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Do Good By Downtown Albany

July 17, 2019

Sunday was a truly epic outing, and I was thrilled to see so many of you along the way.

Even though the Tour de Downtown Albany had no scoresheets, and there was no winner per se, that does not mean there wasn’t a thing or two learned along the way. Ideally, we would have done this ten stop eating and drinking extravaganza on a Saturday, so more places would be open. But since the calendar was tight, we seized the opportunity to have this one last outing before the big move to Michigan.

For those who don’t remember the point behind the Tour de Downtown Albany in the first place, let’s rewind just for a moment, and then we’ll get to the good stuff.

Too many people see Albany’s Downtown Core as several different places. But Lark Street, Pearl Street, The Plaza, and The Warehouse District are geographically so close, that to make distinctions between these destinations is to do the area a disservice. Not only is it an easy walk from one end to the other, but it’s a beautiful one at that.

So I set out to prove it.

At 9am when I was sitting all alone at Stacks Espresso on Broadway, waiting for the first attendees to show up, I thought I made a horrible mistake. But at least I was comforted with my silky cappuccino, a glass of sparkling water, and a place to charge my phone.

Then people started to trickle in, and we got to talking about the day ahead, along with some of the history of Albany as a city. But we couldn’t stay for very long. At 9:55am I told the crew we were packing up for our second destination: Cider Belly Doughnuts.

When we arrived at 10am, the place was reeling from being slammed by a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were in town for a convention. They were frying fresh batches of donuts, but the one I really wanted was the classic Sugar Daddy. I was told there would be hot ones in ten minutes! No problem. I’m always happy to wait for hot donuts. Heck, I’m happy to pay more for them too.

At Cider Belly we picked up some more attendees, but also had to say goodbye to others. But there was no time for mourning the loss. We had to get over to The City Beer Hall for brunch! We arrived just before they opened the doors, because we didn’t have time to dally. Our group of eight were sat outside in a mostly shaded table, and we got to try the new summer brunch menu. It was delicious.

Trying to eat light, I went for the breakfast sandwich, which was encased in grilled fontina cheese, and on the inside had pork belly, burrata, lettuce, heirloom tomato, and an over easy egg. Naturally, it is served with a salad. But since this is a new menu, the kitchen accidentally sent it out with breakfast potatoes. However, they were excellent about quickly sending out side salads too. With something that heavy, you need a little salad to cut through. Also the Suarez pale ale did a good job with that too.

We ran just a little behind, getting out of City Beer Hall at noon, meant we got to Pint Sized on Lark Street around 12:20pm. But the walk up hill in the summer heat made us thirsty, and that fruity sour beer I ordered tasted especially good. We didn’t really need a full hour at this small beer bar anyway, so it was a great stop to pick up a little lost time.

A few of our crew pulled off before we made it to Savoy Taproom at 1pm. There was a table in the shade on the front porch, and we were able to sit out there and watch some of the everyday drama on Lark Street. But I wasn’t there for the show. I wanted to try the “For Your Health” cocktail, and finally wrap my mouth around their wings.

The verdict was split on this fresh, summery, basil seed spiked long drink. I loved it. Chris V. seemed to find it a little austere. We all agreed however, that the best wings of the bunch were the bourbon buffalo (on the left in the photo above). Dang. Those were delicious. Usually, they aren’t available for Sunday brunch. While I avoid asking for any special treatment in service of this blog, Jason offered to make sure we could have his wings on this tour, and for that I’m grateful.

At this point we started to get a little looser about the time. We were due at The Excelsior Pub at 2pm, and we weren’t that far off. I had a pocket full of quarters, and a mind set on pinball. So we played, drank New York beers and spirits, and finally ate the pizza rolls. Apparently pizza rolls are a Buffalo thing. Who knew. My heart still belongs to the spicy meat sauce served with the garbage plate.

Across the street at Hill Street Cafe, they have one of my favorite tavern style pizzas. With just five of us holding tight at this point, I didn’t think we could take down a whole pie. But it turns out Hill Street has a smaller six-cut option. So we split one of those, washed down with some world class craft beers. For what it’s worth, we couldn’t find Disco Fries on the menu anymore, although maybe the kitchen could still make them if you asked.

Around 4:30pm we wandered into The Olde English to grab a beer and enjoy the beautiful evening on their amazing back patio. What I wasn’t expecting was how many more people we would meet up with in the process. Some of my pizza judging friends from the AOA TOP days came, along with some more of my Yelp buddies, and guest blogger Emily L! It was such a treat to see some unexpected faces. I could have stayed and talked forever, but I was told that people had finished their beers, and it was past time to move on.

That meant we got to our ninth stop about an hour late. We were supposed to be at C.H. Evans around 5pm, but rolled in closer to six. On the plus side, it meant we were closer to an actual dinner time. On the down side, we weren’t able to get a low-top table for nine. So we split up the party into a few different tables, and shared a bunch of duck banh mi sandwiches.

Months ago, when Ian O’Leary told me he was putting this sandwich on the menu, I knew I had to have it. The sandwich is made with the duck confit and duck prosciutto his crew makes in house, and I loved it. A few of my companions thought it should have more duck, but I disagree. Banh mi are all about proportions, and like a proper Cuban sandwich, the meat is applied sparingly to good effect. I had it with Sam’s Pump Station Pale, which hit the spot.

Before we came to blows over the sandwich, we hit the road up to Lost & Found. I would have loved to get a little food from their kitchen too, but it closes early on Sundays. Still, their back patio is nothing to sneeze at, and the beer list is killer.

Jon in Albany even was able to show up and join the crew for a drink before most people headed off to bed. It was an absolutely gorgeous summer night. The sky was clear, the temperature was moderate, and there was a lovely breeze. I didn’t want to call it a night.

So I didn’t.

Even though the tour was over, a few die hards went for one last drink at Savoy. But when that was over, there were still some quarters burning a hole in my pocket. So as is my custom, I ended the night back at The Excelsior Pub with a few more rounds of pinball.

What can I say? It’s hard to say goodbye.

Yes, it was a very very long day indeed. But it was a day full of love. Not just the love of food and drink, but love for the people I’ve met along the way. And oddly, it was filled with love for a city that I hated upon my arrival, and never thought in a million years that I might miss. Even during my initial frustrations with the region, in my heart of hearts I knew there had to be good food, but it was just a matter of finding it. Well, mission accomplished.

Now get out there and enjoy some of it, and I don’t want to hear anyone complaining about parking. You can park anywhere. Because the entirety of Albany’s Downtown Core is walkable. Just grab the first open spot you see. And as you walk a few blocks through Center Square, or up Madison, or past the Plaza, take a moment to look up and around at the architecture. It’s a prettier city than you might realize. Just ask anyone who went on this tour. But you have to walk. Otherwise you’ll miss it.

You can still enjoy Troy. Just make sure to enjoy Albany too.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary K. permalink
    July 17, 2019 10:29 am

    Man I’m sad I missed this! Daniel, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. Thank you for your assistance in helping to transform the food culture in our little tiny piece of the universe. May you continue to do so in your next journey! Best of luck and stay influential. It suits you!

  2. AOA Mary permalink
    July 17, 2019 10:48 am

    As someone we know is fond of saying— Albany rewards effort. You genuinely made the effort, my friend— with your discerning palate, your genuine curiosity and your spirit. Albany is better for your stay. “None of it was wasted, all of it will last. ❤️

  3. Joel Miller permalink
    July 17, 2019 10:54 am

    I am so glad I was able to jump in at the end of this epic journey even if I did have to drive nearly 4 hours to get there. I think it is fair to say that this should become a yearly event which will be done in your honor!

    There will be more great food and people in Michigan. There is no doubt in my mind that you will find all of that and more. Happy trails, Pinball Wizard!!!!

  4. m. dave permalink
    July 17, 2019 11:11 am

    Becoming “of a place” is something that happens, often against your will… There is comfort in the manageable number of nooks and crannies to know here. I wonder how deeply the place got in your blood? I am fond of telling my wife that my vigor is sapped the further I am taken away from the shores of the mighty Hudson…

  5. Benjamin M. permalink
    July 17, 2019 12:13 pm

    I feel sad that I couldn’t join, but am happy that a piece of Albany (or, more to the point, many places) will be etched somewhere in your heart and soul. Good luck in Michigan my friend!

  6. July 18, 2019 10:57 am

    “Banh mi are all about proportions, and like a proper Cuban sandwich, the meat is applied sparingly to good effect.” This is an East Coast perspective. On the West Coast they know a bahn mi should have as much meat (and daikon/carrot condiment) as possible. I predict you will find the same among the hearty eaters of Michigan.

    Although I missed your tour, I found myself eating a crispy duck bahn mi in solidarity, at Bunn Mi in San Francisco. It was just A-OK. Not enough meat.

    • July 18, 2019 11:58 am

      That’s crazy talk. Even in Miami, most of the Cuban sandwiches are now overstuffed. It’s not an East Coast vs West Coast thing, it’s an American thing. In a big open country, we celebrate bigness. Western expansion. Manifest destiny. Big cars. Big steaks. Big sandwiches.

      I don’t know if this is still the case at the best Viet sandwich shops in Falls Church, but you used to be able to get a sack of five or six sandwiches for $20.

      There’s not a lot of meat in those things either, but they are deeply flavored, filling, and fantastically delicious.

      • July 18, 2019 1:57 pm

        Inflation has hit the bahn mi marketplace, at least on Clement Street. My crispy duck was $9 and a humble dac biet was $7.50. As to the bigness dog whistle, not gonna go there. A plate of pasta as big as your head is one thing; a sandwich is another. I’m paying for the total experience, not a crispy roll with fillings.

  7. albanylandlord permalink
    July 18, 2019 11:45 pm

    I really really enjoyed the Tour de Daniel. I enjoyed the great food, I enjoyed the beer and the great drinks at the Savoy. The walking was fabulous, not only for the outdoor break and the exercise, but for the awesome architecture and sights along the way that you never really notice unless you are walking. I enjoyed checking out new places that were kind of on my list but I had never made it to (Savoy, Stacks, Cider Belly) and places that weren’t on my list but are now (who knew Hill St. Cafe had such a killer beer selection?). The conversation with other like-minded food and drink people made the time at each stop go by too quickly. I enjoyed the extended goodbye with Daniel who has taught me so much.

    Thank You.

  8. Corie Yodis permalink
    July 22, 2019 10:37 am

    Daniel, It was a pleasure to Tour with you! Wishing you the best of luck on your new journey!

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