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photo:Shannon DeCelle

The Case of the Successful Pub
By B.A. Nilsson

Holmes and Watson

450 Broadway, Troy, 273-8526. Serving Mon-Sat 11-10. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: classic pub fare

Entrée price range: $11 (fish and chips) to $20 (filet mignon)

Ambiance: easygoing neighborhood bar

Clientele: beer and burger afficionados

It’s easy enough, with financing no problem, to assign a theme to a new restaurant and reinforce it with overwrought decor. Applebee’s, Cracker Barrel and the like are good examples. But the decor has little to do with the restaurants themselves, which are market-researched chains turning out a predictable menu for patrons who must not feel truly comfortable unless there’s something like a large bobsled hanging on a nearby wall.

Holmes and Watson, which opened in 1978, hung its walls with Sherlockian memorabilia, the better to reinforce its desired image as a London pub. I suspect there was little or no market research behind this; it was more of a quick signal to the cognoscenti that you’d find real beer here in addition to the pisswater likes of Bud.

Twenty-seven years and several owners later, the pub remains a stalwart in downtown Troy. If there was ever anything self-conscious about the theme and decor, it has easily justified itself. Unlike the chain restaurants, it has evolved as a successful melding of what owner and customers enjoy.

Under the present owner, Matthew McKeown, who took over last June, the menu has been refined, the World Tour of Beer is more prominent, and the over-the-bar TV is more discreet.

I’ve visited many times during the past few years when working in Troy, and always enjoy the barside experience of sampling different brews, an admirable assortment of which is always on tap and abetted by a goodly array of bottles: 24 draft selections, and up to 60 otherwise.

“We try to keep it moving,” says McKeown. “Something from each coast, something local. I think we give a good variety.” Like the currently available Magic Hat Heart of Darkness, which I enjoyed on a recent visit, a winter stout with a nice complexity to its bitterness—like a Mexican mole sauce turned into beer. (And check out magichat.net for a fun Web site beer tour.)

A few barroom tables let you dine close to the beer taps, but there’s a large room in the back that overlooks Broadway and comfortably accommodates those who are there principally to eat. The brick walls are decorated with Holmesian posters and the maroon table cloths carry the color scheme into the room.

The lunch portion of the menu carries the restaurant theme into the fancifully named items, and there must be some kind of prize for the fan who can identify all of the references. I know that William Gillette (appetizer sampler, $9), Peter Cushing (fried mozzarella sticks, $5.75), Christopher Plummer (chicken tenders, $5.75) and Frank Langella (stuffed potato skins, $5.25) all played Holmes on stage or screen, but who was Arthur Wontner (a dozen chicken wings, $6.25)? Turns out he played Holmes in five acclaimed films in the late ’30s, and is regarded by many as better than Basil Rathbone (who must have been dropped from the menu).

We dove into a Gillette, and discovered it’s the kind of assortment you kind of wish you had more people with you to share. The deep-fried onion chips alone are way too addictive, especially when dredged through the horseradish mayo. A couple of potato skins, loaded with bacon, some deep-fried mushrooms and mozzarella sticks and a couple of unexciting chicken tenders are served with an array of sauces that also includes barbecue, marinara and salsa.

Hand-cut steaks are a feature of the dinner menu, so what better than a 16-ounce strip ($18) to test this feature? Good meat, nicely seasoned, but overcooked to medium when I asked for medium rare. It’s a too-common event at restaurants everywhere, and sometimes I even complain; this time I decided it wasn’t worth my time and so accepted the consequences as all my own. But I’ve cooked steaks to order and bungled it myself at first, so I know the challenge. Err on the side of undercooking.

Chicken teriyaki ($14) is one of a quartet of poultry entrées; this, too, spent a little too long on the grill and began to harden at the edges. Flavors were good, however, and the marinated red pepper topping is a nice idea. Accompanying baked potatoes were as expected, but a vegetable of baby carrots was overcooked to mush.

Fish and chips ($11) is solid ground, an excellent entrée with a nice cornmeal-laced batter and fat cottage fries to finish the dish.

Lunch is where the kitchen truly excels. I had a toothsome portion of quiche Lorraine ($6.50) that was both creamy and crunchy, an excellent combo of filling and crust. The burgers (starting at $7) are half-pound wonders, served on a hard roll with those deservedly popular cottage fries.

There’s French onion soup and seasonal seafood chowder, but let me recommend the chili (Moriarty’s Revenge, $3 for a cup, $3.50 a bowl) as something that approaches the classic Southwestern preparation in terms of heat and seasoning blend.

And there’s no mystery about the many other sandwiches. The Valley of Fear turns out to be a Philly cheese steak ($7), while the Norwood Builder is a grilled Reuben ($6.25). Salads include tossed fresh greens for $4, topped with grilled chicken breast for $7, the same price you’ll pay for a Caesar version with chicken. To economize, since the portions are generous, try the $6 half-sandwich-and-soup combination.

Although the dinner entrées need some work, the comfort and friendliness here are major selling points, and service is completely transparent. As a pub, the place succeeds quite well, and it’s even got me rereading the Conan Doyle stories.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Gramercy Bistro in North Adams, Mass., will hold a benefit dinner Tuesday (Feb 8) at 6:30 PM for Berkshire Grown as part of that organization’s first How to Eat Locally in February dinner series in Berkshire County. The restaurant will offer a three-course prix fixe menu including salad, entrée and dessert. Each course will feature a Berkshire-grown product including homemade crostini from Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Berkshire Blue cheese, Cornish game hens from Otis Poultry Farm, and Stellar Pasta’s handmade ravioli. Several farmers and food producers will be present, and family style/community seating will be based on reservation groups. Berkshire Grown will offer a short introduction with farmers and the chef saying a few words before dinner is served. Tickets are $50 for Berkshire Grown members and $60 for nonmembers with a cash bar. Prices include gratuity. For details and reservations, contact Berkshire Grown at (413) 528-0041 or visit www.berkshiregrown.org.


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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