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Sunday Special

by B.A. Nilsson on March 8, 2012

Schenectady Greenmarket, Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady, schenectadygreenmarket.org. Open 10-2 Sunday. Cash is most reliable. Through April 29.

I went looking for root vegetables and a loaf of bread. I found the greatest Sunday brunch venue in the Capital Region.

Schenectady Greenmarket is a year-round operation that moves indoors for the winter, and thus is spread across two levels of Proctors until the end of April. It’s easy to get waylaid by the upstairs offerings, which include breads and cheeses and crafts. But it’s when you slip downstairs that you find what’s essentially a hot buffet shared by a handful of skilled chefs.

Last Sunday, when I stopped by, two restaurants and three caterers were purveying a variety that has to be unique to the area. Peruvian, Moroccan, Cajun and some broadly European cuisines were available, from which I culled enough of a sampling to put together a lively supper I enjoyed with my family later that evening. That’s one dining strategy, and, according to the vendors I spoke with, it’s a popular one. But if you plan to stick around, there are tables here and there and musical entertainment—and you’re bound to find a friend. I did. And he was working on a huge, creamy eclair with chocolate ganache that he’d bought for $3 from the Chick and Hen Baking Co., which visits the market every other Sunday.

They’re also good for panini ($6) and were offering one made with chicken, roasted red peppers, mozzarella, spinach and aioli. Spinach-feta pie was $6, a large empanada $7. By the time we checked, not long after 11 AM, the bacon-thyme-shallot quiche ($5) was sold out. Along with the eclairs were flourless chocolate cake ($4), carrot cake ($3) and raspberry-almond scones ($3), the last of which would go well with one of the coffees from across-the-aisle neighbor Ambition, representing the quirky coffee house on nearby Jay Street.

My strategy problem was in leaving Chick and Hen for last, by which time I was overladen. I began at Euro Delights. A long line of chafing dishes displayed an impressive array of colorful foods, even without the sold-out eggplant parmigiana ($6). I decided that I was familiar enough with spanakopita ($6) to pass it by this time, but the version of musaka put another face on this versatile dish. It was framed with layers of thin-sliced potatoes, filled with ground beef and roasted vegetables and topped with cheese and béchemel. And a $6 serving is plenty for two. Sarma, which is stuffed cabbage ($5) and stuffed red peppers ($5) shared a filling of rice and ground beef, with the peppers adding mozzarella and marinara. The flavors of both benefitted from a restrained use of salt, with other seasonings adding sparkle.

Other Euro Delights items were pile pita (chicken, caramelized vegetables and cheese in homemade phyllo with cucumber sauce ($6), burek (seasoned beef in phyllo, also with a cucumber sauce, $3), sweet potato salad with cranberries, walnuts and scallions ($4), dolma (lemon rice-stuffed grape leaves, 4 for $3), potato salad ($4) and a not-too-sweet and therefore easy to finish baklava ($3). Armin Hrelja took a moment from busily serving the food to explain that he has no restaurant, and otherwise works catering and other events.

Which is a strategy shared by Maria T. Lloyd with her Peruvian Delights. She works the Delmar Famers Market and other summer markets, as well as catering jobs. And she was busily fashioning and deep-frying empanadas as I checked out her chafing dishes. Pork or veggie tamales ($5) are a favorite, and empanadas are stuffed with beef, chicken, cabbage and chorizo or spinach and cheese ($3 each). I brought home the chicken version, which had an appealingly savory filling but also wonderful pastry around it, maintaining its appeal even after the wait until suppertime. You could call them Peruvian knishes, the beef- or chicken-stuffed yuca ($3), yuca being another name for the potato-like cassava. The chicken version has creamy salad of the meat within. Other items included quinoa vegetarian chili ($4/$6), brown rice and beans ($3/$5), chickpea and vegetables salad ($4/$6), quinoa with seafood ($4/$6), a chicken combo with rice and beans and veggies ($6), and fried plantains ($3/$5).

After three years working this kind of market, Aneesa Waheed opened Tara Kitchen in Schenectady’s Liberty Street a few weeks ago, giving the Capital Region a Moroccan restaurant. But she’s still at the Sunday market, and the centerpiece of my meal that night was her lamb shank combo plate ($10), a fruit-intense preparation of one of my favorite meats that was served with blackeyed peas in tomato sauce and brown rice pilaf with chickpeas. Also available: a chicken combo plate with pilaf and peas ($8), a vegetarian combo plate ($7), Moroccan chicken soup called harira ($6), eggplant dip with garlic and tomatoes or chickpeas with oranges, $4, samosas, chicken kefta kabob ($2 each) and more.

Café Nola is another restaurant long-established on Schenectady’s Union Street. As co-owner Robin Brown observed at her Greenmarket outpost, “This corner of the market is amazing. The variety of food is always impressive.” She had a full pan of Abita Turbodog beer-braised short ribs ($6, served over dirty rice) on display when I made my first pass. When I eventually stopped to buy some, it was more than half gone. “People pick up meals for the entire week while they’re here,” she added. Crawfish jambalaya ($6) was an alternate, and she was doing quite a business in fresh-squeezed lemonade ($3) as well.

Had I more room in the take-home bag, I would have scooped up some hummus from 3 Chicks and a P. I’m a fan of their signature garlic-breath flavor, because there’s no such thing as too much garlic—and they were offering roasted-jalapeno hummus and a spicy black-bean dip as well.

Back upstairs, I chatted with Caroline Barrett of Delmar’s Our Daily Eats, which specializes in nuts, granola and pesto. “This is my favorite market,” she told me. “I’d never buy lunch anywhere else on Sunday.”