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The Accessible Side of Saratoga


By B.A. Nilsson

This is the kind of place the chain restaurants study before launching one of their kill-the-market rockets. It’s a what- people-want place, meaning you won’t be stymied by haute cuisine, and it’s the kind of place where you’ll be recognized after a couple of visits. It’s what I wish I had in my neighborhood, a fast retreat when I really don’t want to cook at home.

What passes for fancy here are items like the Buffalo chicken pizza ($12 for an eight-cut, pictured), which was added to the menu last year and takes its place as a favorite alongside many other variations on pizza, the restaurant’s specialty. Like mushrooms sprouting in a damp field, pizzas appeared as if by magic on space-saving towers at many of the tables around me.

There’s pasta, a fairly recent addition, along with crab cakes and lobster ravioli. At the core of the menu, however, is a large selection of sandwiches, hot and cold. A realm for which there’s a good deal of competition. Why dine here?

Well, it’s not part of a chain, and thus refreshingly lacks the crap-laden walls and robotic servers. Real people, including an owner who lives locally, work here and care about the restaurant’s success.

And the food is on a par with, and sometimes better than, what the chains offer. Everything else being equal, I support local enterprises. And this is a local enterprise with a history that dates back to the 1930s, when only a small white house marked the start of the route (9P) to Saratoga Lake, and the adjoining beer garden was al fresco. The building has been expanded over the decades to accommodate a variety of business: diner and pizzeria among them. By 1981, it had been known as the Starting Gate and the Unsinkable Molly Brown, but when Tim and Barbara Squadere took over, they gave the place its current moniker.

A quarter-century later it’s going strong, even as others have faded around them. A strong personality is one of the key factors. Another factor is the food, which was exactly as expected—and I suspect it’s consistently so. Another, and more timely reason to visit will be the Saratoga racetrack rush, the monthlong population swell that injects a teeming throng of bettors into the town and turns restaurant dining into endurance events. The Publik House picks up a lot of business during track season, I was told, but it’s still accessible.

So here we are, early on a pleasant Saturday evening, a trip to Saratoga ahead, considering the Publik House menu, pondering a dining strategy that will fill our tummies without clogging our arteries or, in my case, rendering my trousers still tighter.

And there’s no lack of good (meaning “good”) food to consider: Salad selections include the Caesar variants ($6-$9), with oddball (but tasty-sounding) additions like salmon or shrimp available. The spinach-portobello salad combo ($8) sent up a siren’s call, but I . . . I found another spinach- containing starter, and figured, in a starry-eyed, rumbly-stomach way that the spinach-artichoke dip ($6) would still provide the vegetable’s vaunted nutritional punch.

It was an unremarkable brew, but who cares? Creamy and rich, warmed so as to release more flavor, it traveled via crunchy tortilla chips and got the meal off to a satisfying start. I would only suggest that the accompanying chips be the top-of-the-bag product: We got too many that had been crushed into smallness.

From there, we figured, we could redeem our waistlines with sandwiches. It’s part of my dieting by denial approach. Perhaps a “Dick the Baker,” a grilled cheese with turkey, or “The Lawman,” which combines grilled roast beef with provolone, mushrooms and onions (these and many others are $7.25 each).

But cheese beckoned. We succumbed. Our entrée plates bore great, steamy masses of melted toppings. And they sure were tasty.

My pizza I noted above; by the time it arrived, I was good for two slices (and another one on the drive home, and another one out of the fridge, cold, late that night).

Susan, a professed cheese-avoider, tucked into her eggplant rollatini ($12) with gusto, the outer mozzarella and the inner ricotta notwithstanding. What a nice concept for an easy-to-enjoy dish: soft but flavorful rolls of the vegetable oozing the other ingredients, a layer of linguine beneath to prolong the experience.

My daughter actually was the more reasonable, because her hot meatball sub ($7.50) was more about the meat than the cheese, and the three hearty spheres were made from a mixture of meats.

“Save room for Tammy’s desserts,” the menu insists, but with leftovers boxes accumulating around us, we thought it wise to postpone that pleasure for our next visit.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


Don’t fight it—Bastille Day approaches, and, per tradition, Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush House, Clinton & Broadway, Albany) celebrates on July 14 with a four-course meal and entertainment. Start with an appetizer of vichyssoise, charcuterie or PEI mussels (among other selections); entrée choices include roasted leg of lamb, sautéed trout meuniere and semi-boneless roasted duckling. Sonny & Perley provide an evening of jazz and cabaret. The noninclusive per-person fee is $50 (465-1111). . . . Speaking of things Gallic, Provence Restaurant (1475 Western Ave., Albany) presents its first summer wine dinner on July 19 at 7 PM. With the theme “Napoleon’s Favorites,” the dinner will feature vintages around the world that Napoleon Bonaparte celebrated in his memoirs. Food, too, will be Napoleonic—meaning multilayered. Chef Michael Cunningham thus will be making towers of such dishes as ahi tuna Nicoise with heirloom tomatoes, torchon of foie gras, and sliced breast of duck with leg confit. It’s $75 per person (689-7777). . . . Several weeks ago, Gotchya’s Trading Co. and The Yawning Duck Pasta Co. combined to open the restaurant Gotchya’s Trattoria at 68 Beekman St., Saratoga Springs. They will host a Sicilian themed Communal Dinner—a multicourse event at one large table, featuring roasted lamb and grilled swordfish—on July 19, and all courses will be paired with appropriate wines. Dinners ($75 per person) are limited to 16 and reservations are required (584-5772). . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (

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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

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

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


Elaine Snowdon

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

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

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