Monday, January 28, 2013

The Boar's Head Choice

I am inclined to think that the Price Chopper gets a bad rap from area foodies. Essentially, if you roughly control for the economic status of the neighborhood market (i.e. comparing the International Chopper with the Hannaford on Central, or the Slinglerlands Price Chopper with the Latham Hannaford, rather than the fundamentally apples-to-oranges comparison of the Price Chopper on Madison with a suburban Hannaford) than Price Chopper compares perfectly well. Some chains do things better than others -- Maine-based Hannaford, nut surprisingly, has better seafood, the PC has a better butcher shop -- but I think the local chain measures up perfectly well. One of the biggest advantages that the Price Chopper had over Hannaford, though, is that many of its delis had high-quality Boar's Head deli stuff, while Hannaford's had inferior products. Alas, it appears the Price Chopper has decided to give away this advantage. This might make market sense; I dunno. But I'll be taking my deli shopping elsewhere. Score one for Shop-Rite, as well as the smaller delis (yay Cardona’s and Ragonese!) that still carry the better stuff.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The City Beer Hall

Ms. Garlic and I are big fans of the City Beer Hall, which with the highly regrettable pending closing of Mahar's will be the best general beer bar in Albany.  It has an excellent rotating selection of taps and very good pub food, as well as a solid brunch.   There's also a decent-mini pizza that comes free with every beer (although we weren't given the tickets this visit and had to ask after our second round, which had never happened before.)

In a constructive spirit, however, I feel compelled to note that there were a couple of glitches at our last visit that are probably worth noting.   First, although we arrived around 8 with full table service still on, we waited at least half an hour without one of the servers (who were taking orders from all of the surrounding parties, including a couple who came after us) so much as looking in our direction.   We gave up and just ordered ourselves from the bar, as often happens when table service is ongoing and you order from the bartender without sitting at the bar, our tab got completely screwed up.   Since the servers have always been friendly and efficient when we've had service, I'm guessing this is an issue with how the tables are allocated between the servers.  The seating area consists of old beer-hall style long benches and tables (an idea, I must admit, I prefer in theory to practice) that when the bar is busy often accommodate multiple parties, and a couple times in my experience servers don't seem to be clear who's responsible for what or miss new people coming in.

Another bit of consumer advice is that when it comes to cocktails, be careful.  Our friend had the special tequila cocktail, which was very good.   Since I didn't really feel like a second beer for whatever reason and the bourbon selection was good, this tempted me to order an old-fashioned.  This...did not go well.   Rather than the orange rind at most added as garnish to the classic cocktail, there seemed to be a muddled orange in it, which gave the drink the texture of orange juice with extra pulp.  Worse, there seemed to be one of those fruit mixes that taste vaguely like four artificial fruits and not quite like any single one added, completely swamping the taste of the bourbon with an unpleasant taste.   I would probably advise sticking with the special cocktails or keeping it to straight drinks if you're not a beer person.   

It's a terrific place overall -- come for the excellent selection of beers, and try the Brussels sprouts and the wild boar schnitzel over spaetzle. Hopefully the lapses in service will get straightened out.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Delicious cocktail

New cocktail idea I had that turned out delicious:

2 oz. Irish whiskey (Tullamore Dew in my case)
1 oz. Finger Lakes Distilling Maplejack liqueur
drop of orange flavored bitters
maraschino cherry

It is refreshing and the deep flavor of the Irish whiskey works great with the sweetness of the Maplejack liqueur. The orange bitters uplifts the whole thing. Tasty!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beer, Sadness, and a Sense of Place

Can you believe that Mahar's only has a few weeks left? Its crazy. It has me thinking about the ways that specific places can add  to our daily lives. At lunch with a special collections librarian recently, we've had discussions about e-books. She heard that the wave of the future is no books at all, and that the logical next step is no library. I said "What about the library as a social space?"

Deanna Fox of Silly Goose Farm and I recently went out to New World Bistro where I knew so many of the employees it was almost embarrassing. Oh, and this happened:

Delicious ice cream sandwich aside, it is cool to have places in your life where you know half the people who walk by, and where you feel comfortable enough to act that ridiculous These places become the sets where our lives play out.

When we first moved here, one of the very first places that was recommended to us was Bellini's in a strip mall in Slingerlands. It isn't the most mind-blowingly great food ever, sure, but it is good for what it is, especially for the price and for a weeknight. The pizzas straight out of their 650 degree wood-fired oven really hit the spot on a cold, dark winter's night. Sometimes they list on the wine menu suggestions provided by the wine store employees next store (who we've always found friendly and knowledgeable). We really enjoy the house salad with polenta croutons and cranberries. We also enjoy familiar faces, and some of the same waiters we first encountered there three years ago.

So after all this time of writing a food blog, maybe I have to say it isn't all about some combination of specific ingredients you tried somewhere, or some new place, or some trendy thing everyone is talking about. Sometimes it is about a place that means something to you with people in it you just wouldn't have known otherwise. This handful of all your favorite haunts, along with your friends and memories, are what makes a city you didn't grow up in feel like home.

I first went to Mahar's my very first day ever in Albany over four years ago. My husband had already interviewed for his job, and it was just enough colder than NYC to make my clothes entirely impractical. I was wearing all black - ballet flats, a pencil skirt, a newsboy type of hat - no coat, no boots, no mittens. We called a cab and waited outside Mahar's in a ice storm for over an hour to take us to the Hilton Garden Inn on Washington Ave. Mahar's felt like a welcoming and warm living room in a new and foreign city, populated with people we'd one day a couple years later invite to our wedding. Waiting outside on Madison, slush seeping into my ballet flats, hail pellets hitting me on the nose, it felt like it was all going to turn out alright.

Bill wasn't quite Nat from the Peach Pit, but in the vague peripheries of my mind he's something very similar. Mahar's closing feels like a loss.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bad Beer News

It's sad news that the great Madison Avenue beer mecca Mahar's is apparently being shut down.   The diverse selection and the unique "beer tour" (in which an ancient computer kept track of what beers you've tried and offered a discount for regulars) made it a regional treasure.    BMT, who's taking over the space, does have some history of success -- I love Cafe Madison and like The Point -- and hopefully they'll recognize the magnitude of what they have to live up to.   Most of all, I hope Mahar's will find another Albany location.  

Check out more information on this topic on All Over Albany.