Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer Eatin' In The '518'

Two summer activities that are dear to every Hudson River Valley boy worth his salt from the Albany/Guilderland area are the Altamont Fair and the Saratoga Racetrack. Every summer since I can remember I have spent a couple weekends a summer at each and many good memories of drinkin', eatin', and gamblin' have been had. The food at the fair and the track, while not sophisticated or particularly refined, sparks cravings every time I have to miss a summer season due to my gallivanting. I thought I would document one particularly cheese sauce soaked weekend that me and my wife just shared.

Firstly, the old lady and I piled in the old RAV 4 and headed north across the Twins (Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge) into the abysmal traffic that must be endured on the way to the Saratoga Racetrack. I always have mild coronaries in the car once embedded in the gridlock in Saratoga proper. This always subsides into a pleasant feeling of expectation when you get up to the main gate. There is absolutely nothing I like more in the world then drinking beer while eating cheese fries while gambling on horses.

In case you don't know, Saratoga is supposedly the birth place of the potato chip. You know the story about the Indian and the Ornery customer and the home fries, blah blah blah... You actually walk up Potato Chip Lane going towards the gates which is pretty funny. There is a booth that sells traditional "Saratoga Chips" which are pretty awesome. They are fresh fried potato chips which are thicker than you usually get, served warm with cheese sauce. The best ones are found at the bottom of your order and are soft and kind of chewy from sitting under their hot greasy brother chips.

Nathan's Famous is another fixture at the track. The hot dogs need no description because if you don't know what a Nathan's dog is all about, you have problems that won't be solved here. I take mine with kraut and mustard, ketchup is for deviants (except for my wife who drinks the stuff). The cheese fries are what I am all about while at the track. There is something about eating a large order of crinkle cut fries, drenched in cheese sauce, with a tiny, red, two-pronged fork all the while swilling cheap beer that is life affirming.

Another favorite of mine is the Manhattan Clam Chowder they serve at the little kiosk under the grandstands. The soup contains some vegetable matter which helps me feel a little better about all of the oil, meat, and cheese consumed earlier.

Me and my wife share one order which is comprised of cardboard tray, 2 plastic soup spoons, 2 packs of saltines (they howl and throw hot soup in your eyes if you ask for more crackers), and one nice sized cup of molten, red chowder. This stuff is surprisingly good, I think they actually thicken it with a real butter rue.

That is pretty much the highlights of the track food. This was a particularly good day as I hit a Trifecta and Exacta on the same race for a cool 75 clams.

The Altamont Fair is another classic in this area. It reminds you of the truly rural nature of parts of upstate New York. This deal is all about 4H exhibits, FFA contests, poultry/livestock beauty contests, etc... Here is my bud who I named "Crazy Legs McChicken".

It is an old-timey festival of Americana that I fear will not survive intact for too much longer. Also, if you are a fan of mutant, creepy, Carnies than the Altamont Fair is definitely the place to be. All of the usual suspects of Fair food are represented on the fairway.

We started with a paper cone full of roasted cashews and a small bag of Squirrel Nut Zippers, but unfortunately we mowed them before they could be documented on film. No matter, we soon stopped at another kiosk advertising Rib Eye Sammitches'. This tickled my fancy and I was not let down. This sandwich was made with a single thin slice of recognizable rib-eye steak. It was thrown on the grill and left in one piece, not chopped up a la cheese steak. Topped with peppers and onions and served on a grilled hot dog bun it was delicious. My wife had a surprisingly tasty Chicken Pita at the same joint. We shared an order of cheese covered shoestring fries and a fresh squeezed lemonade. All in all an impressive fair lunch.

Later I had to photograph a bizarre looking funnel cake that someone was about to consume. It was covered in multiple dollops (globs) of fluorescent preserves of unknown pedigree. I am not a big funnel cake fan, and this frightened me a little. However, I did get a weird urge to steal it and throw it at my wife, I don't know why.

All in all, this was my ideal summer weekend and was much welcomed after 21 work days without a break. I gained 3 pounds and won about 150 bucks. If that is the wrong way to spend a Saturday and Sunday, well, I just don't want to be right.

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