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I’m always game for a road trip (especially when it involves food), so when Daniel suggested a detour into Old Forge, PA to try their pizza styles I jumped at the chance. We were armed with suggestions from NEPA Pizza Review, and off we went.  I just kind of tagged along with Daniel and his crazy list of must-try pizza places.

Northeastern Pennsylvania style pizza is unlike any I’ve ever heard of before. It reminds me of a cross of french bread pizza, Elio’s frozen pizza, and hot pockets. There are three different styles: red (tomato sauce + cheese), white (just cheese) & white stuffed crust (just white, but with a top crust of dough plus the bottom crust.
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First up was a tomato & garlic white pie at Colarusso’s. The bread dough was vaguely focaccia-y and the cheese was more of a cheese sauce. Order by the pies here.
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$8.00 for a pie, though the menu listed a higher price for white pies over tomato pies. Any way, first pie down and we were off to the next stop!
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Salerno’s was up next. It’s a dark bar right next door to a funeral home, but yay, it has its own parking lot.
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We put in the order for two cuts of stuffed white. About 20 minutes later, we got these ridiculously cheap cuts (they call them “cuts” not “slices” in NEPA). Each cut was like $1.50 or $1.75. Crazy cheap. The bottom crust was soggy, but the top crust was almost pastry-like and flaky, and the thin burnished onion on top was nice. The cheese itself was fairly flavorless and had a gluey texture.
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Third stop was Arcaro & Genell, a restaurant whose name I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce. This was definitely the ritziest restaurant of the tour. Very clean and well maintained inside, solid tables, and I think there was even a bocce ball court out front.
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We went with a red, a white, and a white broccoli. The white at Arcaro & Genell was of the stuffed variety. This was probably my most enjoyable overall cut of the entire trip. The cheese had a little bit of mozzarella, which added some stretchy texture and salt to the cheese sauce. The crusts were fairly crisp, but not as pastry-like as Salerno’s. The broccoli was enjoyable – still a bit crunchy and fresh, plus a hearty kick of garlic.
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So cheap. It took about 15-20 or so minutes to heat up these slices. I’m guessing most folks don’t just order a cut or two.
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Revello’s – the clunker of the day.
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Anazalone Special Lager – said it was local, so I wanted to give it a try. The first sip was refreshing, but after that it was like PBR & Budweiser. Basically like metal shavings. Not my fave. Thankfully the fussman helped me with this beer.
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The long-reheat times seemed to be a thing with NEPA style cuts, but Revello’s wins for longest wait. 30 minutes from order to table, and we were one of the only tables. The cuts were gummy and easily skippable. The red slice reminded me exactly of Elio’s frozen pizza. We got a white & a white broccoli. The broccoli was gummy and mushy.
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Ghigiarelli’s was the final NEPA pizza stop.
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Hmm, wonder what they use for their sauce?
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The red cut here featured a lot of tomato flavor, but somehow they transformed canned into a refreshing & bright (not metallic) flavor. Lots of onions in the sauce as well. Took about 20 minutes for the slices to come out, which is just so crazy cheap for the amount of time a patron sits in the restaurant taking up space. Overhead must be low in PA.
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ICE CREAM BREAK
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Fro-yo, actually. And this was a small. A SMALL. And they said people complain that their smalls are TOO SMALL. What madness is this? It was close to a pint for like $2.50.
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A few hours later we were in Oneonta, just in time for a few more slices. I was initially grossed out at the thought of cold cheese on pizza, but hey, I was game to try it, and the NEPA style pizzas hadn’t been my jam, so what’s another slice or two?
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Tino’s is the alleged inventor of cold cheese pizza. The slice itself was just okay. But the cheese strands on top were way too thick and bland. Kind of like play-doh noodle thickness. It didn’t melt at all on the reheated slices, and was just a heavy addition that detracted from the slice.
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And then we strolled Oneonta’s cute main strip. The Fuss man wouldn’t indulge my request to go into the Novelty Lounge, citing depressing reviews. But dude, LOOK AT THAT SIGN! And a 23+ age limit. Sigh. Next time.
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The final slice du jour was at Sal’s, which we shared because someone who wasn’t me was starting to get full. Sigh. Fine. This was actually a much nicer iteration of cold cheese pizza. Flavorful crisp slice below, and thin shreds of salty mozzarella that melted over time into the slice. I think I’m still personally more of an extra-cheese-over-cold-cheese type gal, but this was a nice way to round out the night.

If you told me when I was a kid that I’d grow up to spend a summer eating pizza I’d have thought you were fooling me.

Mountain Man came for a visit from Colorado for a few weeks. Albany John and Mountain Man went to SUNY Albany together, so he’s familiar with Albany, but it has changed since he went to school here. Thankfully, he likes eating and being outdoors, so we’re in good company. The bar for good food is pretty low where he lives in Colorado. Between most things getting trucked in and the elevation, there isn’t a ton of fresh/good food or variety where he lives.

We took him to Ala Shanghai for some real Chinese food. He told us some pretty horrific “Chinese” food take out stories in CO. He was so happy to have real dumplings, and that fresh whole steamed fish… man. So good.

Evidently the only cheap things in CO are the beer and alcohol, heh.

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Sushi is a crapshoot where Mountain Man is from. He’s in a touristy town and the elevation does something funny to the rice. We went to Sushi X. I know it’s not the greatest sushi ever, but there is something alluring about AYCE rock shrimp, grilled squid, and some fairly decent sushi rolls and sashimi.
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For $25 a person or so, it’s a pretty decent dinner out. Check off what you want on the order slips. Everything is made to order and quality is decent for what it is, and the selection is pretty wide. I’ve noticed that they don’t quite fill your order slips fully. A few orders might get left off, but eh, that’s what round 2 of ordering is for.
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We continued the Albany New Things tour by going to Nine Pin Cider Tasting Room downtown. The day we went was when they also had “Ciders & Sliders”, pairing up with Slidin’ Dirty serving up in their garage.
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The Nine Pin Flight was okay, though they only half-filled two of the flights for no particular reason, which was kind of a rip. We also got a bottle of cider to share and surreptitiously sip on with burgers.
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Sliding Dirty had a long ass line queuing when we got there. For me, the crowd was a bit overwhelming, but thankfully a friend was nice enough to wait in line for me.
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Sliding Dirty will put your burger on a tortilla if you’re celiac/doing the gluten-free thing, though if you are a true celiac their presentation may pose an issue for you, as they didn’t separate the tortillas from the bun-ed burgers, so gluten cross-contamination may be an issue for the very sensitive.

I thought the sliders were okay, but the price point kind of kills me at $4 per slider. You’d need at least 2 sliders for a meal if you’re peckish, at least 3 if you’re hungry, so you’re looking at a good $8-12 to start for sliders. When I think sliders I think “affordable”, and $8-12 to start for sliders isn’t what I really think of as affordable. FWIW, I hear they are trying to move to all local grass-fed beef in the future, which would at least rationalize the price point somewhat. I’m also not a huge fan of the bread-to-meat ratio on sliders in general, so I’m likely not Slidin Dirty’s target market. I’d just rather get a steak to grill at home for $12, or an actual burger somewhere else with a lower bun-to-meat ratio if I’m feeling burger-y. What the hey, lots of folks seem to like them, and they’ve just opened up a physical location, so this is just my curmudgeonly take on the slider fad.
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City Beer Hall was one of the final stops on the Newish In Albany Tour. Mystery buckets and brown liquor to round out a visit.

 

Afghan Kebab Express is tucked away in the Chinese-character-ed shopping plaza at 305 Central Ave. One of my friends really likes it, and arranged a casual group dinner.

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Their menu is on the smaller side, which is good. There are some random funny dishes. Not the lamb shank in the background (which is a steal at $12.99, and so deliciously lamby and tender), but the chicken qorma in the center. It’s just on the menu as a side dish for $3.99, so obviously curiosity won out and we had to order it. It was interesting. More tomato based than creamy, and the veggies seemed like they came out of a frozen mixed Birdseye veggie bag, though at least they weren’t mushy. The chicken seems to be leftover kebab chicken since it had a nice char to it. Definitely an interesting riff on quorma/korma and a good way to repurpose leftovers on the cheap.
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Bolani – $2.99 per order. Okay, but not something I’d *have* to get again. Veggie filled fried thing.
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Lamb gyro (thanks for the love in the background, darling!) $5.99.
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Blurry gyro over rice ($6.99) platter.
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Beef kabab ($8.99) which you should really avoid ordering as it’s filet mignon, which is done no favors by cooking over a skewer and drying out by the time the exterior gets a char. They were pretty adamant that “that’s how it’s supposed to be”, but sawdust isn’t a flavor profile that our table was crazy about. After a bit of prodding they took it off the receipt and fired up a second order of …
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Koobideh kabab platter ($8.99). Hello delicious! Now this really shines as a kebab/kabab. Fatty ground lamb and beef charred to perfection over an incredibly large portion of rice. You know I’m not a huge rice fan, but this was delicious. I almost ate all of the rice, which is saying something.

All of the platters come with a side salad (some lettuce, raw carrots, cucumber, tomato).

There are also hot sauces in jars on the table to spice up your dishes at your discretion. Weeknight dinner was pretty dead, and not too many take out orders. Hopefully their business will pick up, but I wonder if the location is a problem. Service was ambivalent and efficient. Go for the fattier cuts and you’ll be very happy you came.

Last weekend Jon in Albany and his two kiddos drove down to Princeton with me to eat as many tomato pies with Daniel B. as we could. The tomato pie is native to NJ. It is a dainty, delicate pizza compared to NY-style pizzas. The crust is incredibly thin, and the main star of the pie is the tomato, which usually plays second or third fiddle to the other components of a pizza (crust, cheese) in NY.

It was a whirlwind trip full of tomato pie goodness. I’m lucky to have such awesome folks in my life who are willing to ditch their real lives and go have foodventures with me.

Jon’s write up is here. Daniel B.’s is here.

A ton of pictures below:

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First up was Gennaro’s. This was probably the most upscale setting of the tour. Cloth napkins, and waiters dressed in blacks.
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We were some of the first customers of the day. Gennaro’s had the best tomatoes of the day (to me). So freshly sweet without seeming cloying. Jon took an “accidental” detour through the kitchen and saw that they were using canned tomatoes. We would all love to know how they got them to taste so fresh.

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Crust was okay. A nice and crackery crust. Overall, this was a solid example of tomato pie and probably my favorite of the day if I had to pick one.

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Halo Pub was literally right next door, so we made a stop in. You may have read Daniel wax poetic about this place, and it really is a well-priced gem. I would really love to get a look at their business plan and financials. I am really intrigued by how they can stay in business with the quality they have, overhead, and such low prices.

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The Halo Pub van, restocking the ice cream stores from the farm. Golden cow on top. Sadly, I opted against ice cream since I saw they had soft serve, which they make on the farm, but it had just opened so it hadn’t had a chance to freeze and solidify.
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Pizza stop # 2 was good old Papa’s.
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Daniel and I were able to cross off the (half) anchovy mustard pie off our bucket lists. Mustard pies are a specialty of Papa’s, and well… I was imagining something different in my head. The reality of this pie is a swirl of mustard around the crust, and then the toppings laid as normal. I don’t really see the appeal, or what it really adds to the pie. It was something different to try for certain.

The mustard with anchovy was pretty decent, but the mustard pie plain/just cheese was pretty ho-hum. I don’t need to try it again.
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Half sausage, half plain. This came out a bit more burnished than the mustard pie. I brought some home for Albany John, and he declared the sausage very good as well. Papa’s reheated the best out of all of the tomato pie’s.
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Corleone’s. Oh, Corleone’s. Clunker. Skippable. Friendly folks, but not very good pies.
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Well, okay, their pizza was decent if a bit lackluster. Guess who was in charge of ordering and completely screwed it up and ordered a pizza? (WHAT? I’m from New York! It’s a reflex!).
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The deep fried calzone was on the list, though. $6.95, and the fried calzone came out looking like a burnished football.
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Daniel B stabs at it to divide it up.

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Full of ricotta, and a bit of mozzarella. I could have used a bit more mozzarella, as it was fairly heavy on the ricotta. But the fry job was spot on and deceptively light and ephemeral in an “oh god, this cannot be healthy” kind of way.
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The menfolk and the children tapped out after a few bites, so I ate a little over half of a football of fried calzone by myself. What? I love cheese and fried things. It wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it was pretty darned good for what it was.
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And then the tomato pie came out. Weaksauce. The tomatoes were too sugary-sweet, and the crust had major tip sag (as in, couldn’t even get it flat, so soggy and sad). Very bland, too. This reheated very poorly and when reheated the cloying sweetness in the tomatoes became more pronounced.

But I was drunk on deep fried calzone, and as I bade farewell to the counter dude, he told me I’d be ready for a nap. 10 minutes later I was glad Daniel B was hauling us around.
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But thankfully we made a stop at the Yardley Ice House for some water ice. Which is like Italian ice, but with a finer grain.
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I went with a “small” key lime pie. I don’t know how people can eat more than a small. It was tart, sugary, and refreshing. Enough to perk me and my growing pizza baby of a stomach up.
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The final stop of the tour was La Villa, which served more of a PA-style tomato pie.
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Rather garlicky, but pleasant in its own right. I don’t think I’d call it a true tomato pie like the Trenton/NJ pies are, but it was a good one.

I can’t believe how full I was after only a few stops, but then again, I did eat over half of a massive deep fried calzone on my own. I am blaming that calzone for taking up way too much space in my stomach and not leaving more room for pies.

This trip was just what I needed to recharge my batteries. Getting out of town for a day, doing something crazy with friends (don’t tell me it’s sane to decide to drive 8 hrs RT in one day to go eat some tomato pies). It’s just fantastic being around other pizza obsessives and, well, geeking out over the variations and nuances of each pie. I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert, but when you’re around people all day who have a lot of the same passions that you do, well, it’s just so darned refreshing. Extroverts, I think I kind of get part of what makes you tick.

The drive, aside from being long, was actually really easy. No traffic either way, and Jon was an awesome navigator and brought his GPS (and also cheddar bunnies! which are as tasty as they are adorable), which came in handy when my phone decided to crap out after leaving the 518 area code and take forever to do anything (oh, phone…). The kids were angels. Seriously. Parents like Jon & Daniel (and their respective partners) make me entertain the possibility of caring for some small human child in the future.

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Sake is pretty close to us for sushi in Latham (it’s right off of 87 exit 7). It’s one of those hibachi & sushi type places, but Albany John and I have gotten sushi from there a few times and it’s been solidly satisfying if a bit on the pricier side.

I got a Naruto roll (left). It’s salmon, avocado, and salmon roe wrapped in cucumber instead of sushi rice and nori. It’s tasty, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the $11 price tag.

The salmon and tuna rolls on the right were $5 each, and the eel + avocado roll is $7.

Overall, it was about $30 for 4 sushi rolls. . The more I type it out I think it was fine, but I guess it’s more of the convenience factor.

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It’s probably not a good idea to let me order for a table when I’m at DeFazio’s. There’s a good chance I’ll over order. Between 8 or so of us, we split a chicken pesto antipasto salad (SO good). For $11.95, this was great for a group and super satisfying.

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They had a special of white pizza with cherry tomatoes and balsamic glaze. So much yum. I can’t get enough of that delicious crust – so poofy, tender, and flavorful.
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And a clam pizza. So good, check out that charring on the edge!
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Pesto linguine ($12.95). How can you not love pesto + anything? So good.
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Spinach and garlic linguine ($12.95). Yum.
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Fettuccine Rosario ($12.95) was the only clunker. The sauce was good, but the fettuccine was a little undercooked and clumpy.

There was also a gluten-free pizza tossed in there. For 8 people this was a bit too much food, but super awesome to try so many different things. I think part of the charm of DeFazio’s is their inconsistencies. Today the pizzas were perfect, but the fettuccine was a bit hard. But the service is always friendly, warm, and welcoming.

 

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I love Ethiopian food. It’s something that we have absolutely NONE of in Albany, so whenever I’m near a place with Ethiopian food, I will always choose Ethiopian. Whenever I’m in NYC I can never manage to get away to Manhattan for Ethiopian food. But on my most recent visit I managed to convince my Dad, his girlfriend, and uncle to try Ethiopian food at Awash on the Upper West Side.

We drove there from Flushing in about a half hour, found (free) street parking after paying for parking (of course), and were seated immediately. The interior is gorgeous. Very romantic and lots of low lighting.
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Here’s the injera and freebie sides that came with what we ordered. Since we were so many people they spread out our meals across two plates.
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Plate two.
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So what did we order?

Starting at the red stuff on the left, we got:
Key Sir Afcha (carrots, beets, and potato)
Awash Tibs (grilled beef)
More Key Sir Afcha
Gomen Besiga (lamb, collards, onions)
Free cabbage and carrot dish
Free lentil dish
Shiro (chickpeas and split peas with tomato and onion)
Center: Awash Chicken

We all LOVED the Gomen Besiga. That was just a fantastic combination of flavors. Lamby goodness, collards, and onions with delicious Ethiopian butter and false cardamom. Mmm. Just fantastic. It was all good, but this was a standout dish.

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I also had to order the kitfo (raw beef), which was also good, if a bit heavy on the butter.

The injera was soft and spongy, but not too moist or sour. It was definitely a good intro injera to folks new to Ethiopian food. I’ve had it more sour than this preparation, but really it’s all about the texture for me and this was great. Soft with a little bit of chewy pliancy to it, but not tough or hard.

We had a few leftovers that we took with us. Their menu is a bit out of date. Prices are a few dollars higher per item than listed, and their physical menu touts a vegan meal available as well.

All that plus three glasses of Ethiopian wine was $160 with 20% post-tax gratuity included.

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Ah, Parivar. One of my favorite casual spots for a quick dinner. No need for reservations, and you can pick up ingredients from the grocery store part of the store on your way out. Pista Falooda ($4.49) is a great way to have dessert with dinner.
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Samosa chat ($4.99) on the left, Idili Sambar ($3.99) and Dahi Vada (4.99) on the right. The Samosa were fine samosas, which came with a big bowl of chickpea masala.

The Idili are delicately steamed rice cakes, and the dahi vada are fried lentil-based doughnuts. Yet despite being fried, they taste deceptively light. Coconut chutney rounds them both out.

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Some DIY Pani Puri ($4.99) on the left, and a bowl of tokri chat ($5.99) on the right.
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Paneer Dosa ($8.99!) I love the gigantic dosas here. But make sure you bring a bunch of friends to share like I do! I loved the texture and flavor of the paneer in the dosa. So good.
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Full meal ($7.99) two of the prepared dishes from the bar in front (okra and.. some other veggie dish I forget now) with a hefty side of basmati rice, dal, two parathas, one dessert, and spicy pickle and yogurt sauce on the side. The only clunker here was the dessert. A little overly soft, and the flavor is a little oily. Desserts seem to be Parivar’s weakness. Their savory dishes are a treat, but I’ve never really enjoyed their desserts.
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One of the Indian Chinese dishes. These tend to be really salty, and that’s coming from a salt lover. It is fun to have a little bit of, but so overwhelmingly salty that I would probably not order this as a single item to eat solo.
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Bread pakodas ($1.50 each) stuffed slices of bread and deep fried.
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Gobi Indian Chinese on the left, another delicious dosa!

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The Fuj mentioned some new dishes on Taiwan Noodle‘s menu over the winter, and after the third or so mention, I asked him and Elise to meet Albany John and me there for a meal recently, and they kindly obliged.

First up: Spicy Shredded pork stomach ($3.95) on the left, 5-Spice Beef Shank on the right ($5.95). Hefty portion of beef in that dish. Served cold like deli meat, still very meaty. The pork stomach is served over a bed of peanuts. It’s can taste a touch gamey, but if you order the fried pig intestines it tastes mild by comparison.
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The onslaught of shareable plates. Wood ear in the fore front, adding in the fried pig intestine (the red stuff top left) and scallion pancakes. Woah, the pig intestine was some stuff yo’ A-ma or Yeh-Yeh would be eating. That stuff was intense. Albany John is an old man at heart and he loved them (thank god, because the rest of us were not into them).
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Squid rings! These had a nice breading and chew on the squid. I could eat a plate of these on my own. They had a side of seasoned salt, which was already in the batter. They said it wasn’t really necessary, and it wasn’t, but I guess they’ve had enough people ask that they now just bring some out.
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Wonton soup on the left, and a dish from a new part of the menu – baked rice. This baked rice was seafood. It was a gravy type dish over rice. Kind of like baked fried rice, but with gravy. I’m not a huge rice fan, but I was really into this dish.
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Pretty sure I ate close to half of this on my own.

Oh wait, did we also get Xiao Long Bao? I think we did, but I must have been too busy gobbling them down! Haha.

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The Good Morning Cafe is expanding to become Good Night Noodle, a pho-centric Vietnamese restaurant.

They had a gathering of local bloggers one night to try out some of the the dishes that Good Night Noodle would feature.

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I’ve been following Good Morning Cafe for a while, but never managed to get up there (as I am a horribly late person and I just don’t leave my house early enough to get to breakfast places). This was also an awesome chance to learn more about GMC and their commitment to buying locally, easily summed up by their motto of “eat good * do good * feel good”.

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It’s a clean, open space with plenty of tables. Now, breakfast is always problematic for me, but dinner is much easier to add to my calendar. Good Night Noodle is projected to open in April 2014.

The Capital Region as a whole doesn’t have too many Vietnamese places – there’s Kim’s, & Van’s in Albany (and I know, I know so are My Linh and Pho Yum, but both of sit on the high side of menu pricing), Saigon Spring in Clifton Park, and soon Good Night Noodle in Ballston Spa. And it’s worth the drive.

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Shrimp Summer Rolls – with the addition of red bell pepper for a textural crunch.

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Vegetarian summer rolls also with red bell pepper. Good Night Noodle prepares Vietnamese food a little bit differently than most traditional Vietnamese restaurants. There is more of a focus toward using local produce and meats, and 95% of the menu will be gluten-free (and that 5% will mainly be dessert).

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Perfectly wrapped spring rolls!

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Pho condiment platter of hoisin sauce, Thai basil, cilantro, limes, jalapenos, and bean sprouts.

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Quick pickled veggies in apple cider vinegar.

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Chicken meatball pho. This was an awesome broth. Actually, all of the Good Night Noodle broths are awesome. Full bodied and warming but not too rich or heavy, which tends to be my broth preference. This was rich with chicken flavor. This bowl would be considered a small and will retail for about $7 per bowl. There will be large options available as well for $10-12.

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The bowls from the Good Morning Cafe were a bit on the shallow side, and Good Night Noodle has an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the start-up and initial operating costs of setting up Good Night Noodle. This will include deeper bowls for more broth in their pho, among other kitchen upgrades/purchases.

The chicken meatballs use toasted rice flour, coconut oil, and aminos (aminos in place of soy sauce). It’s a great spongy texture – kind of like a fish cake, but chicken-y. It’s an awesome addition to pho – delicious on its own, but also great for soaking up a bit of pho broth. Once Good Night Noodle is open there are also plans of a chicken meatball sandwich.

Ok, more on the broths – the veggie broth is SO rich, thick, and delicious I’m going to have a hard time picking which soup I’d want – veggie, chicken, or beef. Normally I’d just brush off the vegetarian broth and likely go for beef, but this vegetarian broth really gives the other broths a run for their money.

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Dessert! Orange Blossom Cupcakes, and the best vegan cookies I’ve ever had.

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