By B.A. Nilsson
2678 Hamburg St.,
Schenectady, 355-7791. Serving Mon-Sat 8-8. AE, MC, V.
Food: * * * ½
Let’s sing the praises of sandwiches. Last week’s discourse
on crêpes noted the wider array of fillings available when
the items are fully wrapped; working within the traditional
bread slices restricts you to stuff that’s been sliced—or
at least lays somewhat flat.
Deli meats, for instance. Sticky salads. Sauerkraut and Russian
dressing tend to exceed those limits and squirt past the corned
beef, but that’s what makes the classic sandwich Reubenesque.
You can find such eats at specialty chains and supermarket
counters and, worst of all, made much earlier in the day and
cellophaned into flavor submission. But for the real thing,
you need to go to a delicatessen.
It’s a legacy of 19th-century German immigrants, whose cooked-food
shops thus introduced the wurst that would become (at the
St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904) that all-American snack, the
The association between delis and theater probably began in
the 1930s when Max Asnas opened his Stage Deli at Broadway
(it’s now at 7th Avenue) and 48th Street in Manhattan and
won a loyal following among the theatrical types who worked
When David Kniskern opened the Center Stage Deli on Schenectady’s
Jay Street in 1981, it was part of a supposedly revitalized
downtown that included a pedestrian mall on that thoroughfare.
The patient went into remission briefly, but downtown has
since slipped into a coma. There’s a branch of his deli still
operating in Proctor’s Arcade, but he relocated the main operation
to Rotterdam five years ago.
Here on Hamburg Street, he has developed an enthusiastic customer
base in vivid contrast to what downtown Schenectady offered.
His storefront is in a nondescript strip mall, and the inside
decor is similarly unobtrusive. But it’s comfortable, and
the walls are lined with autographed pictures and posters
collected from shows and artists who have visited Proctor’s
Theatre over the years and sampled Kniskern’s fare. Thus you’ll
see encomia from Don Knotts and (in a different production)
the cast of Cats.
Sandwiches are an obvious mainstay, although there are lunch
and dinner specials available throughout the day, and I can
testify that on another visit I enjoyed a terrific plate of
meat loaf while my daughter gobbled up a plate of fried clams.
The menu lists every traditional sandwich, cold and hot, and
adds combos, subs and triple-deckers. There are burgers, other
grilled sandwiches, salads and soups. Most of the items fall
into the $5-$7 range.
Building a worthy Reuben isn’t about size. It’s a matter of
proportion. This is true of any sandwich, but the Reuben has
such a loyal following that the ingredients are emotionally
debated—as is the provenance. Some credit it to Arnold Reuben,
of his namesake Manhattan delicatessen, who is said to have
concocted it in 1914 for a noted actress (cheese and cole
slaw were among the ingredients). Others favor an Omaha grocer
named Reuben Kulakofsky as the inventor, serving players in
a late-night poker game in 1922 or ’25.
A grilled Reuben ($6.50) thus became one of the important
items to consider during a visit to Center Stage. I lunched
with my friends Tom and Malcolm, neither of whom is bashful
about tucking into a meal—but Malcolm, most diminutive of
the three of us, is able to put away grub in anaconda-like
This is his regular dining spot, and our server already knew
what he’d want: an Italian mixed sub ($7), listed among the
gourmet subs. That’s the price for the giant size; a mini
will run you a buck and a quarter less.
I put in for a terrible, wonderful combo: roast beef and chopped
liver ($6.50), also available as a triple-decker ($7). “Get
the regular combo,” our server suggested. “That one also has
cole slaw on it.” As with the Reuben, there’s something about
shredded, seasoned, dressed cabbage that adds more of a deluxe
quality to a sandwich than mere lettuce. So I went for it.
We started with soup: Tom and Malcolm each had a bowl of tomato
with rice ($2.75); I had a cup of chicken noodle ($2). The
soups shared the tricky quality of adhering to the recipes
made famous by the canned varieties while sporting the obvious
flavor of the freshly made variety, where stock and not salt
becomes the major flavor enhancement.
Sandwiches for Tom and Malcolm arrived pre-split so each could
share half of the other’s. What with the size of the giant
sub, even cut in half, both plates had barely room to accommodate
the pickle and potato chips.
On the Italian sub, ham and spicy cappicolla nestled with
salami and provolone cheese, but it was the roasted peppers
that set off the flavors, with lettuce, tomato and onion to
finish the mix, with a perky Italian dressing to add zing.
The Reuben was as traditional as it can be, which is just
what you want in that sandwich.
I could make it through but half of the roast beef-chopped
liver combo. Too rich; too good. A great and filling dinner
sandwich later that day.
Rice pudding and bread pudding both are made in-house ($2
each), and both use a rich egg custard base for a pleasing
effect. Because Tom and I stopped ourselves halfway through
our sandwiches, we each enjoyed one. Malcolm, who wolfed down
everything on his plate, finished off with a slice of chocolate
peanut butter pie ($3.50). Amazing what you can do to yourself.
Lunch for three, with tax and tip, desserts and sodas, was
Saratoga Wine Exchange (42 Phila St., behind
Ben & Jerry’s, across from the carousel) has several
noteworthy October events on tap, including a tasting
of New York wines tomorrow (Friday) and next Friday
(Oct 25); a tasting of California wines on Saturday;
and an Oregon tasting on Oct 26. All run from 4 to 10
PM. Call 580-9891 for more info. . . . Ferrandi’s
French Restaurant (Route 67, east of Amsterdam)
hosts a Fall Harvest Dinner Oct 17-20, for which chef
Eric Masson presents a four-course meal celebrating
local end-of-season produce. It’s $29 per person; for
info and reservations, phone the restaurant at 842-6977
or check out www.ferrandis.net. . . . Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland. You can also e-mail them to
fax info to 922-7090)
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.