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Building the Ballot – Irony

March 12, 2012

Confession time. I think, write, talk, and learn about food far more than I actively engage in actually eating the stuff. And as a result there are vast swaths of the local culinary landscape of which I don’t actually have direct knowledge.

One of these blind spots is sandwich shops.

A big reason I continue to promote the FUSSYlittleBALLOT initiative is because Subway perpetually is ranked the region’s best sandwich. So the irony isn’t lost on me that I cannot definitively give you my thoughts on the best sandwich shop.

What I do know is that we have scads of places that beat the pants of Subway and Panera combined. But choosing the best is a daunting challenge. And for some categories, like Italian restaurant, I feel one must have resided in the area for a minimum of two decades to even remotely have the possibility of understanding the landscape of Italian-American red sauce joints that populate the region.

So today I’m lumping all the categories that I feel completely ill equipped to comment upon together. These are categories that I’ll gladly surrender to external forces. But I will suggest a few things to think about, and I will continue to insist that you offer up three choices that if push came to shove you would be happy to vote for on the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 3.0.

Best Sandwich Shop
I had suggested this category be renamed to “best deli for a sandwich” and in this case I meant Italian deli as opposed to Jewish deli. I think there is one Jewish deli with possibilities in the region and that is Ben & Bills in the Slingerlands Price Chopper.

As always, we are talking about single locations. So make sure to specify. Also, let’s try to spread the wealth. Cardona’s is in the running for best Italian market. Sure, a lot of the smaller delis have markets too, but one of the things that makes a market great is its ability to crank out a sandwich.

Okay, that said, from the hip I’ll say:

3: Via Fresca – Guilderland
Have you tried their broccoli rabe and provolone? That’s crazy good.

2: Andy’s
Seems to be a crowd favorite every year. I love the place and have been meaning to try their sandwiches for so long.

1: Perecca’s
Um, they bake their own bread, and it’s awesome. But there may be places that are even better. Let’s hear about them, and why.

Best Hamburger
I don’t eat a lot of burgers. The ones at Juicy Burger are pretty good, if a little under-seasoned. Plus the last time I was there, the guy behind the counter gave me a real hard time about modifying my order from their broken color-code system. Red results in a rare burger with a cold red center. Pink comes out medium, with a warm center but brown most of the way through. The only way to get a proper medium-rare burger is to convince them to cook it between red and pink. Anyhow, I’d choose their northern outpost as opposed to the Guilderland location, to give props to the orignal.

The best burger I’ve ever had locally was the deep fried buffalo burger at Swifty’s in Delmar. Holy shit that was good. But I never ate it a second time. It’s a pretty decadent treat.

Recently, I heard the best burger in the area might be from The Brown Bag out in Troy. But there are a lot of possibilities and I’ve far from tried them all.

The best could come from a fancy restaurant that uses only local pasture raised beef like the one at Taste (if only they used a better bun). Or the one at The Hungry Fish Café I want to try.

Anyhow, I’ll capriciously go with…

3: Juicy Burger (del norte)
2: Brown Bag
1: Swifty’s

Speaking of capricious, what about Italian restaurants?

Best Italian Restaurant
Man, there are a lot of these, and I’m sure all of them have their fans. From the little mom and pop places, to the expensive but homey ones, to the run-down divey joints that keep on cranking out the sauce.

All of them are better than Olive Garden.

After talking with the chef at Il Chianti in Saratoga Springs, I fell in love with the guy and his passion for regional northern Italian cooking, although subsequently I’ve heard through friends that the restaurant is more about style and less about substance. Regrettably, I’m not up there enough to find out anytime soon.

Then there is Café Capriccio – Sure, I haven’t had a great meal there, and I think it’s too expensive for what it is, but people love it and I am truly convinced I ordered wrong. Eventually I’ll get back there and give it another shot too.

MezzaNotte wasn’t bad at restaurant week prices, but at full freight would be a bit shocking.

Plus one should not forget all the little Italian joints in Schenectady, and presumably all around the region. Seriously, I don’t even know where to start (except I know it’s not Grappa ’72). I’m looking forward to hearing what you say. Ready, set, go.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 12, 2012 10:14 am

    For me, best Italian deli sandwiches are at Roma. You can get things like porchetta and finichiona, after all.

  2. Darren Shupe permalink
    March 12, 2012 10:18 am

    I like Dan’s Place Two on Washington for burgers – great hole-in-the-wall type of place. For a different approach, there’s always Burger Centric on Delaware, which has many somewhat unusual burger options, and a proprietor who’s always friendly and full of great stories. But I haven’t lived in the region all that long (certainly not 20 years), so I’m sure there are plenty of other spots worthy of mention that I haven’t tried.

    As for sandwiches – I too like Ben & Bill’s a lot for Jewish deli specialties. Cardona’s is great, as is Sainato’s, for Italian salumi. I do think Sovrana over on North Lake gets short shrift fairly often, though, with its reputation as a place for late-night frat boy eats. It actually has pretty great sandwiches, particularly the supreme hero. But again I’m sure there are plenty of great places in this category – I’m far from an expert, and simply know the places I’ve tried and liked.

  3. March 12, 2012 10:34 am

    For Italian you have to at least not to Lombardo’s. The food is good but not exciting, but it’s worth a visit just for the old time atmosphere.

  4. March 12, 2012 11:39 am

    Like Sunshine, I think Roma has the best sandwiches. The bread is always fresh and not too crunchy but not at all squishy. The meats are top notch and everything is well constructed and not overstuffed. I know some people think quantity equals quality but I can’t stand sandwiches that are so stuffed with meat that you can barely get your mouth around it and you have to pick off half the meat to eat it.

    Best burger from a chain is Five Guys and from a restaurant it’s Max London’s. Max London’s burger is local beef, perfectly seasoned, cooked as requested on a (brioche, I think) roll that doesn’t fall apart but is not overly bready.

    I have no opinion on Italian food. I cook in that style at home so I rarely eat it out.

    • Darren Shupe permalink
      March 13, 2012 3:37 am

      Five Guys is not bad, but I don’t think it measures up to the best burger chains around the country. I’d argue that In-N-Out on the West Coast and Kua’ Aina over in Hawaii surpass it in terms of quality. Even Sonic and Checkers/Rally’s have their followers, and they have a point. This area has a long way to go in terms of decent, cheap chain burger options.

      I’ve had the Max London’s burger and it’s not bad. A burger, though (despite Daniel Boulud’s attempts to make it one) is not supposed to be a fine-dining experience. I like a fair amount of grease, some questionable condiments, some not-necessarily organic cheese, and a big guy behind the counter who slaps them on and flips them while serving beers and talking smack. I love Kobe beef as much as the next guy (surprised it’s even available in Albany), but it doesn’t belong in a basic hamburger. You want it in a ribeye or sirloin steak.

      If we expand the “area” a bit, the best local hamburger joint is in fact Local Burger in Northampton. Great Brimfield beef, prepared pink if you like it that way (which you should), and a very friendly and knowledgeable staff. And they serve it with great sweet potato fries, if you opt for those. Fast food with a conscience and culinary ambition; the best of both worlds.

  5. March 12, 2012 11:54 am

    Best sandwich: the Euro Deli in Latham (I had one there a few weeks ago that was just amazing — it’s all in the meats, great meats piled high = good sandwich). Second place for me goes to the Halfmoon Salad & Sub Shop (good food, wide selection, friendly staff).

    Best burger… Prime Bar + Grill in Clifton Park. Their burgers are awesome, great beefy flavor.

    Best Italian is a tough one. I’m gonna go with Pasta Pane in Clifton Park (delicious, authentic offerings in a nice setting), followed by Wheatfields Bistro (haven’t had a bad meal there yet).

    • March 12, 2012 7:08 pm

      But Clifton Park might as well be on the moon as far as most of the Capital Region is concerned. It would have to be a pretty good freakin’ sandwich for me to hop on the Northway from Delmar. I think Clifton Parkians should have their own poll.

      • March 13, 2012 4:00 pm

        I think Delmar should have its own poll — it’s pretty much “the moon” for me. I go to Albany frequently, but East Greenbush and Delmar and such are practically their own planet. But if we’re doing best of the Capital Region, that necessarily includes the whole region, even the parts you personally never go to.

  6. Leah permalink
    March 12, 2012 1:59 pm

    You mentioned Andy’s (256 Delaware Ave), but I must voice my opinion also. By far the best sandwiches around!!! Their specialty sandwiches are amazing and their meatball hero make my husband drool.

  7. March 12, 2012 2:51 pm

    Sandwich Shop:
    1. Andy’s
    2. Genoa Importing
    3. Sovrana

    Best Burger:
    1. Swifty’s Buffalo Burger (THANK YOU FOR THIS)
    2. McGeary’s (upscale garbage plate, hold the gravy and douse in Frank’s)
    3. ??

    I tried Juicy Burger this weekend, and I also got pushback when I asked for somewhere between red and pink.

  8. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 12, 2012 8:18 pm

    Huge Juicy Burger fan–my eyes roll back in my head at first bite. I have only gone to the original Milton location however. I used to order b/w red and pink and never have had a problem. That said, lately I’ve been just saying pink and it’s been pink not brown and pretty perfect.

  9. Jazzngas permalink
    March 12, 2012 9:36 pm


    . Kobe and served w/ the best hand cut skinny fries you will ever taste. Yes it’s $18. It’s a meal and that makes it a bargain.
    Sandwich- Debbie’s Kitchen in Albany was my go to I want to own this place standard before I moved away. If they are still there doing what they did they will get my vote for eternity. If not, Ben and Bill’s, Genoa, and Cardona’s are excellent alternatives.

    • Jazzngas permalink
      March 12, 2012 9:37 pm

      Sperry’s for the Kobe burger.

  10. Darren Shupe permalink
    March 13, 2012 3:01 am

    Slight update: went to Ragonese today and had a terrific experience. A great sandwich, Carnegie Deli-esque in the amount of meat that was piled on, and I picked up some olive oils and two different sopressatas, as well as a few boxes of store-made ravioli and what promise to be some incredible gnocchi. Albany can be a difficult place to find decent food in some categories, but we’re extremely lucky to have places like Ragonese and Cardona’s.

  11. March 13, 2012 12:08 pm

    I will again offer my assistance to help you try Andy’s at a time and place convenient to you. Go-to delicious comfort food for me every since we moved.

  12. March 15, 2012 12:17 pm

    I’ve only eaten at Juicy Burger once, but based on that one experience it seems like they cut their burger meat with something like… ground hot dogs? Has anyone else gotten this impression?

  13. March 16, 2012 8:55 pm

    Best Italian – Katrinella’s? How has this not been mentioned yet? Daniel, you’re the one who turned us on to that place. (Oh, lord, as I write this, please don’t say it is closed. Please.)

    Best Sandwich – Genoa, hands down. In fairness, I haven’t tried some of the ones mentioned here (i.e., Ragonese), however while I really like Andy’s (REALLY), I don’t think it beats Genoa’s.

  14. Mike R. permalink
    March 20, 2012 2:44 pm

    For “Best Italian” I think Katrinella’s is the best place around here.

    For “Best Burger” I absolutely agree with you on Swifty’s.

    For “Best Sandwich” I have a bit of a problem. I’m totally with you on renaming it “Best Deli For A Sandwich” or something along those lines – but until that happens, I think voting only for Italian deli-style sandwiches, with meat piled high on top of big, white, sub rolls, ignores an important (if slightly more subtle) area of sandwich-makers. My vote in this category would go to All Good Bakers. I’d put their various grilled cheeses and other creations up against any other sandwich in the region.

  15. March 26, 2012 10:09 am

    Thanks Mike! We love seeing you every weekend!

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