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Joe Putrock

Buenos Nachos
By B.A. Nilsson

Graney’s Bar and Grill
275 New Scotland Ave., Albany, 453-3299.
Serving Sun-Thu 11 AM-1 AM, Fri-Sat 11 AM-2 AM.
AE, MC, V.

Food:
***½
Service: Ambling
Ambience: Friendly

In real life, meaning when nobody else is footing the bill, I don’t do much fine dining. I’d love to, of course, and when that book or movie deal comes through, you can bet I’ll be a regular at the top-end places.

Even so, I’ll still go looking for pizza. And wings. And those dreadful factory-made jalapeño poppers. Which typically don’t show up at fancy restaurants—and if they do, they get reinterpreted into something they ain’t.

So going to Graney’s the other night was a pretty typical foraging journey for my family. The only difference between this and a civilian visit is that we sampled more items than if we’d had to pay for it. And if we’d had to pay for it, it would have been marvelously economical.

Sports is a dominant theme here, and there are (at last count) 20 television sets strategically hung, feeding the games from eight satellites. “We want to cater to the sports enthusiasts,” says Mike Graney, who opened the restaurant in March, “but we also want it to be family oriented. I keep the sound down on the TVs. And I keep the jukebox quiet until nine o’clock, so families can enjoy dinner together.”

Graney spent nine years as manager of the Elbo Room, and has very definite ideas about how to make a restaurant like this one work—and they’re good ones. “My chef is Dennis West, who was at the Orchard for five years. We put together a menu pretty quickly, but we’re adding things like ribs and steamers soon.”

We took a table near the front early one recent evening, my wife and daughter psyched for a munchies meal.

Like Buffalo-style chicken wings (which will be served shortly), nachos also seem to have sprung from an inspiration of the moment. But instead of taking their name from their native city, they have immortalized the nickname of their creator: Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who worked at the Victory Club in Piedras Negras, a Mexican town not far from Eagle Pass, Texas. According to local lore, a wealthy woman from Eagle Pass came in late one night in 1943 (I’ve also seen 1939 as the date) after a shopping trip. She was looking for food, but the chef was gone. So Anaya assembled tostada chips and jalapeños on a plate and melted cheese. There’s still a party every October where the towns of Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras invite chefs to present their most creative nacho variations.

Some purists believe nothing more than cheese and jalapeños should grace the chips; others substitute salsa for the peppers. But it’s hard to keep ingredients like olives and sour cream away. When it comes to adding beans and meat, two widely divergent camps emerge. Some decry the resultant gloppiness; others revel in it.

Graney’s offers them with cheese ($3.50) and “loaded” ($5.50), and we ordered the latter. This turned out to be a truly capacious bowl swimming in chips and cheese, ground beef and peppers, with most of the jalapeños at the top—fortunately—so that I could scarf them away from my more palate-timid companions.

But there’s no doubt that those nachos got soggy. Our strategy was to use an uncoated chip near the edge as a lever to pry the central mass apart and then as a shovel to haul it mouthward. This was as straightforward an assembly as you’d expect, but of much greater proportion that I thought $6 would bring.

Wings are available in groups of 10 ($4), 17 ($6), 24 ($8) and 50 ($15). Why 17? “So often I heard people say that they were too hungry for just 10 but not hungry enough for 20 or 24,” says Graney. “So I split the difference. And the order of 17 wings has become my most popular size.”

What with the other food coming, we went for a 10 with medium heat, which falls above mild but below hot and “dare ya!” But our waitress helpfully provided a side dish of dare ya! sauce for me to sample, and it showed how aggressively habanero peppers go to work. I got to sample two wings; what my daughter didn’t polish off from the remainder she enjoyed the next day for lunch.

Burgers are available, for less than four bucks; soups, salads, pasta dishes and sandwiches both hot and cold are further offerings—and few of these items come even close to $10. Susan ordered a meatball sub ($5) and regretted it by the time it arrived, since we’d eaten so much else. But it was a formidable sandwich, served with fries, which easily could feed two. We snacked off it for a couple of days afterward.

Best of all the Graney’s items is the pizza, personal-sized but still generous, with $4 for a cheese pizza and 75 cents per extra topping. We put pepperoni and onions on a pie, sampled a slice apiece and still had leftovers.

Service is reasonably attentive, although waitresses tended to congregate, chatting, near the kitchen door. The bar has an excellent selection of beer on tap, including Amstel Light, although I figure if you’re going to drink it, it should have some heft. So I downed a Newcastle.

Dinner for three, with tax and tip, a beer and soda, was $35.

TABLE SCRAPS

I don’t know about you other dads out there, but this one would enjoy a nice glass of wine on Father’s Day in lieu of haberdashery. In the Hudson Valley on Saturday evening (6:30-8:30) there’s an outdoor concert as part of the Millbrook Vineyards & Winery music series (800-662-9463, www.millbrookwine.com) that features a variety of musical styles from jazz to swing to bluegrass. Journey Around the World in 60 Miles takes place from 10 to 6 Saturday and Sunday on the Shawangunk Wine Trail (845-255-2494), where you’ll visit different wine producing countries and sample their foods. If you’re traveling to the Finger Lakes, you can join in the Father’s Day Highlands Fling from 11 to 6 Saturday and Sunday at the McGregor Vineyard Winery (800-272-0792) with samples of gourmet foods and vinifera wines. The Salmon Run Wine Festival also takes place this weekend at Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars (800-320-0735, www.DrFrankWines.com ), featuring pairings of world class wine with fine food. Gewurz & Brats is the party at Keuka Overlook Cellars (607-292-6877, www.keukaoverlook.com) from Saturday through Monday, highlighting the release of the 2001 Gewurztraminer served with grilled bratwursts, homemade sauerkraut and other spicy delicacies. Strawberries and Wine is the Saturday event at the Goose Watch Winery (315-549-2599, www.goosewatch.com), with fresh strawberries, strawberry desserts and strawberry wine among the offerings. On Sunday there’s a Scandinavian Festival starting at noon at Swedish Hill Winery (888-549-9463, www.swedishhill.com), where you’ll enjoy their Scandinavian fare, live music and arts and crafts exhibitors. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)


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