Items tagged with '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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
I've been spending Thanksgiving the same way for nearly a decade: My parents drive to my house from Central New York, my mother brings chocolate pie, Finger Lakes Riesling and Martinelli's sparkling cider, dinner rolls, and squash, and I cook and bake everything else. My dad puts the snowblower on my tractor while the turkey cooks, and my kids, parents and I sit down in the afternoon to enjoy the meal together. Sometimes more friends and family are there, but usually it's the five of us.
Curious as to what Thanksgiving looks like in other parts of the Capital Region, I thought I'd ask around.
Here's how other locals celebrate the holiday...
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.
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.
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!)
Don't worry if you haven't figured out your costume for Halloween yet, there's still plenty of plain-clothes fun to be had in the Capital Region leading up to the holiday. Bonus: Halloween falls on a Monday, which gives us an entire extra weekend to pack in the creepy fun.
Here are a handful of tours, parties, and showings that will get you in the trick-or-treat mood...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I'm a little 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I went to Schuyler Bakery for the snowflake rolls, but I'll be going back for the Paska bread.
When everyone's favorite Speedo'ed Santa, Jim Larson, told me that the dinner rolls (AKA snowflake rolls, for their pre-bake dusting of flour like freshly fallen snow) at Schuyler Bakery in Watervliet were one of the best things he's eaten in the Capital Region, I knew I had to check them out. What I wasn't expecting was to come home with an assortment of other delights -- like the two other varieties of dinner rolls and a quarter-dozen of the bakeshop's famed glazed donuts.
But I'm glad I did, or else I'd never know how good the Paska bread is.
We're into the stretch run for December holidays, so we asked Deanna for a few stocking stuffer-type local food gift ideas.
Stockings are my favorite part of Christmas morning. In my family, you are not allowed to open any presents until everyone is awake and in the living room, around the tree. Stockings, however, are fair game. As soon as you wake up, you can tiptoe to the mantle, un-hook your stocking, and dump out all the goodies that are crammed deep into the toe.
Here are some local treats I'm hoping to find in my stocking this year.
Friends are great. Friends with surprising, delicious food recommendations are even better.
Thankfully, my friend Braden has that covered. When I found myself near his office in Troy around lunchtime recently, I thought I would see if he was interested in grabbing coffee or lunch. He was Johnny on the spot with his reply: "Caribbean buffet is good if you haven't been there."
First Choice Caribbean in Troy was what he was referring to.
No, I hadn't been there, but it sounded perfect.
Ever have a cheeseburger change your life?
I haven't either -- though I've had plenty of cheeseburgers that remind me why it's good to be alive.
To me, cheeseburgers are prized because they're quick, filling, and relatively inexpensive. It's part of the reason they've lasted through decades, beyond trends.
For all those reasons, it never made much sense to me to have a cheeseburger on the menu of an upscale, top-rated restaurant. Why, when you are going to dine at an eatery that features Artic Char with quinoa, squash puree, Greek yogurt sauce, and pickled black currants -- or beef carpaccio with crispy oysters, fried capers, shaved Parmesan, and truffle emulsion -- would you order a cheeseburger? Facepalm.
If you want a cheeseburger, go somewhere that's going to give you that cheesy, fat-dripping patty of delight that with leave you just a few bucks poorer. (In that situation, Five Guys is my burger of choice.)
But then I ate the cheeseburger at 15 Church in Saratoga Springs, and I had a shift in perspective. I was trapped in a food identity crisis. I'm a thin-patty kind of girl who fell in love with a hockey-puck mound of ground meat. All I thought I loved/hated about a burger was being questioned.
When it comes to the eating of feelings, I am the champion. The contents of my refrigerator are direct indicators of my mood. Happy or generally content times manifest as plenty of fresh produce, lean meat, and other aspects of a homemade, well-balanced diet. Other times, you'll find all the things that would make Jenny Craig blush.
One particular crappy day had me hankering for something fried, spicy, and perhaps even a little sweet. How could one better address all those cravings that with fried handpies? And on this day, that came in the form of empanadas at La Empanada Llama.
In one single bite, I could feel my entire day turning around.
We saw that Deanna had made this for a party and it looked like an idea that needed to be shared. So, we asked her how to make it.
I recently hosted a group of foodies at my house for brunch to celebrate a good mutual friend. Hosting brunch can be intimidating. Hosting brunch for people who seriously know their food? Even more so.
This was no time to hold back. This is when the big kitchen guns come out: the no-holds-barred, all-stops-pulled kind of cooking.
This was the time for cider donut bread pudding.
There are two types of Italian restaurants in the Capital Region: The eh-talian, and the EYE-talian. The former are the restaurants that serve food more in line with something plucked from the Tuscan hills. The latter are the checkered tablecloth joints where most dishes come slathered in red sauce.
Unless you count D'Raymonds in Loudonville. Then I guess there are three.
D'Raymonds lies somewhere in the middle of the two mentioned above. It embodies the cuisine of red sauce joints with a more upscale vibe. It's Little Italy meets Upper West Side. It's Nonna meets your hot WASPy girlfriend. It's comfort, with class.
No dish on the menu emphasizes this more than the D'Raymonds chicken parmesan.
The nearest Waffle House is 127.94 miles away from Albany. What a shame.
I'm normally not a big proponent of chains, but few places understand the utility and magnificence of a waffle. Waffles are the superior batter-based, carb-loaded breakfast option. Pancakes are great, don't get me wrong, and so is French toast, but neither can be manipulated the way a waffle can.
Many places in the Capital Region serve waffles, but few embrace the true glory of the waffle the way Iron Roost in Ballston Spa does.
Ah, fall. How nice to see you again. I'm looking forward to fully enjoying you with cozy knit sweaters, marled wool socks, nights by the fire, and cheese... lots and lots of cheese.
There's just something about cheese that lends itself to cooler temperatures. Macaroni and cheese. Cheese fondue. Cheese-filled pastries. And did I mention grilled cheese?
The grilled cheese of my youth -- potato bread slathered with mayonnaise on the outside, holding together stringy slices of white American cheese -- is very different from the preferences of my adulthood. Today, artisanal cheese and bread is where it's at for me. And Thankfully there's a place that perfectly merges my autumnal longings with melty, oozing delight.
If you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, neither should you judge a restaurant by the sign in the window.
Sweet Sue's on River Street in Troy has mastered all things sweet and sugary, but savory hasn't been forgotten. From weekend brunch to mostly-from-scratch lunch sandwiches, this "treatery" ignites all five tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami), and bridges the sweet-savory divide in ways missing from many other eateries.
At Sweet Sue's for lunch you can have your cake (and eat it, too) -- and not neglect your more substantial savory cravings.
Pulled pork is probably my favorite barbecue offering. Barbecued chicken or ribs were never something I got particularly excited about, though I am a fan of brisket. But there is just something hard not to love about that tough chunk of pork being lovingly rubbed with spices and flavorings, then left to marinate in its own fat and juices in the gentle heat of charred wood and charcoal.
Patience is a virtue, especially in cooking, and nowhere is that more true than with pulled pork. Hours of anticipation lead to fork-tender strands of meat that await a sweet and tangy sauce and two pieces of bread to accompany it.
And the version at Stockyard Bar-B-Q is the perfect example of what pulled pork sandwich should be.
Some people go to The Track (that would be Saratoga Race Course) for the horses. Some go for the thrill of gambling. Yet others go for the chance to hob-nob with celebrities and big spenders.
Me? I go for the food.
I really do love the sport of horse racing and taking in the crowds who anxiously wait to see if their chosen thoroughbred will prove victorious. But there are few places in the Capital Region where you can get such a wide array of tasty delights all within walking distance from each other.
This year more than ever, those food choices have proven more copius and harder to choose from.
To ensure you don't miss placing that two-dollar trifecta or watching your horse leave the starting gate at the bell, it's good to go in with an eating game plan. Here are five picks for food at the track...
Dare I say that carbs are making a comeback?
Years of low-carb/no-carb diets and increased attention on gluten intolerances have demonized the bread basket, including bagels. But if a recent batch of local bagel shop openings is any indication, bagels might be back in style.
Through bagel booms and busts, though, one place that's remained steadfast is Bagels and Bakes in Rotterdam.
Ah, summer. What could be more quintessentially American summertime than baseball, beer, and moules frites.
Yep, I said it. Moules. Frites.
Okay, so maybe that's a reach. While baseball and drinking beer are endemic to this country, the fancy title for mussels and French fries is a classic Belgian item.
But there is a place where those three elements -- baseball, beer, and moules frites -- coalesce in harmony, and that's Cooperstown, the site of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the hometown of one of the best examples of Belgian beer and food in America: Brewery Ommegang.
With the fertile soil of the river banks and glacial till, the Hudson Valley has long been regarded as a prime location for farming. And now it's proving a productive place for a different take on agriculture.
Based out of a second-floor office on Warren Street in Hudson, Modern Farmer has become a global media brand. The magazine is, in its own words, "for window-herb growers, career farmers, people who have chickens, people who want to have chickens and anyone who wants to know more about how food reaches their plate." In just its first year of publishing, Modern Farmer has already won a National Magazine Award, and it's attracted attention online via features such as Goat Week (complete with a goat cam).
So why set up in Hudson? I asked Ann Marie Gardner, CEO/editor-in-chief of Modern Farmer, to find out.
AOA's summer tour is headed to Hudson this weekend, so we thought it'd be fun to have Hudson Week on AOA. Each day we'll be featuring posts about things to do, see, and sample in this city on the river.
For being only a thirty minute drive from Albany, Hudson feels like another world, especially in the gastronomical sense. A distinctive West Village vibe permeates the eateries and food shops that dot either side of Warren Street, to the point that even the staff seems as though they probably arrived at work from a two bedroom overpriced apartment that seven unrelated people live in.
Thankfully, the prices in the Hudson dining scene haven't yet reached skyscraper heights. On a recent trip I challenged myself to eat on a $5-$10-$15-$20 budget for the day. I would find a meal at each price point.
The criteria were that the food had to be 1) delicious and 2) an adequate serving for the price. With joints like Fish and Game and Crimson Sparrow - both run by top NYC chefs who moved up the Hudson - I was worried I wouldn't be able to find anything beyond quick grab-and-go options (a tasting menu at Fish and Game is $75. Add wine pairings and it's another $75).
I couldn't have been more wrong.
My ancestral background is less of a patchwork and more of a woven blanket -- the weave and weft is all the same color with little variation. I can trace my familial heritage almost exclusive to the lush, green landscape of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. There are a few one-offs here and there, but overall it is a fairly homogenous mix.
One would think I should crave potatoes and boiled meat for my daily meals. Why, then, do I yearn constantly for the cold, exotic salads of the Middle East?
Once you eat at Ali Baba in Troy, you want to keep eating at Ali Baba. And I'll be content to keep eating the meze there.
It is said that the pizza you grow up with is the pizza by which all other pizza will ever be judged -- regardless of how good or bad that childhood pizza was. As a result, pizzas of many types -- and a range of relative merits -- have a special place in the hearts of people.
Sure, that very poofy crust/exceptionally thin crust/sweet sauced/tangy sauced/underbaked/overbaked/whatever pizza might have its flaws, but it's your pizza. And eating it evokes memories.
No matter what type of pizza holds that place in your heart -- and no matter how good (or bad) that pizza is -- there is little doubt the pizza from Kay's will stand up to it favorably.
Simple things can be delicious things. A chicken roasted for an hour with butter and herbs. Tomatoes simmered with garlic and basil until silken. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All are simple to prepare, relatively hard to screw-up, and completely tasty.
The breakfast taco at Five Points Grocery in Saratoga fits into this category. It might not look like much, but its simplicity and utility make it a delicious grab-and-go option. Four ingredients -- five, if you include butter -- are all it takes to make this little jewel shine.
I've a bold proclamation to make.
No one in the Capital District is making an authentic banh mi. Not nobody. Not no how.
There are many places that certainly give it the ol' college try, but they all fall short in one way or another. Now, I'm not saying that these eateries should just give up, but maybe they should start rethinking what they are trying to do.
One area restaurant is already doing that, and it might come as a surprise. It's Reel Seafood Co., one of the independently-owned holdouts on Wolf Road in Colonie, and its take on banh mi is something to be admired.
Fried oysters are a fairly common dish on Capital Region menus. It's not a revolutionary preparation of the shellfish by any means -- fried oysters have been a hallmark of po' boy sandwiches for at least a century, and they've made appearances in many a basket at a fish fry or seaside shack.
However, if done right, variations on the dish can elevate the mere mollusk into something memorable, crave-able, extraordinary.
The fried oyster put forth by Javier's Nuevo Latino Cuisine in Saratoga Springs does just that.
A round of applause for Jeff Janssens, who very capably headed up the Eat This feature over the last year. And now we're happy to welcome Deanna Fox, who's next to occupy this seat at the table.
There are few times when eating soup requires the use of a knife. The French onion soup at The Ginger Man in Albany is one of those instances -- unless you plan to use your fingers to rip at the gooey cheese and broth-soaked toasts that encrust the soup.
I wouldn't blame you for throwing decorum aside and just going for it. This soup -- which is so much more than the typical French onion soup -- is worth it. But, just in case, keep the knife at the ready.