Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Bear's.



It has always been my opinion that the tradition/process/ritual of a culinary experience is often more important than the actual morsels of food that you chew up and swallow into your gullet. It isn't the taste of the lame-o over-grilled hamburger on a Freihofer's bun that makes a summer cookout enjoyable, it is the entire process. With the venerable Duanesburg institution that is The Bear's Steak House, this is the rub. From beginning to end, the entire meal is a sort of strange (but thrilling) ritual. 

Go to your phonebook, look for a phone number for The Bear's. Go ahead, search the internet. See if you can find a website... You will eventually track down the needed information, but this is only due to the much lamented (by me) advent of "yelpers" and other idiot, internet, restaurant documentarians. Before this was the case you kind of had to know someone who had been there and had the phone number handy in their rolodex. Also, it is still comically difficult to find a street address other than "Route 7, Duanesburg" for The Bear's. Use the Google map directions and you will find yourself taking a scenic tour of Duanesburg as the map is very wrong. 

You have to make reservations at The Bear's, and for a weekend evening you should probably call a week or two out. You may want to talk to someone in the know before making your reservation as you will be asked the question, "Chateaubriand or prime rib?" You don't have to pre-order either as The Bear's has a (sort of small) menu, but I recommend  that you go with the Chateaubriand for your party on the occasion of your first visit. While the Chateaubriand is probably not the best item on the menu, it is necessary for your traditional and classic visit to The Bear's. Make sure you have the number in your party firmed up and don't even think of canceling without a good amount of notice. Once you have committed to the Chateaubriand, there is no going back. You risk a verbal lambasting by the staff at the very least, possibly the denial of meaty delights in the future. You just never know.

After finding the phone number, making your reservation, securing your Chateaubriand, and obtaining a general idea of where the place is you must, along with your merry band, depart into the night. To Duanesburg! For me it is a long, lonely drive down good ol' Route 20 through Guilderland. The Bear's seats only twice per eve, at 5:30 and 8:30. I prefer the later seating and I usually make my visits in the fall. There is something very clean and crisp about a fall night in Duanesburg. 

After your long journey a house will appear out of the night. You will see the silly, portly bear on the sign and a pleasant sort of tingly anticipation will skitter up your spine. You will park, muster your merry band, and make for the door.


Hang up your jacket, take your seat, sigh and gaze upon the vivid blue wall paper. You will soon meet your waiter/waitress.


Order your beer or wine secure in the knowledge that the mental burden of deciding on a meal has been lifted away. You have already made that decision by pre-ordering a Chateaubriand. This is a set meal that includes bread, soup, meat, veg, and tatties. You must only trouble yourself with deciding on an appetizer.

The fist thing to arrive will be a roll. This will be a simple affair, nothing more than a plain, work-a-day white flour roll with a pat of butter. But look at the plate. Take in the pattern.


Of course, this is indigenous New York China. Just in case you haven't figured it out by now, at The Bear's you are in the middle of a definitive Upstate New York experience. I am not just talking about the food here folks. I can't think of another way to spend an evening that is so undeniably (and undefinably) Upstate-ish. If my whole person and being were expressed by a meal, this meal would be it. The stoic and the cranky, the ol'timey and the classic, the unflinching (and unapologetic) desire to be unchanging, all combined with a kind of shy warmness emanating from under the surface of the whole deal.


For your appetizer you will have a few choices. Below we have tomato and mozzarella.


Also offered are herring, salmon, and the most popular (traditional) choice which is shrimp cocktail. All of these were represented at my table and all were declared worthy. I had the shrimp.


Offered for the soup course that night were chili made from the trimmings off of the tenderloins...


as well as beef and barley soup.


I tasted both. The chili was well spiced and the beef and barley had some nice wine-y undertones, sherry or port I thought.

At this point, enjoy the lull. Have another glass of wine, mayhaps some sparkling water. In any event, gird your loins for what is to come. For soon to arrive will be the below pictured vision. Your Chateaubriand.


There she is folks. Meat on a platter. Does it ever really get better in this life than rare meat on a big, metal platter? If it does, I just don't want to know about it. They don't even ask you for a temperature for the meat when you reserve it as the staff of The Bear's assumes you aren't stupid and take your meat on the rare side of medium rare. I think I remember disclaimers on the menu deriding well done meat.

Pictured below are a couple slices unadulterated by anything save the white and blue Syracuse China. Look at that meat. Meat such as this surely honors the cow.



You get potatoes and carrots with your tenderloin but they are almost unnecessary.  However, a way of taking your tatty that I thoroughly endorse is to grasp one with the hand, break it in half, and run it through the lake of meaty juices on the bottom of the platter. Then devour it whole.

Here is the destruction wrought by 7 hungry souls. Hah! I just realized that I was at The Bear's with a party of 7. Twas a fortuitous and worthy number.



After the coming of the platter and the ensuing feast you will want to linger a bit and sigh until you summon the necessary willpower to leave this happy place and reenter the black and cold Duanesburg night. You will find yourself loosening the ol' belt and smiling out your window at the passing farmland as you head home.

You don't feel bad about how much you drank, how much you ate, or how much you spent. You feel somehow as if you have been quietly whispered a secret.  You have now been to The Bear's and you will already be thinking of your next visit. Maybe reservations for next weekend. Resist, for it may be too soon. Give it a little time, maybe until a clear crisp January night comes around and the memories of your meal have faded.

Only when you can just barely recall the pattern of the wall paper and its particular shade of blue should you venture out into the cold night again, Duanesburg bound.

11 comments:

  1. Don't forget about The Bears homegrown horseradish! Super yum :D

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  2. That shrimp looks soooo good!

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  3. I immediately recognized the china pattern since that was the pattern of dishes I grew up with. Both my grandmother and uncle retired from Syracuse China. The china alone makes me want to check this place out.

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  4. (Sorry if this pops up twice, I got an error the first time).

    This post almost exactly describes my last trip to the Bears about five years ago. My 'in' was my ex husband's grandfather - he had the phone number. Their Chateaubriand is in my top five beef experiences. I should try to get back sometime soon.

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  5. The photo of the bottom of the plate made me smile. My mother worked for Syracuse China and we could not go to any restaurant without her turning plates over to see who made them. Quite embarrassing for a teenager. She actually had something called a "Syracuse China turnover card" in her wallet.

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  6. Oops! Been going to the Bears since I was a kid (for at least 20 years) and never once did I turn over the plate. Made in the USA! Now I like the place even better, if that's possible. Also, in all those years, I've never had anything besides the Chateaubriand. Any thoughts on what might be a better menu item?

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  7. I have heard it said that the steaks are something to behold, but like you, I have only had the Chateaubriand. An associate of mine whom I conferred with before writing this post was emphatic that I shouldn't encourage people to slavishly order the Chateaubriand, so I took his word for it.

    That being said, next visit I am going to do the Prime Rib and make someone order a menu steak for perspective.

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  8. I live maybe a mile from this place and I still haven't been. Pfft.

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  9. What I've never been able to figure out is exactly how expensive are we talking here?

    I'm happy to spend money on a great meal, but I like to know going in what I'll be on the hook for at the end.

    Do you think you can give any guidance without violating some kind of sacred code or oath?

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  10. @Daniel-

    With our party of 7, with the Chateaubriand, everyone having an appetizer, and some pretty light drinking (wine, Saratoga water) the bill came to about 430. We left a bit over a hundred for a tip, I think we ended up leaving 550 bucks.

    So per person that works out to... Let me get out my abacus...

    78.57 $ per person.

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  11. My Food Prep professor at Schenectady owns this place. Or at least his family does.

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