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Building the Best – Our Regional Specialties

March 20, 2012

It’s time for another working session in preparation for the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 3.0. It’s coming in April, and it will be here before you know it.

Thankfully, we are almost done with this part. Mrs. Fussy is bored stiff.

Let’s just take a moment to remember the goal of today’s post. Every year the Times Union polls the Capital Region about what’s best in the area. Only a small fraction of residents respond, but their responses help to define our region and continually cast it in a negative light. Smaller but better restaurants get left in the cold as people’s loyalties are split, and mediocrity reigns supreme.

However, if we could all agree to vote on a slate of businesses that may not be our own personal choice for The Best, but that we all recognize are certainly among the best, then a few great places might be able to break through.

Today, I’m going to ask you for your THREE top picks in a variety of categories. I’m serious. I really need three. Your first choice may not make the ballot, and I want to try and make sure as many people get as many of their top picks on the ballot as possible. It’s about compromise and unity for the sake of the greater good. In April I am going to ask you to endorse a slate of businesses and solicit the help of your friends and relations.  You know what they say, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

But I know I can count on you. So, without further ado, onto the task at hand: Hot Dogs, Ice Cream & Diners

The Best Hot Dog is an easy category as far as I’m concerned. We’ve got a specific and unique regional style of hot dog in the Capital Region, and that deserves, nay, demands to be on the top of this list. If you are curious to learn more, you can check out the Tour de Hot Dog.

3. Gus’s Hot Dogs – It’s a great place. In summer you can sit on the picnic tables outside. In winter you can huddle in the ramshackle red shed for warmth and companionship. But their meat sauce can be unpleasantly overwhelmed by raw spice.

2. Hot Dog Charlie’s – They know how to prepare hot dogs properly so that they are juicy but still have a great snap. But all the same, their mall locations and the bottled meat sauce available in the supermarket speak to a soullessness that’s unfortunate.

1. Famous Lunch – Because it’s not soulless. It’s quite the opposite. Sitting on a stool at the counter and rubbing elbows with people from every social stratum is a unique experience in this day and age. But everyone goes to Famous to get their fix of the best all around mini hot dogs with meat sauce.

A while back we also went on a Tour de Soft Serve, and soon I’ll start talking about a Tour de Hard Ice Cream. But in this corner of the world soft serve is like a religion. For some it’s synonymous with ice cream. I disagree.

Still, the best soft serve place we discovered on the tour should have a spot on this list.

3. On The Farm – I’ll have to admit that it’s pretty good soft serve. The texture is dense, the flavors are true, and apparently the secret is that they use a fresh mix (versus the more popular shelf stable variety).

2. Moxie’s – It’s a seasonal stand, but it’s decidedly not soft serve. I have to respect a  hard ice cream producer that goes and makes several different varieties of vanilla, and then also incorporates seasonal flavors into their offerings, like strawberry and rhubarb during the height of summer.

1. The Ice Cream Man – It’s a little far away from Albany, and I think it may push the boundaries of what we consider to be the Capital Region. Plus I’m ashamed to say that I have yet to go. But based on the input of those people who I trust, I’m convinced that it is certainly among the best ice cream places in the region, if not the best.

This by the way is how the ballot is supposed to work. We decide what we want to support and then vote for it. I’m confused by those who say they will not vote for a place they have never dined. Sometimes one makes small, insignificant, gestures of trust. It’s not such a big deal.

Diners.

Choosing the best diner is a bit brutal. I know that in the civilized world for a diner to the best it would naturally need to be open 24 hours. Sadly, none of these would fulfill that most basic criterion. But for delicious food, including great eggs, with just an edge of attitude, no pretense, a lot of style, and on the cheap? My top pics are:

3. Dan’s Place Two
2. Peter Pause
1. Dewey’s

But really, I’d be happy putting any of those up for Best Diner in the Capital District. And if any of you say the recently closed Miss Albany Diner, I’m going to scream. Because it’s freaking closed. Voting for it does nothing. All it tells people is that our best food has left the building. And that is wrong on so many levels.

Okay. Now it’s your turn. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got for me today.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2012 9:35 am

    I’m not a big Hot Dog kind of girl, but my kids are partial to the ones at Country Drive-In in Clifton Park.

    As for soft serve, I am very picky. I wish I could find some place in the area that served chopped maraschino cherries with their soft serve, but I have yet to do it. My top choices are Kurver Kreme (even though they use the dreaded misspelling of cream which makes me cringe,) Giffy’s Snack Shack and Country Drive-In.

    Diner in the area tend to leave something to be desired. I wish I could give you a nice list of three, but I’m hard-pressed to do it. The Half-Moon Sandwich Shoppe is good for breakfast, as is the Jonesville Store, but I wouldn’t call either a diner.

  2. Kerosena permalink
    March 20, 2012 10:21 am

    ” And if any of you say the recently closed Miss Albany Diner, I’m going to scream. Because it’s freaking closed. ”

    …Said the man who voted for Trader Joe’s in two categories last year…

  3. adine permalink
    March 20, 2012 10:21 am

    For hot dogs I like mikes on erie blvd in schdy, the fries are freshly cut on premises

  4. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 20, 2012 10:56 am

    I’m from the NYC area (NJ), filled with great hot dogs, soft-serve, and, especially diners. In nearly 40 years up here, I haven’t found a satisfactory representative of any of the three categories.

  5. March 20, 2012 11:13 am

    Hot dogs: I actually endorse your picks, in that order.

    Ice cream: I’d put Moxie’s in third, On the Farm second. I’ve yet to try The Ice Cream Man (and sure, I think that counts as Capital Region, or at least its outskirts — it’s not far from Saratoga Springs), but I’ve heard it’s good and can go along with it.

    Diners:

    3. Halfmoon Diner — decent food, decent setting, decent service (hey, we’re not really shooting for GOOD here, they’re diners, not bistros)
    2. The Ugly Rooster in Mechanicville — really, really good breakfasts, including homemade hash and fried green tomatoes.
    1. The ’76 — they’re a pretty standard, not-bad diner, and more to the point, they’re OPEN, always, any time you’re hungry.

  6. March 20, 2012 11:16 am

    Ice Cream – Snowman in Troy, On the Farm, Ross’

    Hot Dogs – Mike’s in Schenectady, Gus’s in Watervliet, Hot Dog Charlies

    Diner – Bob’s in Watervliet, Blue Ribbon, Mike’s in Schenectady

  7. March 20, 2012 11:59 am

    Mr. Sunshine-

    Bullshit.

  8. March 20, 2012 1:40 pm

    I have to second Mike’s/ Schdy on the hot dogs.
    Dairy Frost in Broadalbin (intersection of Rtes 29 & 30) is probably the best soft-serve place I have found in the area…

  9. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 20, 2012 2:04 pm

    mr. dave, why so insulting? It’s my honest experience and my honest opinion.

    • March 20, 2012 2:55 pm

      Insulting? Nah. Likewise, just my honest opinion that your opinion is bullshit.

  10. March 20, 2012 3:06 pm

    Sarge’s Triangle Diner up in Toga gets my vote in the third category.

  11. March 20, 2012 3:18 pm

    I leave you guys alone for a few hours and it denigrates to this?

    Mr. Dave: I have no reason to think that Mr. Sunshine is being any less than truthful about his opinion. Instead of throwing excrement at him, what about a little pity? I mean, here he is in this land lush with hot dogs, ice cream and diners, and in his forty years has yet to find one that he enjoys as much as the ones in New Jersey.

    That’s not a cause for hostility.

    Mr. Sunshine: I’m a little surprised this is bothering you, as I thought years of participating on Table Hopping had inured you to the slings and arrows of faceless criticism.

    If I didn’t occasionally resort to salty language myself, I might have moral underpinning to censure Mr. Dave. But I do, so I don’t.

    I love you both. And I don’t like to see my two misters fighting. Disagree all you like. Cite examples and be specific. Nobody is interested in platitudes. But I am curious to find out where in New Jersey is this standard bearer diner that all the best Capital Region institutions cannot touch.

    Maybe I need to take Mr. Sunshine to breakfast at Dewey’s. Because I haven’t found anyone (besides Warren Redlich) who walks out of there uncharmed.

  12. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 20, 2012 5:05 pm

    I haven’t been to some of the places you guys like, mainly because I’m in Saratoga and so don’t frequent lots of Albany spots. There are lots of great pizza spots in the C.D., lots of great breakfast joints, lots of great hard ice cream places, etc. I just haven’t been impressed with these 3 categories. I am NOT saying that they don’t exist, just that I haven’t found them.

  13. Jessica R permalink
    March 20, 2012 6:10 pm

    Are these actual catergories, or some of those that you’re hoping they add?

    In any case:
    Hot Dog:
    3 – Hot Dog Charlie’s
    2 – Gus’s
    1 – Famous Lunch

    Ice cream
    3 – I haven’t been in the Snowman, and need to rectify this. That said, my #3 spot goes to Stewart’s!
    2 – On the Farm
    1 – Moxie’s

    Diners
    3 – South Troy Diner
    2 – Blue RIbbon
    1 – Manory’s! There seems to be a lack of love for this old standard. :-(

    • March 20, 2012 7:43 pm

      Ohhh, yes, Manory’s is quite delicious. I haven’t been back there in some time!

  14. christine permalink
    March 20, 2012 7:05 pm

    I know you really want three of each but I just can’t do it…

    Hot dogs- Mike’s is/was my dad’s joint when I was a kid and if I have to eat a hot dog, I’ll go there just for old times sake.
    Ice Cream- The Ice Cream Man is really worth the trip.
    Diner- The Triangle in Saratoga… I eat breakfast there every Saturday. Their specials are creative and yummy and the people are so nice. Check them out!

  15. March 20, 2012 7:42 pm

    I don’t think I have 3 hot dog places that I love. In fairness, I haven’t been to 2 of the 3 you list above, and I’m not a huge fan of Gus’s. That is, I don’t dislike it, but I won’t go out of my way for it.

    I do, however, have one favorite hot dog joint – New Way Lunch in Glens Falls. Which I know is a bit north of the spectrum, but it’s really great. If you can get past the fact that they’re nicknamed “Dirt Dogs,” and NWL is nicknamed “Dirty Johns.”

    As for fave diners, my fave is also in Glens Falls, and it’s called Poopie’s. Noticing a trend here? I don’t frequent diners here; really, this is because if I’m going to breakfast on a weekend, I usually want a mimosa. One of my favorite breakfast joints in Albany is Cafe 217. I’m not sure if it qualifies as a diner, per se, but it has all of the elements, good food, and mimosas, which is great for me. I don’t know if it is the best; I only care for breakfast diner food and rate them as such. When I was home from college, and you could smoke in restaurants, I would hang out with my friends half the night, drink ridiculous amounts of coffee, talk about all things you can imagine, and inhale way more secondhand smoke than was good for my lungs while (some of) my companions chain smoked. I just drank extra coffee. It beat trying to sneak into the bars underage. These are among some of my fondest memories of my young adulthood. But whether this makes for a good diner, I would say probably not.

    For ice cream, I sympathize a bit with Mr. Sunshine, because I’m a big fan of soft serve, and I’ve had difficulty finding soft serve as good as that at Rob and Deb’s (Glens Falls) or Martha’s (same family; the latter is the original location but the former is closer to the original recipe and a lot better, IMO). Also at that pinnacle are Creamy DeLites and Rookie’s, both in Hudson Falls.

    On the Farm is the closest I’ve found, though it’s not as good as any of those above. However, soft serve is a summer treat (well, a warmer weather treat), and since I have family in the LG area, I get my fix when I’m visiting. Plus, soft serve tends to upset my stomach, so I tend to go with yogurt. A lot of places don’t do homemade soft frozen yogurt (very few of The Best in the LG area do, for example – most cop out with those nasty dole whips), and Kurver Kreme is one of the few that does, and does it well. Their froyo is better than their regular soft serve.

    If you’re including Warren County in the list, my opinions will change, but assuming you are not:

    – On the Farm (because I agree with you, soft serve is different than hard ice cream)
    – Stewarts
    – The Ice Cream Man
    (Yes, it is that good. It really, really, really is.)

    I’ve never had Snowman’s hard ice cream, hence why Stewart’s is there. I’ll take people’s word for it that it is as good as it is.

  16. Josh K permalink
    March 20, 2012 7:56 pm

    Hot Dogs:
    3) (tie) Country Drive In (great Michigan sauce) and Hot Dog Heaven (not enough snap)
    2) Gus’s (The Classic)
    1) Famous Lunch (perfected the classic)

    Ice Cream: (if we are talking non soft serve then it goes to Tollgate in Slingerlands)
    3) Kurver Kreme
    2) Country Drive In
    1) The Snowman

    Diners:
    3) Compton’s
    2) Dan’s Place
    1) Mike’s

  17. March 21, 2012 8:19 am

    Right, Josh, Compton’s. I had not thought of it as a diner but it’s diner food. So my vote will be:

    3. Miss Albany Diner. (Somebody has to do this, just because Fussy says we shouldn’t.)
    2. Sarge’s Triangle Diner.
    1. Compton’s.

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