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Photo by: B.A. Nilsson

Bar on the Bayou
By B.A. Nilsson

Bourbon Street
Serving Mon-Fri 11 AM-3 AM, Sat 3-3, Sun (during football season) 1 PM-3 AM. AE, D, MC, V.1536 Crescent Rd., Clifton Park, 383-2930
Cuisine: American-Italian-Cajun bar food
Entrée price range: $4.25 (grilled cheese platter) to $14 (chicken-shrimp-jambalaya combo)
Ambiance: bar with a dance floor
Clientele: elusive

With so many different types of food available, I wanted to catch the place at a busy time. I kept missing it. “You should have seen us yesterday,” I was told at each visit, and each visit gave me the place practically to myself, my only company being a solitary diner or a couple of barside customers.

Bourbon Street is the latest in a long line of restaurant tenants at this location, and it’s been here for five years, an impressive feat on this somewhat neglected stretch of Central Avenue. Owner Marc DeRusso began with the name, then fashioned a menu to match. Although it suggests Cajun cookery, he has shrewdly judged the area and added Italian items like pasta dishes and American items like pizza.

I’m not sure what degree of scrutiny the food here warrants. Although the restaurant bills itself as “a unique place to eat and drink,” I think the emphasis is on the latter. The place is about sports and sports-based conviviality. Music, too, with a bandstand available.

But the food, during my couple of visits, had a variable presence. Jambalaya is a good test of Cajun cookery, but it wasn’t available during my first stop. Although Louisiana-style bread pudding is listed as a dessert specialty, there wasn’t any (or any other dessert) on both visits. (“People don’t really eat dessert here,” the server confided.)

They don’t seem to drink much soda, either. I complained of a weak proportion of syrup to carbonated water, an occasional problem with a soda gun, and discovered that it plagued both soda flavors I sampled. “I’ll have him fix it,” the server said, using that antecedent-free “him” so vital to the proletarian lexicon, but “he” hadn’t successfully done so by the time I returned.

But let me end this litany with a report on that jambalaya, which I was able to enjoy on visit No. 2. The $12 entrée is a definite winner, handsomely presented, rich with shrimp and chicken, spiced with an excellent blend of seasonings that slowly metes out a stays-on-your-palate kick. I can endure far worse than weak soda in order to enjoy such a dish.

Make your way carefully, though. The Bourbon Street grilled chicken and shrimp ($12) swim in a dark, salty sauce the consistency of consommé. Most entrées are accompanied by a salad and starch, and the fries I chose in the latter category worked better in the sauce than did the meat.

Chicken parmigiana ($11) is listed under “Mardi Gras Dinner Favorites,” but it’s a straightforward—and huge—portion of just what you’d expect. The chicken was tender, the sauce served its purpose nicely, and the leftovers survived two trips through the reheating oven.

On the more casual dining side, there are sandwiches aplenty, hot and cold, with a very good hamburger among the hot ones. It’s a half-pound of meat, and protrudes out the sides of the sandwich for that classic flying-saucer profile. And the unadorned version is a mere five bucks! It’s broiled unless you specify you’d like it blackened, in which case it gets a coating of spicy seasonings.

Although we didn’t try a pizza, the calzone we sampled speaks well for the pizza-making process. The dough was fluffy and yeasty, the portion quite large—so plan on two meals for the $7 you’ll pay.

Bourbon Street comes into its own the more it approaches classic bar food. You can find nachos (a deluxe plate for $7.50), littleneck clams (Wednesdays only, $5 a dozen) and a good-sized list of appetizers, most of which travel through the fryolator en route to your plate.

What is it about such items that make them irresistible? An $11 sampler platter arrays several such starters, all sharing two characteristics: They’re crunchy and moist with fat. And therein is the answer to my question. Crunchiness is a desirable food characteristic, especially if there isn’t a lot of flavor involved. Imagine a plate of crisp fries in front of you, and you anticipate tucking into them with some excitement. Now imagine them limp—we’ve all been served a plate of fries gone wrong—and the excitement vanishes. Fat alone can’t do its magic, which is to prolong flavor by making the palate sticky. But add some crunch and a piquant dipping sauce, and you have the culinary triumph of style over substance.

This is especially true of such things as fried mushrooms, which, based on the mushrooms alone, haven’t much flavor to savor, and fried potato skins, which really are only canoe-shaped fries. Add some horseradish sauce to the mushroom, however, and you’re in business; likewise, bacon and cheese and sour cream adorn the potato canoe nicely.

And don’t think I’m hurling brickbats from some snobbish height. I’m usually first in line to wolf down such things, and made my way through too many of the aforementioned items, as well as the deep-fried shrimp and mozzarella sticks also in the aggregation. Chicken wings were the standout in an otherwise run-of-the-mill bunch. Here, of course, you do get a glimpse of flavor, with just enough meat to peek from behind the crunch and the spicy sauce, available in several degrees of heat.

Indian cookery enjoyed a couple of runs at this site, and there were noble appearances by Korean and Russian restaurants. But it looks like the mixed American menu currently in residence is faring the best. Don’t think Cajun dining here: Think about relaxing with a beer while checking out sports scores, with visions of a burger or some wings as your meal. Then order the jambalaya.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Bourbon Street, or other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

Actually one of the things I usually like about B.A.'s reviews, that was missing here, is that he often brings his family, specially his child to these meals and includes their dining experiences in his columns. As a parent who is always looking fo kid-friendly places that also serve good food that I'd want to eat, so I especially enjoy "his take" on what his daughter orders and how she likes it too, as well as the entire dining experience...

Margo Matzdorf
East Greenbush

I have never been to Ogdens but look forward to the dining experience. B.A.,,your review leaves me anticipating a delicious dining experience. Thank you for the suggestion, it is fun to try new things and I will let you know how I liked it,although, as usual, I am sure you are right on the mark.

Mary Pezdek

It's me again B.A. The Chain Restaurant loving fat guy who loves big, heaping helpings of prepared, marketed fried things. Even Chicken Fingers.

I could care less about Daniel's at Ogdens to be perfectly honest. I read the review mostly because my office stares right at it's front door and we all watched as the refurbishing was done. My problem here today is with your first two paragraphs.

The kind of news article that bugs you is what percentage of Americans spend 30 minutes or less preparing food!?!? You know what kind of news article bothers me? "Remains of a woman found stuffed in a barrel......" or "....Albany Police Lt. dies from injuries sustained in shootout with suspect." I realize food and it's service and preparation may be the all consuming obsession in your life, but please tell me you have a bigger heart than that.

Maybe the reason "44 percent of weekday meals in the U.S. are prepared in 30 minutes or less.." is that some people work 2 or 3 jobs. Some people may be a single parent with young children, who may only have less than 30 minutes to spare.

But I promise you this, the next time I get 35 minutes or so.........I'll order some Kobe Beef, puff pastry, shitake mushrooms and the ingredients to make a proper buerre blanc....dim the lights, put on a bowtie, apron and plenty of snotty attitude and invite you over for dinner.

Are Chicken Fingers ok for an appetizer?

Mark Eriole
East Greenbush

I really love this guys knack for picking "the best kept secrets" in the Capital District. Way to go B.A.! Keep up the good work!

Mike Aldrich
Rensselaer

Laura Leon's review was wonderful. Her descriptions of the various selections made me hungry. I am saving the review and putting it on my refrigerator to remind me to take a busman's holiday to Great Barrington for melitzana.

Joanne Lue
Albany

Having eaten here twice- I agree with all said by Nillson- HOWEVER- No authentic Mexican place should be totally rated without mention of their Margarita quality -which is superior-very limey with just the right ingredients- and their selection of Mexican Beers-Tecata-Negro Modello and Dos Equis Dark and Amber. Excellent Selection. Another mark of good Mexican cuisine is the freshness of their pico di gallo-the true MEXICAN salsa- again excellent. If it were not for the diner atmosphere I would have rated it 4 stars- and yes- please bring back the star rating system which I relied on heavily.

William Hyde
Pancho's

A surprisingly nice effort for a city which seems to only allow Italian restaurants to thrive.

Bill Graper
Scotia

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush



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