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30 Hours in Albany

January 27, 2014

About half of my worldly possessions are in a storage locker just outside of Albany. The other half is with me in Princeton. That said, I have a few items of note that are spread out a bit further afield. For example, Albany Jane has my KitchenAid stand mixer, and LilithNY has my ice cream maker.

Up until last week, the family china that I’ve inherited has been in a Providence, Rhode Island storage locker. But in December, my stepfather informed me that it would have to be removed by the end of January.

Fortunately, he was willing to drive it up to my storage locker. The only catch is that I would have to drive up from New Jersey to meet him there. But as long as I was making the drive, I figured, why not make the most of it.

After playing a little bit of life-sized Tetris with the boxes in the storage unit to accommodate these very fragile plates, saucers and such, it was time for a well-earned lunch.

It was also time for the Capital Region Coffee Collective’s tasting in Saratoga Springs, but there was no way I could make it up there in time given the snowy conditions. Still, I heard from Albany Jane that it was fantastic.

Anyhow, I decided to put my old grudge behind me and go to Garden Bistro 24 with the sole intention of trying their burger. The good news is that they took the patty off of the hoity-toity croissant bun. The bad news is that the sesame seed bun that replaced it is dense and flavor-sucking.

Here’s the thing. When I pay $13.50 for a local organic grassfed burger, I want to taste the meat. That didn’t happen largely because what little wasn’t drowned out by the bun was obscured by the goat cheese, roasted garlic, rosemary aioli and caramelized onions. This dish needs a lot more restraint, including the courage to come up with something better than a sad slice of a January tomato.

Let me once again recognize the Capital City Gastropub’s brilliance for adorning their burger with a thick slice of pickled green tomato.

None of this is to say that the burger was unenjoyable. It was a decent burger. I’d happily have paid $8 for it. But when offering a burger that is in the teens, that better be one bodacious burger.

Brushing off the snow from the car, I popped into fin – your fishmonger in Guilderland. There I found not only Pete, but a store that continues to evolve and improve. My purpose was to simply congratulate the owners on their success and their expansion into Saratoga Springs. And once again, I asked for that list of restaurants they supply so that I can help alert you folks as to where one can find sustainable seafood when dining out in the Capital Region.

Here’s one more for that list: Mio Vino in Altamont.

Even though I wasn’t hungry, there was a nearby snack that I had hoped to sample. I had my heart set on a slice of the famous sausage pizza from D.C. It really impressed the All Over Albany Tournament of Pizza judges. I’ve eaten a lot of pizza from that shop, but I never got the sausage.

Walking through the door, I was crestfallen to see there wasn’t a sausage slice to be had. So I tried to engender some sympathy.

“I just drove up from New Jersey to have a slice of your sausage pizza.”

The woman behind the counter did offer to make me a small sausage pie, but I had no appetite as it was, and all of my calories for the next 24 hours were already allocated to other foodstuffs. As tempting the offer, it will just have to wait until I move back to Albany for good in July.

Plus had I waited for a pizza to be made, I wouldn’t have had the time to pop over to The Cheese Traveler and say hi to Eric and Ali. This is a place that’s gotten even better since I’ve left. With All Good Bakers vacating the adjacent storefront, The Cheese Traveler is selling some of the best looking sandwiches I’ve encountered for a long time. There’s even a small table to eat them while you watch other people buy cheese. So you can get lunch/dinner and a show/education. As always I could have spent hours talking with these guys, but I had to run.

I didn’t even get a chance to visit Linda and see her brand new sweets shop next door.

At least I was able to get some coffee from Tierra and take a look at the marquee of the refurbished Madison Theater in person. It was good to catch up with AOA Greg there and share some ideas about future food writing projects. After saying goodbye to Greg, I was also able to catch up with Ron Greico, talk about Barista Albany, the Capital Region Coffee Collective, and try a cortado that he made for me.

The espresso at Tierra is getting better all the time. Now in addition to a bottomless portafilter, they have a doserless grinder. I love seeing better coffee being made in Albany. Hopefully soon, they can get at least one more grinder so Ron can offer a single origin espresso in addition to their standard blend. I believe it’s going to happen, and that it’s just a matter of time.

Coffee helps stimulate the appetite, which is a good thing because it was time for me to head off to Northeast Dumplings House. I was so excited to be here, and was even more excited to be able to arrange a table of eight adventurous food lovers. The Saratoga Food Fanatic was supposed to be there too, but she got snowed in up north.

At least we were able to get some replacement eaters so I could sample a greater swath of their menu. The lamb dumplings were among my favorites. Their cold tripe and spicy squid dishes were also winners.

It was also encouraging to see another table of eight also eating dinner there on Saturday. Still, the place needs more business. Is it my favorite Chinese restaurant in the region? No. But they are doing something notable, and it’s worthy of a visit. I just wish they sold dumplings in increments smaller than 15.

After dinner, I presented Albany Jane with the donut sticks filled with vanilla buttercream that I picked up that morning from Eet Gud Bakery in Trenton. She presented me with a selection of tarts that she picked up at Healthy Living Market after the CRCC’s tasting. She brought back coconut cream, berry, key lime and maple cream. And after those we tasted a Bonfiglio challah that I got from Eric at The Cheese Traveler.

Sunday was reserved largely for the Tournament de Disco Fries, and I’ll tell you all about that later this week. But even though it only involved the customary five stops, it included six orders of disco fries and one order of chicken wings.

Naturally at the conclusion of the tour I needed coffee before hitting the road. We found ourselves near Tierra again, so I had to stop back in. This time though, since Albany Jane has a new found love for Chemex coffee, she and I split a pot of their Honduran micro lot.

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy that place?

Wow. So much done in so little time. Yet still, there were so many people and places that I wanted to see and just didn’t get the chance. While I know I’ll miss Princeton when we leave at the end of June, it’s good to know that I’ll be coming back to a region on the rise.

Keep it up Albany.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2014 11:01 am

    And now you are gone… sniff. :’/

  2. January 27, 2014 12:03 pm

    I’ve always wondered why more places haven’t embraced the hamburger sandwich, which was a staple when I was growing up. The meat is the star; you just fry it in a cast-iron pan then stick it between two slices of bread with perhaps a swipe of your preferred condiments – no other ingredients needed. Glad you enjoyed your time back in the Capital Region.

  3. February 3, 2014 12:52 pm

    Of course the ONE weekend I’m out of town is the weekend you’re up for a visit. Story of my life. Glad you had a fun time!!

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