14 Karner Road (Route 155),
Guilderland, 456-1895. Serving Mon-Sat 11:30-11. AE MC, V.
Burgers, sandwiches, pizza
Entrée price range: $5 (omelette) to $14 (sirloin steak)
Ambience: long-settled bar
near the bar at the Cat’s Meow once you’ve finished your meal,
and it’s not hard to ease into conversation with Jane Martin,
who owns the place. She’s not going to impose any chat upon
you beyond a comment about the weather, but if you’re not
in a hurry and you’re inclining to talk, you’ll soon start
trading stories about the restaurant business, the neighborhood,
family life—the kind of low-threat post-prandial discussions
you’d have at home.
is nothing very fancy, but then the restaurant as a whole
isn’t fancy—at least not in the way we’ve come to expect,
thanks to the designer bars that erupt within the chain restaurants
that continue to surge into this area. At the Cat’s Meow,
it’s simple, homey. Which isn’t surprising: After 21 years,
it looks exactly as it needs to look—the product of history,
not market research.
dining area holds a scattering of small, informal tables.
A gas-fired fireplace glows nearby. Decor is a mix of planters,
wrought iron, cheerful artwork and the various gewgaws that
accumulate during so many years in business.
pubs by definition are public, some tend to become the focus
of a neighborhood to the point where they become exclusionary.
Walk into one of those and you instantly know you’re in a
kind of enemy territory. It’s generally up to someone—bartender,
server—to break the ice and therefore set the tone.
Meow definitely has the stamp of a neighborhood hangout, but
it’s suitably welcoming without being in-your-face fawning.
You’re there to escape the cold and refresh the appetite,
and a good conversation or two mightn’t hurt. It may sneak
up on you, as when an older woman at the bar turns a few weather-related
comments into a reflection on a recent Las Vegas vacation.
Then she goes behind the bar and reveals herself as owner
Jane Martin, whose vision of the restaurant pretty accurately
reflects what it has become.
not a kid’s place,” she explains. “We don’t have pool tables
or anything like that. I’d say it caters to an older crowd,
but we do get people of all ages in here.” Office groups like
the place for parties, and summer finds neighborhood ball
teams celebrating their triumphs here—“Especially on the deck,
out in back,” Martin explains.
inexpensive sandwiches are a draw, but you also can splurge
on a dagan ($9), a huge grilled garlic sub roll on which roast
beef, fried onions, melted Swiss cheese and a horseradish
sauce crowd the proceedings. “People call that one in a lot
for takeout,” says Martin.
get an omelette here. It’s made less breakfasty by the side
of fries, but $4.50 gets you a plain three-egg version, and
for an additional quarter per ingredient, you can add cheese,
mushrooms, bacon, ham, peppers and the like. Try walking into
one of those prefab saloons and getting an omelette with your
it’s a versatile kitchen, food isn’t fussed over. Gourmet
dining is splendid in its place; this isn’t that place. Prices
wouldn’t be this low if the kitchen demanded too much time.
But a cup of the soup du jour ($1.65, bowl for $2.65)
proves that homemade fare is a priority—even if the crab in
the cream of crab and broccoli is the whiting-based surimi
seafood, the flavor is terrific. Add a salad ($5) or half
sandwich ($5.25) to turn it into a meal. French onion soup
($3) is a regular menu item.
would be complete without an active Frialator, and you’ll
find the usual array of fried stuff among the starters. Potato
skins ($4.45), breaded mushrooms ($4), mozzarella sticks ($5)
and chicken wings ($5) are popular, and the wings prove to
be one of the better examples of this staple, because they’re
fried hot and fast—the place is small enough that, during
a quiet moment, you can hear the oil frisking.
in an undistinguished plastic basket, the wings nevertheless
are presented attractively, with the orange of carrot sticks
adding color to the celery, the sauce shining, the blue-cheese
dressing flecked with parsley. This is deliberate, as subsequent
to make things look appetizing,” says Sharon Henderson, under
whose hand those wings were cooked and plated. “You put in
enough effort to make it taste good. It doesn’t take much
to make it look good, too.” Henderson is Martin’s daughter
and has been involved in the restaurant almost from its inception
(“She wasn’t here for a couple of years,” laughs Martin. “That’s
when she was becoming a Henderson.”)
Black Angus burger ($6.75) is an upscale alternative to the
$4.65 cheeseburger deluxe. Better-quality beef makes a tastier
patty, and the presentation is handsome—a wedge of tomato-enhanced
lettuce towers to one side, fries on the other, a thimble
of macaroni salad between.
away the burger and substitute a wedge of fried fish and you
have another $6.75 platter that defines the essence of pub
fare. Served with tartar and cocktail sauces, it defies full
consumption at one sitting.
very popular,” says Henderson. “And we’re flexible. Somebody
wants something and we have the ingredients, we’ll make it.”
meatloaf,” says Martin, “is always popular, too. We’re not
much of a baked potatoes and vegetables kind of place, but
if it’s something you can put fries with, we’ll probably make