Saturday, July 29, 2006

Brown's Brewery: Mixed Results. Too Damn Noisy Last Night.

Brown's Brewery in Troy on River Street is a perfectly adequate place to go most of the time. It is not one of my favorite places. But after discovering last night that Al Baraki closed at 9, we were left with hungry tummies and not too many options. So Brown's it was.

They seated us quickly, our waitress was friendly and efficient, and the menu offers a wide range of options. It's your typical brewery fare, although I read an article that I can't seem to find online that says there is a new chef there now.

I ordered the linguini with clams and white sauce, which was quite good. I am somewhat of a stickler about my linguini vongole, and this one passed the test. (Although don't expect actual parmesan cheese here. It came with one of those little shake jars with the crumbly kind of parmesan, not the real stuff). It was adequate (I seem to be using that word a lot, but it does describe the food, at least so far).

Some things they do really well: burgers. I don't eat meat but their vegetarian burger is one of the very best I've had. I've had the salmon there before, and it was just okay, not really great. I think they have a new version of it on the menu now, but I'm not eager for it, based on the mediocre quality of version the first.

My husband got the Reuben, and he complained that the corned beef in it this time was chipped. Apparently other times he's gotten it, it's come in the whole form that is preferable.

And the onion rings he ordered were below par. First of all there were exactly 6 onion rings of a standard size. That's not very many. The sauce they came with was basically just plain mayonnaise with flecks of something in it (pepper? I don't know. It didn't have any flavor). And they were doughy, not crunchy.

The other bad thing about Brown's last night was it was so noisy. They had this guy who was channelling Van Morrisson or Creedence Clearwater Revival or just drunk folk guy and I couldn't hear myself talk. So we skipped dessert and left early. Too bad, because I would have liked to try their Porter Chocolate cake.

This remains a standby, a kind of backup plan for us. And, it is a good place to go for beer. But beer alone doesn't make a restaurant.

76 Diner in Latham: Always Open, Always Something Good

The 76 Diner in Latham is exactly what every diner should be: open all the time, warm and welcoming, and chock-full of so many different options (breakfast all day, dessert all day, Greek salad, shrimp scampi, steak....) that it boggles the mind where they store all that food. How do they keep all those options in readyness, at a moment's notice, 24 hours a day? Plus the beverages.

The 76 Diner is located on 722 Loudon Road, Latham, tel. 785-3793.

They have a lovely dessert case that greets you and gets the salivary glands going just as you walk in. In it are all kinds of over-the-top things like Napoleons bursting with cream you know isn't good for you, strawberry cheesecake, and cherry and blueberry pies.

We were there the other night after having made an emergency run to the Lowe's in Latham Circle, and I got the broiled Haddock that came with: salad, side vegetable (I chose the spinach with mushroom, very good, almost creamy), potato (I chose the home fries, very good again). The piece de resistance was the garnish: a canned pineapple round with a maraschino cherry in the center on top of a piece of lettuce.

Where else can you go and order broiled Haddock and get a garnish like that, I ask you?! You know that love and care goes into that. And it is the essence of dinertude. My husband got the omelet with tomato and cheese (and home fries) and it was quite good.

Now let's be frank here: we're not talking organic eggs or quaint Berkshire-style diner. We're talking working man's, 24-hour, nightshifters, Greek-food inflected diner. But for what it is, it's at the top of its form.

The waitress, who spoke with a Russian accent, and I had a frank discussion about the fish. Was it fresh? I wondered. Well, she said, don't believe ANYONE if they tell you that fish is fresh at any restaurant, unless it is very very expensive. Almost all fish will be frozen in some way. But, she assured me, this Haddock would be good. I appreciated her honesty.

And the fish was good. It wasn't the best (or the freshest-- despite what she said, there are levels of freshness) I've ever had, but it was quite good. Better than I expected.

So go. Don't hesitate. And at $23 for two full meals, you can't beat it.

The Great Ice Cream Lick-Off

The Capital Region is blessed with several options for ice cream indulgence. At the risk of my street cred, I am going to endorse as one of my favorites the Cold Stone Creamery chain. We went to the one in Stuyvesant Plaza the other night and it was packed. The ice cream itself is of superior quality, and then there is the whole 'add-in' thing, whereby you personalize your ice cream. You can ask for any kind of mix-in (Snickers, Heath bar, M&Ms, nuts, sprinkles, etc.) and the servers then pound it all into a sludgy cold gooey submission on a marble slab. It's part of a larger trend of everyone being their own movie star/dreammaker/barista/iPod music mixer. They give you choices, and I got the peanut butter/chocolate concoction. It was chocolate ice cream with Reese's peanut butter cups plus actual peanut butter mixed in.

Can I just say YUM?!? Intense chocolateyness, plus peanut buttery goodness.

I was torn, though, and in retrospect I think I should have gotten the strawberry cheesecake concoction or the birthday cake one (actual pieces of birthday cake thrown in, with sprinkles!!!) There will just have to be many other samplings.

I might suggest ordering the smallest size, just because of the richness of the ice cream. It must have a high cream content, so a little bit goes a long way. There's another Cold Stone Creamery in Saratoga.

The other option for ice cream is of course the Ben and Jerry's on Lark Street in Albany. And I'm never going to pass up the chance for good old politically correct and intensely delicious ice cream by them. Plus, they use REAL WHIPPED CREAM!!! That is a big bonus in my book. And their fudge sauce isn't too overly sweet. One of the problems is parking, though: where are you gonna park, say, on a Friday night!??! It's not like there's a whole lot of room to double park with your flashers on while your sweetie runs in and contemplates the 20 or so incredibly delicious flavors.

It's problematic.

The institution we have come to love almost in spite of ourselves right here in Troy is The Snowman in Lansingburgh. Here is an article from the Business Review about ice cream with information about the owner of the Snowman, who makes his ice cream from scratch. Add to that all the soft ice cream options your heart could ever desire (vanilla and orange sherbert swirl for creamsicle effect cone, butterscotch or chocolate dipped cones, low-fat sherbert....) and you have a real conundrum. Pencil in about an hour's time just to decide what on earth out of all this sinful goodness you want. Recently I've had Maple Walnut, which was quite good. Their chocolate is okay, but not nearly as chocolately as Cold Stone's. Snowman tends towards the sweeter side of things, whereas I prefer less sugar, more flavor.

However, the Snowman is a social scene. Go on a Friday or Saturday night around 8 pm and you'll see everyone there: old, young, and in between lined up for their cold sugary goodness. It's so nice to see people out enjoying themselves in the Capital Region, where more often than not people are rushing around being workaholics.

The Snowman is on 5th Ave around 114th Street in Lansingburgh.

The article in the Business Review also mentions a place called Moxie's near Emma Willard which I'd love to try.

Happy lickings folks.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wild blueberries on State Street

I haven't been active here because I've been battling my demons. I've had an extended period of the major demons. But I'm coming out of it. In the meantime I've relied on DeFazio's pizza and Edie's frozen yogurt (vanilla) as well as the double-chocolate vegan cookies sold at the Troy Waterfront Farmer's Market (subject for another post) to get me through. And of course, now that I'm starting to feel better, the first thing on my mind is food.

Today (a Wednesday, around noon) I was in downtown Troy, and there were three farmer stalls set up on State Street and Third. One woman was selling, among other things (cukes, zucchini, corn, potatoes), tiny wild blueberries. Natch I got some.

That I can buy wild blueberries on State Street in downtown Troy gives me hope, not only for our fair city but for humanity.

Feast well, friends.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Al Baraki: Excellent Lebanese food with heart

Al Baraki is one of the best places to eat in the Capital Region. You may be surprised by that statement, but you shouldn't be: consistently, immigrant and 'ethnic' restaurants in this area outpace more traditional (read: white) eateries for freshness, originality, and heart.

What is heart? Heart is that personal connection to food, that sense of emotional nourishment and connection we get when we eat food prepared with care and love. Too often, that quality is missing from overly corporatized chain restaurants and overbuilt, overly fussy places that try to pass as gourmet, like Provence in Stuyvesant Plaza.

At Al Baraki, you get garlicky, fresh food with great variety and a down-home feeling. Paul and Simone are the proprietors, and the restaurant is situated in what used to be a pizzeria. Apparently, Paul started out selling pizza pie, but was encouraged to prepare foods that reflect his Lebanese heritage. It has been working, and I for one will be going back for more. They had a very successful Lebanese festival recently and they tell me they plan to do it again next year. Also, students, be on the lookout for a promotion in the fall.

Today I had the sampler platter, and usually with these types of platters, I'll like one or two of the samples while the rest are pretty bland. But on the Al Baraki platter, I *loved* everything: the baba ganouj was light and garlicky; the stuffed grape leaf and the makdous (baby eggplant stuffed with walnuts and peppers) were topped with Al Baraki's stupendous, home made garlic mayonnaise (which sometimes you can buy to take home in jars); and the tabbouli was full-bodied with mint and lemon. Another one of their signatures is the homemade turnip pickle. It doesn't sound like much, but it packs a wonderful flavor punch, and they use it as a garnish/side on a lot of their dishes.

They also offer meat dishes such as shawarma (chicken or beef), home made pies (lahm-ajeen, which is ground beef with tomato; or goat cheese pie, which I want to try next); and hot vegetable dishes like mousakaa (this looks like a vegetarian version, with onion, eggplant and chickpeas) or loubieh (green beans cooked with onion and garlic).

Their hours are:
Daily 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday 10:30- 9 p.m.
Closed Sunday

telephone: 270-9404

Today it was nice, so I sat at an outdoor table, but they also have seats inside. Go to Al Baraki; it'll make you want to become a regular.