Scrumptious pizza that I took home from Baba Louie's:
Those are figs! And spinach. And real mozzarella!!!! This weekend we went to Hudson, where hipness seems concentrated like a shot of espresso. It was just what one needs this time of year-- a little spot of razzmatazz- and I had two sublime food experiences: one at Verdigris, a tea bar/art salon, and the other at Baba Louie's, a fantastic sit-down gourmet pizzeria that also has pasta, panini, soup, and salad.
Verdigris has a bajillion kinds of tea for sale-- greens, reds (rooibus), black teas, tisanes-- and an adorable bakery with luscious looking cake and wonderful cookies. I took home oatmeal cookies and orange shortbreads. They also sell artwork and you can sit down indoors and enjoy your tea or hot chocolate (my husband tried the hot chocolate, which was truly wonderful-- dark and luscious and subtly flavored with something smoky, like maybe vanilla). They have a lovely outdoor patio area where you can sit in nicer weather. There are lots of places in Hudson to spend the afternoon reading with a cup of something warm and tasty, and Verdigris is definitely one I'd like to go back to.
I can't imagine anyone who *wouldn't* like Baba Louie's. Ingredients are fresh, often organic (the crust is made with either organic sourdough or wheat-free spelt; mixed greens in salads are organic), toppings are imaginative but not overweening, and the crust is thin and crispy. We debated heavily between the Melanzana Cardinale pizza, which comes with eggplant, plum tomatoes, fresh mozarella, smoked gouda and pesto; or the Isabella Pizzarella, which comes with roasted sweet potatoes and parsnips (I'm a sucker for parsnips), caramelized onions, roasted garlic, mozzarella, fennel, and balsamic vinegar. We decided to go with yet a third choice, the Dolce Vita: spinach, tomato sauce, mozzarella, figs, gorgonzola, prosciutto and parmesan and "topped with rosemary infused oil" except we ordered it without the prosciutto. It sounds like a lot, but the flavors married brilliantly, and all these toppings were just that-- toppings--they didn't take over the whole pie.
This pizza was so good that I now dream about going back for another. The figs tasted like sausage, which for a vegetarian is pure heaven= having that meaty sweety fat flavor without fake 'meat' (veggie strips, texturized protein, etc). It was just a gorgeous blend of sweet and salty, picante and mild, chewy and crispy. Heaven!
With a large pizza we still had half of it to take home (and that's something to look forward to). They also offer smaller (10 inch) pizzas. They have a pasta every evening and a choice of salads: we got a salad with figs and pecans, and it was served with a lemon dressing that was out of this world.
Service was warm and prompt; and the restaurant is open and airy yet you have privacy because there are booths and tables separated by half-walls. There are candles on the tables-- you could take a date here and feel at ease. We also saw families with kids who seemed like they were loving it. What a place!
And it all left me a bit starry-eyed and wondering about Hudson. And I realized: there isn't a SINGLE place in the entire Albany area (including Troy, Schenectady, Clifton Park, etc) that is like Baba Louie's: a simple but gourmet/organic restaurant with pizzas and pastas amenable to casual but quality dining. There are tons of Italian places, but they are either family style restaurants, where you are basically served enough food to power a small football team; or they are ultra-shmancy, like Cafe Capriccio or Tosca. Nothing in between. The only middle-of-the-road casual dining category includes places like Brown's Brewpub or the Pump Station-- nothing particularly memorable about the American food (burgers, wings, fish), and gargantuan portions. I just want a decent casual European style dining place-- *not* another big deal leather-banquette necktie and chandeliers place--that satisfies. A restaurant that serves things like goat cheese and balsamic vinegar without making these ingredients seem fussy or unusual. They aren't unusual for me-- these are things I use in my kitchen all the time, along with pine nuts, fresh imported parmesan, organic greens, and fresh mozzarella. But often when I see them served in a restaurant around here, I get the impression that the chef thinks they're 'exotic' as though they've just discovered them. Newsflash: The Silver Palate cookbook came out 25 years ago! Get with the times, Albany, and take a page from Hudson's dining scene-- I think we're ready.