Foodies’ Paradise, Driscoll Foods Show

Van-Lang Foods, Bacon wrapped Water Chestnut
Van-Lang Foods, Bacon wrapped Water Chestnut
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of being invited to a Food Show produced by Driscoll Foods. Until the last year or so, Driscoll primarily provided food and other hospitality related items to the restaurants in the downstate market. Driscoll Foods has entered the upstate market and is giving Sysco and US Foodservice a run for their money.

I’ve been to many food shows over the years in my previous life in the hospitality industry. This show was particularly enjoyable because of the quality of the vendors. Rule number one is to not eat before you go to one of these shows because there are so many things to sample, you will need lots of room. Driscoll is unique because they have their own butcher shop. Not only do they age their own beef, but they custom cut their meat. This ensures quality and also lets restaurants pick the size of the steak and the quantity of each cut to eliminate spoilage or the need for frozen meat. The beef I sampled was superb! I’m pretty picky as my grandfather and his brothers owned a butcher shop in the city. From the time I could eat solid food, my grandfather would hand select my dinner and drop it off to my mom to cook each night.

There was more than just beef there. There was an abundance of fresh seafood, desserts, side items, dressings, sauces and condiments. My favorite vendor was Van-Lang Foods. They had an array of appetizers that come frozen, but you would never know it. I’m all for making everything on site, but in some restaurants, this isn’t an option. Van-Lang makes them for you from fresh ingredients, and then freezes them. What a great option. I sampled the Vegetable Spring Rolls and couldn’t have detected they were frozen, a rarity for frozen spring rolls. My favorite was the Water Chestnut Wrapped in Bacon. Another favorite vendor was Zina’s Salads for the same reason. They make composed cold side dishes from fresh ingredients. They had an incredible variety, each one better than the next. My favorites salads were the Carrot and Raisin and the Black Bean with Corn and Roasted Red Peppers. If pickles are you thing, then Patriot Pickle had something for everyone. I liked the sour ones best, they had a great garlic note.

One of the best things about this show is that similar products were grouped together so you could compare them side by side. There also were strategically places beverage vendors throughout the show to satisfy your thirst during this grand tasting. I can only hope I am invited back next time!

Perhaps a bottle of Rose instead

A crisp, dry Rose
A crisp, dry Rose
I know a lot of people who are true wine experts. I know a lot people who claim to be. Let’s face it, lots of people can pick a really good $60+ bottle of wine from a wine list that they read about in a magazine. There’s a whole series of apps for that as well. But for me, what’s really impressive is when someone knows enough to pick a really good wine off the shelf in a liquor store for under $20 a bottle, even more impressive if it’s under $15!! My dear friends, Jon and Jesse Seguin own a great wine and liquor store in Lake Placid, NY. It’s right on the main drag in the Alpine Mall. It’s called The Smoking Cork They have an amazing gift for picking those wines, the ones under $20 or even $15 that will blow your socks off.

About 3 years ago I was up in Lake Placid for 4th of July. The real estate company that I work for, Select Sotheby’s InternationalRealty was sponsoring the fireworks on Mirror Lake. The local radio station, WSLP, was broadcasting the 4th of July parade outside our Lake Placid office. The day was a real scorcher so we decided to hand out cups, with our logo, filled with ice cold water. Jon Seguin, one of the owners of Smoking Cork and also a fellow agent with the company was out there with me. He said he was going to run to the store and grab a bottle of wine he wanted us to taste. I pictured a nice crisp, chilled Sauvignon Blanc. What he came back with was an oddly shaped bottle of Rose!

My previous experience with Rose consisted of the sticky sweet Boone’s Farm, Tickle Pink, during my teenage years and the “gateway wine”, the almost as sweet white zinfandel that I drank in my twenties when an open bar was only beer and wine. To say I was skeptical, was an understatement. Jon expertly opened the bottle and poured a few glasses and handed me one. One sip of the dry Rose and I was hooked. It was the perfect treat on this unbearably hot day. The wine was Mirval and at the time, although hard to get, it was still under $20. I promptly split a case with a co-worker. We drank it all summer. Then, the following spring, it appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator magazine and the man holding the bottle looked suspiciously familiar. It was Brad Pitt. Turns out he and wife Angolina Jolie own the vineyard! Of course, the price immediately spiked to $25 a bottle. But my taste for dry Rose remained and I learned as much as I could about Dry Rose wine so I could pick the good ones. They have been my summer favorite ever since.

Today, as I begin an uncharacteristic long weekend, I am headed to my niece, Mia’s, First Communion Party on Long Island, I went to the liquor store and picked out a delightful dry Rose that I am enjoying with a cigar (yes, it holds up well to a cigar) as I write this post. I won’t tell you the name, I’m afraid the price will go up, but I can tell you it was under $15. If you send me a comment, I will tell you which one. As boating season approaches, it’s perfect to bring along and it won’t stain the carpet when the waters get rough! Cheers!!

Not Your Daughter’s Chicken Fingers

Out of this world chicken tenders.
Out of this world chicken tenders.
There is a line of Jeans called Not Your Daughters Jeans. They recognize the need for jeans for women, not girls, because what women need in a pair of jeans changes as we get older. Well so does our taste in food. Like most kids, my kids loved chicken fingers when they were little. I remember when we went to Disney for a week, I think my younger two ate Mickey shaped chicken fingers exclusively for a week straight for lunch and dinner! I’ve never had much use for chicken fingers, I found them bland and boring, the very reason kids love them. I also was unimpressed with the lackluster sauce options for dipping, again that’s another thing kids love.

About two or three months ago, my “go to” restaurant, Downtown City Tavern, in Glens Falls, conveniently located steps from my loft, started a new menu. One of the additions was Boneless Chicken Tenders. I thought, if anyone can make chicken tenders that would appeal to me, it would be Chef Paul Parker, so I ordered a small order of three tenders just to see. First of all they were so generously sized, I could only eat two. They were really juicy chicken with this thick, perfectly seasoned crunchy exterior that could only be described as crater-like. That was perfect since the choice of sauces they offer are grown up versions of the kid friendly favorites (along with some new ones) and the craters help hold the delicious sauces. I had the honey mustard, the barbecue mayo and the Thai peanut. All of them are made in house and you can’t have just one!

It’s amazing what happens when food tastes like it should. These chicken tenders have the most incredible flavor. Pair them with the pesto fries and Chicken Fingers and Fries will never be the same again. For me it’s a 30 second walk to Downtown City Tavern, but honestly, I would drive quite a distance to get them!

Liquids and Solids, a truly unique Lake Placid gastropub

I love the Lake Placid area. I think it goes back to my days at Paul Smith’s college. I travel there for work and I usually stay at the Courtyard by Marriott so there is no kitchen in the room. That means I have to explore the many restaurants the area has to offer. Among my favorites is Liquids and Solids at the The Handlebar.

I first learned about this restaurant when I participated in a panel discussion at my alma mater, Paul Smith’s College. I learned the Chef is a Paul Smith grad, so I knew I had to give it a try. A true Gastropub, Liquids and Solids has an ever changing menu for food as well as drinks, wines by the glass and beer. The choices change so often that the menu is printed on computer paper and presented on a clipboard to each diner.

My companions and I set forth on this culinary adventure with a completely open mind. We chose three “liquids”. My choice the Balsamic Fizz Vodka (Strawberry Juice, basil, balsamic vinegar, soda water and pineapple juice) was refreshing and surprisingly not too sweet, garnished with a peppered lemon slice. One of my companions ordered the Sweet Manhattan (Blantons, stout jam, apple syrup, sweet vermouth and cherry bitters), a little too sweet for his taste, but still wonderfully blended and delicious with a pear peel garnish. My other companion opted for a non-alcoholic beverage, Lavender Soda (Lavender syrup, apple cider, pineapple mango juice and soda water). It was wonderfully fragrant and flavorful.

We ordered a tableful of food to share and our server brought it out in stages so we could savor each dish. First we had the Fried Brussel Sprouts, crispy, perfectly season and topped with a fried egg. The Potatoes with Smoked Ham, Honey Mustard, Shallots and Cheddar was the only disappointment. It lacked the smokiness I was hoping for and the potatoes were too large. The 5 Oysters with Duck Confit and Kimchi however, was a dynamic flavor explosion of sweet oysters and crispy confit.

The next round started with Chicken Liver Creme Brûlée served with root vegetable chips, red onion and cran-orange jam. An odd combination, but it all worked together. The sweetness from the brûlée with the savory chicken liver and the salty root chips made this my favorite dish of the night. We found it was important to have a little of everything in each bite. Then there was the Pork and Pumpkin Chili Apple Cheddar Pie with sour cream and pickled jalapeños. I know this may look like a typo, but I can assure you that this crazy combination worked. It’s like all your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes mixed with pork instead of turkey and all in one dish.

Oh, and then there was the Grits, broccoli rabe, shrimp, bread crumbs, crispy kale and romesco sauce. Creamy grits with succulent shrimp with the added depth of the crispy kale. So many different textures keep you going back for more. The last dish was a pasta dish. Wild mushrooms, bacon, salmon, peashoots, and egg yolk served over ribbon like fettucine. It was an interesting take on Fettucine Carbonara. The wood plank smokiness of the salmon was a exceptional addition to the this dish.

We couldn’t possibly end the meal with out dessert, but we had so much food that we decided to split two desserts between the three of us. I thought for sure the Chocolate Stout Cake with hopped frosting and and stout syrup would be my favorite. It was certainly rich and decadent, but a little bitter. On the other hand, the Almost Milk Bar and the PBJ Pannacotta was that kind of knock you socks off, have to have it again dessert. The peanut butter flavor was in the oats of the milk bar and the jelly flavor was part of the panna cotta. I, of course enjoyed my dessert with a nice single malt. The perfect ending to an incredible meal.

There are plenty of restaurants in Lake Placid that have typical fare. But if you are looking for an adventure for you palate, Liquids and Solids is the place to go.

Health, History, Horses and a Hot Restuarant Scene

The restaurant scene in Saratoga Springs, NY has been on the upswing for the last 15 or so years. I give the credit to a group of chefs that called themselves the 4 X 4. At the time they represented the best in Saratoga. David Britton from Springwater Bistro, Larry Schepici from Sargos at Saratoga National, Paul Parker from Chez Sophie and Mark Graham from the Wine Bar. Chef Larry is now in Albany, Chef Paul and Chef David are in Glens Falls and I heard Chef Mark, has recently returned home to the Wine Bar. These chefs banded together and executed dinners monthly as a team. They were promoting Farm to Fork long before it was cool to do so. They really put the Saratoga culinary scene on the map.

Many more great restaurants have since entered the scene. Restauranteur David Zecchini has three restaurants in Saratoga Springs, Chianti, Forno Bistro and Boca Bistro. David has taken Farm to Fork to a whole new level when he actually bought a farm that was listed by Select Sotheby’s International Realty. The DZ farm is used to grow some of the ingredients used in the restaurants and also to host events.

Restauranteurs Christel and Colin MacLean started in Saratoga Springs with Hattie’s Chicken Shack, and then added Sperry’s, Circus Cafe, Crown Grill and Saratoga Juice Bar to their list of successful restaurants in Saratoga Springs. They sold Hatties to Chef Jasper Alexander and his wife Beth and Sperry’s to their former partner.

Recently Saratoga Springs has been getting national recognition and some significant players in the restaurant industry are preparing to open restaurants in Saratoga Springs. The first Morton’s Steakhouse north of Westchester County will open in the new hotel at the Racino in Saratoga Springs. Chef Grey Kunz has partnered with the developers of the Adelphi Hotel to open three restaurant concepts in Saratoga Springs as part of the revival of the hotel. The first one, Salt and Char is scheduled to open this spring. Kunz, a James Beard nominee for Best Chef, is known for his culinary talents in both the Manhattan and Hong Kong food scene. He has been heralded by both the New York Times and New York Magazine as one of the best chefs in New York City. Salt and Char is certain to garner the attention of foodies from Manhattan and beyond.

Restauranteurs, Colin and Christel MacLean, have seen a tremendous surge in their Saratoga Juice Bar business as they bring their juice to market in major retailers throughout the country. In order to focus on the juice business, the McCleans have decided to sell the Crown Grill. This incredible “turn key” opportunity to join the vibrant Saratoga restaurant is unparalleled. The dining room, bar and event space are tastefully decorated and the spacious kitchen is fully equipped and ready to go. The location has the highest level of foot traffic of any block in Saratoga Springs. For more information visit Crown Grill or call Joanne DiMarco at 518.210.3649 or John Burke at 518.928.2233.

Renee’s….when a mistake becomes the Next Great Thing

Prosciutto wrapped Pork Tenderloin served over fresh spaetzle with a chablis apple glaze
Prosciutto wrapped Pork Tenderloin served over fresh spaetzle with a chablis apple glaze
I recently watched the Netflix documentary, “Cooked”. In one of the episodes, they talked about the history of bread. The story goes that someone accidentally left a bowl of porridge out overnight. The mixture fermented and rose and they decided to bake it. Bread was born.

In Saratoga Springs, NY, in the 1800’s at Moon’s Lake house a cranky customer ordered the hand cut french fries. When the fries arrived the customer sent them back because they were not cut thin enough. The cook, George Crum, cut a new order of fries, thinner this time. The customer sent them back again. This time, an angry George, cut the potatoes paper thin and dropped them in the oil and left them there until they were hard, then, covered them in salt. He planned for and presumed them to be inedible. Instead the cranky guest loved them and the “Saratoga Chip” was born.

Last Friday night my guy and I went out for dinner at Rene’s on Elm Street in Glens Falls. We love Rene’s, it’s off the beaten path. The restaurant is only open five nights a week, three hours a night and they only have 7 tables. They also don’t have a liquor license so we can bring our own beer and wine.

We have our routine. We pack the cooler bag with a bottle of wine for me and few bottles of beer for Jeff walk over to Sandy’s Clam Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. Hey, it’s on the way. After we chat with our favorite bartenders, we walk the rest of the way to Rene’s.

The food there is always amazing and the menu changes seasonally, although the favorites like the Weiner Schnitzel and the Ahi Tuna consistently appear. We know we always have to save room to at least share a dessert. The desserts at Renee’s are not to be missed. Friday night we decided to split a dessert. We were torn between the Coconut Creme Brûlée and the Chocolate Pots de Creme. I asked Jeff to choose and he picked the Creme Brûlée. When the dessert arrived, together we cracked at the Brûléed top and dug in. We were talking and enjoying each other’s company, as well as this delicious creamy dessert. Well, a few bites in we realized we weren’t eating Creme Brûlée. The kitchen had accidentally Brûléed the the Pots de Creme!!! We couldn’t believe how delicious it was! We are regulars in the restaurant, so we called our server over to let her know, in case the next people didn’t find it as amazing as we did. She went into the kitchen and let them know. One of the other servers was helping in the kitchen and she came out to apologize. We told her there was no need, it was our new favorite dessert. We all had a good laugh. Check out Rene’s You will be glad you did. It’s one of the best kept secrets in Glens Falls.

Craft Beer in Glens Falls

Photo courtesy of Davidson Brothers
Photo courtesy of Davidson Brothers
If you love craft beers, Glens Falls, NY is the place to go. This walkable downtown seems to have become a hub for beer lovers. There are two that have been around for quite some time and there are a few more that have recently joined the scene.

Davidson Brothers on Glen Street is probably the most well known. In spite of the the controversy surrounding their tipped employee policy the last few months, they are a destination for many tourists and regulars alike. Their signature beers include their IPA, Oatmeal Stout, Scotch Ale and traditional Brown Ale. They also have a rotation of Specialty Brews that appear seasonally. They have a full upscale pub menu and on the weekends they add live music into the mix. Davidson Brothers also has a brewery and tasting room on Route 9 in Queensbury.

Coopers Cave Ale Company also has their signature brews and a rotation of specialty ales. They also make their own sodas and ice cream. The food at Cooper’s Cave is outstanding and it’s a great place to bring families. They are located on Sagamore Street.

Mean Max, located on Glen Street across from Davidson’s, is one of the new kids on the block. Beer is their thing. They don’t serve food, but the good news is you can bring your own food or order food to be delivered there. In addition to the beer brewed on site, you can also enjoy wines from a local, Washington County winery, Amorici Vineyard. Wednesday is Trivia night and they also have a dart league.

If you venture just over the bridge into South Glens Falls, you will find Common Roots. Like Mean Max, they don’t serve food, but they do have an outside area in the warm weather months. Thursdays is Trivia Night for Common Roots and the first Sunday of the month they have a donation based yoga class. Every Monday, they share a new cask beer.

These are the breweries you can walk to from Glens Falls, but there are plenty more within a 20-25 minute drive. You can check out some of the others on the Glens Falls Beer Trail You can also ride the Hoppy Trails Brew Bus for a safe way to enjoy.

If you’re not still feeling the effects of St. Patrick’s Day, The Glens Falls Beer Festival in March 19, 2016 beginning at 4 pm.

Incredible music and a “Sweaty Gug”

The music scene at Gugs
The music scene at Gugs
First you have to find Gugs. It’s almost like an underground club. It’s not near any other bars in Glens Falls. There’s not a big sign outside. Other than a postage stamp size ad in the Glens Falls Chronicle that mentions the music line up, there is no advertising. It’s not a bar you would stumble upon, you have to actually go looking for it. The bar has been there for decades, with the ownership passing from one generation to the next. It started out as a store over 100 years ago and then became a restaurant in 1932. The current owner. Mike Rios has been operating the bar since 1989.

The crowd at Gugs, you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a eclectic group of mostly 20 and 30 somethings. There are a few 40 and 50 somethings that have been going there for years to see Mike. He is the perfect bar owner, friendly, remembers your name, great to talk to and he really cares about the patrons.

I think to to fully appreciate Gugs you have to fully appreciate the music scene. The music scene has a very cool vibe. There’s a open mic night on Wednesdays that packs them in. Some really talented musicians show up to entertain. Every Friday and Saturday night there is also live music. Sometimes one band, sometimes two or three. Sometimes some really well known local and national acts play there under a pseudonym. You never really know what you will hear, but you always know it will be good.

Then there’s the Sweaty Gug. It’s a shot. They make them by the pitcher, in advance, so you never are really sure what’s in a Sweaty Gug. You can’t go there and not have one. It’s an unspoken rule. It tastes pretty sweet, but it sure packs a punch. Drinks are reasonably priced and the crowd, though lively, is well mannered.

Hungry? Guys only serves one thing, the Gug’s Ham Sandwich. The ham is baked on site, hand sliced and piled on Villa Bread (another Glens Falls icon) topped with a spicy secret recipe sauce, sharp cheddar cheese and pickles. They may only serve one thing, but they do it well!!!

So where is Gugs, you ask? It’s a 18 Haskell Ave in Glens Falls. Here’s the catch though……it’s only open from the night before Thanksgiving through April 20th (4-20), every year. The reason is the other family business, The Ridge Terrace, is open from May to October. That’s a topic for another blog post.

Turnkey restaurant opportunity in Saratoga Springs, NY
Turnkey restaurant opportunity in Saratoga Springs, NY

Bourbon and Bitters

Bulleit Bourbon with orange bitters.
Bulleit Bourbon with orange bitters.
I know lots of folks who are into the craft beer movement and that is a topic for another day, but I like my whiskey. In the past few years, I have become especially fond of bourbons. I love the subtle nuances of bourbons. And I love unlocking some of those nuances with flavored bitters. There are quite a few brands on the market and the flavors are limitless. There are even books on making your own bitters. I am a fan of Fee Brothers Bitters . I currently have seven different kinds at home. I have lemon, peach, grapefruit, orange, cranberry, mint and of course the traditional aromatics. Bitters impart flavors without the sweetness of most mixers and they don’t dilute the bourbon. It only takes a few drops of bitters to do the trick.

I have a few of my favorite combinations. My top choice is Basil Hayden with lemon bitters. It’s a lighter bourbon and the brightness of the lemon is perfect. I like to pair Bulleit with orange bitters. For a reasonably priced bourbon, I like Buffalo Trace with grapefruit bitters. I’m not a fan of overly sweet drinks so a great substitute for a Mint Julep is bourbon with mint bitters.

There are some bars that carry flavored bitters, not as many as I would like! Liquids and Solids in Lake Placid is one of my favorites. Keegan at the bar makes some of them herself. Morgan and Company in Glens Falls has a small selection. The Bourbon Room in Saratoga Springs also has a few.

Bitters also have medicinal benefits and mixed with club soda or seltzer is great for settling an upset stomach.

I’d love to hear about other bars that carry a selection of bitters or different combinations of bourbons and bitters.

Morgan and Company

One of the best things that has happened to the culinary scene in this area is Morgan and Company, just a few steps outside my door in Glens Falls!

We ventured in on a weeknight and it was packed. I’ve been there before, but it was my companion’s first time. Our server, Joleen, was an incredible resource to navigate the intriguing menu.

We couldn’t decide on appetizers so we chose quite a few to sample. The Hummus Platter is a must have. It should be called the Mediterranean Platter. There is a little bit of everything. Carrot Puree, Hummus, Spicy Whipped Feta, Fried Chick Peas and Pureed Lentils and my favorites, the Babbaganoush and the Red Pepper and Sun Dried Tomato spread, served with perfectly seasoned pita as vessels for these delicious spreads.

The Lamb Cigars, amazing, seasoned with curry with a spicy Harrissa dipping sauce that was “to die for”! We also had to have the Deviled Eggs, made with Truffle oil and a sprinkle of Truffle salt. The flavor is incredible and you can not go to Morgan and Co and not order them. The Chef, Rebecca Butters, (a Food Network Chopped Champion) sent us out a complimentary order of the Fried Calamari. It was crispy and not at all greasy with the calamari so tender. We also had the Candied Garlic Spare Ribs. I am not a rib person and I could not stop eating them. The ribs were both tender and crispy and we just pulled the meat off the bone. There was just enough kick to keep it interesting but still allowed the meat to be the star of the dish.

Then it was on the the entrees. I chose the Picnic Fried Chicken. I think there was at least half a chicken, so crunchy it had to have been double breaded. I think I could have easily eaten just the outside, but then I would have missed the moist fleshy inside that was packed with flavor, even the white meat! If that wasn’t enough it was served with old fashioned Potato Salad and and a Strawberry Fennel Salad dressed with a Poppy Seed dressing. There was easily enough there for two or three meals. My companion chose the Inca Bowl. A signature concoction with Adobo-spiced Quinoa, Possole ( a Mexican dish that contains Hominy), Kale, Corn and Roasted Vegetables. You can top it with your choice of Chicken, Steak, Shrimp, Scallops or Blackened Swordfish. My companion chose the Steak. It was spicy but the kind of spice that brought out the flavors of the components instead of over powering them.

We enjoyed out appetizers and entrees so much, we had little room for dessert. We decided to split the Chocolate Pot de Creme. It was just the right ending. A little sweet, a little chocolate. I have to admit, with just a short walk home, my dessert included a glass of my favorite bourbon, Basil Hayden on the rocks with a few shakes of orange bitters. They have several different bitters at the bar. If you haven’t tried bitters in your bourbon, you are really missing out!

Watching the Adirondack Balloon Festival from my rooftop
Watching the Adirondack Balloon Festival from my rooftop
September is Balloon Festival in Glens Falls. It is a not to be missed weekend. Make sure to include Morgan and Company in your Ballon Festival plans. I’ll be watching from my roof top.