Friday, December 14, 2012

Ghosts of Albany's Christmas Past

My own little family's first 2 kid Xmas tree.

I am 32 years old. I spent my early childhood in the City of Albany, moved to McKownville (the bit of Guilderland that is almost in Albany) when I was 8, and have been residing in Delmar for the past four years. I just recently purchased a home in "Olde Delmar" which I insist on pronouncing "Old-uh Delmar." That is all to say that I have spent the majority of my mortal years within less than 10 miles of the center of the City of Albany.

As we are within 12 days of Christmas, last night it occurred to me to try to count the Christmas' that I have spent within the warm, comforting confines of Albany County. I have been lucky in regards to Xmas. You see, I am a ramblin' man. I have been taken away from my beloved home for extended periods of time for various reasons throughout my life. However, I always seem to be lucky in regards to coming home for Xmas. I think the year that I ate some takeout Bulgogi by myself in a hotel in Southern Arizona is the only time I have actually missed an Albany County Xmas.

Thanksgiving is another matter... I have spent no end of Thanksgivings in strange places in this country and abroad. I have been forced to eat icky, sweet cornbread stuffing down south and all sorts of other travesties in odd nooks and crannies of the world. Heck, I ate a can of Chef Boyardee in a dusty trailer in Mesopotamia to avoid the dinner line once... I do recall a nice thanksgiving that Mrs. Dave and I had at a Western Sizzler outside of Oklahoma City some years back. We marveled at some frightfully green form of pistachio pudding dessert that they sold and just had a good time of it. That was a tough period in our lives where I was away for long stretches but we made it through. We are hearty stock.

As I think back, I do believe that I have spent 31 of my 32 Christmas Holiday seasons in Albany County. There may have been some excursions down to Long Island to visit my Grandparents for the Eve or Xmas dinner, but the majority of my Xmas' were spent right here in my hardscrabble Albany County homeland.

I was thinking back over all of these years and holidays and reminiscing about times gone by. There are so many memories of faces that are now forever gone, moments that will never come again, my child self's glee at piles of presents. I see the much younger faces of my parents joyful at providing me with the bounty that all their hard work could provide on Xmas morning (Ma, Dad... You don't know that I write this blog, but that time you got me all the Star Wars stuff? I think about that almost everyday). If you want to get me started on these more personal sorts of memories then catch me out at a bar and buy me a couple belts of something strong. I will stop here on this forum.

This blog is a blog about the wonderful foods and experiences to be had in Upstate NY (mostly Albany County a lot of the time, that is where my heart tree grows I guess) so I thought I would stay on subject. I am calling this post "The Ghosts of Albany's Xmas Past" and am going to try to resurrect some memories of all the long forgotten taste memories of the past. It is good to remember sometimes... The following are just some odd bits and ends that came to mind.

-Who remembers when there was a Hot Dog Charlie's in the food court at Crossgates Mall? Remember when the food court had those booths with the high divider sorts of things? I threw up Mountain Dew in one once when I was small... Anyway, I didn't have the taste for my beloved Capital Region style hot dog meat sauce back then (or mustard, or onions). I would get 3 mini-dogs with luscious, bright yellow cheese sauce. This was my undisputed favorite food as a kid. This is what bound me forever to the glorious small dogs of my home. Luckily there are still Hot Dog Charlie's locations around, but not my Hot Dog Charlie's location.

-Who remembers the Mike's NEBA that was on the corner of Central and Colvin? I think there is a Valvoline oil change place there. I think they had some awesome primary colored signage... Of course the places main trade was in one our indigenous sandwichs, i.e. the eponymous NEBA (this is its own story, read more here). I didn't give a hoot about roast beef sandwichs with horseradish sauce back as a kid. What I remember most about that Mike's NEBA is the icy cool feeling of a real deal slush puppy sipped through a straw on a summers day walk to Westland Hills park. I loved green or blue if I remember correctly. I remember once, I was probably 6, trying to throw a rock across Colvin Ave. and failing. I hit an old lady's car and she was none too pleased...

-Who remembers the Chinese restaurant that was on Madison Ave. (I think Junior's is there now)? I think it was called Hunan and the owner was Charley Chow if I remember correctly? This was my neighborhood way back when and my parents would take the the sis and I here all of the time. It was one of my earliest experiences with the cuisine of the world. I have vivid memories of fighting it out with my sister over pieces of meat in the family style dish of pepper steak... I think some of the staff of this place later opened the Dumpling House (also now shuttered) over on Everett Road. That was probably the best Chinese in the area during its heyday.

-Who remembers when there was that penny candy store on Ontario Street right near where it runs into Washington Ave.? This was probably there in the 80's as my memories of it are very hazy. I remember pointing into a glass case filled with small cardboard boxes of ribbon candy, sixlets, Necco wafers, Bazooka Joe, wax candy, and endless other delightful things. An elderly gentlemen would put your choices in a little brown paper bags. The happiness I felt during my visits to that place (I don't even remember what it was called) was indescribable. If I had a million bucks I would build a penny candy store to the old standards just so my kids could have that experience. Just once.

-Who remembers the old ice cream shop (I think it was an ice cream shop) that was next to the Madison Theater? That is where I tasted my first chocolate malt. It was just a sip of my dad's, but I still remember it to this day. It was a taste revelation and instilled a lifelong mania for all things malted. Heck I would drink a Carnation malted milk if you gave it to me right now... Also, I still remember seeing ET for the first time at the Madison. Remember when they switched the sign to the "Norma Jean" nonsense and then it got struck by lightning? Maybe that is a legend, I don't know.

-Who remembers Emil Meister's Market on Ontario Street? Capital Q is there now. I remember my dad bringing us there during the summer. You would know you were there because of the creepy mural on the building. You know what I mean. My dad would always get a big box of hot dogs. I thought of them as the "snappy" dogs because they had natural casings which were a departure from the usual cheese filled, skinless, Ballpark dogs I fancied back then. I don't know what we would do for a good German butcher shop these days if we weren't blessed with Rolf's.

-Anyone remember when the Picottes used to throw a holiday party at the Egg? There would be a staggering amount of food and snacks and then you would see a play... I think the family and I went about three times over the years. I don't really remember why these parties were held or why we went, but it sticks out as a happy memory so I thought I would see if anyone else ever attended.

In any event, I am done blathering. Sorry to confront you with this enormous wall of text, but I thought I might preserve some of these memories for posterity lest I get hit by a bus or something.

One last thing. Remember when it used to snow around here? Like, all winter. Sometimes from October until April. Winter and snow were inextricably tied together for the length of my Albany childhood. The past couple years have necessitated a paradigm shift in how I view the Xmas season and winter in general. The stodgy stoutness with which we faced the bitter cold temperature and mounds of snow is something we base a bit of our identity upon around here. Will this change in weather patterns make us soft? I just don't know...

Anyhow, I have recorded here some ghosts of the past. Enough on all of that, it is time for me (and you) to busy ourselves with the present and future holiday seasons. It is my mission to give my children all sorts of happy memories that tie them forever to their home and hearth. I hope that one day beautiful Giblet and the adventurous Mr. Dave Jr. will be recording their musings on some future blog (hopefully better than this one). They will probably write about ice cream at Stewart's or about those funny little hot dogs that dear old dad used to get so excited for...

Best wishes to you and yours this year, whatever holiday you may celebrate. I wish happiness and unending good fortune for you in the coming year. I wish your larder to always be full of bacon (or turkey bacon), your spouse to be always good natured, and your children's cheeks to always be rosy! Drink deeply of your egg nog!

Oh yeah, here is last years sappy Christmas post - An Albany Holiday Story.

P.S. Hope with me for some cheery old snow too...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Excelsior Pub (Delaware Ave., Albany)


I was informed by the proprietor (via the Excelsior Facebook page) that I made the heinous error of overlooking Genny Cream Ale on tap. My earnest apologies! A bar that has both Uncle Charley and Genny Cream on tap? I am moving in...


An associate of mine was in the mood for a quick beer this evening and I asked if I might like to pop in to the Excelsior Pub (Delaware Ave, Albany). I have been meaning to get over there ever since it opened as I have heard numerous hearty endorsements from friends. This was the perfect and rare opportunity for me to visit (my junior minions were relatively quiet so Mrs. Dave actually allowed it).

The Excelsior Pub pretty much exclusively offers NY produced beers, wines, and spirits which is sort of up my alley (you might say).

The Excelsior was doing quite a good business for 6:00 on a weekday I thought, barely a seat in the house. After looking about a bit I immediately sidled up to the bar and did a quick visual perusal of the bottles and taps. It was just peachy to see so much New York booze and brew in one place. I believe the owner knows the song of our people and is doing good work at this establishment. They even had Uncle Charley (Utica Club) on tap for god's sake (although I did not see any Genesee)!

I am laying off the oat soda (beer) for a while so I took this opportunity to try a couple doses of some NY hooch. I started off with a little 46 Peaks Vodka from Lake Placid Spirits which was handy because I have been considering buying a bottle blind. The stuff is made out of potatoes grown in the Adirondacks which I think is neat. I found the vodka to be just the thing to keep those North Country boys warm through the long winter.

Next up was a little Ironweed Bourbon from the much heralded Albany Distilling Co. The kind Barkeep informed me that the Excelsior had obtained the bottle only nigh 30 to 45 minutes prior and I was getting one of the first pulls. I found it to be interesting as far as bourbon goes... We will leave it at that.

In any event, I was tickled with the Excelsior experience. The Barkeep was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, the inventory was staggeringly impressive, and the crowd was the just the sort of crowd I have come to enjoy drinking around as I move into my 30s (no one was yelling). Heck, I even felt a little underdressed in my standard khaki pants/black North Face combo. There was a lot of young professional/Albany business casual types milling about in nice duds.

I give the Excelsior Pub my wholehearted endorsement (whatever the heck that means, no one reads this) and will attempt to visit as many times as the Missus will allow. Uncharacteristically, I don't have one bad thing to say about the place. I will, however, have to sample the menu (they sell food) next time I go.

Upon returning home I decided I needed a lil' Rolf's teawurst pick me up.  My dusky, 23 pound, feline lifemate went buck wild when I took it out of the fridge and tried to steal it. He is a good boy who needs his nourishment, so I rewarded his pluck with a couple kitty treats. One has to treat his Court Eunuch (does anyone else call their neutered male cats this? Nope, just me eh...) well...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Meatloafistry: What Local Personality Should I Immortalize in Loaf? I Am Soliciting Suggestions...

I don't really know why making meat loaf sculpture amuses me so much, but it does. It really does...

You see, It all started with Meatloafy the Whale (still my favorite) and then a little later I whipped up a little topical meatloaf art with Mr. Meat Romney. I always like to work in threes so I thought I might solicit some suggestions for my next project (I have a surprising lack of meatloaf inspiration lately, must be sick).

I am looking for a local dignitary, celebrity, or notorious individual from the Upstate NY (or maybe just Albany County...) area to immortalize in loaf.

I don't really know why but the ol' Ridiculous Food Society of Upstate New York does not seem to generate a lot of comments or discussion relative to the amount of traffic received. I like to think that my posts are such brilliant, all encompassing works of art that people just don't think they can add anything meaningful too them. Perhaps this is not the issue, I don't know.

So throw me a bone here because I really can't think of anyone good... Should it be Benita Loafbida? Loafy Jennings? Loaf Cuomo? Cecilia Loafczyk? I just don't know.

Leave a suggestion in the comments, it don't cost nothing...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Deep Fried Hot Dogs (NY Hot Dog in Monroe, NY)

I just got back from a 10 day work excursion to Orange County (stayed in Monroe, worked in Cortlandt Manor) which explains my general lack of posting lately. This and I seem always to enter a winter time internet malaise during which my droll blathering dries up a bit. Sometimes I even throw a gloriously dramatic blog ending tantrum around this time, only to triumphantly reappear the following spring all plucky like and ready to inflict my musings on the populous at large once more... Hopefully we don't have any of that this year.

In any event, while driving through Monroe I spied NY Hot Dog which I had never noticed before. I think it must be relatively new as I am down in that neck of the woods fairly often. Everyone is well aware of my general obsession with the hot dog sausage. Needless to say I was compelled to sample the establishment's offerings.

I initially thought it may have been a Mexican run joint (due to the corn on the cob painted on the window) and I had a flash of hope that I might be able to get one of the glorious Sonoran Dogs that I love so much (I lived in Arizona for a while). But alas, I discovered that NY Hot Dog was run by some good ol' New Yorkers. No matter, we know our hot dogs here too.

The menu at NY Hot Dog had an item that immediately drew my attention -- deep fried hot dogs! I am aware that this is a thing in New Jersey but I don't know if I have actually ever seen them sold in New York (at least in my usual Upstate Haunts). I am however familiar with the deep fried hamburger (Swifty's in Delmar), but that is another story.

I ordered two with mustard and the recommended house made onion sauce.

I must caveat this adventure by stating that I am in the midst of experimenting with the ketogenic diet (I am 32 and have decided that if I ever want to see abdominal definition again then this would be the time to nip my beer bagel in the bud). Buns and even onions in large quantities are a no go, so I bought these with the intention of giving one to a trusted advisor. I consumed the other hot dog by itself which was all sorts of depressing. It took no small amount of will power to not just eat the whole shebang.

Here we have a Boar's Head hot dog on your standard workaday hot dog bun. The mustard is spicy brown/deli style. I sampled a bit of the house made onion sauce which had a really nice flavor. My only issue is that the onions in this sauce were substantial and still almost crisp. I tend to like the onions cooked down a bit more in my hot dog onion sauces, but that is just a personal preference.

After eating his deep fried dog my trusted advisor informed me that he had thoroughly enjoyed it. He said he wouldn't have even known that the hot dog was fried if no one had said so. On close examination of the hot dog itself I noted that it was only lightly fried in oil, i.e. it wasn't deep fried to the degree that your "Jersey Ripper" hot dog would be. I actually thought it was pretty tasty. The bath in the hot oil gave the natural casing dog a nice crispy snap and a pleasingly unctuous flavor and mouth feel. I can only imagine that I would have found the whole hot dog to be delicious in its totality. 

In any event, should I ever get off of this miserable diet (hopefully in a few weeks, I am only trying to lose 5 or 10) I would happily go back to NY Hot Dog and gorge myself with abandon. 
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