Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Average Joe: The 2011 Crappy Toilet Award

Yes, this is a real toy given to kids.
 You might think eating out all the time is nothing but fun and bubbles, but there’s a dark side to this job that usually remains locked away behind a stall door. When you’ve been out to eat as much as I have, you stumble on a few bathrooms that look like they just hosted the entire Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. You know what I’m talking about: water on the floor, toilet paper pieces everywhere, broken seats, cracks in the stall, maybe some artwork…the list goes on and on. I’m not just looking for a place where you have to hold the stall door open with your arm or foot while you take care of business. I’m looking for a bathroom that looks like an exorcism was performed there.
Hit me with your best shot Capital Region. Drop me a line on the blog, Facebook, Twitter or send me an email. Snap a few pics if you can, but please try to keep it PG. I’ll keep an eye out during my travels and I’ll let you know who deserves this great (dis)honor.

Paolo Lombardi's "Dash Out - Dine In" Dinner for Four

Just because I leave it to Average Jane to clip coupons out of the Sunday newspaper doesn’t mean I’m never looking for a way to save some money. Go ahead and call me cheap, but a word to the wise: I have spent my First Communion money. It’s my eighth grade graduation money I’m holding onto.

Anyway, many of you may recall my Five Rensselaer County Gems feature. I mentioned Paolo Lombardi’s Ristorante, a great Italian restaurant in Wynantskill. I just wanted to pass on a friendly reminder that they are running their “Dash out – Dine in” family meal deal every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The $20 dinner for four is pick-up only and runs from 3:30 pm – 6:00 pm but the restaurant asks that you call your order in early.
You can’t really beat the deal. I know some days once I walk in the door the last thing on my mind is cooking. On days like that it’s a struggle just to crack open that first beer can…the next one or two don’t come much easier.
Take a look at this week’s menu. Check Paolo Lombardi’s website for more information including their prices for a two or six person dinner.
MENU FOR Week of MARCH 29th:
TUESDAY: Pollo alla Milanese with Roasted Red Potatoes
WEDNESDAY: Lasagna Rollatini
THURSDAY: Sausage & Peppers over Penne Pasta

Monday, March 28, 2011

New World Bistro - Jerked Chicken & Waffles‏

I mentioned previously that there are few meals I enjoy more than a weekend brunch. I am so busy during the week that it is sometimes hard to relax and enjoy a nice meal. That's why weekend mornings are a perfect mealtime. This weekend I tried New World Bistro on Delaware Avenue in Albany.

I credit two dining experiences with making me a lover of well seasoned chicken: one was when a co-worker during my days in New York City brought in chicken from Sylvia's in Harlem, and the other was when I went to the now famous Scotchies in Jamaica. While I use Sylvia's rub on my grilled chicken, there is simply no recreating the trip to Scotchies with their homemade sauces meant to either douse or enable the spice, but I'm sure the bucket of Red Stripes and Caribbean locale enhanced my experience there. I doubt many would even stop at such a roadside joint if it existed here in the Capital Region.

Given this history with spicy chicken, imagine my excitement yesterday when I went to New World Bistro for brunch and saw that they had "Jerked Chicken & Waffles." Two perfectly poached eggs over homemade waffles sprinkled with chives and diced pineapples with a plate of really spicy jerked chicken underneath. This brunch meal was really great and is already booked for a "must go back and get it again."

Friday, March 25, 2011

$10 for $20 at Jack's Oyster House

Even Average Joe gets his news from Twitter these days. Q103 put up a link to a great limited time offer at Jack's. Pay $10 and get a $20 voucher. Check the site for more details and stay tuned, I'll be featuring more content about Jack's including an interview with Chef Luc Pasquier.

Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last in Troy’s BBQ War

Dinosaur BBQ arrived on the scene last year and has been the talk of the town ever since. Average Joe has been one of the chain’s best customers – I’ve been to all of them and plan to keep on going. The rumor is they’re going to open a new joint in Newark, NJ and I’ll probably go to that if I ever find myself in The Brick City. But, as great as they are I’m here to tell you that they have some tough new competition.
Troy’s Mustang BBQ may not have an iconic logo or sell its sauce at Price Chopper, but it’s definitely making a name for itself in terms of food and service.  Just thinking about the tangy sauce they use slathered over the tender rib meat has my mouth watering. Mustang serves all of the classic BBQ dishes with sides like Mac n Cheese, sweet potato fries and some outstanding freshly made potato salad. Mustang’s menu is big enough to keep you coming back and their fried chicken is good enough to make you forget about any other chicken shack. As good as the food was, nothing blew me away more than the service.
Call me a sucker for good service, but I happened to stop by when the owner was working and he rolled out the red carpet just for me. By the time I left I felt like we were best buddies. Troy residents sure do have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to BBQ.
Where’s your favorite House of BBQ? Sound off below!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In the kitchen at Central Steak

Yeah, I know I'm a little late to the party since they already broke this story over at Table Hopping, but the folks at Central Steak are pretty creative.

How many local restaurants can you name with their own Youtube channel and their own Facebook fan page? Check out this video and watch Chef Dave cook up a Guinness Marinated pork chop. If I wasn't a threat to burn down the house every time I tried to cook, I'm sure I'd try this one at home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

3 Calzones and One Hot Shirt

Why is it that a “show about nothing” can be connected to everything? Between today’s crummy weather and my ongoing feature on Italian import shops, the time is right to take a look at the lighter side of food.
Quick, somebody find me the number for DeFazio’s! They said I can stick anything I want in my calzone, so I’m sure they’d be open to warming up a shirt or two. I know their calzones are big so I’ll even fold everything up before I hand it over. And I promise I’ll leave a big tip (no I won’t try to reach back in the jar for it). All I want to know is: can I pay in pennies? Last time I tried that maneuver was when I ran out of bread way back during my college days. All I had to pay with was pennies but the guy wouldn’t take it. Come on man, cut me some slack, it’s still American currency!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Buon Appetito Part 1: Ragonese Italian Imports & DeFazio's Pizza

I opened my own personal Pandora's Box by mentioning Genoa Imports in Loudonville a few posts back. Now, all I want to do is post about all of the wonderful mom and pop Italian "corner stores" we are so fortunate to have in the Capital Region.
I spent a few recent lunchtimes trying not to get sauce on my shirt after frequenting two such establishments. DeFazio's, a South Troy icon, is the main mast on the steamship known as Little Italy. I spent a lunch, a dinner, and a follow-up lunch eating the Chicken & Spinach Calzone I ordered. I am dead serious, it took me three sittings to eat every bite! This thing was so delicious and the sauce is perfect for spreading, dunking or just dumping on top. The only question I have for myself is when should I go back?
Similarly, Ragonese Italian Imports on New Scotland Avenue is an anchor tenant to one of Albany's solid middle class neighborhoods. It's amazing how these Italian stores are still so central to neighborhood life. Average Joe split time between a chicken parm sandwich and an eggplant parm sandwich, with a side of perfectly seasoned pasta salad, and tasty pepper shooters (a mildly hot pepper stuffed with prosciutto and provolone). A more than satisfying and gut busting meal, but to be honest the best thing from Ragonese is only available on the catering menu -- trays of their unbelievable sesame chicken have been part of my family's Christmas Eve tradition for about 10 years. I make sure I get the detail to pick them up and then I spend the ride from the store to meet the family at church snacking.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Perfect St. Patrick's Day Lunch - Corned Beef & Slaw

I wandered over to the Victory Cafe (note I said wandered, not stumbled) for my St. Patrick's Day lunch.  If you have never been there, Victory doesn't have menus. All of the specials are written on chalkboards in the dining room. After working my way past the full bar, I had today's corned beef & slaw sandwich special. It was just perfect. Sorry I didn't take a picture but it just couldn't wait for the camera.

Snapshot Around Town: Part III

Formal Dining:
The final part of the Snapshot Around Town feature looks at the places you go to for the big night on the town. Maybe you’re celebrating a special occasion like a loved one’s birthday. Or perhaps this is just how you roll. Either way these are the places you bring your A-game to along with your best outfit – leave the baseball cap at home. You hope they understand the extra trouble you went through and, in turn, you feel like they are going through a little extra trouble for you. If you want to feel special or impress a date, look no further. The staff at Yono’s and dp An American Brasserie have repeatedly exceeded my expectations when it comes to service, knowledge and, of course, food. Certainly the menu at Yono’s can be intimidating and I prefer the Robinson Square location of yesteryear over today’s jammed in a hotel lobby look but once you’re inside, it’s hard for an Average Joe to not be impressed. One constant they have had from Robinson Square to the car dealership (What were they thinking?) to their current location in the heart of Downtown Albany is a professional, courteous staff. It’s hard not to feel like a celebrity in a posh Manhattan nightspot when dining on the lighter fare at dp. Ditto for its more formal big brother. It goes without saying that Yono’s menu could intimidate the layperson but you’re also paying for the experience. Besides, you have to remember to treat yourself every once in a while.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's officially spring in the Capital Region: Jack's is back (open)

Today is one of those days you make sure to circle on your calendar every year. Now that Wynantskill's Jack's Drive-In is open, spring has officially begun.

YNN was savvy enough to run this important news this morning, check out their coverage here.

Attention Coffee Drinkers

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but Cumberland Farms is making sure you can at least score some free java this Friday. Don't miss out, the promotion lasts just two more days: this Friday, 3/18, and next Friday, 3/25.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cafe Madison: Best Breakfast - Arrive Before 9:30am

Few morning dining treats get me as excited as the weekend breakfast at Cafe Madison. First, the homemade bread makes the best toast you'll ever have and the homefries are perfectly seasoned real cut potatoes.  Now the hard part is deciding on whether to have an omelette with fresh veggies, a perfectly cooked egg over medium or oatmeal pancakes made with real fruit (no fruit goop). The coffee is always tasty, the cafe is spic and span and the waitstaff knows how to turn over a table (ie. superfast service once you sit down no matter how slammed they are). 

The only catch is that you need to show up before 9:30 on the weekend.  It’s no problem for an early bird like me, but I've tried to go with out-of-town guests who slept in and there's typically a wait. It's worth the wait, but why not just get up a half hour early?

Snapshot Around Town: Part II

Sit Down Lunch:
Scheduling lunches can be difficult. There are so many things to consider like: What do my dining partners like to eat? Can we get in and out before we have to be back to our desks? I found one spot that consistently hits the mark and never leaves me disappointed. The Albany Pump Station has a menu with a great variety, even for the liquid lunchers and let’s be frank, Average Joe has had a couple mornings where the only thing that will get him to 5pm is a couple pints over lunch. All the food hits the spot and the service is top-notch. It almost seems as though they understand you might have to get back to your desk in less than 45 minutes. The servers are almost always friendly and if it appears to be a business lunch, they know how to stay out of your hair long enough to let you get done what you came to do. As far as the rich and famous of Albany I’ve observed dining there, well there’s been Mayor Jennings, former gubernatorial candidate John Faso (he lost to Spitzer and don’t think that won’t come in handy at the Elbo Room trivia night some day) and a motion picture film star by the name of Angelina Jolie.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Snapshot Around Town: Part I

Average Joe likes all types of fare. Suffice to say I’m as content eating a plate full of Gus’ hot dogs on 25th street in Watervliet as I am in the ground level of 677 Prime on Broadway. One thing I’ve grown accustomed to at each stop along the way is managing my expectations. Not sure what I mean? Let me spell it out for you. If I’m headed to Gus’ I’m not expecting the red carpet to be rolled out, which makes it even more special when you encounter a friendly person behind the register. Where this gets particularly frustrating for me is when I feel I’ve managed my expectations correctly yet I am unfulfilled by the staff’s performance. This isn’t to say Average Joe is a service snob by any means, I’m just conscious with a buck like anyone else. In my experience there are several establishments who always slightly exceed my expectations in terms of service, banter, etc. I’ve shared some of them below but Joe wants to know about your experiences too. Who’s always exceeding your expectations? Who’s never met them?
 Counter Service:
 I used to work in Menands a while back—it was painful gainful employment but it wasn’t my kind of thing so I moved on. Before I did a colleague introduced me to a little gem of a place just up 378 in Loudonville that I never would have stumbled upon on my own. The Genoa Importing Company is everything you want in an old neighborhood, specialty grocer sort of way. The hardwood floors, the expansive display case and fresh bread are just some of the amenities that contribute to the authenticity. The fellas behind the counter make you feel like one of the boys. Their friendly demeanor gives Genoa a one of a kind charm and if that wasn’t enough, just wait until you see the sandwich you’re bringing home—let alone taste it. The entire Genoa experience is for those of us that want to be a regular but just never had the time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Welcome to the 21st Century Average Joe

Average Joe might put his pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else, but he still wants to get his reviews out to as many people as possible. Click the pictures in this post or use the widgets on the sidebar of the blog to follow my Twitter page or like my fan page on Facebook.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Albany's The Fountain - not just for pizza any more

I have a new reason for all of you to flock to a well known, and well loved, local institution. Albany locals and regional pizza connoisseurs have been singing The Fountain’s praises for years. Their pies are garlicly and delicious. I recently discovered there’s more to this New Scotland Avenue watering hole. If you like nachos, no scratch that, if you have taste buds then you owe it to yourself to head over to The Fountain and order some of their nachos. What’s so special about them you ask? How about toppings piled on top of a bed of Nacho Cheese Dorito’s. Who could have thought that such a simple twist on the appetizer would make it so out of this world? Average Joe is no stranger to nachos, so trust me when I say they are some of the best ones I have had in the Capital Region. A perfect layer of cheese, freshly diced peppers, red onions...and Doritos. Fantastic! 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Can’t-Stand-Ya, Can’t-Stand-Ya

“Can’t-Stand-Ya” was the memorable nickname given to George Costanza by his high school gym teacher. Even though his gym teacher hated him, Seinfeld fans just can’t seem to get enough of that short, quirky bald man. Sit back, relax and enjoy the video.

Saying George is a screw up is like reporting that water was still wet this morning - it’s not exactly a secret. All George wanted to do here was get his daily eggplant calzone fix, but after one bad decision, he got caught with his hand in the tip jar and finds himself banned for life. Once he tried to show off how much he left as a tip, George committed an Average Joe no-no. He took food too seriously, just like so many of the people who review it.
Far too many food critics forget what’s really important. While they babble on about place settings, all you can do is scratch your head and wonder about the food. Well, don’t you worry, here at Average Joe, I promise to never lose sight of what matters. Dinner is a time to unwind and enjoy yourself. Leave it to me to ask the questions you want answered and to cut out the fluff. Keep checking back, more reviews are on their way.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wing War is back!

It’s that time again, Watervliet’s Wing War is back for its third year. Wing lovers should flock down to the AOH Hall on 1021 Ninth Avenue in Watervliet this Saturday. The event kicks off at 3 pm and lasts until 7 pm. Tickets are available at the door for $15 and proceeds will benefit the Watervliet Civic Center. There will be more than a dozen restaurants on hand so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. For more information call 273-5922.

Both of last year’s top awards went to Watervliet restaurants. Giuseppe’s Pizzeria & Deli took home the award for best wings and The Black Bear Inn won for best sauce. Can they hold onto their crowns this year or will one of the new challengers take them down? Let me know and be sure to tell me where you get your favorite wings.