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Teri Currie

Playing Chicken
By B.A. Nilsson

Giffy’s Bar-B-Q

1739 Route 9, Clifton Park, 373-9800.
Serving Tue-Sun 11-9. AE, D, MC, V.
Food: **½
Service: Amiable
Ambience: Rustic

According to Calvin Trillin, whose book American Fried is subtitled Adventures of a Happy Eater, one of the most elusive culinary treasures is good barbecue, which is why he remains loyal to his hometown of Kansas City. Years earlier, an entrepreneur of saturnine disposition carried a barbecue recipe from Mississippi to Kansas City, one that involved slowly smoking the meat over hickory, and included a powerful sauce.

Locally, barbecue has been having an efflorescence. It’s not the kind of thing the true believers in the restaurant business merely add to a menu: It typically requires a place to itself. Usually with smoke constantly issuing from large, sooty ovens somewhere in the rear.

To the purist, barbecue requires smoke. At Syracuse’s Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, the mothership of barbecue in the Northeast, the ribs get 14 hours of smoking over very low heat. But many restaurants, Giffy’s included, grill the meats, which imparts a different flavor and texture.

Giffy’s Bar-B-Q occupies a handsome space just north of Northway exit 9 on Route 9. It once was a summers-only stand with an outdoor picnic area; when a nearby flower shop burned down, Randy Gifford acquired it and had a new, rustic-looking building built that includes an enclosed dining area and allows year-round operation. Gifford once worked for the popular Oneonta-based Brooks Bar-B-Q, and has also put in time at a number of local dining establishments.

At the core of Giffy’s menu are the two items that figured (and still dominate) Giffy’s catering operation: chicken and ribs. The restaurant adds sirloin, and you can get swordfish, and salads, but the barbecue (or Bar-B-Q, as the menu styles it) items are presented as the specialties.

My family and I visited on a recent weeknight, impressed with the amount of business the place was doing—especially because what I sampled showed very mixed results. I ordered the combo dinner ($16), which gives you a half chicken and what’s termed half a slab of ribs. The chicken was a bodacious slab of bird with a nice balance of juiciness and flavor. But the ribs were chewy and practically tasteless, helped little by the drizzle of sauce on top. Adding extra sauce, which is provided, couldn’t make up for this lack of flavor—the sauce is awfully sweet, which is a distraction.

Two side dishes are included, which you select from an array of popular choices. I sampled cole slaw and baked beans, both of which were standard deli fare.

It’s a busy place, and I suspect this conspired to create another problem I encountered. An order of 10 Bar-B-Q chicken wings ($7) featured impressively plump pieces, but they weren’t barbecued—they were deep fried. All that was barbecue-ish about them was the sauce. And the insides of a couple of especially large wing drumsticks (or drummettes) were raw. Whether they hit the fryolator while partially frozen or simply weren’t cooked long enough hardly matters: raw chicken can be a horrifyingly rich source of bad bacteria, and they need to reach an internal temperature of at least 170 degrees.

Although service was fast and friendly, our waitress showed no inkling of the danger the restaurant had presented, nor was there any response from the kitchen other than to send us another, cooked-through order. They should have at least apologized, if not given us dinner for free. The menu bios boast of a lot of training and business experience, so I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and guess that this one slipped through the cracks.

We also sampled a serving of Bryah’s Super French Fries ($5), which were not-too-crisp waffle fries topped with meat sauce and melted cheese, the last being the heated cheese-in-a-can that’s popular when pumped over ballpark nachos.

My wife’s Caesar salad ($4.49) sported a bed of romaine lettuce, large croutons and shredded parmesan cheese, topped with a lot of rather salty dressing. She did enjoy the black-bean burger ($3.59), a commercially prepared item that offers a good alternative to meat with a pleasing spread of flavor.

Many other sandwiches are available, with items like shredded beef or pork, pulled chicken meat, grilled chicken breast or chicken salad. And hamburgers and hot dogs, of course, with a variety of sauces, all priced from $1.29 to $5. You can enhance your sandwich for a buck or so extra, adding a choice of two side dishes.

Order a large soda ($1.50) and it will be refilled as often as you require. And there’s a Sunday special of chicken and biscuits ($6).

I worry that even as the popularity of barbecue spreads through the Northeast, the concept will change and weaken. Chili con carne, once a flavorful meat dish, turned into a weak ground-beef-and-kidney-bean stew. Barbecue threatens to become merely grilled pork topped with a sweet ketchup sauce. There’s so much more potential.

Dinner for three, with tax and tip and a couple of sodas, was $42.


Not going overseas this month? Enjoy April in Paris at Jack’s Oyster House (42 State St., Albany) at 7 PM on Tuesday (April 16), when chef Dale Miller and wine consultant Dennis Murphy will present a five-course meal with appropriate French wine from Michel Picard. Start with a smoked chicken appetizer paired with a Chardonnay; pan-seared escolar served with a blood orange Pouilly beurre blanc and a 1999 Pouilly Fuisse, then a main course of grilled rack of spring lamb with a caramelized shallot demi-glaze paired with a Pinot Noir. Cheese and dessert—and the suitable wines—will follow. It’s $65 per person (tax and tip included), and you can reserve space by calling 465-8854. . . . Ten of the area’s leading chefs will compete for prizes at Cuisine Magic 2002, the annual festival sponsored by the Eddy Visiting Nurse Association, from 6 to 10 PM on April 28 at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. Various food courses, such as soup and entrée, will be represented, as well as a New York State product (this year it’s cheese). Guests are invited to sample the selections during the black-tie event. Tickets are $100 per person and may be reserved by calling 274-0190. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.


Metroland 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.

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