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Hunka Hunka Wood-Fired Love
By B.A. Nilsson

Bruno’s

237 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-3333. Serving Sun-Wed 5-9, Thu-Sat 5-10 (and later daily as warranted). AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pizza and pub fare

Entrée price range: $8 (small pizza) to $21 (steak au poivre)

Ambiance: Saratogian

Gone are the ’50s geegaws: the record album covers, the linoleum-topped tables, the jukebox, the pages from Life and Look. Bruno’s has been streamlined. When it opened, in 1986, it charmed us with its good food and nonstop memorabilia.

But cute puppies soon grow up and lose that hobbledehoy charm. “It needed a makeover,” says new owner Davis Mead. “It just wasn’t me. I couldn’t do Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob.” Mead is a co-owner of Siro’s, the fine-dining restaurant across Union Avenue that he’s been part of for a third of its 75 years. More to the point, he’s a thoroughgoing Thoroughbred racing fan, and he considers Saratoga to be the epicenter of that attraction. “We have the National Racing Museum down the street, the Oklahoma Track out the back door, and across the street is the best track in the country, if NYRA gets its act together.”

Instead of Elvis memorabilia crowding the walls, you’ll see racing-related photos and prints. Replacing the sprawling former menu is a short, brisk list of appetizers, pizzas, sandwiches and a few choice entrées. As before, the pizza bakes in a wood-fired oven, and everything is made from scratch. “We start each morning with a 50-pound bag of flour,” says Mead.

He adds: “We pared down the menu and added a few things. We’ll be changing the menu again soon. And if there’s something you used to have at Bruno’s that you don’t see on the menu now, just ask us. If we have the ingredients, we’ll make it.” He notes that he was so advised, not too long ago, “by a boy who must have been 7 or 8. He thought we should be serving macaroni and cheese. So we made it for him.”

My prevailing image of Bruno’s, that long, green building with the neon signs across Union Avenue from the flat track, is that of a crowded, noisy place where you’re forced to fight for attention. In its new incarnation, the floor seems less jammed and we had an excellent rapport with the servers—and Mead himself is also on the floor, making sure all is running smoothly.

What first hits your table is a basket of freshly baked rolls and a dish of seasoned oil and vinegar. With a couple of soups, five appetizers, eight entrées and, of course, a bunch of pizza combinations to choose among, you won’t agonize long.

Pizza, of course, is the longtime draw, and its longtime spirit has been preserved even if the naming conventions have changed. If you’re looking for pie with the usual, the toppings are listed, with a few less-common items like smoked gouda, caramelized onions, feta, grilled eggplant and even pineapple.

But the eight specialty pizzas (tagged now with race-related monikers) offer tempting combos. Sea Biscuit, for instance, sports goat cheese and bacon along with roasted garlic and fresh tomatoes; John Henry is a melange of zucchini, snow peas, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms and more. We tried the Four Star Dave because my daughter is nuts about barbecued chicken pizza; this one adds cilantro, smoked gouda, Bermuda onion, and fresh tomato slices, on a crust that is crisp but still chewy. $14 gets you a large specialty pizza, $10 a small.

Tucked under the pizza listing are a couple of calzones; the East Ave. ($10), which we sampled, was a sprawling assembly of chicken slices sautéed in garlic-thyme butter, with ham and a mix of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.

Heading the apps list is antipasto ($13), a meal-in-itself compote of choice cold cuts (sopressata, prosciutto, sliced ham, aged provolone, among others) on a big bed of greens. Roasted red pepper, marinated eggplant, kalamata olives and artichoke hearts are other ingredients.

The $8 spinach-and-artichoke dip is creamy and rich, served in a hot gratin dish; a little spicy, perhaps, but that’s a flavor that fades up against the tostada chips served alongside.

The entrée list runs an impressive gamut, from a $12 plate of spaghetti and meatballs to a $21 steak au poivre. Most of the items are Italian-inspired: eggplant parmigiana ($14), chicken piccatta ($16) and homemade lasagna ($14) among them. In the specialty-sandwiches department, a meatball hoagie ($9) proved its worth both in terms of the quality of the meat and sauce and in the size of the damned thing, which provided a lunch the following day.

Although right now Bruno’s is a dinner-only operation, Mead is looking at offering breakfast once the Oklahoma Track opens in May. Meanwhile, now that the revamped Bruno’s has been open for over a month, he’ll celebrate Sunday’s Super Bowl with a party. “We’ll be open from 2 PM until the game ends,” he says. “It’ll be our Grand Reopening-Super Bowl-Elvis has left the building party. Pizza and wings will be on us.”

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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