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The C-Store Goes To K-Town

May 25, 2017

There are two kinds of people in this world. One kind loves Trader Joe’s. The other kind doesn’t get what all the fuss is about.

Trader Joe’s detractors don’t see this beloved market as an actual grocery store. I overheard some HWFC staffers complaining that the place sells nothing but convenience food. This, by the way, is a widely echoed misconception. Trader Joe’s is typically where I buy my eggplants and organic green peppers to supplement what I get from the CSA. It’s where I get bananas for the kids, frozen vegetables to get us through winter, and surprisingly tender 100% whole grain pasta.

Of course TJs does indeed have convenience foods. Lots of them. And while many of them look tempting, not all of them are great. The trick is in finding the ones you love. And over time I’ve honed that list down, and now very rarely veer from my favorites. What I find interesting is how everyone who loves TJs has a list like this, but at the same time everyone’s list is different.

Anyhow, just this week I made a new discovery.

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Secrets, Tomatoes, and Patience

May 24, 2017

Secrets. I’m going to say there are too many secrets. Even about things that aren’t very important, like food.

There are lots of reasons for keeping food secrets. Perhaps a beloved restaurant is doing something maybe less than 100% legal, and you don’t want them to get caught. Actually, that might be the only time that it’s okay to keep a food secret.

I remember a cheese shop once, somewhere in America, that was bringing in black market cheeses. Apparently, back in the day it was not all that hard to sneak young raw milk cheeses past customs, if you knew what you’re doing.

But most of the reasons for keeping food secrets are terrible. Customers selfishly keep culinary discoveries to themselves, lest they find a favorite restaurant overrun with other eaters. Some secrets might be kept because it’s assumed a fact is public knowledge, when in reality it’s more esoteric than expected.

And then there are the stories we just forget to tell.

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Drink Cider For Better Coffee

May 23, 2017

If you ever want to get under my skin, insist that the Dunkin’ Donuts makes the best coffee. Surely, there are lots of arguments one can make in support of that fallacious claim. There’s the point about volume and just how much coffee is sold by the chain. There’s a related point on popularity. If the coffee didn’t taste good, people simply wouldn’t drink it. And so on, and so on.

The good news is that the coffee culture in the Capital Region has improved dramatically in the ten years I’ve lived here. We went from having no place at all to go for a reliably good cappuccino, to having enough places that one doesn’t need to cross a river to get one.

Even still, there are people who will absolutely insist the best coffee comes from Dunkin’ Donuts. And that means we have more work to do. Delicious, delicious work.

Some of that work involves going out and supporting these small independent cafes, perhaps paying more or waiting longer for a truly excellent cup of coffee. But there is also something you can do this week, that is not only free, but involves drinking complementary Nine Pin Cider. How does that second part work? I’m glad you asked.

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Excelsior Nachos

May 22, 2017

If you will it, it is no dream.
~Theodor Herzl

There’s an open secret about even the better places in the Capital Region. You have to know what to get, and sometimes even how to order it. Which can be infuriating.

It would be much better if business owners took a long hard look at their offerings, separated the wheat from the chaff, and only sold the stuff that was truly excellent. My hunch is that the average consumer in the Capital Region isn’t all that discriminating, and the vast majority prefer having a wide selection to actually receiving truly amazing products.

But this self-perpetuating cycle is no joke. Because businesses reinforce the mediocrity by halfheartedly offering buffalo wings, but buying jarred sauces and dumping them onto carelessly prepared fried chicken. Or taking a can of curry paste, mixing it with a can of coconut milk, and tossing it with mussels. It’s lazy. And these are just two of countless sins.

Regardless of the place, what I’ve learned from years of trial and error is that almost every kitchen is capable of producing something really delicious. It’s just a matter of finding out exactly what it is, and how to order it.

Which bring us to The Excelsior Pub.

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Saturday in Saratoga

May 19, 2017

One of these days I’m going to have a quiet weekend when I can stay in bed until noon and catch up on my sleep. But that’s not in the cards for tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be epic.

But first a quick follow up to yesterday’s post on Bethlehem’s Restaurant Week. Last night I went to Romo’s as part of Third Thursday Tavern Time, which is a monthly event where a bunch of people from Yelp order a bunch of tavern staples and split the bill.

We got two orders of fried mozzarella, chicken wings, a meat stuffed Chicago style deep dish pie, the famous Gracie’s Sicilian pie, an artisan style pepperoni pie, and two orders of fried dough knots with cannoli cream. Plus we had a few pitches of Flower Power, I wasn’t counting how many, but they kept on coming. There were also some soft drinks involved. Splitting the bill eight ways, after tax and a generous tip the total came to $23 a person.

Even though that’s only $2 less than the Restaurant Week offer, our total included both drinks and gratuity. I’ll add my thought on Romo’s to Yelp soon, but it’s definitely a solid place, and I plan to return.

So let’s talk about Saturday.

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Paying More For Resto Week

May 18, 2017

Restaurant Week needs to change with the times. Food has gotten more expensive. It has. So let’s take a nice restaurant like 333 Cafe in Delmar, and look at the regular menu for a minute.

An app of roasted beets is $11. Entrees hover around $25. Let’s say dessert is $9. Put ‘em all together and that’s $45. Asking anyone to charge half of that or less for a restaurant week promotion doesn’t make much sense. So it’s no wonder that restaurants will often dumb down their Restaurant Week offerings, but that doesn’t serve anyone’s interests either.

At a place like 333 Cafe, even $30 would be a significant savings off everyday prices. If that’s not enough to bring people into the restaurant to try it out, they aren’t likely going to be an establishment’s return customers.

The above was an example of why it makes sense to pay more for restaurant week. Now let me share with you another way of paying more for restaurant week that boggles the imagination.

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Two Rivers

May 17, 2017

Today’s post is more of a thought starter than a fully developed idea, but hopefully you can go with me on this one.

Albany. We’re on the map because this region is at the intersection of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. I have the Hudson on my mind this week, because next Wednesday, Yelp is having a party aboard the Dutch Apple. If you are interested, there are still a couple spots available. But I digress.

Once upon a time, when the river was the highway, that was a big deal. And when it came time to build the railroad, they were largely constructed along the river. The idea was that at the crossroads, people could come from all around to trade their wares, and build their fortunes.

So what does this have to do with food? I’m glad you asked.

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