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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Chrome and Mirrors

By B. A. Nilsson

Metro 20 Diner

1709 Western Ave., Guilderland, 456-3876. Serving 6 AM-midnight Sun-Thu, 6 AM-1 AM Fri-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: dineraunt

Entrée price range: $3.50 (double egg sandwich) to $30 (twin lobster tails)

Ambiance: chrome and neon

It’s been just over a decade since the Metro 20 Diner put down stakes, or rather landed from deep space—as it appears at night, neon ablaze—on Western Avenue, not far from Crossgates and the Northway. As far as architecture is concerned, it’s about as handsome a diner as you’re likely to find north of New Jersey, and the glitter of the exterior is carried into the inside walls, with art deco poster-style motifs.

I first visited with my family in 1998 when that family included a 1-year-old. The restaurant was, and remains, a good place to bring kids. It’s spacious enough to accommodate a range of customers at a range of stations, although customers tend to be consolidated in a dining area during the slower stretches.

Food purveyors like Sysco make so many items available in frozen or Cryovac packaging that it’s possible to offer an expansive menu without the attendant preparation; thus the diner offers seemingly limitless choices.

Metro 20’s menu—large, laminated, bordered in pink—welcomes you with a pagelong listing of wine, beer and cocktails. There’s a weekday afternoon (2-5) dinner special that gets you soup or salad and an entrée with dessert and coffee at half price, and the specials include roasted chicken or turkey, meat loaf, broiled scrod, fried clams and more, priced from $10-$13.

Appetizers range from a $3 plate of fries to an $11 sampler of wings, potato skins, mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers; nachos, fried ravioli, jalapeño poppers, chili and calamari are among the others.

Then you face the real decision. Sandwich? Burger? Full dinner? Breakfast? The specialty sandwich list offers chicken souvlaki on pita ($7.75), Philly cheese steak, tuna melt or French dip for $8, London broil sandwich for $10 and a NY steak sandwich for $14, each with a side of fries. Six-ounce hamburgers start at $4.75; once you’ve piled on cheese and bacon and added fries or rings, you’re paying $8.35. And there are many more sandwiches, including wraps ($8), triple-deckers ($8-$9) and traditional deli combos (around $7).

We ordered a grilled chicken Caesar wrap (served with good fries, $8), and were served a generously overstuffed sandwich with a nice flavor, but one that had picked up enough heat to wilt the accompanying lettuce.

After that there were still three pages of dinner choices! Our options were narrowed during another recent visit when we were informed right away that none of the sautéed items would be available—that station closed at 8:30, a half-hour before our arrival. So no chicken Sinatra (it’s sautéed with sliced eggplant, prosciutto, roasted peppers and mozzarella, $16), no sole Française ($17), no veal pizzaiola ($17), no fusilli misto (sautéed chicken and sundried tomatoes tossed with spinach and prosciutto and pasta, $16). A page of options gone.

Ten years ago I reported that no meatloaf was offered. This has changed. The meatloaf is listed as a “chef special,” served with potato and vegetable ($10). It bears no resemblance to any meatloaf I’ve tasted before, and not in a good way. Three large (I do mean large) patties emerged, bearing grill marks, covered in a very thick mushroom-studded gravy. The patties themselves, buoyed by breading, had only a fleeting flavor of meat. The gravy also topped a side of bland, processed mashed potatoes. My monkey dish of peas traveled from can to table with a stop, I’m suspecting, at the steam table to collect a little heat and shed the last of its color.

Earlier, I flew through an appetizer serving of fried zucchini sticks, served with a marinara dipping sauce ($5.25), so I wasn’t going hungry. This was why I realized, only after I left the diner, that the salad included with my dinner had never arrived. Nor was the menu-promised bread and butter ever served.

Among the Italian specialties are chicken or veal parmigiana ($13 or $17); meat-intensive entrées include pork chops ($14), lamb chops ($16) and a NY strip ($18), and there is a bounty of seafood, offered stuffed, broiled or fried ($13-$19). Roasted turkey ($13) and beef liver ($10) give an old-fashioned feel to the offerings, but the example of the roasted half spring chicken ($12) suggested that the bird itself had reached an autumnal stage, dry and chewy with a stiff, tough stuffing.

The star of the meal was the matzoh ball soup ($2.75 or $3.50), which could have come straight from the Edison Hotel in Manhattan and boasted an unusually good broth and a well-textured dumpling.

There’s nothing bashful about dessert here. Although the display counter showed many empty spaces, those cakes and pies that remained were tall with frosting or filling and sliced generously thick. We shared a piece of chocolate layered cheesecake ($4), which was gooey and sweet and otherwise unremarkable.

You get a secure, comfortable feeling from servers who make that extra bit of effort to ensure a good dining experience. Such wasn’t the case here. I had the feeling that the nicest thing we did for the servers was settle up the tab and depart.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Village Pizzeria (2727 Route 29, Galway) is celebrating its 20th anniversary in style with an award from the Wine Enthusiast magazine, adding to an already impressive list of such awards. This neighborhood pizza joint also features quality Italian entrées and what’s probably the best-chosen, reasonably priced wine list in the area. Look for the restaurant’s acclaimed sauces in several area Price Chopper stores. Call 882-9431 for more info, or check out villagepizzeria.com. . . . The Hot Harry’s Fresh Burritos franchise has a new Schenectady location at 1625 Union St. It’s a locally owned business, started four years ago in Pittsfield, Mass., by Samir Abdallah, who has seen the concept spread through the Berkshires (and even into Iowa!) before landing in east Greenbush, and now here. In addition to burritos, the menu features homemade salsa and soup and a variety of tacos, quesadillas and salads. Call 374-2812, or find them on the web at hotharrysburritos.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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