Sunday, November 4, 2018

How a chain restaurant won us over once again

Constant Companion and I decided on the spur of the moment to take advantage of a rare sunny Sunday to drop in somewhere for a late lunch or early dinner.

Our first attempt was at the Rustic Barn Pub on Route 40 in Spiegeltown, a tiny hamlet in Rensselaer County just north of Troy. We'd heard about it as a popular live music venue, but knew nothing about its food except what we had read on a flyer we'd recently received in the mail that sounded interesting. And, it's been around since the early '90s.
Our experience: We pulled into a rough, muddy parking lot that had just a few vehicles parked there and, as we walked toward the front door, noticed a mixture of leftover Halloween decorations plus several empty beer bottles and a Styrofoam cup littering the ground. Not a good first impression. We entered through a pair of rough-wood doors and saw just four people on the premises, one of them apparently the bartender. Dark, gloomy, and deeply permeated with the overwhelming stink of stale cooking oil. Exchanging glances with each other, we silently agreed to depart.
Our second attempt came on the other side of Troy near Hudson Valley Community College where the second local version of the Tipsy Moose Tap & Tavern had just opened. We turned off Vandenburgh Avenue into a very crowded parking lot that we couldn't ascertain was for just one business or for the several it seemed to service. Managing to find a bit of space, we squeezed into it, got out of the car and looked around. "Looks really busy today," I said to a young man taking a cigarette break behind the Deli & Brew. "No, it's busy over there," he said, nodding toward the former Chester's Smokehouse building next door.
Our experience: We made our way into the new Tipsy Moose -- on offshoot of the popular original that opened in 2016 in Latham -- and pulled up short. The Adirondack-themed interior looked very welcoming, but no one on staff paid any attention to us. True, the place was slammed, with every table fully occupied, but why ignore new visitors? We wondered, were any seats expected to soon be vacated? Was there a waiting list? And, for future reference, did they accept reservations? We received no information because no one even glanced at us standing there. And standing there.
So, we did what so many people do when they have a problem with local dining spots. We left Rensselaer County and headed to Colonie's Wolf Road, the land of chain dining.

I know that's sacrilege for some people who love to complain about anything that isn't locally owned, but there is a reason such places exist. They may not have exotic menus or decor that is particularly original, but most have variety, fair prices, sufficient parking, well-trained staff, and they pay attention to who comes through the door.

The place we picked was one we haven't visited in years, Ninety-Nine Restaurant & Pub. No particular reason, just on a whim because we were getting quite hungry, and we were there.
Our experience: Despite numerous cars in the parking lot, we found a space near the main entrance. It was evident the place was busy, but a hostess immediately greeted us, led us to a cozy booth, and a server showed up to take our drinks order almost at once. We had a good view of the hostess station, or whatever the politically term is for such a station now that no one has a gender anymore, so I couldn't help but notice everyone who came in was immediately greeted, seated if they wanted to be, or shown to a waiting area and given a menu to peruse while they waited for others in their party to arrive. And, as booths and tables were vacated, someone quickly bussed them and got them ready for newcomers, thus keeping waiting time to a minimum. Team service helps, too, with our initial server helping us place our order after bringing our drinks, another server delivering our food without having to ask us who ordered which dish, and the original checking on our progress after a proper interval. Good food -- a small sirloin steak dinner and fish and chips, thanks for asking, fairly priced ($33 and change before tip), and the transaction was completed quickly rather than us having to wait incessantly as happens at so many places where they seem to lose interest in you once you decline offers of dessert and coffee.
The moral of the story: Patronize your local eateries when you can, but don't be reluctant to default to a chain venue. You know, one of those corporate places where everyone employed there is a local resident, too, just like you.


  1. Interesting post. While I enjoy lots of locally-owned restaurants, I've never understood the knee-jerk objection to chain restaurants, though.

  2. Sounds like a lot of driving for dinner.