First, three weird things about Albany:
The traffic lights are the slowest in America. I aged significantly at each red light. My lord.
Whenever you see double doors, you always need to use the left one entering. Nowhere else, only Albany.
The town is crazy for Nine Pin cider. It's everywhere. Even hipster beer snobs go nuts for it. And it's just really not that good (I only tried their flagship flavor, but it was a flatline that never unfurled or progressed, ala Dr. Pepper).
On to the chow:
Psychedelicatessen 275 River St, Troy
Breakfast burrito was truly next-level. Don't ask me what's in it. I murdered it. Worth a trip for this. Also: lots of weird funky bagels (e.g. "asiago"), and they all look totally inauthentic yet revisionist-good (they went directly to my freezer, I can only taste so much). Wish I could drink their famed "Battenkill crack" (latte made chocolate milk, coffee ice cubes, and a double shot of espresso). Last time I finished 1/4 cup of coffee, I nearly checked into the ER from caffeine jitters, so this is probably not for me.
Slidin' Dirty 9 1st St, Troy
Very well-known, and very good (lots of lively personality in the different slider types; some very inspired conception here). But I made a big discovery: excellent as the (beef) sliders are, the mini slider-sized "Dirty Po' Boy" (buttermilk fried shrimp, coleslaw, tomato, fried onion, chipotle cream) might be the best thing of all.
One indignant note: these aren't sliders. That's the generic term for White Castle style burgers, which must be thin, slithery/oniony. These here are miniburgers, a different genre, for god's sake.
Cider Belly Doughnuts, 25 N Pearl St, Albany
Damn good. I got simple plain ones. You don't need all that fancy stuff when doughnuts are good and fresh.
Hattie's, 45 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs
Here's how long I've been wanting to hit Hattie's for fried chicken. Chowhound legend Peter Zaas has been trying to lure me there for over ten years. And I actually knew about it for 20 years before that. So I finally hit it.
Terrific fried chicken, pretty Carolina style, I think (my fried chicken GPS isn't quite as good as my barbecue GPS). White meat was just the slightest tad rubbery, but that's my fault for not being here during its heyday. Sides were solid, and the mixed drinks were as good as the chicken, if not better. Peter had a sazerac (perfectly balanced, but drowned in ice) and I had some weird cucumber concoction the waitress had sworn I'd love....and I did.
The Flammerie, 7 Hudson St, Kinderhook
Great Alsatianesque place, vibe, service, overall experience in a private house in a slightly loopy boondocks. These are the smallest Flammkuchen I've seen, and all servings were tiny; four plates were barely adequate for three people, at a steep $130 (including tip) with not particularly riotous drinking. I can't imagine their food truck (which started the whole thing) is that pricey. But at least you get quality and value (though the featured wine was only barely adequate; they really need to work harder to suss out better ones). This is both authentic AND terrific, a rare combo. Add in the aforementioned great ambiance and service, and I was a pretty happy hound.
Dyad Wine Bar 16 Hudson St, Kinderhook
Across the street from The Flammerie, another venue hidden in an apparently private home. Kooky warmth, a long menu of small plates that don't seem like they're imitating anyone. Very well-chosen but not particularly extensive drink selection. Lots of care (these guys should choose the wine list across the street). I only ate a chocolate chip cookie, which was good-not-great. But I get a very good vibe (perhaps because the chef, watching me pick distractedly at the cookie, looked like she was ready to burst into tears at my non-enthusiasm...and, as always, I eat anonymously).
The City Beer Hall, 42 Howard St, Albany
Here's a tip for those enjoying Craft Beer Mania, from someone who's been manic about this stuff for decades: don't look for the places with a zillion taps. You can't drink a zillion beers. And most of those zillion taps will be blah, anyway. Rather, look for second-tier places with fewer taps, but each one lovingly chosen (no Abita, no Magic Hat, no Stone). Such places attract a more serious clientele, and, hence, more knowledgable bartenders, who usually play better music, and the food's better, as well. It expands outward in a plume of quality. City Beer Hall is the epitome of this in downtown Albany.
Also: their braised lamb and "name" cheddar poutine was not only fantastically delicious, but it managed something no other hipster neo-poutine I've tried has achieved: it actually tastes like poutine.
At night, they run an unmarked little cocktail bar in the basement, very hip, called Speakeasy 518. Too hip for the likes of me; they didn't let me in.
Madison Pour House 1100 Madison Ave, Albany
Even better beer list than The City Beer Hall. This is a very very serious beer geek sanctuary. Sort of out-of-the-way, though.
The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, 79 N Pearl St, Albany
There's a critical mass of good chow on this downtown corridor. I don't imagine at this point that any venue could get away with serving lackluster chow. The ultimate virtuous circle. I had the polenta with shiitakes and garlicky bleu cheese dressing. I never realized shiitakes could be made so crispy without toughening. And the polenta, honestly, wasn't so great (kind of lumpy). But this is high-energy cooking, and it came alive via sheer brio.
Honest Weight Food Coop 100 Watervliet Ave Albany
I went nuts for this place. It's the best sort of hippy food coop, mushroomed to supermarket size, very well-run and professional, sort of the platonic form of the genre. Can't believe this isn't Berkeley.
Great bulk section, and when was the last time you saw an in-store bakery actually do great work? Two less obvious things I loved about this place:
1. They curate lots of little food companies. Weirdo little esoteric items might not be at eye level in main shelf aisles, but, oh, the delights in the end caps. I can't begin to list the treasures I ferreted out (sort of in-store chowhounding)
2. They offer dozens and dozens of little individual portioned refrigerated hippy veg fake mezzas (quinoa salad, tofu curry, cashew and kale pilaf, etc.) priced irresistibly. I picked up like eight of them. And whereas this stuff's usually terrible - the culture that spawned this is mostly gone, so it's usually subject to telephone game deterioration of recipes and methods - everything tasted fresh and vital, like I'd returned to 1973. The sole dud was eggplant salad; composed of cubes of very dry eggplant. I realized, thunderstruck, that the cook had added a mere spritz of olive oil in a move dating directly back to the low-fat era, when no one realized olive oil was good for us. Once I realized what was going on with that (I'd found a a time machine!), I ate, galvanized. Hippy veg, like Italian-American or Jewish Deli, is a nearly extinct cuisine (at least in terms of authentic versions), and I was damned happy to try it, dry eggplant and all. It's of a time and place, and these guys have preserved it faithfully.
Just a few name drops:
Rock Hill Bakehouse bread and (killer) pistachio lemon biscotti
Jalapeno/Cheese Mini Ciabatta from Berkshire Mountain Bakery
Suzie's Organic Saltines, reputed to be great,
Ephie's corn cakes
The Chow That Got Away
The French Press Cafe & Creperie, 5 Clinton Square, Albany
I dug the (decaf) coffee, and a croissant was pretty good (not even trying to be authentic, but still only a "7" or so). But the crepes look great in photos on Yelp, as do the breakfast potatoes.
Punta Cana Restaurant Bar & Lounge 92 2nd Ave Albany
Dominican. Photos look fantastic on Yelp.
Wolff’s Biergarten 895 Broadway, Albany
German. Photos look fantastic on Yelp (I don't read Yelp reviews or heed their ratings; I just grok the user photos).
Chester’s Smokehouse 15 Watervliet Ave, Albany
for rye bread, etc