WE ENTERED to a blast of jukebox, a bass-heavy throb that struck fear in the eyes of my wife. Not on her account, although she’s been known to plug her ears when a mildly noisy bus goes by, but because she assumed I’d want to leave. Such is the power of hunger, however, that I took us to one of the many empty tables in the place.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
We sat and studied the menus. The room is large enough to hold about a dozen tables a comfortable distance from one another. The ceiling is decorated with several parallel rows of beer taps, souvenirs, I later learned of Savannah’s, the downtown Albany establishment formerly owned by Joe Schaefer and Peter Cusato.
The growler end of things is celebrated with a 30-strong on-tap list, at the least-threatening end of which is Coors Light, heaven help you, but it goes on to include such stalwarts as Smithwicks, Harp, Newcastle Brown and Guinness (with which I immediately slaked the thirst and aggravated the appetite), and local brews like Saratoga Lager, Saranac Blueberry Blonde Ale and a couple of selections apiece from Ommegang and Lake Placid.
At the grape end – sadly for me, I didn’t explore it. Turns out there’s a separate room separated by hallway and door that serves as the wine bar, where we could have enjoyed our meal in relative quiet. I discovered it on a return visit for lunch. So there truly is the potential here to satisfy both beer-seeking and wine-seeking requirements, although the grape end of things hasn’t taken off to the extent where there’s always a bartender on hand for that room.
Schaefer runs front-of-house operations; Cusato, whom I spoke with on my second visit, is in the kitchen and oversees what you’ll be eating. Julie, my affable server, exhorted me to celebrate a rainy day with the house specialty, mac and cheese – “Made to order!” – and so I did, choosing the Big Boy Mac and Cheese ($11), recommended, no doubt, to suit my body type.
|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
The Grape and Growler opened in late July, not far from Wade Road’s many industrial and airport-related entities (there’s a Lear Jet Road nearby!) and an easy escape from Wolf Road’s array of chain restaurants.
The menu is straight-ahead pub fare, but with as much of it made from scratch as is convenient. For example: the house dressing is homemade blue cheese, of a texture far less mucilaginous than the store-bought stuff.
Appetizers include nachos ($8), fried calamari ($9), popcorn shrimp ($7) and a $10 combo platter of four items with four sauces. Black bean and French onion are featured soups ($6, with a cup of black bean available for $3) and among the 13 salads are Caesar ($6), chef or tuna or taco ($8 apiece), Italian, Vermont or Bleu (sic!) Chicken, the last-named featuring artichoke hearts and olives in addition to crumbles of the much-misspelled cheese ($9 apiece).
Poached pear salad is $8 and sports softened pear slices and crispy, cinnamon-rich candied walnuts, with blue cheese and tomato slices mixed with romaine, served with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was an unspectacular, slightly overdressed assemblage that performed exactly as expected.
Much of what helped me remain jukebox-oblivious was a burger craving. Our server that evening assured me the burgers were terrific and that I could get one cooked precisely to my specification.
I wasn’t prepared to tackle the Grumbling Growler, a $25, 16-inch monstrosity. Nor was the peanut butter-coated, donut-housed burger ($9) a candidate. The egg-and-cheese enhanced burger was a possibility ($9), as was the Bonanza Growler, with its bacon and barbecue sauce ($9), but I went for the Angry Buffalo Growler ($9), served with jalapeños and buffalo-wing sauce.
It arrived with not a trace of the hoped-for pink within, but what’s the point of complaining? That’s a thing that needs to be gotten right right off the bat. And it was still enjoyable – it just seemed like a chain-restaurant burger.
My wife’s order of chicken quesadillas ($10) was a better example of satisfying pub fare, assembled well and of large-enough size to provide her a next-day lunch. And an order of chicken wings (10 for $8), with a homemade sauce hot enough to give an appreciable kick, was excellent (you’ve also got mild, medium, honey-barbecue and garlic among the candidate sauces).
We left too early for the entertainment, which, each Friday and Saturday, is Bandeoke: you get to sing your karaoke favorites with a band, a group known as The Ruddys. And Thursday is Trivia Night.
It’s a strange neighborhood for a neighborhood pub, but I like the promised diversity of the place, I very much like the mac and cheese, and I’m going to give them another shot at that burger.
The Grape and Growler, 155 Wade Rd., Latham, 783-8000, grapeandgrowler.com. Serving Mon-Wed 11-10, Thu-Sat 11-2. AE, D, MC, V.
– Metroland Magazine, 31 October 2013