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Troy’s Trials and Triumphs

February 4, 2014

Troy is a special city.

A long time ago I said something like, “I don’t live in Troy, so I don’t need this place to succeed.” It was about Dante’s Frozen yogurt, and at the time the chorus of support for this new venture was deafening. I was a little more critical. But I’m glad it did succeed in the end, because now it’s one of my favorite FroYo shops in the region.

The idea, though, is that Troy has a very loyal and passionate fan base. People who live there love it. And many of those proponents are part of a tight knit downtown community.

Soon after moving to the region in 2007 I got to witness that community first hand at the winter Troy Riverfront Farmers Market. It was the first thing I had experienced in the region that reminded me of my old life in Northern California.

Over the years the market has grown and downtown Troy has seen some notable improvements. And I find it hard to see these two things as a coincidence. Because from the beginning, the market has always felt like the beating heart of the revitalization effort. But as the town grows, as new people are drawn into its borders, as the market expands, and as standards rise, there can be some growing pains.

Let’s start with the good news.

If everything goes according to the newest plan, the Troy Riverfront Farmers Market will get its own permanent indoor/outdoor four-season home. This is very exciting news. Some folks are looking to Pike Place in Seattle as a model. I am more familiar with the San Francisco Ferry Plaza. But it’s fundamentally the same idea.

It would be a great win for the local food scene to have some of the goodness from the farmers market available seven days a week. And it would be great for the farmers to have a guaranteed indoor location for those inclement days during summer. Plus, it’s great for consumers so that we always know where the market will be.

A roving market is hard on everyone.

The trick will be getting the feel of the place right. Troy isn’t a fancy town. And the things that have succeeded haven’t done so because they are new and shiny. The Lucas Confectionery is great because it went back in time. Finnbar is fantastic because they took an old pub and elevated the food without making it precious. The Flying Chicken isn’t all things to all people, but they make some damn fine fried chicken. I’m even nervous about The Ruck expanding into the second floor, and what that change will mean for the stress on their already small kitchen.

I don’t want Troy to become a victim of its own success. It’s a special city and I’d like it to stay that way.

But I’m also deeply troubled by the apparent lack of government concern surrounding the recent allegations of police brutality. The thing is that when a city starts attracting the kind of people who love farmers markets, you will also find an increased level of scrutiny on matters of social justice. Problems that might once have been swept under the rug, now demand a more thorough review.

You can read about the gory details on the Troy Spin blog, but I’ve watched the raw surveillance footage from inside the club and it’s shocking. To my eye, it shows the police entering a building where things were well under control. And based on the time stamp of the video and the police calls into dispatch, it would appear the melee outside happened after this young man was repeatedly bludgeoned by the officers.

Now I recognize the difficult job of the police. And I do not know what I would have done in a similar situation. But I certainly think that this incident merits at the very least an independent third party examination.

Here’s the link for the march against police brutality later today and here is the change.org petition that has been circulating around.

Troy is a much bigger city than just downtown. Yes, it may take a long time to improve the city as a whole. And sure, you’ve got to start somewhere. But it’s upsetting to see the political leadership turning a blind eye to some of the problems that have recently bubbled up to the surface.

Still, there is good stuff going on beyond the borders of downtown. I just got a dispatch from Duncan Crary, who is one of the city’s most tireless promoters. He told me that Carmen’s has finally secured actual Cuban bread for their Cuban sandwiches.

Hallelujah!

Not only that, but they are extending their hours. These are much needed improvements to a place that I’ve always wanted to like, but has just never quite wowed me. Plus, if you are around this Wednesday, you can even try some samples. All the details are in the press release below.

CARMEN’S CUBAN CAFE TROY – EXTENDED HOURS, NEW MENU, DELIVERY
Now Serving Authentic Cuban bread, Soups & Sandwiches | Free Sampling of New Menu ItemsFeb. 5, at 1 p.m. event

TROY, N.Y. (02/03/14) — Carmen’s Cafe will be open for extended hours, offering new menu items and delivery, starting this Wednesday, Feb. 5. The public is invited to a free sampling of the new menu items at a re-opening ceremony this Wednesday at 1 p.m.

“We are getting more into our roots, with the addition of authentic Cuban bread and some new tapas recipes. At the same time, we are broadening, and offering more of our fusion dishes,” said Carmen Gonzalez, who is co-owner with Jim Lewis of Carmen’s Cafe. “Living in Troy is very exciting lately — something new is happening all the time. Our customers have been asking us to stay open through the week, and we are happy to be there for them, happy to be part of the new energy.”

Carmen’s will now be open five days instead of three. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday additions include soups, salads, sandwiches and light dinners, with local delivery available with a $15 minimum order. Friday night is still Tapas Night, and the full weekend menu is still offered. New hours will be: Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.;Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Lunches will focus on sandwiches, salads and soups inspired by the sweet and savory flavors of Cuban-Spanish-Moroccan cuisine. Dinners will be light, with an offering of stews and tapas.

NEW DISHES
Some new dishes will include:

– Carne Guisada, a Spanish beef stew popular in Cuba, includes house-made beef stock and “sofrito,” a combination of seasonings common in Cuba;

– Caldo Gallego, a beans and greens dish brought from Galicia in Northern Spain to Cuba (Carmen’s version includes white alubia beans, chorizo, escarole, kale and other fresh seasonal greens);

– Cuban meatloaf, made with ground beef and herbs; with a whole, fully cooked egg baked inside.

NEW TAPAS MENU
Carmen’s will be adding more tapas to the Friday evening menu, including:

– Marinated Manchego (cheese) with Marcona almonds and sun dried cherries, a sweet and salty dish;

– Alcachofas al jerez, sauteed artichokes, with garlic herbs and sundried cherries;

– Patatas bravas, crispy potatoes coated and cooked with sea salt and aioli, a traditional sauce made of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, egg yolks and mustard.

“With tapas, it’s not about stuffing yourself with a big plate of food. It’s about enjoying a taste of another culture,” Gonzalez said. “You come in with a friend, order four or five tapas and a nice glass of wine — it’s not just a meal, it’s an experience.”

AUTHENTIC CUBAN BREAD, ARTISAN BREAD
Carmen’s now serves authentic Cuban bread, baked specially for Carmen’s by Papito’s Cuban Bakery in Teaneck, N.J. and shipped fresh overnight.

“Authentic Cuban bread looks a little like a golden brown ciabatta, but with a soft crust. It’s used to make Cubano sandwiches. It’s airy and flavorful, with a unique taste and texture,” Gonzalez said. “When you combine pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, then put that on a grill and press it to make a Cubano sandwich, it comes together in a way that’s just mouth watering.”

While Cubanos are prepared specifically with Cuban bread, other sandwiches will come with a choice of Portuguese rolls, rye and pumpernickel, multigrain and artisan breads and rolls.

“These are not run-of-the-mill sandwiches,” Gonzalez said. “We bake our roast beef and turkey in house. All our soups and sauces are made fresh from scratch.”

Carmen’s also makes their own ketchup, mayo and chipotle aioli.

RE-OPENING CEREMONY, FREE TASTING
Join Carmen and her staff this Wed. Feb. 5, at 1 p.m., for a re-opening ceremony and free sampling of the new menu items. The restaurant will be serving a full lunch menu as well.

There’s a Cuban bakery in Teaneck, New Jersey? That’s awesome. Looks like I’ll have to make a stop in there before I leave the Garden State. Thanks for the tip.

Troy is a special city. There is great stuff happening within its borders. People are working hard to make it a better place. I just hope their efforts don’t get derailed and overshadowed by the city’s problems. But sometimes the best way to fix a troubling issue is to shine a light on it so it can be thoroughly examined and addressed.

I’ve got my fingers crossed, because Troy’s ongoing success would be great for the region.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2014 10:58 am

    I have been present for a couple of the “disturbances” that have occurred outside/inside that particular establishment (including the night which you mention). Speaking completely separate from the Troy PD incident, and based solely on my observations — that place needs to be shuttered. I would bet my shoe that sooner or later there will be a violent and tragic incident related to their operations.

  2. February 4, 2014 11:44 am

    Daniel—

    Thanks for printing our notice! Every time I have eaten a Cubano I’ve thought about our conversation a few years back, on the sidewalk at Carmen’s, when we discussed the virtues of Cuban bread and the difficulty of getting it this far north.

    Last month we visited Carmen’s daughter in Florida (our first vacation in a few years, I’m sad to say). We made a point of driving around Miami sampling breads at different restaurants and bakeries. At the time we were thinking of having it shipped from there— difficult, since it’s a two day trip unless you pay something like $70 a package for overnight.

    When we got back home we lucked into Papito’s. Super friendly, and they make great Pan Cubano and Media Noches. They don’t normally ship, but agreed to help us out, so we sent them boxes and tape and made arrangements for two shipments a week. We are getting both Pan Cubano (a long, skinny loaf, perfect for three sandwiches) and the sweeter Media Noches (individual size, more like a long flattened roll). We now use them for Cubanos and offer them as an option on Huevos Flamenco and other dishes.

    I admit I had a lot of reservations. I like chewy breads and felt at first that Cubanos benefited from more substance, like the Portuguese Rolls we used to use. Now I’m a convert. The juiciness of the meat, mustard, and melted cheese combines with the Pan Cubano in the most delightful way, very sensory. Cubanos are so much fun to eat! I’m not ashamed to say that you were right.

    Sorry we missed your last (30 hour) visit. Next time you are up, stop in and say hi!

    Best,

    Jim
    (Carmen’s partner)

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