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Dinner, yes dinner, at Union Cafe

I mentioned in an update to an older post that Union Cafe in Niskayuna or Schenectady (whichever it is) on upper Union Street is now trying dinner 3 days per week (Thu-Sat) until 8:00 PM.  Nearly on a whim we decided to give it a whirl on Friday and slid in a little after 7:00.  First, parking on weekend nights is not exactly ideal on this part of Union.  Union Cafe is right across the street from Homestyle Pizza, and of course they do a brisk business amongst people that like under-topped, over-priced pizza on the weekends, prepared by people that don’t care if they get your order right.  Ahem.  Bit off track there.

Anyway, there are plenty of side streets in usually quiet residential neighborhoods, you can walk 2 minutes for a great dinner.  We noted the bustle at Homestyle and hoped it meant that a lot of people were noticing that Union Cafe was now open for dinner and so maybe that will help their business.  Service, even though we basically walked out the door as they were turning out the ‘open’ light, was friendly and efficient.

I previously remarked that I felt the price on the Greek wraps was a hair steep.  Well, we finally got the chance to try some different items and they were a massive bargain, leaving us feeling like we just cheated them.  We got a chicken souvlaki platter and a Greek gyro platter.  They look like too much food for lunch if you’re out running errands and, yup, we were right.  We were stuffed when we waddled out of there.  Stuffed but happy.

Each platter comes with half a plate of rich, buttery-tasting rice (a tad on the firm, but not hard, side), with some carrot pieces in there.  The other half of the plate is covered with an enormous Greek salad – lettuce, cucumber, red onion, bell pepper, tomato, a stuffed grape leaf, a pepperocini, and the huge slab of yummy feta that Union Cafe uses to top their salads.   Greek dressing was on the side without asking.  Resting on the rice was either a skewer of chicken souvlaki or five nice slices of their delicious gyro meat.  On the side, each platter comes with a large, warm pita, quartered, and a cup of their thick tzatziki.  I deconstructed the yogurt sauce a bit as I spread some on a pita before wrapping up some gyro meat in it.  Diced cucumber, nice bits of chopped garlic, very good.  Much thicker than what I usually craft at home, it went well with the dish.  I just may have eaten some with my rice.  Oh yeah – you get a cup of soup, too.  Yup. We had the chicken noodle (good, standard) and the New England Clam Chowder.  Now this was interesting.  Let me just say that I’ve never had clam chowder like this before.  The thick, creamy broth wasn’t white, but more of a tannish grey.  Not sure what was responsible for that.  I spent most of the cup trying to figure out what it tasted like, but with little success.  The best I could do was come up with ‘cheesy’.  Now I know there’s no cheese in there, I think it was just a trick of my mind assembling the rich cream in the broth and the saltiness and coming out with ‘cheese’.  A good amount of potato (too often used to mask the lack of clams in restaurant chowder) and plenty of tasty clams.  I think I would get it again.

All that for $9.99 each.  Great meal.

You may have seen the review of Union Cafe in the Schenectady Daily Gazette on Sunday.  It was a good review, in that they gave the place high marks.  But personally I didn’t find it a very good review as review.  The writer got a turkey club sandwich or something.  C’mon, it’s a Greek diner-y type of place.  Get something from the menu that’s representative of the menu, not a chicken salad sandwich.  Their dining partner got like a souvlaki pita or something, but of the whole review it was only mentioned in passing as good.  If you go to this type of Greek restaurant, don’t you pretty much owe it to your readers to try their gyro?  It was just a long review with very little information about the food itself.  Still, publicity is a good thing and at least they said it was tasty.

As noted in the review, they’re working on a beer and wine license and also plan to offer 2 or 3 dinner specials.  Thursday it was a chicken florentine and steak tips in a wine sauce, I believe, and the night we went it was again the steak and also an open faced turkey sandwich I think.  One of the owners, who served us, said that they had some other plans for specials, but were waiting for some equipment that hadn’t come in yet.

Great food, friendly service.  Go visit them.  Don’t let this one go, Albany area diners.

(update: On a 2nd dinner visit the chowder was, to be blunt, normal.  Normal color, normal flavor, just a basic, good, NE clam chowder.  Also, the spanikopita is tasty, but a little hard to eat and very hard to eat neatly.)

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