Comes the Neighborhood
Italian markets on Albany’s Delaware Avenue have anchored
this main street for 50 years
of the few urban Main Streets in the Capital Region is Albany’s
Delaware Avenue—specifically, that stretch bounded by the
Elbo Room and the former Bagel Bite. There’s plenty of housing,
especially of the two-family variety, on the street itself
and its many tributaries. There’s the Spectrum 8 Theaters,
drawing a steady stream of people from the outside hip enough
to avoid the mall movie theaters, and there are art galleries
to further refine the coming-in-from-elsewhere crowd.
Not surprisingly, a seemingly disproportionate number of the
retail shops are food-related, with restaurants (including
Vietnamese, Chinese and Italian), delis, pizza joints and
a bakery prominent among them.
Most significantly, in terms of longevity, is a pair of shops
flanking the Spectrum, shops that have served the area for
more than a half-century apiece. Andy’s & Sons Importing
Co. (256 Delaware Ave.) and Cardona’s Market (340 Delaware
Ave.) both feature Italian fare, imported and homemade.
You’ll find a range of deli meats, fresh pasta, oils and vinegars
and remarkable desserts at both stores, yet each is unique
in its look and approach. Both stores are feeding and supplying
impressively large numbers of customers in spite of the supermarkets
nearby, so they’ve evidently stumbled on some small-business
secret of success.
Except to hear Robert Cardona Jr. explain it, it’s not so
secret. “We offer service,” he says. He’s a third-generation
family member, and works surrounded by siblings. “There’s
always someone from the family here. And there’s always someone
here to help you. It’s not like a supermarket, where you have
to go searching.”
Over at Andy’s, Vince Benincasa is one of the founder’s sons.
He sees innovation as a key to his store’s longevity. “We
go to food shows,” he says, with a nod in the direction of
his brother, Carmen, “and we take food classes to see what
the trends are in the business. We were the first to bring
fresh mozzarella to the area, and we always carry a wide range
of cheeses from different regions of Italy.” Antonio and Filomena
Benincasa started Andy’s 50 years ago, and Vince and Carmen
have been working there for more than 30 years. “The nice
part,” adds Vince, “is that you get out of the business what
you put into it. It can be as creative as you want it to be.”
Fifty years can send a neighborhood through a lot of change,
and this stretch of Delaware Avenue has seen its ups and downs.
But Vince is happy with the current look of it. “A lot of
young people are moving in, buying two-family houses to get
started. And we’ve worked up a good customer base over all
this time, with some of them in their third generation. We
have people coming back who used to live in the neighborhood—we’re
even mail-ordering to former neighbors in other parts of the
neighborhood is really coming back,” says Robert Cardona.
“We get traffic from the theater, from the galleries; we have
customers in the neighborhood who’ve been coming in for 20
years, and young families moving in who find this a more affordable
place than, say, Loudonville. On Saturdays we see a lot of
people who drive in from Delmar, from Clifton Park, from East
Greenbush to shop here.”
businesses here, we feed off each other,” says Vince. Places
like the café at the Spectrum, and the new restaurant going
in where the Bagel Bite was. This is the best blend of residential
and business properties.”
These two shops, Andy’s and Cardona’s, anchor the street in
a way no newcomer can. Longevity gives credibility; each store
also offers an effortless sense of family to customers old
and new. And the supermarkets don’t praise your choices.
Andy’s has the look of an Italian macelleria, with
cheese and sausages hanging to age and dry, and narrow aisles
lined with oils, vinegars, dried pasta, sauces. Refrigerator
cases store dinners to go. All of the sausage here is homemade,
as are the fresh mozzarella and the meatballs. Not to mention
those dinner specials, like the baked ziti with four cheeses,
sausage and peppers, chicken Sorrento and much more.
learned to make sausage as a kid, and I do it exactly the
same way as I was taught. We also age our cheeses,” says Vince,
and Carmen adds with a laugh, “This old building ages
the cheeses.” “We try to add a little something,” Vince finishes.
family affinity for food service goes back many generations.
“My father’s family had two stores in Italy,” says Vince,
“as well as stores in North Africa and Switzerland. My grandfather
was in the tobacco business in what was then the Italian colony
in Libya. My mother’s family also had restaurants and wine
Sinatra is singing “Just One of Those Things” as we leave
Andy’s, and Sinatra is singing “Night and Day” as we enter
We’re looking for meatballs. They’re sold by the pound, or
they’re 95 cents apiece, and you find them (in a tasty tomato-cream
sauce) at the hot entrées counter, where a changing assortment
of classic dishes fogs the display window with steam.
Arrive in the afternoon and you may get to meet the meatball
maker, who is also the store’s founder: 92-year-old Augusto
Cardona. He originally opened a place on Hamilton Street more
than 60 years ago; it moved to its present location in 1978.
A decade later, the store expanded, first increasing space
in the back, then adding a new wing and completely redecorating.
It’s now spacious inside, so you can wander among the crowd
from the display of cheeses to the cold-salads counter to
the soup tureens to the butcher shop, which includes freshly
cut meat, and both the chicken and the beef are hormone-free.
And there’s a line of produce, making this a one-stop market
that goes well beyond the staples. You’ll even find fresh
produce and whole-bean coffee. For take-away meals, there
also are personal pizzas, a sandwich-and-sub selection, and
homemade desserts that include killer cannoli. “Everything
that we can make here, we make here,” says Robert. “We also
do a lot of catering, which helps a lot. We deliver trays
to offices and state Assembly meetings, and we do on-site
catering as well.
we remodeled, we tried to be modern while keeping a lot of
the old feel. We don’t want to be another cookie-cutter store.”
There’s a nearly 80-year range in the ages of the Cardonas
who work here. “My brother Anthony is here. Augusto lives
in Chicago but he’s a silent partner. And sometimes you’ll
find Nicholas, who’s 13, on the cash register.”
Families are what make neighborhoods neighborhoods, and families
are clearly the secret (if secret it is) behind what makes
these shops—and, by extension, the avenue—successful. It flies
in the face of the notion that suburbia is more desirable,
and reveals the underlying loneliness of our mall-directed
And there are better things to come on Delaware Avenue. “The
city will be doing renovations here next year,” says Vince.
“I’m on the committee, and they’re welcoming community input.”
As the snow eases away, it’s a good time to grab a sandwich
and take a stroll along the street. I’ll leave it to you to
decide where to get that sandwich—whatever you choose, you
won’t go wrong.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
further we get from 1609, when Henry Hudson hit
Albany, the better the deal for Albany Restaurant
Week. This year’s event, sponsored by the Downtown
Albany Business Improvement District, takes place
April 9 through 14, and gets you a three-course
meal for $16.09 at participating eateries: Albany
Pump Station, Amo La Bella, Bayou
Café, Café Capriccio, Franklin’s
Tower, Hudson Harbor Steak and Seafood,
Jack’s Oyster House, Kelsey’s Irish
Pub at the Crowne Plaza, La Serre, the
Mansion Hill Inn, McGeary’s, Nicole’s
Bistro, Pagliacci Ristorante, Pearl
Restaurant, Savannah’s, The Comedy
Works, V & R Restaurant, Victory
Café and Webster’s Corner at the Crowne
Plaza. Reservations are a good idea: Call
the individual restaurants. . . . Sample the wide
range of dining offered at the resort’s many venues
during the Taste of Turning Stone, noon
to 8 PM on April 14, in the resort’s Event Center
(Turning Stone Resort and Casino. 5218 Patrick
Road, Verona). Along with cooking demonstrations,
food booths, ice carvings, gift baskets and more,
there will be a 2:30 PM Celebrity Chef Cooking
Show featuring Lidia Bastianich, who hosts her
own PBS show, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen,
runs five acclaimed restaurants and has written
three cookbooks. Admission is free; guests can
buy tickets to sample the food. For more info,
call (800) 771-7711. . . . Remember to pass your
scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at banilsson.com).
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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.
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
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!
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..