Charles F. Lucas Confectionery & Wine Bar, 12 2nd St, Troy, 326-3450, lucasconfectionery.wordpress.com. Serving 4-11 Mon-Thu, 4-midnight Fri-Sat, noon-9 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: wine and cheese and charcuterie
Entrée price range: $5 (selected small bite plates) to $25 (Monger’s Choice plate)
Ambiance: exposed brick
A political fundraiser was getting underway as I entered the place, its streetside room thronged with the noise and the hail-fellows-well-met of such stumpery. I pushed into the somewhat quieter room that follows, and on to an area quieter still, where my wife awaited in a booth she’d easily claimed. It was as if I’d just visited three different places. In a sense, that’s what the Lucas Confectionary and Wine Bar is all about.
It’s a confectionary insofar as it inhabits a space that, in the 19th century, was a source of opulent desserts even as Charles F. Lucas expanded it into a restaurant that survived into the 1950s. More recently it was the Troy Insurance Agency. When Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine bought the place, it was a wreck.
Brooklynite Vic, a baseball fanatic, got to know this city while working for the Tri-City Valley Cats. When that job ended, he and his wife contemplated changing careers, and a visit to a wine bar in Brooklyn clinched it. Fortunately for us, they decided to do it in Troy. Based on what I was shown of other parts of the building, the work needed to restore it was considerable. But it was done with a keen sense of preservation, reusing or scrounging material to keep the old-fashioned feel. The walls of the dining area are brick, brick that’s been hidden for decades. The tables and chairs are on the artistic side of industrial; the lighting is whimsical; the ducts and other old-building artifacts reinforce the historic tone of the place.
At the heart of the multi-page, presented-on-a-clipboard menu are the lists of wine and beer. By-the-glass wine is segregated by color and arranged by grape, a well-chosen, international array priced from $6 to $16. A flight of pinot noir stops in France, New Zealand and Oregon ($18), and dessert wines include sherry, port and madeira. A short list of half bottles features more upscale selections.
The page of eclectic bottled beers starts with pilsners from California and Germany and ends with stout and ale, and not a one of the selections is there for the pisswater drinkers. For this alone we must give thanks.
As a bar patron, I’m usually unhappy about the clamor, the music, the TV screens and the jeunes filles who never again will look my way. You who are so much more at ease in the world are to be admired, in fact, for continuing to read my rantings. But the combination of select libations and similarly excellent charcuterie and cheese makes this place, for me, about achieving that elusive sense of well-being through the palate.
Not to mention that my wife was so delighted with the look and feel of it that she was feeling, as “Hot Lips” Page put it, high and happy right from the start. She’d already ordered the baked Weybridge ($9) before I arrived. It’s a good-sized package of Brie-style cheese from a farm in Vermont. It’s dressed with rosemary and served atop honey, with French bread slices alongside. I kicked off with a sturdy viognier ($10). Ramps are in season, and were featured in two of the day’s specials: ramp and potato pancakes ($6) and a bread pudding also sporting garlic and apples ($6). We ordered the latter, which proved to be an excellent example of savory baking.
But the heart of it all for me is the mixture of meats and cheeses. You can sample one for five bucks, three for $12 and 5 for $20, and there’s a $25 “Monger’s Choice” as well. “Smooth & Silky,” “Firm but Friendly,” “Something Blue” and “Little Stinkers” are the cheese categories, each boasting three examples, each example paired with fruit or honey, figs or chocolate. The Caveman Blue, from Oregon, comes with a dab of Nutella, and is dense enough to leave an agreeable coating on the fingertips (because to hell with cutlery with a menu like this). Our other two trio components were coppa, dark red and spicy, and speck, which is as close as ham can get to being butter. But there’s also duck salami, finnochiona, prosciutto and rosette de Lyon among the choices. It’s served on a slate, each item identified by chalk, a handsome, helpful style of presentation.
Other small plates include hummus ($6), tapenade ($6), caponata ($5) and Sicilian olives ($4), all of them items time-tested for maximum effectiveness in keeping wine and conversation flowing.
But Vic and Heather have plans that go beyond the present facility. They’ve purchased an adjoining space that will offer atrium seating. And they’re working on a coffeeshop/market that should be opening soon, where you’ll be able to purchase the items served in the restaurant.
Troy teeters on the edge of its own potential. It has had, and should have, a thriving downtown scene in the evenings, but the streets tend to roll up as the nine-to-fivers flee. Let’s hope that the revitalized Lucas Confectionary can spread some of that magic.