Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Albany makes #3 on 'best small cities for food' list

Local author and blogger, Bill Dowd, reports that Albany has made #3 on a national list of small cities for food. I'm not surprised, given our incredible variety of locally owned restaurants and the amount of choices we have in our food offerings.

The study was completed by Credit Donkey, a financial education and credit card comparison website, and lists Scranton, PA, and Portland, ME, as first and second place respectively. Whether you want to take food advice from a credit card comparison website or not is up to you.

To read the full article from Bill Dowd, click here. It includes some insight into the ranking process, as well as a full list of the top ten cities.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Speakeasy 518

I had made a reservation earlier in the morning, and had confirmed it over the phone just a few hours before the scheduled time. They had my name, the number of people that would be joining me, and the time at which I would be arriving.

When I walked up to the nondescript door under the black awning and a faint red light, I found the doorbell and pushed only once, as the directions clearly stated. Promptly, the door cracked open slightly and my party and I were greeted by a young lady in a black dress and pearls.

“May I help you,” the woman asked, an odd question for an establishment that had just recently confirmed my reservation. However, this isn’t your ordinary establishment; it’s the new Speakeasy 518, and gaining entry is just one part of the underground experience.

“I have a reservation. Bull, party of five.”

“We've been expecting you. Please, come in.” She opened the door wider and we entered the subterranean establishment. As our eyes adjusted to the lack of bright sunlight that was present outside, we were directed to a small seating area. We took a moment to take in our new, unfamiliar surroundings.

The City Beer Hall as it appears today
A few years ago, before the City Beer Hall opened its doors to the public, I was given a tour of the building with the owners, Kenny and Kaelin. They were in the process of transforming the former Ballinger’s space into the City Beer Hall. They took the time to point out the custom chandeliers and tables, the ice block that formed around the beer taps, and finally, the basement that they were to open in a few years. It was dark then, too: unswept and cavernous.

When the telephone company occupied this building, the switchboard operators did their work here, and the payments – at a time when people paid their bills in person, and with cash – were stored in the vault.

Now, the bar has been revived. It was tended by two true gentlemen, spending minutes carefully crafting each cocktail. Wanting a closer look at the drink making process - and probably drawn toward the little light that is present in the place - we asked to be moved to the gorgeous stone-top bar. Our request was granted, as Tuesdays are apparently not a popular night for tag-holding members who have first rights to the stools.

The Albany Home Telephone Company during construction. Today, the City Beer Hall.
Photo from the City Beer Hall Facebook page.
What took place over the coming hours was something truly enjoyable. The prohibited use of cell phones made for deep, uninterrupted conversations (hence the lack of photos). Our bartender, Robert*, took the time to explain the complexities of each cocktail, the history behind the cocktails, and the history of his incredible beard.

The cocktails are true works of art and nothing is spared. I won’t try to explain the flavors and complexities of each concoction; you’ll have to experience them on your own.

Take the time to relax, sip each drink, and think about what it must have been like to live in Albany during Prohibition. You’ll soon feel what that means when someone outside rings the doorbell seeking entry: inside, a red light suddenly turns on and your heart skips a short beat. Don’t worry, it’s not the fuzz. You soon relax, realizing that what you are doing is completely legal. This is living history, and the live piano music eases you back into the perfect mood.

Upon leaving, my party and I decided to have one final drink on the patio of the City Beer Hall just one level up from the Speakeasy where we continued the no cellphone rule. It was another enjoyable, yet completely different experience.

Drinks at the Speakeasy are $12, cash only and completely worth it.

*Robert also created three of the cocktails featured in this year's Spirit of Albany competition: Kennedy Sour, Salinger's Caught, and the White Pelican.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Fun at Different Drummers Kitchen!

They usually say “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” This week however an exception should be made as Different Drummers Kitchen offers a variety of fun cooking courses to distract you from the incoming heat wave.
Try something different by satisfying your sushi cravings and learning the basics of the Japanese art of Sushi Making 101! Chef Yasuo & Kathy Saso will teach the essentials of preparing perfectly seasoned rice and popular roll fillings on Monday, July 15 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The evening’s menu will include: California roll an inside-out roll with cucumber, cucumber roll cucumber nori and sushi rice, crab smoked salmon and asparagus roll, and avocado.
Things get sweet on Wednesday, July 17 with CakeDecorating 2. Though this is an intermediate-level class for people who have some cake decorating experience, however, it’s not necessary to take Cake Decorating I prior to this class. Corinna Selby will teach you crafts of decorating from piping roses, modeling chocolate, and how to mold chocolate roses. You can register for this course online which takes place from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
 On Thursday, July 18, things get even sweeter with Summer Pies. Instructor Deanna Fox will “lead students on the ins-and-outs of summer pies with a variety of tips, techniques, and recipes, including Perfect Pie Crust, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Lemon Icebox Pie, Mixed Berry Pie, Peach Galette, and for a spin on another summertime staple, Chocolate Basil Macadamia Tart.” After delighting in this pie extravaganza Different Drummers Kitchen invites you to “BYOB – Bring Your Own Bib” and indulge in a personal pie eating contest.  You can register online for that class,hurry before it’s too late and fills up.
 The fun in the kitchen continues on Saturday, July 20, with something unique: Ethiopian Food for Kids.  Have summer fun with the kids and learn to make an entire meal you can eat with your hands! Classic dishes from Ethiopia include Berbere coated beef, simmered lentils, and soft, chewy flat bread to scoop it all up. For dessert, you’ll create crisp, hot fried bread, tossed with sugar and spices and gobble it down.
Different Drummers Kitchen is located at 1475 Western Ave in Stuyvesant Plaza. Class registration can be found online or by calling 518-459-7990.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Culinary for a Cause: MS Fundraiser at Taste

Go out on the town - and support a good cause!

This Friday, July 12, from 5 - 8 pm, head over to Taste to enjoy drink specials, raffles, and great dining to benefit Carley and Marisa's efforts to raise funds for the 50-Mile Challenge, a 3-day 50-mile fundraising walk as part of the MS Society.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the team's fundraising efforts.