Monday, November 11, 2013

DOING DISHES:The Mussels Series, Part III of V: The Bier Abbey

I hate when I read "professional" reviews of bar food in the local paper. Bars are bars and we generally go there for beer and OK tasting eats which we hope are cheap, and we don't go in with high expectations. And if the food sucks no one really cares that much, they just won't order food the next time. Most bars aren't trying to impress us as much as fill our tummies so we don't stumble too much when we head out the door at last call. It's just a bar, OK?

On Thursday last week FF and I went to Schenectady, NY to try mussels at The Bier Abbey, and they fit my low-bar profile of bar food, though to their credit they are trying to give a Belgian twist to the usual fare of burgers and wings.

The Bier Abbey is located in a neat row of cool old buildings with bars and restaurants along one section of Union Street near Union College. There's a small parking lot on the corner - the lot was full, so even on a quiet night I had to park my hyperoverdrive superturbo Honda Civic on the street. Entering the restaurant through oversize rattley double doors led us into what was probably an old house, with the parlor on the right that can be closed off for a private party, and a large seating area to the left. You can move to the back of the restaurant through a corridor that also leads to the loo and kitchen, or through the busy bar, with a few booths nearby. The backity-back is set up  like a sports bar with a 10,000,000 square foot (approx.) flat screen TV. We took a booth because we like to eat with our feet on the floor. The benches were hard and the table was too far away from the bench to be comfortable - leaving us to lean into our food all through the meal. Overall the decor, look and feel of the joint was wonky and cheap. They did have real cloth napkins though, which I appreciated.No students, mostly guys drinking beer. No surprises there.

OK it's just a bar, right??? So we started with a beer order, of course. The Bier Abbey has a nice long selection of beers from all over the U.S. and we didn't know quite where to start, so we ordered a few created closer to home, then included one more that our server recommended. We had four 4-ounce beers so we could sample, with the price running $2.00 or $2.50 each. These included (reading left to right in the photo, below) New England Galaxy, an American pale ale from Woodbridge, CT (cloudy, tan, stinky, and bitter); Dales Pale Ale from Oskar Blues in Lyons, CO (my personal favorite - smooth, light amber); a Scotch Ale from Smuttynose in Portsmouth, NH (sweet - tasted like scotch!); and De Levende Doden from Rushing Duck in Chester, NY - a Belgian porter with cherries (rich and chocolatey with a smell of coffee off the top), which FF very much enjoyed. I wish I could find their beer listing online.

FOOD: FF and I ordered the "Classic Mariner" style mussels, prepared with shallots, garlic and wheat bier ($12 for 2 pounds). Also a spinach salad with candied walnuts (not too sweet), pickled onions (very interesting), fresh sliced strawberry (lovely color), and lumps of goats milk cheese (salty and creamy) all dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette. It was a really lovely salad, and a nice generous serving ($8). Our server brought the mussels then the salad. It's a bar, right??? But the food came quickly, so that tells me the kitchen and waitstaff are pretty well organized. I immediately asked for more bread to soak up the broth, and FF asked for spoons to taste it alone. The spoons were also handy for dividing up the salad. We got our extra bread right away and set to tasting.

The mussels were a disappointment. The sauce tasted a bit bitter and overly salty when tasted alone - there was NO sweetness as you might find in a wine sauce. Maybe we were also tasting the mussels more because the sauce was subdued, which meant I tasted more than a few mussels that were very fishy and that I superhero burped fishy as the evening progressed, telling me that they were NOT all that fresh when they were thrown in the pot. And the toasts ended up heavily doused in garlic salt, which, if I had known, I would have asked for the extra to be plain. It tasted like GARLIC SALT. So did everything by the end of the meal. And fishy. I'm glad we had strawberries to cleanse the palette. A lemon wedge might have been a nice touch on an otherwise boring plate. Next time I'll order the burger, just to be on the safe side.

If you read this blog to the end you are doing better than me. It's a bar and it was just OK. Who cares??? I don't know, but it was good to get out of Albany for a change. And heck, what superpower doesn't want to go on the occasional adventure to deepest, darkest Schenectady?

Zena, Goddess of Fire

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