The Pierogi at Chester’s Smokehouse

When I was little, one of the treats my father would make for us was fried spaghetti. Occasionally we’d have spaghetti and meatballs, and invariably there’d be extra pasta leftover. Instead of saucing it, he’d throw the plain pasta in a frying pan with some butter. He let the pasta sit in the pan until one side browned and crisped up, then flip the whole thing, and repeat. It was one of my favorite things as a kid. Crispy, crunchy, chewy, and full of flavor from the caramelized pasta and butter. It was always a treat for me.

Fast forward to my early twenties when I discovered pierogi. I forget the brand I would buy, but I’d get them in the freezer isle at the grocery store. And I loved them. I’d fry them up in a pan with butter, and the experience reminded me of the fried spaghetti I’d have as a kid, only better, due to the addition of the mashed potato filling. Carbs on carbs. Yum.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of dining at Muza the Eastern European restaurant in Troy. Everything we had was delicious (I especially recommend the potato pancakes), except one item, the pierogi. I didn’t care for them, nor did anyone in our group. The main downfall being the overly thick pasta shell, it was gummy, and there wasn’t enough filling. We tried some fried, and they lacked crispness and that wonderful caramelized pasta flavor I love so much.

About a month before Muza, I went to the Purple Pub in Watervliet. They had pierogis as a special on the menu “made by the church down the street”. They were fantastic, and that the local church made them, only added to their appeal.

Those two experiences reignited my interest in pierogi.

Continue reading “The Pierogi at Chester’s Smokehouse”

Druthers Flexes it’s Mussels

My wife and I had been once to the original location of Druthers in Saratoga. To be frank, we weren’t impressed. It was a couple of years ago, but I distinctly remember that the descriptions of the food on the menu sounded interesting, different, and delicious, but the execution left something to be desired, and the food left us disappointed.

Consequently, with Druthers opening a location in Albany I wasn’t terribly excited, but the positive reviews on yelp convinced me to at least check it out.

Continue reading “Druthers Flexes it’s Mussels”

Hidden Gem

My wife and I had an evening without our little one. Usually we eat out when we don’t have our daughter, it allows us to eat anywhere we want without worrying if the restaurant is kid friendly, and whether there’s something she’ll like on the menu.

We had a hard time trying to decide where to go. It was a beautiful evening, and my wife suggested we eat somewhere that has a patio. So the search began. I remembered All Over Albany has an outdoor dining map. Unfortunately, their list is getting out of date, and none of the restaurants on there appealed to us that night anyway.

What I really wanted, was to eat someplace a little unique, someplace small and out of the way. We racked our brains and bandied about some ideas, but came up with nothing. I turned to yelp.

Continue reading “Hidden Gem”

In Defense of The Cheesecake Factory

I don’t know if there’s a chain that is more divisive among restaurant goers than The Cheesecake Factory. There seems to be no middle ground. People either love it, or hate it. But it seems to endear a special distaste with foodies’, those for whom food and restaurants are more a hobby and obsession than they are sustenance.

It’s detractors cite The Cheesecake Factory’s gaudy, almost circus like decor as offensive. They find fault with it’s menu that gives new meaning to the word vast. They especially dislike the portions, which for some dishes are enormous. Worse, The Cheesecake Factory has a penchant for butter and cream, and many of the dishes have astronomical calorie counts as a result.
To complicate matters, on a recent visit, I was handed no less than three menus. The regular menu—that has dozens of dishes on it—the relatively new ‘Skinnylicious’ menu, and what was new to me, a happy hour menu.

The Popcorn at Madison Theater

The Madison Theatre before World War II

The Madison Theater on Madison Ave. in Albany first opened in 1929, 86 years ago. It survived the Great Depression and—from what I can glean from the few articles written about it—it managed to largely stay open until about 2004 when the CVS next door proposed demolishing it to make room for a drive thru.

Thankfully it survived and in 2013 the owners of Tierra Coffee Roasters who ran the adjacent coffee shop, purchased the theater and completely gutted, and refurbished it. It now houses three small (90-120 seat) screens, and an 168 seat performance space. It reopened in early 2014 showing old movies and newer, second run flicks. I’ve seen 3 movies there, and the theaters are nice. They have wonderfully comfortable chairs that recline, and modern surround sound systems. It’s a great venue to see a movie, especially if you’re a movie buff who’s into classics. They run a lot of classics and it’s a blast to see old favorites on the big screen.

It was the popcorn though, that really got my attention.

Coconut oil popped

Before the mid 90s, most movie theaters popped their popcorn in a coconut oil blend. In 1994, food cops, The Center for Science in the Public Interest orchestrated a consumer scare campaign in the hopes that consumers would pressure theaters to abandon using coconut oil in their popcorn because of it’s high saturated fat content. They effectively demonized coconut oil and the campaign worked. By the mid to late 90’s coconut oil popped popcorn had disappeared from theaters.

But today the science has changed—as it often does— and coconut oil is now thought to be healthy. I have a jar of coconut oil in my pantry, and I use it for frying on occasion. It adds a distinct coconut flavor to foods cooked with it, it’s not a neutral oil and it works best with foods that have a neutral flavor, like… popcorn!

The popcorn at Madison Theater is popped with coconut oil. The coconut oil adds a pronounced, but subtle, coconut flavor to the popcorn. It also adds an unctuousness that air popped popcorn or corn popped in lighter oils simply does not have—due mostly to it’s high saturated fat content. They also use real butter at Madison Theater, and the combination of the butter and coconut oil is amazing. It’s the most flavorful popcorn I can remember eating. It is delicious, and it’s worth a trip to Madison Theater just to have the popcorn.

Cookie Monster

I have a monster in my home. A seven year old monster, with brown eyes and dirty blonde hair. It weighs 45 lbs, and has the face of an angel. It’s obsessed with the color pink, and has an affinity for fluffy stuffed things. It also gobbles up anything sweet, in the blink of an eye.

The monster of course is my daughter. She loves cookies, but what kid doesn’t? She also loves to help in the kitchen. She gets in the way more than helping actually, but that’s ok. My hope is that one day she’ll share Dad’s passion for food. Letting her participate in making meals can only foster that. We even bought a little stool she can stand on to reach the counter. It’s pink.

Continue reading “Cookie Monster”