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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Just Gravy

By B.A. Nilsson

The Local Pub and Restaurant

142 Grand Ave., Saratoga Springs, 587-7256. Serving 11:30-10:30 Mon-Thu, 11:30-11 Fri, 9:30 AM-11 PM Sat, 9:30 AM-10:30 PM Sun, brunch 9:30-3 Sat-Sun. AE, D, MC. V.

Cuisine: classic pub fare

Entrée price range: $6 (egg salad sandwich) to $15 (steak and chips)

Ambiance: classic pub

Before getting to the entryway of the Local Pub and Restaurant, I had a panoramic view of the dining area through the many windows that front the street. I saw a succession of families at the tables and booths, groups defined by a wide range of ages. Beyond them was a bar, each stool occupied, standees creating a second row. What I didn’t see until I entered were the tables by the fireplace, which sported another type of clientele: the tea ladies.

That’s what my wife termed them. “They’re people like me,” she explained, “who just want to sit someplace friendly and enjoy a cup of tea.” What’s astonishing is not only that this restaurant has a menu of fancy tea selections—a list that’s about a dozen entries long—but also that a Tuesday night brings out folks who want to consume the stuff.

It turns out to be less astonishing when you talk with co-owner John Haynes. He’s part of Phinney Design Group, an architectural firm in the same building, and the firm’s mission is to design or redesign work and living spaces with a green sensibility.

“We talked to people in the neighborhood as we were planning this building,” says Haynes, “to see what they’d like at this address. And the overwhelming response was for a comfortable, casual restaurant that they could visit a couple of times a week.”

The Local opened toward the end of 2008, its tripartite identity already in place: restaurant, bar and teahouse. It’s a fascinating combo in that, the night my family and I visited, the bar scene seemed to dominate. Although, let’s face it, tea drinkers are going to be more subdued than those downing a succession of beers. That said, the bar folks had to hold their own against the families with kids.

The tables, booths, benches and chairs are all a sturdy construction of thick blond wood, with a floor layout very much like the pubs I’ve seen in England. We slid into the last of the available booths, offering room enough for a fat guy and companions. (How reassuring that restaurants aren’t run according to Southwest Airlines standards.)

A busy staff kept the service going nicely. At no time did we feel neglected. Some of the online reviews I discovered complained of service problems, but many such semi-anonymous postings come across as ill-informed ax-grinding. You’re better off trusting a professional. Speaking of which: A friend named Henry, who puts in a fair amount of professional kitchen time, told me that I’d find the best fish and chips at the Local. He joined us for dinner in order to help examine that and many more offerings.

The best advertisement for a dish is to see it land on an adjacent table. That’s why we ended up with a platter of nachos, something I invariably regret having ordered once the cheese oozes its way through my system. But there it was: an $8 cornucopia of chips and jalapeño slices, tomatoes and olives, sour cream and salsa, and all that relentless cheese, still hot and runny.

Did we restrain ourselves in the face of such bad-for-you food? We did not. Even my wife silenced her refrain of “You don’t have to eat that, you know” long enough to punish her own system. In fact, at Henry’s urging, we added a plate of poutine ($6), that Quebec-born oddity of fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy—in this case, melted cheddar for the cheese portion. It’s not a combo I think about when it’s not in front of me, but there’s an unexpected culinary resonance here. Gravy + fries = fat-laden areas both inside and out. Excellent.

Gravy and cheese together are an irresistible team, but cheese alone does wonders as a topping, which is probably why it showed up on the shepherd’s pie ($9). It’s a traditional stew that’s classically lamb-based; this is the Americanized ground-beef version that retains a touch of the old country with the use of Guinness stout. It also had a range of seasoning too-often neglected, including the judicious use of sage. The mashed potatoes layered on top sported bits of skin and, of course, there was cheese added to the crust.

Other such items are steak and chips ($15) and a ploughman’s lunch ($8), while on the lighter side are tea sandwiches (cucumber and cream cheese, mozzarella and roasted red peppers, smoked salmon, egg salad and more, all for $6 to $7), burgers and other grilled sandwiches ($7 to $9) and a selection of salads, including a Caesar ($6) and a cobb ($8).

Tea for your sandwich? Try a pot ($3.75) of Earl Grey, or my favorite: Lapsong Souchong, a smoky blend that I was served inadvertently when it was discovered in the tin of Ginger tea that was supposed to supply the leaves for my wife’s brew. (They’d been vice-versa’d.)

A veggie burger is based on grilled eggplant ($8) and includes roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese and a side of fries: a very nice combination. Likewise, the bangers and mash ($9) gave a better-than-expected serving of fat, flavorful sausages atop mashed potatoes with—you guessed it—gravy.

With fish and chips ($9) you normally want tartar sauce, but the long, golden slab of haddock fried with a beer-batter base was so delicious that I forgot to so enhance for much of the meal. More fries and a side of sweet-inclined cole slaw, all of it good, most of it packed up to go once I gave up any hope of finishing it.

Henry was right: This is the best I’ve had a long time, and no wonder the place has become a neighborhood favorite.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Provence, Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany, 689-7777, provence-restaurant.net. Classical French cooking with some modern twists, from bouillabaisse to steak au poivre with plenty in between. Serving lunch 11:30-3 Mon-Sat, dinner 5-9 Mon, 5-10 Tue-Thu, 5-10:30 Fri-Sat, 4:30-8:30 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Joe’s Pizza Place & Restaurant, 2780 Hamburg St., Schenectady, 355-7700. Forty years of made-from-scratch pizzas along with a full menu of Italian specialties and American sandwiches. Serving 11-10 Mon, Wed-Thu, 11-11 Fri-Sat, 11-10 Sun. AE, MC, V.

Chez Daisie, 183 Jay St., Schenectady, 344-7082, chezdaisie.com. Sweet and savory crêpes offered on a bargain-priced menu in a quaint serve-yourself setting within sight of Proctors Theatre. Serving lunch 11-2 Mon-Fri, 9-2 Sat; dinner 5-7:30 Mon-Sat. MC, V.

Wolff’s Biergarten, 895 Broadway, Albany, 427-2461, wolffsbiergarten.com. A surprising variety of German fare in a wide-open space with hanging lights and picnic tables. Great selection of German beer. Serving 11 AM-2 AM Mon-Fri, 9 AM-2 AM Sat, 9 AM-midnight Sun. Lunch specials 11-4 daily. Brunch 9-4 Sat-Sun. Cash only (ATM on premises).

Turf Tavern, 40 Mohawk Ave., Scotia, 393-3344, turftavern.com. Scotia’s 60-year-old dining destination, offering excellent steaks and an old-fashioned attitude that includes old-fashioned prices. Serving lunch 11:30-1:30 Tue-Fri; dinner 5-9 Tue-Fri, 5-10 Sat, 11:30-8 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Aroma Bar & Grill, 485 Main St., Great Barrington, Mass., 413-528-3116. Aromabarandgrill.com. A broad array of traditional Indian fare is cooked with an extra emphasis on flavor and served with graciousness and aplomb. Serving lunch noon-3 Tue-Sun, dinner 5-9:30 Sun-Thu, 5-10 Fri-Sat. Sunday buffet noon-3. AE, D, MC, V.

Bros Tacos, 319 Ontario St., Albany, 935-1096. Tacos and burritos in homemade tortillas with imaginative fillings at very affordable prices. Serving 11-11 Tue-Sat, 1-8 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant, 307 Central Ave., Albany, 436-1868. Satisfy your craving for authentic pho, along with a generous array of characteristic meat and vegetable dishes, including curries, salads, and plenty of grilled items. Serving lunch 11-2:30 Tue-Sat, dinner 2:30-9 Tue-Thu, 2:30-10 Fri-Sat, 11-9 Sun. D, MC, V.



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