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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

Whole Hog
By B.A. Nilsson

 

chico’s bbq & restaurant

2490 Western Ave., Guilderland, 456-0940. Serving daily 11-10. MC. V.

Cuisine: barbecue, of course

Entrée price range: $5.50 (pulled-pork sandwich) to $23 (full rack of ribs)

Ambiance: neighborhood joint

 

It was easy to spot Chico’s. A row of motorbikes glistened in front, prompting me to do a double take. (This is one of the first things you see as you approach Syracuse’s Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.) There was a time, before the explosion of fast-food joints, when you chose a diner based on the number of trucks parked outside. A form of this rule still prevails for barbecue joints and bikers, and that row of machines augers well for Chico’s.

A neighbor got wind (not literally) of this new barbecue joint, and, because she’d enjoyed Adrian Arceci’s cooking at events he’s catered, she assured me this would be the real thing. Which I’m always happy to investigate.

Like the slow approach of a rebel army or an infiltration of killer bees, killer barbecue continues to ease into the area. It’s not any kind of single entity, being the product of several distinct (largely Southern) parts of the country, but it’s a world apart from what we call barbecue in the Northeast.

Which boils down, if I may use that term, to the difference between grilling and smoking, both of which produce delicious slabs of meat, but which probably shouldn’t be sharing a descriptive term.

As with so many who find themselves running barbecue (smoked variety) restaurants, Arceci (nicknamed “Chico”) began with a backyard smoker, offering baby back ribs and pulled pork to family and friends, then to parties, eventually to catered events.

“I was in the mortgage business,” he says, “and I still am. But I always wanted to run a restaurant.”

That’s a phrase worth pondering. I’ve heard it uttered countless times by people on the periphery, folks too dazzled by the exotic look of the business to understand the horrific commitment of time and money that’s required.

Chico has had the advantage of learning the money business, and has made the right investment in making his place look and feel attractive—and, based on the size of the smoker around the back of the place, to provide plenty of good eating.

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I’m passionate about this subject. I have a smoker at home and regularly stink up the neighborhood while torturing racks of ribs and pork butts. So I don’t praise Chico’s lightly. And it’s not enough that he’s producing a range of superb pork and beef and turkey and more, smoked on the premises. He’s also got a friendly and efficient floor staff, and those seem to be my two favorite server-describing adjectives.

You’ll find the place on Route 20 (Western Avenue) during its brief confluence with Route 146. The place is divided between dining area and bar, each in its own room. Although not as informal as the fabled barbecue shacks in the south, it’s still very workingman-friendly. On the occasion of my family’s first visit, we were greeted as if we’d been there many times before.

“Sit anywhere you like,” said a genial server, and suddenly we were menued and beveraged and salivating at the sight and aroma of other people’s meals.

Thank goodness it’s not an extensive menu. Dominating the appetizer list is chicken wings—smoked, not fried, and offered with three sauces of varying heat intensity or good old BBQ sauce. We ordered 10 ($6.50) and chose the hottest variety, reckoning correctly that it would tax my family’s heat tolerance not at all. I also theorize that the spicier the sauce, the less there is of fat content because the ratio of tabasco to butter is higher.

Excellent wings. A terrific cup of chili ($3), with smoked pork the dominant meat. And it’s all homemade, including the daily soup specials, by chef Tony Lance, who also has learned his barbecuing well.

The St. Louis quarter-rack ($7.50) was falling-off-the-bone tender and shot through with the pink that reveals it to be long-smoked. And the flavor was especially lively. A St. Louis cut refers to a particular way of trimming a full rack, and it assures you of the best-tasting portion. And it comes with a choice of two side dishes, so it’s a great price for dinner. A half rack is $13, a full one $19.

You can also go whole hog, so to speak, with the Grand Slab ($9-$23), or narrow your journey down to baby back ribs, available as a half ($14) or whole portion ($20).

Side dishes comprise cole slaw, prepared as you’d expect; baked beans, a sweet, thick recipe; French-fried or mashed potatoes; and potato salad. For an extra fee, you can have sweet potato fries, onion rings or mashed sweet potato served with pecan butter.

My wife is a traditionalist who doesn’t mind seeing those traditions traduced, so she ordered a smoked turkey dinner ($10). It had all the trappings of what you’d eat during a holiday, but the turkey has the added succulence of all that smoke.

Because I felt compelled to sample as much as possible, I got the three-selection combo platter ($15). The trio of pulled pork, beef brisket and smoked sausage complemented one another, the sausage tying together the flavors of the other two meats, all of them appropriately tender.

Smoked chicken is another offering and, for smoke-free dining, there are burgers (beef or sausage), roast beef, grilled chicken and fried fish.

We’ve been back when there weren’t so many bikes out front, and rest assured: The food was still just as good.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Just as I was wondering whatever became of the cigar dinner, I learn there’s one tonight (Thursday) at the Park 54 Restaurant (54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park), featuring the cigars of Carlos Toraño. And you’ll sample five of those cheroots on the restaurant’s patio along with a six-course meal chosen and prepared by chef-owner Mike Pietrocola. Cocktails are at 6, and dinner includes a chicken and crayfish terrine, prosciutto-wrapped monkfish, Tuscan-style pork loin and much more. It’s $80 per person. Space is limited and, last I heard, was filling quickly, so you’ll have to find out if last-minute seats are available by calling 688-1548. . . . Nicole’s Bistro (Clinton & Broadway, Albany) presents its eighth annual Cucina Sinatra, featuring the meal “Old Blue Eyes” was known to enjoy at Jilly’s Restaurant in New York. Which means you’ll be dining on vongole polsolippo, rigatoni arrabiatta, insalate verdi, scaloppine de vitello alla milanaise and more—and I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell you, at this late date, what those are. You’ll hear music of the man himself performed by Ed Clifford, so get your requests ready. It takes place June 15th at 6:30 PM, and costs $100 per person, which includes wine, spirits, entertainment, tax and tip—and each course will be paired with an appropriate wine. Call 465-1111 for reservations. . . . 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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