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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Feast Your Eyes on This

By B. A. Nilsson

DiCarlo’s

1165 Central Avenue, Colonie, 459-8440. Serving 11:30-8 Mon-Fri. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: pub fare

Entrée price range:$6 (grilled vegetable sandwich) to $13 (veal cacciatore)

Ambiance: well-appointed strip club

A small stage is flanked by cylindrical columns of bubble-filled water, the color of which changes throughout the show. Color-changing lights flash rhythmically on the stage, and a disco ball sends its fragmented sparkle around the room. A reverberant voice announces the next dancer, and a woman strides into view; her costume is something she might wear to bed when in a frivolous mood. Men at the bar and the ringside tables are watching, most feigning I’ve-seen-it-all-before disinterest, but all of them happily in touch with that persistent adolescent hope of hopes and wish of wishes: I’m about to see a woman’s breasts.

It’s Hooters without the hypocrisy. (Of course, the ontology of ecdysiastics is riddled with its own many-layered hypocrisy, but that’s for a different essay.) Hooters is long gone from Albany, while DiCarlo’s soldiers on as one of the longest-lived “gentlemen’s clubs” in the area.

I’m not a frequent enough patron to analyze DiCarlo’s staying power, although I suspect that the club’s professionalism and cleanliness have a lot to do with it. What I want to tell you about, however, is the culinary discovery I made. If you’re looking for an economical lunch of pub fare, and don’t mind the rather loud, distracting entertainment going on around you, you’ll find some very good eats here.

Chef Jeff Hickok has been in the kitchen for more than 20 years, dating back to a time before the clothing came off. Obviously, food isn’t the first thing one now associates with DiCarlo’s, so Hickok has streamlined the operation into a one-man show. But he brings the experience of a Culinary Institute grad who spent several years in other prestigious area kitchens before arriving here and settling in.

“I use the KISS principle,” he says, surveying the small kitchen. “You can get sandwiches here, homemade soup—and then there are things like the tortellini with shrimp scampi, which comes with a nice reduction sauce.”

He notes the number of celebrities who have stopped in and enjoyed his food over the years, “and we have a lot of regulars. The majority of the people like the food and come back for it. In fact, some people know that I’ll make whatever they want, as long as I have the ingredients.”

Start with a soup. Hickok doggedly makes fresh daily brews, and my samples of vegetable beef and Yankee bean ($2.75 for a cup, $3.75 for a bowl) proved that he knows the secret of a good stock.

Even a goofy dish like nachos grande ($7) works, based on the excess of cheese and jalapenos topping the chips, along with beef, lettuce and tomatoes. Other starters include wings, teriyaki beef skewers, fried calamari and shrimp cocktail, all in the $6 to $8 range.

Consider that $6.75 gets you a mushroom-and-Swiss burger with fries or salad and a pickle spear, and it might be worth the distraction of some flashing lights and flesh. Dress your burger with bacon and cheese, barbecue sauce and onions, or blue cheese and steak rub for the same price.

There’s no avoiding the fact that the nature of this place casts much of what I write into the land of double entendre. We’ll just have to endure it. So I’ll note that I very much enjoyed the pressed pork panini ($7.25), which squeezed tender meat into grilled tight buns. The secret here is a roasted garlic spread that adds sweet flavor to a combo that also includes cheese, cilantro, caramelized onions and jalapeno slices.

Other panini fillings include mixed Italian meats and cheese, chicken parmigiana, and roast beef and Swiss cheese (each also $7.25).

Wraps, for all their perceived dietary benefits, don’t always lend themselves to neat eating, but the fact that one of mine came apart was hardly noticed—such was the unwrappage competition. With both hands firmly in place, you can enjoy a bacon- lettuce-tomato-turkey combo, tuna, roast beef, sliced pork, or even a vegetarian assembly, for $7 apiece.

The traditional deli fare of turkey, roast beef, roast pork, tuna, salami and ham can be assembled into a club sandwich for $7.50, or into a more traditional setting of white, wheat, rye, Kaiser roll or ciabatta for a dollar less. Specialty sandwiches like a Reuben, barbecued beef or pork, and grilled vegetables with provolone are in the $7 range. And there’s fish and chips for $7.

Here are more bargains: An eight-ounce New York strip steak for $11. Apple sausage-stuffed chicken breast for $10. Veal cacciatore (with mushrooms, peppers and onions in a sherry-tomato sauce) for $13.

Unless you’re from a family of unusual entertainers, I can’t say that DiCarlo’s feels like home. But I was there as the Thanksgiving decorations were giving way to Christmas designs, festooning a room already hung with signed posters and photos of the personalities who’ve visited. Let’s face it: Catching lunch and a show here is far cheaper than at the movies these days.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Last week I lamented the lack of mole cular gastronomy in these parts, prompting a note from chef Jason Baker that he has been pursuing precisely that—including such exotic techniques as cooking sous vide—at his restaurant, J.T. Baker’s, located at 27 Main St. in Greenwich. His menu offers tasting suggestions that you can arrange into a meal of four, seven or 11 courses. You’ll start with an amuse bouche, and go on to sample such items as tea-smoked diver scallops with bacon powder, chestnut and hibiscus; sweetbread fritters with white chocolate and miso, raisin and apple; Elihu Farm mutton cannelloni with stewed onions, tomato reduction and aerated cheese, with bread and desserts from pastry chef Suzanne Baker. Check out the Web site at jtbakers.com or call 531-2000 for more info . . . . The threat of good barbecue slowly has become an area reality, and the latest entry (opening this week!) is Chatham’s Applewood BBQ (19 Central Square). Chef/owner Craig Westover took over a Chinese takeout space to offer classics like ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken, beef brisket and even salmon, along with soup, sandwiches, sausage and more. Open for lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; call 392-6060 for more info. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

area reality, and the latest entry (opening this week!) is Chatham’s Applewood BBQ (19 Central Square). Chef/owner Craig Westover took over a Chinese takeout space to offer classics like ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken, beef brisket and even salmon, along with soup, sandwiches, sausage and more. Open for lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; call 392-6060 for more info. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

area reality, and the latest entry (opening this week!) is Chatham’s Applewood BBQ (19 Central Square). Chef/owner Craig Westover took over a Chinese takeout space to offer classics like ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken, beef brisket and even salmon, along with soup, sandwiches, sausage and more. Open for lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; call 392-6060 for more info. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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