First St., Troy, 272-3011. Serving breakfast and lunch Tue-Sat
6-3, Sun 7-4. Cash only.
diner fare with Cuban surprises
price range: $3.50 (eggs with home fries) to $7 (sandwich
warm spring breeze kicks up little whitecaps on the fast-running
river surface. With trees budding and winter’s ordure newly
scraped from the pavement, Troy’s First Street looks unusually
inviting. Just south of the Russell Sage campus is a riverfront
neighborhood that mixes factory buildings, most of them empty,
with residential brownstones.
And anchoring that neighborhood is a small shanty-like eatery
that seems always to have been there, always slinging toothsome
hash—though for the past year and a half, it’s been the domain
of Carmen Gonzalez, who has pushed the concept of eggs and
toast and tuna melt to an unexpectedly appealing level.
That’s because her menu is anchored by items like Cuban eggs
($6.50) and a sandwich Cubano ($7), reflecting her
own Hispanic heritage.
a New York City girl,” she says, sitting by the counter of
her restaurant, giving a rest to her broken foot. “But my
mother is from Puerto Rico, and my father was Cuban.” Her
father is no longer with us, but her mother is a familiar
presence at the restaurant, helping to serve when needed,
chatting with customers as the tables turn.
Because of Carmen’s infirmity, exacerbated, she says, by a
lousy diagnosis from a local doctor, she’s had to rely on
help from friends and neighbors. “I’m really just a customer,”
explained a woman who served my Cuban eggs during one visit.
“So tell me if I’m doing this wrong.”
Another day, a more-experienced server named Amy took care
of my table, and explained that she’d worked at Justin’s for
many years and now lived not far from Carmen’s—“And I was
in here one day and heard her saying she needed some help.
So I offered.”
With a couple of booths, seven tables and seven seats at the
counter, it can be a squeeze when the place is busy. There’s
a pleasantly haphazard feeling to the decor; some things seem
to be there by accident, like the pile of coffee machines
that peeks from behind a booth.
The work of local artists hangs from the walls, including
a large painting of a cell phone floating in a pickle jar.
“My daughter painted that one,” says Carmen with a laugh.
“My cell phone did drop into a pickle jar one day, and she
thought that was very funny.”
Pickle slices are a key ingredient of the sandwich Cubano,
a combination of flavors at which chef Jeremy Brand marvels.
“Carmen showed me the recipe,” he says, “which uses roast
pork that we marinate for two days in a special blend of Caribbean
seasonings. Add sliced ham, Swiss cheese, and the pickle,
and it’s a great sandwich.”
He speaks the truth: Presented like a panini on a Portuguese
roll, the combo is excellent. And it’s served with rice and
beans and fried plantains, the best plantains I’ve ever tasted.
“The secret to that,” says Brand, “is to start with ones that
are really ripe. And then we fry them. That’s all!”
What goes on in—and comes out of—the kitchen isn’t as casual
as he makes it seem. They make what they can from scratch.
The oatmeal, a particular breakfast special, is simmered in
milk. And it’s not the instant stuff. The corned beef hash
may come out of a can, but it’s cooked to the right degree
Breakfast offerings also include pancakes, French toast, omelettes
and a number of breakfast sandwiches. And egg dishes, of course.
The aforementioned Cuban eggs are cooked as you like them,
but over easy is best because you want the yolks to spill
onto the rice below. Along with black beans and fried plantains
are avocado slices, and there’s hot sauce on your table to
liven the flavor.
Order a salad or a plate of fruit and you’ll enjoy the look
of the plate as much as the flavor. Brand is skilled at dressing
the serving dishes, and you’ll find unexpected items like
mango slices joining the fray. Friday’s special is fish and
chips ($6), and you can substitute salad for the fries and
enjoy a somewhat healthier take on this oil-rich dish.
Other specials include Cuban chili (Thursdays, $3/$4.50 depending
upon size; add a little more for a side of greens), homemade
macaroni and cheese (Wednesdays, $4.75) and even a hamburger
plate (Mondays, $5).
Although Carmen opens only for breakfast and lunch right now,
she’d consider adding dinner if the business warrants it.
Meanwhile, she makes her restaurant available to the community,
and the community has responded. Last Friday, chef Jackie
Baldwin presided over a tapas night; tomorrow (Friday)
will see a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
It’s easy to spend longer than you’d intend at this restaurant.
With a pleasant soundtrack of doo-wop songs sounding in the
background, and conversation spreading from one table to the
next as customers recognize one another or make new friends,
it feels very much like home. Which is precisely Carmen’s
was living in New York when 9/11 happened,” she says. “I got
stuck on a train and was worried out of my mind. Shortly after
that, I visited a friend here in Troy and fell in love with
the city. So I came here, a travel agent with no restaurant
experience, and opened this place. And it looks like it’s
going to be a success.”
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
new Farmer’s Market opens on Schenectady’s
upper Union Street on Saturday (May 6), and will
continue each Saturday, 9 AM to 1 PM, through
the end of October. Look for the market in the
parking lot off Woodland Avenue between Union
Street and Eastern Avenue. Initially, the market
will feature herbs, bedding plants, and flowers.
Other locally produced and grown agricultural
items will be added as they become available.
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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.
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
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!
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..