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PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

Packing ’Em In

 

Maggie’s Café

1186 Western Ave., Albany, 935-2661. Serving daily 11-10:30 (dinner entrées from 4:30). AE, D, MC, V..

Cuisine: pub fare

Entrée price range: $11 (baked rigatoni) to $18 (New York strip steak)

Ambiance: big-screen TVs and burgers

 

By B.A. Nilsson

As the Cowboys and the Packers took to the field, a roar went up from the throng. “I can’t believe how many people are here tonight,” said Maggie Smith, whose eponymous café recently reopened, after a 10-month hiatus, as a sports pub. “This is my busiest night in a long time!”

Formerly an Italian restaurant, Maggie’s suffered a fire last November—“Just as I was about to do all my Christmas parties,” she laments—and had to undergo extensive renovations. During this period, she decided to change the style of the place.

“People don’t want to pay too much for food,” she explains. “Not with gas prices and other expenses being what they are.” And so she changed the layout, the look, the menu. All pretense of fanciness was dropped, pub fare moved to the fore, and TVs went in. Lots of them. Eighteen jumbo-sized high-definition screens, surrounding you with a numbing array of visuals and sound, typically tuned to any number of simultaneous sporting events.

Unless it’s a Big Event, such as a showdown between Dallas and Green Bay. We dined early enough to get our meal in before the start of the game, but this also meant my threesome was more and more crammed in place as the surrounding tables swelled with patrons—swelled into the already narrow aisles.

Yet it didn’t feel uncomfortable, and that’s the beauty of the place. Smith herself is so outgoing, so eager to please, that it sets an infectious spirit. Her servers are busy but attentive, the feeling so joyful that you ultimately don’t mine the mêlée.

The menu will have changed fairly substantially by the time you read this. Some of the more inventive items are being dropped—“People in this area aren’t always enthusiastic about food that’s different,” says Smith—and more entrées are being added, so that there will be more than a dozen of them available for dinner. “We’re adding chicken parm, eggplant parm, sandwiches like hot roast beef, hot turkey and Reubens. We’re going to drop the crabmeat quesadilla in favor of one made with chicken.”

We sampled blackened fish tacos ($9), served with lime cabbage and guacamole, a hearty forum for a hearty-tasting fish, but that’s one of the items getting bumped. “I’ll put it on as a special, though,” Smith says. “It’s been slowly getting popular, but I want to make sure I serve it only when I have fresh fish.”

There are chicken wings, of course ($8), with a variety of sauces; chicken tenders for a dollar less, onion rings ($6), waffle fries ($8 due to the many unlisted extras) and fried mozzarella ($7). Want a seafood snack? Clams with garlic and beer ($10), clams casino ($8), and the novel shrimp with a cocktail (you get a martini with the critters for $10).

Fried calamari is accompanied by a compote of spicy pepperoncini and sweet cherry peppers mixed with lemon butter ($7), and a marinara option is part of the new menu. Spinach and artichoke dip ($7) is the traditional dip, with lots of asiago cheese, served in a gratinée dish with piles of multicolored tortilla chips.

The Texas sirloin chili ($7) makes at least a nod toward Texas by boasting good beef and a well-rounded array of seasoning, but then it goes all Northeast by including beans and cheese—but that’s what locals like, and I’m sure it’ll past muster with most.

A bowl of homemade New England clam chowder is $5 and worth it, with plenty of fish in a thick, rich base. Again, nothing exceptional, but pub food is all about satisfying expectations.

As is the case with the burgers. They’re in the $7 to $9 range, depending on topping; mine was at the high end because I ordered the Joe DiMaggio, replete with bacon, mushrooms and cheese. Several other types of sandwich are available, along with a build-it-yourself personal pizza ($5 for cheese, a buck for each extra topping).

The restaurant’s Italian roots show in the entrée selection, which (on the old menu, at least) includes rigatoni Neapolitan ($11), spaghetti with sausage and broccoli rabe ($12), cioppino ($16), pasta carbonara ($12) and angel hair with tomatoes, garlic and basil ($12).

Maggie’s chef, Carlos Perez, has a background in hotel banquet food, and thus is adept at turning out the desired style and quantity.

With a couple of beers apiece to mellow the evening and give the repast an even more cheerful cast, we marveled at the swell of excitement as the crowd around us warmed to the prospect of the game. It was an infectious energy, almost a threatening one, especially as my friends and I were discussing Broadway shows. But Maggie makes everyone feel welcome, and that’s the beauty of this place.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

It’s pretty much Christmas from now till the end of the year, a good time to enjoy a holiday wine dinner at Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady). It’s a five-course dinner that takes place at 7 PM on Monday (Dec. 3), and features a collaboration with Cornell’s Restaurant, which is sending chef Armondo Cioccke to join Parisi’s chef Steve Morgan to craft a meal paired with an appropriate selection of wines. Courses include sliced tenderloin crostini with roasted-tomato vinaigrette, sesame-encrusted salmon served over a bed of spring mix, a surf-and-turf risotto and more. And save room for tiramisu. Dinner is $60 plus tax and tip, and reservations are required— call 374-0100. . . . Champagne will be on tap (so to speak) at a special dinner on Dec. 7, 7 PM, at New World Home Cooking Co. (Route 212, Saugerties), where chef Ric Orlando has created a menu that includes duck broth with Asian greens and scrambled duck egg (paired with Langlois Estate Cremant de Loire), lobster tamale with corn smut crema (Iron Horse Vintage Brut 2002), hot smoked salmon (Taittinger Brut La Francaise), pheasant Kiev (Charles Heidsick Brut Reserve) and more. It’s $85 per person, by reservation only, so call 845-246-0900. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.


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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