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photo: Shannon DeCelle

Cross This Path
By B.A. Nilsson

The Black Cat Ale House

5 White St., Cohoes, 235-3199. Serving daily 11:30-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pub food plus

Entrée price range: $9 (meatloaf) to $22 (surf and turf)

Ambiance: classic pub

It’s a combination of a restaurant in Hyannis (called the Black Cat) and a bar in Manhattan. It’s just off the main street of Cohoes, where it has quietly built a following during its three years. The Black Cat Ale House is the brainchild of Terry Frederick, who has had a hand in other area hotels and restaurants but finally, with this place, got to create the kind of neighborhood pub he enjoys as a customer.

There’s a comfortable ambiance that goes beyond the pleasant nautical theme of the decor. Neighborhood folk have discovered the place and made it their own; people also drive in from towns near and not-so-near. Not surprisingly, there are good brews on tap and an impressive variety in bottles, but what knocked us over was the quality of the food, all of it handmade.

Superior pub fare is elusive these days. I’m forever seeking out-of-the-way joints where there might be magic in the kitchen. Too often—most often—I find what I found while driving through the Catskills recently, impressed enough with the facade of an Irish pub to try it for a solo dinner. The overpriced fish and chips I was served were a disappointing combo of breaded, frozen patties and undercooked fries.

Compare that to what’s served at the Black Cat. It was a Friday night special, for $14, featuring a tremendous strip of whitefish that was freshly batter-dipped before hitting the hot oil, surrounded by crisp steak fries. Although it’s not on the regular menu, you’ll find plenty of other lunch and dinner items, the latter served nightly after 4 PM and all day on Sunday.

Sandwiches are the lunch staple, running the classical gamut from grilled cheese ($3.75) to a $7.50 “Philly style cheese steak canoe.” Roast beef, corned beef, Reubens, pastrami—and note that the turkey listing boasts itself as “fresh-roasted daily in-house. NEVER any ‘pressed stuff.’ ” Those canoes also come with sausage and peppers, or a parmigiana preparation of chicken or eggplant. And there’s a list of burgers (a half pound of Black Angus) culminating in the Black Cat’s Cat’s Meow, topped with bacon, cheese, mushrooms, peppers and onions and priced at only $7.

Appetizers are what you’d expect, lots of fried stuff, of which we sampled an order of chicken wings ($5.50) cooked Cajun garlic style for some unusual but appropriate flavor (the celery and blue cheese is included in that price). The soup of the day was cream of mushroom ($3.50/$4.50), and it had an unexpectedly good texture and flavor.

Steamed clams are a house special, market priced. Our dozen cost $7, which was more than reasonable, and won the approval of our friend Gary, a Rhode Island native and clam aficionado who insisted that the true steamer has to be an Ipswich, but who could find no fault with the littlenecks he was served.

Although I’m rarely intimidated by an unfamiliar menu, it’s always nice to have an escort. Our server, Colleen, proved to be exceptionally knowledgeable about the food and how to match it to our various tastes. So it was that Gary, his eye on the crab cakes ($16) or the meatloaf ($9) was steered to the $17 Delmonico steak. Not what he planned to order, but still a satisfying choice because it was a good cut of meat that sported the distinctive flavor of the charcoal grill. I don’t know the weight of the cut, but it was formidable enough to also warrant a take-home container.

I could have gone with the pork chop dinner ($11), but I detected a note of concern in Colleen’s voice when I asked her about it. Next thing I knew, she was rhapsodizing about the surf and turf, never a big favorite with me; divining which, she eased into the subject of steak alone and persuaded me to go with another special of the day: a slab of prime rib the size of a small apartment building, for the amazingly low price of $16.

“It’s really good tonight,” she confided, “and you can get it really rare, if you like.” I did so. She was right.

The entrées include dinner salads, a better-than-average array, and the plates are finished with a not-overcooked vegetable and a potato choice, which prompted a hail of baked potatoes at our table.

Rounding out our dinner selection was another Colleen-recommended item: Jamaican chicken ($9.50), a less-intimidating way of identifying jerk chicken. Although in this case, the meat doesn’t marinate in the spicy sauce but instead picks up the flavor from its gravy. While it wouldn’t persuade a Jamaican, I can see it as a way of introducing the flavor to the timid, and my wife, who too often numbers among that group, was pleased to be able to regulate the amount of spice heat that way.

Too stuffed to even consider dessert (one of the listings of which is the ever-changing “chocolate something,” $4.50), we nevertheless lingered over coffee and the remains of our beer and wine because the outdoors were chilly, the company was good, and the restaurant couldn’t have made us feel more welcome.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Ben Franklin turned 300 a couple of days ago, and in celebration of that signal event, Brown’s Brewing Company (425 River St., Troy) has made a commemorative brew. Head brewer Peter Martin joins more than 100 craft brewers across the nation who are also tapping their versions of “Poor Richard’s Ale.” It’s sponsored by the Brewers’ Association, a national nonprofit trade association for craft brewers that has partnered with one of Franklin’s descendants to create a recipe for the participants. According to Martin, the recipe includes molasses and corn, two items that were abundant during Colonial times. The brew will be available throughout the month. For more info, call the brewery at 273-2337. . . . It’s an easy transition from Franklin to France, although Dr. F may have been too egalitarian to enjoy La Fête des Rois (The Festival of Kings). Nevertheless, it will be celebrated at the Saratoga Lake Inn & Bistro (511 Route 9P, Saratoga Lake) Jan. 27 and 28. The festival is a French tradition that dates back to 1311; to celebrate, chef-owner Eric Masson’s menu offers a choice of appetizer (ham and mushroom crepe, escargot sautéed with wild mushrooms, or quiche Lorraine), mixed greens with goat cheese or a country soup with green cabbage and ham, and an entrée (chicken and vegetables with a velouté sauce, sirloin steak Bordelaise, or sole amandine). Dessert features a cake called Gallette des Rois with a hidden surprise. Dinner is $29 per person plus tax and gratuity, and parties of six or more will receive a chef-selected complimentary bottle of wine. Reserve seats by calling 587-8280. . . . New World Home Cooking Co. (Route 212, Saugerties) is holding a July in January weekend Jan. 20 and 21, a tropically themed event that features summer food, exotic music and a free island drink for those who dress for the beach. Among the menu items: Cayman conch chowder, callaloo soup, sweet plantain pasteles, conch fritters, curried goat, Haitian griot of pork and much more. Friday night enjoy the world beat of Tumbao Blue; Saturday Night gets even hotter with the Afro-Cuban dance band Los Taino. Make reservations by calling (845) 246-0900. . . . 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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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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