Items tagged with '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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donuts -- and pick his favorites -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.
With donuts you can't judge a book by its cover. I learned this the hard way on a recent trip to rural Pennsylvania where I encountered some gorgeous local specimens. But they were terrible. Truly terrible. I'll spare you the gory details.
On a recent visit to the ShopRite on Central Avenue in Colonie, the donuts looked sad in a corner of the bakery case. I got there on a Sunday morning to find a selection only seven varieties deep. They seemed more of an afterthought or an obligation of the bakery, rather than something celebrated and fussed over.
Fortunately, they taste better than they look.
Donuts are convenient. I like to think of them as delicious energy pillows. They make a good breakfast treat, and you may also want one any time you have a cup of coffee.
Stewart's Shops is one of the more popular places for coffee around the Capital District. In some ways this regional convenience store is the heart and soul of the area. And it just so happens that they sell donuts, too.
What kind of donuts can you expect from a regional institution better known for its milk, eggs, and ice cream? Are they as good as the award-winning Philly Vanilla ice cream? Or are they a little rougher around the edges, like Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice?
The only way to find out was to eat them all.
We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donuts -- and pick his favorites -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.
Donuts are sweet. Well, technically they aren't. They are fried dough that are are then glazed, dusted with sugar, or frosted. Sometimes they are even filled. It's these finishing touches that actually make the donuts sweet.
There are forces at work to help temper the sweetness of donuts. Primarily it's the fat from the frying oil. Richness cuts the sweetness. And then of course there is the bracing bitterness of coffee. It's one of the reasons these two morning staples are almost inseparable from each other.
The best donuts are well balanced, with enough toppings or fillings to provide great flavor and enough sweetness to brighten your morning. But if you aren't careful at The Cookie Factory you could end up with a box of sugar bombs. (Unless, of course, that's exactly your aim.)
After recently trying the flavors available at this Troy shop one morning, here's how to get the best dozen...
We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donuts -- and pick his favorites -- for a short series called The Best Dozen.
Donuts don't have to come from a standalone bakery. You can also find them in your local neighborhood grocery store.
The ones at Price Chopper's Market Bistro in Latham make an impression because the store's donut rack includes a variety of signature square donuts in addition to the classics. To the eye the signature donuts are reminiscent of the more famous specimens found at shops such as NYC's Doughnut Plant and elsewhere.
But are the Market Bistro donuts any good? And which ones are worthy to pack into your dozen? Well, there's only one way to find out.
We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donuts -- and pick his favorites -- for a short series called "The Best Dozen."
Donuts are a special treat. Given the ubiquity of that one regional orange and pink chain, sometimes we forget that.
At Park Side Eatery, donuts are only available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The flavors also change frequently, typically offering between 10-15 varieties on any given day. So all of the donuts sampled on a recent visit may not be available when you go. And they don't make a ton, so popular varieties often sell out by noon.
Still, by going to the shop and sampling one of every donut on the rack, it is possible to learn how to cobble together the best dozen.
We've enlisted Daniel B. to survey Capital Region donuts -- and pick his favorites -- for a short series called "The Best Dozen."
Donuts are a great way to start the day. Don't listen to the naysayers. Not only do fat and sugar make human beings happy, but they provide us with a burst of quick energy. This is especially true when paired with a cup of coffee.
Nobody makes the best decisions blurry eyed at the donut shop early in the morning. And picking out the best dozen at any given shop shouldn't be left to chance. So we'll be going out and trying as many different donuts as we can to help you fill your box with the best sweet deep fried breakfast treats in the region.
First up, Bella Napoli in Troy.
It's time to complain about the heat.
Man, it's hot this summer. At the very least we were blessed with a long and lovely spring. But who can remember that when it's just been so oppressive recently? Eating is the last thing I want to do when I'm sweating through my shirt.
The good news is that there are a lot of places that get even hotter than the Capital Region in summer, and we can all learn some valuable lessons from how they sustain themselves in the heat. I'll never understand the Szechuan drive to fight fire with fire by stimulating the body's built in cooling system with sweat-inducing spices. The cooling salads of Thailand are much more my speed.
In Bangkok this week, every day promises to reach at least ninety degrees. But you can get duck salad here on Delaware Avenue in Albany either in the air conditioning or on the porch of Sweet Basil. I'm no great lover of salads, but let me tell you why this really hits the spot when it's hot.
The emerging coffee culture in the Capital Region is probably invisible to most. And honestly, it may never grow much beyond the few outposts that currently dot the landscape. New hiqh-quality coffee shops are opening up, long established ones are improving their wares, and passionate baristas are honing their craft.
The espresso at Caffe Vero is old news. You should check out what's happening at Tierra, especially their brewed coffee that's prepared to order in the Chemex. And Uncommon Grounds has been seriously improving their coffee roasting.
But right now -- right now -- when it's hot and humid, hot coffee is the last thing on your mind. Iced coffee is the order of the day. One of the best versions available is from a place that many don't even consider to be a coffee shop. However the New Orleans-style iced coffee at the Lucas Confectionery offers not only a reprieve from the heat, but it is also a blessed relief from all of the terrible iced coffee everywhere.
French fries, baked potato, or mashed? Cole slaw or baked beans? Sweet plantains or tostones?
Side dishes are ubiquitous, but the choices can vary greatly depending on the cuisine. When you find a dish of warmed marinated olives on the menu, the place obviously has a Mediterranean focus. A side of garlic spiked broccoli rabe clearly indicates an Italian influence.
So what does it mean when a restaurant offers a side order of a whole rotisserie chicken?
Maybe the problem wasn't the parking lot, but rather the drivers. Honest Weight Food Co-op's old parking lot will be fondly remembered by no one. Now they have a brand new parking lot that's much bigger than the old one, and a whole new building to go with it. But still, finding a spot might be a challenge.
The new market opened Wednesday, even though the official grand opening isn't until August, and shoppers around noon were remarking on how they had to drive around the lot a few times before they found a space.
But there are plenty of bike racks right out front and a CDTA bus stop (#125) on the corner (and a stop for the #138 a block up the street).
There has been a lot of hand wringing about this new location, but I have to admit, taking I-90 to Everett Road exit 5 makes the trip super convenient, easier to get to than the Albany ShopRite, Price Chopper or Hannaford that all compete within a very narrow radius of each other.
Parking and accessibility aside, how is the new co-op different from the old co-op? For some it may take a little getting used to -- for others it is likely a dream come true.
We've been blessed with a long cool spring, but soon it will get hot. And when it does you will be faced with three choices: sweat, seek air conditioning, or head for the water.
A patch of shade with some cooling breezes coming off the water is one of summer's great pleasures. Waterfront dining options far too often take advantage of the situation and charge outrageous premiums on barely adequate food.
Yet somehow in the Capital Region we've seemed to avoid the worst of that. You can eat on the banks of the Hudson at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que or in sight of the Mohawk at Jumpin' Jacks without being gouged for the view. These places are locally famous. But there is another restaurant nearby that most people probably have never heard about. And it has a nicer view than Dinosaur, uses better meat than Jumpin' Jacks, and is a veritable haven for local and regional food lovers.
Pirates Lakeside Grill is also home to the $5 grassfed burger.
Cheesesteaks might as well grow on trees. Even though we are more than 200 miles north of Philadelphia, this signature dish from the City of Brotherly Love is as ubiquitous in the Capital Region as it is across the country.
And why not? It's a classic combination of beef, sauteed onions, and cheese. Although there are some philistines who don't care for onions and order their cheesesteaks "witout."
But most of these sandwiches -- even though they may look like Philly cheesesteaks, and are called Philly cheesesteaks -- sadly are not Philly cheesesteaks.
There is one critical component that transforms a simple everyday steak sandwich into the classic made famous at joints like Jim's and Pat's and Geno's. And luckily for us, the good people at Latham's Philly Bar and Grill are in on the secret.
Before it was famous, Famous Lunch in Troy was called Quick Lunch when it opened in 1932. And it's still quick today. In the front window hot dogs are plucked off the griddle, topped with mustard, chopped onions, and zippy sauce, and handed to eager customers in mere moments.
Zippy sauce -- for the uninitiated -- is a deeply savory concoction of onions, meat, and spices.
Those in a hurry could surely eat these diminutive three-inch wieners as quickly as they are assembled, although I wouldn't recommend it. Some things in life deserve to be savored. But that doesn't stop people from ordering them by the trayful in quantities of four, six, eight, or more.
Now while it may not be quite as quick, Famous Lunch's decidedly less famous breakfast is a very special treat. Specifically I'm referring to their egg and cheese sandwich on a hard roll with zippy sauce. It's not exactly on the menu, but they are more accommodating than one might imagine.
Some people might contemplate the notion of going to a famous hot dog place and not getting the hot dogs with deep scorn. But are you sure it's the restaurant's hot dogs that made them famous?
Saturday was the first Food Truck Festival of NY in Troy, but it was not the first food truck festival ever.
These things happen all over the place all the time, and they come in many shapes and forms. Occasionally, like Tulip Fest, they aren't exclusively food events, but simply have a food component. Other times the festivals may not be focused on trucks but rather a specific ingredient... like bacon.
Events like these can be amazing or they can be agonizing. Sometimes the difference between the two is as simple as having a strategy.
Albany is filled with old food. And rightly so, it's an old town. Our fish fry and mini-hot dogs with meat sauce offer widespread examples around the region. But slightly less visible, inside one the city's oldest taverns, there is a remarkably old pizza.
The Orchard Tavern has been making its distinctive style of pizza from scratch for more than 70 years from the recipe of a former proprietor. Much of what is known about the pizza's origins is based on anecdotal evidence. But, since the recipe has remained unchanged for all this time, we can learn a lot about this pizza by understanding how it's made.
To unlock the secrets of The Orchard pizza, you have to start with a visit to their dungeon.
What brings you comfort?
Even when it comes to food, the answer will be different for everyone. For some it will be a taste of home. Others will long for a taste of childhood. The answer could be situational, and refer back to some restorative dish eaten after a traumatic experience.
These foods aren't necessarily exciting. But dishes like biscuits with sausage gravy, fluffy scrambled eggs cooked in bacon fat, and mashed potatoes with gravy share a common heritage. They are all simple enough to be made, more or less from scratch, by the home cook.
So what could be more antithetical to unprocessed homemade food than the beloved tater tot? After all, its original purpose was to help Ore-Ida use waste created from the mass production of frozen french fries. How unlikely that this would turn into the comfort food of today. But there is a sea change surrounding the tater tot around this country. It's being taken back by talented chefs.
Now let me tell you why Comfort Kitchen in Saratoga deserves a top spot among their ranks.
Why do most people go to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy? Well if you ask general manager Joe Soldo, he'll tell you it's for the pulled pork. That's the big seller -- followed by ribs and then brisket, with chicken lagging way behind in the rear.
Chicken gets little respect at a barbecue joint.
When I think about barbecue, it conjures up images of long, slow cooking that breaks down the collagen in tougher pieces of meat, renders their fat, and turns them into unctuous smokey masterpieces. But when I hear the words "barbecue chicken" it's hard to picture anything but a dry, flavorless chicken breast slathered in sauce.
Barbecue chicken has a marketing problem. But I'm far from alone in thinking that Dinosaur's chicken is among its best offering. I recently got to sit down with the regional chain's CIA-trained executive chef Jeffrey "Cooter" Coon to find out why it's so good.
Little did I know that this is the chicken that changed his life.
The new Healthy Living Market and Cafe in the Wilton Mall is hard to nail down.
It's not a health food store, yet it has a section full of natural health products and supplements. It's not a specialty foods store, even though they stock some hard-to-find, high-end items that are bound to delight enthusiasts. It's certainly not a conventional grocery store, although it has everything from pet and baby food to cleaning supplies to toilet paper.
And while they will proudly carry conventionally produced strawberries in the winter -- because, as Healthy Living owner Katy Lesser explained, that's "what Americans want" -- they will never stock Coca-Cola. Not even the Mexican stuff with real sugar.
So what is this place, how does it fit into the region's supermarket scene, and is there anything there worth a drive?
There's nothing new about the New Mt. Pleasant Bakery. This old school bakery in Schenectady's Mont Pleasant neighborhood may not show many signs of life from the street. Their hours are posted on a printed-out piece of paper taped to the door, scratched out and amended with a faded sharpie.
Inside, there's not much to look at these days, either. Yes, there are a few trays of colorful cookies, some donuts, a handful of black and whites, and perhaps a few random pastries. Yet many of the racks are empty, and past adventures in trying their sweets have taught me to avoid them.
But wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, this very same bakery just so happens to make the best challah in the Capital Region. And it's worth making a special trip during the day on Friday to get it.
I've heard that "Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day." Except I'm not, or at least I haven't been in the past. The fervor that surrounds this holiday was lost on me for most of my life. It took living through several Capital Region winters in a row and the arrival of the Shamrock Shake for the appeal to finally sink in.
After months of cold, snow, bitter winds, chapped skin, and frozen bones, in addition to the tedium of a world whose color scheme has devolved into various shades of grey, anything verdant is worth celebrating.
That, and I suppose people like drinking. But Purim is another drinking holiday and nobody claims that we are all Jewish on Adar 14. I suppose that's just another downside of having a lunar calendar.
Still, any excuse to celebrate a different culture comes with the possibilities of eating something delicious and novel. Except what could one possibly find in the Capital Region that would stand out from the chorus of shepherd's pie and corned beef with cabbage.
Well, have you ever heard of boxty?
Slurpees are the defining product of 7-Elevens around the country. Every now and again I'll miss having easy access to this remarkable frosty beverage that so skillfully rides the line between two phases of matter.
When I first moved to the Capital Region I would have traded all of the Stewart's for even just one 7-Eleven if given the chance. But now, in no small part to Mr. Dave's romanticizing of the shop, I can finally see Stewart's as a cultural anchor of upstate New York. And despite my predilection for organic milk, eggs from free-roaming chickens, and ice cream made without additional gums, thickeners or emulsifying agents, I find myself regularly at my local Stewart's buying milk, eggs, and ice cream.
Amazingly, the reason isn't because Stewart's is convenient. It's because these staples are just really good.
Their maple walnut ice cream would have never even made it onto my radar had it not been for an event from last summer. Hands down, it's my favorite flavor in their case. And now is the perfect time to eat it.
Fresh is a meaningless word, primarily because it can mean so many completely different things. Fresh is used for something that is brand new or has just arrived. In food it can differentiate a product from one that has been frozen. Or it can simply identify that something isn't spoiled quite yet.
Dora Swan and Pete Kenyon at Fin are not satisfied with just selling fresh fish. They are also committed to exclusively sourcing sustainable fish. Plus they are creating a community. And now, instead of just selling fish off the back of a truck, they have a brand new store in Guilderland.
So what does "fresh" mean to them? I asked them and was floored by the response.
Update October 2013: This place is now closed, replaced by a juice bar.
Valentine's Day is for suckers. Going out to a restaurant on February 14 is like going to a nightclub on December 31. It's crowded to the gills and everyone is filled with impossible expectations. Plus, attempting to celebrate the special relationship you share with your lover, by having the exact same meal as the couple at the table next to you, seems misguided at best.
And maybe you find yourself alone in the dreariest part of the winter doldrums.
So, forget Cupid and his stupid little wings for just a moment. Regardless of your feelings about the upcoming holiday, and regardless of your relationship status, do not miss out on the opportunity to indulge in a box of chocolates.
Some of the best chocolate in the region just got a whole lot closer. And after trying a bunch of them, here's a little insight that will help you fill your box.
Recently there was an espresso showdown at the Hotel Albany, as part of the Albany Chefs Food & Wine Festival. Several baristas from across the region came to compete head-to-head in order to see who was the best of the bunch. (It should be noted that Caffe Vero decided to sit this one out.)
The competitors each had five minutes of preparation time and then 17 minutes to prepare four drinks for three tasting judges, while a fourth technical judge evaluated the barista's performance. Scores were based on the barista's espresso, then either a cappuccino or a latte, a signature drink, and a fourth drink that combined coffee with booze.
The winner was David Schulman of the Hudson River Coffee House in Albany. So how did someone who six months ago knew little about coffee go on to take the title of best barista in the area? And what set him apart from the other contenders? The only way to find out was to sit down with him and have a little coffee talk.
There's a steady drumbeat for Korean cuisine in the Capital Region, but precious few places to get it.
For the past year I had avoided Mingle because it appeared to be a place that served overpriced versions of Korean comfort food in an upscale setting. And I had my reservations about paying fine dining prices for street food.
January is a time for new beginnings. It's also a good month for deeply comforting, spicy foods that smolder in your mouth and belly. And after a meal of Mingle's dukbokki, I'm happy to report that I was wrong. Really, really wrong. But before you go, you have to know the secret.
The Capital Region has no shortage of great bakeries, each with at least one thing they do better than anyone else around. Many of them have been profiled on AOA, such as:
+ Mrs. London's classic croissants
+ Crisan's fanciful sweet treats.
+ All Good Bakers and their mean grilled cheese.
+ TC Bakery's meticulously-made macarons.
+ Bella Napoli's excellent donuts (just not the glazed ones).
+ Fluffalicious's cupcakes, especially the buttercream part of their cupcakes.
+ Eastern Parkway Price Chopper's flour dusted bialys.
But there is also a great bakery in Troy that makes great croissants, sweets (including macarons), sandwiches, and breads that has gone without praise for far too long. Where's the love for The Placid Baker?
Well, let me tell you what makes their baguette my favorite in the region.
Broadway actress Erin Felgar really gives Daniel's plight the treatment it deserves.
Comment from Daniel at YouTube:
This is awesome! I am totally honored. Thank you.
Yes, this is a first world problem. For what it's worth, after this review the yogurt shop changed their spoons. Now they are fantastic.
(Thanks, Daniel Nester!)
This is not a pizza. A pizza without cheese is like a hat without a crown, which isn't a hat at all but a headband. Henceforth I'll refer to what they call pizza at Tara Kitchen in Schenectady as a flatbread, since no sensible person is going to confuse one for the other.
On the most basic level the flatbreads here are a pita, covered with toppings, slid onto a plate, and cut into quarters. As a pizza it doesn't rate. But it's an intensely satisfying way of delivering the flavors of North Africa. And there is one topping in particular that puts this over the top.
A new eatery recently opened up in the Crossgates mall food court: Montreal Poutine. It's in the space formerly occupied by the Hana Express.
The choices available at this particular food court have been uninspired, and I still mourn the loss of exceptions such as Full-Mi-Belly and Hot Dog Charlie's. Say what you will about mini hot dogs with meat sauce, they are one of our few regional specialties.
Anyway, when a new and shiny establishment pops up on the scene, especially one that offers this much beloved French-Canadian specialty that's surprisingly hard to find in these parts, I was compelled to give it a try.
So how did they do?
Some people say the Capital Region is a great place with an inferiority complex.
Evidence of this mentality is that residents will declare the best part about living here is that you are only three hours from Boston, Manhattan, and Montreal. Officially, I disagree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. But these are not the only cities that cast a shadow on the affairs of this place.
Out to our west is Buffalo. And given that it is less than a day's drive from our border, there are folks who would have you believe that the state of our chicken wings does not compare favorably.
In fact, there are plenty of places for wings in this area that are great. And after years of research and tasting, I believe the wings from The Ruck should be a source of regional pride.
By the time November rolls around most community supported agriculture programs are closing up shop for the winter. Farmers' markets move indoors. And those who care about eating locally-produced fruits and vegetables get ready to bear the brunt of the next few months of winter storage crops.
And you know, it's not so bad. In fact, winter storage crops are some of the best things we grow in the region. Cabbage, onions, beets, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, carrots, celery root, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are all incredibly versatile. Which is a good. Because these are my new vegetable staples.
But wait. What's that big pile of greenery Migliorelli Farm has on its table? Oh, well they must come from a greenhouse. No? And they aren't hydroponic either. Well how do they do it then, and why is their broccoli rabe so good?
Why don't folks from the suburbs go out to eat in Albany? People are full of excuses. I hear the lack of parking a lot.
Well, Taiwan Noodle has a parking lot, and it is adjacent to the restaurant. So you can get from your car to the restaurant in seconds.
What it doesn't have is a lot of pretense, overpriced food, or people there to see and be seen.
But it does have enough varieties of soup noodles -- sixty by my count -- to keep you warm and satisfied throughout the long, cold Albany winter.
Naturally, you should start at the top of their menu with the stewed beef chuck noodle soup, and let me tell you why.
Sometimes great dishes can be hiding in plain sight. It's just a matter of knowing what to order, and letting a trusted advisor be your guide.
More Perreca's had consistently disappointed me for breakfasts. The ultimate insult was toast made from the bakery's famous bread that was served cold. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. From a questionable frittata, to mushy potatoes, to an egg sandwich served on a quarter loaf of bread with a virtually impenetrable crust, nothing I tried over multiple visits had worked for me. The egg sandwich, when made with one of their generous sausage patties, had been the best of the bunch, just so long as it came unaccompanied by potatoes.
But Deanna from Silly Goose Farm insisted I had it wrong. She was willing to vouch for a dish on their breakfast menu and agreed to accompany me on one last journey to this offshoot of a Schenectady institution.
Not only are the Eggs in Purgatory there delicious, but I cannot imagine a more befitting breakfast for the Electric City in October.
It's fall and we are in apple country. Huzzah! These are the golden months of life in the Capital Region.
While this year's apple crop may have suffered greatly from the mild winter, the early thaw, the spring frosts, hail, and drought, that shouldn't keep you from making the annual pilgrimage to an apple orchard.
There are apple cider donuts, of course -- a glorious treat that are best enjoyed as close to the source as possible. But there are some orchards that also offer other, more unusual, products from apples.
Good fried chicken can change your life.
This is what happened to Ian Michael Hunter when he went south last winter on vacation and sunk his teeth into something crispy, salty, and wonderful. As a new year's resolution he vowed to bring this food to Troy. Ian looked around and saw other fried chicken joints in the Capital Region. He points out, "[In] Troy itself we don't even have a Golden Fried chicken, so I figured it would be a good place for it."
Inspired by the success of The Brown Bag and a love for the restaurant business, Ian scraped together the start-up capital with help from his family and connected with Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and fellow Troy resident Josh Coletto. In July they opened their doors. Since then, The Flying Chicken has been getting a lot of positive attention.
Don't be fooled. This is no ordinary fried chicken place. Even Ian admits that with Josh in the back of the house the food "came out better than I could have imagined."
Recently I visited with Noah Sheetz to meet his friend Josh (both CIA graduates and participants in the Chefs Consortium), try his food, and find out two things:
What is a CIA-trained chef doing at a counter service fried chicken restaurant? And what makes his fried chicken and waffles so damn good?
Say goodbye to cupcakes and bonjour to macarons.
Cupcakes make me crazy. Anyone can throw together a few ingredients in a mixing bowl and turn out a passable cupcake. The same goes for buttercream. Yet people line up to spend outrageous sums on these sweet, fanciful treats. Sure, the better cupcakeries are creative with their flavor combinations and decorations. These are seen as small indulgences. I get it.
But French macarons fill a very similar niche. These light and delicate meringues encase a sweet and creamy filling in creative flavor combinations and vibrant colors. Some are decorated, while others stand unadorned, strikingly beautiful in their simplicity. Except they are only deceptively simple, because to make them well takes a lot of time and care.
These too are small indulgences. The difference is that they are truly a treat.
It has been difficult to find a wide selection of French macarons in the Capital Region. But for the last eight months, TC Bakery -- hidden in plain sight -- has been filling its case daily with impressive versions of the form, trying to bring a bit of Paris to Albany.
Some will say the first day of fall is on Saturday, September 22. And technically they would be correct. Although somehow they have neglected to consider that the last day of summer falls on September 2.
That is the last day Jumpin' Jack's in Scotia is open for the season.
One of the great things about the Capital Region are all of our seasonal food stands. Whether they specialize in burgers, fish fry, soft serve or homemade hard ice cream, each one is a treasure trove of good memories for generations of area residents. But you can't eat someone else's fond recollections.
Not having grown up here, I have none of these sentimental ties binding me to any of our beloved regional institutions. So I consider myself lucky to be able to try each of these places with a fresh perspective. Still, before first heading to Jumpin' Jacks I did my research to find what exactly about this riverside restaurant residents recommended.
As it turns out, there are many people who love Jumpin' Jack's despite the food. True, the fact that a seasonal food stand has such a beautiful riverside location is stunning -- it's great to eat on the banks of the Mohawk River, even when there isn't a water ski show.
But I've got a few words for those who are dissatisfied with Jumpin' Jack's signature burger.
Prejudice is an ugly thing. And I'll be the first to admit that I've got my own set of preconceived notions.
Almost every day in the spring and summer, I'll eat a bowl of granola with yogurt, flax seeds, and some fruit (usually frozen blueberries). The granola is organic, as are the flaxseeds. The yogurt is either organic or local from Cowbella. The blueberries are not organic, but they are wild and the producer employs integrated pest management practices.
The goal with this crazy-sounding regimen is to eat cleaner food. Organic dairy ensures that the cows aren't given subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics in their feed (which in conventional dairies can also contain "poultry litter"). Organic granola is a way to make sure that genetically modified ingredients aren't sneaking into the breakfast bowl, since many supermarket granolas contain some form of corn or soy. Organic flax seeds are just a happy bonus.
But good, clean food doesn't have to be organic. I was reminded of this recently when I finally tried the Maple Crunch Granola from Our Daily Eats, which is based in Albany. Because not only is it delicious, but there is also a compelling argument why you should buy this instead of making your own.
Blah, blah, blah, Bobby Flay, blah, blah.
So yeah, the Ice Cream Man was on cable. There was a "throwdown" and our Greenwich shop prevailed with a sundae made from vanilla ice cream, warm apple topping, whipped cream, gourmet nuts, and a cherry.
If you really want, you can buy one of those for $5.14, but then you would be missing out on what truly makes the Ice Cream Man special: they produce over 300 flavors of homemade hard ice cream. It's an audacious claim, but they make it proudly.
Now granted, they only keep about 30 of the flavors on hand at any given time. Twelve are set in stone. They are the same week in and week out. Up to six flavors can be dedicated to fat-free, sugar-free, soft-serve, yogurt, or sorbet, which might be fine if you are into those kinds of things.
That means every day hundreds of potential flavors are vying for a mere twelve spots on the menu board. After the Tour de Hard Ice Cream it became clearly evident that the Ice Cream Man sets the high bar for homemade ice cream in the region. But the question remained, what hidden delights are lurking on the menu.
To find out, I decided to eat an unreasonable amount of ice cream. Again.
Most days I don't think about the Hudson River. I don't ponder its historical significance. I don't fret about the health of the fishery. Nor do I long to spend any time on its banks. And I'm not alone.
This is why more than forty years ago, folk singer Pete Seeger decided to build a boat. And not just any boat. His boat would be a 106-foot wooden replica of the ships that traversed the Hudson River 200 years ago. It would be called the sloop Clearwater, and its goal would be to bring people to the river.
The boat itself is stunning. It casts a striking figure on the water with its 108-foot mast and 3,000 square foot mainsail. This vessel would be a stunning museum piece, but it is in active use on the river, sailing as far south as New York City and as far north as Albany. The general public can even buy a ticket for a day sail. Money raised from such activities helps to fund the organization's core objectives of environmental education and advocacy.
Recently the Chefs Consortium, a regional group of local food advocates, organized a dinner for thirty people on board the Clearwater sailing out of Kingston.
So what's it like to eat the Hudson Valley's bounty while sailing on the Hudson?
Let's put the name aside for a moment.
What's important to know is that this is the essence of summertime in a glass. Because regardless of what anyone else says, nothing says summer as much as biting into a ripe and juicy peach as the nectar drips down your chin and arm. It's sweeter than the first sweet corn, it's juicier than even the ripest of strawberries, and it's more satisfying than the plumpest tomato. Nobody can be unhappy while eating a perfectly ripe peach.
This latest creation from Harvest Spirits in Valatie has been in the works for about a year, but was released just last week. Officially, it's a peach-flavored brandy, and it is indeed packed with the flavor of whole peaches. Calling it "peach flavored" however really does it a disservice, and actually it's not quite a brandy either. Technically, it's a peach infused applejack. But that too doesn't fully get to the heart of this spirit.
The story of how Peach Jack came into existence begins with an experiment gone awry.
Change is good.
Okay, that's trite. And more importantly it's wrong. We've all seen things change for the worse: beloved institutions close, food quality slips as owners or chefs become complacent, and prices creep up at places that were once a bargain.
In this case change is a double-edged sword, because change has improved the tacos at Bros, but it has also rendered former statements of mine incorrect.
So in addition to eating a taco, I'm also going to have to eat my words.
The bialy is dead. Long live the bialy.
Maybe you've read Mimi Sheraton's The Bialy Eaters, in which the food writer travels the world in search of an authentic Bialystocker kuchen. There is actually a town in Poland called Bialystock, and at one point in time it was filled with Jews and bakeries that would churn out these hot, yeasty rolls which have only a passing similarity to bagels in that they are round.
From Ms. Sheraton's research, in the old country these were light and pillowy on the outside, with a crisp compressed center, which was filled with onions, poppy seeds, and bread crumbs. They were dusted with flour, baked in a wood or coal-fired oven, and came out with a thin, burnished brown crust.
After searching the world over, starting at Kossar's in New York City, and traveling to Poland, Israel, France and Argentina she came to a sad conclusion: One cannot find a Bialystocker kuchen like the ones made in that famous village before World War II. Most of the Jews from Bialystock were killed or driven into exile, and with them went the bialy.
That's not to say there aren't some delicious bialys around the world which come close. Oddly, the Capital Region was never mentioned in her book. However, if Mimi Sheraton ever made it out to the Price Chopper on Eastern Parkway, I think she would be quite pleased.
Consider the oyster. Those are not my words but the title of a book by M.F.K. Fisher on this polarizing bivalve mollusk. And there has indeed been a lot of consideration paid to these slippery specimens, as trying to describe how they taste is like trying to catch the wind in your hands.
Despite its distance from oyster beds, Albany has a long tradition of oyster eating, as revealed in this article William Kennedy wrote for Esquire on Jack's Oyster House over 25 years ago.
It's hard to imagine that the oyster, a modern fixture of high-end dining, used to be an inexpensive staple of the working class. What a pity that those days are long gone. But in cities like New Orleans you can still pick up a 100-pound sack of them for $50. And even in Watervliet you can still walk into a local fast food joint and get an order of fried oysters in a paper basket with a plain hotdog bun on the side.
Now, May isn't conventionally considered to be oyster season -- but at Ted's oyster season has just begun.
Barbecue. Just the very act of reading the word creates an instant impression in your mind. But that image varies dramatically based on your background and where you are from. Almost none of them are wrong, except perhaps the one that involves burgers sizzling over charcoal for a summertime cookout. That's grilling. And Chinese barbecued pork may have once seen smoke, but now its brilliant red patina is the byproduct of nothing more than food coloring.
For me, barbecue involves slow cooking with a little bit of heat and a lot of smoke. And we are blessed to have plenty of places in the region that will transform tough and fatty cuts of meat into tender and succulent delights using this time honored technique.
And while all of these joints have a wide variety of offerings on their menu, there is generally one or two things that they do best. At Capital Q in Albany, one of these things is their South Carolina pulled pork sandwich.
Some will tell you the secret to great pulled pork is the sauce, others say the rub, while still others claim it's the smoke.
At Capital Q, none of that matters, because on this sandwich they ace all three -- and then some.
The forbidden fruit is twice as sweet.
Some of you may know that currently we are in the midst of Passover. And that means for those who are observing the holiday, the classic croissant at Mrs. London's is entirely off limits.
But it sure is gorgeous isn't it.
Regardless of if you can wait until the holiday is over or not, this amazing amalgamation of flour and butter can be found at what some have postulated is the "most fabulous bakeshop" in America. Their ability to achieve such stunning results on this classic French pastry is just one reason why Mrs. London's gets my vote for the best bakery in the Capital Region.
Still, I'm amazed at how many people stare blankly at me when I tell them about a place up in Saratoga Springs called Mrs. London's. Many have never heard of it, and others have just never been. Unless you suffer from Celiac disease or have severe gluten intolerance, this is totally inexcusable.
It's sad what passes for a croissant these days, and it's great to find one bakery that is holding the line.
Consider me converted.
Upon arriving to the area, my family was struck by the many varieties of local honey available at farm stands and farmers' markets. Part of eating local was enjoying these naturally sweet products.
Except there was a problem: granulation.
Really, it's not a problem. It's more of a nuisance. Because all honey eventually granulates, and it can be easily fixed by placing the jar in a pot of warm water until the crystals dissolve. But who wants to do that?
So we fell off the wagon and found some reasonably tasty supermarket honey. But recently all has not been well in bee-land. There have been all kinds of problems going on from colony collapse disorder to reports of fraudulent and contaminated honey being brought into the United States.
That, in addition to the rising price of supermarket honey and the very vocal fan base of local beekeeper Lloyd Spear led me to his stall at the Schenectady Greenmarket earlier this year. We've been buying Lloyd's honey ever since.
Recently when picking up a donation of honey he was making to the Jewish Food Festival, I had a chance to chat with him and find out what makes his stuff so good.
If you love cupcakes, the chances are that you have a favorite bakery in the Capital Region from which to get them. There are a staggering number of places that make precious little (and not so little) versions of the form. Some of these are classic Italian bakeries and local institutions. Others are more recent additions that have responded to the cupcake craze that's been sweeping the nation for more than a decade.
The competitive landscape here among specialty cupcake bakeries is pretty fierce. So in an attempt to try and settle some of the feuding, last Saturday 20 invited readers of the FUSSYlittleBLOG met at the Hilton Garden Inn Albany Airport to blindly taste the wares of four of the region's most popular cupcakeries.
There are a lot of reasons to love Ala Shanghai. The authentic Shanghainese restaurant in Latham not only serves traditional regional foods, they also have a changing seasonal menu. Their upcoming spring/summer menu is currently in development and promises to include some modern takes on classic dishes that are popular in China today.
This makes me giddy.
For the neophyte who may not be quite ready to step up to cold jellyfish salad or sea cucumber with triple delights, the Ala Shanghai menu also has a dim sum section. However, the dim sum most of us know and love is Cantonese. Shanghainese food stems from a different culinary tradition, which makes the dim sum at Ala Shanghai a familiar experience with some exciting surprises.
Here are a few notable items from Ala Shanghai's dim sum menu that you would expect to find where the Yangtze meets the East China Sea, not where the Hudson meets the Mohawk.
If you've been looking for great donuts, this is where they've been hiding.
But for other yeast-raised or non-cider cake donuts, Bella Napoli in Troy is the place. And the pinnacle of their craft is realized in the Boston cream.
These are not the newfangled big city donuts you may have been reading about. I could easily imagine how a hand-crafted pastry cream made with local farm-fresh eggs, pure heavy cream and mounds of real vanilla beans could take this donut to extraordinary heights.
But these are the donuts of the past, the classic Northeastern style of donuts that inspired places like Dunkin' to take up the mantle of donutdom and spread it to the masses. These are the donuts that are hard to find anymore, and we are very lucky to have them in our midst. Because Bella Napoli has been making donuts before the hot pastry chefs of today were in short pants. And they know how to do it right.
Let me tell you what that means.
Today the temperature in Montego Bay, Jamaica is expected to get up into the low 80a. Jamaica is a warm place, but I can't say I have ever been. The closest I generally come to the island is sipping Wray & Nephew overproof rum mixed with coconut water while listening to Harry Belafonte.
Refreshing rum drinks aren't exactly on the top of my list in the middle of February. But warming, lusty, and sensuous stews are just what I need to take some of the chill out of an Albany winter (even a relatively mild one).
How this hot and steamy cooking technique rose to prominence on a tropical island is beyond me. Yet things like jerk chicken, oxtail stew, and curry goat are classic Jamaican dishes. So is their lesser-known cousin, brown stew.
All of these and more are available at Orchids, a tiny restaurant on the edge of Rotterdam. But you may only have two weeks to get there before Rosemarie Colman takes her cooking to a new Schenectady location. Her new digs may be nicer, but there is something quite charming about eating this great food at a gas station.
The hardest part about eating chilaquiles is pronouncing chilaquiles.
Say it with me, as I say it out loud: chee-lah-KEE-lehs.
Very good, I knew you could do it.
Now practice it at home and don't drop that last "l." Then come this weekend, it will be time to take a trip to Schenectady near the Rotterdam line.
Yes, Schenectady, for yet another surprisingly delicious Mexican treat. Unlike at some ethnic restaurants, at The Point Café you can't just point at this dish on the menu or order by number -- because their chilaquiles are not on the menu. But don't let that stop you from one of the most soul satisfying breakfasts in the region.
So what exactly is this marvelous dish? And why is it so good?
Every delicious morsel selected for Eat This! over the course of the past year is truly special. I love each of these 23 foods like I love my children. How could I possibly pick a favorite?
Well, I'll tell you: with a single-elimination blind draw bracket.
Here's how it works: 14 items go head to head in round one, with nine getting a bye to round two. The list of contenders was randomized by random.org and that order determined the initial placement of the foodstuffs.
I agonized over each match-up. Some decisions were harder than others. And it kills me that there are amazing dishes that have to get eliminated in the first round. They deserve a more dignified fate.
What follows is a blow-by-blow of the showdown, with my one favorite thing from the past year left standing.
Sandwiched between the Westfalianschinken and Lachschinken is possibly Albany's most popular locally-made ham. And for something that is sliced so thin, it really is a mouthful.
It's a lot easier to say once you learn that sometimes one impossibly long word is simply three words squeezed together. In this case it's Schwarz (Black), Wälder (from the word for Forest), and Schinken (ham). From there, if you take it slowly, the pronunciation is straightforward.
Recently I chatted with Glen Eggelhoefer, who owns Rolf's Pork Store with his brother Edgar and sister Rita. He helped me make sense of the many German hams and wursts at their store in Albany, and explained why his products are so damned good.
In holiday seasons past AOA has made lists of local gifts we thought people might like to get. This year, we're going right to the source. Instead of making our list, we've asked a few people directly: What's on your holiday wish list?
Next up: Daniel B. shares his fussy little wish list.
Arriving at Oakland International Airport, the first thing I used to do was head to one of the taco trucks near International Boulevard. There are a lot of things I miss about living in Northern California, and the humble street taco tops the list.
Up until recently it's been unrealistic to expect a decent taco in the Capital Region. I know some people like Bros, and when the only choices were Bombers and Bros, Bros won handily. But the texture of their soft corn tortilla is just off, and you can't have a good taco when the tortilla is wrong.
After all, a taco is merely two small corn tortillas, with a little bit of well-seasoned meat, topped with onions and cilantro. Salsa verde or salsa rojo can be squeezed on top. On the side should be a wedge of lime and a few slices of radish, but ideally there will be pickled carrots and jalapeno peppers as well. From a taco truck out West, this could set you back a whopping $1.50.
The tacos at La Mexicana Grocery in Schenectady will cost you an extra fifty cents, but you get to eat them inside, on a real plate, with table service, all while watching Mexican TV or listening the jukebox filled with Mexican tunes.
There are six different tacos to choose from, including the one that stole my heart.
A great cheese shop needs to have a few basic things:
1. A handpicked selection of amazingly delicious cheeses
2. A passionate individual to help select a cheese that's just right for you
3. The tools of the trade like knives, scales, cheese wrap, labels and such
Some might argue that you also need a building to put it all in.
When it comes to that last point, Eric Paul is proving otherwise. Eric has an amazing cheese shop -- it's just that he's missing the shop part.
He is known as The Cheese Traveler. True to the name, Eric and his cheeses can be found as they travel to events around the area. But it is worthwhile to track them down, because his cheeses are unlike any others you'll find in the region.
And it's as much about the cheeses as what he does with them, and why.
Growing up in Miami there was a well-worn gripe about the weather, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity."
For me the challenge of making it through an Albany winter isn't the cold, it's the dryness.
Cold is easy to combat. Sweaters, heavy wool socks, hats, gloves, jackets, and scarves work well. I just got my first balaclava. But when the temperature dips, instead of turning up the thermostat that just further dries the air, I like to grab my bean pot and simmer a mass quantity of legumes for hours.
Not only does it fill the house with wonderful smells, the long process of simmering liquid on the stove is a great way of replenishing the moisture in the air. And when the beans are done, they are delicious -- and warm you from the inside as well.
Legumes are some of my favorite foods, and they are enjoyed all over the world in a variety of forms. They can be fiery, sweet, pungent, earthy, tart, savory, meaty, creamy or crunchy. They can be the basis of a meal, a side dish, or a topping. Today, I'm sharing three relatively easy bean preparations that reflect this diversity. If you can boil water, and cut up an onion, you should be able to make these.
Now let me take you on a trip to India, Cuba and then back home to the American South.
Clifton Park is full of secrets. To the outsider, it may seem like a vast wasteland of chain restaurants and suburban sprawl. However, tucked out of sight, just a few minutes west of the Northway in the hamlet of Jonesville is a little restaurant with incredible pancakes. But unless you are a townie, you might not have heard about them.
That is, unless you have happened to stumble upon the comments of a woman who goes by the handle Kerosena. She seems to be on a mission to single-handedly bring these pancakes out of the shadows and into the light of day.
Her tales of these mythical pancakes got me thinking about a trip up to Exit 10. But when I found out they use only real New York maple syrup, I grabbed my keys and was on my way to the Jonesville Store.
As it turns out, their use of local maple syrup was just one of many delightful surprises.
The grilled cheese revolution is here.
Count this as one of the fastest trends to start in a big metropolitan center and arrive at our doorstep in Albany. The most specific accounting I found on the subject claims to have identified the very day grilled cheese took the great leap from ordinary to extraordinary. That day was April 13, 2008, in New York City. Though it may have been even earlier than that, since the Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational had been underway in Los Angeles many years before.
Regardless, today our nation is speckled with grilled cheese food trucks from coast to coast, many of which are offering very sophisticated takes on this classic childhood favorite. Some are relying upon artisanal local, seasonal and organic ingredients, while others are challenging the very notion of what a grilled cheese sandwich can be.
We are lucky here in Albany. Our newfangled grilled cheese sandwich is a bit more civilized than one from a truck that roams around the city. You can eat inside, at a table, and upon an actual porcelain plate. Plus you don't have to follow All Good Bakers on Twitter or Facebook to know where they are going to be.
But there are still a few quirks. You didn't think it was going to be easy, did you?
Everyone loves pupusas.
Okay, maybe not the lactose-intolerant
or the gluten-free set. But if you can eat the component ingredients, which primarily involve cheese and cornmeal, it's a no-brainer. It's like a Salvadoran grilled cheese sandwich. Or perhaps you would like to think of it as a quesadilla pocket. I always likened it to an arepa with a more fine-grained cornmeal exterior.
But it's not just cheese. Pupusas come in a variety of flavors. You can get them with pork, beans or loroco, as well. Never had loroco? Well, you will.
Brush up on a few Spanish phrases, and get yourself down to Schenectady, pronto.
There is a storm coming for Friendly's. After seventy-five years of fattening up little children on hamburgers, fried chicken strips, grilled cheese sandwiches, french fries, milkshakes, ice cream sundaes that look like clowns, slices of watermelon sherbet rolls that look like watermelon, and a full menu of other sticky, chewy, frozen confections, this restaurant beloved by our region's children may file for bankruptcy.
All indications are that the 500 locations will remain open during the proceedings. But the ultimate future of the business is uncertain. So get in there now while you still have the chance. Update: Friendly's filed for bankruptcy, and six Capital Region locations are closing (nine are staying open).
Why should you do that? Especially if you neither have kids nor do you have any nostalgic memories of time spent there as a kid? Three words: Buffalo chicken sliders.
And if those three words don't convince you, I've got three reasons why they are even better than they sound.
Our chief senior special supermarket correspondent checks in with a report from the grand opening of the new ShopRite in Niskayuna on Sunday.
What makes ShopRite different from all other markets? That was the primary question I focused on trying to solve as I wondered why this ordinarily quiet section of Niskayuna resembled Walmart on Black Friday.
Maybe it was even worse.
Traffic was snarled on Balltown Road headed up to the corner of Nott Street where the entrance to the newly christened ShopRite Square is located. Despite the throngs of people descending upon this newly arrived grocer, the parking lot at the nearby Price Chopper was also totally full.
The ShopRite parking lot however was over full. As people circled around trying to find a spot, you could see the road rage in their eyes. Cars were parked illegally all throughout the lot, and I was lucky to get a spot in its furthest recesses, behind the store between the dumpsters and the loading bay.
Inside proved to be a treasure trove of delights, but only for the most intrepid shoppers.
Did you know that we had the largest sheep dairy in the United States fewer than 25 miles outside of Albany? And did you know that they make some of the finest sheep milk cheeses around?
I first learned about Old Chatham Sheepherding Company many years ago from an article in Saveur magazine on the splendor of their flock, the magnificence of their restaurant, and the comforts of their inn. It was a dream to eventually travel to their farm in northern Columbia County for dinner, but sadly all the other arms of the enterprise were shuttered before I could make the trip. Honestly, it's one of the great regrets of my life.
But it's September, and that means it's time to eat local. So I'm putting my regret aside -- with one of Old Chatham's newest offerings.
You aren't off the hook from eating local this month just because Irene blew through the region. Yes, she brought with her devastating rains that wiped out many local farms. Schoharie County was especially hard hit, and there are a couple a benefits later this month to raise money in support of the Schoharie County Community Action Program.
Still, all the news out of Schoharie County isn't bad. Cowbella made it through. When Gail Peake and Shannon Mason's ancestors established the Danforth Jersey Farm almost 200 years and seven generations ago, they chose a safe site. That means despite the floods we can all still enjoy their butters and nonfat yogurts produced under the Cowbella label.
Consider yourself lucky, because these ladies are doing it right.
Fish fry is different from fried fish. If you grew up in the Capital Region, you would already know this. But there are countless transplants who come here from far and wide. Many of these people gaze upon our regional specialty with surprise and confusion.
Fried fish is simply a battered and fried filet of fish. Our fish fry is a foot-long thin piece of fried breaded fish, unceremoniously sitting in a plain white hotdog bun.
While most of the world is fish fry poor, we are lucky to have several restaurants around the area dedicated to this dish. Each is special in its own way and each has its dedicated followers. In many ways they remind me of the clam shacks around New England. They are casual places to enjoy tasty fried seafood on a warm summer's day.
But as opposed to the New England clam shacks, Capital Region fish fry is mostly a four-season affair. That is, except at Gene's in East Greenbush
Rensselaer, which is only open in the spring and summer. And if you want a last taste of summer, you've got precious little time to get there.
People around here go nuts over soft serve ice cream. They do. And in the spring, when the seasonal ice cream stands open, everyone flocks to their favorite place for what they insist is the creamiest soft serve in the region.
Soft serve has its place. There is a certain satisfaction of being handed an improbably tall cone, with a beautiful symmetrical swirl, brought to a point on top. And then there is the challenge and delight of attempting to finish the whole thing before it melts.
But soft serve is not what makes The Snowman in Lansingburgh special, although that's not to say it too doesn't have its fans. The proprietor will readily tell you that it just comes from a mix, like everyone else's. Still as I have learned, this fact does not mean all soft serve tastes the same.
What makes The Snowman special is their homemade hard ice cream. And what makes The Snowman very special is that there you can get a Boston Shake, which allows you to enjoy it two ways.
The clock is ticking.
Before you know it summer will be over, people will start gravitating back to the indoors, and all the undergraduates will return to the area's colleges and universities. That means over the next few weeks, some of the establishments that are generally reserved for our seasonal student population are a lot less, shall we say, boisterous.
When was the last time you checked out the deck at Sutter's Mill & Mining Co. in Albany?
It's huge. But it's not its size that's remarkable. It's the mature trees that are bursting through the surface of the deck to provide patrons with remarkable coverage of cool shade. And while I may choose to eat my meals elsewhere, little is better on a hot summer day than sitting in the shade with a cool beer and some crisp fries.
For that, Sutter's is a gold mine. Not only do they have Ommegang's Rare Vos on tap, served in a proper glass, but they also make Brew City Fries to go with it.
This is a town where pizza loyalties run deep.
For some, they've been going to The Fountain since they were a kid, and to these folks that is the very definition of pizza, no others need apply. Depending on the neighborhood you grew up in, The Fountain could be replaced by The Orchard, Smitty's, The Purple Pub, DeFazio's, Popes, Ralph's, etcetera.
Others have come here from downstate, and are continually frustrated that nothing they try even comes close to the pizza heaven they've left behind. Luckily, I don't think we host a major population of displaced Chicagoans or New Havenites. Nor do we have a lot of people hankering for the Old Forge pizza they remember growing up in Pennsylvania.
So with all of these considerations, how can I possibly put one slice above all the rest? Especially when it failed to win the Tournament of Pizza (in which it competed three times)? Well, there are several reasons. But there is one thing that clearly sets Pizza King apart from the rest of the pack, and that is focus.
As much as anything else, dim sum is an eating style. Regrettably, it's one that is not readily available here. Sure, you can order some of the dishes at a few of our local Chinese restaurants. But without the benefit of rolling dim sum carts it is difficult to replicate the slow, leisurely pace of spending the morning with your friends and family over copious amounts of tea punctuated with tasty things to eat.
And even at those restaurants that do serve dim sum, one of my favorite treats has been elusive: The Baked BBQ Pork Bun.
The steamed barbecue pork bun is a staple of dim sum menus, and it's fine in all of its white and billowy glory. But as good as it is, this puffball doesn't hold a candle to its richer, more golden, baked cousin. For these, you will need to head to the Hong Kong Bakery, which is now inside the Asian Supermarket on Central Avenue.
And if you are lucky, you might just happen to spy a warm tray of them fresh from the oven lurking behind the counter.
The weather is warming up, let's have soup.
No, seriously. I can't be the only one who has been stricken with a spring cold. And when you get sick, there is nothing better than soup.
There are two paths you can take when trying to eat your way out of a head cold. You can attack your ailment and try to make it flee your system with wave upon wave of fiery delights; pouring additional chili oil into a lip-numbingly spicy bowl of hot and sour soup has served me well on many occasions.
Alternatively, you can opt for something soothing. Thankfully, one of the world's most soothing and comforting soups is available at a little Japanese restaurant in Guilderland.
And the tanuki udon at Sushi Tei isn't just good for those who are under the weather; it's just plain good.
Is there a season for the Capital Region's unique style of mini-hot dogs?
This is our street food. It's the region's answer to the taco. Something that's intensely flavorful, can be consumed in a few bites while standing up, and costs mere pennies. It may be difficult to find them from a street vendor, but they can be found throughout the region both at seasonal ice cream stands and long established restaurants dedicated to the form.
Gus's is the rare institution that firmly falls into the latter, but from the outside the place could easily be mistaken for the former. It's a small red shed by the side of the road set beside a large number of picnic tables.
Regardless of whether there's a season for our mini-hot dogs, it is definitely the season for Gus's. Except the best thing on the menu isn't the hot dog.
Just follow the signs.
Garden Bistro 24 in Colonie sets itself apart from other local restaurants in a lot of ways. Not having a freezer is just one. And while I might miss ice cream, I appreciate the commitment to a tightly constructed menu based on fresh ingredients.
The menu does not try to be all things to all people. There is no Chicken Parmesan. This is the place to go when you know exactly what you want for dinner, and what you want is a simple and unpretentious meal of steak frites.
Locals have been coming to Bob & Ron's for generations. Transplants, not so much.
I am continually amazed at how many people I encounter who are unfamiliar with the concept of fish fry. Not simply fried fish, but the very special local incarnation that starts with a hot dog bun and ends with chili sauce. Nestled in the middle is a very narrow foot-long piece of crispy deep-fried fish.
At Bob & Ron's the fish fry gets top billing. However it's their clams, that seem to be no more than an also-ran on Bob & Ron's iconic neon sign, which steal the show.
It's Supermarket Week on AOA -- a whole week of posts about shopping for food. Because we all have to eat. Today, Daniel B on his own fussy supermarket circuit.
"The best grocery store" is a mythical creature. It simply does not exist. And it doesn't matter if you are in Albany, Austin, Berkeley or Manhattan.
So forget about the best for a moment. The sad reality is that we don't really even have a great grocery store in the region. Choosing between our available options is like splitting hairs. But even if we had a Wegmans, a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe's within an hour's drive of Albany, it would still pay to shop around.
If you really want to know how to save money on your groceries, while eating healthfully and sustainably, the answers aren't found in the price of a common basket of goods shopped against the leading area markets. The answer lies in knowing where to buy your staples, and then shopping opportunistically.
Officially, you can no longer say there isn't a good place to go for espresso in the Capital Region. Because in November, Caffé Vero opened its doors on Lark Street, and these people take espresso seriously.
Well, before opening the Albany location they sent a sample of their water to a lab in California to learn how well suited it was for making espresso. As it turns out the water in Albany is pretty good. This meant they only needed to install a filter that removes dissolved solids and chlorine.
That along with at least a dozen other invisible steps is what goes into producing some of the richest most delicious espresso based drinks in the Capital Region. But it is their version of a macchiato that is really the ideal showcase for the best espresso in Albany.
The first adventure is finding the place.
It wasn't too long ago that Adventure in Food Trading was conveniently located by the Pump Station in downtown Albany. Then you and your buddies could have a few beers, dare each other to eat something like rattlesnake, and pop next door to pick one up for dinner.
Now you have to go to Menands, where apparently Google Maps is completely useless. And while the warehouse's address is Broadway, it's not on Broadway at all. You have to navigate your way through a few roads that snake along a cluster of warehouses. But once you're there, parking is easy -- because you will likely have the place all to yourself.
For the most part Adventure in Food Trading exists to get chefs in upstate New York the specialty ingredients they desire. However, the business is open to the public, and you are very welcome to come in and shop the warehouse.
And, oh, what a warehouse.
Clearly there is something deeply flawed with the people involved with the Hudson-Chatham winery. Not only because they're making wine from grapes grown just an hour outside of Albany in the heart of apple country -- but they are making wines nobody has ever heard of.
Whatever they are afflicted with must be contagious, because I think that's a great idea.
This is not a sandwich.
Let's be clear, the entire purpose of a sandwich is to be held in the hand so that it can be eaten with relative ease and tidiness. Please allow me to assure you that any attempt to do this with the eggplant sandwich at Peter Pause is a recipe for disaster.
This sandwich requires a knife and fork. It may also require a fair bit of advanced planning, because while Peter Pause is for everybody, they don't make it easy for people outside of Schenectady to enjoy this regional treasure.
It's Forget the Resolution week on AOA: a whole lineup of foods that can send your New Year's resolution to eat better/eat less/exercise more/lose weight to its timely end.
The time to eat a deep fried hamburger is now.
In a few months it will be spring, and the warmer weather will be an unwelcome reminder that swimsuit season is around the corner. That will be your chance to start eating healthier -- when the asparagus starts to peek its head from the soil. That will be the time to go to the gym and shed that winter weight.
Now we are in the depths of winter. Now you need a little more meat on your bones. Now is the time for fatty beef. Now is the time for fried foods. Now is the time to head to Swifty's and put those two things together in one marvelous burger.
Did I mention that it is also drenched in butter?
Sometimes it's the simple things that are the most difficult to do well. Take the glazed donut, for example.
A bakery cannot hide an inferior glazed donut under mounds of cinnamon sugar. A dry one cannot be kept tender and moist by being stuffed with filling. Off flavors cannot be masked with chocolate or maple icing. The glazed donut stands almost naked, enrobed in just a gossamer veil of sugar.
As unlikely as it may seem, you can experience an admirable version of this classic at a place called The Cookie Factory in Troy.
We're very happy to be pulling one of our favorite features -- Eat This! -- back off the shelf. It's been too long. And we're delighted that Daniel B will be writing it for us (as you may have heard, Daniel B is very particular about food -- fussy, even). Eat This! will be popping up on every other Tuesday.
Street food is challenging to eat in the winter. It's cold outside. Which is just another
reason why Parivar Spices & Food is so great. They have brought Indian street-food indoors, to a few tables in the back of a grocery store.
Here they serve chaat, which are traditionally snacks. But these are snacks that eat like a meal. If you have never tried chaat before, you need to get your mouth around Dahi Puri.
After much anticipation the Pioneer Food Market, also known as the Troy Community Food Co-op (or just the Troy Co-op), opened its doors Tuesday in downtown Troy. The area has been without a full grocery store for a long time. And having a place to buy wholesome and healthful foods downtown once again will surely improve the community.
You could feel the excitement of the people in the new store. Shoppers were going around saying things like, "This is a great thing for Troy." Upon seeing a little girl being pushed in a shopping cart, one patron wistfully said (with seemingly a sense of great hope for the future), "She won't remember a time before there was a co-op in Troy."
I have never felt this sense of civic pride emanating from within a grocery store. Ever.
The Honest Weight Food Co-op's LocalHarvest Festival is this Sunday in Albany's Washington Park. AOA is a media sponsor of the event, so we thought it would be fun to ask a few local food bloggers to come up with some easy meals made with local ingredients.
Today, Fussy Liittle Blog's Daniel B. hams it up.
Some people might say that local food isn't for them. After all, there are plenty of adults who have no interest in eating their vegetables. But local food doesn't have to come from a health food store or a farmers market. It doesn't have to be super expensive either. Local food can just be food.
Take, for example, the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwich. Millions of Americans eat one for lunch every day. So I wondered if I could put together a reasonably priced version with local ingredients that would fit in just as well at a construction site as it would at the local harvest festival.
For the sake of full disclosure, and to help me along with this, I used the more flexible notion of "local" that is approved by locavores who enjoy things like coffee: Products that are produced within a day's drive, even if some of their raw materials come from elsewhere.
Now let's break it down.
You would have thought they were giving away shopping bags full of diamonds. Yesterday's grand opening of the region's first Fresh Market was a seething mass of humanity.
Traffic was snarled up for blocks at the intersection of routes 9 and 155, and their jumbo-sized parking lot was filled beyond capacity. There wasn't even a shopping cart to be found.
On one hand that was probably a good thing, since all of the people inside made it difficult to move around, and the checkout queues stretched all the way across the store. But on the other hand, The Fresh Market shopping carts seem to be a key part of the experience.