by: Ellen Descsiciolo
the Three Rings
The Circus Café
Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Serving daily 11:30 AM-10 PM,
Fri-Sat til midnight . AE, D, DC, MC, V.
varied and accessible
price range: $10 (Caesar salad) to $20 (New York strip
festive, of course
in August? Anybody’s guess!
restaurants typically are the province of chains, causing
someone else’s market-researched and predigested sense of
gaiety to drop, Athena-like, fully formed into your community.
The Wal-Mart- and Starbucks-loving crowd moves, with robotic
reliability, into their embrace, but those with more discrimination
(which category naturally includes you) prefer to perform
their own intellectual peristalsis.
Visiting the Circus Café in early July, I found a restaurant
in flux. Open for but a few weeks at that point, it delivered
in wildly various ways. The food, for example, included a
quesadilla appetizer (then $7, now $8) that was an entrée-sized
portion delivering nothing less than you’d expect, except
for the warning not to order anything else substantial. Crab
cakes ($9) were also a very good example of what crab cakes
should be, but with the exceptional addition of a ginger aioli.
The “3 Ring Circus Shepherd’s Pie” ($14), on the other hand,
was dreadful: a soggy dish of flavorless ground beef served
over the mashed potatoes that are supposed to be on top. But,
without any urging from me, that item has disappeared from
Similarly, service was a jumble. We were quickly seated and
then annoyingly overlooked. We explained that we had a concert
to see, and asked that the entrées be paced somewhat more
quickly. They arrived seconds after the appetizers were served.
We got out, for the first time in my experience in this situation,
And so I revisited in August, mindful that track season can
take its toll on any Saratoga restaurant, old and new. It
turns out that those four interim weeks made all the difference.
The Circus Café was up and running, with splendid service
and fine, consistent food. It was like going from an early
rehearsal to a polished performance.
We were greeted on the street, as is true of most Broadway
restaurants, but our hostess was more than mere shill: She
exuded a seductive warmth that would have lured me inside
had this not been my destination. My threesome was escorted
past the bar area, a lively concourse, to a back room occupied
by only one other diner. But that hardly mattered. The ambiance
is festive enough to make any space in the restaurant seem
like the proper one to inhabit.
My daughter, who is 7, was fascinated by every aspect of the
decor. She studied the chandeliers, the wallpaper, even the
sugar holders on the tables. The circus theme, which to my
eyes flirts with the far end of being overdone, was wholly
appropriate to her. She also liked the fact that the kids’
menu carried forth this design, and, despite my entreaties
to order off the grown-up list, she latched onto an entrée
of pizza bagels ($6.50) for herself.
She did throw me a bone, so to speak, by ordering chicken
wings off the regular menu ($8 for a dozen), and then agreeing
to share them only after the most persistent parental persuasion.
Chicken wings remain chicken wings, no surprise here, but
it’s a meal-in-itself portion served on an attractive plate
that makes room for the requisite celery and blue cheese dressing.
Entrées include a few salads, of which the cobb ($13) features
grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs and an avocado purée to
make it more interesting, and it’s a goodly sized dish, too.
One of the winners both visits was the pan-roasted salmon
($16), set off by a pungent red onion jam and served over
a cooked-right portion of jasmine rice—although a companion
on the early visit requested and served mashed potatoes as
There’s no better comfort food than meat loaf, and it’s available
here ($15) in a large portion with just enough breading to
keep it moist and flavorful—and to resist a gravy that adds
little to the dish. Not surprisingly, there are potatoes,
mashed, of course, served alongside, as well as veggies sautéed
to still-crunchy doneness.
Also look for pasta dishes, a chicken pot pie ($14), barbecued
short ribs ($16) and even fried oysters ($15) among the entrées,
and there’s a list of sandwiches (leading off with the $8
Circus burger) for the less ambitious appetite.
Although the staff is almost embarrassingly young, they’re
enthusiastic and even seem downright happy to be there. And
they look out for one another, which also speaks well for
You’ll know owner Christel McLean from her tenure heading
Hattie’s, which she bought from Hattie Austin and expanded
“until Colin and I saw that it had reached its expansion limit.”
She and her husband wanted to duck out of the business for
a while, and even went so far as to return to Manhattan. “But
during that time we kept talking about the kind of restaurant
we wanted to have, and the Circus Café came into view more
Their goal was to bring something unique to downtown Saratoga,
and at that they’ve succeeded. The theme is borderline goofy,
but they pull it off because there’s no lack of sincerity.
And the ever-inventive McLeans promise even more surprises
as Saratoga eases into its postseason doldrums, so let’s keep
an eye on the place.
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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.
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
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..