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B.A. Nilsson

Pub Power

The Washington Tavern

250 Western Ave., Albany, 427-0091. Serving daily 11:30 AM-1 AM. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: pub fare

Entrée price range: $4.75 (small pizza) to $15 (full rack of ribs)

Ambiance: pub classic

By B.A. Nilsson

My last visit to the Washington Tavern, I’m ashamed to note, was in June 1983. At that point, owner Michael Byron had been running it for slightly more than a decade, and its reputation as the area’s friendliest watering hole already was solid.

I was reeling from the news that my wife was leaving me; my best friend had just broken up with his longtime girlfriend. We needed beer. A couple of burgers would be nice. And we found exactly what we were looking for. Too heartsick to even consider conversing with the more comely guests—and the WT, as it’s popularly known, attracts its share—we at least found consolation in camaraderie.

We downed some pints and traded war stories in the smoky barroom. He soon patched things up and married his girlfriend, and remains married to her; I met another shortly thereafter, and am still married to her.

You may enjoy a similar success, but I won’t guarantee it, except to note that during my recent visit I was privy to a conversation in which a concerned trio tried to dissuade a friend from throwing over his wife in favor of a much younger married woman.

This was but one of the attractions of the newly refurbished patio, where your al fresco dining is enhanced by a view of the neighborhood. My daughter loves to dine outside, and we indulged her this pleasant evening, giving us a respite from the many TVs inside. What I’d forgotten was that there’s no longer a smoky barroom, and those who wish to dine while firing up a gasper have to do so outside. On the patio.

But here’s the kicker: My wife, who can work herself into a big PC snit over secondhand smoke, actually was able to relax and ignore (and it wasn’t really that bad; it just looks stupid, this sea of young, would-be sophisticates clinging to the notion that there’s anything attractive about their addiction).

Servers are young and swift, able to hustle armloads of drinks and platters to tables, whisk away empties, keep up with orders and new requests, and still smilingly parry the importunities of love-struck singles.

Twenty-three years after my last visit, I’m a middle-aged family man, and still I found a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere. It’s not just a kids’ bar. Byron also owns the Ginger Man, the excellent restaurant down the street that’s also known for its wine list, and, he explains, he owns most of the rest of the block.

“I have 60 tenants,” the ebullient Irishman said, “so it’s in my best interest to keep the neighborhood top notch!” With that in mind, and to increase the WT’s banquet capacity from 35 to 50, he recently refurbished the place. And it looks great, with lots of new tables and chairs and a brighter feel to the rooms.

Byron came to the States in 1966 and worked for Schraft’s in Manhattan, which soon sent him to a motor inn in the Albany area where he handled the foodservice (and a customer base of state legislators, who had far fewer choices in those days). “I was about to get married,” he said, “and it was time to move on. The Washington Tavern became available, and we bought it.”

The Tavern itself has been in operation since 1884, back when its thoroughfare was the Great Western Turnpike. No longer just a coach stop, it’s now surrounded by colleges, professional buildings and, of course, residential neighbors. It offers a pub-fare menu, and just as the façade has been rebuilt to reflect the look of a classic Irish pub, so too has the menu evolved into a classic array of what goes best with beer. Or even a flagon of soda.

Appetizers—I don’t even have to list them. You know what they are. We sampled the crock of chili ($5), which I’m guessing is on the apps list rather than with the soups owing to its density, and it’s a decent bowl of the stuff that sports more-than-usual heat-spice. French onion and a soup of the day are always available, as is the greens & beans I sampled ($2 for a bowl; $3.75 per crock), a mix that’s thinner than I expected (probably explaining why it’s listed with the soups rather than the apps) but certainly flavorful.

My daughter, the ribs fanatic, got an appetizer portion of a meaty St. Louis cut ($7, also available as an entrée for $10 or $15), and, although they lacked the smokiness of true barbecue, they still were tender and satisfying.

Salads are bounteous, at least from the example of Susan’s chicken-breast salad ($7), which turns out to be a big mix of fresh greens with tomatoes, onions, olives and cucumbers, topped by deep-fried chicken breast strips, much more than she could handle for a starter.

She went to further decimate the poultry population by ordering a chicken fajita ($8.25), which brings sizzling strips of seasoned meat on a hot platter along with the cheese, peppers, onions, salsa and sour cream with which to wrap your concoction in warm flour tortillas.

Hot, cold and club sandwiches are available; paninis and wraps for fancier sandwich fare; pizzas of all stripe and, of course, burgers. My Black Forest ham and cheddar burger ($7.25) boasted plenty of meat, a good charbroiled flavor, and a side of thin tavern fries that gave just the right touch of old country exoticism.

Food here is exactly as expected, affordably priced and efficiently served; there’s Guinness and Newcastle on tap, so what more could you ask?

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Chef André Begnaud, who served as executive sous chef at two of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, will cater the Ninth Annual Music Haven Community Gala celebration in Schenectady’s Central Park from 5:30 to 7:15 PM on Monday (Aug. 28). The menu includes smoked brisket, barbecued chicken, green beans with pecans, corn maque choux, Cajun/Creole potato salad, Louisiana slaw, and dessert beignets. The Gala marks the last concert of the summer series, which features zydeco master Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie on the Music Haven stage at 7:30 PM. The Gala’s $55 ticket includes VIP seating for the concert, the pre-show Louisiana bayou-style barbecue with dinner entertainment by the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers (Michael Eck & Greg Haymes), and post-concert café du monde dessert. The concert itself is free to the public as usual. For more information, visit www.music havenstage.org or call the Central Park office at 382-5152 or the Chamber of Schenectady County at 372-5656. . . . Chameleon on the Lake (251 Stafford Bridge Rd., Saratoga) is hosting a SPAC Food and Wine Fundraiser at 6:30 PM on Sept. 7 at the restaurant, which perches picturesquely on the northern inlet of Saratoga Lake. The event includes not only creative food and wine pairings but also Latin music and a complimentary dance lesson. The menu includes mushrooms stuffed with gorgonzola and sausage, paired with Sheldrake Chardonnay from Australia; coconut-crusted halibut with a Thai curry sauce, together with a Joseph Carr Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley; and coulat steak with a morel cherry sauce paired with Joseph Carr 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. The price is $110 per person, inclusive, and you can reserve a seat by phoning the restaurant at 581-3928. . . . 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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