Since The Hollow's burgers have a good reputation according to local surveys it was high on my list when my personal burger-o- meter started to drift into the "need" zone recently. I also wanted to try someplace new, but I didn't feel like going out of town. Even though I now know the streets of Albany's "downtown" business area, I don't venture there very often, so I went up and down the block a couple times before finding The Hollow on the corner of North Pearl and Columbia St., across Pearl from Legends and The Merry Monk.
I appreciate "Please Wait to be Seated" signs when I enter someplace, and when there isn't one, I am left wondering what to do unless someone greets me. On my first visit I was left wondering as well as wandering around the bar and the warren of various dining rooms and music hall before getting the attention of any of the staff. One particular member of the staff seemed to be studiously avoiding looking at anyone in the front of the house, and others appeared to be indifferent. My second visit was a few moments before opening on a Saturday night due to my desire to have a nice dinner before going to a concert in Troy, and that was even more mystifying. All the doors were unlocked and no staff were present in the front of the house at all. I didn't feel like walking into the kitchen, so I went across the street and had a lovely dinner at the Merry Monk, which can always be counted upon for a tasty meal. I was greeted there with a smiling staff member who was happy to see me. My third visit to The Hollow was normal, with someone there to greet me who was cheerful and welcoming. So...the front of the house needs work, both in staff training and also in renovation. What is up with that skeezy ceiling in the bar? Ick!
One side of the menu is lovely beers, ales and cider, so I tried a flight of four. We had to negotiate a little while regarding which items they actually stocked, but I was delighted with the selection. The days when eating and drinking establishments stock what's on the menu seem to be over. I grieve a little, but not once I begin to imbibe good food and drink.
There are specials recited by the wait staff. I had the gazpacho special as a starter before my Surf + Turf burger. Oh my stars and garters! The chef and I have complete harmonic convergence on the subject of gazpacho, and his is better than any I have ever made.
Under that garnish of a mound of parsley was a fabulous and wonderful gazpacho! It was a wild ride of tomato, olive oil, garlic, vinegar and heat with cucumber and onion underneath. Although the cucumbers were in the form of puree, the other ingredients were chopped, so that the texture had a gentle bite and was not merely all liquid. I was not only thanked for ordering but got to talk about the joys of gazpacho with the composer of this outrageous bowl of summer. I want to go back when he has ripe summer tomatoes to work with.
I had the Surf + Turf burger which set my burger-o-meter back to "happy" and then some. The shrimp element was a very good balance with the beef and not overdone, so the tender shrimp were a delicious bite mingled with the beef. The size of the burger was a little big for me, because I'm more like a midget, but I'm sure it would be a sufficient meal for anyone, and the consistency and flavor were right up there in the "perfect" range of the scale. It comes with a choice of fries so I had the sweet potato choice and they were a good complement.
On another visit I had the signature salad, which is a simple blend of shaved asiago, greens, shiitaki mushrooms and truffle oil. I happen to really enjoy both asiago and shiitaki and this salad, with the touch of truffle oil elevated them both to create a superb dish. After scarfing the salad I was ready for the gnocchi special and it didn't disappoint.
The gnocchi special was shrimp, asparagus, roasted red pepper and shaved cheese with a choice of gnocchi sauces. I chose the pesto and once again the chef and I are in harmonic convergence concerning pesto. Pesto is about the basil and garlic, not the oil. There should be just enough pepper to provide a zippy undertone but the basil must be the top flavor. This pesto flavored the chewy little gnocchi bites but did not make them swim in too much olive oil. It was a thing of beauty. I wanted to hug his neck and nibble gnocchi with pesto all night long. But I didn't, because I have developed a bit of self-restraint in my old age. I asked to have about half the gnocchi wrapped because I wanted to have a dessert.
There wasn't any. It was all gone. The back of the house needs to be able to get through a busy weekend and think about how there are going to be customers on Monday too.
To sum up, I want to go back and enjoy food at The Hollow, but it is one quirky restaurant that needs polish in the way of management. I will always have to overcome that bit of me that wonders why I should put up with the quirks, but that's the case with most Capital Region restaurants. It's the way we roll here.