Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doing Dishes: Dining at the Diners - Capital City Diner

Albany has a lot of really cool diners - 50s throwback decor, some still with juke boxes and girls in uniforms, licenses, open all the time - very iconic NY if you ask me - and believe me, I'm a native Yew Norker AND Greek AND a superhero keeping very weird hours and sometimes you just NEED A BEER and some fried things late at night, or breakfast at 3:00 p.m. I've done my time in these places. I ate at most of them doing my rounds when I first moved to the Capital Region in 2001 and then promptly forgot about them. One can only do so many meals of white rolls wrapped in plastic and iceberg lettuce salads and canned soup.

But much has changed in the restaurant biz these past almost 15 years and I wondered if our expectations of good food, served quickly, reasonably priced, in a comfortable environment, is holding true in our area diners. Does anyone go beyond the basics to be amazing destination spots in their own right? And, most importantly, what about their souvlaki??? The quest begins. This is the first in a series of specifically Greek diners in the Capital Region. Parakalo. 

Capital City Diner
This is a real diner - one of those Greek family run shiny chrome and vinyl studded affairs with a menu that's a mile long, daily specials, and desserts a mile high. Kind of a home away from home for alot of folks. The space is clean, the staff are friendly, and the food is pretty good. CC offers daily specials, several soup du jours of the day, breakfast/lunch/dinner, and even has fountain drinks.

Four of us went for lunch and there were no real failures, although I thought the meat loaf tasted weird, like onion soup mix, and the gravy was weird like that too, and kind of salty, but Pony liked her lunch and saved half for a meal the next day (Meat Loaf Dinner served with mashed and mixed veggies, soup or salad for $11.99). The large Buffalo Chicken Salad with a choice of dressings (Foodie Friend chose blue cheese; $8.59) held no surprises but was fresh and crispy with a nice variety of veggies. Red went for the Blue Cheese Burger ($6.59); it came with a side of slaw that was soggy and warm, and a pickle, but the crusty roll and just the right amount of blue cheese topping a perfectly cooked medium-well patty was really quite delicious.  

The Meat  Loaf Dinner at Capital City Diner can feed two hungry superheroes

The Buffalo Chicken Salad was a hearty serving - predictable but good. 

The Blue Cheese Burger looks very plain but was actually delicious.

Ahhh, chicken souvlaki. The one at CC had a generous serving of tender marinated chicken, lots of onions and tomatoes, and nice thick tzatziki on the side all wrapped up in a soft warm pita ($7.29). Fries or a side salad are an extra $3 or you can have both for another $4. Good value, fresh, not processed or heavily salted/seasoned - this chicken souvlaki (which I've had many times before) has been my gold standard to date, but I'm wondering what else I will find. This one is hard to beat. 

I asked for an extra container of their tzatziki which they were happy to provide at no extra charge. I ate them both.

The desserts looked AMAZING!!!
I have a list of Greek diners in the Capital District that we plan to explore over the next several months. Do you have anyone you want to add?  Just let me know.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS:  Here's our list so far:
Latham '76
Route 7 Diner
Pearl Street Diner
Farmer Boy
Colonie Diner

Monday, October 19, 2015

Techno Whirly Outerspace Burgers at SONIC


Sonic - makes me think sparklers and techno fab and rocket ships. Zena, Goddess of Fire, loves this sort of superhero way-out there stuff. 

In reality: NOT.

First of all, the parking is a nightmare, but I didn't want to eat in the Zenamobile (yuck), and take-away is for ninnies that like cold fries. 

One lane is for carhop service and the other is for take out. The parking lot, above, was packed full even though the restaurant itself was half empty. Brilliant. 
OK I know you want to hear about the food but the parking lot at Sonic here in Latham is SO STUPID: please allow me to rant for a bit. Because cars were seriously backing up on Route 7 when they first opened (due to glee at having a new Sonic and/or because the parking lot is SO RIDICULOUSLY SMALL, and/or because there are not as yet any drones delivering my meal), so they closed that entrance. Which now means that you pull into the parking lot from the side road, and if there isn't a spot, you have to back up into the line of cars waiting to get in to get out. SO STUPID. Oh, wait, I said that already. We parked at Denny's across the street.

There was one spot left in the lot but that was blocked by a signboard. URGH. 
The entrance is welcoming, with plenty of outdoor seating. It was hot, however, so we went inside where it was comfortable and cool, to the end of the line, which was almost out the door. The space was clean and quiet, with a nice low din. You order, wait to hear your name called, and someone rollerskates them over to your table.  

Cold drinks dominated the display and made me want one. 
The menu is pretty standard stuff, nothing crazy modern here: cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken balls, fried sides, some breakfast creations, a plethora of frozen treats, and some enticing limeades. 

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger. They do not have a hamburger on their menu. REALLY????

Foodie Friend wanted a double hamburger. So I ordered her a double cheeseburger, no cheese ($4.99), you know, a plain hamburger, which my server interpreted as a plain hamburger - no cheese no lettuce or tomato or onion or anything else - sheesh. Just a hamburger. QUESTION:  Sonic - are you too far out there to remember what a hamburger is??? It was overcooked and a bit dry, but a condiment girl stopped at our table and offered us little packets of stuff like relish, as well as paper goods, so that perked us up.

I had the cheeseburger with the works ($4.19). It was sticky in my mouth (sticky bread and sticky cheese that kind of stuck itself to the roof of my mouth). But the meat was cooked just right, with a nice amount of lettuce and pickle, and it held together well. It was a fairly generous sized burger, too, but was, overall, kind of boring. The small fries ($1.19) was actually REALLY small, and OK, most fries are OK - never met one I wouldn't eat. These are definitely reminiscent of those McD's shoestrings, only with the skin. 

The cheeseburger was good in an old-fashioned kind of American hamburger way.
On my burger adventures I'm trying to order the basic burger, the fries, and the shake, but I was thirsty, it was a hot day, so I went with one of the limeades. I REALLY liked my strawberry limeade - and FF REALLY liked her cherry limeade ($1.69 each). They are just a bit fizzy, not too sweet, served with crushed ice and with bits of real fruit to block up the straw - this is something you don't get everywhere. Very nice.
The table was a mess. I'm also starting to hate those little annoying ketchup packets. The little peppermints are soft and buttery (see it in the middle of the table???) - that was a nice surprise. 
So nothing futuristic for this place - no surprises, but those frozen creations and other drinks do set them apart from some of the other chains. And so the next time Zena is feeling overheated she may just go ahead and try that drive-thru and get herself a Pineapple Upside Down Master Blast. Now THAT sounds cool!!!

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Brunch Bunch at Creo

Woo hoo!!! It's the weekend!

So I stay up late fighting the forces of evil (it's coming into zombie and vampire season so I've been busier than usual lately), then I spend all the next morning at the gym because I have to stay fit and I need to get a life, and end up starved and grumpy.  You too???  What was that? What did you say?? Did someone say brunch???

The space is modern, bright, and airy. 
Zena, Goddess of Fire, was invited to take on the new brunch menu at Creo, located at the corner of Stuyvesant Plaza on Western Avenue in Colonie. I showered, tried to make myself presentable (no tights or cape), grabbed a friend, zipped over to the restaurant, and settled into what was one of the most wonderful Saturdays I can remember in a really really long time.

For starters the staff were lovely - we were greeted at the door, shook hands, and were settled into a cozy booth. The restaurant is lovely - bright, light, clean, airy and chic. OK I felt that way too - it's nice to be treated as a guest of honor. Grumpy Zena had just exited the building.

For starters again I was immediately informed that they have a brunch special: $15 for unlimited Bloody Marys. If you've been paying attention you all KNOW I'm totally all over that idea, but I declined (this time).  The Bacon Bloody Mary ($10) was heady with horseradish, spicy, and smooth with just a hint of bacon in the drink. I was told that a shot of what I think was Mama Walker's Bacon Liqueur was in there - total weirdness, but it was very very tasty.

I did not need my XRay vision to see the horseradish in this Bacon Bloody Mary
The menu is very creative - think American gastro with a touch of world fusion. A few popular carryovers were there (e.g., the Smoked Trout Salad, the Creo Burger, Kung Pao Calamari, etc.) but most everything else is new. The major changes to the old include more pancakes (including chocolate and peanut butter), more gluten free plates (such as Grilled Kielbasa, a Lobster Omelet, and Tostados), and some reorganization ("Small Plates" are now "Shared Plates"; "Mains" are now "Lunch") that made perusing the offerings much easier. Our server brought a basket of small, tender corn muffins (sweet, soft, not too crumbly, fresh, warm) along with some cranberry sage butter (amazing!), and a few slices of nutty, crunchy-top cinnamony coffeecake to nibble on while we decided what to have.

Lemony, interesting - the Paillard of Chicken was a bright surprise
My friend TBB went all Paleo on me and ordered the Paillard of Chicken - lemony grilled chicken topped with frisee, grapefruit, and almonds. We both loved the slight char on the meat, which was still tender and moist, the scent of butter, a salad combo that clean tasting yet still complex: a wonderful combination of flavors and textures that held together like a well written chorus.

Just a bit too much jiggle to the eggs in this Eggs Benedict, but it was still very good.
I decided on a classic brunch offering - the Eggs Benedict. It was good, nothing amazing -  a rich plate, silken and salty and comforting. I think the eggs could have set a bit longer, the Hollandaise maybe needed a bit of zing, and the potatoes were simple, but they started with what I think were best quality ingredients, and so it was all good. And it went nicely with a Bloody Mary.

The Tostadas are so good you may have to fight off your friends so you can eat in peace. 
The kitchen surprised us with a dish of their Tostadas, an assemblage of over easy eggs with chorizo, chili, crispy homemade corn tortillas, cheddar cheese and salsa roja topped with a hit of sour cream and greens. Colorful, crunchy, spicy and fun, this is a dish that would make any gringo happy: be prepared to fight off your friends because they WILL want you to share! I may go do brunch solo some day soon just so I can eat one all by myself.

Instead of errands and shopping and yard work and paying bills and doing the wash and toting the kids around and getting out winter clothes and ordering wood and cleaning the chimney and fixing the door and washing the windows I HIGHLY RECOMMEND instead that you gather yourself up a brunch bunch of friends and go spend a couple of hours in the middle of the day on any given Saturday OR Sunday OR both talking, laughing, sharing, telling stories, eating well, and eating really wonderful food at Creo. The rest of the day, and the rest of the week, will be SO much better in the afterglow.

Thank you to our host for treating us to brunch. I think you are all wonderful.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS:  It felt good to feel almost human again.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


I can think of a few good reasons NOT to go to Florida (large bugs, heat/humidity, and drivers, like me, who can't see over the dash). But the BEST reason I've had in a long time was to attend the first annual Bloody Mary Festival in Mirimar Beach with my good friend Peaches.

Saturday, September 19 from noon to 3:00. Happy three hours.
This inaugural event, benefiting Sinfonia Gulf Coast, allowed attendees unlimited tastes from 15 of the best bars and restaurants on the Florida panhandle. With dozens of sponsors and close to 600 revelers (all there primarily for the good cause, I'm sure), this outdoor party was fun and classy and sweaty, all in a good way. Zena, Goddess of Fire, actually hates the heat, but she loves blood and a good icy cold Bloody Mary. THE CHALLENGE: Could she take on 15 cold ones in just three hours??? Who would she vote for to win the People's Choice award?  Let's find out!!!

Four down, 11 to go. Good thing most drinks came with a bit of a snack on sticks.
There was only one rule: all the drinks had to be made with Cathead Vodka, which was actually not bad for hooch from Mississippi.

We started at one end at Bud & Alley's - the cups were rimmed with a salty/not too sticky spice rub, with a stick loaded with olives, lime, pickled okra, pickled asparagus, green beans, a large shrimp and a strip of thick, crispy smokey bacon inside the glass. This one became a standard for us: hot, salty, spicy, with a cooling edge of sweet tomato and citrus and ice. Delicious.

The first one is always good, get through the second, then from there it's easy
The Craft Bar had one of the spiciest offerings, with a stick holding another large shrimp and andouille sausage. Sunset Bay went healthy on us and stuck a carrot in there, but something was a bit bitter, so we moved on. Brutolu's Seafood House & Steamer made a pretty amazing Bloody Mary - a surf & turf idea - with beef jerky on the stick, and a cracked snowcrab leg in the glass. A good idea, except it was hard to eat with one hand (remember, we were walking around trying to drink them all and hadn't yet sat down in the shade, which would have been smart, but I digress).

These were not small drinks. There was a lot of emphasis on the presentation. 
So we went and sat down for a spell and enjoyed a Jalapeno Bloody Mary from Bijoux, which to this point was now my #2 with caperberry, boursin stuffed cherry peppers, and a nice bite of pork belly. Wow.

Pork belly is sinfully delicious.
From here I wasn't sure if it was the drinks or the heat or both or the forces of evil having followed me from up north, but the next few were pretty awful. Dig made one with kale and cilantro, which I don't like anyway, and it was green, but I liked their crab-stuffed peppers on the stick. The Island Wing Company did a Tiki Fire Bloody Mary that was bacon infused and garnished and topped with so much bacon it was actually greasy and gooky. The Flamin' Ugly Bloody from Louis Louis was just OK, and the one from Stinky's just seemed salty and pickly, which is about how I was feeling too.

Dig: Dig 6 feet deeper. The bacon overload in the Tiki Fire Bloody Mary was gooky. Louis Louis did a good job but didn't do anything memorable, although I WAS drinking. The offerings from Stinky's left little room for the beverage. 
I was happily surprised to visit the Beach House booth - wow! The tomato was creamy and dreamy, thick, rich, sweet, complex and delicious with just the right amount of heat. I asked about their secrets, and they (like everyone there, I think) made their own tomato juice with some roasted veg in there. I was impressed. These folks were happy and proud of their work!!!

I forgot to take a picture of the drink.
We wrapped up with few more but nothing from this point really stood out. We visited Great Southern Cafe (my notes only said "yuk"), The Perfect Pig (no notes), The Bowery on 30A (more bacon), and the NOLA Boiling Company (shellfish infused vodka with cilantro - that one I trashed).

Praise the Lard and drinks and bacon. I was doing pretty good until that seafood infused cilantro thing from NOLA. 
We listed 14 - thought we had them all - might have missed one - but we were done, and so was pretty much everyone by about 230 or so. We cast our votes, me for Beach House, which won third for People's Choice Award (yeah!), and Peaches voted for Bud and Alley's, which won the Judges (a.k.a., sponsors) Choice, and People's Choice Award second place (woo hoo!). Bijoux (remember the guys with the pork belly?) won People's Choice Award first place (yippee!).

It was a fun afternoon with lots of amazing drinks, good music from Sound Advice, a friendly well-heeled reeling crowd that was actually not overly snockered, excitement in the air, restaurants and bars proud of their offerings, which was by all accounts extremely generous, and, of course, food on a stick. Advance admission was $25 - a deal!!!

The music was good but it was too hot to dance. The grounds were lovely, not jammed, which has turned me off of events like this in the past. Those southerners sher do know how to throw a good party (for a good cause, of course). 

Zena, Goddess of Fire