Capital City Gastropub, 261 New Scotland Ave., Albany, 459-5077, capcitygastropub.com. Serving dinner 5-10 Sun-Thu, 5-11 Fri-Sat, brunch 11-3 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: adventurous pub fare
Entrée price range: $9 (small pizza) to $20 (poutine with foie gras)
Ambiance: former Stewart’s
Capital City Gastropub arrived in Albany right on schedule. Which is to say, about a decade later than the gastropub movement hit the rest of this country, another reminder that the Capital Region keeps a 10-year culinary lag.
In some ways, that lag comforts us with a tradition that satisfies as much as it ever has. At the same time, it mires us with chain restaurants that base their success on the fears of the food-frightened. But what chef Ian Brower is putting out at this little restaurant can escort us into pleasant realms that should encourage other chefs in the area already offering their own innovations, and delight those of us (meaning you, of course) who want to cross our tastebuds with new ideas.
All of which is to explain why I faced down a plate of blood sausage, fork and knife poised to attack, and eased my way in. I had a feeling I could trust this chef. That feeling was confirmed.
“Blood sausage,” he said with a chuckle as I talked to Brower later. “I’m a believer that if you’re going to eat a dead animal, you should know where that animal comes from.”
More than that, he’s a believer in knowing the origin of everything you eat, and to that end has made a huge priority of finding components at nearby farms. “For as long as I’ve been in this business,” he explains, “what’s gotten me most excited has been fresh, seasonal ingredients, like, ‘Hey! It’s spring! Time for ramps!’”
Thus the menu specifics. Northeast Family Farms roasted marrow bones ($12), for instance. Stillwater Farms pork rillettes ($10). On the blood sausage plate: Yonder Farms roasted apples. Also known as black pudding, blood sausage looks like a dark wurst, its deep red proclaiming the presence of you-know-what. Like the poutine preparations also on the gastropub menu, it reflects a French Canadian influence—although the varieties of the sausage have enthusiasts throughout the world.
The $15 item is listed under the menu’s Big Bites section, and shares its plate with white beans, bacon and the aforementioned apples, the flavor laced with a hit of bourbon. Which means that within its limited texture range is a pleasing range of flavors. And that’s characteristic of the gastropub art, rooted in a 20-year-old movement born in the pubs of Great Britain.
Notions of comfort food are turned sideways, wrenched askew. Salad choices long ago welcomed Caesar, too often with unfortunate results. Capital City Gastropub offers “Kale Caesar” ($10), in which Berlin’s Best Red Russian kale gets the croutons-and-cheese treatment (Grana Padana cheese, in fact) and is served with crisped anchovies and the chef’s take on the traditional dressing.
The building began life as a Stewart’s, leaving it with unmistakable lines. Most recently it was Pasquale’s, but when that business went under, Kevin Everleth, owner of the Wine Bar on Lark Street, bought the place and refashioned it, turning its black interior red and installing a bar, among other improvements before opening it in its present guise just over a year ago.
“The idea was to provide better-than-average pub food,” he says. “But Ian takes it beyond that. He’s sourcing local food like it’s going out of style, so that more than three-quarters of the menu items come from nearby.”
But Everleth won’t take credit for the menu. “I give my chefs carte blanche,” he says. “I handle the bills, the clerical stuff—and I’m the emergency guy on call.” Brower spent kitchen time at Burlington’s Farmhouse Tap & Grill and locally at Chez Mike. “I also have to give a lot of credit to Jim Rua at Café Capriccio, who really taught me what the ingredients are all about.”
I visited on a recent Monday with my culinarily minded friend Virginia, who lives near the restaurant and already had sampled some of the fare. We arrived soon after opening time and were surprised to see the place fill fairly quickly, with business both at tables and bar. Sunday through Tuesday you can order selected draft beers from a well-chosen list for only three bucks a pint, which alone makes the visit worthwhile.
An 8-ounce Kilcoyne Farms burger, served with roasted-garlic aioli, is $11, but I feared it would be too pedestrian in the midst of so much other, more creative stuff. “Oh, no,” Brower insists. “You have to come back and try it.” Fair enough.
The Small Bites and Salads list includes an olives plate ($6), fried Brussels sprouts with Grana Padana ($7), warm beet salad with Maplebrook Farms feta ($10) and the improbable item Virginia chose: Wertman Farms shaved butternut squash salad ($11), which sports a heap of raw squash slivers, looking like Hallowe’en candy perched atop a vinaigrette of honey and cider, dressed with basil leaves and large, okra-like caper berry slices. Raw? Raw. Tender, crunchy, delicious and no doubt teeming with the micronutrients we so easily abandon in our diets.
Pizzas come in two sizes, topped with meat (sopressata is featured, $11/$16) or veggies (there’s that kale again, $9/$14) or whatever the pie-of-the-day might be. Other Big Bites plates include a Northeast Family Farms club steak with house fries ($19), Murray’s Farm fried chicken ($16) and mushroom toast, with a topping of R &G chevre and a local fried egg ($13).
We split an order of PEI mussels in Yonder Farms apple butter ($15), the appeal of which was clinched for me by its partnering with chorizo and garlic. And fries, of course, house made, served with ditto ketchup. Mussels and fries? Here’s what the gastropub movement is teaching me: Why the hell not?