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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

To Grandmother’s House We Go
By B.A. Nilsson

wunderbar and bistro

744 Warren St., Hudson, 828-0555. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2, dinner Mon-Sat 5-10. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: German rustic

Entrée price range: $5.50 (chicken burger) to $18 (16 oz. Delmonico steak)

Ambiance: comfy bistro

 

A cluster of men at the street- door end of the bar conversed with Wunderbar owner Imre Vilaghy as he paused in his duties—duties that might include mixing drinks, carrying food or clearing tables—and shortly thereafter he stopped by my table to make sure we were happy with our meal. We were. Enough so that I returned the following evening.

I can’t swear that it was the same cluster of men at the street-door end of the bar that night, but the group had a similar sense of belonging right there. “We have people who come back every day,” says Vilaghy. “Especially older people who live alone. They tell me that it’s cheaper to eat here than it is to cook for themselves.”

Not surprisingly, because the Wunderbar prices are lower than you’d expect in Hudson these days. As Warren Street has erupted into a trendy haven for upscale antique shops, so too have pricey restaurants joined the fray. By Vilaghy’s count, 15 have opened nearby during the four years since he opened Wunderbar, a few of which already have gone under.

But his is a place apart. It reflects his own varied past, beginning with an apprenticeship in hotel kitchens in his native Austria, then to Hamburg (as the Beatles rocked just up the street). Various jobs took him into Great Britain and South Africa; he arrived in Columbia County in 1978 and set up a bakery—Our Daily Bread, which he ran for a (non-baker’s) dozen years.

Ten years ago he ran the Oasis Café on Warren Street, and there envisioned a restaurant that would offer inexpensive comfort food and encourage the kind of social intercourse the Oasis inspired.

When he bought the former Lawrence Tavern, he was able to avoid a mortgage, and thus pare his overhead. He lives upstairs. And the restaurant below, appointed in dark wood with copper-colored ductwork, invites its patrons to linger.

The $7 daily lunch specials rotate back each week: Monday offers a grilled chicken breast sandwich, Tuesday is meatloaf, and on the following days it’s linguine with sausage, a 6-ounce steak, and fish and chips, respectively.

At dinner you’ll sit where you like if a table is available, and the service is easygoing and efficient. During a late-night visit, my friend Joe made a meal out of an appetizer plate: sausage with mustard and toast ($5.50), which gave him two types of wurst, split and grilled, and some appropriately spicy mustard. You can assemble them into sandwiches or, as he preferred, roam from one flavor to the next, crunching ticks of toast between.

Grilled shrimp ($6.50) is another meal-sized starter, with a good-sized spread of the jumbo variety begging to be dipped in the accompanying horseradish sauce. And there’s onion soup ($4), the classic Gallic brew with crouton and melted Gruyère, its flavor full and hardy with a hearty beef stock backing its appeal.

A versatile array of salads—house or Caesar—can be selected in two sizes ($1.50 or $4) and enhanced with grilled shrimp ($10) or grilled chicken ($9). Or try the Wunderbar salad, a mesclun with apples, raisins, nuts and more ($9).

It’s the entrée list I find most fascinating. Developed by Vilaghy to summon memories of his Austrian childhood, it features pork and beef prepared in traditional ways. “A cuisine is developed in an area where people are poor,” he explains, “and have to work with not-so-expensive ingredients.” Thus you’ll find pot roast, as classic as it gets, served with an equally classic helping of mashed potatoes ($10), lightly sauced and paired with roasted root vegetables, a toothsome touch.

The root vegetables are also part of the traditional sauce with the house specialty, beef Wunderbar ($12), sliced braised beef with a sauce derived from those veggies and a side of big potato dumplings.

During none of my visits did I sample the pasta or seafood, although there’s a salmon dish on the menu for $14, and fresh fish always figures on the specials list. That’s because I was too busy urging my companions through such items as the grilled smoked pork chop with creamed spinach ($14) or, my current favorite, pork Wiener schnitzel ($14), served with a salad.

But isn’t that dish traditionally made with veal? “Of course,” says Vilaghy, “but that’s not what you’ll be served in the countryside. Veal is too expensive for this dish—so pork has also become a tradition.”

And it works spectacularly well. A thin slice, pounded into a large cutlet, breaded and sautéed and served with a light lemon sauce—it’s a glorious melding of flavors and crunch.

Want an excellent half-pound sirloin burger? It’s $6.50, but spend the extra buck and a quarter to get deeply sautéed onions piled high.

Desserts, too, invite scrutiny. The $4.50 crème brulée is classic, its hard sugar crust yielding to a rich egg pudding below; bread pudding ($3.75) gets a vanilla sauce topping into which I’ll slip a shot of rum next time I order it.

“I want my customers to be reminded of dinner at grandmother’s house,” says Vilaghy, and he certainly has succeeded.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

A 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. . . . 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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