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Homegrown and Self-Taught

by B.A. Nilsson on February 23, 2012 · 1 comment

The Hungry Fish, 461 Main Ave., Wynantskill, 874-4573, thehungryfishcafe.com. Serving breakfast and lunch 8-8 Mon-Sat, 8-3 Sun; dinner 4-8 Thu-Sat. MC, V.

Cuisine: lunchroom eclectic

Entrée price range: $5 (egg and cheese on a hard roll) to $13 (farmhouse burger with blue cheese)

Ambiance: casual

They stare at me with bulging bright yellow eyes. As the plate hits the table, the yolks quiver with bright summer eagerness, a reminder that “sunny side up” once referred to a preparation that screamed with freshness. It’s not something you find in egg-factory eggs, which means you’re finding it in no supermarket or diner.

How desirable are farm-fresh eggs? They drove me once to what may have been a crime. I keep a flock of hens—I’m in a town untroubled by Albany-style idiocy—and enjoy fresh eggs most of the year. They lay enough that I have plenty to share and I try to cover my feed costs by selling the excess. Toward the end of a day in Albany, as my cooler contents fell to a single dozen, I made a supermarket stop and heard a woman in the egg section complain about the lack of anything that seemed at all fresh.

“I have fresh eggs in my trunk,” I murmured. We went outside and I sold the last dozen—to a total stranger. I’m confident she enjoyed them.

Sarah Fish is ardent about fresh food, and so the eggs she serves at her Hungry Fish Café are farm fresh, from Krug’s Farm in Schodack. Hence the brightness of the ones that topped my order of Morning Fried Rice ($8). It’s crazy-sounding as a breakfast choice and even more of a stretch for dinner, I suppose, but it was so satisfying that I felt no regret about passing up dinner specials like chicken pot pie ($12) and beef and broccoli stir-fry ($12).

Breakfast and lunch items are served all day at the Hungry Fish Café, with a special dinner menu added after 4 Thursday through Saturday. The restaurant—a former pizza joint—is on Route 66 a couple of miles east of Wynantskill, and has been open for five months. It’s the realization of Fish’s dream of operating a place that not only serves healthful food but also can be a gathering place. It’s a market—along with many craft items are her own canned goods—and it’s a place where you can coffee up and plug into the WiFi network.

Fish was named one of six Rising Star Chefs during the recent Albany Food & Wine Festival, which she considers a special honor in that she’s self-taught. “I love cooking,” she explains, “and I decided for my health to make better choices in what I eat. I’ve been baking my own bread and making my own jerky, and people seemed to like what I do. So this seemed to be a natural step.”

Other egg-centric breakfasts include an egg on a grilled hard roll with cheese and a choice of meat (the maple brown sugar sausage is homemade) for $5, spinach-rich Florentine scramble ($7), eggs with country hash and homemade bread ($8) and a version of same with a mustard cream sauce ($8). Also look for French toast ($8), a breakfast burrito ($7) and the $8.50 big breakfast, which gives you eggs, home fries, toast, meat and jam, most of it homemade.

The breakfast BLT ($7) adds an egg and home fries. In the lunch department, the Best BLT Ever ($8) runs to a more traditional assemblage, if you count applewood-smoked bacon and pesto mayo as traditional. Like the other cold sandwiches—turkey, ham, a combo of both or pastrami ($8 or $9)—it’s served with a side dish of potato salad, apple or potato chips, or the day’s side special, like carrot-raisin salad or a homemade cookie.

A variety of wraps, panini sandwiches and half-pound burgers also are $9 or less, unless you go for the $13 farmhouse burger, which tops the hand-packed patty with blue cheese, caramelized onions and cranberry ale barbecue sauce. Burgers and other beef products use meat from grass-red cattle at William H. Buckley Farm in Valley Falls.

Homemade chili is featured daily ($4) along with a soup of the day. Or two: When we visited, smoky chicken Florentine and loaded baked potato were the offerings, and the cup of the latter featured that magic ingredient, bacon, in addition to the creamy spud-based rest of it.

Dinners are offered alongside the regular menu Thursday through Saturday from 4 to 8 PM, and are served with a house salad. I took advantage of an appetizer special of hummus with whole-wheat bagel chips ($5) to prelude my breakfast-dinner with crunch and garlic. My wife, predictably, wavered between two chicken-based specials: the aforementioned pot pie and a pumpkin-mustard chicken ($12), with meat from Sweet Tree Farm in Carlisle. It was the homemade pumpkin-mustard marinade that sold the second of the two, which added a sweet-spicy (albeit mild) coating to the meat as well as influencing its inner flavor, and the slices were presented atop a vegetable fried rice not unlike the mix of long grain and wild beneath my eggs. Crisp sautéed string beans finished the assembly nicely.

A bounty of practical decorations—including craft items for sale and a large blackboard menu—don’t hide the pizza-joint provenance here, with ugly fluorescent lights and a chilly dining room a couple of drawbacks. And service seemed to get too casual while we dined, as a party near us waited a long time for their entrées and were told, when they eventually were served, that the chef needed to get the pot pie just right.

Otherwise, this is a gem of a restaurant, especially in the wilds of Wynantskill. Fish envisions it to be as much of a community gathering place as eatery, so I’m looking forward to helping her with that goal.

Table scraps: The third annual Albany Food & Wine Festival presented its proceeds of $80,201 to five local cultural stalwarts: the Albany Barn, Albany Symphony Orchestra, Albany Center Gallery, Capital Repertory Theatre and Park Playhouse. At a City Hall ceremony, Mayor Gerald Jennings noted that it was a 57-percent increase from last year’s festival, bringing “our three-year total to $168,432 in funding to our deserving arts organizations, (which) are the soul of our downtown.” Total attendance for the festival events this year was 2,336. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.