Time’s the Charm
Union St., Schenectady, 348-7999. Serving 11:30-10 Mon-Thu,
11:30-11 Fri, 5-11 Sat. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $7 (mozzarella panini) to $17 (steak frites)
it a ghost story. The restaurant rose from the dead. It was
a murder victim, in fact, strangled by gothically bad management,
a fate made all the more bitter by the Van Dyck’s legendary
heritage. This was a place where Thelonious Monk performed.
As a down-the-street neighbor in the ’80s, I saw Earl Hines
here, as well as Tal Farlow and Red Norvo, but the place lost
its founder, Marvin Friedman, and soon went dark.
It reopened on its own 50th anniversary in 1997, with a compelling
reworking of the interior that moved the jazz room upstairs,
but the aforementioned bad management made it a revolving
door for chefs and managers. The second incarnation lasted
barely a decade.
Once again, the place is open—as of late June, in fact. Again,
the interior has been reworked, this time losing its intrusive
center-hall staircase to a more sensible location. Dining
areas have been enlarged. We’re even promised that the brewery
will reopen soon, providing the restaurant once again with
Its new owners are putting together a bit of a dining empire
for themselves. Cousins Jeff, Bill and Mike McDonald are part
of a family of longtime Schenectady residents who now own
and run Pinhead Susan’s and, just down Union Street from the
Van Dyck, the Stockade Inn. Although I’d like to think of
the Van Dyck as a fine-dining destination, I think the McDonalds
got it right. The menu mixes pub fare with a few evening-only
entrées, and allows you to enjoy a reasonably priced meal
in very comfortable surroundings. It’s perfect if you have
a nearby event to get to, and that’s precisely the strategy
my family employed on a recent visit.
A prompt greeting means everything in a spacious place like
this. Schenectady’s Stockade area wears its autumn colors
well, and this was the kind of day when it’s pleasant to linger
on the sidewalks. We were given the option of continuing to
enjoy the outdoors with seats at a table in the backyard patio,
but decided not to challenge a hatchet-faced grande dame
seated out there with what seemed like a handful of cigarettes
We were happy enough at an indoor table, especially when I
noticed that the old, scarred tables by the fireplace had
been replaced with nicer models. We ordered drinks. We considered
the brief menu: a well-chosen array put together by the owners
in collaboration with Van Dyck chef Scott Carlton and Stockade
Inn chef Doug DeMarco. Our server couldn’t have been more
cheery and helpful. More on that in a moment.
Appetizers are such in name only; you could easily make a
meal of one of them. Well, the $4 soup is only a cup, but
if it’s along the lines of the unexpectedly delicious cream
of mushroom we sampled, it’ll stay with you. Otherwise, the
apps run $7 to $12, including a trio of dips with chips, Buffalo
wings, beef satay, mozzarella sticks and homemade pigs in
a blanket. One of the $12 items is a big portobello mushroom
cap over a mound of good crabmeat, finished with melted cheese
and, just to drive it all home, a butter sauce.
Salads also range from the simple to complex, the latter end
including a $9 cobb, $11 teriyaki beef array, and a Caesar
($7) available with grilled chicken ($9) or grilled shrimp
I regret that we didn’t sample the pizza. We saw a couple
of the personal-sized pies go by, to be perched on fancy high-rise
holders so as not to dominate table space. They range from
a simple tomato topping ($8) to a $15 lobster-and-tomato array,
with most (sausage and pepperoni, Buffalo chicken, four cheeses
and prosciutto, goat cheese among them) in the $10 range.
The (mostly) $9 panini list includes fillings of chicken,
roast beef or smoked turkey, as well as mortadella and fontina
or prosciutto and peppers.
On the sandwich end are some of the same, along with one featuring
tilapia ($9) or a crab cake ($12). The grilled chicken ($9)
also includes ham and gruyere, stacked with the right proportion
of veggies and honey- mustard to keep it flavorful and moist.
And the Signature Burger ($9) sports a large patty of charcoal-grilled
beef, topped with mozzarella and pancetta, and excellently
finished with caramelized onions. The accompanying fries were
After 5 PM, a half-dozen more complicated entrées are offered,
including veal scallopine, steak frites, grilled salmon, and
beef short ribs (all $16 to $17). We sampled the barbecued
pork tenderloin, which was good of its kind, given a nice
accompaniment of a chipotle-enhanced sauce and sweet potato
As I noshed away, enjoying myself, I understood that part
of my pleasure was in the realization that my sex appeal had
kicked in. Oh, sure, you easily could see me as the middle-aged
fat guy of cliché, and it’s true I had to be at least 30 years
older than our waitress. But the way that she made eye contact
with me and smiled let me know that my inner Casanova was
Didn’t she place a gentle hand on my shoulder to emphasize
a point? Didn’t she lean in so our eyes were at a level as
she recited the dessert list? Of course, and that’s when my
inner reality mechanism took over with the reminder that this
was, in fact, right out of classic server training—proven
techniques to garner generous tips.
I passed on dessert, but I tipped more than 20 percent.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
is just the prelude to All Saints’ Day and All
Souls’ Day, celebrated in Mexico as El Dia
de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead—an
upbeat holiday in which departed loved ones are
expected to visit their still-quick relatives,
who honor the dead with an altar and special offerings.
El Loco Mexican Café (465 Madison Ave.,
Albany) holds its fourth annual observance of
the Day of the Dead with a traditional celebration
from 4:40 to 9:30 PM on Sunday (Nov. 1). The altar
will be decorated with sugar skulls, flowers,
candles, and pictures and other mementos of the
departed. Guests are invited to bring photos or
other objects meant to honor their deceased loved
ones (pets included); also honored will be those
in the public eye who passed away in the last
year. And there’s a culinary incentive: All who
bring something to share at the altar will receive
a complimentary piece of pumpkin-pecan cheesecake.
More info: 436-1855. Web site: ellocomexicancafe.com.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.