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Late to the Party

July 18, 2013

For me, the big prize in food blogging is being able to shine a light on restaurants or on certain dishes that are off the radar for most people.

Like the boxty at Finnbar, which is now sadly off their regular menu, but occasionally runs as a special. Apparently, the prep of the dish is a real killer. And for a place that makes their pasta by hand, that’s saying a lot.

Or the cold brewed iced coffee at the Troy wine bar, which, despite its popularity, is still relatively unknown as a quality coffee destination.

But you can’t always come out ahead. There are many great things that have been widely written about that I haven’t tried yet myself. Not because I don’t think they are excellent, I’m sure they are. It’s just that I’m out chasing my dragon. Well, before I leave for the next eleven months, I wanted to make sure I tried a few of the most promising places. Let me tell you, they better still be here when I get back, because they are freaking amazing.

Capital City Gastropub Burger Night
If this weren’t already such public knowledge, I’d be tempted to keep this a secret. And I hate to say it, but this burger has propelled itself to being my favorite in the area. At least on Wednesdays, when it is $7.50 instead of the usual $15. The half pound of well-seasoned Tilldale Farms beef was perfectly pink and silky when ordered rare. It was enriched with a savory aioli and a gorgeous golden steamed bun. The bun perfectly walked the line of being tender while not disintegrating under the heft and juiciness of the burger.

But what blew my socks off was the slice of pickled green tomato. It’s a brilliant topping. It solves so many problems that so many burgers can have. I hope whoever thought of this first has a James Beard Award.

Fatty burgers need something to cut through all that fat. Generally, raw onions play this role for me, but they can be overwhelming. Plus Mrs. Fussy hates it when I eat them. The acid of the pickled tomato does the job nicely. And how many times has a perfectly good burger been spoiled by a hard, underripe and flavorless tomato slice? Pickling a green tomato is a great year-round solution.

In the past the Gastropub failed to impress me. This has given it a new lease on life. Oh, and before 7pm a few of the beers are available for $3. A delicious burger and a beer for just about $10? Yeah. This is dangerous.

The Speakeasy at The City Beer Hall
It’s possible that the first rule of the speakeasy is that one shouldn’t talk about the speakeasy. Hopefully, I can write a little bit about the bar and not suffer any repercussions. Because I have to admit something.

When I first heard that The City Beer Hall was going to convert its basement space into a semi-private speakeasy that focused on classic Prohibition-era cocktails, I kinda rolled my eyes. Really, I had little faith that the owners could pull it off.

Man, was I wrong.

This place has everything that I want in a cocktail bar. Good glasses. Good ice. Good bitters. Fresh citrus. Eggs. Craft spirits. And all of these come together in well-crafted drinks that are made with care and aren’t rushed. Plus they are served in a setting that feels more like San Francisco than Albany.

I think that one of the big reasons this place succeeds is because somehow they got Robert Mack, who previously ran the cocktail program over at dp/Yono’s. At the time, that was the cocktail bar that couldn’t be topped. But now it’s this place. Without a doubt. No question. No contest.

The hard part is going to be deciding whether to get an aperitif at the speakeasy before dinner upstairs, or get dinner first and then descend to the speakeasy for a digestif. Speaking of which The City Beer Hall has just launched their new summer menu, and now has an avocado and heirloom tomato sandwich and kimchi fried rice. Have I mentioned lately that I love this place?

We are incredibly fortunate to have these two places in our midst. If you haven’t been, you must go. And while it’s likely I’m not the first to tell you to do so, perhaps it may be me who compels you into action.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2013 10:56 am

    I’m still finding the food at CBH to be hit or miss, even when I order the same thing a few weeks/months apart. From saltiness to ingredient proportions in salads, it’s like a guessing game. The environment and the beers are what keep me coming back.

    • July 18, 2013 11:03 am

      I still love taking a chance on the food because when it’s good, it’s fantastic and when it’s bad, there’s always the free pizza to fall back on. BTW, post-baby tip: that free pizza really hits the spot after a couple of cocktails downstairs. Actually, I take that back, next time I’d recommend ONE cocktail, then upstairs for 1 beer + free pizza. I’m no lightweight but those cocktails pack a punch.

  2. July 18, 2013 10:59 am

    I’m glad you had a chance to get to the Speakeasy, it’s definitely your style. We’ve had some amazing cocktails there. I’m hoping we can get back at least once before the AoA cocktail tour. What a rare gem in Albany. It was impressive to have Mack come to our booth to set fire to lemongrass to smoke my glass. Nothing like this seems to be happening elsewhere in the 518, it’s a real treat.

    I’m excited to try the coffee at the Confectionery. In fact, it’s even more motivation to get us over to Troyster Tuesday. Drew works nights so the idea of a Wine Bar on a weeknight is usually out of the question, but with excellent coffee on the table, it’ll make it easier to take him to a wine bar and deny him a glass.

  3. July 18, 2013 12:38 pm

    The first thing I thought was Bourbon and Branch.

  4. July 18, 2013 2:54 pm

    Did you ever take potato cake and boxty to the school
    Tucked underneath your oxter with your books, your slate and rule
    And when teacher wasn’t looking sure a great big bite you’d take
    Of the creamy flavoured soft and melting sweet potato cake.

  5. albanylandlord permalink
    July 19, 2013 8:21 pm

    I’m glad you came around on the gastropub! Had the fried chicken there last week and it was crazy good. I think they are using a special chicken, but surprisingly don’t say anything about it on the menu. It was odd that that at $25 it was the most expensive thing on the menu though…

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