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The Next Peck’s

April 12, 2016

Evolution is a process. It’s a series of small changes that happen over time.

What’s been really exciting about living in the Capital Region for the past several years, has been watching the slow but gradual improvement of our food culture. Do we have a thriving food culture here? Not quite yet. But we’re on our way.

It’s true that I get excited by watching the progress our area has made over the years. And it’s important that I get called out on my occasional irrational exuberance by commentators from the Interwebs. The Masticating Monkey made a good point when he suggested that I had gone a step too far last week.

Everything has an opportunity cost. For better or for worse, I’ve decided to focus on what’s going on here in the Capital Region. I’ve fully committed. Sure, there are the occasional meals in Paris, Beijing, and the SF Bay Area to break things up a bit. Now and again I’ll try a food truck in Providence, some dim sum in Flushing, or a pizza in New Haven. But I’m not making regular trips across the border to Vermont, or out to Ithaca, or even to the Berkshires to taste what some great regional kitchens are cranking out.

And that’s a blind spot to be sure.

But I do believe that there is also something to be gained by staying focused on the local community. I think it’s easier to see the growth and the improvement when it’s not being measured against markets where a higher standard already exists. Our standards are absolutely rising. And that’s exciting. That’s remarkable. So now, I have to ask the inevitable question.

What will be the next Peck’s Arcade?

Here’s how this works. One thing builds on another. I moved here and there was no good espresso. There was occasionally good espresso at Ultra Violet, but it depended on who was pulling the shots. Then came Caffe Vero down from Lake George. And that gave rise to Tierra Coffee Roasters. Ron from Tierra took over the local Caffe Vero location and created Stacks. And Matthew who had been dealing with coffee roasting at Uncommon Grounds, was brought in to lead the coffee program at Superior Merchandise Co.

Now we have two great places to get great espresso. And the standard is higher. Huzzah!

Albany isn’t known particularly for its culinary adventurousness. A lot of the fancy restaurants are either Italian or old line steak and seafood establishments. And that’s fine. But Yono’s, which has Indonesian cuisine at its core, is now a longstanding component of the fine dining scene.

Would anyone have believed that Ric Orlando’s global cuisine might succeed in the Capital Region if Yono hadn’t proven there was a market for something a bit more esoteric? And I’d argue that places like Peck’s Arcade in turn, owe a debt of gratitude to New World Bistro Bar which proved there was a hunger for clean, chef-centric food in a far less formal environment.

Some entrepreneurs look at the market and take leaps. Sometimes those leaps are fraught with peril. Owning and operating a restaurant is a horrible idea. It’s a terrible business. Find a better way to process medical payments, and you’ll have a much more successful endeavor.

Thankfully, not everyone feels that way. And successful restaurants are based off of proven concepts. This is how a food scene improves. It’s a process of natural selection. You find the places that thrive, figure out what works, and do it even better.

Peck’s is clearly the new high water mark in our area. But as the Masticating Monkey suggests, in other small northeastern DMAs the standard is even higher. He cites Central Provisions in the comment on this blog, but I’d love to see a dedicated blog post (or Yelp review) of his experience.

So what is going to stand on the shoulders of Peck’s Arcade, realizing that there is is a market for a small changing menu of seasonal, sustainable dishes. Vic and Heather are talented, to be sure. But they haven’t made a deal with the devil. There is no magic required to make this happen. It’s hiring the right people, with a clear vision, and giving them the leeway to make it a reality.

Places like this don’t have to appeal to everybody. They don’t. Now that has been proven. If you build it, and offer value, people will come. So the next steps are going to be particularly exciting. Not by those looking to copy the success of this great local restaurant, but by those with the competitive spirit to raise the bar yet another notch.

It’s coming. I’m not sure when. And I’m not sure who is going to bring it. I can’t say where it will be. But it’s on the way. Right now, it’s just a matter of time. Or maybe that’s just my optimism showing. As I’ve said before, I’m a prisoner of hope. But we’re riding a trend line and things continue to look up.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica R W permalink
    April 12, 2016 10:53 am

    “A market for a small changing menu of seasonal, sustainable dishes.” I would argue that The Shop is doing this. Are they a “fine dining establishment”? No. But perhaps it is more noteworthy that they have been able to achieve this while keeping prices lower, and creating a an atmosphere that is more laid back and accessible.

    • -R. permalink
      April 12, 2016 11:44 am

      I think Jessica has a good point here, and one that reflects on the overall demography of our area. Like it or not, this is a beer and pub food kind of town, and the success of Peck’s is testimony to knowing about your target audience. There’s something distinctly wrong with going to a restaurant you’ve never tried before and feeling uncomfortable due to the overall pretense of the place, a stuffiness/haughtiness in service, or being snubbed for not looking like you can afford it — all this adds up to why Peck’s has found an unfilled niche in the market and thrived. Superb seasonal, sustainable dining in a relaxed atmosphere that distinguishes itself from every other place in our area. Having a unique menu doesn’t hurt either.

      • Jessica R permalink
        April 12, 2016 1:28 pm

        -R, I was referring to The Shop in Troy with my comment, not Peck’s. Although I would agree that Peck’s is much less stuffy compared to other fine dining restaurants in the area.

        So, it order of highest to lowest stuffiness:
        Traditional fine dining –> Peck’s –> The Shop

    • Melissa permalink
      April 12, 2016 2:12 pm

      Agreed! I’m a big fan of The Shop and love that it is here in Troy.

  2. Aunt Bea permalink
    April 12, 2016 12:00 pm

    Well, Peck’s has a diverse and interesting menu for sure. I’m glad to see those with big enough pockets are supporting them versus the behemoth under the bridge and the soon to be new on the avenue places of the bigger cities.

    My heart cries that I never tried DABA in Hudson.

  3. April 12, 2016 6:14 pm

    Appreciate the response, Daniel. I think you’re right about there being legitimate reasons for optimism here, but I do think that with restaurants, even when you see some innovative ideas, most of the time the execution is then lacking. I like The Shop a lot, but have recently encountered this problem there, too.

    And I decided after my comment last time about City Beer Hall that I should try them again for the Restaurant Week menu. I won’t go into too much detail here–maybe I do need to get back to blogging–but this was another case where there was a failure of execution, from plating to seasoning to technique, on almost every plate we received.

    I like having variety, but I think what I’ve learned is to simply accept that there aren’t many restaurants here that aren’t going to disappoint you with their execution. I guess it’s good to have a handful of trustworthy options, and it’s better to not dine out that often, but I just wonder why it’s so hard for places out here to get things right regularly. Peck’s Arcade has shown so far that it can be done here, and people clearly appreciate that, but why is it so rare otherwise?

    • April 12, 2016 10:44 pm

      “…why is it so rare otherwise?”

      If being great were easy, EVERYTHING would be great. Every movie, every song, every comedian, and yes, every restaurant too.

      It’s rare because doing something exceptionally well, consistently, is hard, and it takes (rare) talent, focus, and dedication.

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