Main Street Grille, 857 Main St., Clifton Park, 877-8202, mainstreetgrillecliftonpark.com. Serving dinner 5-9:30 Tue-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: continental entrées and pub fare
Entrée price range: $10 (roasted turkey sandwich) to $29 (surf and turf tower)
Ambiance: comfortably historical
“Did you know there’s a restaurant there?” My friend Malcolm had driven to the Round Lake area to meet me for a rehearsal, and spotted an attractive-looking barn on a rural Main Street north of Clifton Park. It was only when we ventured there for dinner that evening that I recognized the place as a restaurant I reviewed a dozen years ago, a place then called Crabapple Farm Restaurant.
Now it’s the Main Street Grille. It’s got the same owners, and the menu is reminiscent of its former days—but there are significant, and worthy, differences.
The story, as described by co-owner Karen Esposito, is that she and her husband, John, decided to get out of the business some years ago and leased the space to Fabio’s Italian Restaurant, which operated there for about five years until relocating.
“Then my husband wanted to get back into the business,” says Karen, her tone of voice acknowledging how crazy that sounds. “We decided to do it again but to change a few things.”
In its previous incarnation, the Espositos offered more of a fine-dining menu on Fridays and Saturdays than during the rest of week—and weekends also had a jazz duo on tap for entertainment. “We were doing most of our business, and making most of our income those days,” she says, “so we designed a menu for the Main Street Grille that offers fine-dining options every night, as well as some lower-priced pub fare.”
And the same duo is back, so you can enjoy Carmine and Bill Pezzula taking you through the great American songbook on weekends. This I didn’t know when Malcolm and I visited, which was on a quiet Thursday night, placing us near the historic building just as the sun disappeared and the cold winds grew even colder. We walked past a casual, accommodating bar area en route to a table in a dining room that’s darkly paneled and lit with tasteful discretion. Some of the walls are decorated with record album sleeves where once dwelt discs of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and other jazz greats. The music playing as we were seated featured (Hoosick Falls native) Ray Eberle singing with the Glenn Miller band.
“That’s from my father,” says Karen. “He loved that music, and inherited his records and his love for them. And I’m so happy to see younger people—I mean people in their 30s—enjoying this music, too.”
The Main Street Grille is in the hamlet of Elnora, north of Clifton Park’s shopping-mall epicenter but close enough to offer one of the few non-chain dinner alternatives. You know, deep in your heart, that it’s long since been time for you to give up the prefab ambiance and prefab flavors of the prefab food that remains inexplicably popular. This could be a persuasive step. You’re probably going to pay a little more, but not much, and you’re supporting local suppliers.
The Lite Fare menu includes chicken wings, of course, 10 for $9, available with three heat levels of sauce or in Cajun or barbecue dressings. Battered mushrooms ($8) are served in a conical wire french fries container, and they provide an appealing contrast between the hot fried-batter crust with the escargot-like mushroom inside. And they’re served with a ramekin of terrific horseradish sauce so appealing that Malcolm commandeered it for his burger.
He ordered from the burger-platter menu page, which offers a hot roast-beef-based French dip ($13) along with some burger variants, including a build-your-own option ($10 plus a buck for each added component). Much as he claims to enjoy a good burger, he asked that the centerpiece of his Black and Bleu Bistro Burger Platter ($13) be cooked medium, which I insist compromises the flavor (and encourages the meatpacking industry to sell us bad beef). But he was delighted with the blue-cheese crust, the large Kaiser roll, the onions, the fries.
Other sandwich options include a couple of turkey types, grilled chicken and a non-French roast beef assembly ($10-$11). Among the starters on the regular dinner menu are bruschetta ($9), chicken satay ($10), shrimp grilled ($9) or cocktailized ($12), a version of French onion soup with provolone ($6) and some salads. I’m glad to see that the crab cakes have persisted from the old menu (I enjoyed them 12 years ago) to the new ($23). Back then there were eight entrées; now there are nearly 20, including bourbon-pecan chicken ($21), baked haddock ($22), scallop and shrimp asiago, served with fettucine ($26), a massively wide rib-eye steak that I saw go by only after I’d ordered ($28) and a massively tall apricot balsamic pork chop that I ditto ($24).
Because I wanted to dive into that nexus of sauce and crisp and cheese and crunch that is chicken parmigiana ($18), served with penne. Everything about it was satisfying, with a sauce boasting a delicious brightness of tomato that isn’t always the case. (“My husband insists on making those sauces from scratch,” explains Karen, noting that his time in the kitchen keeps him out of everyone’s way.)
Clifton Park has spread its suburban tentacles during the past dozen years, and the easy availability of GPS and online maps means that finding this restaurant no longer is a challenge. You only need to know that it’s there, and now you do. The friendly service reflects the family-centric nature of the place; the number of customers greeted by name reflects impressive recidivism. But next time, I’m going for the music.