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Sunday, March 02, 2014

It’s about Food

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s food piece reminds us that you still can shop the old-fashioned way, with personal service and excellent choices – for a price.


“FARM TO TABLE,” that catchiest of current culinary catchphrases, typically refers to a restaurant’s table, although the proliferation of farmer’s markets has allowed us, seasonally at least, to drag that bounty to our own boards. When you use a supermarket to flesh out the offerings, you’re at the mercy of corporate food choices, inevitably made to favor the market’s bottom line. The alternative is going to be more expensive.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
One such alternative recently opened last October in Troy. The Grocery is another brainchild of Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine, whose Charles F. Lucas Confectionery and Wine Bar has been a considerable success. The Grocery is in an adjoining space, connected to the wine bar by way of a large, open-air dining area with a retractable roof. It’s modeled on the kind of place at which your grandparents may have shopped. It offers staples and specialty foods. It’s very big on charcuterie and cheeses. And manager Andrew Siskind is also a beer fanatic, so you’ll find some brews you’ll see nowhere else in the area. Bo & Luke Imperial Smoked Stout, for example, a handcrafted ale aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Or the Coriolis IPA that’s currently on tap, and available to take home in a 32-ounce growler.

The deli case that dominates the room is given to an impressive array of meats and cheeses. The American prosciutto is cheaper than the Italian. Is it any good? Talk to Andrew. “It’s excellent,” he says, “or we wouldn’t carry it. It’s cheaper because we don’t have to pay the importation fees.”

As consumers, we’re so indoctrinated into the spend-as-little-as-possible philosophy that horrid behemoths like Walmart are encouraged to flourish at the expense of each community it plunders. We’re philosophically divorced from a sense of supporting those who produce our products, and another result is our sheeplike acceptance of mediocre products.

“We speak to the people who make what we sell,” Siskind says. “If I can’t answer a question about a product, there’s somebody else here who can.”

Other products range from fresh (when possible) produce—“This is a place where you can stop in to pick up an onion,” says Siskind—to a hand-picked array of items like olive oil (there’s an excellent EVOO from Tunisia), tuna belly (“You’ll never go back to canned tuna”), gourmet chocolate (including product from Mast Brothers), and extra-long spaghetti and other dried pasta.

“We feature Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta,” says Siskind, “because it’s extruded through bronze dies, which gives it a ragged edge, almost microscopic, that causes sauce to adhere better.” And the sauces include local product from Minessale’s and Testo’s. You’ll taste cheese over at the wine bar, but there the product is only domestic. The Grocery adds imports. “We want to give you the opportunity to replicate at home your experience next door.”

But there’s an aesthetic that’s no accident. “I’m lucky to have worked in the industry before this,” Siskind explains, describing his time at Grab Specialty Foods in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and Saxelby Cheesemongers in Manhattan, among other places. “I got to know the producers down there, but I grew disenchanted with the city. I came up here to visit a college friend, we went into the wine bar here, I met Heather and Vic—and here I am.”

They’ve designed a difference between the two places. “Lucas is where you go to indulge,” says Siskind. “At the Grocery, what we offer is a little more accessible. We want the place to look good, like an art gallery, but there’s nothing here you wouldn’t want to put on a sandwich.” And that’s where you’ll find the store’s best bargain: the $5 sandwich, made with prosciutto and pesto, or Calabro ricotta and sweet chili jam, or mortadella, spicy coppa and Minessale’s arrabbiata dressing, served on focaccia. It’s not a large sandwich, but, if the prosciutto-pesto version is any indication, it’s very satisfying.

As of a couple of weeks ago, Wednesday is Grilled Cheese and Beer Night from 5 to 8 PM, where $15 gets you a sandwich with chips, pickle, tomato soup, fresh greens and 12 oz. of the on-tap beer. Drop the soup and it’s $12; have the soup instead of the sandwich and it’s $8. (And don’t be surprised to discover tater tots instead of croutons in that soup.) The sandwich selection changes weekly; when I visited, there was a choice of Melt Free or Die (Landaff cheese with North Country Smokehouse ham), the Florentine Machine (Fontina val d’Asta, roasted fennel) or Old Faithful (Cabot cheddar, roasted tomatoes).

The dining area sports long tables (mounted on old sewing-machine stands) with a pleasant array of light-strings strung across the high ceiling, so it feels as if you’re outdoors even in winter. And even as I’m enjoying my Florentine Machine at one of those tables, elbow-to-elbow with a family sharing with each other their own foodstuffs array, I hear the conversation in the Grocery among Andrew and the others who work with him, and they’re describing who just tasted what and how should this be served and what to have for dinner. It’s about food.

The Grocery, 211 Broadway, Troy, 326-3450. Open noon-8 Mon-Sat, noon-4 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 27 February 2014

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