Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Five Rensselaer County Gems

Paolo Lombardi’s Ristorante, West Sand Lake Road, Wynantskill.
Believe it or not, Wynantskill is home to more than just banks. If you live in the Capital Region and have a craving for some upscale Italian food, few places will hit the spot like Paolo Lombardi’s Ristorante. Cheapskates beware: some of the dishes run on the high end for Italian food but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. They have the whole nine as far as Italian food goes and their menu offers a lot of unique dishes. Definitely try the veal, I recommend the Cotoletta alla Paolino -- veal topped with ricotta cheese, prosciutto and eggplant. Everything is top notch, they have a huge wine list and plenty of room to park outside. Check it out, you’ll thank me later and you'll head home with enough leftovers for at least lunch, maybe dinner.
Jose Malones - River Street, Troy
We live in the age of mash-up's. YouTube is full of videos mashing together two pre-recorded songs to make something new and fresh. Artists like Girl Talk and Super Mash Bros. have made a living off of it. If you haven't been to Jose Malone's you're probably spending way too much time choosing chain restaurants eating thawed frozen food or eating microwave popcorn for dinner.  Jose Malones mashes Irish and Mexican food. What more is there to say?  Corned beef on one visit and pork tamales the next.  Homemade guacamole and the region's best margaritas while watching an Irish act perform live.
Jimmy Casey's Restaurant - Washington Avenue, Rensselaer
Besides catching the train or grabbing the region's best view of the 4th of July fireworks, I have one more reason for you to visit the city of Rensselaer. Casey's Restaurant is a gem that not too many people who aren't local know about. You've probably driven by it and never thought about stopping. Besides Jimmy Casey being a terrifically nice person, the place never disappoints. Start with some bread & garlic oil or a heaping plate of chicken nachos if you are really hungry before digging into a menu where everything from the burgers to steaks to chicken parm will keep you coming back. Parking is tricky, especially on weekends, but don't let that stop you. Forget your preconceptions, Rensselaer is a great and safe little city.
Villa Valenti – West Sand Lake Road, Wynantskill
Save room for the bread, and it's ok to ask to take some home with you. Seriously. Villa Valenti is a great meal every time. You'll come back again and again as long as you don't mind birthdays and anniversaries happening around you -- there were five celebrations on my last trip.  The menu can be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated, but it's also what makes Villa Valenti so great. You can have a completely new experience each meal. After you devour some of that famous homemade bread, order the braciole as an appetizer, extremely tender and tasty.  While you can't go wrong with pasta dishes because of their homemade sauce (also jarred and sold at Hannaford), my preference is to have pasta and sauce as a side to a chicken, veal seafood or beef entree. My mouth still waters when I think about the Chicken Saverio, a sautéed chicken breast rolled with ham and mutz (mozzarella), with a great mustard cream sauce. Wow!   
Hender’Son’s Bar & Grill - Lower Main Street in Schaghticoke
If you haven’t heard of Hender’Son’s that’s okay, that’s why I’m here.  I discovered it years ago and while it has a true cult following, there are those who may only head up to Schaghticoke once a year, in August.  If that’s the case, you need to get up there more often and you need to give Hender’Son’s a try.  Well-known for the pizza the restaurant does everything right and even cooks a mean prime rib on Fridays.  It’s your neighborhood bar with down home service and brings in that element of your favorite restaurant with good old home cooked meals.
Do you agree, which restaurants would you put on your Five Gems Lists? 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What are the Five Gems in Rensselaer County?

OK foodies, I am compiling a list of the five true gems in Rensselaer County.  I'm confident on three of the five restaurants, but I could be swayed on the other two.  Suggestions are welcomed, no bribes please.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Average Joe's picks for the Mac n Cheese Bowl

Best Display:
Every restaurant tried to catch your eye on Saturday. Many of them used large banners supported by wooden poles while others covered almost every square inch of their tables in business cards and menus. At the end of the day, only one display really broke free from that mold. Jack’s Oyster House used an ice sculpture which was both classy and memorable. And yes, it was real, it was dripping.
Verdict: As much as I liked Valente’s “Three little pigs” sign, this one wasn’t even close, the ice sculpture was great. An easy win for Jack’s.

Mac n Cheese Gold Medal:
Valente's of Watervliet came out on top last year and after sampling its entry this year I understand why. In fact, I think they should hold onto their crown and walk away from this as repeat champions. They put an Italian American spin on the dish, complementing three types of meat with three types of cheese. Their mac had pancetta, prosciutto, soppressata, mascarpone, pecorino and aged provolone.
Verdict: Two thumbs way up, make them repeat champs. I had it early in the day and nothing topped it.

Silver Medal:
Saratoga’s Wishing Well restaurant was the first of Saturday’s many mac n cheese recipes I had that used bacon. It was also the most memorable of that group. They combined the American classic with bacon, horseradish and topped it all off with some tomatoes. The sweet from the tomatoes contrasted nicely with the horseradish’s bite.
Verdict: I thought this was the best mac n cheese in the house until I made it to Valente’s.

Bronze Medal:
Creo’s recipe seemed like a no-brainer to me. I was waiting for somebody to combine Buffalo wing sauce with mac n cheese from the moment I walked through the door. Buffalo sauce isn’t just for wings any more, it’s also the base for countless dips and a topping splashed over pizzas everywhere. Creo’s offering added Buffalo wing sauce to red hot panko bread crumbs, blue cheese and smoked turkey. I’m a big fan of Buffalo wing sauce so I might be a little bias here, but it wasn’t too hot so the flavor of the sauce came through without overpowering the cheese and other ingredients. The bread crumbs add some nice texture and the turkey is a welcome reprieve from the many, many restaurants that used bacon.
Verdict: This one was definitely a keeper. They had a hot and a mild variety available and I preferred the hotter variety.

Final thoughts:
Picking a winner was definitely no small feat. I didn’t dislike any of the recipes I tried and quite a few stuck out in my mind. The Marriott was a little crowded but it was still easy to move around and there were no long lines to speak of. With such a large draw it must have been a success for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and I hope it comes back again next year. If you missed out this year, bring a friend and check it out next year. It was $15 well spent.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Get your Mac On!!!!

The Mac-n-Cheese Bowl has found a new home. This year’s competition is this Saturday at the Albany Mariott on Wolf Road in Colonie. If you plan on going you might want to grab your tickets sooner rather than later since it sold out last year. What can I say, people love their mac-n-cheese.
With 30 restaurants strutting their stuff there’s sure to be a lot of variety. Last year’s dishes had ingredients ranging from lobster to nachos to jalapeños, but don’t worry, they also had plenty of traditional mac-n-cheese as well. You can get in on the fun by chowing down and voting for your favorite take on the classic American cuisine. A panel of judges will also be on hand to crown a winner and select a best recipe from a field of 11 competing home cooks. Winners walk away with a trophy and some bragging rights. I’m sure I’ll walk away with a full stomach. (unless they have to lift me out of there with a crane)
If this sounds like its right down your alley, you can buy tickets at Price Chopper or at the door if they don’t sell out. It’s all for a good cause: proceeds from the event benefit the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
Which one of these restaurants will walk away with the crown? Sound off below!
  • Angelo’s 677 Prime
  • Albany Pump Station
  • Albany Marriott
  • Birch Hill Catering
  • Chez Mike
  • Central Steak
  • Creo Restaurant
  • Farmer Boy Diner
  • Franklin Plaza, Michaels Catering
  • Garden Bistro 24
  • Hilton Garden Inn Troy & Rensselaer Banquet and Conference Facility
  • Illium Café
  • Jack’s Oyster House
  • Katie O’Byrne’s
  • Lanie’s Café
  • Maestro’s American Bistro
  • The Mallozzi Group
  • Mangia
  • Perreca’s
  • Pie in the Sky Bakery Cafe & Catering
  • Provence
  • The Century House
  • Isabel’s Bistro @ The Cupcake Lab
  • The Pasta Factory
  • The Standard
  • Valente’s
  • Wolff’s Biergarten
  • Wheatfields
  • Wishing Well
  • Yono’s /dp An American Brasserie

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why we're here

Hi world, I’m Average Joe.  Who am I?  Well, I’m you.  All the average Joe’s and average Jane’s in the Capital Region.  When we go out to lunch or dinner, we want great service, excellent food, reasonable prices and a compelling experience that will make us want come back to your restaurant and spend our hard earned money.   

If you want a 300 bottle wine list and overpriced entrees that look more like appetizers, this is not your blog.  We also don’t have a lot of time on our hands.   If you are looking for 1500 word reviews with flowery phrases that real people never use, you will not find that here.  At Average Joe we get to the point and fast.  

Belly-up to the blog and get ready for some food and fun.  I look forward to eating my way through the Capital Region with you and learning a few things along the way.  I hope you will join me.