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PHOTO: Chris Shields

The End’s New Beginning


By Laura Leon

café madison

1108 Madison Ave., Albany, 489-8859. Serving breakfast and lunch 7:30-2 Mon-Fri, 7:30-3 Sat-Sun; dinner 5-10 Sun-Thu, 5-11 Fri-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: American with Southern accents

Entrée price range: $10 (café burger) to $26 (lavender-and-ale duck breast)

Ambiance: warm and inviting

It’s human nature to resist change. This is especially true when that change involves a longtime favorite, such as a soap opera recast. It’s even more relevant when it comes to restaurants. For years, Albanians have enjoyed the simple comforts of Madison’s End Cafe, so much so that when regulars found out that the former owner was selling, nervous antennae sprang up. Then, the new owners—Mike Viglucci, his son Brian, and Tony Lounello—decide to renovate, admittedly a much needed step, but still, regulars (myself included) wondered, what will happen? Will this charming neighborhood haunt be irreparably changed in the process?

Perhaps this sounds too dramatic for a restaurant review, but seriously, when you think about all the times an area institution has undergone transformation, be it in the person of a new owner or via a new name, look and menu, there is always that question of continuity or improvement. And the concern often is well-founded; remember Ogdens, that marvelous downtown landmark once known by diners for years of first-rate food and service? In its last incarnation, it was run into the ground with hit-or-miss food and shoddy service. Just like in the Cheers theme song, we gravitate toward places where we are known and liked, or at least treated that way, so places like the former Madison’s End, which also happened to have good food (and was a regular Metroland Best Of winner for Best Breakfast), are so near and dear to our culinary hearts that the apprehension felt during its transformation to Cafe Madison can be expected, even forgiven.

Many of the staff of Cafe Madison are the same people who so efficiently waited on us in the not-so-old days, which is a reassuring presence. Stepping inside the restaurant, one can easily see how needed the rehab was. What once was a narrow, rather blandly decorated and quite loud room has been transformed into a series of intimate dining areas, encompassing on two levels cozy booths, larger tables and a full-service bar. The colors are rustic and spicy, the lighting is soft. The front wall now features French doors, which open, in good weather, to allow al fresco dining, and this heightens the feeling of openness and light. The entryway itself, which used to be a part of a hallway and then a cramped front space where folks in search of breakfast would queue for a table, has been opened up in a way that make the waiting less crowded and more comfortable—a minor point, perhaps, but this attention to detail does lend itself pos itively to your overall experience at the restaurant.

The breakfast and lunch menu is basically the same as it was before, with daily specials in cluding creative variations on eggs benedict using seasonal fresh vegetables, fresh fruit crepes or waffles, and an array of omelets. On recent morning forays we enjoyed Italian Eggs Benedict featuring tomato and mozzarella (it was kind of incongruous to hear the waiter ask if we wanted Irish bacon with that). A BLT omelet was marred only by undercooked bacon, and the Tuscan frittata was skimpy on the roasted tomatoes, which give it a needed acidity, but the hash and eggs was a definite spot hitter. And the home fries—for years the leathery weak spot in the Madison’s End breakfast—are much improved.

While the restaurant allows you to take your time mulling over your coffee and paper, some of the service picks up on that leisurely quality. We waited nearly 15 minutes one morning for a server to take our drink order after the hostess forgot to do so, perhaps because she was busy asking the diners at every table around us whether they would like more coffee. Another time, when the server brought us one fewer orange juice than we had requested, he retorted that he had in fact brought us what we’d asked for, rather than simply go back for the extra glass. Things like this detract from an otherwise pleasant breakfast, though admittedly, they are not the norm at Café Madison.

What’s new here, in terms of food, is a Southern-inspired dinner menu and carefully-thought-out wine list, both of which position the restaurant in the fine-dining category. Executive chef Hugh Horner’s North Carolinian roots come through in dishes like braised short ribs—savory slow-cooked ribs that were fall-off-the-bone tender—with Carolina collard greens and sweet potato grits ($20); low country shrimp and grits ($18), which plays sautéed shrimp with stone-ground grits, andouille sausage, bell peppers and onion, with a roasted garlic pan gravy; and an appetizer of buttermilk-fried chicken satay ($7), served with a slow-cooked honey mustard sauce. Even more interesting is the way that Horner incorporates local produce and ingredients into the mix, making for an eclectic North-meets-South menu featuring a nice balance of opposite textures and flavors. A great example is the pan-seared Hudson Valley duck breast ($26), cooked to a tender shade of baby pink, infused with lavender and ale, served with cauliflower puree and sautéed Swiss chard and finished in a cognac butter sauce. The tartness of a vegetarian main, eggplant and roasted tomato torte ($16), is tempered by honey curry orzo. Salmon, which when it’s good can be full of rich flavor, is given a delightful spike when poached in lemonade, and adding to the clean, astringent quality of such a dish, served atop a grilled fennel and mustard seed salad and finished with a beurre blanc sauce ($20).

Among the appetizers we tried were mussels Rockefeller ($9), which featured Prince Edward Island mussels served with applewood smoked bacon and wilted spinach in a surprisingly light parmesan cream broth, and an artichoke and asiago cheese salad ($8), which included chives and freshly grilled focaccia. Cafe Madison also features a small tapas menu, from which we tried the goat-cheese-stuffed figs wrapped in pancetta, a little treat that captivates the palate with its mix of sweet and salt, soft and crisp.

Too often, wine lists are limited, in that they offer nothing new and exciting for you to discover, or they have too many bottles lumped in one price range—usually one that’s just beyond your budget, so that ordering the one wine priced considerably lower than the rest makes you feel like you’ve got “cheapskate” tattooed on your forehead. Cafe Madison’s list was nicely rounded, with a number of selections available by the glass, and featuring some off-the-beaten-track vineyards. We savored a Joseph Carr cabernet with notes of black currant and berries and a hint of smoke and vanilla. The wine selection was all the more enjoyable because our waiter knowledgeably explained the differences between this and another bottle we were contemplating.

So it’s back, and yet it’s different. In its relatively short life, Cafe Madison has managed to retain its neighborhood warmth while elevating its game to new heights, with a menu stamped with personality and service that is generally friendly and professional. Change may be hard, but it’s not necessarily bad.

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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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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