Monday, April 10, 2017

Charmed, I'm Sure: Scarboroughs Restaurant

Yep, another Friday, another tavern. A long busy week at work, head down, in bed late, up early, everything's good until someone ticks you off, you put on your cape and tights and run around trying to save the world then it's back to the mundane of cat litter and deer eating your tulips and really, how long has it been 3:00 o'clock???????????  Grrrrrrrrrrrr.  Traffic isn't moving, then someone cuts me off. Why is it that spring brings out the worst in drivers???
Large front patio 
Finally I arrive and find me a nice hard bar stool to set my bony arse and it's time to hang and chill with my good friend Stretch. Scarborough's Restaurant and Tavern, located just off Route 7 in Latham on the north side of the Albany International Airport, is almost charming, a word I don't use very often because it can sound snarky, but honestly, it's charming. There's a large patio out front with a view of the parking lot but you are actually surrounded by trees - very nice. Half of this large, wood frame building is a renovated home with party rooms you can reserve for free, and just inside there's a small bar area with a modest sized dining room off to the right with lots of booths. Business picks up as evening approaches, so be warned. The decor is homey, woodsy, dark, intimate and relatively quiet. 
Party rooms available - very homey
But for now, it's happy hour (4-7 p.m., weekdays). I got me a Brown's Brewery Vienna Lager for just $3/pint - sweet, clean, not too bubbly, just like me. The house chardonnay ($4/happy hour), Nathanson Creek, was a bit off, so instead Stretch went for the Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc ($7). The wine menu isn't much to rave about but there are a few good beers on tap, nothing fancy, as well as a appetizer specials ($5/each) - very budget friendly.
Attractive bar 
And the food hardly needs to be described if you think "tavern": predictable, nothing terribly creative, dynamic, exotic, themed, experimental, or high-end, but there are a few tasty spins and reaches worth exploring, and the food is pretty darn good. Fried mozz sticks, spinach salad, tasty burgers, some specialty sandwiches, and a few dinners - something for everyone, including gluten free pasta on request. Last week we just ordered apps. I had the wings (half order $6) - these were very tender, not crispy at all, nice sauce - lightly spicy, rich blue cheese dipping sauce, fresh celery sticks and totally carrot free (harumph). 

Good wings, could be crispier, carrot free
Stretch had the Mango Pork Nachos ($11) - light crispy fresh corn chips buried in smoky pulled pork and topped with melted real cheddar, a few diced veg like corn and red onions, and chunks of cold mango. It was NOT attractive, but tasty, though impossible to eat and be dainty. The corn chips couldn't handle the load on top, they just broke off onto the plate off the fork and onto the counter and my lap and the floor. Shoveling it into my mouth worked. There was enough here to feed two hungry girls for sure, even with drinkie poos. 
The Mango Pork Nachos were not attractive, but it was very tasty and there was plenty to share
An older crowd with money to spend, I think Scarboroughs can up the ante as far as the menu is concerned, but I'm not complaining - reliable, affordable, properly prepared.  As always, the venue and good service go a long way toward ending the work week right. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire
Charmed, I'm sure

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Worthless Opinion: Wine and Chocolate Festival at the Desmond March 18, 2017

Jammed into the hallways, lining up before the first session opened at 1:00, $25 tickets plus fee in hand - ah, the smell of humanity. The waiting crowd snaked through the corridors for what seemed miles. We were a polite crowd so at least we didn't moo when it started to move.
Lovely venue
OK I'm not 29 again but they were checking everyone's IDs at the door as we burst into the central courtyards at the Desmond Hotel, not far from the airport on Albany Shaker Road. The area was very warm and sunny on one of our first mild days of the impending spring, with balloons and vendors all around. Of course we went right for the wine, all of which, I think, were from NYS. However, of the 80 plus vendors only about 25 were wineries, including a few that were, well, just OK. The chocolate tastings were few and far between, although the homemade chocolates from G&A Sweet Treats that I bought for my colleagues I ended up eating all by myself - try the peanut butter patties if you ever get a chance. Otherwise alot of jerky and scarves and jewelry and sauces and body tonics - not why I was there.

Friendly vendors

The best thing I had was a gingery Sundog Cider, but the Adirondack Wildfire cinnamon whisky from Lake George Distilling Company was also amazing. I guess I like that spikey stuff. East Hill Creamery Underhill Pass Reserve cheese was a revelation, tart, creamy, inspired.
Love the ginger cider from Sundog (Chatham, NY)
Adirondack Wildfire shots. Nuff said. 

Lovely cheese from East Hill Creamery (Perry NY)
After about an hour and a half of fighting crowds to get to the vendors to taste the wine and nibble on stuff we were hot and tired and buzzless. Time for a REAL glass of wine, so we went into The Tavern and loved a couple of cold glasses of sauvignon blanc, great service, laughter and conversation, and that we had a DD. I'd never been before but it was a wonderful bar, and only a few miles from home....

OK these things are always hit and miss - some are more crowded than others, the price can be high, the takeaway limited, some are a genuine hoot and I learn alot.  I liked trying the NY wines but none impressed - too bad. Mostly I hope that next year the organizers focus on WINE AND CHOCOLATE and maybe a few ciders and let the rest go - it dilutes the event, one with so much potential.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: I'd link you to the event but 2017 is down and 2018 is already up. Sheesh.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Pi Day!!! My Trip to "At Home"

I don't decorate. The cats are just too good at knocking things over for that to ever happen.

Still, I was curious about the new "At Home" store, located in Crossgates Commons. Wear your sneakers - it's big.
At least fake plants don't got bugs
Stretch and I set out to explore. Right now there are miles and miles of outdoor furniture with every color and pattern of polyester cushioning you can imagine. Man that would be a GREAT place to fight the forces of evil!!!
Bad Art
Chairs and stools and tables and mattresses and couches and bad art, lots of bad art, kitchenwares and towels and rugs and vases and "bowl fillers" (sheesh) and clocks and frames and a garden of fake plants. Maybe a bit pricey compared to Tuesday Morning or Walmart but a great place to get ideas if nothing else, like "I don't decorate" because I have no idea how to separate the good stuff from the crap.
Likin' the love seat
Anyway, naturally I spent most of my time pouring over kitchen stuff, because that's what I do. I came away with two 6" glass pie pans.

So now it's 3.14, Pi Day, and I'm "at home", watching a snowstorm bear down on the region. So what did I do???  OF COURSE!!!  I made pies!!!

A classic butter crust from Cook's Illustrated, using all butter because if you know me I don't eat anything with the word "short" in it (half the recipe).

Quiche (recipe follows) - made with beautiful farm eggs from Kruzinski Farm, whole organic milk, emmentaler cheese, coarse sea salt, fresh ground pepper, topped with roasted cherry tomatoes. Two perfect little pies just the right size for one goddess ignoring the fact that she isn't working out today except for shoveling snow.
That's my pepper grinder on the left, FYI...
Oh right, and with the leftover crust I made a little blueberry pie, just homemade blueberry jam mixed with a bunch of frozen ones, topped and buttered and sprinkled with sugar and baked until gooey. It better snow ALOT to burn this baby off. I ate the whole thing.


So with me everything in the end comes back to food. HAPPY PI DAY!!!

QUICHE
18 cherry tomatoes, pierced once with a fork, tossed with salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil and baked in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

1 2" yellow onion (about 2/3 cup), chopped fine, sauteed in 1 T butter with 1 teaspoon of salt until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

Whisk together 4 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup whole milk.

Fill two 6" uncooked pie crusts with 1 cup each shredded emmetaler cheese (about 1/2 lb. total). Divide the onions on top and then add the egg mixture, divided. Top with cherry tomatoes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until set.

You can also do this in a 9" pan just don't divide anything.

Zena, Goddess of Fire
Lots of swiss

2" onion

Sauteed with salt to help them soften. Medium heat, please.


Gorgeous yellow yolk!

Roast those winter tomatoes if you have any sense whatsoever



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Here's Johnny!!! The Time Warp That Is/Was Smith's of Cohoes

I'm NOT kidding. When you walk through that narrow front door into Smith's of Cohoes and see that loooooooooooong bar on your right, a few regulars sipping beers watching you as you drift inside, it really IS Jack Nicholson behind the bar wiping down a glass. Very creepy.

I felt like I was on the stage set of a 1935 Hollywood classic. I think I took pictures but there's nothing on my camera. Man zombies I can handle but not ghosts - worse than spiders, really.
The exterior is cute - parking lots next door and across the street
Red leather, dark wood, huge mirror behind the bottles, original tiled floors, tin ceiling. A couple of urns look like they could hold many many ashes. So I put up my force field, double tied my sneakers, and calmly walked through the lounge area to the dining room in the back where I was finally greeted by one of the servers. Two large spaces dressed with simple table linens, dim, Frankie musak, no stand out styling. It was an older crowd mostly, couples, low key, and easy. 

I could not resist the bread and chive butter

We had to ask for a wine list, but with the first glass I was ready to let my guard down. Hess Shirtail Creek Chardonnay, un-oaked ($7) - buttery, smooth, a bit sweet. Salads came with our entrees - happily surprised to find out that all the dressings are homemade, but their house champagne dressing was really sweet, thickened with something, not that tasty really, but the veg was fresh and the serving was a nice starter size. Bread, served with a chive butter, was hard to resist, so I didn't - crispy outside and a nice light chew inside - delicious. Vintage fare.
Homemade dressings but this one was a bit sweet

Red took down an entire plate of Chicken Piccata ($17) - super tender chicken, loads of perfectly cooked linguine, lemony almost to the point of tart, capers heaped on top - perfectly delicious. I liked that the sauce wasn't too thick, just natural and shining. Did I just say "shining"????
The pasta dish was a winner

For a change I ordered the Twin Sirloins ($19), expecting to see those little twin girls hovering by the kitchen doorway. I didn't. Instead, I was served two 3-ounce "medallions": these were not medium rare, more like medium well, a bit mealy, not really juicy but tender. The caramelized onions and chipotle hollandaise squiqqles on top were lost to me, lookin' fancy but not that tasty, so next time if I order a steak I'll skip the toppings. The green beans were simple, squeaky and fresh, and the mashed were actually so good I had to wrestle with myself to put the fork down, almost like there was a force saying "eat more, sweetie, eat more.............."
Twin Sirloins

But in the end there were no surprises, hearty fare, a goodly amount of variety on the menu, genuinely kind, attentive service. HOWEVER, I understand things are changing: there are promises of a new menu sometime in the next few weeks. The clientele now are loyal to their old favorites, as you might have guessed, so it will be interesting to see how Smith's balances that with choices that are not so traditional Italian-American. Then I will definitely be back, since I'm sure it will then be MUCH less likely that I get sucked into one of those old photos with Johnny.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P,S, AND NO I'm not "afraid" of ghosts!!! Just wary, that's all...........



Monday, February 20, 2017

Wingnuts

Yes, I'm a wingnut, but you know that.

I have friends who are also wingnuts. Others are just nuts. I love them all.
Druther's are good - mild, nice cheese sauce, could be cripsier
The first time I had wings was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the rooftop patio of a pub on Spring Garden Row. It was 1984. Wing night meant 10-cent wings. I don't remember much about them except they were delicious - greasy, fried, and great with beer. The idea, back then, was to offer up a cheap snack to get us to drink more beer, which we were happy to do. For just a few loonies those were short but perfect summer evenings.
McGeary's Pub - these were excellent but others were disappointed when they were there earlier in the day

Fast forward 15 years. Since that summer I swear as Zeus is my witness I hadn't eaten another wing. They were not ubiquitous pub food, at least not in Canada. Or it could be I just skipped ordering them, sticking to "healthier" options like fish and chips and pizza and burgers. So anyway, I'm visiting Buffalo and someone insisted we go to Anchor Bar and eat wings.

Max Lager's Smoked Firecracker Wings in Atlanta, GA were crisp and tender but firecracker not

Did I ever - the entire order, the blue cheese dip, carrots and celery, a couple of pints. Did it again the next time I was in Buffalo, 2014, back at Anchor Bar in that windswept downtown. Yes, my superpowers with respect to eating wings can be pretty amazing, even at five-foot-f#*k-all 100 lbs soaking wet. This is where wings with hot sauce (Frank's) got their start, and trust me, they are still some of the best you could ever wish for: tender, slide off the bones, crispy, saucy - like all over your hands and face and clothes and in your hair. Not pretty, but wonderful.
Albany Pump Station - big and tender, a bit flabby. Carrot stumps and lettuce didn't cut it. 

Superbowl and wings??? Suburban myth has it that from 1990 to 1993 when the Buffalo Bills played the superbowl four years in a row that there was a connection, and now with an estimated 1.25 billion wings being eaten on game day alone. Sunrise even has a video so we can see how they keep up with the demand. It's not gory, FYI. So, what used to be the throw away, what was once a very unloved chicken part is now a booming business. Almost every fast food chain across the U.S. has dipped into selling wings, including "fake" boneless wings, which are really just breast meat (lower in fat, I guess, and easier to eat). Garlic parm and sriracha and maple chipotle and bbq and teriyaki and all kinds of other sauces and spices abound.
Hill Street Cafe - excellent: ask for extra sauce
But I still prefer the basics: crispy, hot, buttery, spicy Buffalo wings. No breading, bright orange, messy and zesty.  And there better be fresh carrot AND celery sticks, and thick blue cheese dressing to cool things off.
Graney's Stout on North Pearl has great wings - homemade dressing, a lick of parm in the sauce, perfect!!!

I went with a couple of my favorite wingnuts to eat wings over the weekend. I was impressed at how HUGE the wings were, everywhere we went. Restaurants must have a corner on the market because I can't find those at the grocery store.  I ate until I was about ready to pop but I didn't impress anyone with my superpowers this time...  (:
20 North Broadway in Schenectady still has the BEST wings in the area - crispy, crispy, crispy, tender and saucy (like me!)

And the price of wings has skyrocketed. Wings were for making stock. They were cheap!!! Now, during football season I think it's cheaper to buy super-natural boneless skinless chicken breasts than it is to buy wings. Go figure.Yes, I make wings at home. I never met a fried food I wouldn't eat. Next time I indulge I'll take some pics and send you the recipe. Or better yet, bring the beer and we'll make them together!!!

xxx

Zena, Winged Goddess of Fire




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Smoldering at Jacob and Anthony's

The heat is on - one more Italian restaurant in the Capital Region is either a predictable win or will quietly fizzle against the competition.
Main entrance is from the parking lot at Stuyvesant Plaza

The latest is Jacob and Anthony's Italian, located in Stuyvesant Plaza at the corner of Fuller and Western in Guilderland.  Added to the growing list of Marrello Management's establishments, J&A Italian is on track to build on their successes elsewhere (Bellini's, J&A American Grille in Saratoga).
Trippy lighting...

The newly renovated space is lovely and even makes ME look good - dark, with spotlights shining down, but the glare was a bit much and made taking photos of friends and food a bit difficult. There's a few changes since Creo vacated the space last year. Now there's an expanded bar area full of high tops barely separated from a smaller dining area, and the view of the kitchen and its blazing wood-fired ovens has been blocked off (kissie noises to the ovens - I will have to love you from afar). A Bellini's Counter is located at the right of the main entrance (wraps, pasta, salads) and connected to the restaurant inside. It, too, is sure to do good business in this upscale mall full of University folks and office types and rich people, but I felt that the proximity to J&A was a bit less than classy.
Take away is a contrast to the classier restaurant next door
The menu covers both lunch and dinner, with choices that can appeal to kids (pizza, meatball subs) and luminaries alike (veal marsala). Service on a busy Thursday night only a month or so after opening started with glasses of Pinot Grigio (Villa Pozzi/$8, and Chloe/$10) - simple wines, clean and light. Our very wonderful server brought us warm Italian bread with basil pesto oil to go with it, and this was a good thing because the loaf was lackluster. The dip was, in contrast, sunshine in a bowl.
The bread was dead...
Jaguar and I both enjoyed a Market Salad ($7), with their house balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Mixed greens, super fresh, with cuke and cherry tomatoes, a few shavings of parm on top. The house made dressing was bright, not too sweet, just like me. Fantastic!
Great salads!!!  
The daily lasagna special ($17) was a classic, with beef and veal, served in its own crock and loaded with melty, stringy mozzarella. The noodles were perfect, the meat mixture was tasty, but the red sauce definitely needs some kindling - herbs and garlic? It tasted like a basic universal that could be used in anything. I guess we both expected with a daily lasagna special offered at "MP" that this would be the best way to see what the kitchen can do, but we were disappointed.
Lovely lasagna needs herbs and garlic....
I had the Chicken Parm ($19) - did that surprise you???  Two nicely prepared cutlets, tender, with a great crust, lightly breaded, not too much sauce or salt - delicious - don't change a thing! The side of capellini, on the other hand, was topped with some kind of cream sauce, and it got gluey as it sat - kind of weird, but better on the reheat the next day.
Surprise!!!  I had the Chicken Parm - delicious!
Jacob and Anthony's Italian is a bit noisy and totally socially delightful - the location is a charmer for bringing in that hipster crowd. The food we had was good, but it's still smoldering. I know there's potential so I hope they continue to push their customers for honest input, which I didn't give them onsite, and for that I apologize, because you were all so nice. Thanks for the excellent service and attention during our first visit!!!

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, January 30, 2017

Drinking at Druthers OR How I Got Lost

Cheese and crackers, where am I??? I'm at the far end of Broadway in Albany, NY, just before it goes under the Interstate, in the warehouse district where the trains cut through and the trucks are big and it's disturbingly dark and quiet after business hours and the wind and rain can really howl and forces of evil and dirt devils lurk behind every overflowing bin of trash. Then I burst into the light that is Druthers Brewing Company, and I know that all is well.
The brewery at Druthers
It's really a brewery - really really - you can see that through the glass walls on the other side of the bar. Very bright and clean and industrial looking. Contrast that to the rustic exposed beam and brick open concept low light bar and restaurant. Both are spacious, and I liked that the dining areas and bar spaces were broken up into smaller, intimate spaces. It was fun to explore, crowded, noisy (but not from loud music, thankfully), cozy and very exciting, especially when I saw the wood fired oven. Working hard to keep my identity a mystery, I sent a few soft kisses to the kitchen and finally took a seat.  Everyone was safe now and it was time to get serious.
Cozy dining with open kitchen/wood fired oven in the back

Beer. CBM enjoyed a pint of their 80 Shilling- malty and smokey and amber colored, a deliciously smooth Scottish style ale, while I downed a Druthers Golden Ale, light, loaded with hoppy goodness, clean and refreshing ($6/pint, $2 off during happy hour!). First rate - obviously alot has gone into their development - bravo!!!

Druther's Golden Ale - $6/pint and $2 for a 5-oz sample

Looking over the menu it was very much pub classics - burgers, sandwiches, pizza, wings. We shared an order of Confit Chicken Wings - jumbos, cooked in animal fat, super tender, definitely mild, even a bit sweet. The blue cheese dressing was great - chunks of cheese in a smooth creamy base, with the requisite side of celery/carrots that were decidedly fresh and crispy. OK, good, not great, I would have liked it a bit more kick cause I like it hot, but good with beer. Maybe two....  (:
Confit Chicken Wings
The Autumn Veggie Pizza ($14) was lovely to behold, creative even, laced with sweet apples, shaved brussels sprouts, and pumpkin seeds, cheddar???,  and finished with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Good, with a nice char and a chewy crust, hot and drippy, a bit too sweet for me, but it was still a real treat.
Autumn Veggie Pizza - seasonal, creative, sweet
By 630 pm the place was pretty much mobbed with families and mostly 30+ somethings talking and laughing; the service continued to be first-rate despite the crowds. Druthers is certainly a bright spot in a part of town that by contrast ain't so inviting, so if you make a left when you should have made a right and find yourself  thinking "Where's a Goddess of Fire when I need one to protect me?" and "Would she like a beer?" find a parking spot and step inside, and call me anytime!!!

Druthers is so hot it's cool.

Zena, Goddess of Fire