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Joe Putrock

We Are Family
By B.A. Nilsson

Lanie’s Café
471 Albany Shaker Road, Loudonville, 438-5005. Serving Mon-Thu 11 AM-midnight, Fri-Sat 11 AM-2 AM, Sun noon-midnight. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: Steaks, pasta, burgers, pizza
Entrée price range: $6 (pasta with marinara) to $19 (stuffed steak)
Ambience:
Wedding reception
Clientele:
Hungry (and thirsty) Loudonvillagers

‘There was a lot of talk about how this spot had a curse,” says Lanie Lansing of Lanie’s Café, “but I think the success of a restaurant really depends on what the people around it want. You can’t open a doughnut shop in an area that doesn’t eat doughnuts.”

This spot in Loudonville’s Kimberly Square hosted the Bistro most recently; before that, Olivia’s, Smoothy’s and Desperado’s, among others. Lanie’s vision—and it’s been quite a success during the restaurant’s nearly two years of operation—has been to offer a family-friendly menu that also features some fancy stuff, in a space that’s as suited for after-work relaxing as it is for full-scale dining.

But the emphasis is on casual. No white linen here, and you’re as likely to spot a pizza on a table as you are a complicated seafood dish. Lansing opened her restaurant with a well-focused vision, a vision that evolved during her many years in the business, which included 16 years as a bartender. “I worked at Ralph’s Tavern, J.T. Maxie’s, Thirsty’s, the Barnsider and many other places. But I always wanted to have my own restaurant. I love to cook. My whole family cooks. When we decided to go into this place, my husband gave up his contracting business to help me.”

Lanie’s brother, Chris Triolo, is head chef—“although I have four brothers, and each of them helps in the kitchen,” she says. “Also, we have other chefs on staff, good people like Kevin Conway.” They devised a menu that starts with original spins on popular appetizers. The jalapeño poppers, for example, use chipotle peppers instead ($6), which are the more flavorful smoked jalapeños. Homemade mozzarella is in the $5.25 plate of battered and deep-fried sticks, while traditional shrimp cocktail ($7) is listed alongside grilled shrimp stuffed with horseradish and wrapped in bacon ($8).

Appetizer specials are offered daily, like an inventive salmon ceviche salad ($9), in which Nova Scotia salmon is cold-cooked in citrus juice and presented atop a bed of wilted spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, peppers, sliced potatoes, toasted pine nuts and scallions. And if that’s not enough, it’s topped with a lemon Zinfandel vinaigrette and served with slices of garlic bread. In other words, it’s meal enough.

In fact, the plates are unfailingly generous. “Oh, our portions are huge,” says Lansing. “Some people come in here and order one of our entrées for lunch and say they make two more meals out of it.”

A salad bar makes it even tougher to get through an entrée plate. Choices include pasta, such as baked penne with meatballs or sausage ($9) and eggplant parmigiana ($9); chicken dishes ($10-$12), with a parmigiana preparation among the piccatta, marsala, scallopini and others. Veal dishes ($13-$15) get similar treatments, while seafood entrées ($11-$15) include linguine with clam sauce, swordfish steak (or cacciatore, in a marinara sauce with vegetables), grilled tuna, broiled or stuffed sole.

Star of the beef dishes is the stuffed steak ($19), an over-the-top combo in which a butterflied sirloin strip gets a filling of spinach and peppers along with whole shrimp—lots of flavor, but, if there has to be shrimp there at all, I’d rather see it chopped to a more manageable size. The sauce, a Madeira-mushroom-tomato demiglace, was superb.

Among the specials, meat loaf ($10) was of a staggering size, wonderfully traditional with just the right amount of onion and seasonings worked in, served alongside its natural companion, whipped potatoes.

For lunch or a lighter meal, a full page of sandwiches ($5-$9) offers an impressive variety, including traditional Reubens, burgers, subs and French dip; or choose your own deli sandwich components for $5.50.

But be prepared for some different items, says Lansing: “A new menu is coming out this week. We like to keep it updated as the seasons change, keep it interesting.”

That recent taste of spring weather inspired Lansing to begin putting out the patio furniture, which will be fully set up as the days grow more reliably warm. “With the new smoking law going into effect, I have a feeling it’s going to be more popular out there,” she says.

“Each area of the restaurant has its own atmosphere. The dining room, which seats about 75, has kind of a winery look. In the bar area, we’re going for a Victorian feeling, and there’s seating there for about 20 at the bar and another 16 in the booths. And then the patio seats another 75.”

Service is far more accomplished here than you’d expect for so casual a place. “Much of my staff has been with me since we opened,” says Lansing. “I hire people based on personality.”

Lanie’s Café also has attracted an enthusiastic to-go business: “Sometimes I wonder if anyone in Loudonville cooks,” says Lanie with a laugh. “It can get a little overwhelming on a Friday or Saturday night when all those take-out orders come in.

“I want this to be a place where you can bring kids and have a pizza,” she says, “or enjoy a Corona and nachos on the deck in the summertime.”

TABLE SCRAPS

Just ahead of the coming smoking ban, Provence in Stuyvesant Plaza has chosen to become a smoke-free restaurant. It’s a choice I’m happy to support—I don’t believe cigarette smoke and good food have any business together—but I’ve also dined in places that have installed enough fans and filtration that you’d never know anyone was smoking. What are your thoughts on the matter? . . . While you’re collecting your thoughts, what annoys you about restaurants? This could turn out to be a mighty can of worms, but I’m looking for common occurrences, not your onetime gripe. The scarcity of real maple syrup, for example, or the continued use of those hard-to-unwrap butter pats, sometimes frozen shut. We’ll collect the best of them into a future article. . . . So keep on passing your scraps to Metroland, e-mailable at (food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


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