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


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!!!


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

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Paradise that is Parivar

The holidays are behind us, and we are left with the dregs - a few extra pounds, little presents that still need a place to get put away, Christmas socks. There are several months to come when it will be dark, cold, snowy, bleak, windy, stormy, slippery, and icy.  Most mortals that do not possess that rectangular gold thing they call currency and leave for warmer climes or that "ski" will hunker down to their routines: feed cat or die make bed empty dishrack clean catbox pack car gym shower work work work fight traffic and lousy roads home to warm socks and sweatpants heavy bowls of pasta one more glass TV toothpaste bed. Like the dog, who is highly intelligent, even gods and goddesses and superheroes won't go out.

Now that you are feeling totally depressed, maybe even like a loser, lonely with your Ragu, I am here to help.

Enter paradise: Parivar Grocery and Cafe.

Ample parking in paradise, as well as shopping carts
Fresh vegetables, some weird, totally fascinating.

I've never heard of "snake gourd"

Lots of spices and sauces and mixes, exciting.

Lots of mixes and sauces and jars of stuff and spices everywhere

More types of flour of more types of grain than I've ever seen anywhere - enticing.
They also had a whole display of organic flours, which is cool

Frozed prepared foods and breads and veg - definitely not Stouffer's - who said eating Indian had to be complicated???.
Frozen goes on forever, much of it unusual, which made the visit FUN

As well as staples and basics - beans and beans and peas and lentils - such bounty!
Market32 did not have split peas. Sheesh.
And, if that wasn't overwhelming enough - I ate at the Cafe in the back.  After buying Black Eye Peas and frozen unsweetened coconut and tamarind concentrate and really fresh garlic and a few other goodies, I still ate out.
Menu items include yogurt drinks

The menu isn't extensive, and so I trust it all - Chat (small plates of "street food"), and South Indian specialties (Uttapam, Vada), as well as full dinner options. The kitchen is open and rudimentary but fully staffed with talented cooks turning out what had to be the best Dosa I've ever had.
Spring Dosa

Mistress of the Hounds enjoyed the Spring Dosa ($9.99), rice crepe filled with veggies like potato, onion, carrots and cabbage - beautiful (albeit unusual that it was cut to serve) and super spicy, lots to eat, especially fun with the fresh ginger & coconut chutney, hot sauce and sambar on the side.
Masala Dosa (triangle, not rolled - all the filling in the corner leaving lots of fresh bread to pull out and clean the palette

My Masala Dosa ($7.99) made my eyes water because I was so happy and it was so spicy and then it was gone. Fresh crispy dosa that we could watch being made - pure artistry. Simple and humble, absolute paradise in a bite.
Order at the counter and take a seat and bus your own. Very casual. Parivar means "family". Lovely.... 

Yes, it's still winter. The mornings smell like after shave and car exhaust, cats will sleep, birds will flock to bird feeders, and pigeons perch on the power lines to keep their toes warm. But you will be full and safe and warm and happy with just one visit to Parivar.

Only 70 days until spring. Just sayin'.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trying to be Perty at Slidin' Dirty

I love a good gushburger. The kind that demands that mortals and superpowers alike have to fight the bun and grease and toppings into your mouth without allowing it to take control and dribble all over your face and hands. Please pass the napkins.
Street parking. Casual crowd, with men at the bar watching sports on TV and doin' the daytime drinks.

The food is at Slidin' Dirty in downtown Troy is amazing. We started with a full order of Fravos ($10) - panko encrusted avocado fries with a spicy smokey creamy chipotle dipping sauce - hot, with a gentle burn, crispy on the outside, squishy on the inside. The battle over the last few was intense, as we licked our fingers, loving the decadence of fried fatty food. Delicious.
Fravos - cripsy fried avocado, potentially healthy

Pony went for a "dirty duo" with a Buffalo Chicken and a Pig Roast Taco ($9) - a generous serving, pretty before she crunched into it, loving the fresh crispy corn wrap and the tender meat. Standard "buffalo sauce" but very good. The Pig was even better, topped with black beans and corn and salsa with a crunch of red cabbage. She will totally come back and get this one again....
Pig on the left, Buffalo Chicken to the right

Red had one beautiful little Crab Cake Slider, a spicy combo, the cake boasting loads of lump crab meat topped with avocado, tomatoes, arugula and horseradish sauce. Again, perfect in all respects.
A pretty, perfectly constructed and delicious Crab Cake Slider

The Divine Ms. M went for a pair of sliders. The Dirty Yankee ($5, with the burger - chicken breast or black bean burgers also available) - perfectly cooked little patty drenched in fried onions and sauerkraut, kicked up a notch with pastrami and provolone. Um FIVE STARS for sure.  The Dirty Po Boy ($6) had some heat in the sauce, tempered by a fresh slaw and tomato with delicious little fried shrimps.
Two potentially gushy sliders, Dirty Yankee left and a Dirty Po Boy

We all shared a Classic Mac & Cheese ($4) - a deal for the size of the serving - good, no surprises, peppery - it wasn't baked but it didn't get gluey as it cooled. We ate it all.
OK Mac & Cheese, this was a good dish to share

I had an Arugula Side Salad ($4) - sort of a Caesar, lemony, with tender bitter leaves, lots of parm, and light crunchy croutons. Next to that I took on The Hangover Slider ($5), topped with cheddar and bacon and their signature chipotle cream sauce, and a fried egg. The brioche bun, slightly sweet and toasty, lost the battle, and so did I, with egg dripping all over, the sandwich disintegrated as I daintily did my best to chow down without wearing it back to work, but OMG it was good. Slippery, salty, and totally tasty, no doubt even better if you've had a few too many the night before.
The Hangover Slider and an Arugula Side Salad

Slidin' Dirty is noisy, the music is funky, and the vibe is friendly and hip. Ten beers on tap, five from good ol' NYS. Next time I will wear my jeans, plan on a brewski, and ask for extra napkins, AFTER work, so I don't have to try so hard to be perty at Slidin' Dirty.
Tryin' to be perty at Slidin' Dirty

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Magic of Manicotti: Tesoro Restaurant

I love this time of year. Magic is in the air.

So is the smell of roast pork and wood smoke, and little white fluffy things that fall from the sky. After a cold afternoon in Altamont, exploring the charming downtown during the Annual Victorian Holiday Celebration, eating all the free cookies I could find, begging for roast pork samples at Mio Vino, buying a raffle ticket at the Altamont Free Library, and doing a little shopping, Cookie and I buzzed back towards town and an early dinner at Tesoro Italian Restaurant (located in another attractive strip mall in Guilderland, NY).
Brightly lit, attractive exterior in 20 Western Mall
The restaurant is actually quite lovely, and the staff gracious. We sat at the bar and each enjoyed a glass of wine - Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc for me ($9.50/glass, overpriced, but it also has magic), and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay for my friend ($9.00/glass, ditto). Okay, we had more than one, but that's another story...
Early on it was quiet except for a party in the back room full of lively jokesters

Comfortable bar - they do a brisk takeout business
Cookie went for the Calamari Fritti app ($9.50) - a generous serving of tender battered squid served with a boatload of delicious marinara. It needed a bit of salt, but that was easily remedied. I've never met anything fritti that wasn't a magic moment and a guilty pleasure at the same time.
Calamari Fritti - lots of crispy fried bites

A simple salad with house Italian started my meal off right. I forgot to take a picture - one cherry tomato, one slice of cuke, shredded carrot, canned black olive slices, and really fresh chopped Romaine - it was just the right size, nice dressing, predictable but still enchanting.

I went for the Manicotti with Marinara ($15.95). Perfect al dente pasta sheets wrapped around sweet creamy fresh ricotta filling, with a delicious bright marinara on top. It wasn't baked, no mozz on top, no parm at the table, merely combined on the plate and served simple and hot. I watched the wine disappear, again, and my dinner. EXCELLENT ENTREE. I ate the whole thing...........

After, just like magic!!!
Manicotti, like Christmas, is magic and has superpowers. It's also warm and comforting and rich, but at the same time zesty.

Just like me.

Happy Holidays!!!  xxx Zena, Goddess of Fire