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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

A Job Well Done

The Factory Eatery & Spirits

20 Prospect St., Ballston Spa, 885-0500. Serving breakfast Mon-Fri 8-11, Sat-Sun 8-1, lunch and dinner daily 11-midnight. MC, V.

Cuisine: pub fare with surprises

Entrée price range: $7 (many sandwiches) to $16 (grilled ribeye steak)

Ambiance: cozy

 

By B.A. Nilsson

Carpenters swarmed in the up- stairs room when I saw it last week, adding fancy finish work to the walls and bringing to life a long, richly decorated bar. Hanging from the high ceiling are gear shafts and steel plates and wide cylindrical pulleys, looking like something out of a Terry Gilliam design.

“These date from when the building was a chocolate factory,” says Gregg Thomas, who co-owns the Factory Eatery & Spirits with Mary DeFilippo. Both have long roots in Ballston Spa, and Thomas can talk learnedly about many aspects of the village’s history. “That’s what was being produced here when the factory closed, about 65 years ago. Before that it was a number of things, but it started as a manufacturing center for flat-bottomed paper bags.”

Downstairs, amid a number of newly furbished office spaces, is the rest of the restaurant, the section that’s been open for about nine months. With high brick walls and exposed girders, it maintains enough of the factory look to recall the city’s palmy days even while giving an ironically cheerful look to what must have been a soulless place of employment.

But the look is new, the look of a place that was gutted and carefully restored. “I love fireplaces,” says Thomas, pointing out that the fireplace dominating the dining room was placed so that it’s visible from all seating areas—even the sports-bar area, assuming that the patrons of which can wrench their eyes from the TV sets that surround them.

The true personality of a restaurant is imparted at the door. How you’re greeted speaks volumes about a place, something the chain restaurants have nailed but which eludes many local eateries. At the Factory, the greeting is swift and sincere. You may be greeted by general manager Gregory Todd, whom you’ll recognize by the accent that belies his origin in London, and you’ll remain under his gaze as your meal continues. A veteran of many, many restaurants in this and other countries, Todd can’t overstress the importance of attentive service, and it certainly shows as the floor staff takes over and ushers you through your meal.

In our case, we made the acquaintance of Jane, a high-energy server who guided us through our selections and made sure we never lacked food or drink. Those free-refill sodas are a privilege I heartily abuse. And you’re instantly served a bowl of homemade Saratoga chips, saluting that city’s claim as the inventor of the potato chip.

With four pages of foodstuffs to choose among, an indecisive orderer like me ends up foundering. Fortunately, the appetizers list—boasting familiar bar food like mozzarella sticks, coconut shrimp, chicken fingers, Buffalo wings and the like, all in the $7 to $8 range—included Swedish meatballs ($7).

I’ll confess that those meatballs are the chafing-dish item guaranteed to make me groan when I arrive at a catered reception; finding them on a restaurant menu, however, made them seem unaccountably appealing. Then I learned that the day’s soup was potato leek, that most perfect of fall-weather blends, and the starters were set, my daughter and I trading them (until she permanently claimed the soup).

Not that there was anything wrong with the meatballs—far from it. But I suggest you order this when you don’t have more food due to arrive. They’re rich, served in a rich sauce and topped with melted cheese. Add a salad and you’ve got a meal.

The soup, whose summer sibling is chilled vichyssoise, had a big presence of bacon as well as small chunks of potato, making it a chowdery version of the classic potage parmentier.

It’s the best version of this I’ve tasted in a long time, so kudos to Factory chef Bob Ketchem.

A factory theme informs the menu, where the starters are listed as “1st Shift” and items sport monikers like “The Ironworks” (burger with bacon and cheese) and desserts are listed as “Overtime.” Entrées (or “2nd Shift”) include steak tips ($12), fish and chips ($11) and honey-stung fried chicken ($10). My barbecue-loving child ordered a half-rack of baby back ribs ($12), and received a perfectly acceptable plate: tender meat with a hint of smoke and a tangy topping of sauce. Todd noted that the smoke flavor arrives with the partially cooked meat, making him possibly the first totally honest restaurateur I’ve ever quizzed about ingredients.

Jane proved a great help in choosing my meal. I was heading Reuben-wards when she steered me toward another sandwich: “The Gobbler” ($7), which is pretty much a turkey dinner on toast. Then she let slip how much she liked the burgers, and I was sold—not on “The Laborer” ($20), because that’s a five-pound monstrosity of which three pounds is meat alone (“We put it on the menu as a joke,” says Todd, “but we sell two or three of them a month”). No, I contented myself with “The Bricklayer,” an 8-ounce burger with sautéed onions, bacon and blue cheese, served with pasta salad (which I chose instead of potatoes) and the usual veggies. Nicely charbroiled, served medium-rare, as I wished. Burgers can be bliss.

After a meatball apiece, we had packed up the remaining four; even so, Lily couldn’t finish the half-rack and I only made it through the Bricklayer because I had help from my kid.

Breakfast is a recently added option, expanded from weekends only to everyday fare; dinner specials add a more formal touch to the evenings. And there are sports- and holiday-themed parties to attend. The Factory has made itself an indispensable neighborhood spot.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Tonight (Thursday, Oct. 19) there will be a cigar soiree at Park 54 (54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park) in association with Park Lane Tobacconist. $60 gets you drinks, dinner and cigars. For more info, phone 688-1548 or check out www.park54restaurant .com. . . . Tonight sees another cigar dinner, this one at Carmine’s Restaurant (818 Central Ave., Albany), where chef Carmine Sprio is designing a menu to accompany a selection of CAO cigars (you’ll get five!) Along with drinks and dinner for $85 (inclusive). Call 690-2222 to see if there are seats left. . . . The Gateways Inn and Restaurant (51 Walker Street, Lenox, Mass.) will host a Macallan Whisky cocktail reception and four-course dinner at 7 PM Saturday (Oct 21). Chef Rosemary Chiariello has created a four-course menu that includes roasted-duck-breast salad, lobster cappuccino and grilled beef tenderloin in a peppered wine sauce. It’s $80 per person, and you can reserve seats by calling (413) 637-2532. . . . Girl Scouts, Hudson Valley Council, will hold their fifth annual Cookie Cuisine event from 6 to 9 PM Tuesday (Oct. 24) at the Italian American Community Center, Washington Avenue Extension, Albany. You’ll see Cookie Cuisine honorary chair Carmine Sprio and a host of talented culinary teams prepare gourmet entrees and desserts using all of your favorite Girl Scout cookies, including a brand new, top-secret cookie. Tickets are $35. For reservations, call Sharon Smith at 489-8110, ext. 105 or e-mail ssmith@ girlscouts hvgsc.org. . . . 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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