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Some Local Favorites Revisited

January 22, 2018

Well, it’s been less than a year. February 19, 2017 was when the #518 Recos were last updated. But with the Times Union Best of the Capital Region poll underway, I thought it would be prudent to publish a more current version of this list.

The Capital Region has been improving slowly and steadily over the years, and I am thrilled.

Of course, those currently arriving from San Francisco, Brooklyn, or even Austin might still find our little neck of the woods to be lacking. They may not get what all my optimism is about. And when I came here ten years ago, I railed against this very same kind of local boosterism. But I think the difference is that I’m still keenly aware that we haven’t arrived. There is still work to do. However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot celebrate the goodness which surrounds us.

And to capture as much of it as I can, I may have added some ridiculous categories to my own list. Just work with me here, and hear me out. Of course, if you have any objections to what I’ve put together, I’d love to hear them.

The most recently revised list is here, and what follows is more of an explanation about what’s changed.

Let’s start at the top of the list and work our way down. It might even be handy to have the list open in a separate tab so you can flip back and forth between this post and the recommendations page. Of course, how you proceede is entirely up to you.

Apple Cider Donuts have been split into two categories, farm made and bakery made. After the last Tour de Cider Donuts, Golden Harvest pushed Indian Ladder out of the top spot. It’s not that the donuts at Indian Ladder aren’t excellent when hot and fresh, rather it’s just getting harder and harder to get ones which haven’t been sitting around for hours.

There is a category for Farm Distilled Applejack. I say distilled, and not jacked. Dave and others make this comment every year. They want a freeze “distilled” applejack. But I contend there is a historical precedent for an actual distilled version too. Regardless, there is now also a category for Farm Brewery, since Indian Ladder Farms now grows their own two row barley and hops for the beers they make with collaborators around the state.

Hard Cider is such a tough category. I know that Nine Pin is the local favorite. And I know that I am going for my second 26er badge. While there are certainly ciders in their portfolio I enjoy, as the offerings get more diverse, they are appealing more to the Instagram and Starbucks crowd. I can’t blame them. It’s a broad mass-market target audience with plenty of disposable income. But I like ciders with more funk and guts to them. So I’m going with Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider, with the memory of its God Speed the Plough on my lips.

My top local cheesemaker has changed. Old Chatham isn’t quite the same anymore. But that was replaced by another sheep operation, albeit much much smaller. 3-Corner Field Farm is in Shushan, and if you haven’t tried Shushan Snow, you should. Call The Cheese Traveler, and ask if they have any on hand.

Last year I upset some people by calling Anna’s pizza Neapolitan style. As a compromised, I’ve kept Anna’s on the list, but it’s recommended for its Pizza Margherita. Is it ideal? Maybe not. But it’s the best of its kind I’ve found locally, and people often seek these out.

While I try to keep the recommendations close to home, I could not let anything but Brooks’ House of BBQ hold the spot for Barbecue Chicken. For goodness sakes, the place has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation. But that aside, I keep on looking for excuses to drive down there and gorge myself on chicken.

Fried Chicken has come off the list. The Flying Chicken held the spot and now it’s closed. Unfortunately, I haven’t eaten a lot of fried chicken since. And now we have more places than ever to get it. Certainly Hattie’s and The Cuckoo’s Nest are in contention for the top spot, but so are the soul food restaurants, the halal fried chicken joints, and even Memphis King has a killer fried chicken thigh. Clearly, I have some work to do.

Ayelada closed, and FroYo has come off the list too. It was my absolute favorite, and nothing else comes close.

Savoy has taken the spot for cocktails. I still have great love for the Speakeasy, but Savoy has both George and better hours.

Delaware Supply has been added to the new category of Beer Cafe. Yes, maybe it’s a bullshit category. But dammit, the place has no television. It’s got huge windows, a ton of natural light, and board games. I’ve only been once, but I need to get back.

All the coffee categories have gotten all jumbled up. The last time I went for nitro cold brew at Happy Cappuccino they were out. Maybe now that Starbucks has nitro cold brew, it shouldn’t be a thing anymore. I don’t know. The bottom line is that Stacks, kru, and Superior are my top three go-to picks for all things espresso and brewed coffee. There are other shops that are also worth your time, notably little pecks and 3Fish. Go to these five places, and be happy about our thriving and expanding coffee scene.

French Macarons has come off. I do not know what happened with chef Paul and his Saratoga Springs operation. But I paid close attention to the case at Whole Foods which used to be his big wholesale client, and they were stocking someone else’s macarons. Mon dieu. Hopefully Paul pops up again. He really has a great touch for those finicky treats. The other versions available locally don’t quite measure up.

Challah has come off the bakery list. New Mt. Pleasant just hasn’t been up to snuff lately. Granted, I started buying their challah less and less. But it’s also telling that I started buying their challah less and less. I still haven’t found a local challah that I love. This is going to sound weird, but they are all too bready.

The Times Union no long lists Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants in one category. And the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean category has been separated as well. Huzzah! But we have such ethnic diversity now, the FLB recommendation list is adding sub-genres to a few international cuisines. La Mexicana still is my top pick for Mexican, but I have to give a shout out to Oaxaqueña Triqui, so I created a Oaxacan category. Chinese got expanded to Shanghaiese, Szechuan, and Taiwanese.

Why wasn’t there a Japanese category before? That should totally go to Sushi Tei. Just the other night I ordered the pork kami katsu, and it came with a little mortar and pestle of sesame seeds so I could grind them up on the spot. It was great, even if I’m not a fan of their new booths.

The ramen category has exploded. To date, my favorite is Fujiya in Albany. But Sushi Tei is excellent too. However, you still cannot get ramen there every day. And I still need to make it up to Buddha Noodle in Saratoga Springs. But the depth and complexity of the broth at Fujiya made me smile.

Banh Mi has changed to Pho. The one place for okay banh mi in Albany is no longer, and more people should know that Van’s has been bested by Saigon Spring in Clifton Park. If you think Van’s has the best Pho in the area, my hunch is that you avoid Clifton Park like the plague. And I can understand that. But don’t. Saigon Spring is good. Get up there, and get some pho.

But restaurants, bars, and shops aren’t the entirety of the FLB Recommendations list. There is more.

Looking at the rankings of top posts ever, the Lindt truffle rant moved up from #6 to 4. The Strange Pizza of Old Forge & Beyond moved up from #12 to 10. Wonderful Watervliet rose up the rankings to appear on the list for the first time at #11. And we say goodbye to our old friend, The Thing About Olive Garden. At least for now. Who knows, it may make a comeback.

For what it’s worth, the write ups of the past four Fussy Little Tours have also been added to the page.

Now, that this is all done, maybe you consider voting in this year’s Times Union survey. Voting closes at noon today! We’ve had good luck with the results in the past, but I wouldn’t want to tempt fate.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2018 11:06 am

    If you look at the historical sources it was referred to as “Apple Brandy.” Calling apple brandy “Apple Jack” is marketing, prob. Laird’s fault. And I would absolutely not like to see jacked cider on the market, haha! Best to leave applejack to the backyard/farm yard. I didn’t make it this year, missed some good jacking weather…

    • Matt permalink
      January 22, 2018 9:06 pm

      Doesn’t real apple jack often cause drinkers to go blind? I’m not complaining – life is risk after all – I just want to know what I’m risking!

      • January 22, 2018 11:17 pm

        You are just pulling water out of hard cider when you jack it. Any methanol that was in there anyhow remains in the reduced volume of liquid. The blindness thing is mostly a myth. If you started with well made cider you will be fine. If you guzzle a couple pints of applejack you’ll get a nasty hangover, but that’s it.

        More than likely the blindness thing is from people distilling ciders (into apple brandy) improperly.

  2. Matt permalink
    January 22, 2018 9:05 pm

    Thanks for this post – I wouldn’t have ventured into your recommendations section without it (as I tend to read your blog on my phone).

    Question: have you tried the cocktails at Hamlet and Ghost? I know Saratoga is far but if you’re willing to venture north for croissants, you might also want a drink!

    Finally, you should add a “special occasion” category for those restaurants which cater to that sort of thing (15 Church, Yonos, The Bear etc). And maybe just a “favorite restaurant” category to rule them all?

  3. albanylandlord permalink
    January 24, 2018 2:57 am

    The recos is a great service to the community. Thanks for keeping it updated and highlighting it.

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