Friday, December 27, 2013

Oh, Illium

Average Joe has been more or less out of commission for a few weeks, battling a cold that is oh-so-cold in its ability to stick around.

What better way to banish the sickness than a hot, satisfying breakfast? That was the idea for hitting up Illium Cafe, in Monument Square in Troy, but when this Joe awoke from a deep coma and rolled over to look at the alarm clock, thoughts of home fries and omelets were banished.

Luckily, Illium serves up a great lunch menu in addition to its breakfast fare. Instead of selecting a hearty sandwich, I chose a pear salad for this trip ($9.25). This turned out to be a great decision. Candied macadamia nuts were a great compliment to Roquefort cheese, the name of which made me feel contentedly classy.

My companion chose a quesadilla that was loaded with scallops, roasted red peppers and more fancy cheese ($11.50). I lied about feeling much better as I stabbed a chunk with my fork, and the result was good enough to make me feel guilty about playing the role of Patient Zero on our lunch date.

Illium serves up creative foods made with great ingredients, at a price that satisfies as much as the eats. They're closed down for the holidays, but will open back up January 2.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Average Joe vs. The "Big Ass Burger"

A few weeks back I found myself in downtown Albany looking for a good bite to eat, and wanted something different than the usual options that you find around Pearl Street and Broadway, so I decided to try this little place called McGeary’s Pub in 4 Clinton Square. The place is tiny, but it has a good laid-back atmosphere and the staff was extremely nice. I was glad that the dining area was in the back of the restaurant, separate from the bar, so the noise was dulled and created a classy restaurant ambiance.

I saw something that caught my eye on the menu titled “Big Ass Burger” it was apparently a double decker burger that the waitress described as “incredibly huge” and a classic at McGeary’s. Based on her reaction I knew I had to try this burger, or at least see how big it is. With surprisingly fast service on a Friday night, the burger came out quickly, and by the looks of it I immediately understood where the name “Big Ass Burger” came from. The burger was so huge the cook provided me with a steak knife to cut it into sections in order to eat it.  The burger, living up to its name was also very satisfying, and probably the juiciest burger I have ever eaten. The best part about the “Big Ass Burger” is that you can add as many toppings to it as you would like, but I recommend you do it cautiously since the burger is so gigantic you will most likely be bringing half of it home with you.

Since it is a pub atmosphere their specialty is bar food, but I did also try some of my friends fried chicken dinner, which was also exceptionally delicious. If you are feeling in a daring mood to take on the “Big Ass Burger” or just want a casual dinner with a few friends at a reasonable price you should definitely stop by McGeary’s Pub the next time you visit downtown Albany.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Inside out, upside down, whatever…it's the best.

Average Joe found himself in Cohoes a couple of weeks back, taking in a matinee production at the famed Cohoes Music Hall on a Saturday afternoon with a gaggle of the Average family, several of whom were not from the area. 

“Take us somewhere local and special,” says the out-of-towners.  After a quick huddle, we caravanned down 787, ventured through the back streets of Troy and landed at 71 Division Street.  Red Front, a Troy institution for more than 50 years. (There’s a second location in Scotia, but let’s focus on the original.)

There are red-sauce palaces all over the Capital Region.  Many of them are very, very good.  Some are mom and pop joints, some are high-end establishments.  Few can surpass the staying power of Red Front and fewer still have the legions of fans that Red Front has.

Maybe it’s the diverse and well-priced menu full of Italian staples – from appetizers like fried calamari (tender and not greasy) and fried ravioli (to die for) to pasta, steak, chicken, subs, salads…whatever a big group could possibly want.

But I think it’s the pizza.  It’s not the traditional, Neapolitan version.  It’s rectangular like Sicialian, but with a light and airy crust.  And then there’s the famous Red Front COB pizza.  COB stands for Cheese On Bottom.  A little slice (ok, 6, 8, 12 or more slices) of heaven in Troy.  It’s Red Front’s red sauce that makes it work.  A little lighter and sweeter than most, it works perfectly on the COB.

And it’s worked perfectly for thousands of raving fans over the years.  Make it work for you soon.  (But watch out for the soda bill…there’s no free refills.)

Tell them Average Joe sent you.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Talking Turkey

You can consider this post the Joe family holiday special, let me tell you about my Thanksgiving. Do you know what I'm thankful for this year? Take-out turkey.

Besides their taste in music,  all other factors proved Caramel and Popcorn were two great turkeys and I'm glad they lived through this turkey day. According to reports Caramel's favorite tune was "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga and Popcorn enjoyed Beyonce's "Halo." Unfortunately the pardoning, and two less turkeys out there in the fields just made it harder for grandpa Joe to bring home a bird this year. grandpa Joe is a master game hunter and I usually don't brag about him, but I want him to get his spirits back up after falling short this season. 

We knew the big day was coming. I was hosting on Thursday, I had grandpa and grandma Joe coming over along with aunt Joedy from all the way down south. I was banking on grandpa Joe, now I had no turkey and no real plans, I'm not much of a grocery shopper or dinner planner. As you know, I eat out most of the time. 

After some extensive research and my knowledge of Capital Region food options, I decided on going another route to prepare this year. It was up to me to save Thanksgiving and Dinosaur BBQ had everything I needed a few days in advance too. 

A quick heat-up and the turkey deluxe special fed the Joe family and then some, I finished leftovers today. We lost a little bit of the freshness from this approach, grandma Joe also brought some extra chicken stock which we used to moisten the bird a little more, but overall it was a good dinner. 

Average Joe saved Thanksgiving, lets see how we do the rest of the holiday season. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Hidden Treasure

With the freezing temps and snowy weather on Saturday night, Average Joe found himself wanting to stay in for dinner.  However, Average Jane was in the mood to go out.

So, we compromised and decided to go out to someplace close by, an old neighborhood favorite of ours, The Hidden Café.

The Hidden Café is located in the Delaware Plaza, tucked into the back corner in a “hidden” passageway.  The décor is, what I would call, “over-the-top Mediterranean”.  But the crowd of people, the candles and the intimate dining room make it a cozy, inviting space.  Perfect for a chilly Saturday night.

The menu features a wide array of delicious Mediterranean options.  We chose to start with some red wine and the falafel appetizer.  The falafel was brought to the table piping hot and perfectly cooked, and the hummus that accompanied it was terribly addicting, although a bit garlicky for my taste.

Our entrees, the seafood capri and the lamb kebab, didn’t disappoint. Delicious seasonings, perfectly cooked meat/seafood, and portions large enough that we had enough for lunch the next day.  What more do you need in a meal?

If you’re a fan of Mediterranean food, I would highly recommend stopping in Delaware Plaza to find the Hidden Café. It's a delight every time!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Average Joe goes to the Big Easy

With the winter weather making itself known here in the Capital Region, this Average Joe was recently in the mood for a taste of warm weather.

Unfortunately, tickets to Acapulco are a bit outside my budget. So instead, I decided to try a bit of Cajun flavor at Cafe NOLA.

NOLA is located on a little strip of eateries on lower Union Street in Schenectady. The decor fits the name: there are lots of beads, bright colors and alligator heads adorning the tables and small bar.

Speaking of the bar, it serves an array of beer and wine you aren't likely to find many other places (no liquor back there, so don't expect to order a Hurricane). That includes a huge range of Abita beer varieties and homemade sangria.

Maybe it's because we tried a few of the alcohol options, but we decided to order a handful of dishes to sample. Chicken wings "Cajun style" were impressively flavorful, and satisfyingly crispy. Alligator bites came with a remoulade sauce that was quite good, but the deep fry job left them a bit greasy for our liking.

An order of crawfish nachos, however, was a delight. In a twist from your barroom stack of Tostitos, the nachos are served with crawfish etouffee. Delicious. And given the howling arctic wind outside, orders of gumbo were as good as you're going to get short of booking a trip south.

Cafe NOLA also has Po Boys, blackened sandwiches and full-on dinner favorites like Jambalaya on the menu. If you're looking for a ray of warmth this winter, keep NOLA in mind next time you're in the Electric City.

Friday, November 8, 2013

You can dress Average Joe up, but can you take him out?

By now, you’ve noticed that I try to find the best deal in town without sacrificing taste. “Baller
on a budget” if you will. But every once in awhile, you have to throw on that clip on tie, and enjoy some of our area’s finest dining. And that’s why I found myself at Albany’s best, 677 Prime for lunch recently.

First, here’s a free lesson. If you want to try a place, but don’t want to match their dinner prices, go there for lunch. The lunch menu often carries similar items, at a lesser cost.

I’ve heard a lot about 677. Apparently it’s the place to be seen in the Capital Region. I was more concerned with seeing the food, and I was not disappointed. I started with the soup special of tomato and basil. Considering my previous tomato soup experiences were from Campbell's, I was quite satisfied. For my meal, I knew I had to involve steak, as that is what 677 is known for. I went with the Open Faced Steak Sandwich, appropriate for lunch while fulfilling my desire.

I was very pleased with my visit to 677, but I know this isn’t exactly a place I will be making a regular appearance. Until I hit Mega Millions this weekend!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Showtime at Johnny's

Not too long ago I was heading to the infamous Proctors Theater for a show, and came across the newest addition to State Street Schenectady, Johnny’s Restaurant. If you are looking for a nice Italian dinner, before your performance, Johnny’s is the place to go.

Not only is the location very convenient, but Johnny’s does old school Italian, like Mom makes it, large portions with that tomato sauce that hits the spot. Not only was the food tasty, with a wide variety of options, but also the service was wonderful. I had told the waitress we were going to see a show at Proctors, so she was courteous enough to make sure our food was prepared quickly and served in time for us to get to our seats promptly.  Surprisingly, I was also seated immediately without a reservation, more brownie points!

Johnny’s meals are also very reasonably priced, for being one of the more upscale restaurants on State Street. Don’t let Johnny’s elegant interior fool you though, the restaurant still has a very casual dining atmosphere, with many people who just come to drink at their bar.  The Mallozzi family did not disappoint. So next time you find yourself at Proctors or in the downtown Schenectady neighborhood, stop into Johnny’s, your inner Italian will thank you.