By B.A. Nilsson
River Brewing Company
Circle Mall, Latham,
Tue-Thu 11:30-11, Fri-Sat noon-midnight.
AE, D, DC, MC, V.
With a new chef and an old brewmaster, Malt River Brewing
Co. continues to flourish at its unlikely perch in the Latham
Circle Mall. In the six years since Malt River opened, a bunch
of chain-restaurant outlets have landed in the neighborhood
like alien spacecraft, and Malt River has as its bumptious
neighbor one of those buffet emporia that drives the RV set
into a feeding frenzy.
Fortunately, Malt River is different. You can dine near the
bar, where a row of booths is offset by a divider. There also
are two dining areas flanking the bar. A list of menu specials
greets you at the door; the beer list (beers are concocted
on the premises) is written on chalkboards, one of which will
be in sight of your table.
During a recent weeknight visit, my guests were two theatrical
friends, Steven and Libby. Scott, our server, knew his menu,
knew the beers and knew how to put up with our uncertainty.
He started me out with an IPA (India Pale Ale), the recent
batch of which was brewed with a slightly-higher-than-usual
alcohol content; it was appropriately smooth and hearty. With
Steven’s taste running more toward the English bitter style,
he enjoyed an Olde Albany Pale Ale. Pints were $3.50 apiece.
The aforementioned “old” brewmaster isn’t elderly, just returned.
Gary “Goose” Gossel was here when Malt River opened, at that
time a recent veteran of the Boston Beer Works, the third
largest brewpub in the country. He’s back now after some excursions
to other breweries.
Owner Marc Weiss also has a new chef in place: Timothy Waddell,
who’s been there since November and whose work has included
some local kitchens as well as a stint at a North Carolina
Not long ago, Malt River won a chili competition for spiciest
brew, their secret the generous use of fresh habanero peppers.
So I ordered a crock of the Texas Red ($4.25) and asked that
it be fiery. It was. In fact, it was up there with the spiciest
regular-menu items I’ve been served in the Capital Region.
Which meant that, for me, it was terrifically satisfying.
The chili boasts tender chunks of meat in a rich, sweet sauce.
My friends grew concerned, however, when they noticed the
perspiration coursing down my face. I assured them it was
a sign of happiness. Steven is a chicken-wings fan, so he
started with the Thai peanut wings ($7), a generous platter
of meaty wings, grilled and served with the classic peanut
sauce—and he pronounced himself quite satisfied. Good beer
companion, too, those wings.
Libby’s French onion soup ($4.25) reflects the classic preparation
but uses red onions; the gooey topping of melted Swiss cheese
seemed to have a mind of its own as she tried to tame it onto
fork or spoon.
House salads are served with entrées, and we had no complaints
on that course. I know mine certainly was useful to tame my
palate after the chili.
By the time my salmon arrived, the numbness had subsided.
Yucatan seared salmon ($15) sports a smoked habanero and mango-citrus
cream sauce, but I can assure you that the sauce, while appropriately
sweet, is so mildly spiced as to seem comparatively unobtrusive—but
it served its purpose well. You don’t need much with salmon.
I like mine cooked just enough to leave the outside firm and
the inside creamy; this had gone beyond that, but that’s the
standard approach for a dish usually considered the chow of
Steven’s order of grilled Cuban pork tenderloin ($15) featured
a nice cut of meat—good-sized, too—that had a light marinade
with the appropriate seasonings. Again, nothing too spicy,
but a welcome relief from the standard pork-with-fruit combo.
Like the salmon, it was served with rice and also featured
a serving of refried black beans.
Libby finished her meal with a salad, the Malt Riverside greens
($3.25), which is a magnified house salad and as such is a
good-sized portion that is only as good as the component greens,
which in this case had an admirable freshness.
And so for over an hour we forgot about work, forgot we were
in a mall and enjoyed the pleasant surroundings, a blazing
fireplace helping to maintain the mood of retreat. And it’s
going to get even more comfortable, according to Weiss. “We
want to work things to be a little lighter, both in food and
in ambience. The menu has gotten too guy- oriented in the
past, too heavy. We’re changing that. It’s going to be more
health- conscious. There will still be items with strong flavors,
but also things that are more subtle. We’ve got a Gold’s Gym
going in across the hall, so I want to be ready for that.”
Dinner for three, with tax and tip and a couple of beers,
restaurant reviews are based on one unannounced visit;
your experience may differ.
Food Rating Key: *****
An exciting, fulfilling experience; the food and service are
everything they set out to be. Brillat-Savarin would be proud.
Way up there with really good food, definitely worth your
dining dollar. Julia Child would be proud. ***
Average, with hints of excitement. Your mother would be pleased.
A dining-out bogey; food probably isn’t the first priority.
Colonel Sanders would be disappointed. *
K-rations posing as comestibles. Your dog would be disgusted.