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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Rare Fare

By B.A. Nilsson

Do you trust graying memory or Google maps? I opted for the latter and discovered that the listed location for the Bear’s Steakhouse is incorrect. “We get calls about that all the time,” says John Payne, who runs the restaurant floor. “We’re always turning people around in Rotterdam to get them back here.”

So it was where I remembered it from a few years back: To the west of the intersection of Routes 7 and 20 in Duanesburg, to which I headed after turning around in Rotterdam.

Metroland has been awarding this place its Best Steakhouse prize for several years running, so it’s important to check in from time to time to see if the honor remains merited. It does. You might think that after 43 years the Bear’s has settled into a predictable routine, and perhaps it has. But the routine is so exemplary, the food so carefully prepared and presented, that we should all be cursed with ritual lives this fine.

John has a lot to do with keeping the standards high. He understands the importance of keeping customers happy, and does so with an infectious, ebullient personality. For example: My friend Harry was wavering on ordering the appetizer of pickled herring ($4.25). “This was one of my father’s favorites,” he said, “and he was very choosy about it.” An attitude passed to his son, the statement implied.

“This herring,” said John, “is the best. We have a customer from Brooklyn who says it’s better than anything she finds down there—which says something!” In other words, he’s not bashful about promoting the Bear’s fare. And the final inducement was to offer the herring with both available sauces: wine and sour cream. It’s served on an attractive plate with roasted red peppers, and more than lives up to the sales pitch. The freshness is obvious, especially if you’ve gotten used to the canned version. The seasoning is more complex. This is also true of the fresh mozzarella with tomatoes ($10), which includes more of the house-made roasted red peppers, fresh basil and a nice presence of oregano.

House salads feature a mix of crackling-fresh greens and accompaniments, with a good choice of dressings.

The restaurant’s longstanding specials, which require you to call in advance, are Chateaubriand, a particular cut of the tenderloin that serves two and is priced at $40 per person, and prime rib for a minimum of four, priced at $33 per person. We saw an example of each at near- by tables, and they’re impressive platters that gave way to a large amount of take-out boxes.

Other appetizers include a daily soup for $4, shrimp cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce ($11) and smoked salmon ($10).

The entrée list is similarly brief. Filet mignon for one is served in two sizes: Papa Bear ($40) and Mama Bear ($30). Don’t laugh: These are the nicknames of restaurant founders Bob and Pat Payne, whose establishment was known as Duane Manor during its first five years but soon went into the nickname camp as well. (Note the proliferation of stuffed bears on a shelf near the door. I’m told that they’re only a fraction of what’s been given to the restaurant.)

Grilled pork is a comparative bargain at $19, especially when you keep in mind that dinner comes with soup or salad and the entrée itself, with vegetables and starch. Lamb chops are $29 for what’s supposed to be an order of three but, if the chops aren’t deemed thick enough, could become four.

We met the same generosity with the English mixed grill ($32), an assemblage showcasing the abovementioned lamb, pork and filet mignon—“But I threw in a piece of chicken, too,” John told us as he served the plate.

This has to be as good as it gets for a meat lover. You’ve got most of the barnyard represented, and all of it grilled exactly as needed to optimize flavor. There is that range of audience participation wherein you get to choose a doneness level for beef, and the menu notes that the house takes no responsibility for the result if it’s ordered well-done. Harry opted for medium; John made sure there would be pink expected in the equation. I, on the other hand, asked for a grilled Delmonico steak. Rare.

It’s $27 when you order it alone, but John saw how my face quivered at his description of the sautéed scallops ($22) as being particularly fresh and tasty and offered a Delmonico-scallops combo. For $42, I got a full serving of the steak and a three-quarter helping of scallops (with a sinful accompaniment of butter and some sensible herbs). I enjoyed the rare meat with its layer of char from the grilling. But I knew I’d never finish it, and could later reheat it to a still-pleasing medium rare, which I did.

Bob Jr. helms the kitchen, and Pat, his mother, still makes the bread, soup and desserts each day they’re needed. We sampled what John insisted was the world’s best carrot cake—it is—and a slice of chocolate peanut butter cake, and sampled is the word. Most of the dessert followed us home, too.

The Bear’s has a dining room with only about a dozen tables. It’s open only four nights a week. The phone number isn’t listed in the directory. The restaurant has never advertised. And for 43 years, it has attracted a faithful clientele from well beyond Duanesburg and the Capital Region.

Visit not just for the superb steak, but also to see how a restaurant should be run.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s 11th annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The “more” part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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