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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

At Home With Pizza
By B.A. Nilsson

Fresco’s

569 Route 20, New Lebanon, 794-9339.
Serving Sun-Thu 11:30-10, Fri-Sat 11:30-11. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pizza and pasta

Entrée price range: $6 (pasta with marinara)
to $14 (large smoked-seafood pizza)

Ambiance: neighborly

 

Midway through our meal, an Applebee’s ad flashed on the widescreen TV that hangs over the bar. The selling points—happy people, colorful food—were in evidence around us. But Applebee’s is a suburban, anti-neighborhood phenomenon, whereas Fresco’s is very much intended to serve—and bring together—the locals.

And, in my case, a hungry passerby. An errand in Pittsfield, Mass., on a brutally cold day—when my daughter suggested pizza for lunch I couldn’t argue against it. On Route 20 in New Lebanon, we spotted Fresco’s both from its sign and the crowd of cars, and were lucky enough to be seated right away.

“Kids are off from school today,” owner Gary Knight later explained, “and we’ve been nonstop busy.” Which meant that during most of the early afternoon, the eight dining room tables, three hightops and eight bar seats were filled and turning, with a thicket of people waiting by the door.

Fresco’s opened in 1995, after Knight put in time at such nearby restaurants as Sassafras and the Shaker Mill Tavern. He upped the casual-dining ante by installing a wood-fired oven, and the pizza business is a mainstay of the restaurant. But it certainly isn’t all.

“We developed the menu over the years,” he explains, “to feature items that our customers look for. And we’ve done very well. I’m always asked why I don’t expand the place, but I think the size is part of its appeal. I’ve seen too many places get overambitious and fail.”

Although we visited when the outside was a snow-covered deep freeze, a gazebo and picnic tables suggest that warm-weather service gives you Fresco’s al fresco options. But it’s certainly a comfortable winter venue. Just don’t sit too near the door.

I could spend the rest of this review just describing the tchotchkes and gewgaws adorning the place. A few examples should suffice: a chairlift, complete with skier; a zeppelin; several biplanes; and Santa’s leg; all of these hanging overhead. Among the wall decorations are a vintage sled, a working traffic light and a poster of the most protean of the (Three) Stooges, proclaiming “Legalize Shemp.”

The menu boasts that the dough and sauces are made daily. Right there you know you’re in for something better than many a pizza joint. A page of wood-fired pizza choices allows you to built your own red or white pie ($5.75 for a 10-inch, $8 for 14-inch; add a buck or more for each extra item), with a cornucopia of toppings to work with. (Smoked mussels! Pineapple! Gorgonzola!)

Nine specialty pizzas allow the unimaginative, like me, to avoid choice-making. Florentine adds spinach and bacon; Fresco’s Combo mixes mushrooms, sausage, pepperoni and peppers. My progeny is a barbecue fan, who counts barbecued-chicken pizza as her favorite.

Above the big TV a sign reads “When in Doubt, Order Pizza.” Excellent advice. We have another strategy to attach to that: order the largest size available and enjoy leftovers later. The $10 barbecued-chicken pizza sported a white sauce, chicken chunks and a tangy sauce that didn’t overpower the rest of it—first time I’ve found this combo so nicely proportioned. The crust was thin and crunchy, and scented with wood-fire smoke.

Want a different arrangement? Calzones and stromboli start at around six bucks, the price increasing per ingredient. Subs ($5 for eight-inch, $6 or more for 12-inch) are available cold or baked depending on your preference.

A cup of hot soup always gives a good start to a winter’s day meal, and cream of broccoli, the day’s soup when we visited, would seem an excellent candidate ($2 cup, $4 crock); this one bore the signs of a congealed thickening agent, which lumped up its texture.

Other starters include bruschetta ($6), wings ($5.75 for a dozen, $10 for 25), a $10 smoked-seafood plate and fresh mozzarella with tomatoes for $7.75.

A typical array of salads is offered; I enjoyed a Greek salad ($6 or $8, the smaller of which will feed two) that was the usual mound of romaine, feta, kalamata onions, olives and tomatoes.

Here’s a smart move: The page of pasta offerings notes that most of them are available in a smaller portion for $2 less than the regular price; were I not a fan of leftovers, I’d have taken advantage of that. And you get your choice of penne, angel hair or linguine, dressed with an Alfredo sauce ($8), broccoli aïoli ($7), pesto ($8), Bolognese ($7) and more, many of which can be enhanced with chicken or shrimp for an extra charge.

Baked items include ziti ($8) and the parmesan family (eggplant $9, chicken $10, veal $11). Among the more exotic sautés are smoked salmon Alfredo ($11) and what was described as the most popular pasta dish, chicken Ricardo ($10), which I discovered to be a heaping bowl of pasta (angel hair for me) tossed with chicken chunks, julienned ham, mushrooms and broccoli in a sweet cream sauce, the leftovers of which my wife swiped for lunch when I wasn’t looking.

The crowd never eased during the hour of our visit; the servers kept hopping and pizzas flew in and out of the little oven with surprising efficiency. It was a wonderful, warm sanctuary we look forward to visiting again.

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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