Food and Dining in Albany in 2014
Dining destination: Move over Manhattan! From the famous Jack’s Oyster House to fun and funky eateries, today’s Albany dining scene is second to none
Old-fashioned appeal: Seafood from Jack’s Oyster House is so famous that several items, including the Manhattan clam chowder, have been featured on Good Morning America
In the past decade, Albany has really found itself, culinarily speaking. There are now all types of fine and fun dining spots in the Capital Region. From classic Old World steakhouses to self-proclaimed “New World” bistro bars; from pricey upscale rooms to spare-change Asian noodle houses; and from decades-old standbys to new and hidden gems — Albany has a place for every palate and budget. For instance…
Jack’s Oyster House
Restaurants come and restaurants go — except for Jack’s, which came into being 101 years ago and shows no signs of going anywhere. In fact, former Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings renamed a portion of State Street Jack’s Oyster House Way in honor of the institution. Indeed, Jack’s is both a relic of a bygone era, when power brokers and pols tucked into expense-accounted steaks and martinis at lunch, and a purveyor of new cuisine. Sure, you can still order a chopped salad, steak Diane, or calves’ liver and onions, but you can also find arugula-basil pesto-encrusted salmon. Executive Chef Larry Schepici conjures up memories of old Albany with the sophistication today’s diners demand, and owner Brad Rosenstein delivers the downtown chophouse ambiance his grandfather, Jack, established back in 1913.
42 State St.
Angelo’s 677 Prime
If it’s steak you crave, this is the place to turn. Situated right in the heart of downtown Albany’s theater district, Angelo’s 677 Prime offers high-end (and yes, high-priced) Kobe beef and USDA prime-grade steaks, along with fresh, sustainable seafood and a wine list that boasts 400-plus labels. Ken Kehn, who was recently awarded the prestigious Executive Chef certification from the American Culinary Federation, has revised his menu, adding new appetizers, pasta dishes that are priced under $20, and expanded bar offerings. The crown jewel of restaurateur Angelo Mazzone’s regional dining empire, Angelo’s 677 Prime has garnered Opentable awards in such categories as Best Overall, Best Service, and Best Food in Upstate New York.
THE HIDDEN GEM
The Iron Gate Café
Washington Avenue, between Lark and the State Capitol, is no one’s idea of an inviting downtown block. But if you look closely across the street from the library, you’ll notice — yes — an iron gate. Step through it, and you enter a little courtyard oasis with climbing clematis and hydrangeas, a lovely winding path and, at the end, Metroland magazine’s “best lunch in the Capital Region” six years running. Breakfast and brunch are terrific too, and you can pick up homemade soups, salads, wraps, and sandwiches to eat in the café dining room or, weather permitting, in the courtyard. Next time you’re touring downtown and need some verdant relief — along with terrific food — look for that iron gate.
182A Washington Ave.
THE ASIAN INVASION
In Albany, “Chinese food” too often means General Tso’s chicken and other bland, Americanized Asian dishes. Taiwan Noodle is a happy exception. The space may be less than inspiring, but the food is surprisingly exotic; with a menu written in both Chinese and English, you know it appeals to those who know real Asian cuisine. Dishes such as sesame and five-spice pig-ear strips, little bow-tie knots of seaweed, scallion pancakes, and steamed tiny pork buns are as good as anything you’ll find on Mott Street in Manhattan. And as its name suggests, noodle soup is a strong suit. Stewed beef chuck, with spring-green segments of baby bok choy, and pig-feet soup are two other favorites. What’s more, the prices are amazingly affordable. Who needs General Tso?
218 Central Ave.
A welcome addition to the burgeoning Delaware Avenue “strip” — which includes the Spectrum Theater, New World Bistro Bar, and Emack & Bolio — Sweet Basil brings non-Chinese Asian food to this happening neighborhood. Appetizers include shrimp or chicken satay, Thai spring rolls, Sweet Basil Fresh Roll (steamed rice noodles with vegetable and basil leaves wrapped in soft rice paper and served with sweet tamarind sauce), and Thai Sweet Basil wings (fried chicken seasoned with oyster sauce and topped with fresh basil leaves). Delicious soups include Tom Yum (chicken, tofu, shrimp, or seafood in Thai hot and sour soup with lemongrass, galangal, red onions, mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro) and Tom Kha (coconut soup with chicken, galangal, lime juice, mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro). For an adventurous entrée, try the Sweet Basil duck, whole red snapper, salmon panang (salmon fillet in panang curry with red pepper, mushrooms, green peas, and basil served with pumpkin), or Seafood Prik Pao (stir-fried seafood combination with Thai curry paste, red peppers, onions, tomatoes, oyster sauce, and cilantro).
370 Delaware Ave.
FUN ’N FUNKY
New World Bistro Bar
Ric Orlando — the owner of the Saugerties favorite, New World Home Cooking — is no stranger to the Hudson Valley, and in the past few years Capital Region residents have come to know and love his eclectic and creative cuisine at NWBB. Recently named Best Albany County Restaurant by this magazine, NWBB is an 80-seat gastropub that helps anchor the Delaware Avenue culinary and arts renewal. The 1910 building features exposed original brick, black pipe and plaster, and an Art Deco mahogany bar restored from the 1939 World’s Fair. An outdoor patio provides perfect people-watching while patrons enjoy Orlando’s seasonal originals and classics like Purple Haze shrimp, blackened string beans, Cuban pot roast sando, and “the best burger in the Capital Region,” according to the New York Beef Council.
300 Delaware Ave.
Dinosaur BBQ in Troy
Forbes magazine, in naming Dinosaur one of the nation’s top 10 barbecue spots, said it best: “The popularity is easy to explain: the menu is broad, creative and very well priced, with lots of combo and sampler choices... the food is very good and quite substantial.” Dinosaur has just eight locations, so Capital Region foodies are lucky to have one perched on the banks of the Hudson in Troy. It’s hard to choose what Memphis-style dish to have: ribs, chicken, homemade sausage, pulled pork, and beef brisket are all perfectly cooked, fall-off-the-bone tender, and ready for a dollop of “Sensuous Slathering Sauce.” Sides — like collard greens, mac and cheese, deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, and baked beans — are Southern to the core. Pair any of this with one of many local and national beers, sit on the patio by the river, groove to the blues on the sound system, and summer doesn’t get any better.
377 River St., Troy
Is there anything that says “love” better than real Italian food in a real Italian restaurant? Cafe Capriccio has been the place for amore since 1982, and has been continually voted one of the best restaurants in the Capital Region by the readers of Metroland. It starts with the space, in the basement of an historic downtown brownstone, which is appropriately dark and romantically plush and cozy, with warm maple paneling, intimate booths, and a look that evokes a time gone by. Under the guiding hand of Franco Rua, son of founder Jim Rua, the food is Old World in the best possible way: Greens and Beans Passannante, Eggplant with Four Cheeses, Pork Ossobuco, Grilled Veal Chop Pizzaiolo — your mouth waters just reading the menu.
49 Grand St.