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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Tradition Transplanted

By B.A. Nilsson

 

McGeary’s

4 Clinton Ave., Albany, 463-1455, Serving daily 11-11. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pub fare

Entrée price range: $8 (burger) to $16 (12 oz. steak)

Ambiance: pub friendly

‘We don’t take advantage of Mc Geary’s enough,” I said. We were headed to see a show at Capital Rep, and because I’ve become completely neurotic about parking, I was hoping to dump the car early for dinner and not have to move it.

Pearl Street’s dining demographic doesn’t really include me, so far as I can figure. While I’m often able to inure myself to a bank of TV screens, should there be a phalanx of sports fans glued to a significant event, their cheers and moans typically prove too startling. The whole thing zooms me back to my fat-kid-tormented-in-gym-class days. But my tormentors hang out in other downtown bars, leaving McGeary’s free for more gustatory pursuits. Not that you can’t drink there—the bank of beer taps at the long, wide bar promise all manner of suds. And the TVs are quiet.

“Actually, our food business is booming,” says Tess Collins. “Within a week and a half after reopening here, food has jumped up to 50 percent of the business.” She’s the new manager, although factotum may be the better term. As anyone who knows her from her years at Justin’s and the Lark Tavern can attest, once she’s put in charge, things happen. Good things.

Except for one very bad thing that was beyond her control. After investing her money and career in the Lark Tavern and steering it on a successful course, it fell victim to a fire in May that effectively destroyed the restaurant. Thanks to McGeary’s owner Larry Davis, Collins not only was able to get herself back on a steady payroll, but also bring along much of the staff she’s been working with for so long. That means Shy Abbasi is heading the kitchen, and the new McGeary’s menu reflects some of those Lark Tavern traditions while respecting McGeary’s own history. At first glance, the place looks the same, but there has been extensive remodeling in recent weeks. With the front of the house smartened up, there’s work going on in the kitchen to modernize a very old setup.

“It’s a very old building, with old equipment,” says Collins, “but we’re making improvements all the time. It’s very rewarding.” Her loyalty to her staff is matched by a loyalty to her neighborhood—both here and back on Lark Street—and the attention she pays to customers, a reminder that a pub is supposed to be a comfortable place for reliable casual dining.

It’s reflected in the menu, too. You’re not here expecting a gourmet extravaganza. You want a burger, some poppers, some wings. You know the offerings: sliders (4 for $8), littlenecks (12 for $10), nachos (Celtic, using potatoes for chips, $9) and wings (12 for $7) for starters, alongside unusual items like mac-and-cheese poppers (yipes, $6.79), chicken Cordon Bleu balls (ham and Swiss poppers, $6.79), eggplant fries ($7) and Larkarella sticks, a variation on the mozzarella stick standby (6 for $6.39, 12 for $10.79). We sampled wings with jerk seasoning, which gave the critters some extra bite, and went on to dig into a portobello spinach salad ($8.49) with roasted red peppers and the cheerful tartness of sun-dried pomegranate bits, finished with tomatoes and onions and crumbled blue cheese. I prefer a salad like that to be tossed in the dressing before it’s served, but I fear I’ve been edged out by dressing control freaks who manipulate such toppings by the droplet.

Other salads include Caesar, crab cake, chef, cobb and antipasto, all in the $8-to-$10 range, as well as Asian or Buffalo chicken varieties. But you can add chicken to any of the salads for an extra three bucks, and four will get you some shrimp.

Now, here’s my spouse, considering a Reuben ($8.49). And the menu is generous enough to offer it with turkey, which should be a crime. But the sandwich also sports sauerkraut. Swiss cheese. Russian dressing. And it’s grilled. So what’s her problem? She doesn’t want the damn potato chips on the side. Here’s a suggestion: Don’t eat them. Like those dressing drippers, she obviously doesn’t trust herself and needs a legislative hand in the kitchen. Fine. But she wants a salad as substitute. Onto which, no doubt, she’ll drizzle dressing by the droplet.

The turkey Reuben was all it promised to be, which, while tasty, is still a weak imitation of a classic. But I studied it as one busily polishing off a Big Ass Burger ($10), a hefty patty actually cooked, as I asked, medium rare, and topped with a big hunk of cheddar and enough lettuce, tomato and onion to have made that elusive side salad. I picked the shoestring fries out of the mix and watched as Ms. I-Don’t-Eat-Potato-Chips sampled them. But I hoarded the burger, enjoying also the garlicky mayo that lurked within.

Many burger stylings are available, and other sandwiches include a deli variety (around $8 each), many chicken sandwiches ($8 to $10), and full-out dinners like fried chicken ($12), shepherd’s pie ($11.49), fish and chips ($10) and a 12-ounce strip steak ($16).

Tess is also a big fan of music, and Jim Gaudet and the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers are among the regularly performing groups, with Mother Judge hosting open mic nights. And the roster is expected to build. “I’m trying to find ways to get involved in the neighborhood,” says Collins. “Capital Rep is across the street, and it’s important to help them out. There’s a church next door that has a food bank, and I want to see what I can do with them.” The restaurant business can be notoriously unkind, but she maintains an energy and creativity that makes a success out of her every venture—and it’s happening again here.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Of course we·re a co-sponsor·it·s about local stuff. And so, along with Honest Weight Food Co-op, we·re pleased to announce the Second Annual Local Harvest Festival, taking place from 1 to 6 on Sunday (Sept. 19) at Albany·s Washington Park Lake House. Enjoy a farmers-market-style event featuring local vendors, restaurants and artisans, local bands and more. Among the participants are the Beancake Company, serving akara, a Nigerian beancake; nuts from Delmar-based Our Daily Eats; Elderberry Mary·s home-grown and homemade jam; cookies from Vegan Creations (a Troy Farmers Market favorite); milk from Battenkill Valley Creamery; cheese and probiotic ice cream by Amazing Real Live Food; Catskill-based Grandpa Pete·s gourmet pasta sauce; Bettie·s Cup Cakes, and such local restaurants and businesses as Bros Tacos, New World Bistro, Casa Visco and Honest Weight Food Co-op. . . . Carney·s Tavern & Irish Pub (17 Main St., Ballston Lake) will hold its annual Halfway to St. Patrick·s Day party from 11:30 AM through the evening on Saturday (Sept. 18). The party features Irish Music by St. James Gate, Carney·s corned beef and cabbage, Reuben sandwiches, and Irish potato soup. Wear some green to offset the fall foliage. More info: 399-9926. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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