Items tagged with 'food'

Food truck events coming up

food truck festival troy 2013 slidin dirty crowd

From last year's festival in Troy.

The Food Truck Festival of NY is set to return to Troy's Riverfront Park May 16 -- that's a Friday -- from 4-8 pm. Admission is free.

The event has yet to announce the list of food trucks that will be there. But it has two musical acts lined up: Paranoid Social Club, Conor Kennedy, and Wild Adriatic.

Last year's event was very popular -- so, as an attendee, it pays to employ some strategy.

Food truck showcase
A group of local food trucks are getting together for a "food truck showcase" May 4 at the Saratoga Eagles Club, from noon-6 pm. Admission is free.

Among the trucks announced: Slidin' Dirty, Eat Good Food, Pies on Wheels, the Crisp Cannoli, and Capital Q.

TAP NY 2014

TAP NY judgingThe annual TAP NY craft beer festival will be back at Hunter Mountain April 26 and 27. Tickets are on sale now -- they're $73.44 for that Saturday / $60.48 for Sunday / $21.60 for designated drivers.

There are more than 70 breweries registered for this year's festival, 18 of them new to the event. Blurbage:

Many of the invited brewers produce their beer for sale only in their location.... whether it is a restaurant, a brewpub or a small brewery. Others are breweries large enough to distribute on a larger scale, but maintain an excellent quality through their commitment to hands-on, craft-brewing their product. You won't find Anheuser-Busch, Coors, or Miller products here. What you will find are some truly remarkable beers that will tantalize your taste buds... beers that offer a variety of color and flavor that the big brewers don't do. You'll find everything from pale ales and pilseners, to weisbiers, porters, stouts, and scotch ales; from hearty Bohemian and Bavarian-style lagers to glorious Belgian-style ales and much more.

The festival is also a competition for beer brewers in the state.

We get the impression the Saturday session of the festival often sells out, so if you're interested in going, it's probably a good idea to get tickets sooner rather than later.

Hunter Mountain is in the northern Catskills, a little over an hour's drive from Albany.

New breweries: Over at In The Name of Beer, Greg Back has been profiling the breweries that are new to the festival this year.

Earlier on AOA: Trying the "best craft beer in New York State"

photo: TAP NY FB

Fried oysters at Javier's

javier's fried oysters overhead

By Deanna Fox

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.

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New York, honey

honey jar backlit

This honey's from Amsterdam.

Agricultural fact of the day: New York is 16th in the country for honey production, and by far the biggest producer in the Northeast. The Empire State produced 2.6 million pounds of honey last year, worth about $5.3 million, according to the USDA.

We came across these facts today after seeing word that the FDA has proposed stricter rules on what can and can't be called honey. The rules are in response to accusations that some producers -- especially in other countries -- have been cutting their honey with sweeteners such as rice syrup, and that "honey" is finding its way into this country. Chuck Schumer, in buzzing about his own efforts on the issue, referred to the practice as "honey laundering." [Minn Post] [Chuck Schumer office]

There's been some concern about funny honey business for a few years. Last year one of the nation's largest packers of honey admitted it had been involved in a mislabeling scheme in order to import cheap honey from China. Imports from that country have been subject to heavy taxes for the last decade after the feds decided China was dumping honey here at artificially low prices. As a result, illegal schemes cropped up for getting the stuff into the US. [NPR x2] [Bloomberg Businessweek]

By the way: North Dakota is far and away the largest producer of honey in the country, according to the USDA. It's 33 million pounds of honey was more than twice that of Montana and South Dakota's totals at #2 and #3.

Given the other stuff that comes through here from North Dakota, we're kind of wondering now why we can't (also) have a honey transfer depot at the Port of Albany.

The Low Beat brunch

low beat brunch cinnamon bunA(nother) sign that The Low Beat is not just Valentine's II: The music spot on Central Ave is planning the "first of many brunches" April 27, with chef Josh Colleto* heading up the food.

Among the menu items: Beans and Greens Omelette, Captain Crunch French Toast, Banana Bread Pancakes, Biscuits and Gravy (vegetarian or meat gravy), and Jumbo Cinnamon Bun (see pic).

And (of course) there will be music -- provided by Many Trails.

* You know, From Finnbar's in Troy.

Brits R Us

brits r us colonie composite

Bangers for your mash. And other things British

By Lauren Hittinger

Anyone who appreciates candy (chocolate in particular) from across The Pond, knows there are a lot of flavors, ingredients, and brands that are tough find in the USA. Things like Flake bars, Aeros, and Crunchies are hard to come by here. And what you can find -- British brands such as Cadbury -- may not taste quite the same on the Hudson as they would on the Thames.

Which is one of the reasons ex-pats and anglophiles in the Capital District may be excited about one of Colonie's newest additions: Brits R Us.

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Would you drink tree sap?

vertical water maple water packageSo this is a thing, apparently, and it's a thing from New York that will be showing up in stores in this month: maple water.

You know another word for maple water? Sap. Not boiled down into syrup. Just "minimally" processed sap.

From the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which assisted in developing the product:

As temperatures warm and maple sap starts flowing, gallons of it are collected and boiled down to make syrup. But the subtly sweet watery sap also tastes great straight from the tree, said Michael Farrell, director of Cornell's Uihlein Forest in Lake Placid and author of a recently released comprehensive maple guide, "The Sugarmaker's Companion."
"I love drinking the sap - it's absolutely delicious," Farrell said. ...
If the popularity of coconut water is any indication, there could be a big market for an all-natural product that is mostly water with a bit of sweetness and minerals, Farrell said. In taste tests conducted at Cornell's sensory laboratory, participants preferred maple water to coconut water, he added.
The success of the product would be a big boon to the state's maple producers and forest owners, Farrell said. Cugnasca is now working with members of the New York Maple Producers Association near its western New York bottling plant to supply sap for the first batches of Vertical Water.

As mentioned above, the commercial product is called Vertical Water, and it comes in one of those Tetra-Pak containers with a screw top. Also, from the company website: "The ideal temperature for drinking it is the temperature when it first comes out of the tree: around 40°F."

How does it taste? Over at Slate, L.V. Anderson writes (asterisk added): "It tasted like ... slightly sweet water.* The maple flavor was so mild as to be almost impossible to discern." And a tester for Business Insider concluded: "All it needs is vodka."

Why do we get the feeling Canada is laughing at us right now.
____

* As for sweetness, Vertical Water says its maple water has 3 g of sugar per 8 fluid ounces (and 15 calories). For comparison, Coke has about 26 g of sugar per 8 oz, and orange juice has 21 g. (Different types of sugar have different apparent sweetness, so this is just a sort of rough frame of reference.)

Earlier on AOA:
+ A new way of producing maple syrup: "like a sugar-filled straw stuck in the ground"
+ The art and science of maple sugaring

photo: Vertical Water

Startup Grant Contest update: The Cheese Traveler

The Cheese Traveler's Eric Paul was a runner up in the first Startup Contest.

There are just a few days left to enter a business idea in the All Over Albany Startup Grant Contest, sponsored by Staff Ciampino & Company P.C., Certified Public Accountants. One winner will receive $1,500 from Berkshire Bank to help start up a new business, or take an existing business to the next level. You should apply. Don't wait! The deadline is Friday.

The Cheese Traveler was a finalist in the second Startup Grant Contest in 2012. Back then cheesemonger Eric Paul was selling artisan and farm cheeses at farmers' markets, but he had a plan to team up with Tilldale Farms to open a storefront.

Today Eric operates The Cheese Traveler, selling artisan cheeses and specialty foods as well as meats from Tilldale, at a shop on Delaware Avenue.

startup contest 2014 sponsor ad staff ciampino

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French onion soup at The Ginger Man

ginger man french onion soup closeup

By Deanna Fox

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.

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Collar City Hard Pressed

collar city hard pressed jessica garrity

Collar City Hard Pressed's Jessica Garrity

By Lauren Hittinger

Juicing been getting a lot of attention over the last few years. So I was curious about Collar City Hard Pressed, a stand that opened at the Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market during the indoor season this past November. And after trying one of its creations, I was converted. Not only did the juice taste good -- but also you could see exactly what was going into your drink as it was being made.

So I went back to sample more -- and talk with Collar City Hard Pressed owner Jessica Garrity why she started the business, her plans for it, and how she feels about the whole juicing movement.

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Checking back in with the Crisp Cannoli and its croissant donuts

french toast crodo crisp cannoli

The French toast crodo: "Plain CRODO rolled in cinnamon sugar & egg dipped and fried - drizzled with glaze and maple syrup, and then topped with crispy bacon."

After seeing this French toast "crodo" (with bacon) from The Crisp Cannoli today, we thought it'd be fun to check back in with the East Greenbush bakery and the craze around the croissant donut. (Remember the apple cider crodo.)

"Cannoli are still my #1 seller, but no matter how many crodo I put in the case, I sell out," owner Jason Grant told us today. Since September of last year when he first started selling the crodos, Grant figures the Crisp Cannoli has sold about 5,500 of the pastries.

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The Whistling Kettle, Troy

Whistling Kettle Window outside.jpg

It's tea time in Troy

By Lauren Hittinger

The folks behind theWhistling Kettle Tea Room in Ballston Spa opened their new location in Troy this week.

The Whistling Kettle Tea Shop & Cafe launched quietly on Thursday. I stopped by for a look and a chat with owner Kevin Borowski about their new location.


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Startup Grant Contest update: 3 Chicks and a P

Jennifer Rittner-Paniccia

Jennifer Rittner-Paniccia

There are just over two weeks left to enter a business idea in the All Over Albany Startup Grant Contest, sponsored by Staff Ciampino & Company P.C., Certified Public Accountants. One winner will receive $1,500 from Berkshire Bank to help start up a new business, or take an existing business to the next level. You should apply. Don't wait!

Two years ago 3 Chicks and a P, a family-run hummus and tapenade business, took home the $1,500 prize in the Startup Grant Contest. Back then owner Jennifer Rittner was just starting the business with her husband Matt, and their delicious hummus recipes had become farmers' market favorites.

Today you can find their products at The Niskayuna Co-op, Honest Weight, Healthy Living Market, and the Schenectady Greenmarket. They're now preparing to move into larger markets, and Jen says their startup grant is still working for them.

startup contest 2014 sponsor ad staff ciampino

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Wontons in Spicy Flavor and Rice Cake with Pork & Capsella at Ala Shanghai

Ala Shanghai rice cakes and hot sauce

Don't forget the hot sauce.

By Jeff Janssens

When asked to name the one Capital Region restaurant that I never get tired of, the answer is easy: Ala Shanghai in Latham.

The xiao long bao (soup dumplings) get the most acclaim at Ala Shanghai, and deservedly so. I wouldn't dare suggest that one not order the soup dumplings during a visit there. But I'd like to make a couple of additional suggestions from Ala Shanghai's extensive 12-page menu.

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Bread and Honey

bread and honey kitchen

Like anyone else, Naomi Davies had a handful of reason for making a career switch. But, really, the choice boiled down to one important reason: "I was craving a great bagel."

So she's opening a new bakery -- Bread and Honey -- on Madison Ave in Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood.

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Ice cream stand season 2014

Thumbnail image for snowman ice cream sign troy

Now open: The Snowman.

Updated March 25

Public service announcement: Ice cream stand season has started.

The Snowman in Troy opened today. Bumpy's in Schenectady opened yesterday. And a few other season stands will be opening over the next week or so.

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

Who wants sprinkles...

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Plum Dandy Cookies and Milk

plum dandy cookies and milk three cookies

A PB Dark, a Gooey Louie, and Zoo Animal cookies.

By Lauren Hittinger

When I first walked by Plum Dandy Cookies and Milk, with a charming family inside enjoying sweet treats with adorable glassware and fancy straws, I felt like I was staring into a modern-day hipster Norman Rockwell painting. I wanted to stop in right then, but I was on my way to meet friends somewhere else.

I love sweets, so it was only a matter of time before I arranged another chance to stop in. And here's what I discovered when I finally made it inside.

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A spot for a post-wedding meal that won't break the bank?

fork on tableT asks via the Facebook:

I am having a City Hall wedding in August and I am looking for a nice place to have a decent meal afterward for about 20 people that won't break the bank. I would like it to be an Albany restaurant. I have researched several options and they are just too much. I would like to do something that would work out to be $20 or less per person. Can you throw this out to your readers for suggestions? Thanks.

Sometimes it seems like there's almost no ceiling on how much can be spent on a wedding. But trying to keep the cost down -- that can take some creativity and flexibility.

So... got a suggestion for T? Please share! We're especially curious if maybe there's some sort of non-traditional option that might work.

Earlier on AOA: Planning a Capital Region wedding: catering

Chipotle's new tofu "sofritas" has arrived here

chipotle sofritas bowl

The sofritas is vegan. This bowl was not.

Chipotle recently announced that its much-anticipated vegan "sofritas" would soon be arriving at Northeast locations, and there it was when we stopped into the Stuyvesant Plaza location Tuesday evening.

From the chain's description of the tofu product:

We start with organic tofu from Hodo Soy that we shred and then braise with chipotle chilis, roasted poblanos, and a blend of aromatic spices. The result is a delicious, spicy tofu that will give vegans and carnivores something they both will love.

The sofritas has gotten a lot of attention because 1) Chipotle almost never introduces new menu items and 2) it's tofu at a major national chain. The product has been hyped as a tofu "turning point", and the possible beginning of a "chain reaction" that could lead other chains and restaurants to add vegan items. It also didn't hurt that it was developed by Chipotle's star chef/culinary manager Nate Appleman, and that early testers said the stuff actually tasted pretty good -- so much so that it might appeal to non-vegans/vegetarians.

So, anyway, we got the sofritas in a (very not-vegan) burrito bowl. Initial reaction: It's... OK. It has the texture of crumbled sausage or chunky ground beef. And the chipotle flavor definitely registered. It sort of reminded us a little bit of ground beef with "taco" seasoning. We still prefer just the straight-up "vegetarian" bowl (something we get often) over a bowl with the sofritas.

Oh, and it should be mentioned that tofu in a burrito isn't exactly groundbreaking or anything. Bombers has had tofu burritos for a long time.

Earlier on AOA: Vegan dishes worth trying -- even if you're not a vegan

Vanilla Porter Braised Beef Short Ribs at Midtown Tap & Tea Room

midtown vanilla porter short ribs overhead

By Jeff Janssens

Slow-braised beef short ribs are the perfect dish for a cold winter night. Rich, heavy, filling, they are quintessential comfort food. And with a long, frigid winter that just won't quit, it's a fitting meal for the first week of March.

That said, it isn't terribly hard to make braised short ribs taste good. So for a time I held off on writing about the Midtown Tap & Tea Room's Vanilla Porter Braised Beef Short Ribs, despite how much I enjoyed them when I first tried the dish last summer, thinking I could probably get a comparably tasty version at many other area restaurants.

But a recent bad experience with short ribs at a different restaurant made me reevaluate -- and re-try -- the Tap & Tea Room's version.

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Kimchi fries?

mingle kimchi fries

Update: And here they are, kimchi fries from Mingle, via the restaurant's FB page. That's a photo above. (Thanks, Jerry!)
____

The Chopsticks Optional crew tweeted this afternoon:

I saw a picture of kimchi fries and that's all I want to try now. Can a 518 eatery make that happen ASAP?!
Potato fries topped with kimchi, pork belly, melted jack and cheddar, and sour cream and onions...*drools*

This seemed like an idea whose time has come -- and it should arrive here. Jerry talked with the people at Mingle in Albany -- and it sounds like it's on. Let us offer our strong encouragement. (Hey, sometimes these sorts of requests turn out really well.)

And if you know of where these already exist, locally, please share.

By the way: Chi'lantro, a Mexican-Korean fusion food truck in Austin, claims to be the originator of kimchi fries.

By the way x2: We're generally in favor of all sorts of things being piled on fries with cheese.

Mingle advertises on AOA.

Checking out the Price Chopper Market Bistro

Price Chopper Market Bistro

The new Price Chopper Market Bistro -- the company's long-planned concept store in Latham -- is just about ready for its grand opening. But you can check out much of what's new right now, as we did this week when we got a tour.

There's been a lot of change in the Capital Region supermarket scene over the last few years -- a lot of new stores, new competitors, new upgrades. But it's not a stretch to say that there is nothing else like Market Bistro in this area.

Here's a quick photo tour and a few bits.

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A look at the plans for the Capital District Community Gardens Urban Grow Center

CDCG Urban Grow Center.jpg

The CDCG' new Urban Grow Center building on River Street in Troy.

A few years ago the 100-year-old manufacturing building at 594 River Street in Troy was home to a company that produced that little liquid piece that goes inside levels. By this time next year it's expected to house a low-cost produce market and it will be home to the Capital District Community Gardens headquarters.

And a few years from now, if all goes according to plan, the building and the land beside it will also include a hydroponic garden, educational and job training space, and a commercial kitchen.

CDCG executive director Amy Klein says the new Urban Grow Center is unique -- a space that will combine urban agriculture, education, and food access.

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America's Test Kitchen Live at The Palace

christopher kimball america's test kitchen

Christopher Kimball

The Palace announced today that America's Test Kitchen Live -- a stage show from the popular PBS TV cooking show -- will be at the theater April 13 at 3 pm. Tickets go on sale to the general public Friday (February 28) -- they're $35 and up.

America's Test Kitchen is produced by the same people behind Cooks Illustrated, the popular magazine devoted to careful testing of recipes, cooking techniques, and kitchen gadgets. Event blurbage:

As host of America's Test Kitchen for the past 14 seasons, as well as editor of the popular Cooks Illustrated magazine, Christopher Kimball will share his strong and entertaining opinions on culinary trends and cooking equipment. He'll take questions from the audience as well as test their knowledge of unusual ingredients in an interactive segment during the live show. America's Test Kitchen Live with Christopher Kimball will deliver a fun and informative evening for fans and foodies around the country.
Dan Souza is a senior editor of Cook's Illustrated and an on-screen test cook for America's Test Kitchen. In addition to his work on Cook's Illustrated, Dan has contributed content to a dozen America's Test Kitchen cookbooks, most recently executing and editing the test kitchen experiments for The Science of Good Cooking (October 2012). Dan cut his culinary teeth as an apprentice in Hungary before graduating first in his class from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). After cooking in restaurants in New York City and Boston, however, he found his true calling: applying good science to create great recipes for the home cook.

(This NYT Mag article from a few years back is an interesting look at Kimball and the Cooks Illustrated empire. )

The Palace event also has a VIP ticket that includes a book and meet-and-greet with Chris Kimball's bowtie. It's $85.

photo: America's Test Kitchen FB

Tempeh burger at The Hollow

the hollow tempeh burger cross-section

A cross section of the The Hollow's tempeh burger.

By Jeff Janssens

Few foods are as satisfying as a classic hamburger. Lately, though, I've been making an effort to eat less red meat.

So even though I'd heard that The Hollow Bar + Kitchen in downtown Albany has a very good beef burger, one featuring a fried egg and habanero ketchup, I was more interested in their tempeh burger, curious to see if I could leave satisfied even after opting for the vegetarian option.

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Nine Pin Cider Works tasting room opening soon

nine pin cider works packaging

Nine Pin Cider Works -- the startup cidery in North Albany -- has been granted the first farm cidery license in the state, the Cuomo admin announced today.

One of the big payoffs to being granted the license: Nine Pin can operate a tasting room at its building on Broadway. Owner Alejandro del Peral told us today that they're planning to open the tasting room February 28.

Like the farm brewery and farm distillery licenses, the farm cidery license grants a range of rights if the operation primarily uses agricultural products from New York State (all of Nine Pin's apples come from right here in the greater Capital Region). In addition being allowed to offer tastings, a cidery can also sell not only its own product directly to consumers, but also beer and wine made from New York products along with small food items and gifts.

The cider business is on the upswing in New York. There are now 23 producers in the state, up from 5 in 2011, according to the Cuomo admin. It's good business fit here -- New York is the nation's second largest producer of apples.

Nine Pin started setting up in North Albany this past summer ahead of the fall apple crop. When we stopped in this past January, it was making the final preparations for the launch of its flagship product, an off-dry cider.

Sonic is looking at the Albany area

sonic indoor seating location rendering

The Sonics slated for Syracuse and Watertown have "a newly designed indoor dining room ideally suited for the colder climate."

The other day we saw that the Syracuse area is in line to get a bunch of Sonic locations -- you know, the drive-in fast-food restaurants. [Syracuse.com]

In the past, a bunch of people have indicated they'd like to see a Sonic here. And with Syracuse getting them -- and Sonic locations already in the Hudson Valley -- it seemed like Albany is a natural next step.

So we asked the company if anything was up here. The response we got today from Patrick Lenow, Sonic's vice president for public relations (via a company PR agency):

"There is significant demand for SONIC in upstate New York. We have successfully identified franchisees for Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Watertown, making Albany the last available market in the area. We are engaged in talks with individuals that would like to bring SONIC to the Albany area, but no agreement is in place. Those interested in franchising SONIC in Albany should visit sonicfranchises.com."

Sounds like limeade might not be too far off.

The closest Sonic locations to Albany currently are Kingston (51 miles), Wappingers Falls (76 miles) Springfield, Massachusetts (77 miles).

image: Sonic

Hamachi Kama at Sushi Tei

sushi tei Hamachi Kama overhead

Or yellowtail collar, as it's also known.

By Jeff Janssens

On a recent expedition to Sushi Tei in Guilderland to satisfy a sushi craving, I made an exciting discovery on the restaurant's specials menu: hamachi kama, or yellowtail collar.

This is the part of the fish just behind the head, and while it may sound like something that belongs on an episode of Bizarre Foods (it has, in fact, been featured on the program), there's nothing particularly strange about it. Hamachi kama is really just a piece of grilled fish.

Except it's a remarkably delicious part of the fish, one that's worth seeking out when it's available at Sushi Tei.

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Winter cooking: ancho pinto beef chili

ancho chili nachos

Sure, you could eat this chili from a bowl. But why would you do that when you could have nachos?

By AOA Greg

Because it's the weekend and the middle of winter -- and a bunch of people mentioned that cooking helps them shake off the January gloom -- here's a recipe for ancho pinto beef chili.

It's warm and rich and meaty -- even though it's mostly beans. It's also easy to make. And it makes the house smell fantastic.

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A new way of producing maple syrup: "like a sugar-filled straw stuck in the ground"

tapped maple sapling uvmInteresting: Researchers at the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center -- Tim Perkins and Abby van den Berg -- have stumbled across a new, and potentially "revolutionary," way of harvesting sap for maple syrup. From a November 2013 UVM news article by Joshua E. Brown:

Their new technique uses tightly spaced plantations of chest-high sugar-maple saplings. These could be single stems with a portion -- or all -- of the crown removed. Or they could be multiple-stemmed maples, where one stem per tree can be cut each year. Either way, the cut stem is covered with a sealed plastic bag. Under the bag, the sap flows out of the stump under vacuum pressure and into a tube. Voilà, huge quantities of sap.
In short, these plantations can allow maple syrup production in a farm field.
Typically, a traditional sugarbush produces about 40 gallons of maple syrup per acre of forest by tapping, perhaps, 80 mature trees. With this new method, the UVM researchers estimate that producers could get more than 400 gallons of syrup per acre drawing from about 6,000 saplings. ...
"We got to the point where we should have exhausted any water that was in the tree, but the moisture didn't drop," says Perkins. "The only explanation was that we were pulling water out of the ground, right up through and out the stem." In other words, the cut tree works like a sugar-filled straw stuck in the ground. To get the maple sugar stored in the trunk, just apply suction.

Over at Modern Farmer this week, Laura Sorkin -- a maple producer in northern Vermont -- reflects on some of the possible implications of this new method, which could eventually offer cheaper production and protection against the effects of climate change and the Asian Longhorn Beetle. But also:

[T]he news of the plantation system has been a lot to chew on since we learned of it. We are relatively new to the trade but have come to love it, one of the principal reasons being our interaction with the thousand acres of forest behind our home. Like Dave Folino, I fear that the industry will no longer be special to New England but will be usurped by entrepreneurs anywhere with the right climate. And on a more visceral level, I feel that maple syrup is and should remain a product of the wild. Aside from mushrooms and game meat, the woods of Vermont hardly yield anything edible. And yet, this exquisite sugar can be extracted from the trees while still leaving them healthy and the forest a home to everything from rare wildflowers to bob cats. For me, knowing its origins elicits an amount of pleasure equal to tasting its unique flavor when I drizzle it over morning pancakes. Finally, I ponder what will happen to the acres of working forests if landowners are no longer making an income from them through tapping the trees. It would be unrealistic to expect all of those landowners to choose conservation.

Vermont is the country's leading producer of maple syrup -- it produced 1.32 million gallons of syrup in 2013. The #2 state? New York, at 574,000 gallons last year. [USDA]

photo: Sally McCay / UVM

[via Kottke]

COB Pizza at Red Front

Red Front COB pizza whole

There's cheese in there. It's under the sauce.

By Jeff Janssens

There's a lot of exciting stuff happening these days in downtown Troy; from the shops to the restaurants to the bars, it seems like a new business is opening its doors each week. This makes it easy to overlook some of the old stalwarts of the city, places like Famous Lunch that have been turning out good food for decades.

Yet I can't help but approach any place labeled as an institution with a healthy dose of skepticism. At some places, the history and value to the community far exceed the present quality of food.

But Red Front Restaurant on the south side of downtown Troy has built a well-deserved following since opening in 1956 thanks in part to their COB Pizza -- that's "cheese-on-bottom" -- a non-traditional pizza in which the sauce and the bready crust are the stars.

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Talking about coffee culture in the Capital Region

barista albany 2014 composite

A few scenes from this year's Barista Albany competition.

For the second year, a group of the Capital Region's top baristas vied to make the best coffee drinks this past weekend in the Barista Albany competition, part of the Wine & Dine for the Arts food and wine festival. This year's winner was Luen Proft from The Confectionery in Troy. Congrats to him.

But the competition not only crowned a winner that day, it also highlighted the coffee culture in the Capital Region, a culture that's evolving beyond just cream-or-sugar, those machines with the little plastic cups, and Starbucks.

So we figured it'd be interesting to bounce a few quick questions to each of the four competitors at this year's Baristas Albany competition -- about the state of the Capital Region coffee culture, what separates a great cup of coffee, and what you should try at their shops.

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Checking in with Nine Pin Cider Works

nine pin cider works bottling and packing

Bottling and packing this week.

Last August we met Alejandro del Peral and got an early look at his startup cidery in North Albany, Nine Pin Cider Works. At the time, some of the equipment had just been installed and del Peral was waiting on the fall apple crop to start making his product.

Nine Pin has made a lot of progress -- and a lot of cider -- over the past six months, as we found out when we stopped by the cidery on Broadway this week for a tour. Here's a look.

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Where to get a smoothie in Albany?

green smoothie by flickr user joyosityJanae asked on Twitter today:

Where can I get a smoothie in Albany? Recommendations?

We retweeted, and there were a bunch of suggestions. Apparently people have many opinions about smoothies!

So, with Janae's blessing, we plucked her question from the ephemeral stream of Twitter and gathered the answers here (after the jump). Smoothie seekers of the future, thank Janae.

And if you have a suggestion to add, please do!

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Drawing: Pizza-making class for six people from DeFazio's

DeFazio University Shirt.jpg

From the distinguished DeFazio University of Pizza and Pasta.

Drawing's closed!

The current reigning Tournament of Pizza champion -- DeFazio's -- has started offering classes on how to make their award-winning pizzas and pastas. Rocco DeFazio and his family are teaching the classes on Sunday afternoons in the kitchen of their Troy shop. The classes have, not surprisingly, have already begun to sell out.

You could win a pizza-making class -- for six people -- this week on AOA. Here's how to enter the drawing:

During the class, DeFazio's will share some of the secrets of what makes their pizza so delicious. So, it's secret sharing time. Tell us a secret in the comments of this post.

Or, to put it another way, tell us something we don't know. It could be something you add to your own favorite recipe. It could be a fun and little-know fact. It could be something most people don't know about you. It could even be a secret that's not all that well kept. (We're interpreting "secret" very loosely here.)

We'll choose one winner at random. The winner can schedule a class with up to five of their friends.

DeFazio's pizza and pasta making classes are being offered on Sunday afternoons from 2-5 pm for $60 per person. You can bring your own bottle of wine to enjoy while you're cooking, and everyone who takes a class leaves with a DeFazio's pizza kit so they can get started making their own pies at home.

Important: All comments must be submitted by noon on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 2 pm on Thursday, January 16 and must respond by noon on Friday, January 17.

Brewery planned for North Albany warehouse district

The building for the planned Druthers brewery facility/tasting room/restaurant.

Another interesting potential development in North Albany's warehouse district: Druthers Brewing Company -- which already has a brew pub in downtown Saratoga Springs -- has been granted a zoning variance in order to open a production facility and tasting room/restaurant in a building at the corner of Broadway and Bridge Street. (A tip of the hat to Steve Barnes for picking this development out of the BZA agenda.)

Druthers partner and brewmaster George de Piro posted about the plan at the TU's Beer Nut blog:

Our current location on Broadway in Saratoga Springs has been doing pretty well and we really want to get our beer to a wider audience. The 10 BBL (barrel) brewing system there can barely handle demand, so to sell more beer we need to build another brewery. I live in Albany and want to do more to help revitalize our downtown (I am proud of the work I did helping the Pump Station to succeed and all that did for Albany). I also miss brewing with Albany water. It's really awesome! Thus, the decision was made to open Druthers II in New York's capital.

De Piro's post includes a projected start date for brewing of June 2014, "if everything goes perfectly."

The building currently serves as space for a plumbing supply company, and its zoning doesn't allow for restaurant use, thus the need for a variance. (The BZA application is after the jump.) It includes a project narrative and pics. From the narrative:

The brewing area of the Building will be equipped with a 30BBL brewing system that is capable of producing an estimated 15,000 kegs annual, a canning line capable of canning 30 beers per minute, 1,500 square feet of cooler space, and commercial keg washing/filling equipment. The tasting area will feature a bar, restaurant style seating, and offer wood-fired pizza. It is expected that the hours of operation for the brewery/tasting room would be daily from 12pm to 10:00pm.

The statement also lists the total cost of the project as $2.2 million.

The warehouse district along Broadway is shaping up to be an interesting area for the city.

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Spiced Potato with Hot Pepper and Special Pancakes at Northeast Dumplings House

Northeast Dumplings House potatoes pancakes

Spicy, crunchy, and wrapped in a pancake.

By Jeff Janssens

For an area of its size, the Capital Region boasts an impressive array of Chinese restaurants, strong in both quality and diversity. And it's only getting better: Northeast Dumplings House opened just two months ago in Albany and offers not just tasty dumplings made in-house, but small Sichuan delights.

Judging from the lack of traffic there on a recent weekend evening, it seems most are unaware of what this new restaurant is offering. That needs to change.

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Drawing: Wine & Dine for the Arts

wine and dine for the arts wine glasses

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The annual Wine & Dine for the Arts food and wine festival is next week. The multi-day event includes tastings, chefs and restaurants, seminars, and competitions for sliders, baristas, and bar tenders. We have a pair of tickets to the grand tasting on Saturday, January 18 and we're giving them away -- maybe to you.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

What is your 2014 resolution for the Capital Region?

Could be big, could be small, could be whatever. We'll draw one comment at random -- that person will win the tickets.

Wine & Dine for the Arts, the Albany Chef's Wine & Food Festival, starts Thursday, January 16 with a cocktail reception at Albany City Hall. Friday includes a grand tasting and seminars (along with the NYS Craft Beer Pavilion and the Rising Star Chef Pavilion) at the Hilton Albany, an appearance by chef Suvir Saran, and the Slider Slam. Saturday's lineup includes a grand tasting, the Barista Albany competition, and the grand gala reception and dinner. Ticket prices for each event vary -- they're available online.

The tickets for this drawing are for the Saturday grand tasting, from noon to 4 pm. They're $60 each.

The arts org beneficiaries of this year's festival are the Albany Barn, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany Symphony Orchestra, Capital Rep, and Park Playhouse.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 5 pm on Tuesday, January 7, 2013 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 10 am on Wednesday and must respond by noon on Thursday, January 9.

The Great Chicken Wing Hunt screening at The Spectrum

great chicken wing hunt director Matt Reynolds eating a wing

Matt Reynolds, director of The Great Chicken Wing Hunt

Could be fun: On January 22 the Spectrum will be screening The Great Chicken Wing Hunt, a documentary about the search for the world's best Buffalo chicken wing. Event Blurbage:

THE GREAT CHICKEN WING HUNT is an award-winning documentary comedy about Buffalo wings and the band of misfits who set out to find the world's best one. Join us for the Albany premiere of the film critics call "The Big Lebowski of documentaries" and "One of the bonafide best movies of the year". Featuring several scenes shot in Albany. Associate Producer and Albany native Melinda Person will introduce the film. Director Matt Reynolds will Skype in for a Q&A.

The trailer is after the jump.

And here's a review of the doc by Eater's Joshua David Stein from this past November -- he calls it "hugely enjoyable."

The screening at the Spectrum is Wednesday, January 22 at 7 pm. Tickets are $10 and available online.

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Planning a Capital Region wedding: catering

slidin dirty food truck

Considering a range of options... including food trucks.

By Lauren Hittinger

Lauren & George are planning a wedding in the Capital Region, and they're chronicling the planning process here on AOA. Last time we heard from them they were checking out venues. Now they're trying to select a local caterer.

It is now less than six months until my wedding and I'm freaking out a little bit. My fiancé George and I wanted to have a fun and casual wedding, so we didn't rush planning and have been slow to make decisions. Now that a master list of over 50 wedding to-dos has been constructed and time is ticking, I'm quite anxious. Luckily we've already decided on one of the most important parts: the food!

Food is crucial to a wedding. Not only is a delicious meal one of the best ways to thank your guests for attending, the food and beverage is typically the biggest wedding expense. For those of you who tuned in last month, you know that my fiancé and I have booked our wedding venue: Indian Ladder Farms. We are lucky that our venue does not require certain vendors, but it also means that we have to do a lot of searching ourselves. After we secured Indian Ladder, I went on a mad search for caterers.

How much does it cost to feed a wedding of 75 people, anyway? The answer: It depends.

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Favorite local foods 2013

comfort kitchen tater tots overhead

It's hard to go wrong with crunchy, salty, golden brown, and delicious.

With the end of the year coming up, we thought it'd be fun to ask a bunch of people about some of their favorite/most interesting things from the 2013.

First up: Favorite local things to eat or drink this year.

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Where to get gingerbread cookies?

rows of gingerbread men Flickr user FlareRuthie asked a timely holiday question via Twitter:

Would you happen to know which bakery has gingerbread cookies in the Capital District?

We retweeted Ruthie's question over the weekend, and there were a handful of responses. They're after the jump.

Got a suggestion for Ruthie? Please share!

photo: Flickr user Flare (cc)

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Where to find appetizings?

bagel smoked salmon flickr stu_spivackDaniel Nester asks via the Facebook:

Is there no place to get appetizing in the Capital Region? Anyone?

In this case he's referring to an "appetizing store." From a definition on the website for Russ & Daughters, a century-old appetizing store in Manhattan:

"Appetizing," as a noun, is a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American Jews, and it is particularly local to New York and New Yorkers. The word "appetizer" is derived from the Latin "appete," meaning "to desire, covet, or long for." Used as a noun, "appetizing" is most easily understood as "the foods one eats with bagels." Its primary components are a variety of smoked and cured salmon, homemade salads, and cream cheeses.

The plural of these foods is "appetizings" rather than appetizers. Here's a Gothamist article about appetizing stores from a few years back about how the stores were once very common in NYC, but have slowly disappeared -- and the ones remaining have evolved.

So, we suspect there isn't an appetizing store, exactly, in the Capital Region. But we bet you can gather many similar items if you know where to look.

Got a suggestion for Daniel and others looking to nosh? Please share!

photo: Flickr user stu_spivack (cc)

DeFazio's (finally) gets a Tournament of Pizza trophy

Rocco DeFazio with Trophy.jpg

Rocco DeFazio, with his 2013 TOP Trophy

We started to refer to them as the Susan Lucci of the AOA Tournament of Pizza -- always good enough to be nominated but never quite able to take the award. But this year, DeFazio's of Troy took first prize in the TOP. And this week we stopped by to award them their first Tournament of Pizza trophy.

Owner Rocco DeFazio, who inherited the business from his parents, says having what it takes to make it to the finals as often as they have comes from a family philosophy -- the constant desire to improve things.

Well, that and the secret of the DeFazio's crust.

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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In conversation: Zak Pelaccio and Ruth Reichl

zak pelaccio and ruth reichl

Pelaccio and Reichl

Could be interesting: Chef Zak Pelaccio -- from Food & Game in Hudson -- will be at the Spencertown Academy Arts Center this Saturday for a conversation with food writer Ruth Reichl. The topic: "Beyond Local: Taking Local Food to a New Level." Admission is $20 and "reservations strongly advised."

Pelaccio gained fame in NYC food circles for restaurants such as Fatty 'Cue and Fatty Crab, and he popped up in media such as the Food Network. He and his wife, Jori Jayne Emde, now live in Columbia County and this past summer they opened Fish & Game in Hudson -- the menu for which is very focused on locally-sourced products. It has gotten very positive reviews.

Ruth Reichl is, of course, the former editor of Gourmet Magazine. And before that, she was the restaurant critic for the New York Times. She's one of the nation's most famous food writers.

The event at the Spencertown Academy is at 4 pm on Saturday, December 14. A reception follows, but if we were in Columbia County around that time, we'd head to head to Hudson (or nearby) to get dinner at one of the many restaurants.

[via I Love Hudson]

photos via Zakary Pelaccia and Ruth Reichl websites

Eat This: stocking stuffers

eat this stocking stuffers stroopwafel mug

How else would you keep a drink warm?

By Jeff Janssens

It's the season for giving and receiving, for eating and imbibing. And sometimes it's best when all those elements of the season are combined.

Even though a tin caramel corn or box of chocolates can be a much-appreciated gift this time of year, I'd like to offer a few alternative suggestions -- including local versions of some classics -- for you to stuff the stockings of loved ones with this year.

And if you don't have any stockings? I like to think these are all items that can be enjoyed, no matter the occasion.

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Cookie decorating at The Confectionery

confectionery interior muralThis could be fun: The Confectionery is offering a holiday cookie decorating party hosted by its pastry chef, Starla Bradshaw. The event is Sunday, December 15 from 4-6 pm. Tickets are $20 ahead (available at The Grocery) / $25 at the door.

Blurbage: "Cookies and decorating supplies will be provided, as well as your choice of a glass of mulled wine or sipping chocolate."

Getting together with some friends to decorate cookies and have some wine could be fun wherever you do it. But we suspect there could be some interesting twists for these cookies. Bradshaw has been using some unusual flavors in her creations for the Confectionery. Example: macarons in flavors such as pine (ground pine needles and sugar), bee pollen, charcoal and smoked vanilla bean, and spirulina.

Oh, and the Confectionery's patio now has a retractable glass roof.

Earlier on AOA: Checking out The Grocery in Troy

The Confectionery was a stop on the AOA Historic Bad Boys, Broads, and Bootlegger tour.

Samosa Trio at Umana

umana samosa trio

By Jeff Janssens

Umana Restaurant and Wine Bar in Albany opened on November 1, the end of a three-year project for owner Dale Davidson. The interior of the space was gutted during that time, and Davidson had some of the furnishings built for the restaurant in Haiti -- tables and chairs were constructed and hand-woven there -- and the walls were hand-painted to create a bright and inviting space.

While this is truly impressive -- and Umana is one of the most striking restaurant spaces in the entire area -- the menu is equally compelling. And the menu item that intrigued me most was the Samosa Trio.

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New food options at Empire State Plaza

Thumbnail image for empire state plaza agency buildings corning tower 2012The state Office of General Services announced a new lineup of food options at the Empire State Plaza. The new options include an outlet for Pho Yum, the casual Vietnamese restaurant in Colonie, and Capital Q, the barbecue place in Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood. The new vendors start serving Monday, November 25.

The new vendor lineup was prompted by a switch from Sodexo, the current food service provider. Local restaurant empire Mazzone Hospitality is taking over the ESP's cafeteria and will have catering rights in the Albany Room. OGS says Mazzone will start December 9. [TU CapCon]

Also: "An announcement regarding the former Capitol Deli is forthcoming."

A full list of the new -- as well as still present -- food options is post jump.

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Sherry Lynn's Gluten-Free moving and changing

sherry lynn's gluten-free exterior and doughnut

The exterior of the Sherry Lynn's shop on Route 7 and one its gluten-free doughnuts.

Sherry Lynn's Gluten-Free in Latham -- which for years has been a source for items such as doughnuts and mac 'n cheese for people who can't eat gluten -- is moving and changing a bit. From a post on its Facebook page (link added):

As everyone knows our lease is up at our current location. Our plan was to purchase a building and continue. Unfortunately with the growing competition offering gluten free in the area there is little support for the restaurant portion of our business, being a small family business we are unable to compete. So we we will be closing mid December ( exact date unknown ). We have found a location at 11 Herbert Drive, Latham, NY 12110, where we will be able to continue offering safe gluten free baked goods, but will not continue the restaurant at this location. We are getting a late start on fitting out this building so we will be closed for sometime. Please help us spread the word and share this on your wall. we will keep everyone posted as soon as we know closing date and reopen date. Thank you for your continued support.

In the last few years there seems to have been a significant upswing in awareness of celiac disease and the number of people avoiding gluten, and restaurants and supermarkets have reacted accordingly. It's not uncommon now to see the menu at a restaurant include at least a few items that are specifically marked as gluten free.

And while that's good for people who are allergic to gluten, it sounds like the spread of gf options has cut into Sherry Lynn's business. One of the complications of a niche going mainstream.

Earlier on AOA: A few years back we compiled a listing of local gluten-free restaurant options (2011)

exterior photo via Sherry Lynn's Gluten Free FB

Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon the hot dog suspended in beer jello

capital region in aspic by mr dave

Ok, maybe that's not the original quote.

Words fail to truly capture the emotions evoked by the newest work from Mr. Dave, proprietor of The Ridiculous Food Society of Upstate New York. He calls it "Capital Region in Aspic." (There are more photos at that link, including cross sections. Bonus photo.)

Leaving behind meatloaf and mashed potatoes of his other recent work, Mr. Dave has instead embraced a new collection of media: Knox gelatine, Stewart's Mountain Brew, a Hot Dog Charlie's mini hot dog.

As with any work of art, it's better not to attempt explanation. Meet the work on its own terms. Experience it. Allow your interpretation to flow, as if water, finding its own level.

You will find yourself changed.

photo: The Ridiculous Food Society of Upstate New York

Albany VegFest 2013

albany vegfest 2013 posterThe 2013 Albany VegFest is this Saturday (November 16) at the Polish Community Center on Washington Ave Ext. The event includes speakers, demonstrations, and vendors. Event blurbage:

Our goal is to continue to grow the expo into a nationally renowned event, drawing diverse speakers with an array of educational exhibits, bountiful information, and providing resources for those interested in making positive life changes for their health, the environment, and the animals.
We hope that with the continued growth and production of NY's Capital Region Vegetarian Expo that the surrounding community will begin to more readily support those who choose a plant-based lifestyle.
The ultimate goal is to demonstrate and promote the global health benefits of green sustainable living, environmental awareness, compassion for animals and all beings and to highlight their relationship to plant-based lifestyle in the Capital Region area of New York and surrounding areas.

The VegFest is from 10 am-6 pm on Saturday. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is "greatly appreciated."

Pho at Kim's Restaurant

pho overhead kims restaurant albany

By Jeff Janssens

At some point over the past few weeks, I'd venture to say, we officially transitioned into soup weather. With gray skies and chilly winds blowing, there are few things as satisfying as getting out of the cold for a bowl of soup. For me, a large, steaming bowl of pho is the most satisfying soup in these conditions.

This traditional Vietnamese noodle soup can be found in a number of area restaurants, but in my opinion Kim's Restaurant in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany is making the best pho in the area.

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Altamont Vineyard & Winery

altamont vineyard composite

By Casey Normile

The leaves have turned, the sun's setting earlier, and the air grows colder. It's wine season, folks. Time to hide from the cold by crowding into a cozy winery and warming yourself with sips of Riesling.

And, as it happens, a winery might be closer than you think. The Altamont Vineyard & Winery -- llocated along the Albany/Schenectady county line -- is a small venue that's been in operation since 2006.

But its grapes were established long before that.

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The notable thing about this new supermarket isn't the what -- it's the where

ideal food basket menands map

From a map created last year -- those green circles represent 1-mile radii around supermarkets.

Word started circulating this week that an Ideal Food Basket supermarket is set to open on Broadway in Menands sometime in the next month. It'll be the first location for the Long Island-based chain, which already has stores downstate, as well as in Connecticut and Massachusetts. [Biz Review]

We'd never heard of Ideal Food Basket, and after some poking around -- and admittedly without stepping into one -- we get the impression it's a pretty average "neighborhood" style supermarket, maybe with slant toward being a discount market. The thing that did stand out, though: Where it's decided to set up here.

The Ideal Food Basket is going in to the former Save-A-Lot space at 100 Broadway in Menands. That spot is notable because it's located near areas in North Albany and Arbor Hill that are designated as "food deserts" by the federal government. What's that mean? Well, in the simplest sense, it means there isn't a supermarket within a 1-mile (or half-mile) radius of those neighborhoods (the whole definition is a bit more involved). A map we created last year about Capital Region supermarket geographic distribution might make it clearer.

The chain's parent organization has apparently decided to focus in part on opening stores in such areas. Said the company's CEO to the Times Union: "We get into areas where most organizations don't go into ... We go into underserved areas. We hire only from the neighborhood." Just this past month it opened a store in Nassau County on Long Island that was hailed as bringing a supermarket to an area with a "critical food-access issue." [TU] [Newsday]

For all the booming that's happened on the local supermarket scene in the last few years, the development has almost entirely focused on high-end products (Fresh Market, Whole Foods) and/or areas that already had other supermarket choices (ShopRite). It's interesting to see a company looking at areas not currently served as a business opportunity.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Where the supermarkets are -- and aren't
+ The big box gets smaller
+ Soapbox: Oh, Whole Foods, why Colonie Center?

Why is there a mayor on my oatmeal?

mccanns irish oats john boyd thacher closeup

Sometimes we end up with odd legacies.

Speaking of Albany mayors and their representations on food, Barry T emails with the photo above:

Why is my oatmeal approved by John Boyd Thacher??

And to Barry, we say: That is a totally reasonable question.

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A tribute to Jerry Jennings in meatloaf and mashed potatoes

mr dave's loafy jennings

Please stop what you're doing and take a moment to view a new work of art. A marking of a historic moment in Albany history as it makes an every-few-decades-or-more transition. A tribute in the media of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Behold: Loafy Jennings.

This masterwork is the creation of the esteemed Mr. Dave, proprietor of the Ridiculous Food Society of Upstate New York -- where he details the process of creating the meatloaf relief:

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has been synonymous in my mind with the city at large for the past 20 years. Alas, as all things eventually do, his run as the leader of the city in which I was born has come to an end. One of the dominate traits of my personality is that I do not handle change very well and that I am prone to fits of nostalgia. I am already nostalgic for the Jennings era and it hasn't even come to a close yet. So I was thinking of how, in my own small way, I might offer tribute and in my own nonsensical manner immortalize Mayor Jennings.

All hail Mr. Dave. He has won the local internet today.

photo: The Ridiculous Food Society of Upstate New York

Chuck Schumer making a push for hard cider

glass of nine pin ciderChuck Schumer was at Golden Harvest in Kinderhook today pushing for legislation that would change the way the feds regulate and tax hard cider. Zzzzzzzzz... yeah, doesn't sound super exciting, but this clip from the press release explains why it could be important (emphasis added):

Schumer was joined by Golden Harvest Farms owners Alan and Derek Grout as he launched his proposal, the CIDER Act (Cider, Investment & Development through Excise Tax Reduction Act), to update the definition for hard apple and pear cider in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) that would increase their allowed alcohol by volume from 7 percent to 8.5 percent, encompassing significantly more hard cider products and allowing them to be labeled and taxed like hard cider, rather than wine. Schumer's proposal would also address existing tax issues related to carbonation levels in hard cider, and would put the new definition in line with that of the European Union, so producers can better compete with European products abroad. Hard cider is a value-added product that is sold around the same price every year; therefore hard cider gives producers a stable source of income when apple crops suffer due to weather and other unforeseen factors. New York apple producers are increasingly interested in producing smaller, artisanal batches of hard cider, but cite the cost and difficulty to comply with the IRC definition as significant impediments to expanding their businesses.
New York is the second largest apple producer nationwide, harvesting a total of 29.5 million bushels annually from over 650 farms and 41,000 acres across the state. In recent years, thanks to the growing popularity of hard cider, many apple producers have turned to producing this craft beverage as a method to keep apple orchards profitable, generate new economic development opportunities, and attract a new visitor demographic to their farms. There have been an increasing number of hard cider producers as a result, starting with a few producers a few years ago to over 20 today. And Schumer highlighted that number should only continue to grow, as a significant number of apple farmers are interested in adding this popular product, and have sought out advice and expertise from the Cornell Cooperative to do so.

So, short story: Changing the federal rules could make it easier financially for orchards to make cider -- which could help provide new revenue to keep orchards going, and provide the rest of us with something interesting to drink.

Golden Harvest/Harvest Spirits: Schumer was at Golden Harvest because of its Harvest Spirits distillery, which already makes excellent spirits from apples (and other fruit) -- and it sounds like Harvest Spirits is also interested in getting into the hard cider business, as well.

Earlier on AOA:
+ More fizz for the cider business in New York
+ Nine Pin Cider Works in Albany
+ Eat this: Old Sin Cider from Slyboro Ciderhouse
+ Eat this: Peach Jack from Harvest Spirits
+ Poking around at Harvest Spirits

Late season apple power rankings

apples in bin in orchard at Samascott

How 'bout them apples?

Now that apple season is almost over -- this upcoming weekend is probably that last for pick-your-own -- we return to our totally subjective, completely unscientific -- yet thoroughly authoritative (of course) -- power rankings of apple varieties.

See also: Early season apple power rankings.

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Raising a farm brewery incubator in Rensselaerville

carey center barnThe craft beer/spirits industry is booming, and there's a been a lot of attention over the last few years in New York State on "farm" breweries, distilleries, wineries, and (most recently) cideries. The state has passed legislation that makes it easier/cheaper for these small scale operations -- if they use a specified amount of agricultural products from New York. The goal is to help foster an end-to-end industry in the state: crops are grown here, products are made here, and they're sold here.

But that means getting a lot of different people -- farmers, brewers, economic development orgs -- moving in the same direction. Toward that goal, the Carey Center for Global Good in Rensselaerville is starting a "farm brewery incubator." Blurbage:

For the past year, the Carey Institute has been working to start a model farmstead brewery in Rensselaerville. The aim of the project is to create a new economic development and social networking hub, bringing farmers, brewers and the Capital Region community together.
The Carey Institute has partnered with CSArch, an Albany architecture firm, to reconstruct a 1760's New World Dutch barn donated by Randolph J. Collins from the town of Guilderland. This icon of local history will be erected on our campus and adapted to house New York State's first farm-to-glass classroom and farm brewery incubator. Here, we will provide start-up brewing space and educational opportunities to emerging farm brewery enterprises, cultivating economic opportunities for farmers and brewers in New York State's budding farm-to-glass industry.

The Carey Center has a kickoff fundraising event for the project lined up for November 16, from 5-6:30 pm.

So why does this sort of project matter? Over at Drink Drank, Craig Gravina -- you know, from the Albany Ale Project -- explained recently. Here's a clip:

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Checking out The Grocery in Troy

The Grocery exterior

The new food market in downtown Troy -- The Grocery -- officially opened Tuesday on Broadway, half a block from Monument Square.

It's the latest project from Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine, owners of The Confectionery, located in an adjacent building. And much like the wine/coffee bar, Christopher and LaVine have created another space with a definite sense of place.

We stopped in Tuesday afternoon to have a look and talk with a few of the people involved, about how it came together and trying to find the right approach for a grocery store in downtown Troy.

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Cajun Pork Belly and Prosciutto Panini at Illium Café

Illium Cafe pork belly panini overhead

Sometimes more is more.

By Jeff Janssens

The Cajun Pork Belly and Crispy Prosciutto Open-Faced Panini from Illium Café in Troy is fatty, rich, heavy food. It packs such a punch that it's liable to knock you out for the rest of the afternoon, if not the entire winter.

Truth be told, a sandwich that features pork belly, prosciutto, a fried egg, hollandaise sauce, a savory bread pudding, and a creamy brie sauce is not something you want to be eating with much regularity. It may also seem, at first glance, to be an exercise in excess.

But once you taste this panini, you can't help but wonder how it was that you never before found all of these ingredients served together on a plate.

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Carnivore, Locavore, Grocery Store

albany law carnivore locavore posterThis upcoming event at Albany Law caught our eye: "Carnivore, Locavore, Grocery Store: The Economics, Politics, and Regulation of Sustainable Meat Production." It's a panel discussion and community forum November 7. Panel members:

+ Parke Wilde, Associate Professor of Food Policy, Tufts University, and Author, Food Policy in the United States
+ Jerry Cosgrove, Associate Director, Local Economics Project of the New World Foundation, and Author, Agricultural Economic Development for the Hudson Valley
+ Naftali Hannau, Co-founder and Owner, Grow & Behold Kosher Pastured Meats, New York City
+ Anna Hannau, Co-founder and Owner, Grow & Behold Kosher Pastured Meats, New York City, and Author, Food for Thought: Hazon's Sourcebook on Jews, Food, and Contemporary Life
+ Timothy Lytton, Albert & Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law, Albany Law School, and Author, Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food

There seems to be growing public interest in where food comes from and how it gets to us, not just ends but also means. So this even could have some interesting threads for a range of people.

The discussion starts at 7 pm on November 7 at Albany Law. It's free and open to the public.

Bake For You

bake for you cookiesA quick heads up: Bake For You is planning to take over the former All Good Bakers space at 540 Delaware Ave in Albany -- the DelSo (Delaware South) area that also includes The Cheese Traveler, Mingle, and Nicole's.

Bake For You has been operating out of a small kitchen near Albany's Washington Park for the last few years, selling at the Delmar Farmers' Market and producing baked goods for local businesses. It's become known for its interesting cookies -- including locally-themed varieties such as the DelSo cookie.

Owner Linda Kindlon tells us she'll be using the 540 space to sell a range of sweets, coffee and tea, as well as cards and other gift items. The opening target date is November 12. Kindlon said she's excited back in the neighborhood where she grew up.

[via @PirateJeni]

Earlier on AOA:
+ All Good Bakers has closed
+ TC Bakery opening a patisserie

photo: Bake For You

Work Week: My job as a restaurant server

work week restaurant server

It's Work Week on AOA. We'll be talking with people about their jobs and working. Part of that includes anonymous conversations with people about what it's like to do their jobs.

Next up: The Restaurant Server.

While she currently divides her time between restaurants and a teaching job, the Restaurant Server has been in the restaurant business for 30 years, most of that time here in the Capital Region.

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Capital Region Coffee Collective

capital region coffee collective previous event

From a previous CRCC event for people in the coffee biz.

This could be interesting -- and fun -- if you're into coffee: The Capital Region Coffee Collective. Blurbage:

The Capital Region Coffee Collective will hold its first public event on Saturday, November 2nd at the Lucas Confectionery in Troy, N.Y. The goal of the CRCC is to promote the awareness and enjoyment of specialty coffee in the Capital Region. The group intends to spend half of its time arranging public tasting events and the other half holding private educational events for area coffee professionals.
The initial founders of the collective wear the hats of baristi, barista trainers, coffee roasters, green coffee buyers and most importantly coffee lovers employed at a few different coffee shops and business entities in the region. So far the CRCC has met privately each month since May this year to explore palate development through tasting exercises as well as features of roasters across the country.

That first public event at noon on November 2 (a Saturday) at the Confectionery. It will include a "tasting of one coffee roasted to three different roast levels, displaying a wide range of taste possibility from a single green coffee source." If you go, you'll get to try all three and there will be a discussion after the tasting.

As we've seen from pizza and other things we've tested, side-by-side tastings are a good way to better understand a food and get a sense of what you like/don't like. So this might be a good opportunity to get a better feel for coffee.

We hear more public events are in the works.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Eat this: Iced coffee at the Confectionery
+ Talking with David Schulman, winner of the Barista Albany competition

photo via Capital Region Coffee Collective

More fizz for the cider business in New York

glass of nine pin cider

A sample of Nine Pin cider from the tasting at Smith's in Cohoes during the recent AOA Historic Bad Boys, Broads, and Bootleggers tour. Nine Pin -- a startup located in North Albany -- is aiming to have a retail product around the start of 2014.

The Cuomo admin announced Thursday that the governor has signed the Farm Cideries Bill. The legislation extends a range of opportunities and tax advantages to cideries that "farm" breweries, wineries, and distilleries in the state already had thanks to other recent legislation. From the press release:

The Farm Cideries bill authorizes the establishment and licensure of farm cideries for the manufacture and sale of cider made from crops grown in New York State and would exclude licensed farm cideries from the sales tax information return filing requirements. In order to obtain a farm cidery license, the hard cider must be made exclusively from apples grown in New York State and no more than 150,000 gallons may be produced annually. Farm cideries will be allowed to offer tastings of and sell not only cider, but also beer, wine, and spirits made from New York products. In addition, because farm cideries may also sell products such as mustards, sauces, jams, jellies, souvenirs, artwork, crafts and other gift items, these businesses, much like farm wineries, will become destination locations that will promote tourism within their communities. Also, the need for apples in the manufacture of New York State labeled cider would create a sustained demand for products from New York's farmers.

Here's a practical example of what all that means: The Farm Cider Bill opens the way for Nine Pin Cider -- the startup cider maker in North Albany -- to eventually open a tasting room and retail shop at its location on Broadway. (When we talked with Nine Pin founder Alejandro del Peral earlier this year, the Farm Cider Bill was a key part of their business plan. They had been eagerly anticipating its signing.)

For much of the last century hard cider has kind of been a fringe product compared to beer, wine, and spirits. But it has a long history in this country -- Johnny Appleseed wasn't setting up those orchards for eating apples -- and was once very popular. It never recovered its status after Prohibition, though. [Serious Eats] [Slate]

But the beverage has been on the comeback in recent years. New York State is even promoting a "cider revival." And if you look around this area, you can see signs of it taking root here (again). There's the aforementioned Nine Pin. Hicks Orchard in Granville is planting more than a thousand new trees for its Slyboro hard cider. The Rogers Family Orchard near Johnstown is setting up a hard cider operation. And apparently Saratoga Apple is considering it, too. [Nation's Restaurant News] [Post-Star] [Daily Gazette] [Saratogian]

Hey, you gotta do something with all those apples.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Nine Pin Cider Works
+ Last year the founders of the Albany Distilling Co. told us about how the state's Farm Distillery Bill helped open the way for their business

TOP 2013: The Final

TOP2013 Final composite

DC's vs. DeFazio's

Twenty-eight pizzas down. Two to go. It's the final of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose.

The match-up in this final pairing:

DC's (Albany) vs. DeFazio's (Troy)

How we got here: DC's posted a good score in the semi-final meat lover's match-up with Mario's from Niskayuna. And DeFazio's put up a very strong score -- tied for fifth highest in TOP history -- to withstand a solid challenge from Mama Mia's of Saratoga.

And there are compelling storylines in the final matchup:
+ This is DeFazio's third straight year in the final -- can the Troy shop finally take the title?
+ On the other end, this is DC's first year in the tournament. The shop across from UAlbany upset last year's tournament champ -- Marisa's Place of Guilderland -- in Round 2. Can it rally for one more big win?

Let's eat some pizza.

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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Where to get bubble tea?

bubble tea croppedAndrea asked this morning on Twitter:

I want bubble tea. Does @alloveralbany know where I can get some?

Our first thought was the Hong Kong Bakery on Wolf Road. But people on Twitter had a few other suggestions -- they're after the jump.

Got a suggestion for a local spot for bubble tea? Please share.

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TOP2013: Crunching the numbers

TOP2013 DeFazios veggie pizza closeup

DeFazio's has posted a string of high scores in the TOP. But given the history of veggie pizzas, the Troy shop's record-tying score this year in the veggie round was a bit of a surprise.

We're almost to the finish line in the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose. Here's a little something to snack on before the result from the final.

The Tournament of Pizza is now in year 5 of the modern 100-point scale era. So we have a lot of numbers piled up from the tournament -- and a lot of stats. Let's break some of them down...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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Wine & Dine for the Arts 2014 tickets on sale

wine dine for the arts 2014 save the dateA heads up: This year's -- well, next year's -- OK, the next Albany Wine & Dine for the Arts Festival is January 16-18. That's a bit of a way off, but tickets for the festival went on sale this week. And because many of the events associated with the annual festival sell out, buying tickets earlier rather than later is probably a good idea if you're interested in attending.

This year's festival events include:
+ A grands tasting, with 70 chefs and restaurants and 250 wines, spirits, and beers
+ The "rising star" chefs pavilion
+ A reception and book signing with chef Suvir Saran
+ The Slider Slam -- 15 chefs competing to make the best sliders
+ The Barista Albany competition, in which local baristas compete
+ A mystery basket-style competition for chefs
+ A gala reception and six-course dinner

Some of the events require individual tickets, and prices start at $10 and go up from there.

The beneficiaries of the 2014 festival are: Albany Barn, Albany Institute, Albany Symphony, Capital Rep, and the Park Playhouse.

TOP2013: Semifinals

TOP2013 semifinals composite

We've arrived at the final week of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose. And it's time for the semi-finals.

The match-ups in this final four:

DeFazio's (Troy) vs. Mama Mia's (Saratoga)

DC's (Albany) vs. Mario's (Schenectady)

DeFazio's is coming off a huge performance in the second round, posting a tournament-record-tying high score. Mama Mia's grabbed the opportunity afforded it by fate. DC's posted the upset of the tournament so far in knocking off overall defending TOP champ Marisa's Place. And Mario's finds itself in the semis for the second straight year after a low-key win in Round 2.

The last round was veggie pizzas. On the crust for this year's semi-finals is a version of the "meat lover's" pie: sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and ham.

Bring it on.

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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Tapas at Boca Bistro

boca bistro tapas composite

By Jeff Janssens

As a diner it's hard not to be skeptical of tapas. The term, referring to traditional small plate dishes from Spain, has been co-opted by some American restaurants as a fancy way of saying "appetizers." At other restaurants, you get the feeling that tapas might translate to "tiny portions that cost a lot of money but don't fill you up."

Thankfully, neither is true at Boca Bistro in Saratoga Springs. Their tapas menu is extensive and traditional. It's also not hard to fill up on these small plates at a reasonable price. These dishes feature assertive flavors, both from bold spicing and thoughtful showcasing of quality ingredients.

With so many appealing options on the tapas menu at Boca, the hardest part might be deciding where to start. Although the goal of Eat This! is generally to highlight just one dish, in this case I thought it might be most useful to detail a few of my favorites.

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TOP2013: Round 2: Albany

TOP2013 RD2 Albany

Round 2 of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- comes to a close in the Albany bracket.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

DC's - Albany - winner of the Round 1 Albany pool of new-to-the-tournament shops

Marisa's Place - Guilderland - not just the returning bracket champ, Marisa's won the whole tournament last year

So, this isn't exactly an enviable matchup for DC's. Marisa's has one of the highest shop averages in the TOP modern era. And the pizza it made for last year's final was fantastic.

But, hey, the Tournament of Pizza isn't settled in a spreadsheet. It's settled on a paper plate.

Let's get to it...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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TOP2013: Round 2: Troy

TOP2013 RD2 Troy

With two down and two to go in Round 2, the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- heads back to Troy.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

Deli & Brew - Troy - winner of the Round 1 Troy pool of new-to-the-tournament shops

DeFazio's - Troy - the returning bracket champ, coming off a first round bye

You gotta think DeFazio's is the favorite here -- it's posted a series of great scores in past tournaments (without ever taking the overall title). But Deli & Brew, known for its subs, posted a very respectable score in Round 1. It faces a great challenge -- but there's also great opportunity.

Once again we head to the Arts Center of the Capital Region...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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TOP2013: Round 2: Schenectady

TOP2013 RD2 Schenectady

The 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- continues its Round 2 tour with a stop in the Schenectady bracket.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

Giovanni's - Scotia - winner of the Round 1 pool of new-to-the-tournament shops

Mario's - Niskayuna - the returning bracket champ, who had a first-round bye

Can the Scotia shop wrest the bracket from its fellow suburban competitor? Or will the ever-treacherous veggie round be too tall a challenge?

We head back to the headquarters of the Mop & Bucket Company...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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TOP2013: Round 2: Saratoga

TOP2013 RD2 Saratoga

The 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- loops back around to start Round 2 in the Saratoga bracket.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

Pizza Works - Saratoga - winner of the Round 1 pool of new-to-the-tournament shops

Mama Mia's - Saratoga - not last year's bracket winner, but occupying the slot because last year's winner is no longer open (MM won the bracket in 2011)

Back to the Case Center on the campus of Skidmore College...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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Beekeeper Lloyd Spear retiring

lloyd spear honey alfalfa bottle

Lloyd Spear, the local farmers' market-famous beekeeper, is retiring from the retail business, according to a message posted on his Facebook page:

To our Loyal, Wonderful Customers:
I am 73 years old and need to reduce my workload, so I will no longer sell honey at farmers markets and other retail locations. October 31 will be our last day in operation.
I will still be selling bees and taking care of my approximately 200 hives. The honey will be sold in 60 pound buckets.
Thank you, thank you. We have tried hard to offer quality products, and your response has been truly wonderful. It has this decision extremely difficult.
Dr. Seuss says, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Please join me.
With Gratitude,
Lloyd

Lloyd Spear honey has been a staple of farmers' markets in the Capital Region, where both Lloyd and his honey won many fans. Last year in an Eat This! for AOA, Daniel B. talked with Lloyd about his honey-producing process, and explained what set his honey apart from the stuff you usually find.

So... it's time smile -- and stock up.

Other local honey? With the news of Lloyd Spear's retirement, Christina asks via Facebook: "Any suggestions for other local honey retailers?"

TOP2013: Round 1: Albany

TOP2013 RD1 Albany

The opening round of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- makes its final stop in Albany.

The new-to-the-tournament pizzerias in this Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

Soho - Albany
Dino's - Albany
DC's - Albany
Andriano's - Delmar

The judges gathered to eat yet more pizza...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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TOP2013: Round 1: Troy

TOP2013 RD1 Troy

The opening round of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- heads toward the final turn with a stop in Troy.

The new-to-the-tournament pizzerias in this Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

Pizza DaVinci - Troy
Deli and Brew - Troy
Elia's - East Greenbush
Goomba's - East Greenbush

The judges gathered at the Arts Center of the Capital Region...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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TOP2013: Round 1: Schenectady

TOP2013 RD1 Schenectady

The opening round of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- continues with the Schenectady bracket.

The new-to-the-tournament pizzerias in this Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

Visco's - Scotia
Giovanni's - Scotia
I Love NY Pizza of Schenectady - Schenectady
Pizza Buono - Niskayuna

The judges gathered at the Mop & Bucket Company studio...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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TC Bakery opening a patisserie

tc bakery macaronsThe people behind TC Bakery -- whose macarons prompted a strong recommendation from Daniel B. -- are opening a patisserie in Saratoga Springs, on Henry Street.

The shop had a "pre-opening celebration" this Friday, and plans an official opening "within 2 weeks," according to its Facebook page. Here's a bit from the pre-opening by the Chopsticks Option duo.

Earlier on AOA: Eat This: Macarons from TC Bakery

Drawing: A big bag of items from the Local Harvest Festival

local harvest festival 2013 logo large

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

Honest Weight's 5th Annual Local Harvest Festival is this Sunday in Albany's Washington Park. Dozens of local producers and food vendors will be set up in the park from noon to 4 pm, sampling and selling all kinds of good stuff. And AOA is giving away a bag of some of that good stuff.

One winner will get:

Honest Weight
A $25 Honest Weight gift card

Old Chatham Sheepherding Company
A wheel of Old Chatham Sheepherding Company's Kinderhook Creek cheese and two Camembert Squares

Two Bears Provisions
+ A loaf of Two Bears Provisions Pumpkin Bread
+ A jar of Two Bears Provisions Jalapeño Jelly

Our Daily Eats
A granola/muesli sample pack from Our Daily Eats:
+ Maple Crunch Granola
+ Lemon Coconut Granola
+ Cinnamon Cranberry Granola
+ Raspberry Green Tea Granola
+ Oh Honey Granola
+ Sweet Fruit and Nuts Muesli
+ Raspberry Muesli

3 Chicks and a P
A 3 pack sampler (one hummus, one salsa, one pesto) from 3 Chicks and a P

Hawthorne Valley Farm
From Hawthorne Valley Farm, Olive Bianca: a smooth, creamy, spreadable fresh cow's milk cheese with organic Kalamata olives

Bake For You
One dozen white chip and cranberry cookies from Bake For You

Oliva Provisions
One container of kale pesto from Oliva Provisions

Native Farm flowers
+A dried bouquet of multi colored, freshly dried flowers from Native Farm

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

The Local Harvest Festival showcases all kinds of wonderful things that come from the Capital Region. What's your favorite local thing to share with people who are not from the Capital Region?

Maybe it's apples, maybe it's a band, maybe it's a view -- just something you point to when you're saying, this is one of the things I enjoy about where I live.

We'll draw one winner at random. The winner should bring a big bag to the Harvest Festival on Sunday, where they can collect their prizes in person, directly from the producers.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 10 am Thursday, October 3, 2013 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon on Thursday and must respond by 10 am on Friday.

TOP2013: Round 1: Saratoga

TOP2013 RD1 Saratoga

The opening round of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- starts in Saratoga. (As is tradition.)

The new-to-the-tournament pizzerias in this Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

LaBella - Halfmoon
Pizza Works - Saratoga
Publik House - Ballston Spa
Pizza Nook - Malta

The judges gathered at the Case Center on the campus of Skidmore College...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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Apple pie from Green Acres Farm

Green Acres apple pie overhead

Alas, there is not yet an <aroma> tag for the web.

By Jeff Janssens

I know what you're thinking: "Apple pie? From a farm near Hudson?"

Apple pie is almost always at least good. And the best is inevitably made by your grandmother.

So why am I bothering?

Because I've come across a pie that is excellent in all regards. Every individual element -- the crust, the fruit, the filling -- is worth raving about.

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TOP2013: The judges

TOP2013 judges overhead pizza plates

It requires an enthusiastic appetite.

Ingredients needed for the Tournament of Pizza: brackets, pizzas, and judges.

Here are the brackets.

And without ado -- either of the further or much variety -- here's the panel of judges for this year's TOP...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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Tournament of Pizza 2013 brackets

tournament of pizza 2013 badge

Feel the warm autumn sun. Breathe in the cool autumn air. Smell... the pizza.

Yes, the seasons are changing and that can only mean one thing.

That most august of traditions -- the Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- has returned.

Here's a breakdown of this year's field, which include a few new twists...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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All Good Bakers has closed

All Good Bakers signOfficial word via the Facebook page of All Good Bakers today that the bakery/cafe has closed. The announcement isn't a surprise -- the bakery's Delaware Ave location has been closed for a few weeks now.

From the Facebook message:

We are very sad to inform you that we are indeed closed. Nick and Britin have split. Nick is handling all questions through allgoodbakers@gmail.com.
Sincere apologies for not informing you sooner, it has been a difficult and emotional time for us. Wish we could carry on, but it's just not possible now given the circumstances. We will miss you all greatly and are VERY grateful for your amazing support and patronage as we attempted to realize our dreams.

AOA confirmed the bakery's closing today with Nick Foster, who said All Good Bakers is closed for good. "We appreciate all the business from our regular customers," he told us. "We wish we had more of them." Foster said there could be other projects in the future.

This is a sad outcome -- for personal reasons, of course. But also because All Good had been trying to do something different -- they touted themselves as "Farm to Bakery~Cafe" -- and they had won fans in the process of working their way from a stand at the Delmar Farmers' Market and a CSA-style arrangement for baked goods, to a shared space on Quail Street, to their own spot on Delaware. And while the bakery could be idiosyncratic at times, it was apparent that Nick and Britin cared about what they were doing and were trying to go about their business with purpose.

Small, local businesses are fragile.

All Good Bakers had advertised on AOA.

Drawing: Tickets to the 5th Annual Festival of Meats & Celebration of Bacon

Festival of meats.jpg

Update: Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

Here's a Monday treat for the carnivores among you: AOA is giving away a pair of tickets to this coming weekend's ASAP Festival of Meats & Celebration of Bacon. On the menu: a whole roast pig, steaks, deep fried sausage, Korean-style beef ribs, pork chops, clams, and lots of bacon. Also: a cash bar and good company.

We're giving away a pair of tickets. To enter, please answer this question in the comments of this post:

The festival of meats gives you a chance to sample all kinds of foods you probably don't eat every day. But it's a special occasion, so, you know... eat some fried sausage with your steak. With that in mind... What are your favorite Capital Region guilty pleasures?

Maybe it's a crodo or a fried candy bar. Maybe it's a double (triple) feature at The Spectrum. Maybe it's a lazy day wandering through a park or whatever. We'll draw one winner at random.

The Albany Society for the Advancement of Philanthropy are the people who bring you the Santa Speedo Sprint every year, among other events. ASAP events raise a lot of money for good causes, and they're a good time.

The 5th Annual Festival of Meats & Celebration of Bacon is Saturday, October 5 at the Albany Elks Club at 25 South Allen Street. Tickets to the event are $25. They'll have a whole roast pig, steaks, deep fried sausage, korean beef ribs, pork chops, clams and lots of bacon. The bar opens at 4 pm and dinner begins at 6 pm. Tickets are available now.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon on Wednesday and must respond by noon on Thursday.

A sampling of cooking classes, fall 2013

kitchen tools in holderWe've pulled together a list of upcoming cooking classes that look interesting or fun a few times before and people seem to like it.

So, here's a new batch of classes for the next few months -- from hard cider, to cooking basics, to gourmet cheese, to food allergies, to desserts on fire, to finding your soulmate in the kitchen...

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Drawing: Bacon Festival at City Beer Hall

city beer hall exterior

You know, the facade of this building could maybe use some bacon...

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The City Beer Hall has a Bacon Festival lined up for for this Saturday. Among the "amazing array of bacon creations": bacon beer, bacon sweets, bacon cocktails, bacon snacks, and more.

We have two 5-packs of item tickets for the event. And we're giving them way.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

It's said that everything's better with bacon. If you could add bacon to anything in the Capital Region, what would it be?

And by "anything" we mean anything. Food stuff? Sure. But what about a bacon exhibit at the State Museum? Or paving State Street with bacon? The more bonkers the idea, the more totally unredeemable bonus points that will be awarded. We'll draw one winner at random.

The City Beer Hall's Bacon Festival starts at 3 pm on September 28. Bacon items will be offered a la carte for $7 -- or you can buy a pack of tickets for 5 items for $25. It's two of those 5-item packs that we're giving away.

Speaking of CBH: It also has another Wild Game Night dinner coming up on September 30 -- four wild game courses paired with beer Lagunitas beers for $60.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on Wednesday, August 25, 2013 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 10 am Thursday and must respond by 5 pm that day.

Coccadotts Cup Cake Wars III

coccadotts rachel cocca dott cupcake wars third appearance

Coccadotts owner Rachel Cocca Dott

Coccadotts was back on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars this past weekend. And it won.

The Colonie-based bakery came out on top of a "bad girls" WWE-themed episode. Coccadotts bounced back from a first-round setback in which the judges weren't on board with a chicken breast/yam/cinnamon cupcake, to make it through to the final round where the judges praised Coccodotts' flavor adjustments and its large display involving a wrestling "ring" surrounded by cupcakes sitting in the "stands."

The ep aired this past Saturday. It will repeat this coming Friday (September 27) at 11 am. It's also available on-demand from Amazon Instant Video.

Coccadotts says the winning cupcake varieties will be on sale in its shops today (it also has locations in Clifton Park and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina).

It was the bakery's third shot on the show -- the first was in 2011, the second aired earlier this year.

Coccadotts has been savvy about scoring attention and publicity over the years, not just through its Food Network appearances. Its Super Bowl-themed cupcakes -- including a Buffalo wing cupcake -- got it national coverage this past January.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Trying the Super Bowl-themed cupcakes from Coccadotts
+ Tasting Capital Region cupcakes

screengrab: Food Network

Early season apple power rankings

sansa apple closeup

Can the Sansa be a contender?

5. Honeycrisp
A popular pick. And its ability to grow in colder climes is admirable. But some real talk: Honeycrisps are sweet and little else. They lack complexity. It's like they're just a bit too eager for you to like them. And have you seen the gargantuan size of some of the apples in stores lately? Too much. Let the masses eat Honeycrisps -- you can do better.

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Mofongo de Chicharron at Casa Dominicana

Casa Dominicana mofongo overhead

By Jeff Janssens

This summer, teaching incoming freshmen at UAlbany, I found my classes populated by a number of students whose families hailed from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean countries. In the downtime before class, talk frequently turned to food. These students were living away from the comforts of home, subsisting on a diet of dining hall cuisine. And so they reminisced: about their mothers' cooking, about the little place on the corner back in Queens or Spanish Harlem that made the best food.

Some students discovered the chicken at Mr. Pio Pio on their own, but they wanted more recommendations. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after the summer term ended that I got to check out Casa Dominicana on Central Avenue for one of the dishes my students raved about: mofongo.

And it's not just any mofongo. At Casa Dominicana, while there are several types on the menu, including shrimp and stewed catfish, it was the Mofongo de Chicharron -- mashed plantains with chunks of pork shoulder with crisped skin -- that made me want to proclaim this as a truly deserving Eat This! dish, not just for my former students, but for all Capital Region eaters.

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Resurrecting a beer, and part of Albany's history

ryan demler adding invert sugar to a tank

It turns out that resurrecting a beer that hasn't been brewed in a century is a sticky business.

Tuesday afternoon, Ryan Demler -- the brewer for C.H. Evans Brewing in Albany -- was perched atop brewing equipment trying to scrape a caramel-like form of sugar into a tank. It wasn't going well. "It's like alien goo."

The sugar -- the technical term for it is "invert sugar" -- is part of a 1901 recipe for one of the last versions of the the once-famous Albany Ale, which at one point was known around the world. Its re-creation is part of the Albany Ale Project, which is aimed at not just bringing some old beers back from the dead -- but also collecting and highlighting a key part of the city's history.

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Dali Mamma

dali mamma albany exterior

A downtown lunch spot aiming to set itself apart by sourcing local ingredients.

By Elisabeth Draper

When Katrin Haldeman conceived the name "Dali Mamma" she wasn't exactly sure what it would be. She just knew that she liked the name. Over time, Haldeman decided that her love for, and the healing power of, food would be best channeled into a cafe --and the Dali Mamma was born.

Upon entering the Dali Mamma, a small cafe on Maiden Lane in downtown Albany, you're almost immediately greeted by owner Katrin Haldeman and her crew. "I strive to create a personal connection to my customers and I try to learn everyone's name," said Haldeman.

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Recreating Albany Ale

taylor and sons albany ale

Beer writers/historians Craig Gravina and Alan McLeod have launched website for the the Albany Ale Project. Blurbage:

Growing since 2010, this international research endeavor has been dubbed the Albany Ale Project, and is focused on bringing the history and stories of an industry that helped to build the capital city of New York to light. Although Albany Ale no longer exists, the research being done by the Albany Ale Project is increasing interest in the oft-forgotten history of Albany's brewing past - and the Ale that accompanied it.

The project's website includes material on the long history of brewing in Albany.

But get this -- part of the project is to recreate some of the beers of Albany's past. To do that, they say they're collaborating with the C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Pump Station and The Homebrew Emporium:

The first beer to be re-created is a 1901 recipe for Albany XX Ale, originally made by the Amsdell Brewing and Malting Company--the last brewery to make something called "Albany Ale". The basis for this recreation is from an Amsdell brew log held in the collections of the Albany Institute of History & Art.

Here's the recreated beer's description: "Amber hued, C.H. Evans' version of Amdell's 1901 Albany XX Ale, is a slightly sweet XX ale brewed with 100% New York grown 6-row pale and black malt, and corn grits. Brewery-made dark invert and corn sugar are also used, bringing the 1901's ABV to 5.3%; and New York grown heritage hops give it a mildly hoppy finish, at 23 IBUs."

We hear from Gravina that they're aiming for an early November release for the recreated beer (with more details closer to the release date).

image from the Albany Institute of History and Art's collection, via the Albany Ale Project

Koozi Sham at Oasis Mediterranean Café

oasis koozi sham overhead

Not from an infomercial.

By Jeff Janssens

You hear the phrase "koozi sham" and the first thing to come to mind might be a product sold through late-night television infomercials.

In fact, Koozi Sham is a pot pie of sorts, with origins across the Middle East, its size and shape reminiscent of a curling stone -- and, I'd argue, more worth your money than any of those "As Seen on TV" products you might be tempted by.

It's also a rare dish of sorts; I'd never before seen it on the menu at a restaurant until I visited Oasis Mediterranean Café in Albany for the first time. But it's the kind of dish that is satisfying not only due to its size, but because of the complexities of tastes and textures it provides.

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Cheese -- on a farm, on a plate, on a boat

Argyle cheese

The annual Washington County Cheese Tour is coming up September 7 and 8 (10 am - 4 pm each day). The free self-guided tour includes stops at a handful of cheese-producing farms within a 10-mile radius. The farms will be giving out samples and talking about their cheese-making processes.

The participating farms this year: 3-Corner Field Farm (Shushan), Argyle Cheese Farmer (Argyle), Consider Bardwell Farm (West Pawlet, Vermont), Longview Farm (Argyle, Sugarloaf Farm (Fort Ann ), and Sweet Spring Farm (Argyle).

Tim went on the tour a few years back and shared a good recap with us about finding his "cheesy bliss" on the tour.

The Cheese Tour Premiere (with Beer)
In honor of the Washington County Cheese Tour, the Confectionery in Troy has lined up a "cheese tour premiere" -- a tasting of seven cow, goat and sheep cheeses from the Washington County farms -- Thursday night (tonight, August 29). The cheeses will be paired with craft beer.

The tasting from 6-8 pm tonight. Tickets are $30.

Cheddar on a boat
One more cheesy bit: Friday night at the Confectionery they'll be featuring a flight of three Wisconsin cheddars -- a 2-year, a 6-year and a 10-year cheddar. The cheese made its way from Wisconsin to Troy via tugboat. (And if you're wondering how cheddar cheese travels from Wisconsin to Troy on a tugboat, the answer is: Duncan Crary. Of course.)

photo: Tim Dawkins

Last chances for an Albany Bagel... for now

albany bagel co everything bagel

An everything bagel from back in May.

The startup bagel stand Albany Bagel has just three more Saturdays at the farmers' market at the Crossings in Colonie. From an email it sent out this week:

We're still working on figuring out what the next steps will be for the Albany Bagel Company after the market closes. So while this probably won't be your last chance to try one of our bagels, it certainly will be your best chance in the near future. So come on out and grab a bagel on Saturday (9am-1pm).
As a further incentive: we officially crossed the line into profitability last weekend. We donate 100% of profits to charity, so that means that from now on every bagel you buy will mean even more money being donated to charity (even before profitability we've been donating 10% of our revenue).

ABC has an interesting backstory: it's the creation of Michael Dirolf, a software developer, along with his family and friends. They didn't have any baking experience -- they were just dissatisfied with local bagel options. So they spent a year honing a bagel recipe to resemble the bagels Dirolf had gotten in New York City.

Back in May, shortly after the stand's debut, we stopped by to try a few bagels. And they were really good -- still warm from the oven, chewy, with a crackly outside. We especially enjoyed the everything version, which was nicely savory without the burned garlic flavor that sometimes accompanies an everything (ABC wasn't using garlic on its everything -- just onion). It was easily one of the best bagels we've had in the area.

So, if you haven't tried them, yet -- here's your chance. Three more Saturdays.

Perfect score milk

stewarts milk processingStewart's won the gold medal for fluid milk at this year's New York State Fair. The local chain's milk was awarded a perfect score> -- 100 -- in the competition that uses criteria including bacteria counts, flavor, and butterfat content.

The competition is coordinated by Cornell and has been going on annually since 1997. In that time, Stewart's has taken the gold three other times -- including another perfect score in 2007. Only four perfect scores have ever been awarded, according to the chain -- and now Stewart's has two of them.

Stewart's gets its milk from 30-40 dairy farms in the greater Capital Region and processes it at a plant in Greenfield. The chain says the time from dairy farm to store shelf is usually less than 48 hours or less.

Battenkill
Also in the competition's top 5: Battenkill Valley Creamery, from Washington County, whose milk scored an 86.7. (It won the competition in 2010).

Old Chatham Sheepherding Co.

Monday was dairy day at the fair and the winners of a whole range of dairy categories were announced, including cheese. Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in Columbia County took both the gold and silver in the "Cheese from Milk Other Than Cows Milk" category for its camembert and Kindehook Soft Ripened, respectively. And Old Chatham's camembert was named the grand champion of the dairy competition.

screengrab: Stewart's

Trying the apple cider croissant donut at the Crisp Cannoli

apple cider croissant donut

Hello, lovely.

You might have seen the bit last week about Spencer's question -- and an off-hand comment from us -- leading to the creation of the apple cider croissant donut. Yep, read that correctly: it's a croissant donut -- like the now famous cronut -- mashed up with an apple cider donut.

The apple cider "crodo" is the creation of the Crisp Cannoli in East Greenbush. And after owner/baker Jason Grant gave us the heads up last week about its creation, we were left with just one course of action: We had to go try this thing.

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Behold, the apple cider crodo

apple cider crodo from crisp cannoliAbout a week ago we got a question from Spencer about where to find something like a cronut here in the Capital Region. As you might know, a cronut is essentially a donut made from croissant dough. The "pastry hybrid" is said to be the creation of Dominique Ansel, a chef in Manhattan (who also trademarked the name). It's become a thing, with long lines and other accompanying zaniness.

Anyway, we posted Spencer's question. And in doing so, we mentioned -- only about half seriously -- that some local bakery should look into making an apple cider cronut. You know, because upstate.

Well, it turned out that The Crisp Cannoli in East Greenbush has been making a "crodo" -- basically its version of the cronut. And today, apparently inspired by our suggestion, it unveiled, yes... The Apple Cider Croissant Donut (AKA: CRODO).

And with that, our work here is done. Thank you and goodnight.

photo: The Crisp Cannoli

Twisting off Oreos -- and lots of attention

oreo scale dan andersonFun: A Queensbury High School math teacher -- Dan Anderson -- and one of his classes did some research on whether a "double stuf" Oreo actually has double the amount of filling (show your work!). Spoiler: It comes up a bit short. (Though Nabisco says it is double.) [ABC News]

It's a fun idea for a class project (we wish our math/science classes had included this sort of thing) . It's also the kind of thing that's pretty much share crack. And the posts have been getting a bunch of attention this week in various media outlets, thanks in part to Reddit. [HuffPo] [GMA] [Gawker] [CNN] [FoxNews] [Reddit]

As Anderson told the Post-Star about all the attention: "It's been crazy. It's been really bizarre." [Post-Star]

Earlier on AOA: Proof that the peanut butter egg is better than the peanut butter cup

photo: Dan Anderson / A Recursive Process

Grazin'

Grazin diner in Hudson exterior

Worth looking a little closer.

By Casey Normile

On first glance Grazin' in Hudson doesn't stand out much. The diner's metal and neon front is tucked in along the streetscape toward one end of Warren Street. Inside there are vinyl-lined booths and a jukebox. The menu? Burgers and a few other things. If anything, Grazin' just seems kind of retro.

But look closer and you'll notice what makes Grazin' stand out. That focused menu is truly farm to table -- as in, Grazin' gets its beef from its own farm. And Grazin's attention to how it sources its animal products has earned it the distinction of being the first Animal Welfare Approved restaurant in the country.

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Nuns of New Skete key lime cheesecake

new skete cheesecake sections overhead

By Jeff Janssens

At first glance, it may seem like a novelty: cheesecake made by nuns. But to stop there, to nod and smile but not try the cheesecake, would be a mistake.

When it comes to the cheesecake made by the Nuns of New Skete, a group of five nuns living in a monastery in Cambridge, about an hour northeast of Albany, it would be foolish to not take their endeavors seriously. While the neighboring Monks of New Skete support themselves through dog breeding and training programs, the nuns have supported themselves for more than 30 years through baking.

I don't doubt the delectability of all their goods -- but it's the nuns' key lime cheesecake that stands out as a perfect summer treat.

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Saratoga Wine & Food Festival 2013

mo rocca cooking channelThe annual Saratoga Wine & Food Festival is coming up September 6-8 at SPAC. The headlining "personalities" this year:

+ Funny person Mo Rocca: He'll be co-hosting the live auction and the "Culinary Tent experience." Rocca is one of the best panelists on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, appears on CBS Sunday Morning, and hosts My Grandmother's Ravioli on Cooking Channel. (That's him on the right.)

+ Chef Zak Pelaccio: He'll be part of the demonstrations in the Culinary Tent. Pelaccio made a name for himself in New York City, and recently opened Fish & Game in Hudson.

+ Wine expert Kevin Zraly: He's co-hosting the auction and will doing a "One-Hour Wine Expert" seminar. Zraly is an award-winning wine expert, author, and educator -- and in 2011 received a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award.

The festival includes a bunch of different events, some of which require different tickets. But the big event of the festival for most people is the grand tasting on Saturday -- tickets are $85.

photo: Cooking Channel

Where to find something cronut-like?

cronut by flickr klwattsSpencer asks via Facebook:

Are there any bakeries in the capital region making cronut knockoffs? I would love to try.

You might be wondering: What the @#$% is a cronut?

It's essentially a donut made from croissant dough. The "pastry hybrid" is said to have sprung to life from the head of Dominique Ansel, a chef in Manhattan. (It's unclear if the cronut sprang forth from Ansel's head fully grown.) And since taking shape in May, the cronut has prompted a lot of people in NYC to stand in line. The craze -- like some zombie apocalypse virus, no doubt taking advantage of air travel and our interconnected world -- has since spread to other large cities. (Though none of those are officially "cronuts," because the term was trademarked by Ansel.)

So... about finding something like that here in the Capital Region? We haven't heard of any place making them. But maybe there's something like it. Or, perhaps, some local place will see this as an opportunity. (Cider cronut, anyone?)

Have a suggestion for Spencer? Please share.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Trying the glazed donut breakfast sandwich at Dunkin' Donuts
+ Eat This: Boston cream donuts at Bella Napoli
+ Eat This: Glazed donuts at the Cookie Factory
+ A short tour of Capital Region doughnuts

photo: Flickr user klwatts (cc)

Let's get ready to crumble

blueberry crumble in bowl

Blueberry crumble.

By AOA Greg

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is) for this moment of cooking bloggery.

One of the great things about this time of year is the almost overflowing bounty of good local produce. There are all the vegetables, sure. But the thing I really associate with summer is the fruit. Strawberries early in the season, cherries, peaches, blueberries and raspberries -- and then just as summer's ending, apples.

And when we have an abundance of summer fruit, it's time for crumble. It's easy to make. Here's how.

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Nine Pin Cider Works

nine pin cider alejandro del peral

Alejandro del Peral

Every once in a while there's a moment that changes the direction of your life -- and sometimes it's small, the kind of thing you wouldn't even notice if not for the effect it later had.

Alejandro del Peral had one of those moments in a liquor store in Vermont a few years back. He had stopped into to get a bottle rum when a guy in the store put a bottle of hard cider in his hands.

"And he was like, 'Hey, we're making this up the street, you should give it a try.' And I was like, 'Sure.' So I bought it. And [my girlfriend] Emma and I drank it and it was incredible. And I was like, "Wow, this is amazing. I gotta see what these guys are about.'"

Now, about three years later -- because of the path that began in that store -- del Peral is starting his own cidery, Nine Pin Cider Works, in North Albany.

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Brown's Waffle Week 2013

Troy resident Cornelious Swarthout waffle iron patent figure 1869

A figure from Swarthout's patent for "a new and useful 'Improvement in Waffle-Irons.'"

Waffle Week at Brown's Brewing in Troy is set to return August 19 (next Monday) and continues through August 24.

It's a celebration of Troy resident Cornelius B. Swarthout's patent of the domestic stovetop waffle iron on August 24, 1869.

Each day of Waffle Week will feature a different speciality waffle. And if you're anything like us, even you don't end eating the waffle, it's fun to gawk at the combinations each year.

Here's this year's lineup...

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Wandering Dago food truck keeping its name

food truck festival troy 2013 wandering dago crowdThe Wandering Dago will continue to call itself the Wandering Dago. From a post on the food truck's FB page:

The name of our truck is not changing. Go take down Cracker Barrel or Guido's Desserts perhaps. They have no problem with people hassling them. I was the Little Dago growing up and if people don't like the name, they don't have to do business with us. Make no mistake, we are not calling anyone a "Dago" - that is a self reference. If you are curious about a self reference, listen to a rap song. We are Italian and Proud.

As you probably remember, the food truck -- started in Schenectady last year by Andrea Loguidice and Brandon Snooks -- was bounced from a spot at the Saratoga Race Course over a complaint about its name. And it was also turned away from vending at the Empire State Plaza this summer -- the name was cited by OGS as one of the reasons.

The term "dago" has been used as a slur against people of Italian descent, and sometimes people from Spain and Portugal as well. But as Snooks explained to AOA last year, the couple had embraced an alternative definition of the word in an effort to reclaim it.

The whole episode has prompted a lot of discussion -- both in the traditional media, and on Twitter and Facebook -- and a whole range of opinions. The discussion thread on the FB announcing the decision is a good example: comments there range from strong support for keeping the name, to concern about the name's effect on business, to outright disagreement with use of the name.

We have a call in with Loguidice and Snooks, and we're hoping to talk with them today not only about their decision making process in keeping the truck's name -- but also efforts they've started to "pave some concrete rules and regulations" for food trucks in the Capital Region.

[via Daily Gazette]

Earlier on AOA:
+ Wandering Dago food truck bounced from The Track because of name
+ Where the food trucks are. And aren't. And why.

How 'bout them (new) apples?

snapdragon apples cornellCornell has introduced two new apple varieties that are now growing around New York State and will eventually be popping up in stores:

SnapDragon: "[G]ets its juicy crispness from its Honeycrisp parent, and it has a spicy-sweet flavor." It's said to have a long shelf life. (The apples on the right are SnapDragons.)

RubyFrost: A later-ripening variety with "a beautiful skin and a nice sugar-acid balance" with a "crisp juiciness." Comparable to an Empire or Granny Smith.

The apples are available this summer, but there aren't that many being grown currently. Cornell says they should be showing up in stores in 2015.

Update: A Cornell spokesman says at least one orchard in this area is slated to have them at their farm stand this fall: Bowman Orchards in Rexford.

This bit about the apples' development, from a press release, caught our eye:

The two varieties have been a decade in the making, and how they've gone to market is a first for the Cornell apple-breeding program and the New York apple industry. Historically, public universities developed new apple breeds and released them to the industry freely. But in 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act gave universities the right to retain the intellectual property rights for their research, with limited plant-based royalties.
In May 2010, Cornell forged a partnership for a "managed release" with [New York Apple Growers], a new industry group, to establish an exclusive licensing agreement in North America for the two apple varieties. Growers pay royalties on trees purchased, acreage planted and fruit produced, and the income is used to market the new varieties and support Cornell's apple-breeding program.

Cornell has released 66 apple varieties since the 1890s, according to the press release, including the Cortland, Macoun, Empire and Jonagold.

Earlier on AOA: Lost and found apples

photo: Kevin Maloney / Cornell

Oxtail at the Dutch Pot

dutch pot oxtail

By Jeff Janssens

Put your hands together for Jeff Janssens -- AKA the Masticating Monkey -- who will be writing the Eat This feature here at AOA.

I realize I might be starting off on the wrong foot here as the new caretaker of the Eat This! column. In the middle of this hot summer, I'm recommending a stew--a not-particularly photogenic one, at that.

I hope this says something about the oxtail stew at The Dutch Pot in Albany. This is a plate of meaty, saucy goodness that showcases such a satisfying medley of flavors that it's worth seeking out and eating anytime, anywhere.

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The Tour de Coop

tour de coop Troy logoThat would coop as in chicken coop. On August 18 (a Sunday) there's a self-guided tour of seven backyard chicken locations around Troy. Blurbage:

The Troy Coalition for Sustainable Urban Living is sponsoring a self guided city-wide tour of chicken coops. Keeping backyard chickens is more than just fresh eggs and meat. Join the tour and see the variety of birds and coops as well as learn about caring for and enjoying your chickens. They provide manure to feed your compost and garden soil, they are entertaining and they contribute to food security in our community. There are seven locations. The tour is free but you will need to sign in to get a map of the coop locations. Maps are available at two locations: 384 2nd Street, in South Troy, and 63 Mellon Ave, between Hoosick and South Lake Ave.

We weren't familiar with the Troy Coalition for Sustainable Urban Living, so we emailed Katie Nare, one of the organizers of the tour. She explained via email:

We are a group of concerned and energized residents in the city of Troy who are working together to create a more sustainable urban area through networking, sharing and encouragement.
One of the top issues regards food. That's where the chickens make an appearance ;) They provide eggs, meat or both. They are small and easy to handle. They are providers. In the end, we want to be able to feel food secure in an urban environment (especially an urban environment!) and chickens provide that. So do our gardens, etc.
Sustainability matters because we can't always count on the economy. The last few years have shown a lack of stability and we seek stability. That's where the coalition comes in!

The Tour de Coop is 1-4 pm on August 18. It's free, but as noted above, you'll have to sign in at one of the two starting locations for a map.

Speaking of backyard chickens... There will be a new mayor in Albany next year. Does that mean the Albany backyard chicken issue will cluck again?

Earlier on AOA: A bunch of stuff about urban chickens

Do you tip at food trucks, the coffee place, counter service?

six dollars a five and a one

There are a bunch of different conversations that could spin out of this post over at the Awl about a guy who was fired from a food truck after he complained on Twitter about not getting tipped on a complicated order. But we're most interested in this question:

Do you -- yes, you, the person reading this -- tip on orders at food trucks, the morning swing through the line at the coffee place, a pick-up pizza or takeout order, counter service at a fast-casual restaurant, and other similar situations? If so, how much? And if not, why not?

In most situations, tipping is a social custom/expectation in this country. Which means it's one of those things that "everyone knows how it works" except that, you know, not everyone knows how it works. And like any social custom/expectation it's subject to an evolution of views on it, based on shifting attitudes and context.

Food service is currently in one of those shifts. Tipping on sit-down service is a well-established practice -- "everyone" knows you should tip 15-20 percent. But a lot of restaurant business is now headed in the direction of the "fast casual" model, or the super casual like food trucks.

We get the sense that's causing confusion. Just recently we were in a Chipotle (a prime example of fast casual) and the group ahead of us had ordered a long, complicated series of stuff. After it all came together, the woman who ordered it tried to tip the Chipotle cashier to thank her for getting the whole thing straight, but the cashier politely declined.

So what's the new social norm?

More about tipping: A recent Freakonomics podcast focused on tipping -- and featured a Cornell professor who's studied the topic extensively. He argued that tipping might be illegal because it could be considered discriminatory.

That observation -- and many others -- have prompted arguments that a better, fairer way to compensate restaurant employees would be to eliminate tipping and raise the prices on food (say, 15-20 percent) in order to pay employees higher wages not dependent on tips.

Earlier on AOA: New York's highest court on who can share tips at Starbucks

Checking out the new location for the Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro

different dishes at the new Hong Kong Bakery

By Albany Jane

The Hong Kong Bakery recently moved from its location nestled in the front of the Asian Supermarket on Central Ave to 8 Wolf Road -- it's right at the southern end, across from Colonie Center between Cocca's Inn & Emperor's.

Among the changes: Their menu has expanded, and they added "bistro" to their name. It's now the Hong Kong Bakery and Bisto. And it lives up to the bistro moniker -- there's a counter to pick up baked goods and drinks to go, and sleek brushed metal tables with glass tops for dining in. It's cozy, casual, and chic at the same time. Go for a power lunch, or show up with a book and sweats, and you'll be welcome all the same.

After stopping in at the new location, here are a few things that are worth trying...

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New York State bans possession of shark fins

noaa_confiscated_shark_fins.jpgStarting next year it will be illegal to possess, sell, or distribute shark fins in New York State (with a few exceptions). The prohibition is part of a bill signed by Andrew Cuomo today. [Open Senate] [Cuomo admin]

It's estimated 100 million sharks are killed for their fins each year. Shark fins are in high demand for use in shark fin soup, which is a luxury item in some parts of the world. That demand has resulted in many sharks being de-finned and then thrown back in the ocean to slowly die. As you can imagine, that's a cruel way to meet the end. [Ocean Defense] [Wikipedia] [Wikipedia]

The practice -- called "shark finning" -- had already been illegal in New York. With the ban on possession of fins, the Empire State joins a handful of other states. California's ban just took effect this month -- and faced opposition from some groups there who argue it's discriminatory against Chinese Americans. [CBS San Francisco]

An upcoming federal rule change, though, could pre-empt parts of theses state bans, and Congressional reps from states with bans -- including New York -- are trying to head off the rule change. [AP/Yahoo News]

photo: Shark fins confiscated by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, via NOAA via Wikipedia

Duck salad at Sweet Basil

sweet basil duck salad overhead

By Daniel B.

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.

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Wandering Dago food truck bounced from The Track because of name

food truck festival troy 2013 wandering dago truck crowd

The Wandering Dago food truck at the Food Truck Festival of NY in Troy earlier this summer.

The owners of the Wandering Dago food truck -- Andrea Loguidice and Brandon Snooks -- said Saturday in a statement that the truck was bounced from the Saratoga Race Course after an "unidentified state official" complained that the truck's name is offensive. (full press release post jump)

NYRA spokesman Eric Wing told the TU it had received "several complaints" on Friday. And to the Daily Gazette: "This should have been handled before Friday, but once we received complaints, we took immediate action on behalf of our customers." And to the Saratogian: "Saratoga's a very welcoming family place. If patrons are telling us they are offended, that's important to us." [TU] [Daily Gazette] [Saratogian]

The term "dago" has been used as a slur against people of Italian descent, and sometimes people from Spain and Portugal as well. But as Snooks explained to AOA last year, the couple says they had embraced an alternative definition of the word in an effort to reclaim it:

Brandon, who's Italian, explains that he knew the term as a word used for Italian immigrant workers back in the day who wanted to "be paid as the day goes." "Day-goes" became "dago." And in parts of Italian culture, he says the word has been reclaimed as a term of endearment.
Brandon and Andrea say they chose Wandering Dago "because we wander as the day goes."

It appears others aren't ready to get on board with reclaiming the word, though. Snooks and Loguidice also say in the press release that they were "banned by the Empire State Plaza Vendor Program" this year because of the truck's name. Update: From Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the Office of General Services, which oversees the ESP:

The food vendor in question was not banned from selling food at the Empire State Plaza. OGS has the authority and latitude to determine whether it is appropriate for any particular vendor to be issued a permit. This food truck applied for a vendor permit for the 2013 season and was not issued one. Among other reasons, it was determined that their application was not appropriate because the name of the business was found to be an offensive ethnic slur by any standard.

The food truck open last year, working primarily in Schenectady. It's since expanded its coverage area to also include other parts of the Capital Region (such as Rockin' on the River in Troy, and the Riverview Center in Menands). Snooks and Loguidice moved to the area from Colorado to open the truck.

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Trying the glazed donut breakfast sandwich at Dunkin' Donuts

dunkin donuts donut sandwich overhead

From the continuing, if irregular, series of trying things so you don't have to: the "Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich" from Dunkin' Donuts.

After passing posters for the egg-and-bacon-on-a-glazed-donut sandwich multiple times after its recent introduction, we stopped in yesterday to give it a shot.

And we lived to tell about it -- to you.

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Drawing: Ommegang Hop Chef Albany 2013

ommegang_hop_chef_2013_badge.pngDrawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

Brewery Ommegang's multi-city Hop Chef series is back in Albany this Friday evening. Blurbage:

An outstanding line-up of Capitol Region chefs will each create one dish showcasing their imaginative beer and food pairing skills. The dishes, all paired with Ommegang ales, will be served to a panel of judges, and to all attendees, to taste and score.

We have a pair of tickets to the event and we're giving them away -- maybe to you. To enter, please answer this question in the comments:

When it's hot and muggy -- like it's been lately -- what do you want to eat?

We'll pull one winner at random. Non-redeemable bonus points for specific and local answers.

Hop Chef Albany is this Friday, July 12 from 5:30-8 pm at the Hilton Albany. Tickets are $55 each. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Schoharie Area Long Term's recovery efforts.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 5 pm on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Normal commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 10 pm on Wednesday and must respond by noon on Thursday, July 11.

Iced coffee at the Confectionery

confectionery new orleans iced coffee

By Daniel B.

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.

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Today's moment of summer

sour cherries on tree samascot 2013-July

Well, a recent moment of summer. We went to Samascott in Kinderhook at the end of last week to pick cherries, blueberries, and strawberries.

Cherry season had just started and the trees were loaded with fruit. The sour cherries were almost a glowing red, which made the whole scene look a bit surreal.

About sour cherries... We came across a NYT article from a few years back about orchards in the Hudson Valley that grow sour cherries, many of them in Columbia County. In that article, the owner of Samascott mentioned that the sour cherries are popular with people from eastern Europe. And though it's just one instance, our experience last week followed with that: We were one of the few people speaking English along the rows of cherry trees.

Anyway, we had heard that sour cherries make good pies. We can now happily confirm that.

Elsewhere: NPR recently had an interesting story about a Michigan State scientist who is "the country's one and only tart cherry breeder."

Hey, that lobster looks like it's been... wait, no, it just moved

price chopper orange lobster

What are you looking at?

Today's moment of odd seafood: Price Chopper reports it recently received three rare orange lobsters as part its regular shipment of lobster. You know, they kind of looked like they'd been cooked, but... weren't. (Here's a closer look.)

The unusually-hued crustaceans ended up at three stores in New York: Guilderland, Middletown, and Binghamton. The lobsters will be held in the stores until later this week, when the company says they'll be sent to aquariums. (Somewhere an Albany Aquarium proponent is sighing at the missed opportunity.)

Update July 3: More orange lobsters have turned up at Price Choppers -- two in Glens Falls, and one near Syracuse. [Syracuse.com]

Price Chopper gets its lobsters from Canada, via a Cape Cod-based company called, appropriately, Lobster Trap. A PC spokesperson tells us that the company's VP of seafood merchandising has never seen an orange lobster in his 17 years with the supermarket chain -- and their contact at the Lobster Trap has only seen one in 33 years.

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A side of chicken at Mr. Pio Pio

mr pio pio rotisserie chicken

Don't forget the sauce.

By Daniel B.

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?

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About New York and maple syrup

quart jugs of maple syrup capital agway

Two quarts of this year's haul.

Agricultural fact of the day: New York State produced 574,000 gallons of maple syrup during the 2013 season, according to a recently-released USDA report.

New York's production represented almost 18 percent of the national total. It was second only to Vermont, which produced 1.32 million gallons, almost 41 percent of the national total. (Don't mess with the Green Mountain state when it comes to maple syrup.)

Production in New York -- and all around the nation -- was way up this year compared to 2012 because of that year's oddly warm spring. The weather last year significantly shortened the amount of time farmers could gather sap -- just 24 days on average. This year the average season was 37 days.

Anyway, here are a few useless "facts" about the size of New York's maple syrup production:

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Checking out the new Honest Weight location

new honest weight location wide

By Daniel B.

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.

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A quick look inside the new Troy Bombers

Bombers Troy exterior

Right off the Green Island Bridge.

The new Bombers in Troy opens this Wednesday. The opening is notable not only because it's an extension of Matt Baumgartner and company's popular local burrito bar brand, but also because it's the chain's first franchise location.

Monday night there was a preview party, so we stopped by to get a look at the new place, and talk with Matt and the owners of the Troy location for a few minutes.

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Ommegang Take the Black Stout

ommegang take the black stoutBrewery Ommegang in Cooperstown has announced the next of its Game of Thrones-themed beers: Take the Black Stout.

According to Zap2It, "Take the Black Stout was brewed with star anise and licorice root. It is slated to appear in stores and bars nationwide in Fall 2013." It also reports that Ommegang will be be doubling the production run of Take the Black because of the success of its first Thrones beer, Iron Throne Blonde. (Apparently Zap2It had an "exclusive" on this.)

Hop Chef Albany
Also Ommegang-related: The brewery is bringing its multi-city "Hop Chef" series back to Albany on July 12. Blurbage:

An outstanding line-up of Capitol Region chefs will each create one dish showcasing their imaginative beer and food pairing skills. The dishes, all paired with Ommegang ales, will be served to a panel of judges, and to all attendees, to taste and score.

The event is at the Hilton Albany (which was the Hotel Albany, which was the Crowne Plaza). Tickets are $55. A portion of the proceeds will benefit SALT.

Earlier on AOA: Trying Ommegang's new Iron Throne Blonde, and toasting the King of the North

photo: Brewery Ommegang

Pick your own strawberry season 2013

strawberries box strawberry field samascott

From last year's crop.

Strawberry season in the greater Capital Region is starting! Many local pick-your-own farms are now open for the season, or will be very soon.

The recent weather hasn't done the farms any favors. We get the impression the hot/then cold/then hot/then dreary and very wet weather has held many strawberry crops back a bit. But it sounds like a few warm, sunny days should have the berries back on track. (And, as you might expect, fields are very wet right now -- so prepare accordingly.)

A typical strawberry season in this area usually only lasts a few weeks -- so don't wait too long.

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

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The grassfed burger at Pirates Lakeside Grill

pirates lakeside grill grassfed burger closeup

By Daniel B.

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.

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Alton Brown at Proctors

alton brown donut eye

Looking way ahead: food guy Alton Brown will be at Proctors February 13 (yes, 2014) for his "Alton Brown Live" tour. Tickets are $20 and up -- they're available now.

Tour blurbage:

With his upcoming tour, Alton Brown brings his brand of quirky humor and culinary-science antics to the stage. The ninety minute show is a unique blend of stand up comedy, food experimentation, talk show antics, multimedia lecture, and, for the first time...live music.
Audience interaction is strictly enforced throughout the evening though; if you're called upon as a culinary assistant, you'll definitely want to take the lab coat Brown offers as things tend to get messy. Brown has worked his weird magic on live audiences across the nation for over a decade but this is the first time he's actually hit the road with a live tour.

Brown is, of course, famous for his work on the Food Network. He's the host of Iron Chef America and appears on Next Food Network Star. But he rose to fame for his excellent Good Eats show, which explored the technique and science behind food in an accessible and fun (often goofy) way.

One of our favorite, simple takeaways from the show: you can make microwave popcorn by putting pop corn kernels in a brown lunch bag, closed with two staples at the top. Super easy and super cheap.

[via Jon in Albany]

Yep, Proctors advertises on AOA.

photo via Alton Brown Facebook

FarmieMarket expanding

sarah gordon farmiemarketFarmieMarket -- the local online farmers' market -- announced today that it's expanding in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys. Starting June 12 it will serve customers in Columbia, Greene, Otsego, Herkimer, Montgomery and Fulton counties.

The roots of FarmieMarket were planted in 2010 when Sarah Gordon started Heldeberg Market to connect farms in the Hilltowns of Albany county with customers in Albany County via online ordering and weekly deliveries. She expanded to all four core counties of the Capital Region in 2011 under the FarmieMarket banner. Last year FM expanded to include Dutchess and Ulster via a base in Poughkeepsie.

Gordon grew up on a farm -- her dad runs a grassfed cattle farm in Knox. The online farmers market idea grew out of thinking about how to connect the farm with new customers.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Interesting in 2011: Sarah Gordon
+ Touring the Hilltowns, a farm at a time

photo courtesy of Sarah Gordon

Helderberg Meadworks

helderberg meadworks bottleCheck it out: There's a meadery in Duanesburg called Helderberg Meadworks.

Mead? You know, the alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey, first produced by people thousands of years ago.

Blurbage from Helderberg Meadworks' about page:

This is not your average mead.​ It is not flavored, sweetened and processed to appease the masses. My mead is a tribute to the classic, my interpretation of the beverage that the Norse explorers would have made. Fermented to fruition until the yeast perish of their own doing, oak aged and full of natural honey flavor.

Perish of their own doing... very Viking.

We heard about the meadery via Greg Back's In the Name of Beer blog -- he recently stopped at the meadery to talk with its founder, Peter Voelker, and learn about the process of making it. Greg writes of the mead:

It's delightful. There is a raw and feral quality to it that is completely lacking in any other mead I've tried. It is unrefined, but in exactly the way that works for me. The honey shines through brilliantly, and the floral aroma that Peter is looking for is present both on the nose and in the strong sweetness up front. It isn't a sugar bomb at all, but instead there is raw honey in the initial taste that is tempered by oak notes at the back end.

There are a lot of interesting details at his post, it's worth a read.

The mead is available at a bunch of local outlets here in the Capital Region.

photo: Helderberg Meadworks

Cheesesteak at Philly Bar & Grill

philly bar and grill cheesesteak overhead

By Daniel B.

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.

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New owners for Capital City Gastropub

capital city gastropub exterior 2013-05-24

As of 12:15 pm today, the Capital City Gastropub in Albany has new owners. Though if you stop in for dinner you may not know anything has changed.

Adam Baker, the gastropub's longtime manager, and his best friend Daniel Silver have purchased the restaurant from chef Kevin Everleth, who also owns theWine Bar and Bistro on Lark. Everleth founded the Capital City Gastropub about two years ago in the former Pasquale's space on New Scotland Ave. Baker has been managing the place for much of that time.

It's the first time either Baker or Silver has owned a restaurant, thought they each have plenty of experience in the food business. Baker has worked in restaurants for 16 years and left a job at DeJohn's two years ago to help start the Gastropub, and Silver studied at Johnson Wales College of Culinary Arts and has been working as a private chef in Aspen for the last five years.

Baker says they have no plans to change anything. Chef Ian Brower is staying on and the menu will look pretty much the same.

"We're 85 percent farm to table now," he says, "and we want to stay that way. If we can do more of that, we will."

Most important -- ok most important to us -- the half-price burge special on Wednesdays isn't going away. Yay.

A whey difficult problem

chobani containers in fridgeThere's an interesting article over at Modern Farmer about "the dark side" of Greek yogurt production: whey -- what's left over from the process of making yogurt. A clip from the article by Justin Elliot:

For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It's a thin, runny waste product that can't simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a "dead sea," destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years.
The scale of the problem--or opportunity, depending on who you ask--is daunting. The $2 billion Greek yogurt market has become one of the biggest success stories in food over the past few years and total yogurt production in New York nearly tripled between 2007 and 2013. New plants continue to open all over the country. The Northeast alone, led by New York, produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey last year, according to one estimate.
And as the nation's hunger grows for strained yogurt, which produces more byproduct than traditional varieties, the issue of its acid runoff becomes more pressing. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists, and state government officials are scrambling not just to figure out uses for whey, but how to make a profit off of it.

As you know, New York State was the nation's biggest producer of yogurt in 2012, thanks in large part to the Greek yogurt factories in the state (including Chobani). So this is a pressing issue upstate -- especially as companies to continue to expand production. And there doesn't appear to be an easy answer.

Update: Chobani sent along a statement about the situation surrounding whey. It's in full after the jump.

Modern Farmer: Yep, that's the new publication based in Hudson.

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Breweries, wineries, and distilleries of New York

Today's map: The breweries, wineries, and distilleries of New York State.

We created this map based on data recently posted by the state. It includes big breweries and distillers, but also microbreweries, farm wineries, and cider producers. Check it out in large format -- where there's also a legend for the map.

To some extent, this is just sort of map gawkage. But it does highlight certain patterns...

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Where to get a good steak?

filet steak closeup by flickr quinn.anyaCollins asks via Twitter:

Good Albany steak/filet recommendation? Other than Prime

The "other than Prime" part is a little like asking "What are some traditionally successful baseball teams -- other than the Yankees?" But it's good to get some suggestions beyond the places that get mentioned all the time.

And our quick take on steak: Considering steak is one of those things we don't order often, we tend to avoid filet. You know, if you're going to order a steak, order something with a lot of flavor -- a ribeye, hanger, something like that.

Got a suggestion? Please share.

Earlier on AOA: Ask AOA: The best burgers in the Capital Region? (2010)

photo: Flickr user quinn.anya (cc)

Albany Bagel Co.

albany bagel everything bagels

Albany Bagel Co. everything bagels.

By Daniel B.

Perhaps you are among the many who have been intrigued by the mysterious Albany Bagel Co., which appeared out of nowhere late last year. They have been tweeting, creating interesting maps of Albany, and teasing all of us with the promise of great bagels.

Well, the wait is almost over. The Albany Bagel Co. will begin retail operations at the Colonie Farmers Market at the Crossings this Saturday.

But who are they? Why are they doing this? And what can we expect when they finally start selling their bagels to the public? We talked with one of the founders to find out.

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Cheese guru Gustav Ericson leaving Honest Weight

gustav ericson cheese counter honest weight

Next month, when the Honest Weight Food Co-op opens its new store on Watervliet Avenue in Albany, a mainstay will be missing.

Gustav Ericson, Capital Region rock star of cheese, won't be making the leap to Honest Weight's new building.

Yes, we said the rock star of cheese.

Ericson has presided over the cheese counter at Honest Weight for the last 12 years, listening to stories, doling out samples, and educating volunteers and customers. And in that time he's developed a passionate band of fans for a guy who sells cheese.

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Egg and cheese sandwich with zippy sauce from Famous Lunch

famous lunch exterior 2013-May

The familiar storefront on Congress Street.

By Daniel B.

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?

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A sampling of cooking classes, summer 2013

christian noe sausage class by albany jane

From Christian Noe's very popular class on homemade sausage. (photo: Albany Jane)

We all have to eat. So we've pulled together yet another list of upcoming local cooking classes that look interesting or fun.

Here's a batch of classes for the next few months -- from "off the hook" sandwiches, to chocolate, to eggs, to sauces, to sausage, to dairy at home, to exotic ice cream, to pasta, to grilling, to new Southern, to peaches...

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A peek at the new Honest Weight store

Honest Weight ext.jpg

The new location is a little less than a mile from the current location on Central Ave.

The long-planned new Honest Weight Food co-op location on Watervliet Ave in Albany is slated for a soft open on June 19, with a formal grand opening scheduled for August 8. Honest Weight marketing manager Jennifer Grainer says construction has been on time and is expected to come in under budget, at around $5.5 million.

With just over a month to go before the opening, we got a quick tour of the building, which includes a full commercial kitchen for catering, a station for smoking meats, and a teaching kitchen for classes.

Here's a look at how it's shaping up.

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Pig Out + BaconFest

troy pig out bacon fest 2013

Oink: The Troy Pig Out is combining with Bacon Fest NY for a two-day porktacular in Troy's Riverfront Park July 13-14.

The Pig Out is an annual barbecue competition and tasting. The first Bacon Fest was last year in Hudson -- it was very popular, which turned out to be a problem as there weren't enough samples to go around. It sounds like that experience played a role in the decision to team up with the Pig Out this year.

And, as Troy Downtown BID exec director Elizabeth Young notes in the press release: "Adding bacon just made sense - because really, what isn't better with bacon?"

The bacon portion of "what may be most ambitious pork festival in the state of NY" will be "Bacon Alley," according to the press release -- "a dedicated portion of festival grounds to hail the accomplishments of chefs, artisans and craftsman from around the region as they pay homage to the glory of bacon."

Admission is free. Samples are $1 for the People's Choice rib taste off, and other BBQ samples will be $1-$5.

Earlier on AOA: Strategy for crowded food festivals

Where to enjoy a beverage on a covered patio?

covered outdoor patioLucas emails with a specific outdoor dining/drinking question:

I'm looking for places in Albany where I can enjoy a beverage on a patio; however, because of the inconsistencies of the weather here, I'm looking for places in particular where the patios are covered. What places around town do you suggest?

This reminds us that we really need to update the outdoor dining map. (Like, really.) So your suggestions will help not only Lucas (and others), but also help us update the map.

Got a suggestion? Please share!

A short tour of Capital Region juice bars

juice bars lil buddha green juice

That is very green.

By Casey Normile

Juicing is the new (fill in the blank).

The new cleanse. The new vegetarian. The new subject of grand theft.

Jam-packing an entire day's worth of fruits and vegetables into one tasty cup appeals to both the health-conscious -- and those who don't like veggies but know they should have them.

Here's quick tour of a handful of juice bars around the Capital Region, with suggestions for both beginning and experienced juicers.

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Good brunch spots in/near Troy?

Bloody MaryAfter running into a brunch predicament Sunday, Andrew emails:

Do you guys know where to get a good brunch and bloody Mary on a Sunday in Troy?

Just thinking about some of our go-to brunch spots now, we gotta admit that none of them were on the east side of the Hudson.

So, got a suggestion for Andrew? Please share!

Earlier on AOA: A boozy brunch spot? (2010)

Food festival strategy

food truck festival troy 2013 wandering dago crowd

At the festival this in Troy.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Lost and found apples

apples_of_new_york_illustrations.jpg

Illustrations from Apples of New York.

A few years back we picked some Golden Russet apples at Samascott in Kinderhook -- we were curious because we'd never seen that variety before. And it was unlike any apple we'd had before. The skin, the texture, the flavor... everything about it was just different than the apple varieties usually in the supermarket.*

Anyway, ever since we've been intrigued by old/rare apple varieties. So we found this Mother Jones article about an "apple detective" in Maine super interesting. A clip:

Thurlow led Bunk to the abandoned intersection that had once been the heart of Fletcher Town, pointed to an ancient, gnarled tree, and said, "That's the tree I used to eat apples from when I was a child." The tree was almost entirely dead. It had lost all its bark except for a two-inch-wide strip of living tissue that rose up the trunk and led to a single living branch about 18 feet off the ground. There was no fruit, but Bunk was interested. A few months later he returned, took a handful of shoots, and grafted them to rootstock at his farm. A year later, both Thurlow and the tree died, but the grafts thrived, and a few years later, they bore the first juicy, green Fletcher Sweet apples the world had seen in years. "It's a great apple," Bunk says. "It has a super-duper distinctive flavor." Today, Bunk has returned young Fletcher Sweet trees to Lincolnville.

The apple detective, John Bunk, runs a nursery that preserves and sells heirloom apple varieties.

The Mother Jones article also includes some great illustrations from The Apples of New York, a 1903 state report on apple varieties and their histories (and it was printed right here in Albany). The book is available online through archive.org. There are a handful of references to Albany...

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Outside season starting for farmers' markets

troy waterfront farmers marketMagnolias. Ice cream trucks. Outdoor farmers' markets. It must really be May.

Three of the biggest farmers' markets in the Capital Region are starting their outside seasons this weekend:

Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market
Saturday, 9 am-2 pm
River and 3rd Street (Monument Square) in downtown Troy (map)
(The market's first "twilight market" is part of the Troy Night Out on Friday, May 31 in Riverfront Park.)

Saratoga Farmers' Market
Saturday, 9 am-1 pm
High Rock Park in Saratoga Springs (map)
(The Wednesday Saratoga market is back outside today (May 1), 3-6 pm.)

Schenectady Greenmarket
Sunday, 10 am-2 pm
Jay Street around Schenectady City Hall (map)

Of course, there are a bunch of other farmers' markets around the area. Some of the smaller markets -- like the Empire State Plaza market (Wednesdays, 10 am-2 pm) -- are already open. Others will be popping up through this month, and into June.

photo: Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market

Pizza at The Orchard Tavern

Orchard pizza overhead

The distinctive rectangle.

By Daniel B.

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.

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A quiet restaurant for dinner with parents?

forkAndrew emails (emphasis added):

My fiancee is moving in with me this weekend and her parents will be meeting my parents for the first time. We're looking to go out to dinner somewhere nice, but noise level is a big concern. My mom is partially deaf so it's really hard for her to hear in a normal restaurant. Any suggestions?

So, this is a big dinner for Andrew and his fiancee.

Got a quiet spot to suggest? Please share!

BYOB restaurants in the Capital Region?

wine bottle top against tableThe Fuj asks via Twitter:

What's the best BYOB restaurant in the Capital Region?

We retweeted last night, and netted a few suggestions. They're after the jump. If you a good place in mind, please share!

(And if you have info about corkage fees, even better.)

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Drawing: Capital District Community Gardens' Spring Brunch

cdcg spring brunch 2012

At last year's spring brunch.

Drawing's closed! Winner emailed!

The Capital District Community Gardens' 26th annual spring brunch is coming up May 5 at HVCC -- a hundred chefs and bakers will be preparing a buffet-style brunch to benefit CDCG's many community projects. We have a pair of tickets and we're giving them away.

To enter, please answer this question in the comments:

This time of year is hard for local produce -- winter crops are tapped out, and spring crops are just starting to show up. So... What local produce item -- fruit, vegetable, whatever -- are you most looking forward to having back in season?

We'll draw one winner at random.

CDCG's brunch is from 10 am-2 pm on May 5 at HVCC's Siek Campus Center. Tickets are $25 ahead / $30 at the door. There will be live music, a silent auction for Mother's Day gift, and activities for kids. Proceeds benefit CDCG's programs, including the community gardens, the Veggie Mobile, The Produce Project, The Healthy Convenience Store Initiative, and Squash Hunger.

Important: All comments must be submitted by noon on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. (Regular commenting guidelines apply.) One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 5 pm on Wednesday and must respond by noon on Thursday, April 25.

Yogurt Empire State

chobani containers in fridgeDairy product fact of the day: New York was the nation's top producer of yogurt in 2012, the Cuomo admin reports.

Producers in the Empire State turned out 692 million pounds of yogurt in 2012 -- up almost 25 percent over the year before. That pushed New York ahead of California, whose production fell almost 7 percent. Ferment that, Golden State.

New York's rise to the top is in large part due to the Greek-style yogurt boom. Chobani, the #1 brand of that type, has a large plant outside Oneonta -- that facility alone produces about half of the yogurt in the state* and consumes 10 percent of all the milk produced by New York dairy farms. And Fage -- the #2 Greek-style brand -- has a plant in Johnstown. And there are more plants in western New York. [USA Today] [Fage]

As the state's yogurt production surges, the state's milk production is having a hard time keeping up -- in part because of the costs of expanding dairy herds and regulations on milk pricing. The situation even has a name: "The Chobani Paradox." The milk crunch was one of the reasons Chobani built a new plant in Idaho. [WSJ] [Food Engineering Mag]

The situation has prompted state leaders to look for ways to help dairy farms expand. Example: Chuck Schumer has proposed federal tax breaks ( not without criticism) and immigration reform (to help dairy farms with workforce issues). And today the Cuomo admin announced it was relaxing some environmental rules on the number of cows that can be kept at large feeding operations. [Chuck Schumer office] [NYDN] [Slate] [Chuck Schumer office]

By the way: Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya is scheduled to be the speaker at the Sage Colleges' commencement in May.

* Estimate is based on production figures from USA Today and NYT in 2012.

Earlier and elsewhere:
+ Businessweek profile of Hamdi Ulukaya, which declares Upstate New York "the Silicon Valley of Yogurt"
+ Upstate is yogurt country

Capital Region food challenges

wagon train graveyard challenge by jay travis

The Graveyard Challenge at the Wagon Train BBQ in Schenectady County.

By Casey Normile

Do you ever get to the end of a meal and think, "I should be rewarded for how much I ate just now?"

Well, finally, your hard work and determination can be recognized. There are plenty of food challenges in the area where those with a hearty appetite and a willing spirit can pit their powers of digestion against an impossible amount of food.

Grab a fork...

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Tater tots at Comfort Kitchen

comfort kitchen tater tots overhead

By Daniel B.

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.

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Where the food trucks are. And aren't. And why.

Wandering Dago in Schenectady

The Wandering Dago in Schenectady last fall.

Last week's announcement that the Food Trucks of NY Festival -- originally planned for Albany's Washington Park -- was instead headed for Troy, prompted people to ask: What happened?

So we looked into it. And as we found out along the way, part of the challenge of operating a food truck in the Capital Region is the area's many municipalities -- and their many different rules.

Here's a look at where you're more likely to find -- and not find -- food trucks around the area, and why.

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Food Truck Festival in Troy

Slidin Dirty food truck

Slidin' Dirty is among the trucks scheduled to be there.

The first -- and aptly named -- Food Truck Festival is May 4 in Troy's River Front Park from noon-7 pm.

The festival's website lists 12 trucks so far, promising more to be announced. Food will be priced by the trucks. The festival will be selling beer -- a $5 token for a 16 oz beer. Among the rules: no coolers, no outside alcohol, no dogs.

You might recognize at least a few (or more) of the trucks lined up so far. Among them: Slidin' Dirty, the Wandering Dago, and Sweet Temptations. Organizers are still looking to add vendors.

You might also be thinking, "Wait, wasn't there something about this a while back and it was supposed to be in Albany's Washington Park?" And the answer is: yes. The word we got from festival organizers was that they weren't able to work things out with the city -- so they headed to Troy.

Also in the mix: music from High Peaks Band, Funk Evolution, and the Chris Dukes Band.

The festival is organized by a group connected with Townsquare Media, which owns a group of radio stations in this area.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The Wandering Dago food truck
+ Slidin' Dirty

The barbecued chicken at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

dinosaur bar-b-que chicken overhead

By Daniel B.

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.

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Proof that the peanut butter egg is better than the peanut butter cup

peanut butter cup vs peanut butter egg

Friday morning on AOA's Facebook page we blithely asserted that the Reese's peanut butter egg is vastly superior to the peanut butter cup. And while there were some who agreed with us, we did later in the day realize the error of our ways.

We didn't have data to support our claim.

So, because it's Friday afternoon, here is definitive proof that the peanut butter egg is better than the peanut butter cup.

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Trying the alligator at Café NOLA

cafe nola alligator bites

They won't bite back. Probably.

By Casey Normile

I'm not a big fan of seafood. But I don't really know my stance on reptile.

So I decided to try some alligator at Café NOLA in Schenectady.

The restaurant specializes in all things Cajun, with po' boys, etouffee, jambalaya, dirty rice, gumbo, beignets -- and my dinner: alligator bites.

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The art and science of maple sugaring

quart jugs of maple syrup capital agway

By Jeff Janssens

You might have a picture in mind when you think about maple syrup: a bucket hanging from a tree, smoke from the chimney atop a sugar shack, sap boiling in a cauldron.

While there are places where that picture still fits, modern maple sugaring also involves a range of advances in technology: pipelines, vacuums, evaporators, reverse osmosis machines.

Making maple syrup is a combination of science and craft. And in talking with two local sugarmakers, I found that there are a number of surprising factors that influence both the process and product in making maple syrup. From climate change to soil composition to bacteria in the sap, these are the elements that lead to some of the purest sweet stuff out there, much of which is coming from our backyard in upstate New York.

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Checking out the Healthy Living Market and Cafe

healthy living market exterior

At the store's opening day on Thursday.

By Daniel B.

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?

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Restaurant for a large birthday dinner?

forkBrianna emails:

I am looking for a restaurant to throw a 60th birthday party for my mother this August. I would like a nicer place that can either do a sit down dinner or cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. It would need to be a private space that could accommodate between 20-40 people on preferably a Saturday night. I would appreciate any suggestions or leads you might have on a place.
We are looking for Albany/Latham area and are open to any cuisine.

Got a suggestion for Brianna? Please share.

Quackenbush Still House Rum

albany distilling co quackenbush rum bottleCheck it out: the Albany Distilling Co. is releasing its first rum -- Quackenbush Still House Rum -- this Saturday. The company's new product is actually kind of old-school. From ADC's blog:

Rum was an important commodity in the colonies, produced in a variety of important cities, and Albany was no exception. The Quackenbush Still House made rum in what was then Rensselaerswyck, which today encompasses much of downtown Albany. The distillery stood not far from our current front door, just south of us, where a parking garage now resides. Before construction started on the garage, the site was excavated in 2002 (much, much more information can be found here). The original Quackenbush distillery operated from around 1758 to 1810, when the popularity of rum (in Albany, not elsewhere) declined in favor of other spirits (whiskey, most notably).

And from its product page:

Back then, Caribbean molasses were mixed with water from the Hudson River and allowed to ferment with wild yeasts in huge, open wooden vats (the remains of which can still be seen at the New York State Museum) before being distilled and bottled. Our Original Albany rum follows this tradition, with a recipe from that era and molasses from the Caribbean - but with an updated production line (and different water).

On Saturday the distillery will be open for tours, as well as tastings and sales of ADC's other products. But not the rum. It can't be sold at the distillery because it's not made from New York State products -- so it's only available at retail stores and bars (including the nearby Albany Pump Station and Olde English).

There's a also new exhibit at the nearby Albany Visitors Center of artifacts from that 2002 excavation. And at 1 pm on Saturday an archaeologist will be talking about the 18th century distillery.

Earlier on AOA: Talking with founders of the Albany Distilling Co.

photo: Albany Distilling Co.

Trying Ommegang's new Iron Throne Blonde, and toasting the King of the North

ommegang game of thrones dinner composite

By Danielle Sanzone

Beer geekdom went to a whole new level with the recent release of Brewery Ommegang's Iron Throne Blonde Ale, which is inspired by the HBO show Game of Thrones.

And how does a brewery celebrate the release of such a beer? With a dinner this past Friday at its Cooperstown cafe pairing wild game dishes with beer, fur-clad diners, and toasts to the King of the North.

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Challah from New Mt. Pleasant Bakery

New Mt. Pleasant Bakery challah

By Daniel B.

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.

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The ladies who (prepare and serve) lunch

shen skano tesago cafeteria lunch line

By Casey Normile

On Fridays at Shenendahowa's Skano and Tesago elementary schools, the kids know what they want for lunch. The menu includes chef salad and fish nuggets, but those mostly go untouched. Because it's not just any Friday -- it's Pizza Friday.

The tiny students run in to the cafeteria, excited and hungry, lining up by class. Finally, when they're up, they turn shy and quietly tell the energetic lunch lady, Libby: "Pizza, please."

Principals and teachers get a lot of the attention when we talk about schools, and rightfully so. Lunch ladies? Even with a job that involves making sure hundreds of kids are fed, they don't come up in the conversation as often. Maybe it's the old "lunch lady" stereotype: a cartoonish character with a hairnet, a snarl on her face, and a ladle full of cole slaw.

But that image doesn't do the ladies at Shenendehowa's elementary schools any justice.

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A sweet shop for Dreampuff

dreampuff sweet shop exteriorCheck it out: Dreampuff Marshmallows now has its own shop, on Hoosick Street in Troy. The shop has been in a soft open until its official opening day today, according to its Facebook page.

Somehow this had slipped our notice -- the Biz Review mentioned it last month. And the Troy Record has an article about the shop today.

You might have seen Dreampuff at local farmers' markets. The company is the creation of Ginny O'Neill, a computer software engineer turned confectioner/baker. She started out making a line gourmet marshmallows in flavors such as strawberry, chocolate, saffron, and... bacon. As she explained to us back in 2010:

Actually I made them first because of an aunt's comments in a travel journal. She just really loved marshmallows so she had all kinds of comments about all kinds of marshmallows she had tried. I started making them, and I just really enjoyed it. And then i started getting a little creative and it was just fun.

She's since expanded to a whole line of different treats.

photo via Dreampuff Facebook

Healthy Living Market Saratoga opening

healthy living market logoUpdate: The opening has been moved to March 21.
____

The new Healthy Living Market and Cafe at the Wilton Mall is set to open March 18, the company has announced on its Facebook page.

This is just the second location for the Vermont-based company. It opened its first store in South Burlington in 1986. The company touts itself as "a one-stop destination for natural groceries, fresh organic and local produce, locally sourced meats and poultry, crusty artisan breads, a world of cheese, health and beauty products, a complete vitamin/supplement department, freshly prepared foods and a broad selection of microbrews and wine." (It's opening a separate wine shop -- that gets it around the state's restriction on wine in grocery stores.)

The market occupies the space left empty by the former J.C. Penney at the mall. It's about 35,000 square feet -- that's about half the size of, say, one of the new ShopRites around Albany.

Earlier on AOA: Healthy Living Market opening in Wilton (February 2012)

Where to go for corned beef and cabbage?

corned beef and cabbage on table flickr justgrimesXina emails:

I'm interested in the best place to get corned beef and cabbage in the Capital District - preferably in or close to Schenectady would be a bonus since that's where I live.
Also - somewhere where one can eat corned beef and cabbage without having to deal with people who have been drinking green beer since the early A.M.

There are a more than a few options this time of year. So if you have a favorite, please share!

By the way: St. Patrick's Day or not, cabbage is very New York State.

photo: Flickr user justgrimes (cc)

Ice cream stand season 2013

snowman ice cream sign troy

The Snowman in Troy opens this weekend.

Updated March 11

We interrupt for this important announcement: ice cream stand season is upon us.

At least one stand is already open, and others will be opening soon. As we have in previous years, we've put together a list of opening dates for a handful of seasonal ice cream stands around the area.

If you have opening info about other stands, please share!

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Checking out the monthly tea tasting at The Whistling Kettle

whistling kettle tea tasting composite

By Casey Normile

I think drinking tea should be more of an affair. Once in a while, it should have a sense of occasion. And for that, there's the monthly tea tasting event at The Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa.

"There are more tea drinkers than just a few years ago - those who want to expand their horizons or try something new," explains owner Kevin Borowsky.

So for those feeling adventurous, or just curious, the restaurant stays open late one Friday a month and offers a sampling of rare exotic teas from around the world.

At each event they put together a list of teas not available on their menu for you to sample. And to sweeten the deal, they also include their "afternoon tea" menu: a three-tiered meal of two savory dishes of your choice and one sweet. All together it's $19.95 per person.

After attending a recent tasting, here are five things to know about the events...

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Jewish Food Festival 2013

challah_congregation_gates_of_heaven.jpgThe annual Jewish Food Festival at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady is this Sunday (March 10). Blurbage:

Last year over 600 food lovers attend this annual festival to fest on all the Jewish food favorites (kosher style) they can eat including classics such as homemade matzo ball soup, knishes, kugel, and rugeluch, NYC-style bagels, bialys, and lox, whitefish, kosher hot dogs, beef brisket, and much more. Sample a variety of foods prepared by the Capital District's very best restaurants and caterers including Price Chopper's Ben and Bill's Deli, Glen Sanders Mansion, Schmaltz Brewing, Gershon's Deli, Homestyle Catering, Honest Weight Food Co-op, Phoenician's Restaurant, Saati's Catering, Different Drummers Kitchen, and many more.

We also hear that Daniel B. and Leah the Nosher will be there.

Admission is $15.00 for adults, $5.00 for kids 13-17, and free for kids 12 and under -- and it's unlimited samples with admission.

photo via Congregation Gates of Heaven Facebook

Boxty at Finnbar's Pub

finnbars pub boxty overhead

Or, if you prefer, bacstaí.

By Daniel B.

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?

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A sampling of cooking classes, spring 2013

gio culinary studio homemade pastaWe've pulled together a list of upcoming cooking classes that look interesting or fun a few times and people seem to like it.

So, here's a new batch of classes for the next few months -- from risotto, to using the whole duck, to veggie burgers, to homemade pasta, to pastry, to canning...

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Dosas for a party?

dosa and sauceSujatha emails (link added):

Looking for a good dosa maker for parties. This is a service springing up in many high-density Indian communities (esp NJ/NYC areas). Professional makers of the south indian thin-crispy potato filled pancake called dosas bring their several large griddles to your cookout and make them individually for guests. It's quite popular (esp at graduation parties, engagement/pre-wedding parties). Wondering if there is anyone w any such experience in the capital district.
I am hesitant to just walk into local Indian restaurants & inquire; I predict owners will respond enthusiastically that they can do this despite no experience with large parties or equipment (travel-friendly large griddles are required) and disaster will ensue.

Sujatha acknowledged this might be a long shot. But you never know -- all it takes is one person with an answer.

Also: A dosa party sounds like a lot of fun. We'd very much like this to be possible here.

So, got a suggestion -- even just a place to start looking or asking? Please share!

photo: Flickr user SanFranAnnie (cc)

Maple walnut ice cream from Stewart's

stewarts maple walnut ice cream closeup

By Daniel B.

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.

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Talking about fresh fish at Fin

fin fishmonger trout

By Daniel B.

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.

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Chocolates from the Chocolate Mill

chocolate mill saratoga truffles in case

Well, hello.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Trying the Super Bowl-themed cupcakes from Coccadotts

coccadotts super bowl cupcakes dozen

Touchdown?

As you might have seen, Coccadotts in Colonie has followed up its Buffalo wing cupcake with a whole line of Super Bowl-themed cupcakes: salsa and chips, beer with lime, pepperoni pizza, cornbread and chili, and chocolate covered pretzel.

Because we know that you love nothing more than having us eat odd things so you don't have to, we got all six cupcakes this week and tried them.

That's right, Anderson Cooper, we had the guts to do something you didn't.

So, bring it on.

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Talking with David Schulman, winner of the Barista Albany competition

By Daniel B.

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.

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Capital Region spots for tea snobs

tea snobs composite

Tea time.

By Casey Normile

This time of year is prime tea-drinking season. And much like coffee, there's a wide range of teas -- from black to green, from organic to single estate.

Here are some local spots where tea snobs* can cozy up to a cup of tea and explore...

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Because Buffalo wing cupcakes weren't enough

buffalo wing cupcakeNot content to stop with Buffalo wing cupcakes, Coccadotts has created a whole lineup of Super Bowl-themed cupcakes: Salsa & Chips, Pepperoni Pizza, Cornbread & Chili, Chocolate Covered Pretzel, Bud Light & Lime, and of course, last year's Chicken Wing Cupcake. Explains the shop on its FB page: "These cupcakes are not meant to be sweet..."

The shop also says that Anderson Cooper will "sample and discuss" the cupcakes on the Anderson Cooper Show on Monday (yep, he has a daytime talk show) -- that airs here on WNYT at 2 pm. It also appears that Emmitt Smith will also be partaking of the savory cupcakes. The rewards of being an all-time NFL great really never do end.

[via @Velte_Spotlight]

Earlier on AOA: Eating the buffalo chicken wing cupcake from Coccadotts

Dukbokki at Mingle

dukbokki mingle

By Daniel B.

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.

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Surveying the hot food at Stewart's

stewarts_eggwich_clamshell.jpg

By Casey Normile

Stewart's is a local favorite, of course. Whenever you see their famous maroon and white signs, you know there's a place to get a cup of coffee, a buttered hard roll, snacks, or ice cream.

But a part of the Stewart's lineup I had never tried was their spinning shelves of hot food -- things like the eggwich, hamburger, and... pizza.

So I decided to try it.

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Baguettes from the Placid Baker

placid baker baguettes peeking out from bags

By Daniel B.

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.

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Slider Slam tickets for Albany Chefs' Food & Wine Festival

Albany Food and Wine Fest Slider Slam 2012 Credit T.R. Laz.jpg

Sliders from last years Albany Food & Wine Fest Slider Slam.

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

It's Monday and the first full work week after a holiday. We're not sure about you, but we need a little something to look forward to. Hmm... a little something. Something little? Sliders are little. And fun.

The people from The Albany Barn have passed along a pair of tickets for the Slider Slam at the Albany Chefs' Food & Wine Festival later this month. The Food & Wine Festival is three days of dinners, tastings, pairings, and galas with food prepared by some of the area's finest chefs. Proceeds from the event go to arts organizations throughout the area.

The Slider Slam is January 18 from 8-11 pm and includes craft beer pairings from Ommegang, wine, cocktails, and a Jack Daniels tasting -- plus music and dancing. The event sold out last year. When we checked last, a few tickets were still available for this year's Slider Slam for $35 each.

You can enter here to win a pair of tickets by answering the question below:

Sliders are miniature burgers. They're more fun because they're little. What would you like to miniaturize in the Capital Region?

Maybe it's taxes, maybe it's The Egg so you could carry it around in your pocket and have tiny little concerts wherever you go. It's like having an imaginary shrink ray.

Post your answer in the comments. We'll draw one winner at random.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon on Wednesday and must respond by 10 am on Thursday, January 10.

Photo: T.R. Laz

"In this case it's a really freaking major problem. It's their spoons"

The latest video from the excellent "Real Actors Read Yelp" series: a reading of a Daniel B Yelp review complaining about the spoons at Dante's Frozen Yogurt in Troy.

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!)

Favorite local foods 2012

swifty's deep fried burger cut in half

Multiple people picked burgers for their favorite. Among them: a deep-fried burger.

With the end of the year coming up, we thought it'd be fun to ask a bunch of people about some of their favorite/most interesting things from the 2012.

First up: favorite local thing to eat or drink this year.

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Checking out Red Poppies Polish Pantry on Lark Street

Red Poppies ext.jpg

Red Poppies, Lark Street's new Polish pantry and deli, has been open for about seven weeks, and in that time, owner Joanna Keblinski has changed her mind a bit about what drives her business.

"When I started it was just about good, healthy food," says Keblinski.

Seven weeks later the Polish immigrant, mom, and former film critic says it has now become, for her, as much about people's stories and memories.

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Ommegang making a Game of Thrones beer

game of thronesBrewery Ommegang says it's partnering with HBO to create a series of Game of Thrones beers. From the blurbage:

Iron Throne Blonde Ale is the inaugural beer in the series. The result of a creative collaboration between Brewmaster Phil Leinhart and HBO, the new Iron Throne Blonde Ale will launch nationwide timed to the show's third season debut this spring on March 31.
The collaboration between Ommegang and HBO is focused on developing unique beers that directly tie into themes, characters and nuances of the medieval-like fantasy realm of Westeros and the surrounding kingdoms, where the competition to sit on the Iron Throne is fierce and deadly.

Ommegang says Iron Throne Blonde Ale will be available on draft and in bottles. Apparently the partnership includes the potential for three other beers, each to be released with a new season of the show. [NYT]

We can't decide if this is fun and kind of goofy, or sounds like the sort of drink Fonzi might enjoy after waterskiing. It might be both.

Update: There's an image of the bottle post jump.

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State of organics

Eight Mile Creek Farm

Eight Mile Creek Farm, a certified organic farm in Westerlo.

Agriculture fact of the day: New York State had the third most certified organic farms* in the nation in 2011, with 597 -- according to the USDA. The two states ahead of it: California, with 1,898; and Oregon, with 870. New York ranks 4th in total acreage for organic farms. [USDA]

The state's certified organic farms produced products worth about $107 million. But almost half those farms had sales of less than $50,000 a year. About 40 had sales of more than $500,000.

The number one product from New York organic farms, by total sales value: organic milk, which makes up more than half of organic sales by farms (about $60 million). Certified organic milk represented about 1.5 percent of the state's total milk production by volume, and more than 2 percent by sales. [TU] [USDA]

* There are farms that adhere to many organic practices, but aren't necessarily certified organic. This number doesn't include them.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The organic milk shortage
+ Touring the Hilltowns, a farm at a time

A trophy for the Tournament of Pizza champ

marisas place exterior TOP trophy

Marisa's Place's Alfredo Musumeci and Albert Pistana, with AOA Mary and David Weinstein from TOP sponsor Sunmark Federal Credit Union.

We stopped by Marisa's Place in Guilderland Thursday to award them the trophy for winning this year's Tournament of Pizza.

This was Marisa's first tournament championship. And even though the shop has competed many times before -- and turned out some very good pizza (average score: 67.5) -- we didn't know much about the story behind Marisa's. So we stayed a few minutes to talk with owner Alfredo Musumeci.

sunmark pizza banner

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Trying the tableside s'mores at Madison Station

madison station roasting marshmallow

Roasting marshmallows -- inside.

By Casey Normile

Summer is usually s'more season. You gather around the campfire, stick in hand, and get ready to accidentally set some marshmallows on fire in the quest to get a perfectly golden brown 'mallow.

But the new Madison Station in Albany has decided to lengthen s'mores season by offering tableside make-your-own s'mores.

You don't have to sit out in the cold for a campfire, the ingredients are brought to your table, and you can accidentally overcook your marshmallows from the warmth of a café stool.

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Flatbread pizza at Tara Kitchen

tara kitchen flatbread pizza closeup

By Daniel B.

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.

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Trying the poutine at Montreal Poutine

montreal poutine in carton

fries + cheese curds + gravy = poutine

By Daniel B.

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?

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A fancy schmancy place for an anniversary?

champagne glass closeupAnonymous emails:

This weekend is [our] anniversary and I know I don't take [my girlfriend] out enough. I'm looking for a pretty fancy schmancy place and any suggestions for a nice dessert or drinks place afterwards would be great too. I prefer places with easy parking because I hate on-street parking, but if not oh well. Just looking to make this a really special night for her.

Got some suggestions for how Anon can show his ladyfriend a good time for their anniversary? Please share!

photo: Flickr user _FXR

For the Love of Wine closing/ From the Garden farm to table opening

Old House Cafe.jpg

For the Love of Wine owners Kristen Williams and Allan Von Schenkel are planning a farm-to-table wine cafe for this space on Lark Street.

This Friday For the Love of Wine, the wine shop that opened a few years ago in Crossgates, will be closing its doors -- temporarily.

The owners -- musicians and food and wine lovers Kristen Williams and her husband Allan Von Schenkel -- are looking for a new location in Albany. In the meantime, they're uncorking some other plans.

Williams and Von Schenkel are planning to open From The Garden, a farm-to-table restaurant and wine cafe, in the former Old House Cafe on Lark Street. They're both sommeliers, but this is their first time serving food -- professionally, at least.

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Wings at The Ruck

wings at the ruck overhead

Medium. Crispy.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Couples cooking classes?

knife cutting board peppers flickr bhamsandwichAnonymous emails:

I'd love to do a couples cooking class but don't know who might offer classes, and especially for couples? Let me know if you or your readers have any tips!

There are a lot of cooking classes around the Capital Region -- more than you can shake a whisk at. We haven't noticed any recently that were couples classes, per se -- but maybe some could work that way.

Also: places that offer cooking classes -- hey, maybe this is an idea for you.

So... got a suggestion for Anonymous? Please share!

Earlier on AOA: A sampling of cooking classes, fall 2012

photo: Flickr user bhamsandwich (cc)

Broccoli rabe from Migliorelli Farm

migliorelli broccoli rabe at market

Green and leafy through the winter.

By Daniel B.

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?

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Nighthawk's Kitchen -- in another kitchen

christian noe cooking cropped by sebastien barreCheck it out: Christian Noe from Nighthawk's Kitchen will be cooking his own menu at the Ale House in Troy Tuesday evening (November 13).

Nighthawk's Kitchen is a mobile operation -- you've probably seen them at the Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market -- so this is an usual chance to catch Nighthawk's food in a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Noe is one of the chefs nominated in the Albany 2013 Rising Star Chef Competition. And he also teaches popular sausage making and mac-n-cheese classes at the Arts Center.

The Tuesday menu is after the jump.

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The Confectionery opening

bar at the confectionery in TroyThe Charles F. Lucas Confectionery -- the new wine/coffee bar from Vic Christropher and Heather LaVine in Troy -- is on track to open this Friday at 5 pm, Christopher told us today. They had planned to open last week, but shipments from their wine suppliers got held up by Sandy.

The renovated interior of the building at 12 2nd Street is gorgeous -- definitely worth a look when you have the chance.

Earlier on AOA: Daniel talked with Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine about The Confectionery

Win VIP tickets to the AIDS Council's Beaujolais Nouveau event

beaujolais nouveau wineUpdate: Drawing's closed!

Next Thursday, November 15, is the release date for this year's Beaujolais Nouveau wine. And to celebrate, there will be parties, large and small, all over the world. One of those parties is a swank affair at the Hilton Garden Inn in Troy, hosted by The AIDS Council of Northeastern New York. The evening includes wine and food tastings from some of the finest Capital Region restaurants, as well as desserts, cognac, cigars, a silent auction and more.

We have a pair of VIP tickets -- each worth $125 -- and we're giving them away. The tickets include access to a pre-event reception where you'll get a chance to taste the Beaujolais first, plus access to the VIP post-event reception with cognac and cigars and a commemorative glass.

To enter the drawing, just answer the question below in the comments:

The beaujolais is a young wine -- meant to be consumed right away, not aged. What's something in the Capital Region that you should do now? As in, now. Right now.

We'll draw one winner at random.

Tickets to the event are still available. Standard admission is $75, and the VIP tickets are $125. Proceeds go to support The AIDS Council.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 5 pm on Thursday, November 8, 2012 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 10 am on Friday November 9 and must respond by 6 pm on Friday, November 9.

AOA is a media sponsor for The Aids Council's Beaujolias Nouveau event.

photo: Flickr user jetalone (cc)

Basil City and the PB&J chicken wing

PBJ wings.jpg

The PB&J wing from Basil City

By Danielle Sanzone

Update July 2013: Rochelle reports this place has closed.

As chicken wings go, I've always been kind of a purist.

I like traditional hot wings -- the kind they make at The Ruck. Spicy, please, with blue cheese on the side.

But a few weeks ago, my boyfriend came home with wings from a new pizza and wing joint on 15th Street in Troy. Peanut butter and jelly wings.

My first thought? "Ewww. Why would somebody do that to a chicken wing?"

But he'd been talking about Basil City wings for a few weeks -- and his coworkers had been raving about the place -- so I gave them a shot.

It took one bite for me to go "ewww" to "mmmm" and to make me curious about the 40 other flavors of wings on the Basil City menu. From bourbon, to teriyaki, to peanut butter and fluff.

Also: the Burning Human challenge.

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Beef noodle soup at Taiwan Noodle

taiwan noodle beef noodle soup

Slurpable.

By Daniel B.

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.

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TOP 2012: The Final

Tournament of Pizza 2012 Marisa's vs DeFazio's

Marisa's Place vs. DeFazio's.

After 28 pizzas from 16 pizza places, we're now down to just two pizzas and two shops.

It's the final of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union. The match-up in this championship round:

DeFazio's (Troy bracket) vs. Marisa's Place (Albany bracket)

How we got here: DeFazio's blew the roof off during its semi-final match with Amore (Saratoga), scoring a TOP-record 82 with its Buffalo chicken pizza. And Marisa's posted a solid score of 69 in its matchup with Mario's of Niskayuna.

Despite posting a string of excellent scores, and two previous appearances in the final, DeFazio's has never won the Tournament of Pizza. With its huge score in the last round, the Troy shop has to be the heavy favorite in this final match. But Marisa's is a formidable opponent -- with a set of its own strong performances.

Can DeFazio's finally claim the crown? Or will Marisa's Place take the title?

Bring on the pizza!

sunmark pizza banner

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TOP 2012: Crunching the numbers

DeFazio's Buffalo chicken pizza

The highest scoring pizza of this -- or any other -- Tournament of Pizza.

Updated

Now that we're almost finished with our fourth Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union, of the modern era (using the 100 point scale), we have a lot of numbers we can crunch.

So, here are a bunch of stats this year's tournament -- and tournaments past -- highs, averages, breakdowns. And, for the first time ever, stats for judges...

sunmark pizza banner

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Ric Orlando, curry salad, and the Beaujolais nouveau

ric orlando and salads

Chef Ric with winter kale salads.

"I do peasant food," says Ric Orlando, "I'm a blue jeans chef -- that's how I cook."

The Chopped champ and New World owner is the honorary chair of the AIDS Council's annual event celebrating Beaujolais nouveau -- the young wine made from Gamay grapes -- and it seems like a good fit. Because Beaujolais, Ric says, is a blue jeans kind of wine.

"Beaujolais, to me, is a great everyday, at the tavern, on the terrace, on the deck, in the bathtub, with breakfast kind of wine," he says.

The Beaujolais is fermented only a few weeks before its release is celebrated with parties worldwide.

Orlando says he's a big fan of the wine and he's come up with a few new dishes he'll be pairing it with at the AIDS Council's Beujolais nouveau release party on November 15.

After the jump, talking with Ric about pairing food and wines, America's slowly changing palate, Italy's gastronomic intelligentsia, cheap wine vs. bad wine, and licking hubcaps.

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TOP 2012: The Semi-finals

Tournament of Pizza 2012 semi-finals

We've arrived at the final four in the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union. The match-ups in this showdown of bracket winners:

DeFazio's (Troy) vs. Amore (Saratoga)

Mario's (Niskayuna) vs. Marisa's (Guilderland)

How we got here: DeFazio's topped its fellow downtown Troy shop, I Love | Amore gutted out a win against Pope's | Mario's represented for Niskayuna in beating Schenectady's Nico's | and Marisa's held off a tough tavern challenge from The Fountain.

Now these four face a challenge never before taken on in the TOP: Buffalo chicken pizza.

Yep, things just got real. Ready, set, pizza!

sunmark pizza banner

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From the farm-to-table dinner -- with the farmers -- at Creo'

farm-to-table creo dining room

The AOA-organized farm-to-table dinner -- with the farmers -- was last night at Creo'. And it was a good time -- tasty food and a bunch of interesting people.

It's not every day you that you eat some goat cheese, and then directly hear from the farmers about how it was produced. Many thanks to Purple Gunder Farm, White Clover Farm, Goats and Gourmets, and Wild Thyme Farm for growing delicious food and sharing their stories.

(By the way: farmers have many un-boring work experiences -- their stories are usually way better than your work story about the guy in the next cubicle who won't stop clearing his throat.)

But, right, the food...

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TOP 2012: Round 2: Albany

TOP2012 RD2 Albany

Here we are, at the final stop in Round 2 of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- the Albany bracket.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

The Fountain vs. Marisa's Place

How we got here: Marisa's posted a huge number in Round 1 -- an 81, the highest ever in the TOP. And The Fountain represented for taverns, putting a very respectable 68.

Tavern pizza hasn't had the best track record in the TOP, but The Fountain turned out quality in the opener. Could this be the year a tavern pizza breaks through?

Let's. Eat. Some. Pizza.

sunmark pizza banner

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TOP 2012: Round 2: Troy

TOP2012 RD2 Troy

Hello, Collar City. Round 2 of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- finds itself back in your warm embrace.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

DeFazio's vs. I Love

How we got here: DeFazio's posted a big number in the Round 1 pool (78) and I Love joined it in advancing with a respectable score of its own (64).

DeFazio's has pretty much owned this bracket for the last few years -- can I Love end the domination?

Let's go back to the Arts Center of the Capital Region for the tasting...

sunmark pizza banner

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TOP 2012: Round 2: Schenectady

TOP 2012 RD2 Schenectady

The second round of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- stops back in the Electric City.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

Mario's vs. Nico's

How we got here: Nico's and Mario's both separated themselves from the other shops in this bracket with scores of 74 and 64. Those are very good totals. And they ousted the defending tournament champ from the contest.

Now, it's the always difficult veggie pizza.

We head to Anthology Studio in downtown Schenectady. Pizzaaaaaaa...

sunmark pizza banner

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Eggs in Purgatory at More Perreca's

more perreca's eggs in purgatory

Hot breakfast.

By Daniel B.

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.

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TOP 2012: Round 2: Saratoga

Tournament of Pizza 2012 RD2 Saratoga

Round 2! The 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- kicks off its second round back in Saratoga.

The pizzerias in this head-to-head matchup of veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives):

Amore vs. Pope's

How we got here: Amore and Pope's both posted solid scores -- 61 and 69, respectively -- in besting last year's bracket champ, Mama Mia's, and the mystery chain, Pizza Hut, in pool play.

Now they go crust-to-crust on veggie pizzas, a tricky challenge in tournaments past. All those veggies provide a lot of opportunity for a misstep.

Let's eat some pizza! Again, we go to the Case Center on the campus of Skidmore College...

sunmark pizza banner

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Farm-to-table dinner -- with the farmers! -- this Thursday

creo exterior 2008Just a quick reminder that the AOA-organized farm-to-table dinner at Creo is this Thursday. The five-course dinner will feature ingredients from local farms -- and the farmers will be there to give short talks about their farms and how the ingredients were grown.

It should be an interesting -- and delicious -- time. It starts at 6:30 pm.

Tickets for the five-course meal are $50, (drinks and tips not included). There's an optional wine pairing for $25. There are a handful of tickets remaining -- and you can buy them online.

The menu and the list of farms are after the jump.

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TOP 2012: Round 1: Albany

TOP2012_RD1_Albany.jpg

The opening round of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- heads for home with a final stop in Albany.

The pizzerias in the Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

Returning champ: Marisa's Place - Guilderland
Crowd pick: The Fountain - Albany
Tough luck: Pizzeria Sapienza - Albany
Mystery entry

Marisa's Place has turned out a series of high quality pizzas in the Tournament of Pizza -- though it's never won the championship. The other shops are facing a formidable competitor.

The judges gathered for the tasting...

sunmark pizza banner

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Checking out the new The Cheese Traveler store

The Cheese Traveler  Eric Paul

Cheesemonger Eric Paul.

As mentioned earlier, the Cheese Traveler -- the new gourmet shop on Delaware Ave in Albany -- opened this week. After hearing about the plans for the store from cheesemonger Eric Paul and his partners during their startup grant presentation, we've been curious to see it. So we stopped in Thursday to talk with Eric and see how things were shaping up during the store's soft opening.

If you have a little time, Eric's happy to tell you pretty much everything you'd ever want to know about the 80 cheeses they carry -- and the ones they're planning to carry -- and the process of making cheese, and the regulations for the amount of mold allowed on cheeses in Holland and... What we are saying here is that Eric Paul knows his cheese.

You have to really love a thing to know it as well as he does.

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TOP 2012: Round 1: Troy

TOP2012 RD1 Troy

The opening round of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- rounds third with a visit to the Collar City.

The pizzerias in the Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

Returning champ: DeFazio's - Troy
Crowd pick: Bacchus - Troy
Tough luck: I Love - Troy
Mystery entry

DeFazio's has been the tournament runner-up two years in a row -- is this year it finally takes the title? It'll have to get through Round 1 first.

The judges assembled at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in downtown Troy...

sunmark pizza banner

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TOP 2012: Round 1: Schenectady

TOP2012 RD1 Schenectady

The opening round of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- rolls ahead to Schenectady.

The pizzerias in Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

Returning champ: 5th and 50 - Scotia
Crowd pick: Nico's - Schenectady
Tough luck: Mario's - Niskayuna
Mystery entry

5th and 50 is not just the defending bracket champ -- it won the whole the tournament last year. Its title defense starts now.

The judges got together at Anthology Studio in downtown Schenectady...

sunmark pizza banner

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A pair of tickets to the Festival of Meats

asap festival meats 2012 posterDrawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The Albany Society for the Advancement of Philanthropy's annual Festival of Meats and Bacon Celebration is this Saturday. We have a pair of tickets and we're giving them away -- maybe to you.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

What's your favorite local meat dish?

It could be a steak you had somewhere, the free range chicken you get from the farmers' market, whatever. We'll draw one comment at random -- that person will get the tickets.

The festival is Saturday at the Elks Lodge on South Allen Street in Albany. Bar opens at 4 pm, dinner at 6 pm. Tickets are $25 per person.

Among the meaty selections this year:

Whole roasted pig
Pulled and chopped pork with a vinegar peppery bbq sauce
Roasted beef steak
Kalbi
Clams two ways
Pork chops wrapped in bacon
Bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeno peppers
Pig candy
Bacon-wrapped chicken bites
Maple, peanut butter, caramel, and bacon ice cream sundaes

Important: All comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by 10 am on Thursday, October 11 and must respond by 5 pm that same day.

Santa Speedo Sprint: Just a reminder that ASAP's Santa Speedo Sprint is December 8 this year.

AOA is a media sponsor of the Festival of Meats.

TOP 2012: Round 1: Saratoga

TOP2012 RD1 Saratoga

The opening round of the 2012 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- starts in Saratoga.

The pizzerias in Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

Returning champ: Mama Mia's - Saratoga Springs
Crowd pick: Pope's - Saratoga Springs
Tough luck: Amore - Saratoga Springs
Mystery entry

The judges gathered at the Case Center on the campus of Skidmore College...

sunmark pizza banner

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Tournament of Pizza 2012 brackets

i heart pizza

It's that time.

If the leaves are turning, and the air is crisp, it must mean that most august of traditions has returned.

That's right -- the Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union, is back.

Lots of plotlines for this year's field: Can 5th and 50 repeat as TOP champ? Will this finally be DeFazio's year? Who are the mystery entrants in this year's field?

Here's a breakdown of this year's brackets...

sunmark pizza banner

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The Wandering Dago food truck

wandering dago food truck schenectady

By Casey Normile

You might call Andrea Loguidice and Brandon Snooks a little crazy for leaving their jobs in law and marketing and moving from Denver, Colorado to Schenectady to open a food truck.

You might even call them a lot crazy.

But this couple -- one raised on a ranch in Montana, and the other a vegetarian from Long Island -- are excited to bring their Wandering Dago food truck to Schenectady.

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AOA farm-to-table dinner at Creo -- with the farmers

creo exterior 2008

Autumn is a great time of year to visit local farms and bring home an amazing harvest of meats, cheeses, and late season veggies.

So AOA and Creo are planning to gather some of that harvest for a 5-course farm-to-table dinner on Thursday, October 18. Chef Brian Bowden will create a menu using products from farms around the Capital Region -- and the farmers will be at the dinner to talk about the ingredients in each dish, how they're grown or produced, the thought that goes into them. The whole night should be fun, interesting, and delicious.

You'll also have an opportunity to pair the dishes with a handful of New York State wines.

Here are details on the menu, the farms, the wines, and how to sign up...

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A look inside the new Sciortino's, and talking with Matt Baumgartner about Albany's potential

Frank Sciortino's grandson, Matt.

At first glance, the old diner car still looks like the Miss Albany -- well, a scrubbed and polished version of the Miss Albany. The booths are the same - the classic diner floors, counters and tile. But the walls are the first give-away that you're not in the Miss Albany anymore.

The famous signs warning patrons about unruly children have been replaced by classic old photos. They're from the families of Matt Baumgartner and his business partners, Jimmy and Demetra Vann. Sciortino's is named for Baumgartner's mother's family -- specifically for his grandparents, Frank and Rachel Sciortino, whose pictures occupy a prominent space behind the front counter.

The latest in Baumgartner's string of Capital Region business ventures -- and his continuing effort to bring life into to Albany's warehouse district -- opens on Wednesday.

Here's a look inside...

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Pumpkin (fill in the blank) season has begun

pumpkin food composite

By Casey Normile

It's everybody's favorite season!

No, not fall -- pumpkin season.

It seems that as soon as the air gets a chill, we begin to see pumpkin everything -- breads, pies, soups, ice creams, beer. You can't toss a gourd without hitting something made with pumpkin. So, what to try first?

Here are some favorites to maximize your pumpkin enjoyment this fall.

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Festival of Meats 2012

asap festival meats 2012 posterThe Albany Society for the Advancement of Philanthropy's annual Festival of Meats is back on October 13. And it's returned as the Festival of Meats and Bacon.

For $25 you get an all-you-can-eat variety of meatiness, including whole roast pig, beef steak, kalbi, clams, bacon, and "other delicious meaty bits."

The Festival of Meats is at the Elks Lodge in Albany. The bar opens at 4 pm, dinner starts at 6 pm.

Speaking of ASAP: The annual Santa Speedo Sprint is December 8 this year.

Not your average Capital Region bar

different bars composite

By Casey Normile

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Sometimes, maybe not so much.

Sure, it's nice to have a comfort zone -- that bar where you're a regular and you know exactly what to expect.

But if you're in a rut, or looking to change it up a little, here are a handful of Capital Region bars that I've found offer an experience with a little something different.

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Scythe & Sickle

ommegang scythe and sickleOmmegang has released its first seasonal fall (er, "harvest season") beer: Scythe and Sickle. And apparently it's pretty good.

From a review by Bret Setka at The L Magazine:

It's a nice beer to look at with its hazy copper tone. The amber ale has a malty aroma and a hint of toasty hard candy sweetness like you find in Oktoberfest beer--just the right amount of Werther's Original. But where Oktoberfests stop, Sycthe and Sickle keeps going. Brewed from barley, oats, wheat and rye--all traditionally grown in Upstate New York--it has an added spicy complexity and a bit of creamy smoothness from the wheat. Hops are noticeable but reserved and contribute to the beer's perfect balance.

Here's the Beer Advocate profile for Scythe & Sickle (score: 85). And Paste recently rated it #5 out 16 fall beers in a taste test (#2 was Southern Tier Harvest).

Has anyone spotted this in the wild in the Capital Region -- or, even better, tried it?

photo: Brewery Ommegang

Win a bag of local deliciousness from the Honest Weight Local Harvest Fest

local harvest festival 2012 posterDrawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The contest is closed and we have a winner. Congratulations, Melissa!

This Sunday is the Honest Weight Local Harvest Festival from noon to 4 pm in Albany's Washington Park. More than 30 local food producers and restaurants will be offering samples and selling their products, chefs will do demonstrations, and WEXT's Laura Glazer will be hosting a music lineup that includes Barons in the Attic, Secondhand Roses, and Katie Hammon.

The Local Harvest Festival is a fun way to showcase the locally-produced bounty we've got here in the Capital Region. And a handful of Harvest Fest Vendors have offered to fill up a shopping bag for one lucky AOA winner. The winner gets:

All Good Bakers: - A $20 gift certificate for All Good Bakers that can be used at their shop at 540 Delaware Avenue. They just released their new fall menu, which includes all day breakfast.

Gatherer's Gourmet Granola: 15 3.15 oz (single serving) bags of three flavors of Gatherer's Gourmet Granola: Chipmunks Choice, Squirrel Bait, and Fox's Fancy.

3 Chicks and a P: A 3 pack of salsas and tapenades -- your choice, from 3 Chicks and a P.

Bettie's Cakes: Gift Card for a 4-pack of cupcakes from Bettie's Cakes.

Our Daily Eats: Thai chili peanuts, rosemary maple mix and maple crunch granola from Our Daily Eats.

Bake for You: A dozen Eloise cookies (named after the apartments) made with oats, white chips, cinnamon, and apples, from Bake for You.

Honest Weight Food Co-op: A $25 gift card from Honest Weight

We'll draw one comment at random. The winner can pick up their bounty by visiting the vendors at Sunday's Harvest Fest. Bring a big bag. To enter, just answer the following question in the comment section of this post:

What are you hoping to harvest this fall?

That could be anything: tomatoes, time, an opportunity, whatever -- you name it.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 10 am on Friday (September 21, 2012) to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon Friday (September 21) and must respond by 5 pm that same day. The winner can visit the vendors at the Harvest Fest to collect their prizes.

Honest Weight advertises on AOA. And AOA is a media sponsor of the Harvest Festival.

Chicken and waffles at The Flying Chicken

flying chicken troy chicken and waffles

By Daniel B.

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?

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Troy Restaurant Week

troy restaurant week 2012 logoThe first Troy Restaurant Week starts today and runs through Sunday. It's the usual restaurant week format -- special set menus at a set price. But there's a bit of a twist: participating restaurants will be offering menus at three different price points: $10, $20, and $30. (Though not all restaurants are offering menus at each price point.)

There are 21 restaurants participating. The Troy BID site (linked above) has a listing with details. A quick list of just the restaurant names is post jump.

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New York hops

Hops

Little flower, big taste.

By Casey Normile

Beer enthusiasts showed up Brown's in Troy last week for the release of the brewery's annual fall Harvest IPA brew. What's so special about this brew? Well, for one thing, the hops used in the beer were grown right here in New York.

Brown's is part of a growing movement to restore New York to what it once was -- one of the country's leading hop producers.

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Autumn Evening in the Garden

veggie mobile side

The Veggie Mobile -- a mobile greenmarket -- is one of the many programs run by CDCG.

Capital District Community Gardens' annual Autumn Evening in the Garden benefit is coming up next Thursday (September 20). From the blurbage:

The fundraiser features culinary samples, created from fresh, seasonal ingredients donated by 20 local farmers and prepared by 14 of the region's most talented chefs. The event also features live music provided by The Neil Brown Jazz Quartet and an open bar supplied by local beverage purveyors, including The Altamont Vineyard and Winery, Chatham Brewery, Harvest Spirits and The Albany Distilling Company. Proceeds benefit CDCG's programs, including 48 Community Gardens, The Veggie Mobile, The Produce Project, The Healthy Convenience Store Initiative, Squash Hunger and more.

The list of participating chefs is post jump. You'll recognize a lot of the names.

The event is at the Franklin Plaza Ballroom in Troy and starts at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $150 for individuals / $250 for couples / $75 for people 35 and younger.

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Drawing: Wild Game Dinner at City Beer Hall

city beer hall exterior

Update: Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The City Beer Hall has another wild game dinner coming up next week (September 20) -- four wild game courses paired with four beers from Southern Tier Brewing Company. (The menu is after the jump.)

We have a pair of tickets to the dinner and we're giving them away -- maybe to you.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

The leaves will be changing soon -- what's your favorite place to take in the fall foliage?

We'll pick one person at random. That person will get the pair of tickets to the dinner.

If you're not the lucky winner, tickets are $60 each (you can buy them online). The dinner starts at 6 pm.

Important: All entries must be submitted by noon on Thursday (September 13, 2012) to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be entered in the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. If you want to partake of the beer, you have to be over 21 and bring ID (you knew that). The winner will be notified via email by 5 pm on Thursday and must respond by noon on Friday (September 14, 2012).

Here's the menu...

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A sampling of cooking classes, fall 2012

christian noe sausage class - albany jane

Christian Noe's class on making sausage is back a the Arts Center this fall. / photo: Albany Jane

We've pulled together a list of upcoming cooking classes that look interesting or fun a few times and people seem to like it.

So, here's a new batch of classes for the next few months...

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The crabby line

Daniel B. stopped by the scene outside the new Joe's Crab Shack in Latham this morning. He says there were well over 100 people camped out at 9 am -- and the line wrapped around three sides of the building. (It's at the Latham Farms location, where the Dakota used to be, on Troy Schenectady Rd, just east of the SPUI.) He passed along the video above.

The chain restaurant opened today and was giving away "FREE CRAB for a Year" to the first 100 people in line.

We're not sure how the hula hoops fit in. Update: Brian, who was one of the first people in line, emails that the hoops were part of contests and other first-day festivities.

Apology from Bacon Fest organizers

bacon fest ny 2012 logo largeThe organizers of the first Bacon Fest NY in Hudson this past weekend have posted a statement about problems at the event -- mainly, that samples ran out too quickly. Here's a clip:

Our initial estimate on attendance, ranged between 500 - 1,000 people. It was our intention to give the best day possible - for everyone - and as the bacon ran out, and the food lines stacked up, we did the only thing we could and opened the gates for free. In actuality, about 3,000 people attended Bacon Fest NY 2012; only 2,000 of which paid admission.
We apologize if we inadvertently left people feeling disappointed. That sucks and we are sorry. It was never our intention to shortchange anyone on food or fun. Where we exceeded in motivation, enthusiasm and dedication, we fell short on experience. We know better now, and from these mistakes we will build a better executed festival for next year.

Here are a few recaps of what happened from Daniel B. and Steve Barnes -- both were judges at the event.

Yep, AOA was a media sponsor.

Tournament of Pizza 2012 field voting

TOP2011 final 5thand50 closeup

5th and 50's tournament-winning chicken parm pizza from last year.

Voting's closed! Brackets will be announced toward the end of September!

The 2012 Tournament of Pizza will soon be here. The selection committee is currently assembling this year's field. And we need your help.

This year's brackets will include:
+ The four finalists from last year -- 5th and 50 (Schenectady bracket), Marisa's Place (Albany bracket), DeFazio's (Troy bracket), and Mama Mia's (Saratoga bracket).
+ Four mystery selections that will be revealed to no one except the Editors -- not even the judges.
+ Four "tough luck" pizza shops -- pizzerias that have turned out pizzas with very good scores but for whatever reason didn't win their bracket (and weren't selected by crowd voting).

That leaves four spots to be filled by crowd voting. The pizzerias with the most votes in each bracket will earn a spot in the 2012 TOP.

The ballot for this year's field is after the jump. Voting closes at noon on Friday.

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Macarons from TC Bakery

pink macaron closeup tc bakery

La Vie en rose.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Road Trip: Great Barrington

great barrington composite

A day in Great Barrington.

By Casey Normile

Road trips are pretty high on the list of fun things to do with a fall day in the Capital Region. A scenic drive on an autumn weekend can take you to mountains, lakes, wineries, cities, and small towns in time to explore, enjoy and be home in time to sleep in your own bed.

Great Barrington, Massachusetts is one of those places.

Lesson number one: Barrington and Great Barrington are not the same place. This may seem as obvious to you as it did to me, but for some reason every time I told someone from the Capital Region that I was going to Great Barrington, they said things like "have a good time in Vermont."

This quaint little Massachusetts town is a pretty common destination for people fleeing NYC or Boston for the weekend. The shops are eclectic, the food is interesting, there's plenty of nature -- and good beer.

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Tickets to take friends to SPAC's Wine, Food & Ferrari Fest Grand Tasting

saratoga wine and food festivalThe drawing has been closed! Thanks for entering!

The Saratoga Wine & Food and Fall Ferrari Festival returns to SPAC September 7-9. One of the highlights of the weekend is the "grand tasting" on Saturday, September 8, billed as "the crown-jewel" of the festival:

200 international wineries including an unparalleled Italian Pavilion that features a myriad of wines, spirits, and authentic products; the region's top restaurants; world-class seminars and a live and silent auction of luxury items. A day dedicate to the epicurean in all of us; a celebration of all things fine.

AOA has 5 four-packs of tickets for the grand tasting, and we're giving them away. Yep, the winners get to take three friends along. To enter, please answer this question in the comments:

What are you looking forward to doing, eating, experiencing in the Capital Region this fall?

We'll draw 5 winners at random from the entered comments.

Tickets for the grand tasting are $75 each, so this is a sweet prize. The tasting is Saturday, September 8 from 1-5 pm on the SPAC grounds. And heads-up, you and your guests need to be over 21.

There are a bunch of other events involved in the festival -- including an after party, a road rally and a Ferrari show.

Important: All comments must be submitted by 5 pm on Friday, August 31 to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be part of the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon on Saturday and must respond by 10 am Tuesday, September 4.

Yep, the Saratoga Wine & Food Fesitval does advertise on AOA.

A giant check for 3 Chicks and a P

3 Chicks and a big check

Everybody say hummus: Sunmark president/CEO Bruce Beaudette; Matthew Paniccia and daughter Sophia; Jennifer Rittner-Paniccia and daughter Olivia; and Susan Siegel, a Sunmark senior vice president.

Let's hear it for giant checks and hummus!

Yesterday the winner of this year's AOA/Sunmark Startup Grant -- 3 Chicks and a P, a small business in Rotterdam that makes hummus, bean dips, and tapenades -- got its prize money from the people at Sunmark.

Sunmark_3Chicks2.jpgThe giant check came with $1,500 actual dollars (in a smaller check via direct deposit) that 3 Chicks owner Jennifer Ritner-Paniccia and her husband Matthew say they'll use for nutritional labeling for some of their newer flavors. They're hoping the labeling will help get their products onto supermarket shelves. 3 Chicks currently sells at local farmers' markets and co-ops.

Everyone celebrated the giant check with broccoli and hummus.

We'll be checking back with 3 Chicks and a P in a few months to see how they're doing.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Three Chicks and a P Sunmark Startup Grant entry
+ A giant check for the Radix Center (last year's winner)
+ Sunmark Startup update: The Radix Center

Apple picking 2012

apples in tree at samascott 2011

Harder to find this year.

By Casey Normile

The last days of summer usually mean the start of apple picking season in the Capital Region. But this year's warm winter, as well as April frosts and summer hailstorms, have forced many farms and orchards to choose whether to open to fall crowds at all.

"For some farmers it was the hailstorms, for some it was hailstorms and the frost, and for some it was the hailstorms, frost and the drought," said Gillian Sherington, owner of Smith Farms in Hudson. "You name it, we had it."

(there's more)

Beekman Boys dinner at Ommegang

fabulous beekman boys in a circleThis Saturday Brewery Ommegang is hosting a dinner with "The Fabulous Beekman Boys" -- Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell (maybe you've seen their TV show). The dinner will include cheese from the Beekman farm in Sharon Springs, as well as Ommegang beer pairings (of course).

Dinner is at 7 pm. Tickets are $75 per person (tax and tip not included). Reservations: (607) 286-4090.

Menu is post jump.

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New York is wine country. And apple country. And maple syrup country. And cabbage country.

hudson-chatham reserve closeupAgricultural fact of the day, via the NYS Comptroller's Office: New York State was the second largest producer of wine in the nation in 2010, behind only California. The state produced 36 million gallons of wine that year. And as of 2012, the Empire State has 374 wineries -- more than triple the number it had in 2000.

A few more state agricultural facts:

+ Agriculture in the state produces $4.7 billion in products per year.

+ Milk accounts for half the agriculture sales in the state. (New York is the fourth leading producer of milk in the country.)

+ The state produced 553.67 million pounds of yogurt in 2011 -- more than double the amount it produced in 2008.

+ New York continues to rank second in the nation in apple production.

+ New York is the nation's second largest producer of maple syrup.

+ And it's also the nation's second largest producer of cabbage.

There are more bits in the state comptroller's report, which was released for the State Fair.

Bacon Fest NY: basket o' bacon give-away

bacon fest ny 2012 logo large

UPDATE: The contest is now closed. The winner's been emailed.
____

The first Bacon Fest NY is coming up this Sunday at the Henry Hudson Waterfront Park in Hudson. The event, a fundraiser for The Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY, promises to be a bacon extravaganza with bacon vendors, bacon desserts, bacon crafts, a bacon cook-off and a bacon booze cruise with, among other things, bacon-flavored vodka.

Did we mention there would be bacon?

There will also be music from Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned , Eastbound Jesus, Red Haired Strangers, The Lucky Jukebox Brigade, Ramblin' Jug Stompers and a band called Unexplained Bacon.

We have tickets to giveaway -- and a whole basket of bacon-related items. The winner will receive:

Event
Two tickets to Bacon Fest NY 2012
Food
+ Five-pound variety pack of Mountain Products Smokehouse bacon (Country Style, Chipotle, Maple Cinnamon, Herb and Garlic)
+ One serving of Arkansas Tom's Razorback BBQ Rollup (think BBQ meat wrap that is nothing but meat)
+ Worldling's Pleasure Country Store Cheddar with Horseradish and Bacon Cheese Spread
+ Bacon Rice Krispie Treats from 333 Cafe
+ A box of Bacon Bites Oreos (Oreos topped with bacon and covered in dark chocolate and pink pig sprinkles)
Crafts
+ Bacon Honey lip balm
+ One bar of maple, apple, and bacon soap, and Hickory Smoked Bacon soy candle from Ladybug Soap.
+ Lunch cooler with Freshpet coupons
Music
+ A Red Haired Strangers CD
+ A Eastbound Jesus CD and sticker
Swag
+ One BFNY t-shirt and one Hand printed BFNY poster from Hatch Show Prints

To enter:
Replace the name of something in the Capital Region with the word bacon. Then leave it in the comment section. It could be a place (The Bacon State Plaza), a music group (Sgt. Dunbar and the Bacon Banned), a building (The Bacon Tower), whatever.

We'll draw one winner at random. The deadline to enter is Tuesday, August 28 at 6pm. The winner can pick up the basket at the Bacon Fest ticket booth.

Bacon Fest runs from 9 am to 6 pm on Sunday. Tickets are $10 ($8 ahead).

Very important: One entry per person. You must answer the question to be eligible. You must post your comment by 6 pm on Tuesday, August 28, 2012. You must include a working email address (that you check regularly) with your comment. The winner will be notified via email by noon on Wednesday August 29 -- and must respond by 8 pm Wednesday August 29. If prize basket is not picked up at the festival, only the packaged items will be sent to the winner.

AOA is a media sponsor of Bacon Fest NY.

The plan for the Miss Albany building

sciortinos neon signMatt Baugartner posted today the plan for the Miss Albany Diner building -- an Italian restaurant called Sciortino's:

Sciortino's is going to be a casual, Italian restaurant featuring some of my grandparent's recipes, and other delicious stuff like meatballs, pizza and pitchers of beer (!!!).

That's the sign for the new restaurant on the right.

The place is named after his grandparents. Sadly, his grandfather passed away Sunday:

I'm gonna miss him very much. He was the best grandfather I ever could have wished for. I'm happy that his last name will live on in a restaurant that I hope he would have been proud of.

Matt and business partners Jimmy and Demetra Vann bought the Miss Albany building -- but not the name or recipes -- in February. As you well know, the group also owns Wolff's, which is just next door.

photo: Matt Baumgartner

The Jackburger at Jumpin' Jack's

jumpin jack's jackburger

By Daniel B.

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.

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Brown's Waffle Week 2012

browns waffle week 2012 obamaWaffle week is back at Brown's in Troy. Monday through Friday this week they'll be featuring a different waffle special in honor of the waffle iron being patented in Troy on August 24, 1869. The waffles are available at lunch and dinner.

This year's lineup is post jump. And, as in past years, it includes some interesting combinations -- while poking fun at both sides of the partisan divide. The week starts off with "The Obamafare."

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Talking peaches with Tom Maynard

maynard farms white doughnut peach

There's a secret to picking the best doughnut peaches.

By Casey Normile

Tom Maynard of Maynard Farms is a fixture at the Schenectady Greenmarket. He's been selling a wide variety of peaches, plums, nectarines and pears since the market started in 2008. And he grows some delicious fruit on his Hudson Valley farm.

"We try to deliver an honest-to-god good product to every customer who leaves here," he says. "My goal is for people to come here, buy our peaches and then come back next week saying, 'Wow, that was a really great peach.' Once they try it, they realize this isn't supermarket fruit."

Maynard has a friendly, outgoing presence, and you can often catch him talking about the finer points of fruit with customers.

I talked with him at the market recently for a quick guide on peaches and nectarines -- what separates the different varieties, how to make sure they're ripe, what the fuzz is called, and why you should look for the ugly ones.

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Fin opening a shop in Guilderland

fin fishmonger logoFin -- the mobile fishmonger that's been selling at local farmers' markets -- is opening a permanent shop in the Star Plaza in Guilderland (Western Ave and Route 155).

Owner Peter Kenyon says they're finalizing details and aiming for a mid-November opening.

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Farm-to-Table Fundraiser in Rensselaerville

Baitsholts FarmCould be a good time: FarmieMarket and the Chefs Consortium are teaming for "an evening of local food, music and fun" as a fundraiser for "farm-to-table programming" on August 26 at the Carey Center for Global Good in Rensselaerville (formerly the Rensselaerville Institute). Blurbage:

The Farm-To-Table Fundraiser is brought to you in partnership with the Chefs Consortium and FarmieMarket to benefit the Carey Center's programs to support agriculture and farmers in our local and regional community. Presently, the Carey Center is cultivating new programs for community composting, children's seed-to-fork education, farm brewing, green roof building, and local harvest culinary workshops. Additionally, the Carey Center is working with Baitsholts Farm to host an on-farm agricultural education program to teach new farmers and homesteaders the skills to thrive in the sustainable agriculture industry. [AOA adds: that's a photo of Baitsholts Farm on the right.]
The event will take place under a tent on the beautiful and historic grounds of the Carey Conference Center, featuring hors d'oeuvres and small plates of peak-harvest, local foods prepared by the area's top chefs, craft brewery samples, and music by Black Mountain Symphony.

Tickets are $40, and include food and craft beer samples.

Earlier on AOA: Touring the Hilltowns, a farm at a time

Honest Weight is aiming to open its new location in May 2013

honest weight watervliet ave rendering front Aug 2012

A rendering of Honest Weight's new location. (Here's a better look.)

The Honest Weight Food Co-op recently announced that it will be officially breaking ground next week on its long-planned new location on Watervliet Ave in Albany. It's a big step for the co-op -- the project is expected to cost $5.4 million -- and will be a significant upgrade in size and amenities over its current Central Ave location.

Of course, the co-op's expansion also is part of a rapidly changing local supermarket scene. The traditional players now face competition from ShopRite, Fresh Market, Trader Joe's, and (eventually) Whole Foods. That's prompted some concerns about how Honest Weight will fare in the re-arranging scene, especially given the leap it's about to take with the new store.

Curious about how Honest Weight sees the situation -- and how it's planning to adapt -- we bounced some questions to Lily Bartels, the co-op's communications leader.

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Granola from Our Daily Eats

our daily eats granola overhead

By Daniel B.

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.

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On the list for the presidential inaugural: Saratoga water

saratoga spring water blue bottleSure, you know Chuck Schumer as New York senior US senator, as a political power player, as a generator of weekend press conferences. But somehow one of his greatest powers had evaded our notice.

It was revealed today that Chuck Schumer gets to pick which water is served at the next presidential inaugural. Let the gravity of that sink in for a while.

Thankfully, Mr. Schumer has decided to wield this immense power judiciously: he has selected Saratoga Spring Water.

From a press release:

Schumer is the Chairman of the 2013 Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and has the honor to help choose which food, beverages, performers and more are featured at the Presidential Inauguration. Schumer's decision will help draw national attention to this Saratoga Springs company.
"Saratoga Spring water has long been one of my beverages of choice, so when given the opportunity to share its iconic blue bottle with hundreds of guests at the Presidential Inauguration, it was a no brainer," said Schumer. "After touring this impressive bottling facility, I am thrilled to announce that Saratoga Spring will be served to official guests at the Presidential Inauguration. I am honored to have been selected to plan the festivities at the Presidential Inauguration, particularly because it allows me to showcase this iconic Capital Region company and its superior product at the 57th Inauguration in January."

Bottle spotting: It makes us smile when we see that distinctive blue bottle while we're traveling outside the Capital Region.

photo: Saratoga Spring Water Co.

Central Steak closing

central steak exteriorThe local restaurant company White Management announced today Central Steak in Colonie is closing Tuesday. (Steve first reported the news.)

Said VP Brian White in a statement:

White Management has informed employees at Central Steak that the restaurant will be closing as of July 31, 2012. White Management is currently considering several options including new creative concepts for the Central Avenue restaurant.

Central Steak was born out of the former Butcher Block -- it was a more modern take on the concept. White owns a group of restaurants in the area, including Creo, Bountiful Bread, and Mangia.

We'll miss the winter harvest burger there. It was one of our favorite local burgers.

Update July 31: Gift cards

Statement from Brian White about Central Steak gift cards:

White Management intends to honor Central Steak gift cards at its other locations. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week, members of Central Steak's staff will be on-site at the restaurant to exchange Central Steak gift cards for gift cards at Creo. White Management is working with its Point of Sale vendor to create a seamless, longer-term solution to allow Central Steak patrons to dine at its sister establishments and will release details on the company's website - http://whiterestaurants.com/. We will also be working to place our staff at our sister locations.

White Management advertises on AOA.

Moxie's is more than plain vanilla

moxies exterior

By Casey Normile

The first batch of Mexican vanilla ice cream that Moxie's ever made was technically illegal.

"But only a little illegal," Pamela Allie-Morrill explains. Ms. Pam, as she likes to be called, is the daughter of the eponymous Mohamed "Moxie" Allie -- she now runs the ice cream stand in Wynantskill. She says that original supply of Mexican vanilla hitched a ride into this country in her cousin's suitcase. It wasn't exactly an act of smuggling.

That Mexican vanilla has since been replaced with Mexican vanilla sourced via Illinois. But it's still an integral part of Moxie's Around the World of Vanilla -- a solar system of vanilla ice creams in a dish that surround Moxie's signature flavor, Blue Moon.

So, why vanilla? Pam says it's simple -- it was the most readily available flavor when she was looking to make her mark on Moxie's eleven years ago. And the vanilla sampler has been a popular staple at the stand ever since.

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12 flavors at The Ice Cream Man

12 flavors at the ice cream man

All in one sitting.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Capital Region Craft Brewers Festival

capital region craft brewers festival 2012Could be fun: the third annual Capital Region Craft Brewers Festival is this Saturday (July 28) at Joe Bruno Stadium. Thirty craft brewers from around the Northeast will be there offering samples.

Tickets for the festival start at $25 (presale) and include 10 tasting tickets, a souvenir glass, and a ticket to a future ValleyCats game (they're on the road this weekend). Other ticket levels include food and VIP whatnot. There's also a $10 designated driver ticket.

The festival is from 2:30-6:30 pm, rain or shine.

Hosting a great barbecue: Christian Noe

Christian Noe Summer Barbecue

Grill master Christian Noe from Nighthawks Kitchen

AOA is taking a little R & R this week. While we're enjoying a little summer, we've rounded up a few experts to share their tips for making summer fun simpler. Enjoy!

Christian Noe is a guy who knows what to do with a grill. The proprietor of Nighthawk's Kitchen at the Troy Farmer's Market teaches popular cooking classes on things like grilling, sausage making, and award-winning mac 'n cheese at The Arts Center of the Capital Region.

Noe shared some delicious tips with us on how to create a festive backyard barbecue that you can actually have time to enjoy with your guests. He also settles the charcoal vs. propane debate. Sort of.

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Aboard the Sloop Clearwater for dinner

chefs consortium clearwater composite

By Daniel B.

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?

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An air date for Hotel Hell's Cambridge Hotel ep, and viewing with derryX

hotel hell logoJerry -- of derryX fame -- says he's heard from Fox and Gordon Ramsay's production company that the Cambridge Hotel episode of Hotel Hell is tentatively scheduled to run August 20. We'll let Jerry, who was at the hotel for the filming, take it from here:

Because this show has significant personal importance and since this is a major mainstream media event for our region, I thought it would be fun to gather for a public viewing of the show. I spoke with Chef Kevin Everleth at the Capital City Gastropub this past weekend, and he loves the idea of providing the venue for the event. He's even working on some themed specials for the evening.

Here's the event page on Facebook.

And, as you've probably heard, the Cambridge Hotel wasn't able to stay in business -- even after what was apparently a remarkable Ramsay makeover. It was sold at auction last month. [Table Hopping] [Post-Star]

A beer dinner, course by course

beer and appetizerWe give away tickets to a lot of stuff that sounds fun -- and we admit that sometimes we're a bit envious of the people who win. Because we'd like to go, too!

So when we emailed Alex recently that he was the winner of the tickets to the beer dinner at Central Steak, we were pleasantly surprised that he offered to take photos and share them with us. We're always curious to hear about how these events turn out. And we want to know if people had a good time. (Seriously, if you win tickets from AOA and the event doesn't go well, we want to know.)

After the jump, photos from the five course dinner at Central Steak, courtesy of Alex and his wife, Marissa.

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Peach Jack from Harvest Spirits

harvest spirits peach jack bottle

An experiment gone awry -- and then right.

By Daniel B.

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.

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The Tailored Tea

Tailored Tea exterior.jpg

Tea with a view

By Casey Normile

The historic farmhouse at the end of the runway at Albany International Airport runway sat vacant and in disrepair for years.

It had once served as a private home, a post office, a town hall, an inn, and was where a plan was hatched for the infamous Cherry Hill murder. It was even moved -- the whole house, moved -- 600 feet, at one point.

The house has now found a new life as the home of The Tailored Tea -- a tea room for breakfast, lunch, brunch, afternoon tea... and plane watching.

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Blueberry season 2012

blueberries and raspberries

You can't have summer without blueberries. (OK, technically you can, but it's not recommended.)

Blueberry season at Capital Region farms is starting. July is usually prime time for blueberries in this area, but it appears the season is getting a little bit of an early start. One farm we talked with today said blues are about two weeks ahead of their normal schedule -- and "everything is coming in fast."

Here are a handful of places where you can pick your own (as well as other types of berries)...

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Destination: beer

brewery visiting composite

By Jesse Drury

Beer enthusiasts will travel a bit to drink at a bar and restaurant, but the most gonzo beer appreciators like to travel to the source. A visit to the TAP New York festival this past April was a reminder of how easy that is to do if you live in the Capital Region.

One downside to beer festivals is that an hour into the tastings most palates are ruined, and the rest of the evening is spent coping without peripheral vision as you polka dance with strangers and speak/scream drink orders. In contrast, brewery tours allow you to taste beer, pair it with food, and learn something about its production.

After the jump, some tips on brewery tastings and a list of some local favorites with details on what to taste, when to visit, and some side excursions to turn a brewery visit into a day trip...

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Where to get an egg cream?

egg cream in glassLissa emails:

Do you or your readers know any place in the Capital Region to get a real old fashioned egg cream? I have a co-worker with a birthday coming up and I'd love to treat her. She grew up with Brooklyn egg creams.

For those who have yet to enjoy an egg cream, it's a drink made from chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer water. (Yeah, it sounds a little weird, but it works. And there's no egg in it.)

We've had egg creams at Emack & Bolio's in Albany -- the "Albany Egg Cream" -- and they're pretty good there. We suspect there are other places you can get them, too.

Got an egg cream suggestion for Lissa and her friend? Please share!

photo: Jason Perlow via Wikipedia

Vegan dishes worth trying -- even if you're not a vegan

composite of five vegan dishes

There are some "meaty" options.

By Casey Normile

Vegan food often gets a bad rap from non-vegans. For many people, the thought of cutting out not only meat but also dairy and eggs is just too much to imagine.

But there is good vegan food in Capital Region. Here are a few local dishes worth trying, whether you're a vegan -- or a carnivore.

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The carnitas taco at Bros Tacos

bros carnitas taco overhead

Under there: "the duck confit of pork."

By Daniel B.

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.

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Tickets for beer dinner at Central Steak

central steak exterior

Update: Drawing's closed! The winner's been emailed!

If you'd still like to suggest a local pairing, go for it -- you just won't be entered in the drawing.

Central Steak has a special five-course dinner paired with Sam Adams beers coming up June 28. We have a pair of tickets to the beer dinner, and we're giving them away. Maybe to you.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question:

What are two things in the Capital Region that would pair together well?

Example: Saratoga Springs' downtown paired with Troy's waterfront. Or whatever -- there are a lot of possibilities. Don't think too hard, it should be fun.

We'll draw one comment at random. That person will get the tickets.

The Sam Adams beer dinner at Central Steak starts at 6:30 pm on June 28 (a Thursday). Tickets are $50 -- reservations are available with a credit card by calling 456-1653. We hear the dinner is already more than half sold out.

The menu is after the jump.

Important: All comments must be submitted by noon on Tuesday (June 19, 2012) to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be entered in the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment (seriously, we want to give you the tickets). The winner will be notified via email by 5 pm on Tuesday and must respond by noon on Wednesday (June 20, 2012).

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Truck Pizza in Hudson

truck pizza hudson exterior side

Shiny.

Hudson has become one of our favorite weekend trips for a few reasons:

1. It's not really a trip. It's a 45 minute drive from near Albany -- about the same distance to Saratoga.

2. It feels like somewhere different. Maybe it's the NYC influence.

3. We usually come across something new or interesting or fun.

The latest new/interesting/fun thing: this past weekend we noticed Truck Pizza -- a food truck serving pizzas from an onboard wood-fired oven.

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Slidin' Dirty

slidin dirty truck customers

Lunch customers today in the East Greenbush Tech Park.

After hearing Danika and David rave about a food truck in downtown Troy -- "perhaps the best lunch in Troy" -- we figured it was worth tracking down. Also: we were hungry.

So today we caught up with the Slidin' Dirty food truck at the East Greenbush Tech Park and talked with its owners about sliders, fried avocado, tiny kitchens, and how the Capital Region could be a bit more food truck friendly.

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"It might as well have been some rare liquid drug."

buddhapesto closeupBuddhapesto gets some much deserved attention in the New York Times this week, with some great details about Maria Gandara and how she makes the pesto:

Only Ms. Gandara knows. Over the course of 10 years or so, she has been the sole conjurer of what is now approximately 3,000 containers of Buddhapesto per month. "[Husband] Gregor [Trieste] does not know how to make it," she said.
Such information would be tough to share, anyway, because Ms. Gandara, a 47-year-old mother of two, tends to measure her ingredients, whether it's a shotgun blast of tricolored pepper or a fluffy clump of parsley, by sight and by the way it feels in her hands.
She also uses a part of the body that's too rarely cited in cookbooks: her ears. She knew the pesto was ready, she said, when the shifting din of the food processor told her so: "It no longer sounds like it's struggling. The machine is at peace. It calms down. I am listening for an om."
Mr. Trieste, 43, said, "It's called a pest-om."

The fact that Gandara is the only one who knows how to make Buddhapesto is both charming and alarming. What if there's a freak processor accident? An attack of mutant basil? WHAT THEN?!? Buddhapesto will be lost to the world!

Obvious conclusion: Ms. Gandara needs to be cloned (organically, of course). Or her consciousness somehow needs to be preserved in one of those doomsday vaults where all the seeds are stored.

You can get Buddhapesto at the Troy Farmers' Market. And we've seen it at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, too.

Bonus bit: The basil for Buddhapesto comes from Slack Hollow Farm in Washington County.

[via @chefricorlando]

Earlier on AOA: Buddhapesto

Wild game night at City Beer Hall

city beer hall exterior

Update: Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The City Beer Hall in Albany has another one of its wild game nights coming up June 14: four courses will be paired with four beers from Sixpoint Brewery (the menu's post jump -- three words: wild boar bacon). We have two tickets to the dinner -- and we're giving them away, maybe to you.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

What's something wild about the Capital Region?

Of course, "wild" can mean a lot of things. Be creative. (And respectful.)

We'll draw one winner at random. That person with get a pair of tickets to the dinner. If you're not the lucky winner, tickets for the dinner are $60 each. The dinner starts at 6 pm.

City Beer Hall 1 Year Anniversary: CBH is celebrating its one-year anniversary on June 30 (a Saturday) with a pig roast on its patio (where this year's AOA birthday party was). The pork will be free to all who attend until its gone (we hear the pig will be 100+ pounds) -- and there will be other "pig roast appropriate" foods and drinks available. The party starts at 3 pm that day.

Important: All comments must be submitted by noon on Thursday (June 7, 2012) to be entered in the drawing. You must answer the question to be entered in the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment (seriously, we want to give you the tickets). The winner will be notified via email by 5 pm on Thursday and must respond by 5 pm on Friday (June 8, 2012).

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Nature's Place rotisserie chicken at Hannaford

hannaford nature's place rotisserie chicken cold in case

A surprising source.

By Daniel B.

Could the best chicken dinner in the Capital Region come from inside a plastic box?

Every fiber of my being is telling me not to write this story. There are precious few Nature's Place rotisserie chickens in the case at my local Hannaford to begin with. Often I get the last one or two. Sometimes I have to wait around until the next batch comes out of the oven. So if even just a few people decide to make this a regular part of their Friday night supper, I might find myself in the lurch.

Not all the Hannaford rotisserie chickens are created equal. The Nature's Place birds are special. Occasionally you have to look closely at a label to make sure you are getting the right one. But you can always tell, because the Nature's Place chickens are trussed with a green string.

Now, I'll admit that it doesn't look like much sitting in its little plastic prison, especially the ones that are a day old and chilled in the cold case -- but these are actually the very best specimens. It sounds a bit odd, and I don't blame you for being suspicious. However, this chicken exists in the fortuitous intersection of quality, convenience, sustainability, taste and value.

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Trader Joe's Wolf Road opening in August

 trader joes wolf road exterior 2012-05-30

The exterior as of May 30.

Update: The store opened August 3 as planned. Here was a preview tour we got that week.
____

The opening date for the Trader Joe's on Wolf Road is August 3 (a Friday), the company announced in a press release today. The store will open at 8 am that day. (Odds there will be a line before it opens: good. Odds people will be camping out: not bad.)

The company also says it will start accepting applications for jobs on June 18. "Interested individuals need to apply in person and can obtain an application on site or online."

Full press release post jump.

Prediction pool: No one had August 3 in the Supermarket Week Trader Joe's prediction pool. But Amy and Jenna both had August 1, which turned out to be a pretty good guess.

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What's growing in Albany's South End

radix center greenhouse

Veggies and plants growing at The Radix Center

By Noah Sheetz

soapbox badgeDrive through the South End and the DelSo neighborhoods and you can't help but notice change. An empty storefront at 540 Delaware is now the home of All Good Bakers. The demolition of a group Morton Avenue row houses has become part of an ongoing urban revitalization project. Pastor Charlie's Victory Church has turned a huge industrial space into a youth center with a youth-run thrift store and a refurbished trolley car emblazoned with the word "enough". Perry Jones, director of the Capital City Rescue Mission, is turning a former shirt factory building at the corner of Trinity Place and Arch Street into beautiful apartments for the needy and those who are recovering from substance abuse and are working to rebuild their lives.

And then there are the many changes that revolve around food, gardens, and local sustainability.

The local interest in, and prevalence of, youth agriculture programs here is fairly progressive -- even when you compare it to New York City. There's a lot going on in here, if you know where to look.

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Touring the Hilltowns, a farm at a time

pig at Eight Mile Creek

Well, hello.

We're always curious about where our food comes from. Not in an obsessive, super foodie kind of way -- it's more just being interested in how something growing in the ground, or grazing in a field, ends up on our plate.

So we recently asked Sarah Gordon, founder of FarmieMarket, if she could show us around a few farms out in the Albany County Hilltowns. Sarah knows a lot of the farmers there through her work with the market. But she also grew up there -- on a farm.

Sarah was nice enough to agree -- and last week we toured a handful of farms with her...

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Delivery! Comparing ShopRite from Home and Price Chopper Shops4U

shop_at_home_comparison_grocerybags.jpg

ShopRite doesn't hold back on the bagging.

By Nicole Lemperle Correia

Supermarket Week is back on AOA. All this week we'll have posts comparing, thinking, and talking about supermarkets. Hey, we all have to eat.

I've been hearing a lot lately about home grocery delivery. The new Albany ShopRite offers home delivery, and the Westgate Price Chopper recently rolled out a similar service (and made sure we knew about it -- we received Price Chopper flyers advertising the service in the mail every day for weeks).

I've been intrigued by the idea. After my daughter was born last year many things changed within our family, including my work schedule and our income. I usually do each week's shopping on my Mondays off, with my one-year-old in tow. Sometimes this is awesome. Sometimes it means rushing through the store doing everything I can to stave off a toddler meltdown ("Here, hold this bag of beans. No no, don't eat the bag. Ok, now we have to give it to the lady to scan. She'll give it back! I promise!") And then there's the part where I do a circus routine to get the baby and the groceries in the house.

The idea of having someone else do the shopping -- and deliver the goods to my door -- is very appealing. So recently I gave each service a go.

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Food Cycle

Currently up for funding on Kickstarter: Food Cycle, a project aimed at producing and delivery compost around Troy. On bikes. From the blurbage:

Food Cycle, a project of Troy Bike Rescue and Collard City Growers, is a bicycle compost delivery project employing neighborhood youth, while diverting household and restaurant food and yard waste back into the ground on our urban farm all by way of the transportation of the future: The bicycle!
Food Cycle will create a hyper-local compost network that lays the groundwork for a self-sustaining, scalable enterprise. We need the help of financial backers (you!) for initial investment.

Abby Lublin, from Collard City Growers (you might also know her from the Front Parlor story telling series), emails us (link added):

We're really making moves in N. Troy. These pedal-powered haulers will be used for many purposes, in fact, we're doing bike valet, tune-ups, bicycle blending (pedal-powered blender), and possibly delivery at the Farmers Market starting in June (through Tight Knit).

As of this morning, Food Cycle still needed about $7,500 and had 22 days to go.

Other local Kickstarter projects

There are at least nine other local Kickstarter projects looking for funding, ranging from fiber arts to beer to zombies...

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Bialy at the Eastern Parkway Price Chopper

bialy overhead

Sort of like a bagel, but not.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Photos from the AOA Burger Lab at Central Steak

the whole hog slider submission

Josie's submission, "The Whole Hog." Said one judge: "Thank god this is small because it could kill you."

We had a lot of fun at the AOA Burger Lab at Central Steak last week.

There were so... many... sliders. It was great to see all the combinations of toppings people put together on their tiny burgers. And we raised some money for the ASAP Daisies.

Five burger combinations submitted here at AOA were put to a taste test by our panel of judges. And we would have never guessed the winner.

Here are the results and a bunch photos...

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Ommegang Hop Chef

ommegang rare vos in glass closeupCould be fun: Brewery Ommegang is hosting a "Hop Chef" competition in Albany June 8. Basically, it's a group of local chefs competing against each other to see who can make the best dishes using Ommegang beer. From the blurbage:

[I]nnovative Capital Region chefs [will be] imaginatively preparing and pairing dishes with fine Ommegang ales. Each chef creates two dishes showcasing their skills in bringing Great Beer and Great Food to exuberant life. ...
COMPETING CHEFS INCLUDE
Brian Bowden of Creo
Elliot Cunniff of Colonie Golf & Country Club
Marcus Guiliano of Aroma Thyme Bistro
AJ Jayapal of The Mallozzi Family
Rachel Mabb of Bitches Kitchen Catering
Ric Orlando of New World Home Cooking & New World Bistro Bar
Jaime Ortiz of Mazzone Hospitality
Paul Ozimek of Taste

This is the brewery's second "Hop Chef" competition -- the first was in DC this past April (photos, recap).

The Albany event is June 8 (a Friday) at 11 North Pearl from 5:30-8:30 pm. Tickets are $55. If you buy a ticket before May 23, you'll be entered in a drawing to sit at the judges' table.

AOA/Central Steak Burger Lab finalists

central steak exterior

Pulled pork, coffee molasses glaze, caramelized onions, bacon, and romaine -- just one of the sliders that made the Burger Lab finals.

The AOA Burger Lab event at Central Steak is this Thursday. The people attending the slider tasting, a benefit for the ASAP Daisies, will get to create their own burgers from a long list of meats, toppings, and condiments.

And it's sold out.

But five people are getting a free ticket thanks to the combinations they posted as comments here at AOA when we first announced the event. Their combinations will be tasted a panel of judges, and the winner burger will be added to the Central Steak menu.

Here are the tasty-sounding combinations that made it to the final round...

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Fried oysters at Ted's Fish Fry

teds fish fry fried oysters overhead

Hard to describe.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Delaware Ave as gourmet destination

eric paul helping customers at Delmar Farmers' MarketFollow up: The Cheese Traveler is one of the applicants for this year's AOA Sunmark Startup Grant -- and in its application, Eric Paul mentions more about the plans for the shop he's opening with Tilldale Farms in Albany's Delaware Ave neighborhood, next to All Good Bakers:

The Cheese Traveler and Tilldale Farm are opening an eclectic food and farm store that will house a full service, cut-to-order European style cheese shop that focuses on farmhouse and artisan cheeses from the Northeast, greater US, and abroad. Tilldale Farm will sell grass-fed, certified organic, heritage breed beef, pork and eggs. Projected hours for the store will be 10 AM to 7 PM Tuesday through Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6PM. The Cheese Traveler and Tilldale Farm will invite other farmers market vendors to sell at "market days" in the space. "Market Days": There is interest from a growing list of vendors - fin, Our Daily Eats, Cascade Mtn. Winery, Frantzen's Scenic Acres, Saratoga Apple, and Farmer John Produce. Projected Market Days will be Friday from 4-7 and Sunday from 2-5.

You might recognize fin -- it's the mobile fishmonger that's been selling in Delmar and Guilderland.

If things work for out this shop -- Eric says they've already signed a lease -- it pushes Delaware Ave (The DelSo, if you're so inclined) toward becoming a gourmet food destination: Cardona's, All Good Bakers, Emack & Bolio's, this shop, a handful of good restaurants.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The Cheese Traveler is opening a shop
+ The Cheese Traveler

Oh, Whole Foods, why Colonie Center?

Thumbnail image for whole foods exterior san diego

A Whole Foods -- good. In Colonie Center -- maybe not so much.

By Christine Hmiel

soapbox badgeI'm happy that Whole Foods is expanding into our area.

I'll lamely admit that the so-called "grocery store wars" are exciting to me. I shop at Honest Weight Food Co-Op, farmers' markets, and belong to both a CSA and a CSB, but like many of you, I still buy a chunk of my weekly groceries from grocery stores. Having more options for buying affordable, healthy foods along with products for specialty and food-allergic diets is good for everyone.

Competition is good. Investment in our region is good.

The Colonie Center location for Whole Foods? Not good.

Not good at all.

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Whole Foods is coming to Albany

whole foods exterior san diego

A Whole Foods in San Diego.

Updated 11:55 am May 3, 2012

Whole Foods announced in its quarterly earnings report yesterday that it has signed a lease for a store in the Albany, New York area. The company also mentioned it on its Twitter feed.

A spokesman for Whole Foods, Michael Sinatra, tells AOA the store will be at Colonie Center. He says the supermarket chain will be taking over a portion of the bottom floor of the Sears space there. The store is expected to be 32,000 square feet.

Sinatra says the target date for the store opening is late 2013 early 2014. The store is still "very much in the planning phase." It will be Whole Foods' first store in upstate New York. Sinatra says the company already works with a lot of farms in this region.

"We've had requests for sometime from that area, so we're excited to open there," Sinatra says. And in an follow up email: "Nothing in particular pushed us over the edge [in deciding to expand to Albany] other than tremendous support from the local community in having us come to Albany."

At tip of the hat to Business Review for first reporting the lease signing.

What about Sears?

The announcement prompts the question: What about Sears? Susan Spaccarelli, Colonie Center's marketing manager, told us this morning that Sears will not be leaving the mall -- but she couldn't share details because the mall has not received official confirmation of the deal. Spaccarelli said Sears owns its chunk of the mall, so any leasing deal would be between Whole Foods and Sears.

A spokesman for Sears, Chris Braithwaite, tells us the company plans to continue on as usual at the Colonie Center location -- it's just that part of its space will be turned over to Whole Foods. He says it's too early to tell what the product mix will be in the reconfigured space. Braithwaite says the Colonie Center store is one of the bigger Sears, though he declined to share its square footage.

Sears and Whole Foods have teamed up for a similar deal in at least one other location, in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Supermarket field is getting crowded

Either by coincidence or strategy, the Whole Foods will be going in just down the street from the new Trader Joe's on Wolf Road. TJ's hasn't announced when that store will open, but it probably won't be long -- the company has said it would be during this quarter.

Another angle in all this: the local supermarket field is getting crowded -- and competitive. ShopRite is investing significantly in this area with two (eventually four) new stores. A Vermont-based market called Healthy Living -- which is a bit like Whole Foods -- is planning to open a store in Wilton. The relatively new Fresh Market in Latham has apparently been very well. The Honest Weight Food Co-op is looking to move ahead on its planned location in Albany. And the established players, Price Chopper especially, appear to be trying to step up their game.

Wegmans could cause a mass medical emergency right now with any sort of nod toward this area. Thousands would probably succumb to supermarket hysteria-induced fainting.

After the jump, much reaction -- a lot of it not positive -- from Twitter and Facebook.

(Thanks, Alex!)

photo: Flickr user Roebot

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Where to go for happy hour?

martiniJoey asks via Twitter:

I'm searching for some good happy hour specials. So hard to find. Perhaps a post on local places w/happy hour specials?

A similar topic, Albany-specific, came up about a year and a half ago. We're curious any good happy hour spot around the Capital Region.

Got a suggestion for Joey and other thirsty people? Please share!

photo: Flickr user Dana Moos

Cheese Traveler is opening a shop

Eric Paul helping customers at the Delmar Farmers' Market last November.

Eric Paul -- AKA The Cheese Traveler -- announced last night that he's opening a shop in Albany's Delaware Ave neighborhood, in the same strip as All Good Bakers.

We're waiting to hear more from Paul about his plans. As he posted: "there are many more details, because as usual our venture has to be eclectic." (This has been simmering since at least March -- let's just say we're curious to hear about the "eclectic" part of all this.)

Up to this point, Paul's shop has been mobile -- he's sold cheese at the Delmar Farmers' Market and other events. Daniel B -- who loves himself some cheese -- had high praise for Paul while writing about him back in November for AOA:

Eric isn't just a good cheesemonger, he's a great one. Nobody locally is doing what he does. Beyond his commitment to small-production, handmade raw milk cheese, it's the practices he employs that put him in the ranks of the country's best.

Cheese gawking: Paul recently created a six course cheese tasting menu for Deanna featuring some beautiful cheese. [via @StanfordSteph]

Speaking of All Good Bakers: The grand opening for their new shop is this Friday from 5-6:30 pm.

AOA Burger Lab at Central Steak

central steak exterior

Update: This event is sold out. But you can still enter the contest below until midnight May 9.

Inventing stuff is fun.

It's better when that stuff is food.

And even better when it's mini food -- like sliders.

So, on May 17 AOA is hosting a Burger Lab at Central Steak . You'll get to invent your own sliders using a lineup of tasty toppings -- everything from pork belly to wasabi scallion aioli to caramelized fennel to cotija cheese. The event is a fundraiser for the ASAP Daisies -- a group of young philanthropists who help a host of good organizations in the Capital Region.

For $15 you get all the sliders and toppings you can eat -- plus a fun night with interesting people. Get your tickets here -- there's a limited number. Tickets are sold out. It all starts at 6 pm on May 17 (that's a Thursday).

But wait, there's more: You could win a free ticket and also get your burger creation on the Central Steak menu.

After the jump, you'll find a list of the meats, condiments, cheeses, and toppings that will be on the slider bar. Invent a combination you think will be delicious and leave it in a comment.

We'll select five burgers from the submitted ideas -- those people will get a free ticket to the event, and their burgers will be tasted by a panel of judges. The one the judges like the best will be added to the Central Steak menu. (please see the details)

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Good lunch spots in Rensselaer/East Greenbush?

albany skyline from RensselaerMelissa asks via Twitter:

In serious need of good lunch take-out suggestions in Rensselaer/East Greenbush. I was spoiled working down the street from the Iron Gate [in Albany]! I'd love a place with soups and salads and interesting sandwiches.

We are reasonably certain people in East Greenbush eat lunch. So there have to be at least few spots Melissa should try.

Got a suggestion? Please share!

Earlier on AOA:
+ Where to have lunch in downtown Troy?
+ Good lunch spots in downtown Albany?

Tickets for A Taste of Albany 2012

taste of albany 2011 bennett campbell

From last year's A Taste of Albany at the State Museum.

Drawing's closed! Winner's been emailed!

The annual A Taste of Albany is May 3 at the State Museum. The fundraiser for the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless will include samples of food from more than 30 Capital Region restaurants. We have a pair of tickets for the event and we'd like to give them away -- maybe even to you.

To enter the drawing, please answer this question in the comments:

What's the one local food, dish, taste, or food experience that says "spring" to you?

We'll pull one winner at random from the comments.

A Taste of Albany is from 6-8 pm on May 3 (that's a Thursday). Tickets start at $60 ($50 if you're under 30). We've heard from organizers that this year's event is heading for another sell out.

The tasting is in the terrace gallery of the State Museum -- maybe you can ride the carousel.

Important: All comments must be submitted by noon on Thursday (April 26, 2012) to be entered in the drawing. One entry per person, please. You must enter a valid email address (that you check regularly) with your comment (seriously, we want to give you the tickets). The winner will be notified via email by 3 pm on Thursday and must respond by noon on Friday (April 27, 2012).

photo: Bennett Campbell

Checking out the new Albany ShopRite

albany shoprite exterior

We can safely report: it's a modern supermarket.

The new Albany ShopRite opens this Thursday. If the opening of the Niskayuna location is any indication, the scene will probably be a zoo. Such is the product of the Capital Region's apparent supermarket obsession.

We were invited to check out the new Albany store today, and went for two reasons: 1) to gawk at perfectly stocked aisles and 2) to maybe find out why ShopRite has decided to build four stores in the Albany area -- and why now.

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South Carolina pulled pork sandwich at Capital Q

capital q pulled pork sandwich

Porky.

By Daniel B.

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.

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A fab cafeteria

Mat Massen's Glo Flo lunchg

From a recent lunch there: Pesto-grilled skirt steak à la Global Foundries

It sounds like the new cafeteria at the GlobalFoundries chip fab in Malta is probably a bit nicer than the snack bar at your office, in part of because of the mix of employees from all over the world. From a recent bit on the website for industry publication Semiconductor Manufacturing and Design, which notes that half of the contractors working at the fab are from abroad:

These workers from abroad have raised the standards for the Fab 8 cafeteria, said Angelo Mazzone, the CEO of a company which runs five cafeterias and six restaurants in the area. "We have a lot of people here from Singapore and Dresden, and these people from overseas know so much about food," Mazzone said.
Each food station has a bona fide chef, and there is a full-time coffee barista who offers drinks made from beans sourced from around the world. "The people from Dresden like real strong coffee," Mazzone noted.

The fab is ramping up production, and the cafeteria may eventually go 24/7.

photo: Mat Maessen

Dining Out for Life with AOA

Dining Out for Life -Save the date.jpgIt's time for one of our favorite fundraisers of the year -- the Aids Council of Northeastern New York's Dining Out for Life event.

Here's how it works: You go out to eat.

That's it.

Well, that's almost it. You go out to eat at one of the participating restaurants this Thursday, April 26 and the restaurant will donate a portion of your bill to The Aids Council. There are lunch and dinner options available, and this year there are even some bakeries and dessert places in the mix. It's an easy way to do a good thing.

AOA is a media sponsor for Dining Out for Life. And we're adopting Mingle on Delaware Ave for this year's event, so we hope you can join us there. We've reserved a table for 25 people at 6 pm, so if you'd like dine with us, just RSVP here. Last year's event was a lot of fun, so we're looking forward to meeting some new folks and spending time with old friends.

If you can't make it to any of the Dining Out For Life events, but would still like to help out, you can make a donation here.

Another scoop of frozen yogurt (or yogourt)

yeh frozen yogurt coming soon posterWhat Colonie is to cupcakes, Guilderland is becoming to frozen yogurt: Yeh! -- a Montreal-based chain -- is opening soon in Crossgates, between the Apple Store and Burlington Coat Factory. (We have an email in about the date.) [Crossgates Facebook]

We'd never heard of Yeh! before -- apparently it's a notable example of Quebec entrepreneurship. It looks like the other new-style froyo shops. [Montreal Gazette]

It will be the third froyo shop in that area -- there's a TCBY across from Stuyvesant Plaza and a 16 Handles mysteriously being sited somewhere in McKownville. Is there such as a thing as froyo over-saturation -- peak froyo?

photo: Crossgates Facebook

Chinese cabbage is a cool (weather) customer

pac choi bok choy in field at Kilpatrick Family Farm

Pak choi at Kilpatrick Family Farm.

By Christina Davis

We're very happy to welcome From Scratch Club founder Christina Davis to AOA. (Also, over at FSC today: AOA Greg on baking bread. Yes, really.)

from scratch club badgeI don't know about you but I'm ready for the flavorful and colorful bounty of the summer months: strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, and much much more. We are already seeing a few glimpses of what's to come with wild-foraged ramps and fiddleheads, along with asparagus and spring peas.

Until then -- while we're in "winter market" season -- you can still find some crisp cooler-weather greens at your local farmers market. To me, there is nothing better to dine on in the drawn-out grey months of winter and early-spring than fresh leafy greens: arugula, spinach, mustards, mesclun.

And then there are the Chinese brassicas: the broad, leafy greens pak choi and boy choy, and the densely-packed heads of Napa cabbage. Hands down, if you're looking for a taste of summer salad with the crunch of your summertime broad-leafed romaines and the slight watery texture of a head lettuce varieties, pak choi/bok choy has you covered for the remaining weeks of spring. I know I know, you usually add the choy to stir fries and fried rice dishes or you sauté with some garlic, hot pepper flakes and oil for a more Italian broccoli rabe-inspired side, but trust me when I say, eat it raw in salads or use as a cup for lettuce wraps. It will make you miss summer BBQs and park picnics just a little less.

We are lucky in the Capital Region to have a handful of farms that grow various leafy greens year-round, including Slack Hollow Farm (at the Troy Farmers' Market) and Kilpatrick Family Farm (at the Saratoga Farmers' Market), where I'm the community supported agriculture (CSA) coordinator.

I recently got a tour of how these greens are grown during the cold weather.

(Plus: a recipe for Asian greens salad.)

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A sampling of cooking classes, spring 2012

gio culinary studio croissantsA few months ago we pulled together a list of some upcoming cooking classes that looked interesting or fun. And people seemed into it.

So, here's a new batch of classes about all sorts of stuff -- from local dairy, to cupcakes, to comfort food, to sushi, to grilling sausage, to Indian, to canning, to crackers, to... bacon.

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Croissants at Mrs. London's

Mrs Londons croissant overhead

By Daniel B.

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.

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From Scratch Club classes

from scratch club classes badgeThe From Scratch Club has something new simmering: cooking classes.

FSC members will be teaching a bunch of cooking classes at the Arts Center of the Capital Region this summer. On the FSC slate at the Arts Center:

  • The Art of Tarts
  • Waterbath Canning 101
  • Makin' Bacon
  • Brioche Workshop
  • Waterbath Canning 101
  • Jelly, Jam, Preserve: What's the Difference?
  • Summertime Condiments
  • DIY Home + Body Sampler
  • Food Preservation 101
  • Home Dairy 101

FSC has also announced "classes in a bag," in which they'll bring the class to small groups:

With a minimum of you & 4 friends/family members/co-workers, we will come to your home (or business) to teach a class of your choice! Each class will be 2 hours in length (unless otherwise noted) and will include a 30 minute prep & clean-up period.

The first class at the Arts Center is June 3 -- it's "Art of Tarts" with DreamPuff Marshmallows' Ginny O'Neill.

The Arts Center advertises on AOA

The best tacos in the Capital Region?

la mexicana tacos overheadMatthew just gets right to it on a very important topic, via Twitter:

Best tacos in Albany?

A recently as just a few years ago, there wasn't much competition. But the taco scene (if that's the word) in the Capital Region has expanded.

So, what's your favorite? (And don't be constrained just by places that are taquerias or Mexican.) Please share!

Earlier on AOA:
+ Tacos at La Mexicana Grocery & Restaurant
+ Tortillaville in Hudson
+ Mexican Market in Albany
+ The Bros Pork Taco

Diners of the Capital District

Northampton Diner .jpg

One of Mike's hidden "gems" -- a restored diner near the Sacandaga.

Mike Engle never set foot in a diner until he was in his mid 20s. "My family," he says, "just didn't eat out a lot."

Then a friend took him to the vintage Miss Johnstown Diner in Johnstown, New York. Since then diners have held a special place in Engle's heart. And his stomach.

In the last fifteen years he's eaten in at least 400 diners.

The Rensselaer County native literally wrote the book on New York diners -- Diners of New York State. But he wanted to give each individual diner more attention than the book allowed. So he recently self-published a book focused on diners of the Capital Region, aptly titled Diners of the Capital Region.

The new book features more than 50 regional diners, past and present, and looks at their history, their architecture and their food. It can also be used as a kind of "diner tour guide" of sorts -- with spaces after each entry for the autograph of the servers and the diner owners.

Engle took time from visiting diners and teaching math at HVCC to talk with us about local diner "gems," his favorite things to order, and what's so great about diners.

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Good lunch spots in downtown Albany?

downtown albany lower state streetPerhaps feeling left out during last week's discussion about good lunch spots in Troy, Rebecca asked in the comments:

[B]eing that this isn't "All Over Troy" I think it's only fair and right that AOA rebuts with "good places for lunch in downtown ALBANY"!!

Our lunch time experiences in downtown Albany have included an unfortunate number of misses. But we're guessing people who work there all the time have the scoop.

So, what are the good lunch spots in downtown Albany? Please share!

Lloyd Spear Honey

lloyd spear honey alfalfa bottle

Buzzzzz.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Where to have lunch in downtown Troy?

troy monument squareJay asks via Facebook:

Hey AOA. Do you guys have any tips for eating lunch in downtown Troy?

Troy has been described as "some kind of lunch time mecca" -- and with good reason. You're certainly not lacking for choices.

So, what's your favorite spot? Or maybe a tip about some place that more people should know about? Please share!

The new All Good Bakers location

AGB Britin and Nick.jpg

All Good Bakers Britin and Nick Foster at their new Delaware Avenue location

All Good Bakers is ensconced in its new DelSo home and ready to open its doors.

Nick and Britin Foster and their team will start serving up breads, soups, salads, sandwiches and other goodies starting this Wednesday morning at 8 am.

Here's a peek inside the new place...

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Tasting Capital Region cupcakes

cupcake_tasting_peanut_butter_overhead.jpg

The Capital Region loves peanut butter cup cupcakes, apparently.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Goats & Gourmets

goats and gourmets productsCheck it out: FarmieMarket, the local online farmers market, has added a dairy to its lineup of producers. And it's a goat dairy.

From FarmieMarket's announcement of the addition of Goats & Gourmets, which is operated by Regina and Frank Bryant in Westerlo:

Regina, originally from Germany, has more than twenty years in the restaurant business working as a chef and restaurant owner in Florida and Manhattan. A few years ago, she decided to get out of the restaurant business and redirect her passion for gourmet food at the grassroots level by starting her own value-added goat dairy. So, in 2007 the Bryants moved to the Heldeberg Hilltowns, started a family, and dug in to build their farm.
After years of planning, practice and labor, they have grown their goat herd, built their own on-site cheese making facility, and earned their New York State inspections to begin selling their cheeses and other goat products to the public. The Bryants have skillfully built their goatherd to comprise a medley of all the beautiful dairy breeds, including Oberhasli, Toggenburg, Alpine, Saanen and LaMancha.

FarmieMarket is selling Goats & Gourments feta cheese in beet dressing, feta cheese in Italian dressing, dill medley chevre, and apricot-honey chevre.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Interesting in 2011: FarmieMarket's Sarah Gordon
+ Milk delivery options in the Capital Region

photo via FarmieMarket

Dim Sum at Ala Shanghai

ala shanghai dim sum composite

Pan fried tiny pork buns, shu mai, soup dumplings, crispy turnip pastry

By Daniel B.

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.

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A peek inside Carmine's Brazilian Grill

carmines brazilian exterior

Just up from the corner of Pearl and Sheridan.

We stopped by Carmine Sprio's soon-to-be-open restaurant in downtown Albany late Friday afternoon to peek in the widows. Ethan had mentioned he saw furniture being moved in, and we were curious to see how things were shaping up.

As it turned out, Sprio was there and he was nice enough to give us a quick tour and tell us a little more about the restaurant's concept, which sounds like something a bit different for the Capital Region.

Here's a quick look, along with a few details.

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Better ways to celebrate St. Patrick's Day

st patricks parade 2010 leprechaun

From the Albany St. Patrick's Day Parade a few years back.

By Elisabeth Draper

Last St. Patrick's Day was a memorable one, to say the least, but for all the wrong reasons. It's a great holiday -- just one better celebrated without destruction, arrests, and bunch of other regrettable behavior. The celebration shouldn't leave an unsightly pockmark on a city and region with a proud Irish history.

So, to help reset the course of St. Patrick's Day in the Capital Region, here are a bunch of local ways to celebrate the holiday. From music, to food and drink, dance, history, and shopping, use this guide to make the most of the time of year where everyone is Irish, if only for a day.

Slainte!

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Where the supermarkets are -- and aren't

Prompted by a discussion earlier this week about chain supermarkets and food deserts, we figured it'd be interesting to see how supermarkets in the Capital Region are distributed geographically. It might give us a better sense of what sort of supermarket access there is for each part of the area.

The resulting map -- along with another map of officially designated food deserts -- and some quick discussion, after the jump.

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Browsing the new Penzeys Spices at Crossgates

penzeys crossgates exterior

First floor, near the movie theater.

By Daniel B.

Regardless how good a catalog may be, nothing comes close to being able to see, touch, and in this case, smell the merchandise.

Last week, without much fanfare, a retail store for Penzeys Spices opened in Crossgates Mall. It's on the first floor by the movie theater, in between the Sprint store and Johnny Rockets.

For the better part of a decade I've bought herbs and spices from this purveyor through the mail, even though they have stores in 29 states. And while I cannot tell you how this location stacks up to those around the country, what awaits you at the Guilderland mall is pretty special.

Grab a hand basket when you step into the door, because you are going to need it.

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Ice cream season has started

snowman sign troyImportant news: ice cream season has started in the Capital Region.

The Snowman in Troy opened this afternoon. It'll be open until 9 pm if you feel to need to stop by. It would be perfectly understandable.

We did quick check of a handful of other seasonal ice cream spots around the area, and it looks like the Snowman currently stands alone. Kurver Creme's Facebook page says it hasn't picked an opening date for this season, yet. And calls to a bunch of other spots went unanswered.

But now that it's March, it won't be long.

(Thanks, Danielle!)

Earlier on AOA: Eat this: The Boston Shake at The Snowman

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Where to get churros?

churrosAsking for a friend, Katherine emails:

A friend of mine is in dire need of churros but we don't know where to find any. Can you please help?

Oh, sure -- a "friend" is in dire need of churros. Well, we also have a "friend" who enjoys eating churros dipped in chocolate sauce (really the only way churros should be eaten).

Got a suggestion for Katherine's friend? Please share!

Earlier on AOA:
+ Eat this: Boston cream donuts at Bella Napoli
+ Eat this: Glazed donuts at the Cookie Factory
+ A short tour of Capital Region doughnuts

photo: Flicker user Sirsnapsalot

Boston cream donuts at Bella Napoli

bella napoli boston cream donuts in box

Buy them by the box.

By Daniel B.

If you've been looking for great donuts, this is where they've been hiding.

Well, except for basic glazed, because those are better bought elsewhere. Oh, and cider donuts should be eaten at an orchard during the fall, hot out of the bag.

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.

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Where to take candy-making lessons?

fudge closeupEric asks via Facebook:

Is there any place around to take candy making lessons? I'd like to learn how to make a proper fudge, or Opera Cream.

Got a suggestion for Eric? Share, please!

Earlier on AOA: A sampling of cooking classes

photo: Flickr user Chocolate Reviews

On the Things We Miss (Albany)

Miss Albany Sold Sign Madeo.jpg

The Miss Albany this week

By Rob Madeo

soapbox badgeThe Miss Albany Diner has been closed for more than a week now. Is it too soon to stop mourning? Let's hope not.

Much ink was spilled over shuttering the iconic diner... oh, wait, I'm sorry! It was not merely a diner, it was a treasure. It was a slice of history served up with your slice of pie. A step back in time, for God's sake. You did not go there for breakfast, but to partake in the Feast of the Gods.

Miss Albany was good place. It had decent food. The people who ran it were nice. And apparently it held great sway over writers, because locking its doors unleashed a torrent of words twice as sweet as the MAD Irish Toast but a hundred times harder to digest. Unfortunately, all of them missed the point.

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Scenes from the last day at the Miss Albany

last day at Miss Albany

A full house on the last day.

As you well know, the Miss Albany Diner closed last Friday. Photographer Julia Zave was there to document the final day of the local institution. And she was nice enough to share a handful of her photos with us. They're in large format after the jump.

A few of Julia's photos accompanied an article in Metroland this week by Amy Halloran about the closing of the diner. You should check it out -- Amy talked with owners Jane Brown and her son Bill about what they're planning to do next (one of those things: a Miss Albany cookbook).

By the way: You might know Julia from her concert photography. She also recently started doing lifestyle photography for clients.

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A good lunch in Saratoga

esperanto_doughboy.jpgNick is heading to lunch in the Spa City and asked via Twitter

"What's the best lunch spot in Saratoga?"

There's a lot to choose from, depending on what kind of food/atmosphere you're looking for, but Nick's request immediately set off our craving for an Esperanto doughboy. Ravenous is also a good stop for crepes and pomme frites.

Got another favorite Saratoga lunch spot? Help Nick out.

A chicken sandwich found

chicken sandwich city beer hall

Lovely.

Ever since the Wine 'n Diner closed, we've been going through Southern Belle withdrawal. She was beautiful: juicy, crispy, fried chicken on a potato bun with mayo. Few lunches were better.

So we were very happy to once again come across the Southern Belle, though she's since moved north, and possibly attended college somewhere in Vermont (Middlebury, perhaps). The chicken sandwich on the menu at the City Beer Hall is everything we loved about the Belle -- and more. That perfect fried chicken, now with cranberry goat cheese, black olive spread, and arugula, on grilled sourdough.

It's no surprise the Belle would turn up here. The owner of the former Wine 'n Diner -- Dimitrios Menagias -- runs the kitchen at the City Beer Hall.

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By the way: The City Beer Hall has the latest in its series of beer and wild game dinners this Thursday night. Tickets are $60. (There's another one in March.)

Brown stew at Orchids Jamaican-American Restaurant

eat this brown stew orchids jamaican

There's a lot of food -- and flavor -- packed into that container.

By Daniel B.

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.

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Where to get good tortillas?

tortillas stacked on plateAaron (@WashUffize) asks via Twitter:

Recommendations on where near Albany to get good tortillas, preferably corn and/or "home made"?

The unfortunate fact is that most of us are accustomed to not-fresh -- or just plain bad -- tortillas. The good ones are worth seeking out.

So, got a suggestion for Aaron? Please share!

Update: Aaron says he had success at Mexican Market on Central Ave in Albany.

photo: Flickr user cbertel

Healthy Living Market opening in Wilton

healthy living market south burlington

The Healthy Living Market in South Burlington, Vermont.

The Vermont-based Healthy Living Market and Cafe announced today that it's planning a new store at the Wilton Mall, aiming to be open next winter.

The market will occupy the space left empty by the former J.C. Penney at the mall. The company says the store will be about 35,000 square feet. (For comparison: the new ShopRite being built in Albany will be 65,000 square feet.) The company says it's planning to hire about 140 people.

The company touts its store as "a one-stop destination for natural groceries, fresh organic and local produce, locally sourced meats and poultry, crusty artisan breads, a world of cheese, health and beauty products, a complete vitamin/supplement department, freshly prepared foods and a broad selection of microbrews and wine."

We hear from a Vermonter that Health Living is like a Whole Foods or Fresh Market, but with an emphasis on local food. We also hear that its nickname around Burlington is "Wealthy Living," because it does tend to be high-end.

This will be the company's second store. Its first opened in South Burlington 26 years ago. If you've ever been to that store, we'd love to hear about it.

Full press release after the jump.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The local supermarket field is getting crowded
+ Trader Joe's confirms Wolf Road location

photo: Flickr user NNECAPA

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Tributes to the Miss Albany

Thumbnail image for miss albany diner exteriorToday, of course, was the day for the Miss Albany Diner. The building has been sold, and the diner's owners are shutting the business down (though they'll still own the name and recipes).

With all the tributes and goodbye tweets being posted about the Albany landmark, we figured it'd be good to collect them. Here's a bunch -- and if there are others, please let us know, we'll add them.

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An unpopular place for Valentine's Day?

champagne flutesLooking for something different this Valentine's Day, Katie asks via Twitter:

Any suggestions of nice places to go (other than the obvious Jacks, 677, Brown Derby, Yonos) in Albany for Valentines Day?
AOA: Are you looking for someplace out of the way -- or just sort of off the radar?
Off the radar I guess... don't want to fight for parking & don't want to pay $30 an entree. That possible? :)

A burger and a milkshake can be fun and/or romantic if you're with the right person.

So, suggestions for Katie? Please share!

Earlier on AOA: Local Valentine's Day gifts?

photo: Flickr user _FXR

A farewell to the Miss Albany Diner

miss albany diner server irish toast

Photo via Chuck Miller, who stopped by MAD this morning and said it was busy. Who could pass up a last chance at MAD Irish Toast?

Akum stopped by the Miss Albany Diner for one last breakfast this week. From her thoughts on the place closing:

There's something about this place that's essentially Albany: Gritty, without pretension, but blessed with a long history, a sense of humor and more than a few hidden treasures. No, that's not it, exactly - its treasures aren't hidden. The place just didn't feel the need to crow about them.

She reports tomorrow (Friday) is the last day before the diner closes.

Matt Baumgartner and his businesses partners have bought the Miss Albany building -- but not the name or recipes -- and are still figuring out what they'll do with it. (Be sure to read Matt's comment.)

photo: Chuck Miller

New York State food regions map

food regions new york state shannon glazer

We kind of feel sorry for the "bark" regions of the state.

Check out this food map of New York State created by Shannon Glazer. She's divided the state into regions based on the foods for which they're known. For example: Utica and chicken riggies. She also marks the ever-important pop/soda demarcation.

Here's a large-format version of the map.

Shannon's started a Twitter feed related to the map: @NYS_food_map.

(Thanks, Shannon!)

Earlier on AOA: Martin on candidates for the quintessential Capital Region food.

The quintessential Capital Region food?

Doughboy.jpg

The Esperanto Doughboy is on the list.

By Martin Daley

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

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

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

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

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Eating the buffalo chicken wing cupcake from Coccadotts

two coccadotts buffalo wing cupcake

Buffalo wings and cupcakes together -- as nature probably never intended.

When we heard this week that local cake shop Coccadotts was making Buffalo chicken wing cupcakes for the Super Bowl, we were intrigued. Because... Buffalo chicken wing cupcakes. It seemed unnatural, possibly wrong -- and perhaps, in some weird way, maybe kind of good.

So we stopped by the bakery today to eat one.

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Miss Albany Diner building sold to Matt Baumgartner and partners

miss albany diner exterior

Miss Albany Diner.

Matt Baumgartner posted today that he and business partners Jimmy and Demetra Vann have bought the Miss Albany Diner building. The name "Miss Albany Diner" and its recipes are not part of the deal:

matt baumgartner 2012

Mrs. [Jane] Brown and her son Bill, are legally keeping the name "Miss Albany Diner" as well as their recipes, and they maintain the right to open another diner in another location, as well as having the right to sell the name Miss Albany Diner and it's recipes to an interested party at another location. As new owners of the property, we legally can not continue to operate the space as Miss Albany Diner or use their menu items. I'm only noting that because it is important to us that it is clear that we are not "closing down Miss Albany Diner". They sold us the property, and we are not legally allowed to re-open Miss Albany Diner in that space.

On a personal note, I would like to thank Jane and Bill Brown, for giving us the opportunity to care for a building that is considered by many to be one of the most iconic buildings in the capital region. I know the Browns hold the diner very dear to their hearts, and I promise we will respect the history, the memory, and the integrity of Miss Albany Diner.

Baumgartner told Steve Barnes they don't have immediate plans to re-open the place as a diner. [Table Hopping]

The diner had been for sale since 2009. Cliff Brown, who owned the diner with his wife Jane, passed away in 2010. [TU] [TU]

The diner was built in 1941 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It's had at least three names prior to being called the Miss Albany. [National Register] [Wikipedia]

Of course, Baumgartner and his partners own Wolff's, which is just next door to MAD.

photo: UpstateNYer via Wikipedia
Baumgartner photo via Matt Baumgartner

The organic milk shortage

hannaford organic milk shortage sign

A sign on the dairy case at the Hannaford in Albany.

Over the last month or so we've noticed signs popping up on dairy cases at both Hannaford and Price Chopper noting that there's an organic milk shortage. And the shelves in the case have appeared rather bare at times. (We were the ones who took the last half-gallon of organic milk at the Slingerlands Price Chopper the other day. Sorry about that.)

So, what's going on?

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Behold: the chicken wing cupcake

coccadotts chicken wing cupcake

That's brown sugar sprinkled on top, apparently.

Update: We tried them -- and they're... different.
____

Colonie cake shop Coccadotts is now offering a savory chicken wing cupcake.

Yep, you read that correctly.

From the shop's Facebook page:

Here it is! Go wild with our savory Chicken Wing cupcakes! All the goodness of a typical party platter, fitting in the palm of your hand. With a buttery corn bread base and bleu cheese frosting, the only thing that makes these better is the amazing chicken wing on top!

The store says in a comment on its FB page that the cupcakes will be available this Friday through Sunday for pick up -- or by call-ahead order. Also: "Trust us, they are better tasting than you think!"

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before these two great handheld snacks were united. The idea seems to have originated -- or at least gained popularity -- with Stephanie Polluck, who writes a blog called the Cupcake Project. As you might imagine, the internet then didn't quite know what to do with itself.

[via @derryX]

Earlier on AOA: Coccadotts on Cupcake Wars

photo: Coccadotts