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Bring the Family
Review and photo by B.A. Nilsson

O’Leary’s Pub & Grill
153 Mohawk Ave., Scotia, 382-8909. Serving Mon-Thu 11-9, Fri-Sat 11-11, Sun 4-9. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V. Food: ***½ Service: Personable Ambience: Friendly

It was something of a family reunion when O’Leary’s opened in Scotia two years ago. Brothers Kevin, John and David are natives of that village and, says Kevin, “it’s great to be able to give something back to the community.” He and John are the active partners: John brings 25 years of cooking experience to the kitchen, while Navy veteran Kevin has a keen sense of what’s needed to run the front of the house.

The result you could loosely term an Irish bar. Decor and choice of spirits support that image. But it goes way beyond just the bar business here, and that’s why my family and I visited on a recent weeknight for dinner. This place is so family-friendly that we were surrounded by Scotians out to dinner with their kids—or on a date, or just catching up with friends.

And, I should confess, that was neither my first nor last visit. My first, in fact, was almost inadvertent, and came at the urging of my friend Dennis, an O’Leary’s regular. I returned a week later with my wife and enjoyed a similarly pleasant meal. It’s worth noting, however, that the place can get packed at lunchtime, and I’ve seen the staff get caught shorthanded—but they deal with it so nicely that I can’t get grumpy about it, and I’m notoriously short of patience at times.

Food was consistently good from visit to visit, and the enthusiasm of the servers was just as genuine each time. As I later learned, the staff hired for the restaurant’s opening haven’t much changed in two years: A couple of the younger people went off to college, but that’s it.

“O’Leary’s is exactly what a town like this needs,” my wife, Susan, observed. “You’ve still got a downtown, with sidewalks. Still got a sense of the village square. A pub like this is important.” And the fact that it’s a smoke-free environment scored big points with her, too.

Inside, the bar is separated from the dining area by a low wall capped with all-season foliage. (“Plastic,” said my daughter, fingering a leaf, then adding helpfully, “but it still smells nice.”)

We took the only available table in the crowded room. As customers, my family and I can be very annoying. We were gabbing with each other, gabbing with Dennis, while our server tried gently to get an order out of us. So I chose an appetizer of fried ravioli ($5), an up-and-coming bar-food favorite that, should it displace potato skins and fried mozzarella in popularity, would restore my faith in humanity’s taste. No surprises here: It’s standard-issue cheese-filled ravioli that gets breaded and deep fried, served with marinara. But it presents a slightly more complex mix of textures than many of its appetizer cousins while still maintaining the basic requirements of bar food, namely heat, fat, crunchiness and some manner of sauce or cheese.

You can get a $5 cheese-and-pepperoni plate here, or a not-bad crock of chili for $3.50. Chicken wings, chicken nuggets, nachos and quesadillas are in the $6 range, and there’s even a $4 starter of crab-stuffed portobello mushrooms.

My daughter, Lily, initially dismissed the ravioli idea; when the plate arrived, she commandeered half of the serving. But she abandoned it as soon as her entrée appeared: O’Leary’s fishamajig ($7), a serving of fried haddock on a chibatta roll (an Italian-style bread with a chewy crust and moist interior; the word means “slipper”)—liberally buttered and served with lettuce and tartar sauce, crispy fries and ketchup.

The menu changes every three months or so, but maintains a list of favorites that the regulars enjoy. And it’s vegetarian friendly—“There aren’t many vegetarian options in Scotia,” says John O’Leary—with a veggie burrito and a black-bean burger among the offerings.

I went a different burger route and ordered bison ($7), a hefty portion of meat with a rich flavor that would trouble nobody who enjoys beef. And, as is quickly explained, it’s better for you, although there’s little out there that’s worse for you than commercially packaged beef. Anyway, the half-pound bison burger is served on a hard roll with a side of fries, and is as good a ground meat concoction as I’ve had in a long time. And you can get it gussied up with cheese (which I chose), mushrooms, onions—anything that’s served with the beef burger.

Other hot sandwiches include roast beef, turkey, a couple of different reubens, sausage and more, priced from $6 to $7; deli sandwiches are in the $5 range and include baked ham, tuna, BLTs and even liverwurst.

Susan’s entrée choice was the burrito el grande ($7), which lived up to its promised size. A huge flour tortilla is wrapped around beef or chicken (she chose the latter), and baked with cheese (Monterey Jack and cheddar), rice and other veggies, served with salsa and sour cream. It was enough to provide another full meal after it arrived home as a leftover.

We finished with coffee and tea and dessert, the last-named a slice of rich chocolate cake adorned with ice cream, again fairly straightforward stuff. Dinner for three, with tax and tip, coffees and dessert, was $45.


TABLE SCRAPS

Pasta & Puccini, an evening of light opera and food with an Italian theme, will be held as a benefit for the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra at 6:30 PM Friday, March 15, at the Holiday Inn, Nott Terrace, Schenectady. Area performers including Michael Clement, Arthur DeLuke, John Lopez, Joann Rautenberg, Corine Salon, Janet Stasio and Lisa Lombardo will be featured; the menu includes hors d’oeuvres and pasta and carving stations. There also will be a cash bar. The event is $35 per person, and reservations can be made by calling 372-7145. . . . The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will celebrate the annual Trefoil Awards and the 90th Birthday of Girl Scouting at the Desmond Hotel in Albany from 7 PM to midnight on Friday, March 8. The evening includes a seafood presentation, hors d’oeuvres and an elaborate stationed buffet. Desmond Executive Chef Michael St. John will create a variety of desserts using Girl Scout Cookies, such as English Trifle with Trefoil cookies, Coconut Cream Parfaits with crushed Ole’ Ole’ cookies, Strawberries Romanoff with crushed Aloha Chip cookies and Thin Mint cookies layered with Creme de Menthe mousse. Tickets are $75 per person. For reservations, call Sharon Smith at 489-8110 ext.105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

—B.A.N.


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