Centre Street Pub – Good? Bad?

The Centre Street Pub has been open in Schenectady for, what?  A year and a half or so now?  We finally got around to checking it out on the basis of their…eclectic menu.

Let’s get this out of the way.  I don’t drink beer, so I can’t comment on the quality or quantity of what they have on tap, etc.  This review is about the food.

We went early-ish on a weekend night and got a booth inside the converted industrial space.  A large bar dominates the room along with some oversized booths and I believe some tables at the far end, which we didn’t get to.  I guess you can also sit outside where these is another bar and picnic tables.  The booths are pretty big, so feel free to go with a group of 6.  Although the tables are oddly small compared to the seats so you’re sort of far from the table.  And the space is just awkwardly enough sized that there is a lot of empty space, but not enough to add more tables.  It is what it is.

The menu, as noted, is eclectic.  There are typical pub items – wings, burgers, steak…But then there’s gyoza and a charcuterie board appetizer.  Roasted vegetable panini.  Portabella burger?  Pierogies?  Weiner schnitzel?  Perusing the menu we knew this was either going to be good, because they wouldn’t dare put this stuff on the menu if they couldn’t pull it off, of it was going to be a train wreck, because they couldn’t pull it off.

As usual, I played it safe, mostly because I was in the mood for a burger, so that’s what I had – the Centre Street Burger.  Typical burger with choice of cheese (cheddar).  VERY reasonably priced at $8, I paid the upcharge for onion rings over fries.  I’ll cut to the chase, this burger was fantastic.  I wasn’t expecting much beyond a passable pub burger.  It helped that they came pretty close on the temp.  I asked for medium well and got a solid medium+, which is a win in my book.  At first it just seemed OK, like a decent burger, but the more of it I ate the better it got.  I don’t know exactly what it was, I think the spices in the meat, it just tasted really good.  Not like any weird flavor, just standard spices, it just really worked and tasted great.  The onion rings were big and, happily, made from real onions.  Tasty, but not worth a trip on their own or anything.  I was glad I went with them.

My wife went with the pierogies that comes with kielbasa, but she asked if she could sub out the kielbasa for the potato pancake that comes with the weiner schnitzel.  Despite the potato overload, they happily subbed it for her.  They also include braised red cabbage.  The report I got was that the pierogies were pretty good.  They were either house made or sourced from a good source.  The potato pancake was clearly fresh and not a frozen patty.  The red cabbage also seemed fresh, more crunchy than expected.  Not like soupy soft cooked cabbage, but more like a slaw.

OK, that all sounds good, right?  I was happy, and stuffed, when we left.  My wife was satisfied with her meal.  All in all I’d give it a thumbs up.  However, the party adjacent to us probably had other ideas.  They just had nothing going for them.  The waitress couldn’t answer questions.  Several of their beverages weren’t available.  One or more entrees weren’t available.  The drinks were seemingly the result of the waitress not knowing what they had.  The food was more of a mystery.  They don’t have that large of a menu.  How are you out of anything early on a Friday night?  If something weird happened with your supplier, your waitress should be informing people it’s not available when they first sit you down.  I hope they ended up happy with what they got, but it seemed like a tough slog for them.

Soft drinks were reasonably priced at $2, which was appreciated.  (reasonably priced for a restaurant that is, still a total ripoff, but less than a lot of places nowadays)

I loved my burger and I wouldn’t mind going back, but I don’t know that I would given the limited menu.  Parking is…awkward.  Unless there’s no one there, don’t bother with the lot that holds like 8 cars, just park on Broadway.  The Pub is at the intersection of Union and Broadway.  I’d recommend checking out the menu and if it appeals to you, definitely give it a shot.

El Charro Mexican Grill in Latham

With seemingly little fanfare, the revolving door of the Peter Harris Plaza on Route 7 in Latham now sports a Mexican restaurant at its far west end.  And it’s pretty good.  And a very welcome bit of variety for the area.  Please note that this review is a bit incomplete, a second visit will be needed to flesh it out.

We recently stopped by on a bit of a whim after seeing that they were open (we’d seen some ‘coming soon’ signs previously).  On entering you first notice that the place looks great.  There are some nice interior photos on their Facebook page.  Nice colors, nice new booths, big long bar with about a dozen stools along one side.  They really did a great job making this space look great.  I particularly liked the lampshades over the larger booths.  If you go, don’t forget to look up, I thought they were really neat.

Perhaps as a result of it being summer, a bit late, and what seemed like a pretty soft open, it wasn’t too busy, although many tables were in use when we got there, but they sort of emptied out as we ate.  Everybody was nice and welcoming and attentive (except when we finished and had to wait a while to get a box and our bill – but as we were the only ones there they get the benefit of the doubt this time).  Drinks came quick.  Pepsi products and a full bar, four beers on tap – Blue Moon, Pacifico, Coors Light (?), and Dos Equis.

The menu is fairly tight, only a couple of pages, but a lot of pretty standard Mexican fare.  They do seem to really highlight the fact that they have vegetarian options.  Price-wise, it falls just north of what I expected, but isn’t really expensive.  Given that there’s not a ton of tables, they need to make a bit more per cover, I suspect.  The quantity of food as well as the quality seem to pretty much match the price-point.

The veggies all seemed really fresh and we got a lot of them with our entrees – one order each of vegetable and steak fajitas.  They were grilled spot-on.  Everything came super fast in that way that some Mexican restaurants have (of prepping orders for reheat before service).  They both came with the typical 3 warm flour tortillas and a plate containing lettuce, some shredded cheese, “fried” beans (typical refried beans, seemingly), a half-slice of tomato, sour cream, guac, and Mexican rice.  OK, let’s get into it…

The refried beans were pretty typical, I liked them, but wished the serving was a bit larger and they were a bit warmer.

The rice was decent although awfully bland.  It contained some corn and peas.  They really seem to be reaching for “inoffensive” here and we both wished they had been a little bolder and spiced the rice up a bit.  Just really bland.

There was enough lettuce and sour cream as well as meat and veggies from the skillet for your 3 tortillas.  Actually, more than enough meat and veggies.  But there was barely any cheese, if you could separate the thick shreds of cheese from the shredded lettuce, there was maybe enough for one fajita.  I used the blob of melted cheese over the beans for a second one.  The lettuce was crisp and fresh, the cheese tasted good, sour cream was fine.  Neither of us care for guacamole, so I can’t comment on that.

Where my meal totally crashed and burned, though, was the steak.  If they’re trying to keep the cost to $12 by using cheap meat, then I suggest they seriously rethink that.  I’d pay a buck or two more for better meat.  But here’s a much better idea for the “tender” meat described on the menu – MARINADE.  I’m not kidding when I say the steak had ZERO flavor.  Not even salt and/or pepper.  Nothing.  And it was so tough that I literally could not bite though a strip in my fajita, with each bite that contained steak I was forced to pull out the meat with the bite and try to chew it all up.  It was ridiculous.  Marinating the meat would be cheap, tenderize tougher cuts of meat, and add flavor.  This steak could use all of those things.  Simply marinating this steak for a day in advance with some Mexican flavors would have taken my meal from a 4 to about an 8.  No fooling, my jaw was tired when we left.  That was my biggest gripe of the whole meal, but it’s a pretty big one.

There were a few things here and there that screamed “shake down period” that we’re hoping will work themselves out.  Despite our complaints, which weren’t many, we both agreed that we were happy enough with the experience (and the potential for variety) to go back and try some other items on the menu that look good.  We’ll definitely give them a second chance.  If you want to give them a shot, I say ‘go for it’, but be aware that this place is newly opened and sort of feels that way.  But it looks great and they seem to be on the right track.  Kick up the flavors about 150% and we’d be thrilled to go there once a month or so, easily.

El Charro Mexican Grill, 952 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham

Angie’s Sweet & Spicy

love the vibrant bag

love the vibrant bag

Just to prove that I held no hard feelings after my disastrous Angie’s Holidrizzle Frosted Cupcake Kettle Corn experience, I eagerly snatched up this glowing orange bag of Politely Sweet & Spicy Kettle Corn from Angie’s when I saw it at the Healthy Living Market and Cafe in Saratoga.  I really like kettle corn and am totally in favor of adding flavor to it.

promises, promises

promises, promises

Interesting promise.  Spicy, but not too spicy?  Light, sweet, savory.  Hmmmm.

good for you?

good for you?

140 calories and 8 grams of fat, but a serving is a whopping 2 cups.  For comparison, Popcorn Indiana’s classic kettle corn is 130 and 5g.

As promised on the front of the bag, paprika, cayenne, and cumin.  Plus salt and garlic powder.  Yeah, savory all right.  Opening the bag you get a solid whiff of those savory spices.  It’s not overwhelming, like you don’t start sneezing or anything.

well spiced

well spiced

These kernels aren’t “flavor blasted” like so many snacks these days.  However, they are well coated.  It’s not like you get 1 flavored kernel and 3 unflavored or whatever.  The spiciness does indeed start out ‘polite’.  Unless you’re completely anti-spice, you can probably down a 2 cup serving without much trouble, but perhaps a drink.  But the burn sort of builds and lingers.  It never gets too strong, but it lasts quite a while after you’re done.  And don’t forget this is still kettle corn.  In the background of each bite you still get that sweet taste under the spice.

I really liked this and am glad I gave Angie’s another chance.  I’ll easily polish off this bag.  Worth going out of your way?  Not necessarily.  But if you see it, it’s worth picking up.

Found at: Healthy Living Market and Cafe on 50 in Saratoga.

Tofu for you?

sounds good, right?

sounds good, right?

Read that caption again.

Isn’t something missing?

How it cooks.  How it keeps.  How it ‘fills you’.  Healthy.

Yup.  They ‘forgot’ something.

How does it taste?

In case it wasn’t obvious, the ‘it’ in this case is, of course, tofu.  Which is presumably why they didn’t say how it tastes.

Limeade Oreos? – updated

Anybody?  Limeade Oreos?

I’m 0-for-2 Price Choppers, 2 Targets, and a Walmart Supercenter.

 

 

Finally got my hands on one.  I find them entirely m’eh.  They don’t taste bad.  The lime flavor is pretty subtle when consumed with the cookie.  On its own, the creme has a decent little lime flavor.  A weird aftertaste lingered for a LONG time after eating just one of these.  Buy the Peanut Butter Cup ones, instead.

Why, McDonalds?

Why did McDonald’s get rid of their best McNugget sauce – Sweet Chili?  They still have sweet chili items on the menu, but have eliminated the dipping sauce?

This stinks.  And it’s not like they’re rolling out a replacement line-up, at least not yet.

First, the cut back from 4 sauces to 3 for a 20-piece, making sharing that much more difficult.  Now this.

Oh, the faux tragedy.

Oh well, more Wendy’s.

Fruitful weekend at the Schenectady Greenmarket and beyond

Finally, right?  It seems like we’ve been missing local fruit for ages, but it’s finally coming back!

The delayed strawberry picking season at Bowman‘s (cool spring) is finally well underway and we were able to more-or-less stock up on Saturday.  If we’d cared to linger long enough to try another field we’d have easily filled our normal quota (an 8-quart basket and two of the ubiquitous green quart containers), which is enough for me to make a batch of jam, eat a bunch, make a batch of strawberry ice cream, and freeze slices in sugar for later use.  As it was, we were a quart or two short, made up for it with a pre-picked quart, and the jam and ice cream are already made.  NOTE: picking may be coming and going, though, due to the weather and slow start – so you might want to give them a call before you go to make sure they’re picking.

And don’t look now, but Maynard Farms already had early apricots at the Greenmarket!  While I’m not as bonkers over their apricots as I am for their donut peaches, I got hooked on them last year before other fruits hit and these didn’t disappoint.  They’re a little small and needed a day on the counter to soften to the perfect consistency, but they’re really tasty.

Other vendors also had strawberries at the Greenmarket, especially Buhrmaster from Scotia who had flat after flat of berries at very reasonable prices (note – the following week their prices were about 150% higher, making them too rich at least for my blood – frowney face, Buhrmaster, very :( ).  I’m sure they’ll still be trucking them in next weekend, so don’t forget to get some if you can’t get out to pick your own.  Everyone knows that local, fresh berries blow away the pale supermarket giants.  It’s just a fact.

And one more thing – Painted Goat has the ever-popular (and scrumptious) strawberries and cream.  Described as “our seasonal fresh chevre with our farms’ own, organic strawberry jam. So yummy!”  We totally agree.  And since we already got our tub, I don’t mind reminding people about it now.  I’ve actually given up buying cream cheese at the supermarket and now just use Painted Goat’s soft, spreadable chevre on toast when I get that craving, usually with a little homemade jam.  Strawberries and cream is perfect for that and more (so good on crackers, too).  Oh, and Ilyssa also had jars and jars of their homemade cajeta (smooth, pourable goat milk caramel!) as well as their extensive list of other cheese products.  Ilyssa is always happy to share samples, especially since there’s an excellent chance you’re going to buy something after you try it.  (Hmmm…that sounded like a commercial…actually just a very satisfied customer spreading the word on good food.)

While I’m raving about fruit (and cheese and cajeta), the veggies are slowly but surely working their way in to the market, supplanting plants and flowers.  The asparagus is almost gone, but we got several good weeks.  Several people had peas and greens are really showing up strong.  Even some tomatoes.

In fact, how about a roundup of some other Greenmarket reviews?

  • Euro Delicacies – still there and still fantastic stuffed peppers
  • Mariaville Farm – bought from them for the first time when I was craving some local bacon and my preferred butcher, Bella Terra Farm, didn’t have any.  I tried the chipotle bacon and it was pretty tasty hot out of the oven and on pizza, but it felt a little expensive, probably because I haven’t bought local, non-nitrate, etc. bacon before.  I do have a little tub of bacon grease I’m using to cook things in still, though :)  Overall I sort of doubt I’d buy more, but mostly because I just don’t buy much bacon.
  • Cooper’s Ark Farm – might have already mentioned this, but we got our Thanksgiving turkey from them last year and it was FANTASTIC
  • Cornell Farm – simply put, except in an egg emergency we buy ALL of our eggs from Cornell Farm from Hoosick Falls, now – I want to say it’s $3 for a dozen large, but they also have other sizes and they’re probably our #2 go-to for veggies after Barber Family Farm, although their selection of items that we typically buy isn’t as large
  • Ulster Soaps – got a sample of their washing machine powder yesterday, too early to make a call – also got a stain stick that we haven’t tried, yet, as my wife continues her efforts to save my shirts from me and my uncanny ability to always spill just a little salad dressing, oil, food, etc.  I’ll report back if appropriate.  (update – first try of the stain stick on a small oil spot proved ineffective)
  • Orapello’s Wood Fired Pizza – I said I wanted to try what they were dishing out and I did.  I won’t be bothering to buy from them, again, though.  I mean, their pizza wasn’t terrible or anything and the toppings were decent, but the price for what you get and the fact that I can make better pizza on my own gas grill…?  Just not for me.
  • Ole McDonald Honey Farm – also was interested in trying them and we did pick up a bottle of their raw honey but I haven’t opened it, yet – for the curious, they do filter their honey so you don’t have to filter out the bee bits yourself :)