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Two Stewart’s, One Fountain & the Void

May 27, 2014

One freezing inch at a time. That’s how I like to get into a cold pool or work my way into the ocean from an East Hampton beach. There are some people who prefer to just dive right in, but that’s never been my style.

“It’s easier,” they insist.

And when the water rises to those more sensitive spots on my body, I’m inclined to believe them. But this is how I’ve dealt with potentially traumatic transitions since I was a kid.

So we’re coming back to Albany for good in a few weeks, but just this past weekend, I made the drive with the family for another quick 24 hour visit. There were no grand food adventures, just a few shivers as I confronted some of the culinary staples of the region.

I will confess to missing Stewart’s, although I may need to make a trip out to their egg supplier when I return to the area. The freshness and performance of the eggs are amazing. Plus I’m a sucker for a deeply colored yolk. But there’s a great farm around the corner from us in Princeton, and their eggs are amazing too. It’s just that they come at a 300% premium (or maybe more).

In our short visit we went to Stewart’s twice.

Regrettably, I’ve started drinking better coffee. I typically do once it’s cold brew season. The Stewart’s hot coffee wasn’t actively bad, but it didn’t quite taste like much either. For some reason I remember it being better. But maybe inoffensive is as good as it gets for cheap convenient coffee. Perhaps that’s the reason when I was in need of quick caffeination I was more likely to pull through a Starbucks drive-through for a blonde roast than run out to Stewart’s. It’s funny the things one forgets in short order.

The kids still loved Stewart’s ice cream. We also went to get after-dinner cones for the kids. Little Miss Fussy was over the moon with her rainbow sherbet and Young Master Fussy had something with Pop Rocks in it that brought him a lot of joy. For me, as good and as cheap as Stewart’s ice cream may be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff I’ve found in Princeton from Halo Farm. At least the young ones will be satisfied.

So, let’s talk about The Fountain.

I know there are some people who love this place. Mostly, I think they love it for the memories. But I’ve had good pizza from the place in the past. I recall one sausage pie from the AOA Tournament of Pizza that was especially good. And I even remember ordering pies in the restaurant that were even better with a delightfully crispy crust spared from the trials and tribulations of transport.

We went there for our one dinner in town for a few reasons:
– I have a soft spot for Albany’s neighborhood taverns
– It was walking distance from where we were staying
– When the Fountain was mentioned, one of the kids started cheering
– They sell beer by the pitcher (and we were eating with four kids)

I won’t say “never again” because I may find myself in a similar situation one day. But should that day come, I will plan to eat less food and just drink more beer. Cheap beer is fine, especially since their better beers aren’t all that good. Swill is perfect for washing down industrial French fries slathered with Buffalo sauce. Especially when there are a lot of kids at the table, who are perfectly happy eating that substandard excuse for pizza.

Anyone who wants to try and defend the shop’s honor is requested to include details of exactly why they think The Fountain’s pizza is worth a damn in the comments below.

But that wasn’t the worst.

The worst came early yesterday morning. Before the Bar Mitzvah, to give the kids enough energy to sit through a service, and to provide the adults with enough caffeine to manage the same, we did the unthinkable. I took my family to Dunkin’ Donuts.

So there I was, scanning the menu board looking for anything that might actually be food and not some chemistry experiment gone awry. The only thing that looked plausible might have been the oatmeal. But red flags went up when I saw one of them described as “Brown Sugar Flavored Oatmeal”.

Looking at the ingredients, my instincts were right. In addition to Natural and Artificial Flavor, it also contains Sucralose. Man, I wish there was some kind of legislation or regulation that would force a clear disclosure of zero calorie sweeteners in a menu item. That’s some sneaky product development right there.

Bastards.

But former Mayor Jerry Jennings dropped in while we were there. And he didn’t seem to think twice about ordering breakfast. The kids ended up with Boston cream donuts that were short flat discs of despair. Sure, they had a glossy brown icing, but their centers, which should have been puffed full of vanilla custard, were sagging. What a sad excuse for a donut. Again, the kids didn’t mind.

I feel like I’m failing these children.

The upside, however, was getting to spend time with some of our old friends. Even though we’ve been gone for less than a year, it’s amazing to see how much the kids have grown over that time. Everyone is bigger and looks more mature. And this last weekend’s visit involved just a small number of our 518 friends.

Sure, there will be some difficult readjustments and a small batch of new concerns. Seriously, where am I going to scratch my pork roll itch? But it’s going to be fine.

This is just part of my normal process of self-torture.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Chef Paul permalink
    May 27, 2014 10:22 am

    The Fountain: I once raved about their pizza (15 years ago). There was little else on their menu that was decent . . but my friends and I truly thought their pizza was in the top 5 in the Albany area.

    I had not been there in many many years, but found myself craving their pizza a few months ago. Ordered my standard (Pepperoni, onion and mushroom). It was not good. Maybe it has changed (or maybe I changed). Sauce is a very important part of ‘pizza greatness’. They used to have a very tasty sauce. This last time, it was bland and boring. The cheese had a funny plastic melt to it – as if they started freezing their shredded mozzarella. You know cheese gets funny after you freeze it. And pizza made with frozen cheese is a sin. I am not saying they DO freeze the cheese, but it did have that glossy plastic melt that does not stretch . . . that I usually associate with frozen cheese.

    I too will not say NEVER. . . maybe it was just an off day. I do give pass cards for ‘off days’. Or maybe I had built up my own hype for The Fountain, that it could not have lived up to. Who knows. But I did not enjoy my latest pie from there.

  2. -R. permalink
    May 27, 2014 10:41 am

    Really?!?! Fu**in’ Dunkin’? I don’t know man…how did you think Jerry got so orange?

  3. May 27, 2014 10:53 am

    “flat discs of despair” is the best description of a DD donut.

    I used to live near the Fountain, and when people found out I lived in the neighborhood they always insisted I HAD to try their pizza. I did, several times, and just didn’t get it. Its not great, its not something different (like say Orchard’s pizza). Havn’t been back since moving to a different neighborhood. I think the people that love it are the ones that grew up in or used to live in that neighborhood, and like holding on to that little gem they remember. Its something for them to get excited about, and it will remain their neighborhood secret spot because no one else deems it too great.

    • Chef Paul permalink
      May 27, 2014 11:24 am

      I think you have something there . . . It’s more than pizza to those who have grown up and shared memories at The Fountain. In the same manner that I don’t quite get “Jumpn Jacks” either. Ate there once to see what all the buzz was about and I had nothing good to say about the taste or quality of food. Yet, something magic must happen each year because people line up for miles to eat there.

  4. Don permalink
    May 27, 2014 10:57 am

    We remarked on how much your kids have grown since you’ve been away.

  5. Mr. Dave permalink
    May 27, 2014 12:17 pm

    You really think anyone likes those Grandma’s pies anymore either? Nope, they are sort of crappy now. But round here you are brought up to do just like your daddy done. People go to the Fountain because that is just one of those things you do as you have always done. Same thing with Jumping Jacks probably. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the pleasures of the palate for tradition and the experience…

    If you don’t understand this, Monsieur Fussy, then even after all of these years you have still not learned the song of our people.

  6. MikeH permalink
    May 27, 2014 1:41 pm

    While I wouldn’t say the Fountain’s pizza is the best, I enjoyed it on many occasions when we lived in Albany. Always got meatball and onion. I liked that the crust was always crunchy on the bottom but still a little chewy, toppings went almost all the way to the edge leaving only a thin strip of edge crust and the pizzas were always cooked a little well done which browned the cheese on top nicely. And it was always great reheated in the oven the next day for lunch. So there’s why I like the Fountain’s pizza. I have to say though that I have not had one of their pizzas in about a year. What was so terribly bad about the pizza you had this past weekend?

    • DEN permalink
      May 28, 2014 4:00 pm

      I think you nicely captured what I like about the pizza, Mike (I’ll sub sausage for the meatball, and add a cup of pasta fagioli to start). Ultimately, I think it is one of those foods that hits those certain types of cravings in a way that is satisfying. You know deep down inside that you cannot defend it as top of the line pizza, but it just seems to please in ways that other pizza places can’t.

      As I wrote below, I’ve had uneven experiences recently, so I am not surprised that the place is catching some heat.

  7. May 27, 2014 2:27 pm

    From the Twittersphere, I see you stopped Pizza Town on the ride home. Having enjoyed The Fountain, what did the kids think of the Pizza Town slice?

  8. DEN permalink
    May 27, 2014 8:34 pm

    I have been noticing execution problems at the Fountain too. Mostly in the category of slightly undercooked pizza.

  9. Erin permalink
    May 27, 2014 10:17 pm

    It has been a long time since we went to the Fountain. Not only because their pizza is not great, but the service is so consistently incredibly, unbearably slow. It just isn’t worth it. But then we will stay away for a year or so, get a craving, forget about those things and return. Only to leave vowing never again.

  10. May 28, 2014 9:20 am

    I never understood the Fountain pizza either. When I have to go there, I get a white pizza with eggplant and ricotta. At least their eggplant is thin and fried crisp and can elevate the pizza into edible territory.

  11. acw permalink
    June 12, 2014 4:24 pm

    This is delayed but…I am your “typical” lifer uptown Albanian in the sense that I grew up on the Fountain and I will therefore love the Fountain until the day I die, however, I will agree with the undercooked comment. We easily solved this problem but always ordering it “extra crispy” now…that changes everything. Makes it perfect. Can’t beat that crust, in my opinion.

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