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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

All This and Guinness Too

BEFF’s

95 Everett Road, Albany, 482-2333. Serving Mon-Thu 1-10, Fri 11-11, Sat noon-10, Sun 4-9. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: enhanced pub fare

Entrée price range: $5.50 (personal garlic pizza) to $20 (24 oz. marinated steak tips)

Ambiance: friendly and clamorous

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Pub fare, comfort food, the bar menu—those terms denote something culinarily unchallenging, something familiar. And relatively inexpensive. You can bet there will be chicken wings, potato skins, burgers and fries. Preferably with a schooner of good draft beer to wash it down.

“I think,” I said, when asked, “I’ll have a Guinness. I feel oddly compelled to do so.” Our server chuckled, acknowledging with a head tilt that each wall around us was covered with Guinness promotional artwork.

BEFF’s was born in 1991 in a space near Everett Road on Watervliet Avenue, and moved, a few years later, to its current location to succeed the Shipyard. (There’s also a Delmar BEFF’s, at 367 Delaware Ave.) It’s a nice space for the place, with a number of different dining areas and a central bar. The decorating scheme, a favorite with many chain restaurants, festoons the walls with as much in the way of posters, ads and other artwork as reasonably can be made to fit and still let some of the wall’s brick peek through.

Guinness memorabilia dominated my corner; you might end up surrounded by golf. But it’s not sports or beer giving this restaurant its identity. Not even food, although the menu here certainly helps. What’s happened is that BEFF’s won a clientele that creates an atmosphere as comfortable for the first-time guests as it is for the regulars. And, as pub-fare menus go, this one is prodigious, devoting two pages to appetizers, two to grilled items, two to pizzas and one apiece for entrées, sandwiches and salads. As you’d expect, it’s rich in familiarity.

Chicken wings are a star of the menu, plump, spicy things that remain consistently delicious (13 of them are $8), and you might as well order them hot to give your beer a little extra work to do. I give BEFF’s credit for gussying up the salads, for example, to include one with teriyaki chicken ($9.50), one with pesto shrimp ($12) and house versions of a Caesar, Greek or Mexican-themed array.

Nothing you’ve ever sought in a casual eatery seems to be lacking here, including many not-so-casual complete dinners. But a good starting place is pizza. Pizza was a vital element when the restaurant began (and when we last wrote about the place, in 1992), and justifiably remains so. A personal (four-slice) pie starts at $5.50, and you only go up from there. Traditional variations include any or all of the usual toppings, although I’d recommend sampling one of the specialty pizzas. That’s where you’ll find such unusual combos as shrimp scampi, tomato and basil, chicken cordon bleu, even a pineapple-topped Hawaiian pizza, each of these running $13 to $14 at the highest.

Nice to see white pizzas featured alongside the traditional red, and I ordered a personal Greek pizza ($7.50) to enjoy the added toppings of feta and mozzarella cheeses, as well as black olives. Ground beef is another addition, but it was oddly muted in flavor in this context and contributed more in the way of texture.

But it’s a total success as the basis of a 10-ounce burger. I’ve long been a fan of the Big Ol’ BEFF Burger ($9.25), which has grown from a half-pound to its present dimension. It’s way of celebrating indecision by topping the beast with mushrooms and onions, bacon and cheese, lettuce and tomato. Sure, it’s unwieldy, and you do well to strip off some of that stuff and enjoy it separately.

But with the right balance of ketchup and hard roll (not to mention a few bites of the crunchy pickle that’s served alongside), this becomes a triumphant essay in the art of eating. You’re going to squirt grease somewhere, so mind where you’re pointing the thing. And there are homemade fries, golden and crisp, to finish the platter.

Which brings us to the subject of potatoes. There’s no reason to feel dissatisfied with the traditional style, of course, but a sheer spirit of adventure ought to persuade you to sample the Irish fries ($4), or the sweet potato fries ($4.50), or even the waffle-cut fries ($3.25), the better to use as a dipping device.

Daily specials rotate through the week, a $9 offering that’s roast turkey on Mondays, meatloaf the day that follows, fish and chips, chicken parmesan and even pot roast a few others. Our Thursday visit opened up the possibility of corned beef and cabbage, and thus my wife claimed to indulge herself in one of her favorite meals.

But not in this preparation. Traditionally shimmered in a stock pot with carrots and peppercorns and other spices, corned beef and cabbage absorbs (and leaves behind) a rich, complicated flavor that was surprisingly muted—to the point of blandness, which described both the corned beef and the cabbage.

We enjoyed the day’s pasta special much better. The $14 dish was a simple sauté of shrimp and broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes, tossed in a garlicky oil with rigatoni.

Service is prompt and the servers are cheerful, and this was one of several visits we’ve paid over the years that has convinced us of the reliability of the place. Not every dish is always a winner, but the batting average remains very high.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

A couple of closings worth noting include one that’s temporary, as the Saratoga Rose Inn and Restaurant in Hadley closes from Jan. 13 to 25 to give the owners a much-desired vacation. . . . The final dinners at Park 54 in Clifton Park will be served Jan. 12, and Mike and Deena Pietrocola turn over the place to new owners who will install Zaika, an Indian Restaurant, in a few weeks. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at banilsson.com)



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