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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

What You Need

 

Tortillas

138 Broadway, Rensselaer, 434-1080. Serving Mon-Sat 11-8:30. D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Tex-Mex and a light fare mix

Entrée price range: $1.75 (single taco) to $5.50 (almost everything else)

Ambiance: intimate, with kitchen view

By B.A. Nilsson

 

‘Tortillas. What do you need?” The take-out orders were coming in at a steady rate as we doffed our jackets and settled in at one of the half-dozen tables in the tiny space. The menu is chalked upon a narrow blackboard that runs the width of the room; behind it is the spacious kitchen.

Too spacious, but that was the work of the previous owner, who ran the short-lived Empire Lunch Co. and installed a huge stove and hood assembly in the middle of the place. “I’m just going to work with what’s here for now,” says current owner George Miller. He ran a far fancier place in the Purple Pepper, in Valatie, an area puzzled by fine dining. He went on to work with Ric Orlando at New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties before returning northward and settling on a spot in Rensselaer.

“I think this is the place to be right now,” he says, “with all that’s going on both in this town and in Albany.” It’s easy enough to get to Tortillas from Albany: Take the train-station exit off 787, turn right at Broadway. It’s a couple of blocks up the street.

As far as developing a menu, “We decided to see what people weren’t doing in the area, and decided it would be a unique concept to put together a few different things, keeping a focus on global cuisine.”

The printed menu, which is easier to study than the blackboard, notes the restaurant’s culinary theme: burritos, gyros and burgers. And so we sampled one of each, skipping, for now, the daily specials (including an enticing-sounding chipotle chicken preparation for under $7) and the fajitas, quesadillas, wings, pulled pork, nachos and more.

Salads include a Greek mixture ($6), with olives and feta, and a Caesar ($5), which we also ordered, and which, when you look beyond its styrofoam container and the fact that it’s untossed, with dressing on the side, was a better-than-average mix of romaine, croutons and cheese. (Add chicken or beef to the salad for a couple of bucks more.)

Burgers start with a whopping nine ounces of beef, shaped on the premises, served on a plump kaiser roll—or substitute a chicken breast for any of the listed versions. Those include plain ($5), topped with cheese (the usual choices, $5.25), prepped with a Cajun rub ($5.25), or topped with varying combos of chili, bacon, mushrooms, feta, salsa, peppers and more ($5.50).

There’s no mistaking the heft of a nine-ounce burger, and when you drape it with added items, its presence becomes more profound indeed. I’m not convinced that feta works well with burger or omelette—the texture of the cheese resists heat and remains uncooperatively crumbly—but the flavor it adds makes the occasional mess worthwhile. Add to it the vinegary heat of pepperoncini and the sour tang of tzatziki, and you have the flavorful Greek burger.

Like the other sandwiches we ordered, it’s served with tortilla chips, which we added to the basket previously arrived with an order of chips and salsa ($3). The tomato-intensive homemade salsa is sweet, with a generous presence of cilantro, but you’ll want to try one of the hotter brews. I went straight to the hottest, which is thick, fiery and sweet, the last-named quality derived from a combo of pineapple and mango.

A burger without fries is naked. Fortunately, a half-dozen styles of french fry are offered ($1.50-$3), including toppings of cheese, Cajun seasonings and, per my order, chili, a surprisingly well-crafted stew of beef and beans and appropriate spices.

My wife shares none of my stubbornness when it comes to pronunciation. The pressed-meat sandwich is spelled “gyro” and sounds like “hero,” but she asked for a “ji-ro,” which Craig, who cooks and serves here, discreetly repeated in the correct manner. I gloated quietly.

Ideally, the meat continually toasts on a rotisserie; failing that, frozen patties approximate the flavor. Although Tortillas offers the latter, the beef-lamb mixture is tender and crisp and stacked in enough quantity on an outsized disc of pita that I’m willing to forgive. Dressed with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, it’s a massive meal. Gyros also are available with a filling of veggies or chunks of chicken breast ($5.50 apiece).

Burritos are clearly a signature item here. The $5.50 sandwich is another meal-in-itself dish, a massive flour tortilla wrapped around ground beef or chicken and dressed with rice, beans, lettuce, salsa and cheese. As humble looking as the serving may be—nestled in butcher paper in a plastic basket, more tortilla chips on the side—the flavors blend nicely, with bolder strokes than is often the case.

Tortillas, which has been open for about eight months, is the kind of culinary crutch communities thrive on, with good, unpretentious food, low prices, and a cheerful ambiance. We were well-fed and warm as we punched into our jackets and heard, as we left the restaurant, “Tortillas. What do you need?”

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Chameleon on the Lake (251 Stafford Bridge Road, Saratoga Springs) is hosting its third annual “Married with Singles” pre-Valentine’s Day party at 8 PM on Feb. 9. Married couples are invited to bring their single friends, and new friendships are, of course, encouraged. With belly dancers and a tarot card reader on hand, how can you miss? Stations of the restaurant’s signature food will be provided, along with entertainment by the band Groove Syndicate—all for $30 per person. Reservations are required, so call 581-3928 or visit www.cha meleononthelake.com. . . . What better way to celebrate your special someone than with a wine-tasting event paired with aphrodisiac foods? That’s the theme of the Feb. 5 dinner at Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady), with a five-course meal and an international selection of wines. Oysters, of course, with a sparkler, as well as braised lobster, espresso-cured beef tenderloin and a finale of a chocolate ménage a trois. Reservations are required. The dinner starts at 7 PM and costs $55 plus tax and tip; for more info, call 374-0100. . . . Ready for a trip into hell? Ric Orlando, chef-owner of the New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties, announces the first-ever Hell Night at 6:30 PM on Feb. 2. It’s a hot-luck wine dinner in which each course is hotter than the last, with added hot sauce available if your eyeballs aren’t perspiring yet. And the wines are presented in reverse order, with the biggest reds to start and sweet whites to ease the pain at the end of it all. Courses include smoked duck and sausage gumbo, lamb vindaloo and Trinidad oxtails from hell with a red hot habanero mash; to finish, hottest of all, a dessert of passion fruit-habanero jiggle. Dinner is $49 per person plus tax and tip; reserve seats by calling (845) 246-0900. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at 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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