Monday, September 29, 2014

Lanesboro restaurant destroyed by Sunday fire photo
LANESBORO, MA -- Originally it was called Zen's Dog House. Then it was called V's Dog House. Today, it is called rubble.

The structure caught fire early Sunday morning and burned to the ground. Damage to the restaurant, located on Route 8 near the Berkshire Mall, is believed to have been total when firefighters reportedly had difficulty opening the nearby fire hydrants owned and maintained by the mall. There are no hydrants directly on Route 8.

Fire Chief Charlie Durfee said there are two locations in the building that fire investigators are focusing on to determine the cause, according to At least initially, arson is not expected.

Durfee said there were no injuries in the blaze, finally extinguished by volunteer firefighters from more than a half-dozen departments.

A trip through the Capital Region revolving foodie door


• A new restaurant called Roux is under construction in the  ShopRite Plaza in Slingerlands,  across from the GardenBistro 24. No word yet on an opening day target. Roux, which will serve rustic American fare, is a project by George Sandor and David Camacho, owners of Risotto Restaurant, a Mediterranean fusion operation located at 320 Northern Boulevard (Loudon Plaza) in Albany.


Public House 42, a new pub located at 42 Eagle Street in Albany opposite the site of the in-development convention center, is set to open at 11 a.m. this Tuesday. Beginning Wednesday, it will be open from 7 a.m. weekdays, serving breakfast targeted for the neighborhood construction workers -- shepherd's pie, classic irish breakfast, bangers and mash. The owners are Chris Pratt and Alessio Depoli, the chef is Mike Troidle (Wine Bar, Bat Shea's, Claddagh Catering, Umana). Pratt and Depoli also are partners in the Pearl Street Pub, the Barrel Saloon and the Capital American Eatery & Lounge, all in Albany. Phone: 650-6015.


• In the "To Infinity, and Beyond" mode Buzz Lightyear of "Toy Story" adopted, the TGI Fridays restaurant chain has expanded its "Endless Appetizer" promotion. New to the list are Sriracha Chicken Potato Skins and Spicy Chicken Tostadas. They will be joining Ahi Tuna Crisps, a regular menu appetizer that is being moved to the "Endless" array. For $10 per person, guests can choose any one appetizer from the list and receive unlimited refills of that same appetizer during that visit. Other appetizers are Loaded Potato Skins, Mozzarella Sticks, Boneless Buffalo Wings, Spicy Chicken Tostadas, Tuscan Spinach Dip, and Pan-Seared Pot Stickers.

• Also in the Buzz Lightyear mode, Olive Garden is bringing back for the 19th year its "Never Ending Pasta Bowl" limited time offering. The chain says it is its most popular such offering event. Today, through November 9, guests can get unlimited servings of more than 150 pasta combinations, plus homemade soup or garden salad and fresh baked garlic breadsticks, starting at $9.99. The ingredients include spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, penne, cavatappi and whole wheat linguine; alfredo, five-cheese marinara, traditional marinara and meat sauces; additions such as shrimp fritta, chicken fritta, Italian sausage or meatballs. Customers ordering Never Ending Pasta Bowls will be offered the chance to round up their bills to the nearest dollar, with that additional amount pooled chain-wide to fund delivery of after-school meals to children at Boys & Girls Clubs across the country.


• The Wendy's fast-food chain has added a trio of new BBQ Pulled Pork offerings. They are priced at $2.99 to $4.99. They are: BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich ($4.49), featuring hickory-smoked pork and crunchy slaw, topped with choice of sweet. smoky or spicy sauces, served on toasted brioche bun; BBQ Pulled Pork Cheese Fries ($2.99), featuring French fries, warm Cheddar cheese sauce, hickory-smoked pork, red onions and choice of sauces; BBQ Pulled Pork Cheeseburger ($4.99), featuring a beef hamburger patty topped with hickory-smoked pork, slice of Cheddar cheese, crunchy slaw and one of the three sauces, on a toasted brioche bun.

• Carrols Restaurant Group Inc., the Syracuse firm that is the largest holder of Burger King franchises in the universe, is adding 30 more BK locations to its array for about $20 million.The acquisition will expand Carrols’ presence in North Carolina, where it already operates 134 restaurants, and brings Carrols' holdings to about 600 restaurants. Early this year, Carrols announced the acquisition of 64 BK units in Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee. More recently it announced it had picked up 21 more units in the Rochester and Western New York markets, plus eight units in Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne, IN. As a chain, Burger King last week announced a 3.7% in same-store sales increases for July and August compared to the same months last year.

Albany Barn working on its 3rd annual FUSION event

ALBANY -- The 3rd annual FUSION, an evening of urban art, architecture and art installations, is set for October 17 at The Albany Barn.

The event, scheduled for a 6 p.m. start, will include creative cocktails and food tastings, wine pairings, craft beers, coffee and desserts from chef Ric Orlando of the New World Bistro Bar, Albany Distilling Company, Empire Wine, Druthers Brewing Company, The Cookie Factory and Stacks Espresso Bar.
A jazz reception will run from 6 to 8 p.m. with DJ Hill, then, at 8, Deejays Space, Time and Spacetime will take over.

Cocktail attire is suggested. In this instance, that is described as "less formal than semi-formal attire, but not too casual." So there.

Albany Barn, located at 56 Second Street, is dedicated to providing a sustainable creative arts incubator and community arts center in Arbor Hill. Phone: 935-4858.

Jack’s tops 4 categories in 'Food Fight: Meatball Edition'

ALBANY -- Jack’s Oyster Meatball House. It has a certain ring to it.

The iconic downtown restaurant took took honors in three of the seven categories of the "Food Fight: Meatball Edition" that took place at various venues Sunday.

More than 1,000 people consumed an estimated 8,000 meatballs and cast their votes, as did a trio of judges.

Jack’s, under chef Larry Schepici, won "Best In Show" and "People's Choice" awards along with "Best Use of Fish" (seafood meatball with oyster-stew sauce) and "Best Dessert" (cheesecake “meat”ball with Oreo crust and strawberries).

Other winners: "Best Traditional," The Capital American Eatery & Lounge, chef Keith Dambrose, chef; "Best Vegetarian or Vegan," The Hollow Bar & Kitchen, quinoa “meat”ball with buffalo mozzarella, chef Henry Ciccone; "Most Unique or Creative," The Merry Monk, spicy duck meatball, chef Daniel Miller.

Overall, 15 competitors were vying for titles as well as more than $2,000 in cash prizes from the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District, which sponsored the promotion. In addition to the winners, they included V&R Italian Ristorante, ]Blue 82, Buddha Tea House, Cider Belly Doughnuts, Dali Mamma, Olde English Pub, Pearl Street Pub, Public House 42, Subway, Wolf’s 1-11 Arena Grill, Yono’s/DP: An American Brasserie.

Normanside to host New England chef's dinner

DELMAR -- Kenneth Ruud will be working in front of an audience again, at another "Cooking Party with Chef" at Normanside Country Club's restaurant One Six Five.

The executive chef's menu for the 6:30 p.m. Thursday, October 23, event will have a New England theme. Reservations, which are required, may be made by calling 439-4505 extension 10. The price is $55 for Normanside members, $65 for non-members.
New England clam chowder
Johnny cakes with Vermont goat cheese and corn salsa
Maple glazed pork loin
Boston cream pie
Dinner will be paired with wines or cocktails, with each course demonstrated and prepared in front of the guests. Attendees each will receive a goodie bag with food-related gifts and booklet of recipes of the evening's menu.

Normanside Country Club is located at 150 Salisbury Road.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

High-end Rochester steakhouse set for Guilderland

GUILDERLAND -- The recently-shuttered 99 Restaurant & Pub will become home to a local iteration of an upscale Rochester steakhouse-and-seafood house.

Black & Blue Steak and Crab, which I wrote about several weeks ago, has received a renovation permit from the Town of Guilderland to customize the structure for its particular needs at 1470 Western Avenue.

The Business Journal quotes town building inspector Jackie Siudy as saying, "They applied for the building permit right before Labor Day. I think they're fast-tracking it. They're getting a building permit so they can do demolition and structural work even though they don't have a final design."

This will be the third location for Black & Blue, which also has a Buffalo venue. The restaurants are owned by the 2 for 7 Restaurant Group in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford. It also owns JoJo Bistro & Winebar, Marche Culinary Events, Trata and The Village Bakery & Cafe, all in western New York.

According to filings, the Pittsfird company, under the name 1470 Western LLC, purchased the property last month for $1.75 million.

Charlie Fitzsimmons, head of 2 for 7, recently was named "Business Person of the Year" by the Pittsford Chamber of Commerce.

The first Black & Blue opened in 2005. In explaining the operation, the management notes, "It’s not just about our great steaks at b&b, something we obsess about. What also sets us apart is our family owned fish & seafood company in St. Petersburg, FL, where we are able to hand pick and ship the freshest gulf seafood available.  It touches no purveyors, and no middle-men on the way to you;  from the boat to black & blue. Our track & trace program allows you access to where your fish was caught, when, how, and by whom.  We have a commitment to the highest quality, natural ingredients at b&b, all with provenance, sustainability, and local whenever possible."

You can look at the Rochester and Buffalo menus for Black & Blue by going to their website. A few dinner appetizer offerings: lobster fritters ($7.95), kobe meatballs ($10.95) and blue crab cocktail ($12.50). Some entree offerings: black grouper ($29.95), coffee- and coca-rubbed steak arabica ($28.95) and 21-ounce bone-in cowboy ribeye ($46.95).

A trip through the Capital Region foodie revolving door


• The newest venture by the owners of the two Wheatfields restaurants that I reported on some time ago has come to fruition. Tim and Colleen Holmes have opened -- on schedule -- their BWP Local Grille at The Springs, a residential and commercial complex near Exit 15 of the Northway. "BWP" stands for beer, wine and pizza, the three major offerings on the menu which was created by the Holmeses' corporate chef, Michael Kiernan, and their pizza chef, Dave DeNero. Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekends, lunch and dinner daily starting October 6. BWP is located at 11 Hampstead Place on Weibel Avenue, north of the Saratoga Springs Hockey Rink and south of Louden Road. Phone: 763-2975.

• What had been Francesca's Cafe in Troy until Francesca Tutunjian decided to shutter the business earlier this year on Saturday will become home to a doughnut shop called Nibble Inc. Baking Co. The owners are Michael Cunningham and Jessie Cramer, familiar faces on the local food scene who have expanded from their catering business. She had been the baker at Finnbar's Pub, he had been the front man at The Malt Room. They will offer a dozen or more varieties of doughnuts daily as well as doughnut-based breakfast sandwiches. Address: 461 Broadway. Hours: 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. (or until the doughnuts run out) on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.


• The nearly-new McDonald's restaurant at Hoosick and 15th streets in Troy is for sale. The asking price: $1,730,000. The fast-food outlet, located at the edge of the RPI campus at 174 Hoosick, is operating under a 30-year lease that is less than two years old. An interesting development, considering the early proposals to build this venue had to fight vociferous location opposition, mostly opposed to its "suburban" design and the traffic increase it would create on an already-busy thoroughfare.  


• The Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen chain has just added a dish that sounds as if you need to be 21 or over to try it. but you don't. The fast-food chain's "Beer Can Chicken" that was added to the menu this week contains no alcohol. It's an LTO (limited time offer) that will run through October 25. Unlike the Southern style of the dish, this one is fried rather than grilled. It is priced at $3.99, served with Cajun fries and a biscuit.

Welcome to Jimmy John's. Gotcha!

The Jimmy John's chain of sandwich shops, which just joined the Capital Region food scene, on Wednesday released a statement concerning a data breach that affected 216 of its franchised or corporate-owned units.

The breach, just the latest in a rash of such thefts at retail and food chains, took place between June 16  and September 5.

The company's online list of locations breached, and when, does not onclude the new location on Route 9 in Latham, just north of Newton Plaza. The only New York venue mentioned in in Cicero, north of Syracuse.

In its statement, the company said, "While the investigation is ongoing, it appears that customers’ credit and debit card data was compromised after an intruder stole log-in credentials from Jimmy John’s point-of-sale vendor and used these stolen credentials to remotely access the point-of-sale systems at some corporate and franchised locations ... . The security compromise has been contained, and customers can use their credit and debit cards securely at Jimmy John’s stores."

One Six Five to debut 'NYS Craft Draught' Saturdays

DELMAR -- Normanside Country Club's restaurant One Six Five next Saturday (October 4) will begin offering an every-Saturday "NYS Craft Draught" menu.

All of the restaurant's New York craft beers will be served in the lounge for $4 from 4 to 7 p.m. Also available will be a featured small plate or entree that will utilize New York ingredients from local producers.

One Six Five also will debut its new menus the following week. They will indicate which items utilize New York products from local producers. The menus will be released next week.

Normanside is located at 150 Salisbury Road. Phone: 439-4505.

Schenectady's annual 'Wing Walk' has 16 venues

SCHENECTADY -- Sixteen restaurants and food purveyors have been signed up for the city's 3rd annual Wing Walk, set for next Thursday (October 2).

From 5 to 8 p.m., visitors are invited to stroll around downtown -- after all, the main sponsor is the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation -- to sample chicken wings at the various venues, pick up a ballot at the Proctors Box Office and vote for their favorite.

Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students. They are available at Proctors or from its online service.

Scheduled to participate:
  • 20 North Broadway Tavern
  • Backstage Pub and Grill
  • Bel Cibo Fine Gourmet Foods and Spices
  • The Bier Abbey
  • Bombers Burrito Bar
  • Canvas, Corks & Forks
  • Centre Street Pub
  • The Grog Shoppe
  • Isopo's Downtown Pizza
  • Katie O'Byrne's Restaurant & Bar
  • Mexican Radio Schenectady
  • Nico's Rooftop Tavern
  • Taj Mahal Restaurant
  • Thai Thai Bistro
  • The Van Dyck Restaurant and Lounge

Glenville Oktoberfest returning this Saturday

GLENVILLE -- The 5th annual Glenville Oktoberfest will roll out this Saturday at Maalwyck Park with expanded hours.

The festival, scheduled for noon to 9 p.m., will include traditional foods and beers, live music, a dunk tank, art display and children's activities.

A map and index to the numerous attractions can be downloaded online.

Maalwyck Park, which sits on the bank of the Mohawk River, is located on State Route 5 (Amsterdam Road).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Have you checked our calendar today?

The Capital Region Food & Drink Events Calendar is arguably the most thorough and linked compilation of events in the region involving, well, food and drink.

If you're not already in the habit of checking it out on a daily basis, it might be helpful to acquire the habit so you're always fully informed on upcoming events of all sorts.

And, if you're part of a business or organization putting together an event, don't forget to let us know well in advance so we can publicize it.


Food Recovery Network active on college campuses

We read and hear a lot about locally-based food pantries, but there is a national one worth knowing about. It's called the Food Recovery Network (FRN).

The organization unites students on college campuses to fight waste and feed people by donating surplus unsold food from their colleges to hungry Americans. Since its founding in 2011, FRN has grown to include chapters at more than 95 colleges and universities in 26 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico that have recovered 435,904 pounds of food.

Each chapter works with on-campus dining halls and other, off-campus eateries to divert food from the landfill to community members in need, while also raising awareness on issues of food waste and hunger in America.

The University at Albany is one New York State campus with anFRN chapter. The others are Cornell University, New York University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Binghamton University, SUNY Plattsburgh and the University of Rochester.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Update 2: China fast-food scandal costs 340 jobs

Update 2 (9/23/14):  A U.S. meat supplier said Monday it is laying off most of the workforce of a Chinese subsidiary accused of selling expired beef and chicken to McDonald's, KFC and other major restaurant chains, according to the Associated Press.
Shanghai Husi Food Co. has been under investigation since it was reported in July that it repackaged and sold old meat. Its owner, OSI Group of Aurora, IL, said it will lay off 340 people at the Shanghai unit. Product safety is unusually sensitive in China following scandals over the past decade in which infants, hospital patients and others have been killed or sickened by phony or adulterated milk powder, drugs and other goods. KFC owner Yum Brands Inc. and McDonald's Corp. said they immediately stopped using products from Husi when the scandal broke.

Update (7/24/14): The Associated Press today reported that five employees of a company accused of selling expired beef and chicken to McDonald's, KFC and other restaurants in China were detained by police Wednesday after an official said illegal activity was an organized effort by the supplier. Go here for the latest story.  

(Originally published 7/23/14)

From Reuters news service
The latest food scandal in China is spreading fast, dragging in U.S. coffee chain Starbucks, Burger King Worldwide Inc. and others, as well as McDonald's products as far away as Japan.

McDonald's Corp. and KFC's parent Yum Brands Inc. apologized to Chinese customers on Monday after it emerged that Shanghai Husi Food Co. Ltd., a unit of U.S.-based OSI Group LLC, had supplied expired meat to the two chains.

On Tuesday, Starbucks said some of its cafes previously sold products containing chicken originally sourced from Shanghai Husi, a firm that was shut down on Sunday by local regulators after a TV report showed staff using expired meat and picking up meat from the floor to add to the mix.

A Tokyo-based spokesman at McDonald's Holdings Co. (Japan) Ltd. said the company had sourced about a fifth of its Chicken McNuggets from Shanghai Husi and had halted sales of the product on Monday. Alternative supplies of chicken have been found in Thailand and China, he added. The company's shares briefly fell as much as 1.4% to a 15-month low before closing down 0.4%.
Go here for the full story.

McDonald's, feeling the pinch, is experimenting

Most major institutions run their course, especially in the fickle food business. Take McDonald's as a prime example.

I've been reporting on the continual sales slump at the once unbeatable fast-food chain's locations across the country and abroad. What I haven't been reporting on is any particularly innovative responses beyond a little bit of occasional menu tinkering. The reason for that is simple. There hasn't been any -- until now.

McDonald’s Corp. is quietly testing a build-your-own-burger concept at four of its Southern California locations. It allows customers to pick out on a touchscreen their own tastes in burger toppings -- jalape├▒os, tortilla strips, etc. The test market expanded from one to four locations last month.

The world’s largest burger chain reported its same-store sales fell 0.2% in the U.S. last year while those of virtually all its competitors rose. Last week, McDonald's posted its worst monthly same-store sales decline in 11 years, hurt by sluggish demand in the U.S., as well as a food-safety scare at a supplier in China. Sales at its venues open at least 13 months slumped 3.7% in August alone.

The build-your-own-burger experiment can be viewed as a test of McDonald's long-held preference for speed of service over variety. CEO Don Thompson has acknowledged in interviews that this could be a problem for customers used to quick service. To guard against too much time being consumed filling an order, the chain is trying in its test markets to streamline the process to maintain the fast concept while broadening the menu appeal.

At Red Robin, managers do carry the weight

The Red Robin chain is advertising for a manager, apparently for its Latham location, according to the online site

The ad is an interesting one, even amusing in some ways. It begins, "At Red Robin our Managers support and ensure that the restaurant operates within Red Robin International guidelines, while meeting/exceeding sales and profitability objectives established during the budgeting process."

It then goes on to list the necessary qualifications. Among them: "Must be able to lift approximately 50 lbs."

Yep, that says management to me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Boca Bistro sets Upper HV Wine Trail dinner

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The restaurant Boca Bistro will highlight wines from one of the state's newest wine trails at an October wine pairing dinner.

Executive Chef Roslyn Zecchini's menu will be paired with wines from several member of the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. Overall, the Trail consists of independent wineries and satellite tasting rooms of several Finger Lakes wineries. At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 7, Boca Bistro will highlight wines from four Trail members -- Swedish Hill, Saratoga Winery, Thirsty Owl, and Victory View Vineyard.

Reservations, which are required, at $65 plus tax and tip may be made by calling 682-2800.

Boca Bistro is located at 384 Broadway. It is one of four DZ Restaurants venues in Saratoga County.

A trip through the Capital Region's foodie revolving door


• Bettie's Cakes has closed its "cupcakery cafe" at 371 Broadway in Saratoga Springs. The equipment, including its familiar pink, double-decker bus, are for sale. You can get a rundown of the details on the business's Facebook page -- which also contains an intriguing offer to buy the business and equipment as a package. The closing is blamed on construction at the adjoining Adelphi Hotel and no plans have been announced to relocate or continue the venture in any form, which is interesting considering the sort of business it has been since 2009 -- a lower-level tenant in the Downstreet Market in Saratoga, a stand at the Saratoga Race Course, and a pop-up location at Colonie Center.


• I remember when the Saratoga Springs restaurant Max London's was in its planning stages. Albany foodies wrote about it incessantly, mostly because they were enamored of the fact it was being financed by Michael and Wendy London, owners of the popular Mrs. London's bakery, and their very young son Max was to be the chef. It finally opened on Broadway in 2007. Now, Michael and Wendy now longer are connected with the businesses. The restaurant and the bakery have been purchased by two entities named Saratoga Hospitality LLC and Saratoga Hospitality & Bakery LLC.  Max London is listed as being in charge of both businesses, according to a report in today's Times Union. A state liquor license is pending, and a temporary permit has been issued to Ryan Venezia, a principal in Saratoga Hospitality & Bakery LLC. The new phone number for Max London's is 587-0505, and the new number for Mrs. London's is 581-8100. Don't look for additional details from the websites; they're not operating. Max London's restaurant Facebook is, but as no mention of the changes.


• It may take a while before we see any impact at its Capital Region locations, but the Cracker Barrel chain is doing some regional price adjusting. Locally, there are Cracker Barrel restaurants at 122 Troy Road in East Greenbush and 4 Tower Way in Clifton Park. Company officials have told industry told analysts that among its new initiatives is testing ways to increase guest check averages through regional pricing, while simultaneously trimming expenses with technology applications that improve operating margins. The 633-unit chain's net income in the fiscal fourth quarter that ended August 1 was up 14.2 percent to $39.2 million, compared to $34.3 million for the same period a year earlier. CFO Lawrence E. Hyatt said the test of regional pricing started last week, so “we don’t have much of a preliminary read yet.” The chain, incidentally, this month is marking its 45th anniversary.

Orlando adds another effort to his inexhaustible supply

Chef-entrepreneur Ric Orlando
So, the other day I noticed  that Ric Orlando was on the TV machine in yet another nationally-broadcast cooking competition. And, I know he's still holding forth at both his original New World Home Cooking restaurant in Saugerties and at the New World Bistro Bar in Albany. And, he's always cooking for one do-gooder event or another. So, it seemed to me he wouldn't have room on his dance card for one more move. But, that would be false.

Ta dah! Introducing the launch of New World Catering by Ric Orlando, located at 250 Delaware Avenue in Albany, just down the street from New World Bistro Bar which resides at 300 Delaware.

Orlando and Liz Corrado, his wife and partner, have joined forces with David Jackson, catering designer and front-of-the-house director, and Gabe Pollow, former New World Bistro Bar chef. They plan to offer catering services as far north as Lake Placid, as far west as Cooperstown, and as far east as the Berkshires.

“With this location right at the crossroads of 787, I-87, I-90 and I-88 and access to an incredible pallete of classic and non-traditional venues, we bring our customers a mass expansion of possibilities for creating their perfect event,” Corrado said.

“Albany has treated me better than anywhere,” added Orlando. “Albany embraced me when I cooked at Justin’s" -- on Albany's Lark Street -- "in the '90s. With the success of the Bistro Bar, it’s clear to me that this is my home market

“We’ve got our arms around Woodstock, our fingers stretched to Brooklyn and Boston, and our toes buried in the Capital Region. And, we offer our own unique blend of global local classic modern. Vintage is cool when you give it a little edge. And we can do it anywhere from boardrooms to penthouses, beaches to apple orchards and white tents to Dutch barns.”

As is Orlando's usual method of operation, the new catering service will stress the use of sustainable regional agriculture and local foragers, and showcase seasonal highlights of the region.

Details about the catering service are available by calling Holly at 518-331-4814. To book a consultation for a catered event, contact Jackson at 844-275-6680.

Update: TU makes public appeal for critic candidates

Critic Anton Ego in 'Ratatouille'
UPDATE (9/22/14): Three weeks after announcing it was losing another restaurant critic, the Times Union has opened the field to readers of its popular Table Hopping blog. Since that first announcement, I have had any number of people asking me if, based on my nearly 15 years of handling that job, I thought it was a good gig anymore. The answer is: yes. When I was doing it, space was so tight it was a weekly battle to write a truly thorough review in the small space then allotted. Since then, as TU staffing has shrunk, plenty of room has opened up for for text and photos -- double and sometimes even triple the space I had, enough to make me wish I had had that luxury. And, while newspaper circulation has fallen -- following a national trend -- the online readership has exponentially increased, so critics probably are reaching more readers than ever before.

(Originally published 9/1/14)

The Times Union ran a brief note at the start of restaurant critic Bryan Fitzgerald's latest review, published this Sunday, saying he "has moved on" after barely a year on that beat.

That makes at least four reviewers since I retired in December 2006 as Associate Editor of the newspaper. Until then one of my myriad duties was reviewing restaurants in the Capital Region and nearby Vermont and Massachusetts for nearly 15 years.

That followed four years of restaurant reviewing in the Baltimore-Washington market where I was Associate Editor of another Hearst Corp. newspaper before moving to Albany way-back-when as Managing Editor of Hearst's now-defunct Knickerbocker News, which eventually merged with the TU. Each newspaper had its own restaurant critic, but I became the sole one shortly after the merger.

My first successor was then-food editor Ruth Fantasia. She was followed by former restaurateur Cheryl Clark, and she was followed by Fitzgerald, a TU reporter with culinary school credentials. Always in the wings and pitching in as needed was food blogger Steve Barnes. Thus, four different voices being heard.

Plans to name yet another critic "will be announced later," according to the note. As a reader, I hope the next appointee stays in the role long enough to develop an actual body of work we can look to for our own evaluations rather than being just one more transient commentator which has been the track record since I left. Ideas, anyone?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Have you checked our calendar today?

The Capital Region Food & Drink Events Calendar is arguably the most thorough and linked compilation of events in the region involving, well, food and drink.

If you're not already in the habit of checking it out on a daily basis, it might be helpful to acquire the habit so you're always fully informed on upcoming events of all sorts.

And, if you're part of a business or organization putting together an event, don't forget to let us know well in advance so we can publicize it.


Update: As sales fall, is McDonald's number up?

UPDATE (9/20/14): The financial website Motley Fool has a five-point analysis of McDonald's financial woes. You can read it here.

(Originally published 9/15/14)

This is a case of very interesting numbers that may presage a major change in the fast-food world.

Last week, McDonald's, long the epitome of successful fast-food companies, reported that globally its same-store sales fell 3.7% in August, its worst monthly decline in a decade.

Today, main competitor Burger King reported same-store sales increases of 3.7% in North America and 2.7% globally for July and August.

Also, the Canadian chain Tim Hortons, which Burger King is buying, reported same-store sales increases of 3.6% at its Canadian restaurants and 7% U.S. locations.

Even Wendy's recently reported same-store sales for its second quarter ended June 29 rose 3.1% at franchised locations and 3.9% at corporate units. Wendy’s does not report monthly same-store sales.

McDonald's officials blamed sluggish industry growth in a highly competitive marketplace in the U.S., but Wall Street analysts interviewed by Nation's Restaurant News "pointed to lingering problems with menu complexity, slowing average service times, and the continuing impact of a Monopoly promotion that ran through August 12 last year. Other observers questioned whether McDonald’s is losing its appeal among young people.

"According to market research firm Technomic Inc., families with a child age 12 or under accounted for 18.6% of McDonald’s customers in 2011. By mid-2014, those families have dropped to 14.6% of the chain’s domestic visitors, according to a report in Crain's Chicago Business."

Park Side Eatery owners planning bakery shop chain

The ambitious Hoyts, who already have the Park Side Eatery, Adirondack Barbecue and Black Diamond Caterers in Saratoga Springs, are not satisfied.

Next on Michael and Heidi Hoyt's agenda is acquisition of a liquor license for Park Side, which they plan to expand with patio seating, as well as creation of a string of bakeries.

The bakeries will be called Glazed Backerei, a name already part of the Park Side operation using German family recipes for their donuts, cupcakes, cookies and pies.

"We're trying to bring food to Saratoga that maybe has been lost," Michael Hoyt told the Business Review in discussing their expansion plans. "We want to take this love of peasant food and give it a name and reintroduce it back in the area."

They are looking for a location in the Wilton area as a starting point, with plans to open eight baked goods stores between Albany and Lake George. It has not yet been decided if they will be a mix of seasonal and pop-up stores along with permanent sites.

The Hoyts already produce baked goods for their catering and Park Side operations in one of two kitchens they have at 42 Phila Street in Saratoga Springs.

The Park Side Eatery is located at 40 Phila Street. Adirondack Barbecue and Black Diamond Caterers handle various levels of catering off-premises, such as weddings, barbecues, picnics and conference.

American beer icon Pabst sold to Russian company

Screen shot 2014-09-20 at 2.33.54 PMIn this multinational world, it's difficult to find much that is truly American. Or French. Or English. Or ... you get my drift.

The latest upheaval is the sale of an American beer icon to a Russian company. Pabst Blue Ribbon, beloved by hipsters and nostalgics with its homey taste and red, white and blue color scheme, is being acquired by Europe's largest beverage distributor. Pabst also brews such beers as Old Milwaukee and Colt 45.

The new owner is Oasis Beverages, a Russian brewer and distributor that handles such brands a Heineken in Europe. For the purists among you, Oasis does have an American connection. A minority stake is held by the U.S. equity firm TSG Consumer Partners.

Although the price of the deal isn't being publicly announced, insiders have told trade media it's in the $700 million range -- cash.

Dean Metropoulos acquired Pabst in 2010 for about $250 million. It has been run by his two sons. The elder Metropoulos recently acquired the Twinkie line of pastries from Hostess Brands.

“Pabst Blue Ribbon is the quintessential American brand. It represents individualism, egalitarianism and freedom of expression –- all the things that make this country great,” Oasis chairman Eugene Kashper said in a statement. “The opportunity to work with the company’s treasure trove of iconic brands, some of which I started my career selling, is a dream come true. It will be an honor to work with Pabst’s dedicated employees and partner distributors as we continue to build the business.”

Speaking of Heineken, as I did four paragraphs ago, that brewer earlier this week said it had rejected an offer from SABMiller that would have been worth $50 billion or more.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Latham restaurateur's adjacent building shut down

Closed building, Ala Shanghai in background.
From the Times Union
LATHAM -- Town of Colonie officials shuttered a two-story building this afternoon over what the town attorney described as horrendous code violations.

The building at 470 Troy-Schenectady Road houses apartments on the second floor where seven to 10 tenants live, said Town Attorney Michael Maggiulli. The first floor features One Step Beauty Shop and day-labor provider.

The building is owned by Kim Kee Chun, who also owns the neighboring Ala Shanghai Chinese Cuisine restaurant [at No. 468].
Go here for the full story.

Incidentally, the seized building is part of a three-structure complex sitting on a one-acre corner parcel that is being advertised this way:

"Building 1 is a restaurant 2,600 sq.ft., Rent $3,750.00. In Jan. rents are $4,000.00 per month +NN. 2nd Bldg. 4,000 sq.ft. retail,two businesses paying $2,700 in Jan. $3,000.00 (Grocery) Convenient Store paying $1.600 NNN. 3rd Bldg., 3 level retail bldg. school, medical, Pizza (currently closed) music teacher Gross rent $2,200.00.Apartment occupied by relative (no rent, 3 bedroom apartment)."

Vietnamese restaurant concept gets a one-star review

The controversial sandwich shop.
Yum! Brands Inc., the company that owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell among other brands, backpedaled quickly when a new venture created strong complaints.

The company's Banh Shop concept of Vietnamese-style sandwiches touched off a controversy when it unveiled its design -- its name superimposed on large red star. Such a star is the symbol of the Communist regime in Vietnam.

Yum Brands on Thursday issued an apology for “unintentionally offending” Vietnamese residents in the Dallas area where the first Banh Shop was opened last week. An online petition on the iPetitions site helped coalesce the protests and prompted the company's quick about-face.

“We have heard the issues raised by the Vietnamese community and effective immediately, we are changing the logo,” a Yum spokesperson said Thursday.

'Food Fight: Meatball Edition' will include two films

ALBANY -- We're just nine days from "Food Fight: Meatball Edition." Here's an update on my earlier story about the event and its competition angle:

On Sunday, September 28, meatballs will be in the spotlight at three separate events.

• Food Fight: From 11 a.m,. to 3 p.m., restaurants from around Albany County will be offering meatball samples at $1 per at various venues. Consumers will have an opportunity to vote for their favorites in various categories: best use of fish, best vegetarian or vegan, best use of vegetable, best dessert ball, most creative, and best traditional meatball. To qualify for a Peoples' Choice ballot, participants must visit at least five locations. A map to the venues will be available at the event and online from the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID).

• The animated family film "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" will be screened at the Palace Theatre at 11 a.m. Advance free tickets are available until they run out at the Palace box office, 19 Clinton Avenue, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and at the Downtown BID office, 490 North Pearl Street, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• The classic Bill Murray summer camp comedy film "Meatballs" will be screened at the Palace at 4 p.m. Tickets, priced at $5, are available at the Palace.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Have you checked our calendar today?

The Capital Region Food & Drink Events Calendar is arguably the most thorough and linked compilation of events in the region involving, well, food and drink.

If you're not already in the habit of checking it out on a daily basis, it might be helpful to acquire the habit so you're always fully informed on upcoming events of all sorts.

And, if you're part of a business or organization putting together an event, don't forget to let us know well in advance so we can publicize it.


When art meets food and drink ...

The new official poster for the 2015 version of the Albany Chefs' Food & Wine Festival is a beauty. It was created by graphic designer Robert Coker of New England Standard in Saratoga Springs.

Pizza Hut testing new 'Skinny Slices' concept

Pizza Hut sales fell 2% at the chain's U.S. locations last year. To try regaining some of that lost business, the company is doing quite the opposite of what others do.

Rather than bulk up, as many competitors have done, it is downsizing -- its pizza, that is.

Pizza Hut this week began testing a lighter pizza in two domestic markets -- Toledo, OH, and West Palm Beach, FL. The pies use less dough and are lighter on the toppings. They're called "Skinny Slice."

Stay tuned for a progress report. Or dead silence.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Baco Noir: An unsung gem among New York wines

Ready for this week's harvest.
Ready for this week's harvest at the Hudson-Chatham Winery.
If you haven't yet treated yourself to a well-made Baco Noir wine, the accompanying image of the about-to-be-picked grapes at the Hudson-Chatham Winery may entice you. They are at peak ripeness and are the target of anxious working hands this week.

Carlo DeVito and his crew at the Columbia County operation make a very nice baco noir, perhaps the best in the Hudson Valley. While it is not among the most popular of wines, Baco Noir has a certain uniqueness about it that should please the more adventuresome wine drinkers, particularly those looking for a less perfumy alternative to Pinot Noir.

The grape is a hybrid red wine grape: a cross of of Vitis vinifera var -- the common grape vine, the French wine grape Folle blanche, and an unknown variety of Vitis riparia (commonly known as River Bank Grape or Frost Grape), a native American climber.

Baco Noir’s origins can be traced to 1894 when French grape breeder Fran├žois Baco was experimenting with crosses to make disease-resistant vines that retained their French character. It has a growth preference for cooler climates, thus its slowly growing popularity in Upstate New York. It's a dark-fruit flavored wine -- think plums, blackberries and blueberries -- with a nice acidity.

Hudson-Chatham Winery will be the site of a Saturday, October 18, event titled "Baco-nalia!" that is planned as an annual Baco Noir celebration. On that date, all five of the winery's Baco Noirs will be available for the first time. They are: Baco Noir Casscles Vineyard Reseve, its classic; Baco Noir Old Vines, from 60-year-old vines; Field Stone Baco Noir, aged with stone from the facility's own fields and local oak, and two new wines -– Baco Noir Block 3 North Creek Vineyard, an estate wine, and Baco Noir Middlehope from a small 35-year-old vineyard recently revived in Middle Hope, NY, by Steve Casscles and Hudson-Chatham Winery.

There will be a 1 p.m. vertical tasting of older vintages of all the Baco Noirs, then a Baco Noir wine dinner with all five wines. Advance reservations are necessary for both, and can be made online or by phone.

Hudson-Chatham Winery is located at 1900 Route 66 in Ghent, about midway between its two namesake towns. Phone: 392-9463.

Funeral home proposed for triple-flop Latham dining site

The former restaurant building.
LATHAM -- Somehow it seems fitting.

A restaurant that has seen three different iterations come and go in quick succession and now has sat empty for 3½ years, will be demolished and replaced by a funeral home, if the Town of Colonie Planning Board approves a proposal from a Kansas company.

The building at 181 Troy Schenectady Road -- about midway between Watervliet and the Latham Circle -- was last home to Indulge Restaurant & Wine Bar. Before that, it housed something called Chapter 2, and before that simply so brief I can't recall.

A report by business editor Eric Anderson in the Times Union says Warren Family Funeral Home Inc. of Topeka, KS, doing business as Newcomer Funeral Homes, proposes demolishing the building and constructing a 10,800-square-foot funeral home and detached 1,125-square-foot detached four-bay garage for funeral vehicles.

Pending approvals, Anderson says, construction would begin in the spring of 2015 and be completed in late summer or fall.

Cornell's plans a Friday 'Swingin' Martinis Night'

SCHENECTADY -- The National Weather Service predicts a mild evening with no precipitation this Friday. That means Cornell's Restaurant picked the right night for a "Swingin' Martinis Night" promotion.

Live music from Cliff 'n' Tree and cocktail service featuring the Grey Goose girls will be available on the patio and sidewalk from 6 to 9 p.m.

Cornell's is located at 39 North Jay Street in the city's Little Italy neighborhood. Phone: 370-3825.

A trip through the Capital Region's foodie revolving door


• The 12-story Albany building that is home to Angelo's 677 Prime and a variety of other businesses has been sold -- for $33 million. A group of Brooklyn investors, operating under the names Shelbourne Albany LLC and Shelbourne Broadway LLC purchased the 170,000-square-foot structure from Columbia Development Companies. The building, erected in 2005, reportedly cost $28.5 million to build and several million more was invested in retrofitting for new tenants, according to a story in the Business Review. It is not expected that the sale will affect 677 Prime, owned and operated by Mazzone Management at the 677 Broadway location.

• The octopus sign in front of the Reel Seafood Company restaurant on Colonie's Wolf Road prompts two schools of thought: (1) It's very imaginative and attracts the eye, and (2) Oh, God, make it go away! Well, it's going away. Owner Aliki Serras has ordered a new sign for the lawn as part of her ongoing reimagining of the business she bought from her father, LeGrande Serras, in January. He  founded it in 1983; it then was spelled Real Seafood (that was changed as part of a complicated business deal involving a relative's out-of-state venue). The younger Serras, 29, has had the interior renovated, the menu reinvigorated and is on her second executive chef this year. Besides the signage change, the awning, facade and landscaping will be freshened. Serras told the Business Review she has plans to eventually expand the 195 Wolf Road building to create a small-events banquet space.

• If you have visited the recently-opened Burger 21 in Latham -- the chain's first New York State venue -- and liked the fare, don't get too comfortable with the menu. The chain -- which is owned by the same company that owns The Melting Pot -- on Tuesday announced it has named its first dedicated corporate chef. He is Mike Remes, who has been with the young chain for about four years. His role will be to manage all aspects of the brand’s menu development, including its monthly featured burgers and shakes, while overseeing training and operations for all new restaurant openings across the country. Since several more locations are planned for the Capital Region, he'll be involved with them. Last month, Remes introduced one of his first new burger creations at all Burger 21 locations -- the Bayou Burger, which is available through this Saturday. On Sunday, a Fried Green Tomato Burger will be introduced and available through October 20. The Latham location is at 622 New Loudon Road (Route 9) in the cluster of new buildings that also houses the Jimmy John's sandwich chain, a Dunkin' Donuts, and locally-owned Bellini's and Bellini's Counter.


• Summer is, for all practical purposes over, and people will be returning to heartier eating. With that in mind, B-Rad's Bistro & Catering is planning to resume its popular "Hangover Brunch" served on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Owner Brad Stevens says the implementation date is October 18, but he's not unveiling that menu just yet. B-Rads is located at 1809 5th Avenue in Troy. Phone: 326-4041.