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Nominations for Mozzarella and Melba

November 1, 2012

As a kid I grew up in Brooklyn Heights. And you know what? I really could not tell you anything about the regional food of the borough, based on my childhood. Today, I could discuss the Brooklyn style of egg cream and the brilliant pizza shops that reside there.

Which makes it very possible that someone could have grown up in the Capital Region and not had any idea that mozzarella sticks with raspberry (aka Melba) sauce are a specialty of the region.

Sometimes it takes an interloper. Someone who has been around to come into an area and realize something is done differently here than it is everywhere else. Although there are some locals who appreciate these things too. Mr. Dave takes significant pride in the regional foods of his homeland. And I too want to celebrate these ever rarer regional variations in food culture, and in many ways that is what the Fussy Little Tours are intended to do.

Although these usually come with reactions of horror and disgust from Mr. Dave as I venture forth to pick apart and examine his beloved foodstuffs.

But I haven’t let that stop me in the past. And it’s not going to stop me now. Because today I am officially opening up nominations for the Tour de Mozzarella and Melba.

I do have a little bit of bad news. This tour is going to be different from those conducted in the past. And it pains me, but to pull this off there will be executional realities that need to be considered.

Counter service fish fry, walk up ice cream stands, hot dog joints, and apple orchard bake shops all have something in common: it’s easy for groups of varying size to come, get their food, evaluate it and leave. They are set up to do a high volume of a particular food item without a large order causing quality to diminish. And the foot traffic of a large group doesn’t disrupt the regular operations of the business.

Things got a little bit tight at the Tour de Egg Sandwich, especially at Jack’s Diner. And I’m trying to learn from my past experiences.

So this tour is going to have a very limited number of spots. And as a result, I will not be announcing it publicly. Instead I’ll be emailing a select list of commenters and past participants in these kinds of events.

Yeah. It sucks. But I have a plan to make it up to you in the Spring.

However, that makes your participation at this point in the game even more critical. Because I’m asking for your help in nominating which restaurants we should visit for the tour. And as usual, I’m already starting with a short list. But given my relatively recent arrival in the region, there are probably other places that are off my radar which should be included.

As always the tour will consist of five stops.  Plus it wouldn’t be a tour without a little bit of driving. And dammit, sometimes you need that drive to take a break from eating.

TJ’s is at the top of my list. Todd is a regular commenter. And I’ve met the guy. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. His commitment to fresh ingredients is impressive. It’s been far too long since I’ve been in there. And I’d love to see what he does with this classic regional dish.

Ralph’s was once one of the greats in the region. I can’t go back in time. But I can hope that some of that institutional knowledge found some way to filter down over the years. Maybe even though its glory days are gone, it is possible that their cheese logs are still better than most. We’ve got to try them to see.

Scubbers had great wings in their Latham location. I’ve been less impressed with their Wolf Road location. But I never had their mozzarella sticks at the old spot. So I can only judge them against the others we will try that day.

Across the Street Pub is another place that was mentioned a lot on the interwebs both in the past and in the present. Despite being a rather dark and small place it continues to pack in patrons. They must be doing something right.

My last pick is the dangerous one. It’s the one that would keep attendance of the tour down even if I opened it up to the general public. That’s Big Mike’s Hot Dog Place in Gloversville. Yeah, it’s far away. But there is some awfully specific information available on the Internet that I have no particular reason to trust, which claims these were the first cheese sticks in the region to be served with raspberry sauce. However, even the faintest possibility of this makes it worth the trip.

That said, other names that get tossed around are The Fountain, The Orchard and Circus Cafe. Back in the day people loved The Lexington Grill. But we are stuck in 2012 and my time machine hasn’t worked in years.

This will also be different from previous tours because all participating places will know that they are participating. I’m hoping that each place could manage with a group of twelve of us coming in to eat, chat, score, pay and leave without disrupting their regular Saturday business too badly. But it’s also possible that some places will not want to play our little reindeer games, or at the very least prefer we come with a smaller posse.

So that too could have an influence in which restaurants are included in the final tour. But I really really want to hear from you before I get in touch with the restaurants. Where should we go. Equally important is where should we avoid at all costs.

When it is all said and done, I’m hoping those of you who were not able to come along on the official tour, will go and do it on your own. I can even supply you with scoresheets if you like. Or you could decide to do less damage to your body than the participants on the tour, and simply go and try what we determined to be the best mazzarella and melba in the region.

43 Comments leave one →
  1. November 1, 2012 8:20 am

    So, I am a local that had no idea this was a Thing. Rather, I am a sweet potato fries and melba sauce girl, myself. (Which, I had no idea this was not a UNIVERSAL thing everywhere until I discovered it wasn’t … it actually appears to be a Glens Falls thing, because I have trouble getting the side of melba down here.)

    Mozza sticks, in my mind, should be served with MARINARA sauce. Not chunky tomato sauce, but that smooth, basil-y sweet, with maybe a touch of oregano kick. (Oh. Yes. I am FUSSY about my marinara sauce. My aunt is Sicilian, which renders one very particular about sauce.)

    Anyway, I have no input. I am curious and would be interested in participating, but I know others have a stronger stake in this than I do. :) Besides, I’d be complaining about the lack of warm marinara sauce. :)

  2. November 1, 2012 9:48 am

    I’m pretty certain that I won’t be in the group, but you have piqued my curiosity. I’ve been in Albany for 30 years and this is a combination that would never have occurred to me.

  3. Jpatiky@cox.net permalink
    November 1, 2012 10:15 am

    Professor when you were just a wee fusser of 4 , we used to frequent the Atlantic Restaurant ion Atlantic Avenue, walking distance from our Brooklyn apartment and had the best Lebanese food and sweets, Actually Sahadi importing company is located there as well….three of us ate a sumptuous dinner for under 10.00! Don’t you remember the warm bread, babaganoush, hummus, kabobs and sweets? I guess your photographic memory for food started at 5!

  4. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 1, 2012 10:18 am

    Another truly disgusting local specialty.

  5. November 1, 2012 10:20 am

    I was baffled by the raspberry sauce the first time I came across it after moving here, but have come to kind-of-love it. At the very least, I try to convince visitors and friends that it is one of the Albany specialties that they must try.

    I don’t have any nominations to add. I agree that I have heard the Lexington mentioned often, but haven’t tried it myself. I’m sure you have a long list of potential participants, but I would love to add myself to the waiting list (savory tour!). I have strong feelings on mozz sticks and would love to weigh in!

  6. Josh K permalink
    November 1, 2012 10:33 am

    I am really surprised how many people have never tried, let alone heard about Mozz sticks and Melba. Utterly baffling. Especially given the ubiquity of pubs and taverns serving them here.

    I would also add Graney’s to the list (not sure if I have had them there) but the restaurant menu – http://graneysbarandgrill.com/Graneys/_.html – says that they are “cut from a block of fresh mozzarella and lightly breaded”. Sounds like they are trying to do it right. And the steep 8.95 price tag seems to bold if they were just ordinary, frozen stricks

    • November 1, 2012 1:18 pm

      I’ve never seen fresh mozzarella come in blocks. It usually comes in balls.

      • Josh K permalink
        November 1, 2012 5:59 pm

        Only 1 way to find out…

  7. Josh K permalink
    November 1, 2012 10:39 am

    Also, Beff’s on Everett Road (the only place I actually order boneless wings) claims they have “Hand-cut Mozzarella Logs”. That place is pretty classic. I bet they do a good version.

    • Mozzarella Stick Connoisseur permalink
      November 2, 2012 11:38 pm

      Beff’s does do a good version. I ate one last night. The mozzarella sticks are huge, and the first one is always the best. No matter where you start, the second mozzarella stick you eat will not taste as good. After all, a mozzarella stick with raspberry sauce is a hunk of saturated fat coated in grease and dipped in sugar – in other words, delicious!

  8. -R. permalink
    November 1, 2012 11:12 am

    I too would endorse Beff’s as a choice; I recall having their mozzarella sticks back at the old Watervliet Ave location many years ago and being somewhat impressed. I can’t say how the new location would stack up.

    I’m assuming Mr. Dave is at the top of your invitee list – oh, that could be most amusing.

  9. Debra permalink
    November 1, 2012 11:25 am

    The first place I ever had mozzerella sticks with raspberry sauce was McGeary’s. I’ve never been offered them anywhere else with raspberry – I will have to check out some of your listings.

  10. November 1, 2012 11:31 am

    Well I’ve been in this area 42 years and NEVER new this was a speciality. I totally agree with irisira that marinara is the way to go. It’s hard to beat homemade, using the tri-method and panko bread crumbs.

  11. November 1, 2012 11:52 am

    “Which it very possible that someone could have grown up in the Capital Region and not had any idea that mozzarella sticks with raspberry (aka Melba) sauce are a specialty of the region.”

    No way. That defies the whole definition. I mean, maybe you didn’t take much notice of it, but if someone said “Y’know, Brooklyn’s really known for great pizza,” you probably would’ve said “hm… never thought of that, but we DO have great pizza,and we eat it around here often.” But if you ask most locals about having raspberry sauce with their cheese sticks, they’ll look at you confused, wondering where you got that idea from and quite possibly being grossed out by the thought. That’s totally counter to the idea of a “local specialty.”

    (See also all of the OTHER locals and long-time transplants above this comment who are also confused, ’cause it’s just not a local specialty. One or two places doing it, followed by a few who add it to the menu just in case, ’cause they heard about it and didn’t have much to lose by offering the option, does NOT a local specialty make.)

    That said, while we’re on the subject of cheese sticks, Marissa’s Place had some good ones last night, thin and obviously not out of your standard food service package.

    And I maintain that to make these results useful to most people, you’ll want to try the marinara sauce, ’cause that’s what the overwhelming majority of people order.

    • November 1, 2012 12:03 pm

      I probably should have made this clear in the beginning. We are only going to be trying the raspberry sauce. Try signing out of Google or Bing and searching for Mozzarella with Raspberry or any kind of variation. All the results will come from upstate New York. There are even talk threads about this being a regional specialty on Chow and other food boards.

      Yes, there is one place in Salt Lake City, but with further digging you will find the chef came from NY.

      Now consider someone who lives in New Haven and never leaves. To them what they’ve got is just pizza. Maybe they know enough to suspect it’s really good pizza. But when someone from New York or Chicago comes to town they realize that pizza is very different in that part of Connecticut, and clearly it’s special since there are many places who make it in very similar ways.

      If the above doesn’t convince you (and I do not suspect that it will), then on this subject you and I will just have to agree to disagree.

      • November 1, 2012 2:29 pm

        Just because something is available at a few places in one area doesn’t make it a local specialty. That’s especially true if the vast majority of natives to said area have never heard of it or wanted to eat it. Heck, I didn’t really think of egg sandwiches as a local specialty, but I’ll admit that when you brought them up, I realized that maybe everybody everywhere else doesn’t eat them, and a lot of people around here do, so alright then. A local specialty is something that’s a big part of the local cuisine, that the locals eat.

        Also, it comes off as arrogant when a transplant to an area makes as if they know more about the area than the people born and raised there. You can spend all day pointing out how nobody does raspberry sauce with cheese sticks except some places around here, but that still isn’t going to make them something that locals commonly eat. Test the raspberry sauce, while leaving out the much more commonly ordered marinara, if you must, but accept that you’ve abandoned the premise of the Tours in favor of a broader “let’s just go eat some stuff and compare it” approach.

      • November 1, 2012 3:23 pm

        Do you think our local restaurants have it on their menus for the tourists?

      • November 1, 2012 5:42 pm

        They have it on their menus as a novelty, because one or a few places thought of it, and then a few more heard about and realized that hey, it doesn’t cost them much to have it on hand in case somebody comes in and wants it. They probably do sell some — heck, I ordered it once, after you started talking about it, just out of curiosity. But I doubt they sell very much, ’cause it’s weird, a novelty, not something people around here commonly eat.

      • November 2, 2012 10:15 am

        It won’t let me reply to KB, so replying here. Based on the names of the restaurants, aside from the spot in Gloversville, they’re all in Albany/Colonie. I consider myself local in that I hail from “the 518″, but really I grew up much further north. Knowing you’re in Saratoga County, I wonder if this is a “specialty” that never made it north of the twins? And seeing as it’s, well, it’s kinda weird, it never really took off the way spedies or tomato pie or garbage plates (aside: YUCK, I don’t understand why people like those) or chicken wings did throughout the rest of the state.

        I mean, as I said above, when asking for a side of melba for my sweet potato fries at places outside of Glens Falls, I’m looked at like an alien. If nothing else, I know I can go to these restaurants and get a side of melba if they have sweet potato fries. :)

    • November 1, 2012 1:40 pm

      But right here typing a response to your comment is a local who has been aware of mozz/rasp since childhood…

      It is OK, you don’t have to feel bad that you missed out on this all of these years. You know the secret now. You can concede the point.

    • November 1, 2012 2:39 pm

      How about “Local Curiosity” rather than “Local Specialty”?

  12. November 1, 2012 1:02 pm

    Well, it could be the best rasberry sauce you have ever tasted but as KB suggested if the sticks come out of a food service bag, Eh! Lots of breading and grease…

  13. Josh K permalink
    November 1, 2012 3:20 pm

    Wow Melba makes people contentious…

  14. Elyse permalink
    November 1, 2012 3:48 pm

    I love how pissed off people are getting over this. Please include me on the list! Even though my free time is scarce, this intrigues me.

    How great would it be if we could travel back in time and have a tour de egg cream in brooklyn? Alas, only in my dreams….

  15. November 1, 2012 4:00 pm

    First and foremost….Thank you for including TJ’s Cafe in your list. I assure you we are always up to a challenge. And I would also like to say that knowing ahead of time or not we will be A. happy to accomadate the party on a saturday for the ‘Tour’ (anyday, anytime ;) ).
    B. provide you all with the products we make fresh from scratch everyday…no shills or padding allowed…
    C. accept and respect any and all critcisms of our products. And I am happy to say, judging from the names already mentioned…We are in good company!! Love all these places ourselves…so GAME ON!
    Lastly…your local and never had mozz and raspberry sauce? I’m very surprised by that on a particular level…not surprised on others….But I can say that it was never even a second thought 16 yrs ago when I was writing our original menu with our chef at the time (Corey Cuniff)…We HAD to have fried Mozz and HAD to have raspberry sauce….and it HAD to be all from scratch…in house. We haven’t changed the recipes since (thanks Corey!!). Hope you all love them as much as we love serving them!

  16. November 1, 2012 4:42 pm

    This is quite a thread. I will just add that some strange and wonderful things happen in Gloversville. You should make it the last spot on the tour so you can savor other aspects of the Glove City and its non-identical twin, Johnstown.

  17. Kate H permalink
    November 1, 2012 9:29 pm

    I used to live in Nashville in the 80’s and there was a restaurant that served hot pepper cheese sticks with marinara – they were fresh made to order, no prefrozen junk, and served with a spicy marinara. When I moved to Albany and saw my friends ordering mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce at Ralph’s I was absolutely appalled by the combination and have never warmed to it. It’s definitely is a regional dish and should not be exported!

  18. November 1, 2012 11:23 pm

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And way to be a curve breaker (so to speak) with the driving. Ah, the things I do for you…

  19. November 2, 2012 12:23 pm

    Maybe KB will be satisfied if we define the region of this “regional specialty” as zip codes 12201 – 12214?
    I’ve never been able to get melba sauce with fried cheese anywhere but Albany/Colonie.
    The closest I’ve come is having a waitress in Buffalo ask me if I’m from Albany in response to my request for raspberry sauce with mozz sticks.

  20. November 2, 2012 1:45 pm

    I grew up in downstate NY (Orange County, also home of the Incomparable DerryX), and I don’t remember it ever appearing on a menu there. The first time I tried it was my freshman year at Siena College, when a friend and I went to dinner at the Parc V Cafe (remember that place, now the Blue Indigo?). They called it “Deep Fried Cheese with Raspberry Sauce” (it’s best if you say it from between clenched teeth). I was hooked, and I’ve loved it ever since. AND – I’ve never had it anywhere else, either. It’s definitely a local thing.

    And – in my experience, most places around here have raspberry sauce if they sell mozzarella sticks, even if they don’t list it on their menu. All you gotta do is ask.

    Which reminds me: it’s none of anyone’s business why I think it’s delicious. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. No one is forcing you. I personally DETEST sushi/sashimi, but I don’t run around insulting people who enjoy it. Live and let live.

    • November 2, 2012 4:15 pm

      My story is exactly the same except I experienced it my freshman year at Siena at Scubbers which was then in Newton Plaza, just about a mile up route 9 from Siena College. Theirs were hand breaded large sticks served with a clearly made-in-house reduction of raspberries. Until then, I had only seen mozz sticks served with marinara. Since then, I’ve seen lots of places in the area imitate the form (which didn’t originate at Scubbers but probably originated at a place that used to be on Wolf road in the 70s where Hannoush Jewelers now resides). It’s common to find the bagged super salty mozzarella sticks served with thick, syrupy raspberry jam from a jar.

      Just another point of data, the NYS Food map (http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2012/02/06/new-york-state-food-regions-map ) that someone kindly put together has the mozz and raspberry phenomenon pin pointed to the capital region, and I don’t think Daniel had anything to do with the formulation of the map.

      Let’s put it this way: mozz sticks with raspberry sauce seems much more local and regional to me than an egg and cheese sandwich.

  21. November 2, 2012 2:24 pm

  22. Jabroni permalink
    November 2, 2012 9:11 pm

    I know first hand that only a few of the places you mentioned actually serve in house made mozz sticks. Cut from 5# mozz blocks breaded and fried. The rest are just frozen sysco-usfoods-pfg garbage do your homework before you waste your time. And as far as the rasp sauce goes, they all use the same melba sauce so unless they add something to it, its all the same.

    • November 2, 2012 10:11 pm

      The intent of this post is to crowd source the homework. If you would like to share what you know, but are uncomfortable naming names in a public forum, please feel free to e-mail me danielb [at] fussylittleblog [dot] com with those places that don’t make the grade.

  23. November 3, 2012 4:44 pm

    Best melba sauce I ever had was an ad hoc batch I found in the gift shop of the Nuns of New Skete. One of the sisters had picked a bunch of raspberries on the convent grounds and whipped up some sauce (maybe 2-3 jars, tops). I used it on everything, including mozz sticks and cheesecake. Not really relevant to the discussion, tho.

  24. Dorothy permalink
    November 7, 2012 11:12 am

    If you are going to schlep to Gloversville, you should stop at 391 South Main. It’s on the menu there too. Several years ago it was quite good. The last time I had it, I wasn’t as impressed. Not sure if this was due to the chef change or having it for take away instead of eating in.

  25. Josh K permalink
    November 8, 2012 3:41 am

    FYI – just had some pretty solid Mozz sticks and raspberry sauce at Cafe 217 on Delaware Ave. They claimed homemade on the menu, but I am skeptical of this. Regardless, the textures were spot on.

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