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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Pizza Every Which Way

By B.A. Nilsson

Smith’s Tavern

112 Maple Ave. (Route 85A), Voorheesville, 765-4163. Serving 3-10 Tue, 11-10:30 Wed-Thu, 11-11 Fri-Sat, 3-10 Sun. Cash, checks, ATM on premises.

Cuisine: pizza and pub fare

Entrée price range: $3.50 (grilled cheese) to $15.55 (large Metrolander pizza, among others)

Ambiance: village tavern

The conversation at the bar already was spirited, the sports fans discussing the on-air game, another group comparing camping vehicles, and then Mr. Mudge walked in. An elderly gent in a gimme cap, helped by a cane, he was greeted—lauded!—by name as he made his way to a bar seat. “How ya doin’, Mr. Mudge?” “Hey, Mr. Mudge is here!” He nodded and smiled at the acclaim, settled in, and then eased into a number of Mudge-related topics.

This epitomizes the unique phenomenon of Smith’s: It’s a neighborhood bar. It’s a neighborhood pizza joint. “That’s the beauty of having a small-town tavern,” says co-owner Jon McClelland. “We have our barroom regulars, and dining near them are families with their kids.” The place was established in 1945, when Frank and Gert Smith took it over; 46 years later, they sold it to McClelland and John Mellen, who had decided to leave the workaday worlds of finance and sales and take on this tavern.

“More significant, however,” says McClelland, “is that this is Smith’s 50th year of serving pizza. I got that info from Mrs. Smith herself. It was 1959, and Frank was looking for something new to offer. He decided to take a chance on pizza, and it’s been a 50-year love affair ever since.” Much of the reason for that lies in the approach. “Maybe it’s something of a cliché now, but we’ve been saying this for years: It’s about quality, value and service. Our dough and our sauces are made fresh in the restaurant daily. Everything we serve is fresh.”

There’s a big back room that fills with families, Little League teams, other types of parties—you name it. But we arrived late enough on the evening of our recent visit to see the last group leave that room, so we elected to sit at one of the few tables by the bar. Several TV screens dominate the room, as does a large jukebox that periodically reminds us of its presence.

On-tap beer runs from the unmentionably domestic to Bass and Guinness; much more comes in bottles, and there’s a small selection of unremarkable wines. I settled in front of a pint of Sierra Nevada and contemplated the menu. Which meant contemplating pizza.

There’s not much to add to the encomia already showered on Smith’s pizzas. We’ve featured them in the annual Best Of roundup year after year—enough so that they named a pizza after us. So when our server, the engaging Millette, suggested the Times Union pizza, I had to redirect that recommendation. “We are of the Metroland camp,” I explained, “and such loyalties are fierce and lasting.”

I’m sure no editorial comment is intended by the fact that the pizza features extra cheese. When not metaphoric, it’s a desirable quantity. But I do believe that the peppery, flavorful array of articles and reviews presented each week merits the mix of toppings: pepperoni, hot cherry pepper slices, green peppers and red onions, not to mention garlic and olives. I like the idea of having an array of toppings listed with which to craft your own combinations, yet I rarely do so if the restaurant also presents a list of its own creations. That’s because I like to sample what the house thinks it does best.

And so there’s the Villager (sausage, mushrooms, red and green peppers, red onions, olives), John Gray’s “Gourmet” (sausage, pepperoni, broccoli, many types of pepper), the Roundabout (tomatoes, bacon, onions, three cheeses and herbs), the Atlas Spicy Chicken (Buffalo wing-seasoned chicken with blue cheese added to the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses), the Mexican (ground beef and hot peppers with onions and olives) and many more, averaging $15 for a large and $9.50 for small, along with an economical ($12.85/$8.10) white pizza with broccoli. And your large cheese-only still costs less than 10 bucks.

The rest of the menu is built around bar food and sandwiches. We had an order of nachos ($8), the sauce for which came out of a can, but that’s what we were expecting, and it was a generous plate with jalapeno slices, olives, and salsa and sour cream on the side.

A large Caesar salad is $4.75; add chicken and it’s $8.25. The sandwich list includes a corned beef Reuben, the turkey version (called a Rachel), a grilled ham and cheese (Santa Fe), the half-pound Smitty burger, and a sliced sirloin on a hard roll, each for about $7 with salad or chips and a pickle. Hot dogs, tuna, egg salad, grilled cheese: They’re all available, each under five dollars, and you’re welcome to dress any sandwich with extra toppings.

Any changes on the horizon? “There’s nothing to change,” says McClelland, and the happy group at the bar, the people dining around us, and the good sense of morale from the staff proves him correct. We all know Smith’s reputation, and it spreads beyond the Capital Region.

“Wherever we travel,” says McClelland, “somebody has a connection with Smith’s.”

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The best dinners provoke a sense of total well-being. I am wired such that my own sense is strongest when I’m enjoying an excellent post-prandial cigar. If it’s an occasion to stretch out and sneak in some puffs between courses, that’s all the better. And what better menu than a hearty Italian meal, an event meant to go on and on by tradition. Village Pizzeria in Galway (2727 Route 29, at the junction of Route 147) is hosting just such an event at 6:30 PM Tuesday, May 19, where you’ll feast on a six-course meal including pork osso buco, grilled broccoli rabe and cheese sausages, Tuscan kale with white beans and rabbit ragout, served alongside a variety of Super Tuscans, Barolos, Brunellos and Port. And you’ll get three fine cigars, courtesy of Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe. The price is $100 per person, which includes access to the restaurant’s bocce courts and putting green as well. Info: 882-9431. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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