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photo: Shannon DeCelle

A Giant Among Burgers
By B.A. Nilsson

 

Peaches Café

Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, 482-3677. Serving Mon-Thu 8 AM-9 PM, Fri-Sat 8 AM-9:30 PM, Sun 8-7. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: classy diner fare

Sandwich price range: $4.75 (grilled cheese) to $10.95 (turkey club)

Ambiance: bright and bustling

Say what you will about fancy cuisine—and I’ve said plenty over the years—but nothing beats a great burger. For a long time I thought it defined American cuisine; now I realize it’s taken on another all-American characteristic. It’s an endangered species.

It happened slowly. Like everyone else, I was seduced into thinking that the Big Mac took the burger concept to new heights, fooled by its creamy puddles of dressing into thinking the flavor was good. Fast food greedily consumed the burger concept, throwing ever-smaller, increasingly tasteless patties our way, to the point where the meat-packing industry, dodging regulations since Upton Sinclair fingered it a century ago, now gets to sell beef that’s so bad you’re hard pressed to find a chain (or even local) restaurant that will finish your burger any redder than medium.

A good burger needs good, fresh beef. You’ll taste the difference, and that’s what made me sit up, two oozing pillows of bread in my hand, and regard the plump, red-eyed little monster that had just yielded a surprisingly flavorful morsel. Like Sasquatch or an honest lobbyist, I beheld the rarest of the rare—and it was cooked rare, too.

This was the Peaches Café Stuyvesant Burger ($9.50), a half-pound concoction topped with the pair of items of your choosing (five types of cheese, five other favorites like sautéed onions or roasted peppers, and two dressings), lettuce and tomato a given. I added pepperjack and bacon, and couldn’t have been happier.

And there are other, more-strictly-defined burgers, such as the $8 All-American (just lettuce and tomato, or add cheese for a dollar), the Cajun-seasoned and thus oddly-named Mexican burger ($10; all right, it also has salsa), and more, each plate served with fries or miniature onion rings.

And you probably thought of Peaches Café as just a dessert place. Or the home of massive Belgian waffles.

Peaches has been a Stuyvesant Plaza mainstay for almost a quarter-century, withstanding the glut of eateries that crowd around it. It has a niche; it has adapted to changing times and tastes. Once it was known as “Peaches ’n’ Creme”; owners John and Nancy DiIanni renamed it to remind us that it’s more than an ice cream parlor.

And even the ice cream has changed. Once exclusively homemade, now it’s Häagen-Dazs. A dinner menu was offered for a while, but drew too little a following to continue (the restaurant does still offer daily dinner specials). The short-lived low-carb section of the menu has vanished.

What’s left is streamlined, time-tested and impressive. This is what you wish you’d find in a roadside diner. Hearty breakfasts and a generous assortment of sandwiches and salads. And then an amazing array of desserts, plain and fancy. I like the fact that you can even get an egg cream here.

Pancakes, including a chocolate chip variety, French toast, blintzes and, of course, waffles dominate the breakfast list, each around $6; a menu page of egg dishes features omelettes, eggs Benedict, eggs Florentine, eggs with hash, eggs with a variety of pork products—an egg lover’s paradise, even with all those breakfast pastries to compete against.

Quiche is a long-standing offering, and the traditional quiche Lorraine ($9) is a generous portion of the bacon-and-cheese-filled pie—good of its kind, when I sampled it recently, and certainly worthy of inclusion, but nothing to astonish you.

“I’m going to have your Mediterranean vegetable sandwich on basil focaccia bread,” my friend Tom told his server during a recent visit, “because I hear it mentioned all the time on your radio ads.”

“We have radio ads?” the server replied. There is a bit of this tentativeness in the service in general, which may leave you waiting at the entrance for a while before you’re recognized, and leave you wondering why you can’t get a check when some of the staff are leaning against the walls, chatting with one another. When they swing into gear, however, they’re quite efficient.

The voluminous sandwich, which packs eggplant, roasted peppers, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese between slabs of the herb-rich bread, combines those flavors splendidly and makes a good meat-free choice. Along those lines, I’m planning to try the portobello Reuben on a future visit. But there also are panini and wraps and just plain old deli sandwiches with all the traditional meats and meat salads, even down to a “pub style” fish-fry sandwich of cod and American cheese. And these all are in the $7-$9 range.

The soups are quite good, with a cup of traditional chicken noodle ($4) as you’d expect. The brief appetizer list features warm spinach and artichoke dip ($8), by now an old standby, but here served fondue-like with chunks of sourdough bread to dredge through it.

Desserts speak for themselves. I watched Tom punish a Candy Bar Sundae, with its three scoops of ice cream studded with candy pieces (he chose Reese’s Pieces), hot fudge and whipped cream, and saw a man transported into a childhood dream of confectionary excess.

Go to Peaches for your dessert fix or your big Belgian waffle; I’m going back for the burgers.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady recently celebrated the grand opening of Villa Italia Pasticceria in a beautiful new building at 226 Broadway. It signals the rebirth of an institution that served the city for 40 years from its former space in Rotterdam. The Mallozzi family (which also runs their namesake restaurant in Rotterdam) is positioning itself to be part of the rebirth of downtown Schenectady itself, characterized by the expansion of Proctor’s and the expected arrival of several new shops and restaurants. The new Villa Italia totals 7,200 square feet, five-sixths of which is given over to the commercial bakery, producing breads, pastries, fancy cakes and much more; the retail shop also features sandwiches and homemade gelato. And the display cases, true to the family’s roots, were imported from Italy. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).


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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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

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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