on My Shoulders Makes Me Hungry
By B.A. Nilsson
Vendors in the Park
Park, Albany. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11-2 every reasonably
nice day during the summer. Cash only.
Cuisine: Sandwiches, wraps, curried goat
price range: $1.50 (hot dog) to $7.50 (Old Daley meal deal)
Ambience: Al fresco
Clientele: People wearing name badges
With five bucks in your pocket on a fairly nice day, you won’t
go hungry in this part of Albany’s downtown. Bordered by State
Street and Washington Avenue, Capitol Park is what’s beneath
the star on the map where Albany is signified. And every workday
morning, a series of vans pulls up to the curb to unload the
day’s victuals, to be peddled from those same vans or carts.
Several years ago (11, to be exact, but to specify it makes
us all seem so ancient) Metroland sent out a research
team to comb the comestibles. Back then we even had a band
playing in the background. We sampled fare from the Old Daley
Inn, the Tabouli Connection (whose attendant lamented all
the meat eating going on), Souvlaki, Gyro & More, Michelle’s
Fish Fry and others.
Some of those names have changed or are no longer are there,
but the profile remains consistent. The most popular item
at Jack’s Subs is the $5.50 mixed-meat sandwich; adjacent
I saw one of several hot-dog carts. Manor House pizzeria sells
it by the slice, $1.50 for cheese, add a quarter for a topping,
get two cheese slices and a soda for $3.50.
Michelle’s Charcoal Pit has a pasta of the day along with
burgers and fries, chicken and fish, most items available
with barbecue or Cajun seasonings. Get your gyros and souvlaki
at the (you guessed it) Big Fat Greek Truck, while Weenie
Boy and Big John sell hot dogs side by side. “Do you get along
with each other?” I asked Weenie Boy. “We don’t talk much,”
was the reply.
One of the newest entrants is the Brown Bagger. New to this
park, that is; they were at the state campus for many years.
They offer an array of homemade food that includes quiche
($2.50), chicken cacciatore ($4) and even their own macaroni
and cheese ($2).
And, of course, you’ll find frozen desserts—ice cream, yogurt,
Italian ices—at the Guido’s stand.
Lunch didn’t start out too promisingly. My daughter, the General
Tso’s chicken fiend, ordered same ($5.50) from the Lucky Dragon
cart, and it turned out to be smothered in something more
approaching brown gravy than the traditional orange sauce.
With many other entrées to sample, however, including a “healthy
choice” of stir-fried veggies ($4.25), you might otherwise
John Rodat found a Philly cheese sandwich at a cart between
the Mexican Food van and Michelle’s Charcoal Pit, but the
cart was gone by the time I made it back to the Washington
Avenue side to get more info. Nevertheless, he pronounced
it more than adequate despite its topping of from-a-can cheese;
the real winner was the side of shoestring fries that he found
surprisingly crispy, nicely vinegared; “not,” as he put it,
“those mushy planks of potato foulness.” With a Riptide Rush,
one of those Metroland editorial essential beverages,
the total was $7.25.
Although I’d commanded my forces not to double up at any one
vendor, the contrarians who staff the newspaper laugh at such
constraints. Thus, both Lisa Whalen and Kathryn Lurie hit
the Healthy Café, the former snagging a Carm’s Chipotle Chicken
Wrap, a beast of a sandwich with a hint of jalapeño for $4.75.
Chicken figured into Kathryn’s salad as well, a Caesar base
with poultry and pasta added, priced with a Snapple at $7.
I thought I’d better check out that cart myself—I was getting
hungry—but stopped to inspect Barb Purcell’s black-bean taco
salad from the Mexican Food van. The $4.75 dish was a good-sized
portion that didn’t break any culinary ground, but seemed
solid enough fare for salsa fans.
Black beans also figured in Jan Thomas’ lunch, beans with
carrot slices served as a side dish to the Old Daley Inn’s
Cajun chicken sandwich ($7.50 with beverage). The Old Daley
Inn has been doing this for something like 20 years, and their
menu of salads and entrées, sandwiches and stuffed baked potatoes
is optimized for quick service and parkside dining. So I thought
I’d head for their State Street stand.
That’s when the milk guys arrived. We were on the steps of
the Legislative Building, where a dairy exhibition was taking
place. The milk guys—from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in Columbia
County’s Ancramdale—were displaying their wares, and shared
with us a couple of quarts of chocolate milk, which was about
as creamy as it can get short of being a milk shake. With
no bovine growth hormone in any of their products, I sure
would welcome more of an Albany-area presence.
Meanwhile, the aroma of curry was taking over—wafting from
a plate on Travis Durfee’s lap. “It’s from Roy’s Caribbean,”
he explained. “Goat curry. Served with cabbage and rice, and
there are peas and beans here, too.” It’s $6.75 with a Snapple,
and the flavor is persuasive enough to overcome any reluctance
about goat meat. Watch out, though, for the little bone shards.
I’d all but decided on that for my own lunch when Stephen
Leon showed (but didn’t share) his chicken teriyaki sandwich
from the New Day Café cart. For $5.50, you get a plate that
includes cold spinach fettuccine in a modestly herbed vinaigrette.
And so off I went in search of one of those.
But it was nearly 2 o’clock, and I couldn’t find the cart.
Others were packing up, some pleased with the sales on this
sunny day, one so unbelievably grumpy that she wouldn’t identify
her packed-away wares. By the time I was ready to place an
order, it was too late. I had to stop somewhere on the way
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
New Amsterdam Diner
(234 State Highway 30, Amsterdam), despite the
attention garnered from last week’s review, has
had to shorten its hours. It now will close between
midnight and 6 AM, unless you feel like getting
a job cooking during the overnight shift. . .
. The Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market will
hold its annual Summerfest on Saturday (June 21),
adding special events to the ongoing sales of
fresh local foods. Bagpipers erupt at 9 AM, and
there will be magic and music and baby animals—and
plenty of food tastings, including a tour of some
of the market foods with Justin’s chef Chris Sisinni
at 11 AM. The market features the freshest vegetables,
cheeses, free-range brown eggs, meats, honey and
maple products, fruits, and the area’s best selection
of breads and baked goods. The Troy Waterfront
Farmers’ Market runs rain or shine Saturdays through
October, just north of the Green Island Bridge
on River Street. Call 475-2909 for more info,
or check out www.troymarket.org. . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland
fax info to 922-7090)