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The Difference in Italian Delis

August 19, 2015

Amazingly, last Saturday’s Tour de Italian Deli was able to field three teams. For a while there, I thought I was going to have to take a run at it all by myself. And that would have been fine. After all, I do these things to answer my burning questions about foods which on the surface seem to be nearly identical, yet in reality are really quite different.

In the past we’ve seen this play out with apple cider donuts, mini hot dogs with meat sauce, soft serve, egg and cheese sandwiches, fish fry, tavern pizza, and more.

Sitting down at the very first stop, Albany Landlord was absolutely certain that the Italian mix sandwiches we would be sampling would have identical combinations of meat and cheese at each of the five locations. I was less convinced. But I have to confess that I came into the tour with some of my own preconceived notions, one of which was shattered before the day was done.

So which shop was found to have the best sandwich? Well, some of that depends on what you’re ordering. With three teams we were able to cover a lot of ground. Here’s how it all played out.

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Sandwich Prejudice: The Build

August 18, 2015

It’s amazing how many passions about food can be stirred up after just one afternoon spent eating five different sandwiches from some of the most beloved Italian delis in Albany. And right now, I’m just talking about my passions, since I haven’t even released the official findings of the Tour de Italian Deli.

Those are coming tomorrow.

Before I share the results, I thought it was important to share with you some of my own personal prejudices which were revealed over the course of the tour. Yesterday I explained my preconceived notions on bread, and how I realized that in fact most of the sandwiches on the tour would have improved after a short spell of curing in their wrappers.

Today is more about the form different sandwiches take and how they are assembled. Once again, these prejudices are informed by sandwiches of the past. And I’m going to lean heavily on those years I spent in Philadelphia.

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Sandwich Prejudice: The Bread

August 17, 2015

Saturday was the Tour de Italian Deli. Thanks to everyone who came out and joined me on the excursion. There will be a full report on the tour soon. But with three teams and five places that’s going to be one long post just covering the basics.

One thing that’s fun about the tours is not just what I learn about the places we visit, but what I learn about a foodstuff in general.

For example, it came out in the very first Tour de Donut that there are really two schools of thought on cider donuts. Some people prefer them crusty and others prefer them with a soft, cakey exterior. That was the ideological divide between Altamont Orchard and Indian Ladder Farm (with Indian Ladder winning by a nose).

There was a lot of talk leading up to this tour about whether or not these sandwiches could be taken to a central location to be divvied up, or if they were best eaten on the spot. In my mind, that formed two camps: the dry sandwich lovers, and the soggy sandwich fans.

Well, guess what? Now I get it.

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The Spirit of Utica

August 14, 2015

Craft spirits are special. It’s not always true to say that these small batch local products are better than their conventional counterparts. In some cases, however, it’s absolutely true, like with Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack. That local product totally blows away Laird’s Applejack, which has been the standard bearer for the category,

Small local distillers can also do things their own way. It’s been a long time since I had the Albany Distilling Company’s unaged whiskeys, but I loved them, in part because they were like an eau de vie of grain. Sure, these spirits might not be for everyone, but I enjoyed the heck out of them.

These distilleries have been rising up all over the place. Some of the growth has been organic. One of the junior distillers from Harvest Spirits left to open up Apple Country Spirits outside of Rochester. And recently one of the founders of Albany Distilling Company left that enterprise to begin a new venture up the road at Yankee Distillers.

I thought I was keeping pretty good tabs on distilleries around the region That is, until this week, when I just happened to stumble upon the distillery that’s based in Utica.

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Mac and Cheese Has Got to Go

August 13, 2015

It all started innocently enough. Where, I don’t know. But some innovative chef at a fancy restaurant decided he would get a little playful and start putting comfort foods from childhood on the menu.

I remember the root beer float at Aqua in San Francisco showing up about fifteen years ago. And shortly after at Masa, as a treat after the meal, they sent you home with a house made lollipop. At the time, those were charming and whimsical. But what little foresight we had to predict where these flirtations would ultimately lead.

First it was just an elevated version of macaroni and cheese. You know, better ingredients, a focus on technique, super rich, buttery, and indulgent. And I think in some ways I might still be able to get behind that.

But things flew off the tracks a while ago, and this trend may be doing more harm than good.

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Burger Fee Fi Fo Fum

August 12, 2015

Yesterday Angelo Mazzone tried to kill me. Bill Lia was in on it too. Ask Albany Jane. She saw the whole thing.

Today is the grand opening of the Capital Region’s first BurgerFi. I think, technically, it’s supposed to be written BURGERFI. That’s how it looks in all the press kits, but the the “BURGER” part is green and the “FI” part is grey. The green isn’t accidental, as there is a strong sustainability story that runs deep with this brand.

Anyhow, yesterday was the media preview, and I was invited along with a few other familiar faces. As with other media previews, there was a tasting menu so we could get a better understanding of what the place is about. Unlike other media previews the tasting menu was huge, and instead of offering samples we got full sized specimens.

For the record, that’s four full sized burgers, two sides, a hot dog, a concrete, and a shake. Doing some back of the napkin calculations, I was served over 4500 calories of food in about a ninety minute period.

I lived to tell the tale, but the diet has been completely shot to hell.

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The Cheese Toast

August 11, 2015

ADS is my oldest friend, and when the two of us were younger, we would speak almost entirely in Bloom County quotes. All it would take was the well timed delivery of a quotation from the fourth panel, and we would be in hysterics.

But there were other inside jokes too. And every now and again, I find one of these on the tip of my tongue. Yesterday, one of them made it onto the blog for the very first time, and I feel compelled to explain. Mostly because the subject of the joke is a fairly common phenomenon, and I’ve long found this made up expression to be a charming way to describe a potentially uncomfortable scenario.

The line from yesterday, about the Tour de Italian Deli went:

If you are coming on your own, please make sure to bring plenty of small bills, so nobody gets stuck holding the cheese toast.

I’ll explain what this means. But first, just remember, we do stupid things when we’re young.

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