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.

The Infamous Swifty’s Buffalo Burger

The Buffalo Burger at Swifty’s is world renown. A couple of years ago I traveled to a remote village in the mountains of Tibet. When the locals found out I was from the U.S. and specifically from Albany NY, they raised their eyebrows and with palpable excitement asked if had I eaten the Buffalo burger at Swifty’s. I had to tell them no, I hadn’t. They were crestfallen. I think from that point on they no longer respected me. At that moment, I vowed I would one day eat this mythical creation.
The Buffalo Burger is a breaded, deep fried beef patty that’s then dipped in Buffalo sauce—wing sauce as I like to call it. To bread and deep fry, a 1/2 pound beef patty is gilding the lily, to say the least. To then soak it in wing sauce is diabolical. The thing is not for the faint of heart. Only the gastronomically jaded need apply.
One does not just go to Swifty’s and eat the Buffalo Burger. One trains for it, the way an Olympic athlete trains for the games. Yet, weeks or even months of preparation cannot truly gird one for the experience I knew I was about to embark on.
But that didn’t stop me from trying.

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