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Spreading the Utica Joy

December 20, 2017

Let’s talk about chain restaurants for a minute.

Restaurants with multiple locations can get a bad rap, and there are good reasons for this. It’s challenging to keep standards of quality and consistency high at a single location, with one dedicated chef leading the charge, keeping a keen, sharp eye on the entire process.

When Thomas Keller opened up Per Se in Manhattan and started dividing his time between The French Laundry in Napa and his new restaurant in New York, he installed a video monitoring system so he could see what was happening in both kitchens.

Larger restaurant operations rely on other methods to try and achieve the same levels of quality and consistency at each location. Those places, like Dinosaur Barbecue, where from scratch cooking still happens on a daily basis rely on adherence to recipes and training. But it’s hard. And it’s not a foolproof system.

It’s more foolproof to work with frozen, or otherwise prefabricated products, and put them together at the point of sale like a McDonald’s franchise. Yet even those have variations from store to store.

So I get why people might opt for a local independent operator when making their dinner choices, and avoid a spot with more than one location. However, just recently I was reminded of the other side of chain restaurants when I wanted a taste of Utica, but was in Clifton Park.

Delmonico’s has six locations. Clifton Park is the newest one, but it started in Utica. There are also outposts in Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany. Orlando is the only one out of state, but I suspect the owners spend their winters down there. So in some way, it makes a bit of sense. There is a seventh location under construction somewhere else in Florida.

For most of the past ten years, I’ve dismissed Delmonico’s as a chain. I had little to no interest in paying close to $30 for one of their steaks with a side of pasta.

That was until I was considering my first trip to Utica.

I was going to be visiting my cousin out there, and the one thing I really wanted to try were some home grown Utica greens. For those who don’t know, this is the side dish that eats like a meal. It’s mostly escarole, but it’s studded with bits of prosciutto, seasoned with parmesan, soaked in chicken broth, enlivened with hot peppers, and fortified with bread crumbs.

The response I got from a local was, “You should go to Delmonico’s.”

Two things happened at that moment. The first was my heart broke just a little that the recommendation was for a place that also exists in the Capital Region. The second was it planted a seed that I should check out the Albany location and give these greens a try.

Could the best place to get Utica greens in Utica be the same place we have in Albany?

Ignoring this advice I decided to try the greens from purely local places. I haven’t been to Utica all that much, but I have visits to Ventura’s and Babe’s under my belt. And just this past weekend I finally made the trip to a local outpost of Delmonico’s.

And I kind of hate to say this, but so far I’ve enjoyed the greens at Delmonico’s the most. Which brings us to the larger point.

Sometimes, restaurants grow and open multiple locations because they are really good. That doesn’t mean that everything is going to be really good. But there is something the place does well, which people like, and will come out for time and time again.

I love the fact Delmonico’s as brought Utica greens to Florida, and is spreading the Utica joy. I’m not quite so sure Floridians can fully appreciate the joy of such hearty and warming foods, but I’m glad they have the opportunity to taste them. Because this regional dish is very special indeed.

Of course, Delmonico’s has also brought their greens to Albany. We have a few other places to get them locally too. And I do need to try a few other versions, because I don’t know who makes the best version in the area. Maybe we can plan a Capital Region Tour de Utica Greens at some point in the future. Actually, I think we must.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    December 20, 2017 12:36 pm

    Actually, the chain started in Syracuse, not Utica (from the ‘about us’ section of their website: We are an Italian-inspired steakhouse restaurant that first opened in the spring of 1998 in Syracuse, NY.). From a glance at their menu, I’d say someone affiliated with the chain either grew up in Utica, or an initial chef was from there.

    I’d be up for a local Tour de UG.

    • December 20, 2017 1:09 pm

      The bartender told me Utica. I guess this is what happens when you trust your bartender? Or maybe I just heard it wrong. Maybe the owner is from Utica? Regardless, I’ve clearly got to get this cleared up.

      Thanks for the fact checking. I’ll see what I can do about finding the answers.

  2. Benjamin Maggi permalink
    December 20, 2017 4:57 pm

    We went to the Clifton Park restaurant on opening night and it was a blast, and have been back since. We have also been to the ones in Utica and Central Avenue Albany. I was so enamored with their Delmonico cut steak that when I was married it was one of the two entree options at our wedding. It is truly enormous at 24 ounces and full of fat, but very tasty.

  3. December 20, 2017 5:31 pm

    Never dismiss a chain solely because it’s a chain. Or as the adage goes; don’t knock it till you try it.

  4. albanylandlord permalink
    December 21, 2017 12:57 pm

    I always assumed Delmonico’s was a Chain restaurant , I didn’t realize it was a chain restaurant (lower case c). Despite what Steve says I will always dismiss a national chain but I am very open to a local chain like Dinosaur or apparently Delmonico’s. The Standard in Crossgates helped open my eyes. Despite being owned by a family that runs a few other restaurants, despite being themed to the 9’s, and despite being in a huge mall their food is excellent and consistent.

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