all but sixteen New York counties were growing hops. Ostego, Madison, Herkimer, Schoharie, Chenago, Oneida, and Montgomery Counties were the leading producers of hops, with Ostego County producing more hops than any other county in the United States.

Disease and Prohibition pretty much killed off the hop growing industry in New York, and today most of the hops grown in the country are produced out in the Pacific Northwest.

But the crop is making a comeback here, a rise prompted in part by the state's farm brewery license, which requires breweries operating under the license to use a certain percentage of New York-grown ingredients. Casey wrote about the rebirth of the New York hop industry a few years back.

Among the local farms that are part of the re-hopped New York is Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont, which is growing a variety of hops. (You might remember the Indian Ladder Farms IPA at the Pump Station last year.) ILF recently finished this year's hop harvest and posted some photos of the process on its Facebook page.

photo: NYS Archives

Drink Albany

albany craft beverage trail map

Two things:

1. There is now an Albany Craft Beverage Trail -- it includes C.H. Evans Brewing (the Pump Station), Albany Distilling Co., Nine Pine Cider Works, and Druthers Brewing.

2. Said beverage trail has organized an event called Drink Albany for this Saturday, October 3 at Quackenbush Square. Blurbage:

Drink Albany features live music from Mirk, North and South Dakotas, and other local bands along with free samples of beer, cider and spirits from C.H. Evans Brewing, Druthers, the Albany Distilling Company, and Nine Pin Cider. Food trucks and other local vendors will also be present. Ticket includes an Albany Craft Beverage Trail signature glass and the opportunity to drink from Albany's best.

Drink Albany is Saturday from noon-5 pm.

Advance tickets are $10 / $25 VIP ticket. (And it looks like there's a $5 designated driver ticket.)

Nine Pin advertises on AOA, and Druthers is a sponsor of the AOA BBB Tour.

Polish food at Muza

muza polish food composite

By Deanna Fox

We are killing the American palate.

Or maybe we killed it long ago. In a land of more is more and bigger is better, we've lost an appreciation for small nuances in food that give it true character and speak to the origins of the recipe. Don't give us a classic roasted chicken; instead, give us just the wing, doused in fiery, sticky burnt-orange sauce that masks the chicken itself.

Post-World War II American culture saw the rise of heavily processed foods that oversaturated our palates with salt, sugar, and additives. We've dimmed our abilities to recognize true flavor because of how accustomed we've become to the overload of flavor enhancements pushed upon us by Big Food. Now, if we don't feel kicked in the teeth with astringent, bracing piquancy, we write food off as bland and boring.

Muza, in Troy, debunks this conception, proving that traditional foods prepared in simple ways can still pack a punch without walloping us with artifice.

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Beyond apple pie: Four ways to use up all those apples you just picked

deanna fox apple recipes composite
By Deanna Fox

Sad but true: There is such a thing as too much apple pie.

New York State produces 29.5 million bushels of apples annually, with more than half of that yield sold as fresh apples (according to the New York Apple Association). With numbers like that, chances are good if you are reading this, you have recently made a trip to the orchard or are about to.

And, likely, you'll have a few errant apples left in the orchard bag or crisper drawer of the fridge. If you just can't stomach another pie or crisp or batch of applesauce, fear not: Here are four recipes to save you from the apple overload.

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Schenectady Wing Walk 2015

wing walk 2015 logoThe Wing Walk returns to downtown Schenectady October 3, which is a Saturday (a change from last year). Blurbage:

From noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, wing fans will try samplings from eighteen downtown Schenectady restaurants and vote for their favorite. Classic garlic parm wings will, of course, be in the running, but expect deliciously creative variations, too, like Mexican Radio's Vidalia Onion Georgia Peach Wing, Aperitivo Bistro's Seven Hour Cherry Pepper Wing, Taj Mahal's Spicy Masala Wing and Ninja Asian Restaurant's Boneless Chicken Yakitori Wing.
Other participating restaurants include: 2014 Wing Walk winner 20 North Broadway, Backstage Pub & Grill, The Bier Abbey, Bombers Burrito Bar, Café NOLA, Centre Street Public House & Garden, The Grog Shoppe, Isopo's Downtown Pizza, Katie O'Byrne's, Nico's Rooftop Tavern, Pinhead Susan's, Thai Thai Bistro and the Van Dyck. New nightspot Firestone 151 makes its Wing Walk debut this year, and will host the official after party.

Some of the restaurants will be offering beverage specials, along with live music. There will also be a comedy show rotating among some of the venues.

Wing Walk tickets are $10 / $5 for students (with ID) and available via Proctors. (That's also where you pick up the ballots for voting for your favorite wings.) Tickets for the rotating comedy show are $15, and there's a $5 discount if purchased with Wing Walk tickets.

FarmieMarket for sale

farmiemarket logoThe local online farmers' market FarmieMarket is for sale. Founder Sarah Gordon posted this message on Facebook this week:

It's bittersweet, but in effort to balance my growing family life with my professional responsibilities, I have arrived at the very difficult decision to offer my equity stake in FarmieMarket.com up for sale. FarmieMarket is my firstborn -- I am fully committed to seeing it and its member farmers reach their full potential. As such, the time has come to hand over the day-to-day operations and marketing to a person or firm that has the time, resources and expertise necessary to grow the market to its fullest potential. That said, I am eager to stay involved if the buyer is willing (either as a board member, or volunteer advisor) to help guide FarmieMarket in its mission of cultivating a sustainable market channel that supports the long term profitability and economic viability of small, family-owned, environmentally- and socially-responsible local farms. If you, or anyone you know, may be interested in carrying the torch please contact me via email or private message.

Gordon started FarmieMarket in 2010, originally as Heldeberg Market, as a way to market and sell products grown on farms in the Hill Towns of Albany County to a wider audience. (Gordon was inspired by the experience of her family's grassfed beef farm in Berne.) Customers place orders online and the products are delivered one day a week.

Earlier on AOA: Interesting in 2011: Sarah Gordon

Girl's Best Friend Cookie from Bake For You

girls best friend cookie

By Deanna Fox

I was recently granted one-way passage on the bridge between "You are the best thing I have ever known" and "I never want to see you again."

That is, I just went through a gut-wrenching break-up. The kind that makes you wake up in a sweat at 3 am, unable to breathe, unable to sleep. Your mind replays the highlight reel of your relationship before quickly delving into the hopelessness of ever feeling happy or alive again.

And you might as well forget about eating; nothing tastes as delicious as the ghosted lips that linger on your mouth. When the desire for satiety arises, it is more likely gin on the rocks you reach for, but instead of sipping, you get lost in running your fingers around the rim of the glass, collecting the beads of condensation with your index finger and rubbing them into oblivion with your thumb.

If not for feeling like nothing, you'd feel nothing at all. And in those moments, you reach for your best friends.

Or in my case, a Girl's Best Friend cookie from Bake For You.

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A sampling of cooking classes, fall 2015

a big bin of apples

Updated

You can feel fall in the air and out thoughts are turning back indoors, toward the kitchen and the warmth of the stove.

So, here's a new a batch of cooking classes over the next few months that caught our eye -- and maybe you'll find them interesting: From Chinese take-out made at home, to apples, to sushi, the power of cauliflower, to grown-up cupcakes...

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Longhouse Food Revival 2015

longhouse food revival 2015 logo

The Longhouse Food Revival returns to Rensselaerville this weekend. This year's focus is the Chinese American experience. Blurbage for the Saturday program:

Located on a historic dairy farm in upstate New York, the LongHouse Food Revival combines original multimedia presentations, great discussions and insight from leading thinkers in food media today. It's a place to make new friends, forge new connections and cook up new ideas. Our meals are one-time, unscripted happenings that emanate from our Live Fire Cooking Arena -- you won't experience anything like this anywhere else. People leave LongHouse Food Revival with full bellies and full minds.
The weekend will kick off with a lunch of chun-bing, Northern China's version of a burrito, crafted from scratch and made-to-order by the young kitchen powerhouses from Junzi Kitchen of New Haven, CT.
After lunch, we'll gather in the barn for our Pop-Up Food Magazine, a series of multimedia presentations, original documentary films, presentations by authors, bloggers, publishers and producers, as well as spoken word and cooking demonstrations, to set the stage for an afternoon of discussion. The experience has been called magical by more than one hard-bitten veteran of the nation's food media corps.

One of the organizers of the event is author and former NYT food writer Molly O'Neill -- here's a video in which she explains the background.

There's also a Saturday evening dinner headed up by chef and author Kian Lam Kho -- "at the helm of a team of fearless chefs to orchestrate a spectacle of stir-frying, braising and steaming, offering a Chinese take on the bounty of the Hudson River Valley" ($125). And on Sunday there's a food flea event with 50 food entrepreneurs, farmers, and artisans ($25).

Tickets for the whole weekend are $250. That's not cheap, but we've heard from people who have attended in past years and they seemed to get a lot out of it, so it might be worth it if you're interested in these topics.

(Thanks, Deanna)

AOA event: Cider pairing at Nine Pin

Nine Pin Cider Works four flight

Update: Sold out!

Apple season has arrived. And when we think of apples our thoughts also turn to cider.

Nine Pin Cider Works is rolling out a new charcuterie offering at its tasting room on Broadway in Albany. So we thought it'd be fun to organize a get-together there on October 1, pairing four Nine Pin ciders with a variety of New York fruits, cheeses and meats. Here's what you get:

Cider flight
Taste four Nine Pin ciders: Signature Cider, Belgian Cider, Blueberry Cider, and Ginger Cider.

Local foods
Ciders will be paired with samples of cheeses fruits, veggies and charcuterie from farms and orchards both local and from around New York State, along with Saratoga Crackers.

Tour
Guests will get a tour of the cider works with founder Alejandro del Peral to see how Nine Pin is made, bottled, and canned.

Dessert
The Dutch Udder will be scooping free samples of its Nine Pin Cider Sorbet. (We got to taste this during the Startup Grant final and it was delicious.)

The Nine Pine tasting room will be also pouring that evening, so more of your favorite Nine Pin ciders will be available for purchase. And of course, you'll get to enjoy it all with other fun AOA people.

The event is Thursday, October 1 at the Nine Pin tasting room on Broadway. It's 21 and over.

Early bird tickets (purchased before September 15) are $15. After September 15, tickets are $20. Space is limited for this event, and we expect it to fill up, so buying early will both save you a few bucks and ensure you get a spot.

Nine Pin advertises on AOA.

Another resurrected Albany Ale is now available

gravina and demler working on previous version of Albany aleThe Albany Ale Project and C.H. Evans Brewing Co. have teamed up again to resurrect another version of the once-famous Albany ale.

This latest version is based on recipes from 1830 that were surfaced by Albany Ale co-creator Craig Gravina, and adapted by Evans head brewer Ryan Demler. (You might remember the first time they did this a few years back -- that version was based on an 1865 1901 recipe.)

Beer blurbage from C.H. Evans:

Our version of the 1830s recipe uses New York grown and malted 6-row barley from Pioneer Malting in Rochester, NY as well as NY produced honey from B's Honey in Watervliet. As with many older styles of beer, "Albany Ale" was brewed with hops, though at the time there wasn't a distinction as to the types or timing of additions, so we took a bit of creative license here and used some cluster variety hops and a token amount of NYS grown Cascade.
This mid-strength beer (of the time) clocks in at 7.9% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) and drinks rather crisp and clean for a recipe nearly 200 years old. The body is light, almost sharp and dry. The relatively heavy hopping rate (for the style) and heavy use of honey result in a brew that's dry and has a pronounced bitterness that helps clean up the finish. A bit of "breadiness" comes through from the grain and works well with the subtly piney hop flavor.

This latest resurrected Albany ale will be on tap exclusively at the Albany Pump Station starting today (September 2) -- and they expect it to be available for about three weeks.

So much of history is the little, everyday stuff that gets lost over time, or just isn't compatible with the way we transmit history. So the Albany Ale Project and the collaboration with C.H. Evans are interesting not just because they highlight Albany's robust brewing history, but also because they afford the opportunity to actually taste (more or less) something from the 19th century.

Ice cream at Martha's Dandee Creme

marthas dandee creme composite

By Deanna Fox

The unofficial last week of summer is upon us -- that time between August and Labor Day, when the calendar says it is time to sharpen our pencils and pull sweaters out of storage, but the weather claims cut-offs, beach towels, and ice cream.

The Capital Region is flush with classic ice cream stands, but few stand out the way Martha's Dandee Creme, just outside of Lake George, does.

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Suggestions for mixing up workday lunch in Albany?

kung pao shrimp burger at crave albanyJanae asks via Twitter:

I want to break some habits and find a new Albany workday lunch spot. (quick, not sit-down) Any recommendations?

The "quick" part of Janae's question complicates things a little bit. But a lot of places offer order-ahead for lunch, so you can just stop in, pick up, and go.

We're guessing you have a few suggestions. But we'll start with one of our own: Crave recently opened at Western and Quail -- we've been twice already, and we're looking forward to going again. Some of the more unusual burgers are fun -- both the turkey reuben and kung pao shrimp burgers we've tried have been packed with interesting flavors.

OK, your turn. Got a suggestion for Janae? Please share!

Takeout from Nirvana

nirvana takeout overhead

By Deanna Fox

Fridays are so overrated.

In our youth, Fridays are the benchmark for excitement and prospects. Pizza lunches, sleepovers, sleeping in... maybe mom will even bring home takeout for dinner.

As adults, Fridays are exhausting. We build up in our heads what Fridays should be, built partially on the ideals and projections we concoct in our younger days. But the obligations and efforts of "functioning adult human" status leaves few of us with much energy to do, well, anything on a Friday night. We might meet up with friends, but we're still so wiped from the week prior that we just mill about in a fog of longing to please just get me into my bed.

Takeout on a Friday is a near necessity as we (and our list of responsibilities) grow.

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Washington County Cheese Tour 2015

Thumbnail image for washington co cheese tour 2015 posterThe annual Washington County Cheese Tour returns September 12 and 13. It is pretty much what it says on the label -- a tour of farms in Washington County that produce cheese. Blurbage:

At each farm, guests will sample specially selected cheeses while experiencing first hand the region's long-standing cheese making traditions reaching back to the nineteenth century. All are active farms, raising cows, sheep and goats that supply the milk for the cheese-making process.

A few years back Tim wrote a recap of the tour, which can you give a sense of how it goes. If you like cheese + farms (and farm animals), it's a pretty good bet you'll like the tour.

The participating farms will be open for touring from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13. The tour is free.

Tour preview
On Sunday, August 23 the Honest Weight Food Co-op is hosting a "Meet Your Maker" event to preview the cheese tour. Cheese makers from farms on the tour will be there from from noon-2 pm offering samples and talking about their farms.

Autumn Evening in the Garden 2015

capital roots autumn evening in the garden 2015 BowdenCapital Roots' annual harvest fall harvest celebration -- Autumn Evening in the Garden -- will be at the Hilton Garden Inn in Troy on September 17. Blurbage:

"An Autumn Evening in the Garden" brings together more than 15 of the region's most talented chefs with 30+ local growers, producers, and beverage makers from all over the greater Capital District for a delicious "strolling supper." The farmers contribute their meat, cheese, and produce. The chefs use these contributions to create their dishes. Guests sample outstanding cuisine drawn from the creative kitchens of some of the area's finest restaurants while enjoying local wines, beers, and spirits, while mingling with chefs, farmers, and friends.

This year's featured chef is Brian Bowden of 15 Church in Saratoga Springs.

Tickets for the fundraiser are available online -- they're $150 / $75 for people 35 and under.

As you know, Capital Roots is the org formerly known as Capital District Community Gardens.

ASAP Festival of Meats 2015

ASAP Festival of Meats 2015 posterThe Albany Society for the Advancement of Philanthropy's annual Festival of Meats & Celebration of Bacon returns September 19 to the Elks Club in Albany.

Blurbage about the offerings this year: "Whole Pig, Pit Beef, Bacon Surprises, Amazing and Fantastic Meats, and fantastic apps from R'Eisen Shine Farm!"

There will also be a raffle to win $500 worth of meat and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Tickets are available online -- they're $20 until September 2. The price goes up $5 after that.

A stolen summer day: eating

stewarts happy camper ice cream in cup

"Happy Camper" ice cream from Stewart's got a mention.

By Deanna Fox

Seasonal foods are one of summer's pleasures. Fresh berries, salads, corn on the cob, and ice cream from a favorite seasonal stand are the stuff of many summer memories.

So if you could have your favorite summer treat from anywhere in the Capital Region, what would it be?

Deanna Fox asked a few local food lovers that question.

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Saratoga Wine & Food Festival 2015

saratoga wine food festival 2015 chefs

Left to right: Ellie Krieger, Josh Capon, Zak Pelaccio, Ric Orlando

The annual Saratoga Wine & Food Festival returns to SPAC September 11-13 this year. Among the details for this year's event:

+ The headlining food personalities are Josh Capon of Spike TV's Frankenfood cooking competition show, and cookbook author/dietician Ellie Krieger, who had a show on the Food Network about cooking healthy food.

+ Capon will be hosting the "Fired Up!" event on Friday in which "five of the Capital Region's best chefs" will go up against "five Manhattan grill masters." Krieger will be hosting the festival's grand tasting on Saturday.

+ Chefs Ric Orlando (of New World Bistro Bar) and Zak Pelaccio (of Fish & Game in Hudson) will also be there doing demonstrations as part of the grand tasting.

The list of events is after the jump.

Tickets for the various events are now one sale. They're $75 and up.

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BurgerFi, and the burger boom

burgerfi latham exterior

The latest local entry into the field of fast casual burger spots -- BurgerFi -- opens today in Latham.

"I thought it was a great concept," Angelo Mazzone said Tuesday during a media preview. The local hospitality group king is one of the backers of the local franchise, along with the Lia family (of auto group fame). "Everything is 100 percent fresh. We don't even have a freezer here. So things come in fresh. The produce is all fresh. We make our own fresh onion rings. We make french fries from potatoes that we cut ourselves. The beef is 100 percent natural, no preservatives, no antibiotics, nothing like that."

BurgerFi already has more than 70 locations around the country. And the local franchise backers have plans for more locations both here in the Capital Region and other parts of upstate.

Here a few pics from the Latham location, along with a few bits about the burger boom.

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Where to get freshly-made tortillas?

tortillas on plate Flickr cbertel CCChristine emails:

I'm wondering if we can pose a question to AOA readers, is there anywhere in the Capital Region that sells freshly made tortillas?

A variant of this question came up years ago, with only a few suggestions beyond "make 'em yourself." And, of course, things change.

A lot of big cities around the United States now have a factory (or multiple factories) that produce tortillas and distribute them locally. As far we know, the Capital Region does not currently have a such place. But we can hope -- because good tortillas are a great thing.

So, got a suggestion for Christine? Please share!

photo: Flickr user cbertel (CC BY 2.0)

Peach blueberry cobbler at the Palmer House

palmer house cafe peach blueberry cobbler

By Deanna Fox

Driving into Rensselaerville, the small and historic Albany County hamlet in the town of the same name, is like taking a trip back through time. Things move a little slower. The locals speak in less hurried tones.

And just as everything old is new again, the food at the town's public family room -- The Palmer House Café -- adheres to the old habit of using local, seasonal produce and ingredients to craft a meal. Farm-to-table was a way of life for eaters in decades (centuries) past, but today it's one of many options.

The Palmer House's peach blueberry cobbler is just one example of why this option should be priority once again.

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Good brunch spots in/near Schenectady?

french toastLindsay emails:

I just moved to Schenectady, and I'm wondering if anyone has good recommendations for brunch spots (especially those with bars) for Saturday/Sunday mornings.
I've tried Union Cafe, which has fantastic service, darn good pancakes, and tasty Greek eats. Eating on the patio in the sun is nice (although the view leaves something to be desired), and there is no alcohol served (i.e., cravings for a bloody mary or mimosa go un-quenched).
Any tips from the AOA community would be greatly appreciated.

Lindsay mentions that she's been following Lauren's brunch mini-tour. But that hasn't made it to Schenectady, yet. So if you have suggestions for Lindsay, they can also double has possible spots for Lauren to check out.

So, got a good place in mind? Please share. And, as always, a sentence or two about why you're suggesting that place is like an extra kick of horseradish in the Bloody Mary.

Pick-your-own blueberry season 2015

box of blueberries at samascott

We are into the thick of blueberry season around the greater Capital Region. And as we've mentioned before, blueberries are just about our favorite pick-your-own crop because they're easy to pick (on bushes about waist high), relatively cheap (usually between $2-$3 per pound), and they freeze beautifully, so you can stock up for later in the year.

There are a handful of farms around the Capital Region that offer pick-your-own blueberries. Here's a list with some info. And, of course, if you know of a place that should be on the list, please share.

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Suggestions for a meal delivery service?

beet carpaccioDana emails:

We're expecting a baby soon and were looking for a meal delivery service in the Capital District. Not necessarily to lose weight, but something that's somewhat healthy, delivered cold, but that can be warmed up for meals, so we don't have to worry about meals every night once the baby's here. I've only seen services in other larger metropolitan areas, but not in ours. Any ideas/suggestions?

We are, of course, interested in hearing about local suggestions. But we've also noticed recently there are some web-based companies that offer shipments of meals or pre-prepped meal ingredients. So maybe that's a related option. (We really have no idea -- we have not seen those services in action.) Or maybe you can think of a different angle -- like, say, small-scale catering -- that could work.

So, got a suggestion for Dana and family? Please share!

Brunching about: Tala Bistro

tala bistro exterior

By Lauren Hittinger

Lauren has set out to survey a handful of brunch spots around the Capital Region for a short series.

I'll admit it. I am one of those people that tends to pass over suburban eateries, especially if they're located inside of a strip mall or plaza. In that way, I have become an urbanite, gravitating towards the downtown areas in the Capital Region. The only problem with this perspective is that you can miss out on some interesting places that are still locally owned.

An example of such a place is Tala, a Mazzone Hospitality restaurant located on New Loudon Road in Latham. I'm glad I abandoned my city preferences and visited this modern, bistro-style restaurant as part of my brunch investigation. Plus, as this was the suburbs, there was no Sunday morning test of parallel parking skill.

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New York State set to raise fast food minimum wage to $15 per hour

fast food wage increase schedule chart

The state Fast Food Wage Board has recommended that the minimum wage for fast food employees across New York State rise to $15 per hour -- eventually.

The board's recommendation, which now heads to the state labor commissioner before it can take effect, lays out two tracks for increasing the industry's minimum wage, for New York City and areas outside the city:

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Sovrana's gets the tabloid treatment

Laura W emails:

I was eating dinner at Sovrana's yesterday and got to hear the hilarious story from the owners John & Rose about how TMZ ordered pizzas from them, shipped to CA. Rose had no idea who [TMZ founder] Harvey Levin is, but she dutifully fulfilled their orders. They are such a charming couple and a great asset to Albany.

(Steve mentioned the TMZ appearance today over on Table Hopping, too.)

It's true -- Sovrana's pizza does have that distinctive crust.

And to think TMZ missed out on Death in a Cup -- that seems much more like tabloid fare.

Also: Sometimes the modern world is strange.

(Thanks, Laura!)

Dosas at Parivar

parivar dosa

A masala dosa.

By Deanna Fox

There are universal norms when it comes to street foods around the planet: It must be cheap, it must be portable, and it must be filling.

Dosas are the classic Indian-style version of a crepe that hits all these markers. And Parivar -- the Central Avenue Indian supermarket (No, not that one. Or that one. It's the one with the peacock on the sign.) -- serves them up fresh and piping-hot, just like one would get from a vendor's street cart in an alleyway in New Delhi or Mumbai.

But unlike a street cart, Parviar lets the eater indulge from the comfort of indoor seating in a nice air-conditioned café.

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Follow forward: The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark

Wine Bar and Bistro Exterior.jpg

Soon to be under new ownership.

AOA is taking things a little easy this week for summer break. So we thought it'd be a good time to catch up with some local businesses we've covered during the last year (or so) and find out how things are going. But our last post of the week flips things a bit -- we're looking to the future of a local business that's changing hands.

Nine years ago, chef Kevin Everleth opened The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark and turned a small wine and tapas bar into a popular neighborhood jewel. The food was always delicious, the staff was always welcoming, and the wine selection was always varied and interesting.

But Everleth is fond of saying about restaurants, "I buy them, I build them, and I sell them." And so, after nine years, he says it's time for him to move on. This week Everleth announced that he is selling The Wine Bar to one of his employees, Silvia Lilly, who currently works at the restaurant a few nights a week. (Lilly is a school librarian by day. And, of course, she lives in Albany's Delaware Ave neighborhood.)

Lilly has never owned a restaurant, but she's been working in Capital Region restaurants for more than 20 years and she's passionate about the business. And she's excited about carrying on the business Everleth founded.

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Follow up: Brew

Brew - Josh and August.jpg

AOA is taking things a little easy this week for summer break. So we thought it'd be a good time to catch up with some local businesses we've covered during the last year (or so) and find out how things are going.

Next up: a look at Brew. Almost exactly one year ago Joshua Cotrona, who owned the Fuzz Records shop at the corner of State and Lark in Albany partnered with August Rosa to turn the space into Brew, a beverage shop featuring craft beer and specialty coffees.

A year ago Rosa told us why they were opening a craft beverage shop on Lark Street:

The idea came up when we realized the need for a craft beer outlet in the Center Square neighborhood. We decided to expand the offerings to include coffee, teas, and other beverages down the road. Our shop will help residents in downtown Albany skip a trip out to the suburbs for these items.

A year later, they're still there educating customers about craft brews, hosting tastings, and balancing their dreams with the wants and needs of a constantly changing neighborhood.

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Follow up: Collar City Hard Pressed

collar city hard pressed 2015 jessica

By Lauren Hittinger

AOA is taking things a little easy this week for summer break. So we thought it'd be a good time to catch up with some local businesses we've covered during the last year (or so) and find out how things are going.

Next we're revisiting Collar City Hard Pressed (CCHP). When we first interviewed owner Jessica Garrity, now Jessica Quijano, she was running her business solely at the Saturday Troy farmers' market. Since then, she has moved to working full-time for her juice and smoothie business, taking up residence on Broadway in downtown Troy.

A snippet from March 2014:

"I found myself basically obsessed with fresh juice and smoothies and was suddenly annoyed that there wasn't a place in my neighborhood where I could get any. I kind of hate leaving my neighborhood on the weekend so just thought it was only fair that we had a juice place here downtown. I also recognized that juicing was a pretty trendy business and thought downtown Troy would be a great place to get to work."

I caught up with Quijano to see what it's like to be running a small business on her own, and to get the scoop on the different reactions to a juice bar in downtown Troy.

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Follow up: Bread and Honey

bread and honey 2015 July exterior

Bread and Honey is in the commercial strip on Madison Ave between Quail and Ontario.

AOA is taking things a little easy this week for summer break. So we thought it'd be a good time to catch up with some local businesses we've covered during the last year (or so) and find out how things are going.

First up is Bread and Honey in Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood. Owner Naomi Davies opened the artisan bakery in March of 2014 after a major renovation of the storefront at 809 Madison Ave. She has a background in construction management (and dance before that), and consulting on the new Honest Weight location had sparked the idea of opening a bakery.

A quick clip from 15 months ago:

"I learned so much about retail and food, just being with people who really cared about what they did and how they did it," she said recently as we stood in the bakery space. "And getting to know how they work, I saw an opportunity for a bakery here in Albany that could provide good, fresh, artisan breads. And I was craving a great bagel."

We got a chance to catch up with her last week -- and it was some real talk about what's it like to run a small, local business.

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Brunching about: Iron Gate Cafe

Iron Gate Cafe exterior front

By Lauren Hittinger

Lauren has set out to survey a handful of brunch spots around the Capital Region for a short series.

A tour of brunch locations wouldn't be complete without a visit to Iron Gate Café. This spot is well beloved, and I received many suggestions to stop by on my great breakfast quest.

I'm not surprised that people love this quirky downtown Albany spot, since it has a gorgeous patio and brisk service. If you're looking for a simple, savory, and satisfying breakfast, Iron Gate is the place.

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Mini hot dogs from Pete's Pups

petes pups rotterdam mini hotdogs

By Deanna Fox

It takes a lot of chutzpah to start a hotdog joint in the Capital Region.

We know our hotdogs, especially mini dogs. While other parts of the state have their own spins on hotdogs -- Plattsburgh: Michigans, Syracuse: white hots, New York City: dirty water dogs -- mini dogs are the exclusive claim of the Capital Region. Others try to replicate, but few meet the standards we find here.

And as it is, we already have enough mini dog eateries to keep us well-stocked. From Famous Lunch to Ted's Fish Fry, one doesn't have to look far to find a decent mini dog.

But now there is one more: Pete's Pups, in Rotterdam. And while it may be easy to overlook a new kid in preference for an experienced veteran, this underdog doesn't just bark, it bites with full force, too.

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New York closer to $15/hour for fast food workers?

state fast food wage board screengrab

Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, chair of the fast food wage board, at Monday's meeting. / screengrab: NYS DOL livestream

At its last scheduled public meeting Monday the state's Fast Food Wage Board didn't recommend a specific increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers in the state -- but its members' comments pointed toward them eventually recommending a significantly higher rate.

"There's no question in mind that we need a very substantial increase in the minimum wage," board member Kevin Ryan, the chairman and founder of the online shopping site Gilt, said.

"When you look at the industry as a whole in this state, we really should be looking at one wage rate for the state, and that should be $15 and that should be as soon as possible," said board member Mike Fishman, the secretary treasurer of Service Employees International Union.

The fast food wage board was empaneled by the state Department of Labor at Andrew Cuomo's direction in May to consider raising the minimum wage in the industry. The Cuomo admin says the board's recommendation can be enacted without legislation.

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Latham Sonic now open

sonic logoThe new Sonic in Latham opens today, location announced on its Facebook page. It's on Route 7 at Wade Road (map). Hours are 10 am to 10 pm this Monday -- regular hours, 6:30 am to midnight, start Tuesday.

This week is a "soft" opening for the location. There's a grand opening lined up for next week.

Latham is the fast food chain's first location in the Capital Region. It's said previously it has plans to open a total of eight locations around the area.

In years past Sonic often got mentioned as a chain people would like to see here. Maybe they were suffering from limeade deficiency.

By the way: Chick-fil-A has officially mentioned that it's scouting the Albany area for potential sites. [Biz Review]

Sweet: Record maple syrup production in New York State

mountain winds maple syrup amber

New York State produced more than 600,000 gallons of maple syrup this past spring, according to numbers from the US Department of Agriculture. That's good for #2 in the nation. And the Cuomo admin says that's the state's highest total in 70 years.

The sappy record is especially notable because this past maple syrup season was just 26 days long. It was 40 days long when the state set its last "modern" record in 2013.

So, what's responsible for the sweet success? From a Cuomo admin press release:

The amount produced is the most since 1944, the last year before the beginning of a long drop-off in the number of tree taps and the yield of syrup per tap. New York's resurgence began in 2008 as vacuum pumping systems began to replace the metal tree taps and hanging buckets that have signified maple syrup farming for centuries.
The New York State Maple Producers Association estimates that 60 percent of maple farms, including most of the larger farms of more than 500 taps, use vacuum systems to collect raw sap. The modern vacuum system is easier for producers to maintain, which has helped increase production per tap. The average tree tap produced a little more than one quart of syrup this year, though some large farms are seeing yields of a half-gallon or more.

New York State is still far behind Vermont for the nation's top spot for maple syrup production. The Green Mountain State produced 1.39 million gallons this spring, according to USDA. (The tiny state's pancake industry is straining under the pressure to keep up.)

Vermont maple syrup is an interesting case because the state has been experiencing some sort of Maple Miracle over the last decade. So much so that Quebec -- the Saudi Arabia of maple syrup -- has been warily eyeing its neighbor to the south.

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Brunching about: Carmen's Café

carmen's cafe troy exterior 2015-June

By Lauren Hittinger

Lauren has set out to survey a handful of brunch spots around the Capital Region for a short series.

Every once in a while there is a popular local business that completely slips under my radar. As a dedicated Trojan, I'm embarrassed to say that Carmen's Café has evaded me. Even though Carmen's has a devoted following, and has been voted "best brunch" in a few local polls, I made my first visit this summer.

Carmen's is a cozy Cuban/Spanish restaurant located on the corner of a quiet residential block just to the southwest of Washington Park in Troy, so it's probably not the sort of spot a lot of people will just happen upon. You have to go looking for it, as I did recently, in search of delicious brunch.

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Ethiopian platter at Umana

umana ethiopian platter

By Deanna Fox

I have heard people say the Capital Region lacks in great food. I'm telling you that statement is false. Great food doesn't have to mean high-end haute cuisine. Not everything must be processed through a sous vide machine and dolloped with foam to be "good."

What we do have here in the Capital Region are some wonderful hidden gems of ethnic, street-inspired eats. We might not get every type of regional cuisine right each time, but we certainly have some shining stars.

And the Ethiopian platter at Umana is one example.

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Pick your own strawberry season 2015

strawberries box strawberry field samascott

So very June.

Strawberry season is here! Many local farms have recently opened for pick-your-own strawberries, or will be very shortly.

It seems like there's a fair amount of variability across farms this year -- some have gotten an early jump and others are still waiting for their berries. If we get a few sunny days following this rain, things could move along quickly.

A typical strawberry season at many farms in this area only lasts a few weeks, though some farms have strawberries for longer stretches -- even most of the summer -- because their fields include a range of varieties that produce at different times. When you're at the farm stand, ask about the varieties the farms are growing. In our experience people are happy to talk about what's available, for how long, and why. (It's also a good idea to call ahead or check the website before heading out.)

Here are a handful of places in the greater Capital Region that you can pick your own strawberries. Know of a good place not on this list? Please share!

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Brunching about: City Beer Hall

City Beer Hall exterior 2015-May

By Lauren Hittinger

Lauren has set out to survey a handful of brunch spots around the Capital Region for a short series. Got a suggestion for a place to check out? Email us, or drop the suggestion in the comments.

To me, brunch is the ideal meal. Depending on your wishes, brunch can be a sweet breakfast or a savory lunch. You can drink alcohol in the early afternoon without judgment. And it's perfectly acceptable to brunch with your best friend as well as your grandfather.

One of my favorite brunches in this area is at City Beer Hall in Albany, where a range of people come to enjoy the best meal of the week. (Because it's brunch.)

And the good news is that your first drink is included.

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Naan pizza at A Better Bite

a better bite naan pizza mediterranean

By Deanna Fox

For as long as I can remember (my downtown Albany memory only stretches 11 years back), there has always been an eatery in the One Commerce Plaza building on Washington Avenue, across from the Alfred E. Smith building. But I don't remember anyone going there, or suggesting we stop there when I worked in politics, after a day lobbying at the Capitol.

Even the shiny exterior of the building wasn't enough to draw me inside. The neon-colored sign? Nope, still never went in. It just seemed so non-descript, even as a modern structure placed in the midst of buildings with Grecian columns and centuries-old brick and limestone.

It took me a few years away from that scene -- and a picture on Instagram -- to make me change my stance and give A Better Bite a try.

That photo? Naan pizza.

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Albany Tea Festival

Overit 1.jpgThe first Albany Tea Festival is set for this Friday evening at the Overit building in Albany. Organizers are touting the event as "the Capital Region's leading experts on tea in one room."

Speakers topics include kitchen herbals, ginseng, fermentation, making cold brew and iced teas, and tea trivia.

The lineup of local vendors includes Short and Stout Tea Co (Guilderland), Divintea (Schenectady), The Whistling Kettle (Ballston Spa and Troy), and The Brakes (Albany).

The Albany Tea Festival is Friday, June 5 from 5:30-9 pm at Overit (435 New Scotland in Albany). Admission is free.

Earlier on AOA: Capital Region spots for tea snobs (2013)

A look inside the new Druthers Albany location

Druthers Albany dining area

The new Druthers brewery/restaurant in Albany's Warehouse District opens today. The location -- a renovated plumbing supply building -- is the third for the local company, which first opened in downtown Saratoga Springs in 2012 and also recently opened a location at the McGregor Links Country Club in Wilton.

We got a chance to see the new Albany space Monday -- here are a bunch of photos and a few bits.

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Day trip: Wine touring

wine touring composite

By Lauren Hittinger

This is the perfect time of year to go wine touring -- the weather is beautiful, but it's not quite full-on pool weather, yet.

Luckily, the Capital Region is near multiple collections of wineries. It's easy to go touring for the day, or a quick overnight, without too much planning or cost.

Here are three nearby regions where you can make a day out of trying local wines.

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Frozen yogurt at Ayelada

ayelada frozen yogurt blueberry vanilla with lemon curd

Blueberry-vanilla twist, with lemon curd and and cookie crumbs.

By Deanna Fox

A moment of confession: I do not like yogurt.

Growing up, I would watch my mother spoon plain, tangy yogurt topped with fresh fruit across her lips as her morning meal. Today I find myself close with someone who revels in the thought of thick Greek yogurt topped with local granola and stewed rhubarb.

I just can't get behind it. For reasons of taste or texture, it weirds me out (and I say this shamefully, as someone who has made a life around food). The same holds true for frozen yogurt. Many friends have prodded me to try frozen yogurt as a means to hop on the yogurt bandwagon, but it all left me underwhelmed and questioning the appeal.

That is, until I reluctantly tried Ayelada's frozen yogurt in Latham.

Like Darth Vader realizing the error of his ways, or Elizabeth Bennett finally conceding to the appeal of Mr. Darcy, I now feel compelled to change my position.

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On order: Another look at the minimum wage

nys minimum wage history cropped

A minimum wage consistent across many industries in New York State dates back to 1962. Here's how it's increased over time, with a comparison in 2015 dollars for some perspective. (Inflation calculations via the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator.)

This chart is recycled from last month, when we put together a bunch of different ways of putting the level of the minimum wage in context. With Andrew Cuomo talking again this week about raising the minimum wage, specifically for fast food workers, we figured it was a good time to highlight that post again.

From Cuomo's op/ed in NYT:

Fast-food workers and their families are twice as likely to receive public assistance compared with other working families. Among fast-food workers nationwide, 52 percent -- a rate higher than in any other industry -- have at least one family member on welfare.
New York State ranks first in public assistance spending per fast-food worker, $6,800 a year. That's a $700 million annual cost to taxpayers.

(Update: See this Capital article about an error in Cuomo's op/ed regarding the number of fast food workers who are raising children.)

The median hourly wage -- that is, the point at which half the people make more and half make less -- for fast food cooks in the Albany metro area was $9.25 per hour in 2014 May, according to numbers published by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, with an annual average wage of $20,520. The BLS also breaks out numbers for "combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food," and the median wage for the Albany metro area was $8.93.

The median hourly wage for restaurant cooks generally in this area was $11.48 per hour, $9.89 for servers, and $9.13 for dishwashers. (Here are the same sets of numbers for New York State generally.)

Elsewhere: Back in March Steve Barnes looked at how an increase in the minimum wage for tipped employees was set to affect restaurants -- and non-tipped restaurant employees such as dishwashers.

Falafel and shawarma at Saati Deli and Catering

Saati falafel and shawarma

By Deanna Fox

Geez, guys, thanks for telling me about Saati. (*eyeroll*)

How is it that I have lived in the Capital Region nearly eleven years, and Saati has just recently come into my gastronomical consciousness? I'm not sure, but I'm glad it has.

With an extensive menu and convenient location, its popularity shouldn't be questioned: Think about a dish from any variety of deli. Chances are Saati has it. Beef kebabs nestle in next to pastrami sandwiches on the lengthy list of offerings.

Saati's offerings have a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern bent, so that's a good place to start.

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Fork in the Road #1

Fork in the Road food truck event albany

Here are a few quick pics from the Fork in the Road food truck event in downtown Albany's Tricentennial Park Friday evening.

Six trucks assembled along the edge of the park. And around 6 pm and there was a solid crowd, especially considering this was the first event in the series. Tricentennial Park seemed to work well for the event, with its small herd of cafe tables and the its steps for sitting.

If anything, it's just great to see people enjoying a public space downtown in the evening.

Fork in the Road is set to return on the first Friday of each month through October (it skips July). So the next one is scheduled for June 5 from 4-8 pm.

On to the pics...

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Conversations about the future direction of Honest Weight

Honest Weight new store produce section

This could be interesting: The Honest Weight Food Co-op is hosting a series of strategic planning sessions during May -- and they're open to everyone. Blurbage:

Now that the new store has been open for almost two years, Honest Weight is undertaking a strategic planning process that will rely on input from our members, shareholders, non-member shoppers, vendors, management, staff and other interested groups. We will create a shared vision of who we are as an organization and a business, what we wish to become, and how to get there over the coming years.
We'll be hosting 3 large community events across the Capital Region to bring people together for conversations that we hope will identify the perceptions and values we hold in common. We'll then use that information to help define ourselves into the future.

The first event is this Saturday, May 2 at RPI's Russell Sage Dining Hall (1649 15th Street in Troy) from 1-4 pm. There are also sessions planned for May 17 at the Desmond, and May 30 at St. Sophia's in Albany.

The co-op is asking people to pre-register for a session (and for one session only).

(Thanks, Cara)

The Honest Weight Food Co-op advertises on AOA.

A few details about Troy Kitchen

Troy Kitchen 50 4th Street Troy interior pre-renovation

The interior of the former bank building at 50 4th Street in Troy. / photo courtesy of Cory Nelson

There was a bit of a flutter in local food circles earlier this week when word about Troy Kitchen popped up on Facebook. The project is billed as a gourmet food court for downtown Troy.

So we got in touch with Cory Nelson, one of the entrepreneurs behind the project, for some details...

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Fork in the Road lineup

food truckThe first Fork in the Road food truck event in Albany's Tricentennial Park is this Friday from 4-8 pm (as mentioned). Here's the lineup of confirmed trucks for Friday, via the Downtown Albany BID:

Emack & Bolio's Ice Cream
The Chuck Wagon
The Hungry Traveler
Sweet Mama Mia
Wandering Dago

And confirmed vendors for the park:

72 Pearls Thrift Store
Kernal Cravings
Irish American Heritage Museum
Denise Poutre (artist)
Mary Elise Rees Event Design
Meghan Ruch (artist)

Earlier on AOA: Albany food truck pilot program for summer 2015 to include up to 25 trucks

Longhouse Food Scholars, Revival

longhouse food revival logoA few food/media programs this summer in Rensselaerville that might interest some people:

Longhouse Food Scholars Program
This year's Longhouse Food Scholars Program is July 5-19 and July 26-August 9. Its mission "is to prepare participants for careers in food media, activism, food writing, and food-related entrepreneurial ventures." Additional blurbage:

The Food Scholars Program is structured like a newsroom, intense and fast-paced, with distinct deadlines and deliverables. Working with masters of their craft, scholars shoot and edit mini-documentaries and slide-shows, conduct interviews, gather oral histories, and create online content.
This food media "boot camp" includes daily writing exercises, weekly specialty seminars in recipe testing, studio and location food photography, basic culinary skills, weekly "salon" dinners with food authors, professors and intellectuals, and professional mentoring sessions.
In addition, each scholar is responsible for creating a personal, online portfolio--drawing from this work as well as any additional work he or she may have.

The founder of the program is longtime food writer Molly O'Neill.

The application process is competitive -- "selection is based on a passion for food and storytelling, a well-established appetite for learning, and well-stated career goals." We hear that they'd welcome some more applicants from upstate, so it could be a point in your favor.

Longhouse Food Revival
This year's Longhouse Food Revival is again set for September (it looks like the exact dates haven't been released, yet). The event "combines original multimedia presentations, curated discussions, insight from leading thinkers in food and plenty of time to make new friends, forge new connections and inspire and brew new ideas."

(Thanks, L)

Albany food truck pilot program for summer 2015 to include up to 25 trucks

Washington Park
The section of Washington Park at which up to five trucks will be allowed to operate.

Albany's next food truck pilot program starts May 1 and will include slots for up to 25 food trucks.

The city announced the rules for the program, a follow up to last year's short pilot program at the end of the summer, on Tuesday. (Quick recap of a public meeting earlier this spring to get feedback ahead of the plan's release.) It's set to run May 1 through October 31.

A few of the highlights:

+ Up to 25 trucks will be included in the pilot program. (Last year's program included just five slots, three of which were claimed.) The city will be issuing the permits on a first-come, first-serve basis.

+ The number of possible permits for Washington Park have been increased from three to five. (The designated spot for food trucks in the park is on Washington Park Road at Hudson Ave, near the Knox Street Mall. Trucks will be allowed Saturday and Sunday 11 am-5 pm and Monday 3-9 pm.)

+ Potential operating hours have been expanded to 11 am to 10 pm.

+ The areas open to food trucks will include those zoned industrial, in addition to commercial. (zoning map)

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"There'll be good, fresh coffee at the Waldorf Lunch today. It's always the same."

waldorf cafeteria downtown albany 1945

Here's what that corner looks like now.

This photo caught our eye this week as we browsed through the Albany Public Library's growing online collection of historical images. The building -- which housed the Waldorf Cafeteria and Rudolph's jewelry -- was on the southeast corner of State and Pearl in downtown Albany. (Here are two more angles from the Albany Flickr group.) This photo is from 1945.

We kind of love the signage.

Curious about the Waldorf Cafeteria, we did a little bit of research. The "Waldorf Lunch System" was one of the first restaurant chains -- it started in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1904 and eventually expanded to seven states. Here's a clip from some advertising copy for the chain, as highlighted by the trade publication Cafeteria Management in 1922:

HOW A SMALL BANK ACCOUNT -- PLUS A BIG IDEA -- BECAME A $10,000,000 BUSINESS.
More than 17 years ago the first Waldorf Lunch opened its doors to the people of Springfield, Mass. That Waldorf represented an idea, backed by all its founders savings -- the most sum of $1,800. But it was a good idea -- and it prospered because it performed a service the public wanted, and did it well.
Today that idea is represented by the familiar Waldorf Lunch establishments in this city, and in twenty-seven other cities in seven States.
The foundation idea of the Waldorf system is this: the undeviating purpose to maintain worthy dining-laces where they will perform real public service, the purpose to serve tasteful food of unquestionable quality to men and women at such small profit per person that we shall have many patrons to make those small profits profitable to our employees and shareholders.
During the past year the lunch rooms of the Waldorf system have served more than 37,000,000 meals at an average of less than twenty-eight cents each, and at an average profit of a fraction over two cents per meal.
Over $10,000,000 of annual business built up by efficient management, uncompromising standards of quality, cleanliness, courtesy and quick service!
There'll be good, fresh coffee at the Waldorf Lunch today. It's always the same.

The writer of the trade mag article described that last paragraph of the ad copy as "the touch of the word artist."

photo via Albany Public Library History Collection

Fish tacos at Ted's Fish Fry

teds fish fry tacos

By Deanna Fox

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but no one told Ted's Fish Fry that.

Ted's, the culinary mainstay of the Capital Region eating scene, has been pushing out fried seafood for generations. The first restaurant opened in the 1940s and has changed little in the more than 60 years since. If the food wasn't good, it would feel staid and dated. But thankfully, it is good, and stays current and fresh with subtle tweaks to the menu.

Including fish tacos. Thank goodness for fish tacos.

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"Fork in the Road" food truck event in downtown Albany

Tricentennial Park on Broadway in downtown Albany. (It's the park across from building formerly known as Kiernan Plaza/the train station.)

Coming up this summer: A monthly food truck event in Tricentennial Park in downtown Albany called "Fork in the Road." It's set to coincide with 1st Friday, so the dates are: May 1, June 5, August 7, September 4, and October 2.

The Downtown Albany BID currently has an open call for vendors for the event.

Event blurbage from the info sheet:

As an enhancement to the popular 1st Friday Albany event, organized by the Upstate Artists Guild since 2006 showcasing art throughout different venues in Capital City, Fork in the Road will transform TriCentennial Park into a temporary oasis of food options (specifically with food trucks) to tempt hungry office workers at the end of the day as well as the residents and visitors coming out for the Art event.
Tables and chairs will be placed in the park for the public to relax. The park also has a few benches and steps were individuals can sit. Trash containers and lighting are in ample supply for the public at that location.

The info for potential vendors notes vendors will be required to be open from 4-8 pm. The streets by the park won't be closed, but space along Broadway will be set aside for the trucks.

It looks like the city of Albany is aiming to ride the food truck trend. In addition to this monthly event, the Sheehan admin is scheduled to release rules this week for a second pilot program this summer for food trucks to vend in multiple zones around the city.

Earlier on AOA: Albany to start second food truck pilot program in May

Outstanding in the Field at Beekman 1802

outstanding in the fieldCould be worth the splurge if this is your sort of thing: The well-known Outstanding in the Field series of farm dinners will be at the Beekman 1802 farm in Sharon Springs August 20. The hosts are Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, AKA, The Beekman Boys (it's their farm). And the featured chef for the dinner will be John McCarthy from The Crimson Sparrow in Hudson.

What is Outstanding in the Field? From its about page:

In the summer of 1999, I [founder Jim Denevan] came up with the idea of setting a long table on a farm and inviting the public to an open-air feast in celebration of the farmer and the gifts of the land. I decided to call this idea Outstanding in the Field. I thought a big table, carefully composed alongside the ingredients for the evening's feast would inspire both a conversation at the table and a broader discussion about food, community and the meaning of place. A traveling feast with a central vision of farmers, chefs, cheese makers, ranchers, foragers and winemakers in delicious communion with the people they sustain. It would be a terrific challenge to bring this message to the field and to the world -- it would also be a lot of fun and adventure.

There have been more than 600 such events since then. Here's a Serious Eats post from a few years back about attending one of the dinners.

Tickets for the event are (gulp) $210 and available online.

One-time events like this can be expensive to stage, and no doubt a lot of skill and experience will go into pulling off this event. For some people, the experience will be worth it. It's just... you know, it makes us think that $210 could buy you a lot of delicious communion directly from the farmers at one of the local farmers' market.

[via]

photo via Outstanding in the Field Instagram

In search of a proper cappuccino

Lauren_cappuccino_Italian_cappuccino.jpg

A memory from Italy.

By Lauren Hittinger

I would not consider myself a coffee snob. I don't have a favorite barista or monitor the time between the grinding and brewing of beans. And, sin of all sins, I own a Keurig.

However, there is one beverage that I am beyond picky about: the cappuccino.

Ever since visiting Italy last year, I have been searching for an authentic Italian-style cappuccino in the Capital Region. I have been discouraged by insanely large cup sizes and creations that more closely resemble a latte, filled with excessive amounts of milk.

So, in an effort to find a cappuccino like the versions I had in Italy, I recent visited five top cafes in search of my local favorite.

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Albany to start second food truck pilot program in May

Slidin Dirty food truckQuick update on the city of Albany's plans for food trucks: The city's aiming to release the rules for this year's season on April 15, with permits starting May 1.

City officials collected some feedback on last year's pilot program at a public meeting Monday evening at city hall. Kate Lawrence, a planner with the city, described the upcoming season as a continuation of last year's trial program. She projected that the new rules wouldn't include any drastic changes from last year.

Among the issues that surfaced during public comments at Monday's meeting: The possibility of expanding the zones where food trucks would be allowed, increasing the hours the trucks could operate (there was interest being open later), and concerns about the size of permit fees.

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Ravioli from Ragonese Imports

ragonese_imports_ravioli_chicken_prosciutto.jpg

Chicken and prosciutto ravioli.

By Deanna Fox

For being such a simple thing, ravioli can be tough to get right.

When I'm not writing and producing media about food, I teach cooking classes. And in one of my most popular classes we make ravioli. There is certain finesse to the art of pasta. The dough and fillings are usually quite minimal in terms of ingredients to make them - usually no more than five ingredients in either - but the way in which it's made is the important part. You must be gentle, yet firm. You must be quick, and also slow.

Lucky for us, we live in a place that has plenty of good pasta. And one of them is Ragonese Imports in Albany, whose take-home ravioli boxes are a standout among the offerings of the area's many Italian import stores.

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Meeting about food trucks in Albany

food trucks at the capitol 2013 summerThe city of Albany has a public meeting about food trucks lined up for this coming Monday (March 30) at 5 pm at city hall. Press release blurbage:

What are your thoughts on food trucks in Albany? If you'd like to see more of them, where should they go and when should they operate? What did you like about last year's Mobile Food Vendor Pilot Program, and what would you like to see changed?
This Monday, March 30th, at 5 p.m. in the rotunda of City Hall, a meeting will be held to discuss these questions and explore what worked and what can be improved on last year's Mobile Food Vendor Pilot Program, which ran from August to October 2014. The City is looking to launch a revised food vendor pilot program this spring.

The meeting is open to the public, and the city says it welcomes attendance from business owners, including food truck operators and owners of fixed-location restaurants.

Here's the city's information about the food truck pilot program it ran last year.

A good spot to get General Tso's Chicken?

general tso's chickenSean emails:

General Tso's Chicken is a huuuuuge guilty pleasure of mine. It was a staple of my college diet. Trouble is, since moving out here to Albany, I've had a heck of a time finding somewhere that can give me a decent version, let alone a GREAT version. I was wondering if any of your readers shared my guilty pleasure and could point me in the direction of their favorite spot. I live in Albany and work in Latham so anywhere near either place is fair game.

General Tso's chicken has an interesting history (or histories), as illustrated by this short profile of the dish by Fuschia Dunlop. Its roots can be traced back to the Hunan province of China, but like a lot of Chinese food in the United States it went through some interpretation and change before becoming popular here. In this specific case, the thread runs through Taiwan, New York City, Henry Kissinger (really), and back to China. (OK, culinary history tangent over.)

Aside from Ala Shanghai and Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro, we don't hear much about individual Chinese food restaurants around the Capital Region. That is undoubtedly our fault -- we're probably not listening in the right places. So, this question is a good opportunity to maybe learn a little bit more.

Got a suggestion for Sean about a good place for General Tso's chicken -- or good Chinese restaurants in general? Please share!

photo: Evan Joshua Swigart (TheCulinaryGeek) on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Easter candy from Krause's

krause's easter candy

By Deanna Fox

I'm a little buzzed.

Sugar buzzed.

Just moments before I sat down to write this post, I subjected myself to tasting (that is, gobbling down) a selection of Easter-themed candies from Krause's Candy in Colonie.

As I rode the sugar wave, it became clear: Ditch the aisles at Big Box Store for filling holiday baskets, and make haste towards Krause's for your Easter treats.

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Ice cream stand season 2015

jims tastee freez bethlehem 2014-August

The Tastee Freez in Bethlehem is already open. (This photo's from last summer -- obviously.)

Breaking: Ice cream stand season has started.

Jim's Tastee Freez is already open. The Snowman opens later this week. And a bunch of other stands will open over the next few weeks.

Here's our annual rundown of a bunch of seasonal ice cream stands, with opening dates. In some cases the dates are TBA, or we just couldn't find out (yet). So if you can fill in some of the information in the comments, we'd very much appreciate it.

Because ice cream.

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Proposed state legislation would allow dogs in outdoor dining areas

otto through dunkin door

No matter how many times we explain the law to Otto, he just doesn't seem to understand.

In New York State it is against the law to allow a dog in a restaurant -- even (technically) on an outdoor patio. But a bill sponsored by Assembly member Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) would open the door for dogs to legally be in outdoor eating areas.

The bill includes a bunch of qualifications for allowing dogs in these areas -- here are just a few:

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Sonic's planning to open in Latham this summer

sonic indoor seating location rendering

Sonic is typically a drive-in, eat-outside type of fast food place. But as it's moved into areas of the country with colder winters, Sonic has added locations with indoor seating.

Long in circulation, now official: Sonic will be opening its first Capital Region location at 701 Troy Schenectady Rd in Latham (AKA where Route 7 intersects with Wade Road).

The fast food chain says it's planning a June opening for the location. From a press release: "In advance of the June grand opening, the site will undergo a $2 million remodel to transform it into a state-of-the-art SONIC Drive-In complete with traditional drive-in stalls, a drive-thru window and indoor dining. The location will employ close to 50 local Albany residents in a variety of jobs, including the iconic skating Carhops."

Sonic says it's planning at least 8 locations around the Capital Region over the next seven years in "Albany, Latham, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga Springs, Clifton Park, Amsterdam and the surrounding areas."

The chain has been looking at the Albany area since at least a year ago. It's been moving into upstate New York over the last few years. It now has locations in Watertown, Rochester, Binghamton, and the Middletown/Newburgh area, with Syracuse and Buffalo in the pipeline. Last year the company said it had plans for 27 locations around upstate. Nationwide there are more 3,500 Sonics.

Sonic is fast food -- burgers, fries, hot dogs. It's one of those things that people have often mentioned they've wanted to open here. Now they can mark it off their lists. (And watch as a We Want Chick-fil-A sleeper cell activates amid the limeade-induced chaos in order to recruit new members.)

Taxable sandwiches and other foods that are taxed, unless they're not

hannaford_rotisserie_chicken_cold_in_case.jpg

These roasted chickens aren't taxed because they're cold. But if you tried to buy one as it came out of the roaster -- taxed.

Sometimes things are just hilariously (and also frustratingly) complicated.

We were thinking about that today after Jon Campbell said on Twitter of the state Department and Taxation and Finance's web page explaining that sandwiches are taxable: "Is this the best page on an NYS website? Yes. Yes it is."

One of the subheads from that page: "What is considered a sandwich."

And thus we fell into the rabbit hole of what sorts of foods are -- and are not -- taxed by New York State.

A few somewhat mind-warping examples...

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Eating in Glens Falls: 5-10-15-20

Glens Falls food composite

By Deanna Fox

Glens Falls seems to be going through a bit of a culinary renaissance, with many new eateries staking out a spot in the last few years. Chefs with regional ties have come back to assert their influence on the dining scene, and longtime favorites continue to flourish with a revitalization of the downtown area.

And with much to be done between meals -- both in town and farther afield in the nearby Adirondacks -- there's no doubt you could spend a full day in and around Glens Falls.

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Byrne Dairy ice cream sandwiches

byrne dairy ice cream sandwiches

By Deanna Fox

Though milder weather is apparently on the way, ice cream probably still isn't at the top of your mind.

But, really, any time is a good time for ice cream. And if you need justification, try this one that AOA Mary told me her dad used for wintertime ice cream while she was growing up: Eating food that's roughly the same temperature as the air around you will help offset any unpleasantries that weather or temperature might bring by creating an equilibrium between the temperature of your insides and the temperature of your outsides. (Also: Eating ice cream is, in general, an excellent distraction from what's going around you -- including the cold.)

While we have a bevy of good ice cream places in the Capital Region, Stewart's is perhaps the best known for year-round ice cream availability. But let's not overlook that other great New York State regional dairy, Byrne Dairy, which claims the hearts of Central New Yorkers. (It's the official chocolate milk of the New York State Fair.)

And it has one thing Stewart's doesn't: ice cream sandwiches.

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Scheduled for arrival: BurgerFi

burgerfi burger

Maybe the burgers are branded in case they wander off. / photo: BurgerFi FB

Upscale burger chains are (whatever the old thing was).

Announced Wednesday: The fast casual chain BurgerFi will be setting up in Latham this spring, with another location planned for Saratoga Springs.

The Capital Region locations are a joint venture between members of the Lia family (of auto group fame) and Angelo Mazzone (of his own local restaurant empire fame). Press release blurbage:

BurgerFi, short for "Burgerfication", is headquartered in North Palm Beach, FL, and currently has 58 locations throughout the country including company owned and franchised units.
BurgerFi has made its mark with never frozen, grass fed Angus beef that is free of growth hormones, chemicals and additives. Additionally, each BurgerFi store is built to reduce its carbon footprint on the environment. Tables are made from recycled Coke bottles, chairs consist of compressed wood and large fans utilize 66-percent less electricity. The chain has strict recycling programs in place for all its oil, cardboard, bottles and cans at each restaurant location. ...

In addition to an assortment of burgers, BurgerFi serves Kobe beef hot dogs, fresh cut fries with an array of toppings (salt and vinegar, parmesan cheese and herbs, BurgerFi chili, hot Cajun spices), onion rings, homemade frozen custards, craft beer and wine.

The Latham location is set for 860 New Loudon Road, and the Saratoga Springs location at 460 Broadway. Apparently other locations are also in the works.

Over at the Biz Review, Mike DeMasi talked with Angelo Mazzone about the restaurants.

So, what's the word on BurgerFi?

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The Best Dozen: Numbers

park side eatery donuts in box

Park Side Eatery had some of the most expensive donuts by price and price per weight -- but two of its donuts made it into the ultimate dozen.

By Daniel B.

Think of it like a bonus track: During his tasting tour of Capital Region donut shops, Daniel compiled a bunch of numbers about the donuts -- weights, prices, scores.

So we thought it'd be fun to share the numbers, along with a little a summary from Daniel.

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Knish at Nibble Inc

knish at nibble

A different spin on the classic: potato donut exterior, with mashed potato in the middle.

By Deanna Fox

One of the ways different cultures spread beyond their originating communities is through food. And the culture of Eastern European Jews here in the United States is no exception: foods such a bagels, pastrami, and latkes are now enjoyed by a wide range of people across different cultures.

Of course, there's a lot more to the culinary heritage of Eastern European Jews than just bagels and lox. And there are plenty of tasty dishes worth exploring and learning about. Take the knish, for example. The delightful, if perhaps less well-known, deli or street vendor snack is quick, filling, and portable.

And Nibble Inc., in Troy, is turning out some of the better examples of knish in the Capital Region.

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The Best Dozen: Ultimate Dozen

best dozen ultimate dozen composite

By Daniel B.

We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donut shops -- and pick his favorite donuts -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.

Donuts test our ability to make choices.

When you walk into a shop and are confronted with a selection of deliciousness, how can you possibly decide which twelve to take home? Hopefully these past three months have helped in that regard.

For this series, I've evaluated the wares from 11 different places to buy donuts throughout the Capital Region and identified my favorite dozen from each stop.

But let's say you were interested in putting together the ultimate Capital Region dozen in which you could include donuts from each of these 11 places? Where would you even begin?

You can start right there.

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Genetically modified apples move closer to production

arctic apples vs traditional apples

The top row are "Arctic" Granny Smith apples, and the bottom are traditional Granny Smith. / photo: Okanagan Specialty Fruits

Arctic apples -- the apples genetically modified so they don't brown when exposed to air -- have cleared one of their last regulatory hurdles, the US Department of Agriculture announced Friday. [Politico] [USDA]

Okanagan Specialty Fruit -- the company that developed the apples -- is projecting that small test-market quantities of its non-browning Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples will available by 2016.

The technology used to create the apples is called gene silencing. Basically what Okanagan has done is target genes in the apple that are responsible for producing an enzyme involved in apples browning, and turned those genes off. The company says it's able to silence these genes very specifically. (Here's a skeptical perspective on the precision of the targeting.)

The commercial idea here is that non-browning apples will open up more opportunities for sliced apple snacks, and reduce food waste.

As you know, New York is the second largest producer of apples in the United States. Hearst reported last fall that Arctic apples were being tested at an undisclosed location upstate. Apple growers associations, both national and here in New York, have been skeptical of the genetically modified apples, not so much because of safety concerns but because of worries about how the public will perceive the apples -- essentially, apples already have a rep for being healthy and wholesome, so why do anything that could potentially mess with that. [Hearst/TU] [Modern Farmer]

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The Best Dozen: Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin Donuts in box

By Daniel B.

We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donut shops -- and pick his favorite donuts -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.

Donuts are popular. And one shop is more popular than any other in the Northeast by far. You know its name.

Whether or not America runs on the stuff is an open question. I really, really hope that's not the case.

Mostly because after eating through a dozen of these mass-produced donuts that have become the definitive versions of their respective form for most, it was a struggle to find any that I'd want to eat again.

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Good spots for Puerto Rican food?

Casa Dominicana mofongo overheadCheryl emails:

We've recently had a discussion at work about how amazing Puerto Rican food is and how hard it is to find in the capital district. Could you ask your readers for suggestions? Personally, I've been looking for a place since I came home from a visit to the island back in 2003 with real tostones. For now we make our own, but I'd LOVE to find a place to go for dinner or even get good take out.

Obviously, if there's a restaurant primarily focused on Puerto Rican food, please mention it. But we're betting there are at least a handful of restaurants that offer some Puerto Rican dishes, like the mofongo at Casa Dominicana.

Got a suggestion for Cheryl? Please share!

It's cold and snowy... so, what's cooking?

winter cooking 2015 composite

By Deanna Fox

The doldrums of winter have settled in. I've got cabin fever, and these long, freezing days are starting to wear on me.

Winter is great in that I can snuggle in front of the fire in fleece-lined leggings, ugly (but cozy) sweaters, and put whiskey in my tea with reckless abandon.

But the best way to beat winter is from the inside out. I've been wondering what other cooks in the area have been eating to get through the winter. So I asked! Here's what winter tastes like a handful of kitchens around the Capital Region.

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Éclairs at Sovrana's

two eclairs at Sovrana's in Albany

By Deanna Fox

I've learned that most good things in life come when you look beyond the expected. It is nice to be pleasantly surprised from time to time.

The same is true for food. Sovrana's has long been my favorite pizza joint in Albany, since my days in Brubacher Hall at Saint Rose. (When I wasn't studying and writing papers at Mahar's, I was doing the same at Sovrana's).

The North Lake Ave shop is a little out-of-the-way, but it's a hidden treasure -- much like the éclair that graces the cold case beneath the pizza counter.

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The Best Dozen: Nibble

best dozen nibble donuts in box

By Daniel B.

We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donut shops -- and pick his favorite donuts -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.

Donuts can be an adult indulgence. And I'm not even talking about Nibble's cocktail donuts in flavors like Old Fashioned, which has a whiskey glaze.

Usually I will share the remains of these weekly donut tastings with my children. And while I found that there was a lot to love about Nibble's unique form of potato donuts, my progeny were less enthusiastic. They were not sure whether to call these donatoes or potonuts, but they felt strongly that these should not be called donuts

Here's what I came to understand from that interaction. It's hard to have something called a donut be so different from something you think of as a donut. Go back and read that again, because it holds true for adults, too.

Fortunately, after eating through 12 of these hand-crafted treats, I have a much better understanding of their strengths and their weaknesses. And I have a strategy for making sure you bring home the best dozen.

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Good wine classes?

Thumbnail image for wine bottle top against tableLauren emails:

I'm looking for someone who is interested in teaching a small group (2-4) people about wine once a week for around a month. I have two small children and attending a wine class out in the world is difficult, so I'm hoping to find someone willing to come to my home and share their love and knowledge of wine. Perhaps a sommelier at a local restaurant or a wine shop employee would be willing to provide private classes, but any suggestions your readers can provide would be greatly appreciated.

The in-home part, especially for a small group, might be hard. But maybe someone has a suggestion about how to make that work -- or a class somewhere that's worth arranging for sitter. (Or maybe this is an opportunity for someone to launch Saturday afternoon parents wine club/play date.)

Got an idea for Lauren? Please share.

The Best Dozen: Hannaford

Hannaford donuts in a box

By Daniel B.

We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donut shops -- and pick his favorite donuts -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.

Donuts are defined by their garnishes. Yeast-raised donut shells aren't very fun on their own. They require something extra to make them come to life. It can be as simple as a dusting of sugar. But part of the joy comes from the variety of toppings and fillings that make these fried rounds of dough a sweet treat.

A professional baker might be able to detail the technical difference between glazes, icings and frostings. For the purpose of this series, glaze is a clear sugar coating; icing is a thin, dense top coat; and frosting is what you typically find on cakes.

At Hannaford, many of the donuts from their bakery appeared to be frosted and drizzled with a fudgy icing. An abundance of caution and gut instinct told me to avoid the ones with bright red icing. Past experience ruled out the specimens covered in sprinkles.

But there were still plenty left to try in the search for the best dozen, including a cro-dough.

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Tortas at El Mariachi

el_mariachi_torta_closeup.jpg

By Deanna Fox

You don't need to go south of the border for a lunchtime taste of Mexico. You just need to go a little south of Central Avenue.

Tortas are a traditional Mexican sandwich often sold on the street during lunch. Using whatever ingredients are on hand, tortas act as a quick, filling lunch that comes cheap, is easy to eat, and offers utility that is only rivaled by flavor.

The tortas -- in various interpretations -- at El Mariachi in Albany don't disappoint when it comes to a fast, hearty lunch that bring a hit of flavor to an otherwise drab, wintery workday.

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The Best Dozen: Schuyler Bakery

schuyler_bakery_donuts_in_box.jpg

By Daniel B.

We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donut shops -- and pick his favorite donuts -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.

Donuts are old fashioned. Sure, there are new places sprouting up all the time offering a new take on the classics, whether via new flavors or new processes. But Schuyler Bakery offers those who walk through its doors a look into the past.

The trays of donuts that sit in the window are clearly made by human hands. The shapes are not uniform and the toppings are uneven. You will not find a hibiscus-glazed donut in this Watervliet institution. What you will find are some excellent versions of the classics.

Surely, each and every donut the bakery makes has its fans. And there may be some flavors that have been family favorites for over 60 years. However, if you're stopping in for the first time -- or willing to stop in again while taking a little friendly advice -- here's how you can cobble together the best dozen.

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Drawing: Caribbean tapas party at New World Catering

New World Catering kitchen on Delaware Ave

New World Catering Kitchen on Delaware Ave.

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

New World Catering Kitchen in Albany is hosting a Pop Up Rhum and Caribbean Tapas tasting party January 22. We have a pair of tickets to the event and we're giving them away.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

If you could hop a plane tomorrow for any warm destination in the world, where it would it be? And why that destination?

Yeah, this is totally mid-winter fantasy. We'll pick one winner at random.

Blurbage on the tapas event at New World Catering:

We are featuring cocktails made with Rhum Clement for Martinique presented by Brendan Edwards. Ric Orlando is creating authentic tastes in grazing tapas format which will include real Conch, Calalloo with crab, oxtails, salt cod fritters and more!

The event is Thursday, January 22 from 6:30-9 pm. Tickets are $50 per person, and only 40 will be sold. Call (518) 465-3465 for tickets.

Important: All comments must be submitted by noon on Friday, January 16, 2015 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 5 pm on Friday and must respond by noon on Monday, January 19.

New World Catering advertises on AOA.

The Best Dozen: Cider Belly

Cider Belly Albany donuts in box

By Daniel B.

We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donut shops -- and pick his favorite donuts -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.

For denizens of the Capital Region apple cider donuts are a seasonal rite of passage. Can fall even happen without a trip to go apple picking at your favorite orchard, fortified with a sack of freshly made apple cider donuts?

The best apple cider donuts are those made just moments before consumption. They don't travel well, and that has led some to suggest that these donuts are tied to a sense of place. And up until now, that place has always been the apple orchard.

Cider Belly has decided to turn that idea on its head by offering a fabulous array of apple cider donuts in downtown Albany. With so many to choose from, it's tempting to order one of everything.

But trust me, after eating through a box of my own, there's a better way.

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Drawing: Wine & Dine for the Arts gala tickets

Thumbnail image for wine and dine for the arts wine glasses

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The annual Wine & Dine for the Arts food and wine festival in downtown Albany starts January 15 (next week). The multi-day event includes tastings, chefs and restaurants, seminars, and competitions for sliders, baristas, and bartenders.

We have a pair of tickets to the grand gala reception and dinner on Saturday, January 17 and we're giving them away. To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

What is your 2015 resolution for the Capital Region?

It could be big, it could be small. It could be for yourself, it could be the area generally. We'll pick one person at random.

The gala starts Saturday, January 17 at 6 pm with a reception, dinner at 7 pm. Gala tickets are $125 each. Tickets for other events at the festival are currently on sale, though some events are already sold out and others have just a few remaining.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 10 am on Saturday, January 9 10, 2015 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 10 am on Monday and must respond by noon on Tuesday, January 13.

AOA is a media sponsor of Wine & Dine for the Arts.

A look inside Peck's Arcade

peck's arcade troy kitchen overhead

Peck's Arcade -- the new venture from Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine, the people behind The Confectionery and The Grocery -- is set to open Wednesday.

The casual fine dining restaurant is in the building at 217 Broadway in downtown Troy, which also houses the Grocery and connects with The Confectionery via a covered patio. The duo say the restaurant will focus on small plates and meticulous service in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. (The name comes from one of the building's former lives as a 19th century department store.)

"We want people to feel like they're well taken care of," LaVine told us Thursday as the restaurant team was finalizing things ahead of the opening.

Here's a quick look at the space Tuesday, along with a few more bits and a conversation with Christopher.

(there's more)

Breakfast Pizza at Bella Napoli

bella napoli breakfast pizza

By Deanna Fox

Fortunately for me, eating pizza has rarely been a case of taking whatever cold slice might be left in the box from the night before. The Capital Region is flush with pizza options, so it comes as no surprise that the first meal of the day be covered by the pizza category.

How do you make pizza suitable for breakfast? You put an egg on it. Some iterations, like the Eggs in Purgatory pizza from More Perecca's, rely on coal-fired crust to support spicy, house-made tomato sauce with a few poached eggs on top. (Sidenote: I'm fairly certain EiP pizza is the perfect hangover cure.)

Others, like the breakfast pizza at Bella Napoli in Latham, forgo the sauce altogether and make the eggs the star of the show.

And even though sauce is my favorite part of the pizza, I'm OK with that.

(there's more)

Sciortino's closed, Taste closing

sciortinos exterior 2013

We'll miss tucking into a booth there.

Two bits of Albany restaurant news:

Sciortino's has closed
The pizza/Italian-American spot in the former Miss Albany Diner space on Broadway closed at the end of the year. Posted Matt Baumgartner today on FB: "Although Sciortino's was a very personal restaurant for me, I feel like something new and exciting in that space would be more beneficial to the booming Warehouse District."

The space is up for lease (details at the link). Baumgartner mentioned a few ideas for things he'd like to see there to Steve Barnes.

Taste is closing
The downtown Albany upscale dining spot is closing next week (it had been for sale for years) -- its banquet business will continue. The space is apparently being taken over by a restaurant group planning a pan-Asian concept. [Biz Review] [Table Hopping]
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Speaking of the Warehouse District and food... It looks like Druther's is making progress on its new brewery space just off Broadway.

Earlier on AOA:
+ In 2012, Baumgartner talked with us about how the concept for Sciortino's was based on his and his business partner's family food memories
+ Architecture gawking in Albany's warehouse district

The Best Dozen: ShopRite

best_dozen_shoprite_box_of_donuts.jpg

By Daniel B.

We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donuts -- and pick his favorites -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.

With donu