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