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Photo: Martin Benjamin

The Life of the Village

By Laura Leon

The Jonesville Store

989 Main St., Clifton Park, 877-0507. Open 8-7 Tue-Wed, 8-8 Thu, 8 AM-8:30 PM Fri-Sat, 8-3 Sun (closed Mondays). AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: contemporary American home cooking

Entrée price range: $14.95 to $16.95 on recent dinner features menus, which change weekly

Ambiance: Grandma Moses meets Better Homes and Gardens

The Jonesville Store sits on the corner of Main Street and Longkill Road in a tiny pocket of Clifton Park known as historic Jonesville. It’s an incongruous image, that this rural, folksy thoroughfare, with neatly painted and porched houses with gardens out of Louise May Alcott’s Little Women, is actually a part of that paved and franchised monstrosity off Northway Exit 9, but there you have it. Just when you think there aren’t any good choices here for non- big-box eating, you remember, or are reminded of, the Jonesville Store. Sanity is restored.

We’ve visited the Jonesville Store a few times for weekend breakfast and lunch, when one places his or her order at the deli counter and then finds a table. It’s a modest-sized building seating approximately 50 in the charming main front room, another rear section and an outside porch (scattered throughout the store, including a second floor, are specialty food and food-related items on sale). The breakfast and lunch choices are fairly standard, but marked by very fresh ingredients and remarkably friendly service. A diverse collection of eggs Benedicts include such options as Canadian bacon; tomato and sausage; smoked salmon, red onion, tomato and capers; all on potato pancakes. A version with zucchini, spinach and asparagus comes on tomato crowns; this latter item came to my table stone cold, the egg overpoached and the meager Hollandaise limpid, but the tomato crown was delightful and the veggies tender. This has been the only misstep we’ve experienced so far at the Jonesville Store, and happily, we had much better luck with the other versions. Omelets are appropriately fluffy and, as with the Bennies, display a flair for combining ingredients. A favorite included artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, potatoes, rosemary and cheddar. The Atkins dieter among you may prefer the sausage, ham, bacon and cheddar, really one of the rare items on the menu that would be equally at home at a truck stop.

Sandwiches are hearty and reasonably priced at $8.95. One son ordered the Wagon Wheel, which featured honey smoked turkey, Black Angus pastrami, Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing. He couldn’t finish it, and while I’ve never liked pastrami or Russian dressing, I felt compelled to give it a taste. I’m glad I did; the turkey was tender and faintly sweet with honey, the pastrami had a pleasingly salty, briny richness. The slaw was dressed lightly and had its own peppery crunch, and the Russian was a revelation, not at all gloppy and mayonaissy as so often is the case. Another time I tried a simple salad of greens dressed with Ranch dressing—another dressing that makes me cringe in revulsion—and it was astonishingly light in texture, with a clean, creamy tartness of flavor. Turns out the Jonesville Store makes all but one of its salad dressings. Attention to details like this is one of the reasons that a visit here is so enjoyable.

Did I mention the root beer on tap from the Olde Saratoga Brewery in Saratoga Springs? If for no other reason, a visit to Jonesville Store can be predicated on this delicious beverage. Do not accept the bottled variation.

While there are a lot of classic combos, like the Italian mix or the Pilgrim’s Pride, featuring turkey and cranberry mayo, most sandwiches feature a curveball, something to awaken your taste buds. Take the Fromage de Brie, which on surface seems like a traditional roasted turkey with warmed Brie and sliced apple. Then you notice the vaguely Indian aspect of it, courtesy of the grilled raisin bread and curry aioli. The Jonesville Store also has a large assortment of prepared foods, perfect for picnics at Saratoga or as the centerpiece of a take-home dinner. A popular feature is the Grab and Go dinner, a single offering that changes nightly. A recent Grab and Go featured honey bourbon salmon with rice pilaf and vegetables; another night it was barbecue boneless pork chop with cornbread and vegetables. The Grab and Go comes hot and is served with salad, dressing and bread. This is convenience food without the guilt. (You can also order the Grab and Go special if you are dining in the restaurant.)

Dinner is the best time to get a feel for what this place has to offer. The hustle and bustle of the daytime crowd gives way to a mellower atmosphere, as sunlight fades and imbues a soft golden haziness about the rustic room. On weekends, there’s live music; on our recent visit, it was a solo guitarist named Molly Durnin. The intimacy of the setting dispelled the initial reaction of “Oh, no, we’re not going to be able to avoid eye contact with the performer . . .” and actually, it was highly enjoyable. Each week, chef-owners John Travis and Harris Unger offer a menu of five entrees, including at least one vegetarian, priced very affordably at $14.95 to $16.95, and all including carefully chosen wine recommendations.

We began with stuffed squash blossoms, one filled with a deliciously sweet sausage mix and the other with piquant black beans. For mains, I devoured tea-poached scallops served with pickled pineapple over dried fruit quinoa, alongside a crisply blanched leek salad. What at first glance might appear like spa food was in reality a carefully constructed melding of flavors and textures, a true delight. One of my sons had what I would deem, unequivocally, the best slow- roasted chicken I’ve ever tasted. Tender, succulent, juicy—it was all these things and more. Served over a chocolate jus with plantain and yucca chips and sliced macerated strawberries, this was like something out of Like Water for Chocolate. I get misty, seriously, thinking about how I can savor this dish once more. A risotto entrée proved that even the plainest sounding of dishes can be elevated to new heights through the use of ultra fresh, local ingredients, in this case summer corn and asparagus, and by the way, a little crispy prosciutto never hurts either. While we did not try a toothsome sounding mushroom pomodoro, featuring roasted shiitake and portabellas, we did indulge in the grilled New York strip, which was cooked perfectly and made a sturdy, succulent foil for sides like an innovative twice-baked potato filled with a nicely acerbic puree of celery and arugula, and a Proustian creamy spinach.

We had to order dessert, in large part because we were sitting right next to the dessert case and therefore had no more defenses in the fight for dietary moderation. Cheesecakes, including a key-lime cheesecake, were dense with flavor yet impossibly light, almost delicate. But the very best dish was a very berry pie, redolent with raspberry and blueberry and featuring the kind of flaky crust you used to see in old Crisco commercials, if not at church bake sales or your own mom’s kitchen. I never eat pie—just not much for desserts—but this was something that, had I had access to the entire pie plate, I very well could have gone through in one sitting. Outstanding.

Travis and Unger had been in the restaurant business together more than two decades ago, and remained friends over the years while trying out other careers (though never leaving the food business entirely). One of Unger’s careers was real estate, and when he saw that the Jonesville Store was available, he called Travis to suggest they might want to take a look. When they took over in February 2006, it was an organic grocery store with a small deli; they ran it as it was at first, but within a year had transitioned the place to what it is today. Says Travis: “The philosophy has always been to use good local fresh ingredients, treat them with respect, and the result’s always positive.” Initially, they planned to do run it almost exclusively as a “grab and go,” but they listened to their customers, who liked the ambiance of the building so much that they wanted to be able to sit for a while and enjoy it.

And indeed, you leave the Jonesville Store feeling like you’ve been at a favorite relative’s house for dinner, and that you’re being sent on your way with warm wishes and sated tummies. You emerge into what seems like another world, belonging to another era, before moments later delivering yourself into the midst of Route 9 gridlock. In ways that go beyond the mere gastronomic, the Jonesville Store is satisfying and soulfully refreshing.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The Mill on Round Lake (2121 Route 9, Round Lake) has unveiled its newly renovated outdoor bar and fire pit, and if that’s not enough to persuade you to spend some al fresco hours here, there’s also a new bocce ball court. The indoor portion also has seen improvement, with the addition of another dining room, fireplace, more restrooms, and an expanded warm-weather menu soon to come. Call 899-5253 for more info. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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