Yesterday on Facebook, I got a gander of one of those listicles from last summer. Those things really take on a life of their own.
My point today is not to discuss how the author got the 12 Best Food Cities in Upstate New York totally wrong. The answer to that should be clear on its face. Sure, my Capital Region pride swells when the big prize is given to Schenectady. But if Morrette’s is the crown jewel in the best food city of Upstate New York, we all have a much bigger problem.
Luckily, it’s not.
All the same, that piece got me thinking about all the municipalities that didn’t make the cut. One of the things that I love about living in the Capital Region is how many interesting small towns, villages, and hamlets are within an hour’s drive. Each of them has something notable. Each has a certain character. And the all have rich histories.
Which made me think of Watervliet.
I’m just going to come out and say it. I love Watervliet. I do. Yes, it’s small. Yes, I sometimes affectionately refer to it as, “The town that time forgot.” But dammit, that’s part of what makes it so special.
Let’s break it down.
Schuyler Bakery. It’s a gem. Forget for a moment that their old fashioned donut is my single most favorite donut in the entire Capital Region. And put aside for a second that it’s the only totally nut-free bakery in the area. Ignore the charms of the hand made signs, the smell of fresh baked pastry when you open the door, and the old school boxes tied with string. Every time I’m there, over stuffing my sack because everything looks too damn good, I walk out paying a fraction of what I expect my bill to be.
The place is amazing. It’s a true neighborhood bakery in an era when there are no more neighborhood bakeries. Did I say it’s a gem? Because it is.
Gus’s. It’s not my favorite of the mini hot-dog places, but it’s perhaps the most iconic. It’s a four season place. The daring eat inside the ramshackle permanent structure in winter, but the place really shines in the summer. You can tell, because there are lines down the street for these definitive Capital Region morsels. I prefer the sausage sandwich with peppers and onions, but you have to do you.
Ted’s Fish Fry might be dismissed as a small local chain, but the very first Ted’s still stands in Watervliet. There’s some history right there. That foot long fish fry is something you can only get in this part of the world. It’s brilliant. And not only do I love the sign, the entire retro vibe of this location is perfect. You know why? Because it’s not constructed. It’s the real deal. If you’ve never been, you should go. And if fish fry isn’t your thing, the fried oysters are also excellent.
Spiaks may be gone, but Deacon Blues and The Purple Pub are still kicking. You want to experience a classic neighborhood Capital Region tavern? These are two pillars of the form. I’m going to express a preference towards Deacon Blues for a long host of reasons I won’t go into now. Just remember, if you go, stay as far away from the white seafood pizza as humanly possible.
Mac’s Drive In may not be classic, but it does have a classic feel, and the chef just was recognized in the Times Union poll as one of the best chefs in the Capital Region. It should be a stop on our Tour de Burger, so we’ll get to see just how good it is in person.
You want breakfast? How about Hilltop Plaza Cafe, Bob’s Diner, or On the Hill Cafe? It’s nothing fancy. It’s breakfast. And at Bob’s you can get it whenever. But it’s important to remember that little greasy spoons like these don’t exist everywhere. And here in Watervliet, you have three of them in one small town. That’s incredible.
Muddy’s is also incredible. For other reasons. I still haven’t been, but I feel like I have to experience it at least once. But it’s in Watervliet, and one might even suggest that Watervliet is the only place Muddy’s could possibly be.
Watervliet isn’t just living in the past. Sadudee Thai has opened up in town and is doing quite well, thankyouverymuch. As it so happens, this is now one of the better regarded Thai places in the entire region.
But this isn’t all.
Valente’s, where I’ve never been, has a reputation for killing it in the macaroni and cheese department. Yes, there are macaroni and cheese contests, and Valente’s has won many of them. There’s the Black Bear Inn and the Rusty Anchor. Naturally there are pizza places too, none of which I’ve explored. But I love the idea Watervliet may have a solid, if undiscovered, pizza shop
For a small little hamlet living in the shadow of Troy and downhill from the tony suburb of Latham, Watervliet has got a lot going on. Mr. Dave would be able to say better than I ever could, but more than any place else around these parts, it seems to have maintained much of the regional character that’s been lost elsewhere.
So here’s my advice to you. Get out there and enjoy it while you still can. Because in some parts of the world, time might seem to slow down, but it can never actually stop.