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PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

Here Comes the Neighborhood

Two Italian markets on Albany’s Delaware Avenue have anchored this main street for 50 years

 

By B.A. Nilsson

One 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 country.”

“This 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.”

“The 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.

“I 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.

PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

The 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 shops.”

Sinatra is singing “Just One of Those Things” as we leave Andy’s, and Sinatra is singing “Night and Day” as we enter Cardona’s.

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.

“When 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 culture.

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.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The 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).


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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