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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

The Lark-Jay Connection

By B.A. Nilsson

Bombers Burrito Bar

447 State St., Schenectady, 374-3548. Serving 11 AM-midnight Mon-Sat, 11-11 Sun. AE, D, MC, V. .

Cuisine: burritos, sandwiches, wings

Entrée price range: $2.50 (taco) to $8 (Jamaican jerk pork plate)

Ambiance: dining hall

Driving through downtown Albany. Lunchtime. An insane notion: Try to find a parking place on Lark Street and have a good ol’ Bombers meal. Effrontery rewarded. A spot across the street from the eatery. And then the kicker: We turned invisible.

It was a very strange feeling. My daughter and I walked into the restaurant, amazed and pleased to find tables available, picked up a menu . . . and were completely ignored. Two fellows were working the counter; neither issued a greeting, a glance, or any other form of recognition.

We thumped ourselves. Still solid. We could see one another. We moved near the counter. Still nothing. One fellow grabbed a spatula and flipped something on the grill. The other answered a ringing phone. We gave up and left. Then we decided to try the recently opened Bombers in Schenectady.

The burrito is reckoned to have been crafted about a century ago by a street vendor in Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez, where it remains a favored food. During its journey north of the border, it grew, not surprisingly, fatter, and picked up the mixture of ingredients we associate with the dish—those which characterize Bombers’ offerings.

The Lark Street Bombers opened 12 years ago, the product of a wagering windfall won by Matt Baumgartner, and was modeled after West Coast Tex-Mex places he and Lynn Beaumont had enjoyed. They kept an eye on the good-health component, designing a menu that kept the fat content down. Since then, Bombers has added a bar featuring tequila and beer (naturally), with a generous array of selections, and it organizes its week into theme nights, with karaoke, trivia contests and more.

The menu is identical at both locations, written large on blackboards and described in a tidy three-fold takeout page. Ten types of burrito head the list, all but two priced at $6.50, almost all of them wrapped with rice, beans, lettuce and salsa. Fillings include ground beef, chicken (regular, barbecued or with gravy), chili (with or without meat), pork (jerk or barbecued) and, for an extra buck, barbecued tofu or vegetarian chicken nuggets.

A similar variety of taco is offered ($2.50 apiece, soft shell or crisp), and the taco equivalent of sliders are sold 12 for $5. Quesadillas come in $5 and $6 flavors, the latter reflecting your choice of chicken or ground beef. A $5 bowl of chili has meat or not, and it can be served atop an order of fries.

“Please assure me they have chicken wings, too,” you say, even as you know in your heart that such has to be the case. In fact, your $8 dozen is available not only in varying degrees of hotness but also in flavors such as honey maple barbecue, ranchero, tequila and lemon- pepper garlic. We sampled that last-named variety, and it’s a great alternative to the usual, packing some spice into the crispy wings’ flavor while making it a tad less messy to consume. Blue cheese dressing and celery? Of course. We long ago stopped asking why. Monday is wing night, when $5 dozens of the flappers are served in the upstairs dining room (both locations). It’s a good forum for sampling the many beer varieties.

The Schenectady shop sits right on State Street, in a building that once was the Jos. Nusbaum clothing store and a boxing gym, right across from Proctors. The dining area, in the streetside part of the building, has a pleasant mix of factory and wine bar, with long, polished counters and lively music.

We made our way to the rear, to the counter, where we were easily able to place an order. You give a name with your choices, fill your own sodas, and it’s not long before someone hollers after you, prompting you to pick up.

Jerk pork in a burrito? It’s as unlikely as it is perfectly, irreverently American. My daughter considered it, then went a more familiar route: a pulled pork burrito. For me, the proper context includes cole slaw and cornbread, but let’s scrub that word “proper” and celebrate the combo of pulled pork with rice and black beans. Likewise, why not a sandwich of jerk pork? It’s an $8 dish that features an outsized bun dripping at the edges with melted cheese, an order of spicy seasoned fries (called Rasta fries here), and some tangy salsa. We couldn’t finish any of it. It’s tough stuff to reheat, but we managed, and enjoyed it all over again later.

Our visit to Bombers was just after lunch hour, when the restaurant presents its more passive daylight identity. Lunch was perfectly satisfying, and I couldn’t ask for a better alternative to fast-food chains. Look for a different face after dark, as Bombers works to provide something Schenectady hasn’t had in years: a night life.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady’s fourth annual Little Italy Streetfest takes place from noon till 9 PM on Saturday (Sept. 12) along that city’s North Jay Street, where local restaurants will have streetside stands featuring preparations of calamari, eggplant, zeppole, panini, chicken parmesan, sausage and peppers and more. Entertainment includes music throughout the day by accordion virtuoso Johnny Ferrari, Grand Central Station at noon, vocals by Tommy Verrigni at 3, and Happy Daze at 6. Italian cultural exhibits, artwork, genealogy information and films also will be offered. Visitors are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs. . . . Take a gastronomic tour of three unique Mansion Neighborhood homes in Albany from 2 to 5 PM on Sunday (Sept. 13), as you enjoy a different course at each destination. Enjoy the creations of area chefs and hosts, with some excellent wine along the way. Guests will pick up their tickets and souvenir cookbooks at Bleecker Park (Madison and Philip Streets) at 1:45 PM. It’s $40 per person and requires advance payment; for more info, call 433-0140 or 436-7848. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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