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Pump It Up

 

Albany Pump Station

19 Quackenbush Square, Albany, 447-9000. Serving Mon-Thu 11:30-10, Fri-Sat 11:30-11, Sun noon-8. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: amalgamated American

Entrée price range: $8 (burger) to $23 (gorgonzola sirloin)

Ambiance: cavernous

 

By B.A. Nilsson

I’ve been back to dine at the Albany Pump Station only a couple of times since writing about it in 1999, shortly after it opened. Actually, I’ve stopped by more often than that, but my timing is invariably lousy and, faced with a long wait for a table, I usually leave. Or, to give them credit, they’re so consistently busy that tables are snapped up insanely quickly.

Let’s face it, I’m annoyingly impatient. Once I’m seated I’m happy to wait for a scratch kitchen to do its thing, but I hate that initial stretch. Being handed a light-up pager only adds to the feeling of being herded, but this I hand off to others in my family.

The Pump Station actually was just that, an 8,000-square-feet operation put into service more than a century ago to move water from the Hudson to the long-gone Bleecker Reservoir, and which was used until 1932. The large cranes you see overhead still work, as was proven when the brewery tanks above the bar were put into place.

The brewery part is also Hudson-related—in this case, related to the city that bears the name. In 1860, the Evans family picked up a brewery that had been in service for almost three-quarters of a century, and ran it until the Volstead Act killed the business.

So the combined name—C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station—salutes a whole lot of heritage, and there’s memorabilia on display for the history buffs.

While it’s clear that the efflorescence of microbreweries hasn’t put Anheuser-Busch out of business, nothing beats a good local brew. The night I visited, the offerings included Quackenbush Blonde, Bavarian-style Hefeweizen, “Old Musty” Barley Wine, Extra Stout, Kick-Ass Brown, Pump Station Pale and Doc’s Pear Cider. An aficionado of darker brews, I opted for the ale, and was well pleased with its full-bodied flavor, not at all as bitter as I was expecting.

Two dining areas dominate: One has large tables and a row of booths in a room dominated by a fireplace, while in the other you scramble up on higher-altitude tables and have views of bar and kitchen. This is where my party was placed, which also placed a TV in my line of sight. Fortunately the set snapped off—probably the work of a rogue TV-B-Gone wielder—and wasn’t reactivated during the rest of our stay. People pay less attention to TVs than those who inflict them upon us believe.

Now let’s look at the menu. Nothing’s going to take you by surprise, as it hews to a formula well implemented by the chain restaurants, but with few twists. For instance, the chicken wings. They’re billed as Thai peanut wings ($8 for a dozen), and the usual sauce is replaced by that which the name suggests.

One reason we chose this place was to give my kid a wings fix, and she leapt at this variation. But it was not good. Plump and juicy chicken lurked under thick sauce, but the sauce itself was salty and not much else.

Other starters include the ubiquitous spinach and artichoke dip ($9), nachos ($8 or $10), calamari ($9), several preparations of shrimp and more. French onion soup ($4.50) is always available, as is an array of salads, some of which can feature grilled chicken.

And there is a number of sandwiches, averaging $8, including chicken, turkey, pulled pork, portobello and other items—and burgers, too, of course.

Salt called attention to itself in my split pea soup as well, so I’m guessing that’s one of those flavoring habits the chef will have to ease back on. With the soup it wasn’t nearly as bad, but there so obviously were other flavors looking to get through that the salt could have been cut way back.

Add a house salad or cup of soup to an entrée order for $3 or a Caesar salad for $4. So my wife chose the Caesar and declared herself satisfied, complimenting the freshness of the leaves. To me it was typical of the chain approach, with a too-thick (and too-generous) dressing and too much grated cheese.

But here’s a good reason to dine here: Golabki ($15), a traditional Polish dish (the work means “little pigeon”) that wraps boiled cabbage around a mix of ground beef and rice. Nicely seasoned, with a very tasty marinara, the plate is finished with pierogies.

It makes sense for a brewery to offer beer-battered fish and chips ($13), and it’s very traditional and very well done, with a couple of sizeable slabs of white fish alongside a generous portion of real fries.

Ribs, mahi, shrimp and sirloin also figure among the entrées; over on the pasta side is a variety of combos adding chicken breast, vegetables, shrimp and/or more to the pasta. And there’s Cajun jambalaya ($19), which means it’s neither—jambalaya is served with rice. Rice is an option here, our server assured me, so I ordered it that way because I was deeply in need of an andouille sausage fix.

They should just rename the dish. It was good, but it wasn’t jambalaya, which is cooked with rice, like paella. This dish sported a thick cream sauce, and the rice was an afterthought. As Utah Philips put it, “Good though.”

I’m glad to see this place endure as other microbreweries disappear, and I like some of the little differences on the menu. It’s kind of large and soulless here, but there will come a day when I need a good flagon of ale and some fish and chips, and I’ll be back.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

It’s one thing to cook and eat, but if you want to remember and share your culinary experiences, you need to write about it. Learn Food Writing Basics with a four-week class (7-9:30 PM Wednesdays, March 12-April 2) taught by Amy Halloran, who invites you to “stir the sauce of your experience into a good serving of words. We’ll study the genre and how it’s developed over the years, in order to create a recipe for writing about your life at the table and stove.” The fee is $125 for members, $145 for nonmembers of the Arts Center of the Capital Region, and you can register by calling the center at 273-0552. . . . With spring drawing nearer, it’s time for a Taste of Provence at Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush Square, Clinton Avenue and Broadway, Albany) beginning at 6:30 PM on March 7. You’ll enjoy an evening of Southern French wines (presented by wine expert Matt Consolo) paired with the cuisine of Chef Daniel E. Smith, C.E.C. Courses include Bourride, a traditional fish soup served with beurre de Provence (aïoli), a salad of marinated fennel, olives and roasted peppers and an entrée choice of Cassoulet de Toulouse or Gigot d’Agneau Rôti served with tapenade. Dinner is $65 per person (noninclusive); call 465-1111. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).



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