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Monday, August 25, 2014

Market to Café

What’s for Lunch? Dept.: My review of a recent visit to a small eatery in Watervliet, NY, that grew out of a farmers’ market presence and continues to honor local cooks and suppliers.


IT STARTED AT THE FARMERS’ MARKET—at several such markets, in fact, as Heidi and Jim Flynn made the rounds with their homemade bread, cheese, and cheese spreads. After five years, they were successful enough to need a larger kitchen, and found it in a former sub shop on Watervliet’s main street, giving them not only the kitchen but also retail space—space enough in which to offer products made by their fellow artisans.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
From there it was an easy enough decision to also provide a to-go menu, and, by the time the Local Flavor Café opened two years ago, it had a few tables and a menu of snacks and sandwiches to enjoy on the premises, a combination of what the Flynns enjoy preparing and goodies made by their friends.

For example: the coffee from Lucy Jo’s Coffee Roastery in Salem has become a favorite of my friend Pete, who joined me for a lunchtime visit last week. Another source is Tierra Farm in Valatie—and both give you small-batch roasts. You can enjoy a cup or two or more with your meal, and buy the beans on your way out. Peanuts, on the other hand, are roasted by Albany-based Peanut Principle, and form the basis of the Ultimate PB&J ($5), with a flavoring of dark chocolate and a dab of Beth’s Farm Kitchen raspberry jam. Rye bread comes from Schuyler Bakery; other loaves are baked by Tim Lane at Glen Glade Farm, which meant that he was the source of the focaccia that housed the beef kabob sandwich I ordered ($7.25).

This is how a sandwich should be built, honoring the need for balance among meat and/or veggies, dressing and the wrapper. Onions, mushrooms and peppers are grilled, as is the beef. Although American cheese typically is a sandwich-convenient thing of muted flavor, the Cooper’s sharp A.c. rises above the background noise.

The café is easy to find, on Watervliet’s 19th Street at the corner of 7th Avenue, a few blocks west of the river. Inside, the large front windows give it the feel of a pleasant porch, albeit one where shelves of for-sale products crowd the few tables.

There’s a menu; there’s a list of the day’s specials (two lists: a blackboard behind the counter and a printed page). Continue past the counter and there are snacks to sample; thus I was able to taste an excellent cheese spread (the name of which—Garlicke and the 7 Herbs—tells you what you need to know) and a chunk of a chocolate chip-oatmeal cookie.

You can sample three of those cheese spreads in a sample platter ($7.50) that also includes fruit, chutney, bread and crackers—and such spreads as Asiago Artichoke and Spinach, New York Maple Cheddar, Rose’s Red Hot and ISTABESTO!, which features pesto and sun-dried tomato. Or get that ISTABESTO in a bruschetta assembly, with Glen Glade Farm multigrain bread ($6). Or get the Asiago Artichoke and Spinach on mushrooms from Bulich’s Creekside Farm from Leeds ($6.50).

Traditional deli sandwiches are $6.50; add $1 for gluten-free bread from Sherri Lynn’s in Latham. Choose a main ingredient—chicken, turkey, roast beef, ham or hummus—choose a cheese spread, choose a dressing. Or try a Caprese ($6), featuring fresh mozzarella from R & G Cheese in Cohoes, served with veggies and pesto on a bagel.

Salads include mango chicken ($8.50), with a fruit juice-raspberry wine vinaigrette topping the greens, meat and grilled mango; traditional Caesar ($6.25), the Abby ($7.75), a Greek salad with olive, tomatoes, cucumber and feta, and the Aram ($9), a Caesar with Buffalo-style chicken breast and blue cheese.

My beef kabob sandwich came from the wraps, panini & buns listing, where you’ll also find a bacon & blue chicken sandwich on focaccia or ciabatta ($8), a classic beef on weck ($7.50), roasted vegetable panini ($6), crunchy Caesar chicken wrap ($6.50) and the Island Ham Wrap ($6.50) with baked ham, grilled pineapple, red pepper, sprouts and more.

Guest chef Tom Blau not only created the crabcakes available on a sandwich with a Cajun remoulade ($8.25), he’s also responsible for the pulled pork and barbecue sauce you can have on a bun for $6.25.

I consider the concept of baked potato skins sheer genius—like chicken wings, it was a way to monetize, as the financial people say, what until then was a throwaway. Unlike chicken wings, potato skins hold little appeal. But I didn’t protest when Pete ordered the day’s special ($4.50) and I didn’t protest when he asked for broccoli option instead of bacon. I also didn’t protest when he insisted I consume one of the two that were served, and I’ll confess that the melted cheddar and the cool sour cream brought it all home in a most satisfying way.

He also had the warm roast beef sandwich listed as a special ($7), with a spread of cheddar, horseradish and bacon and a topping of mushrooms, giving the sandwich an earthier note than mine, and therefore making it possibly even better.

Service is casual and friendly; many who enter are greeted by name. A to-go business keeps the place hopping. This is probably the closest you’ll get to a farmer’s market atmosphere in a single retail shop, so it’s worth going in to browse—and I suspect you’ll stay for lunch.

The Local Flavor Café, 620 19th St., Watervliet, 270-1880, Open 7-8 Mon-Fri, 7-5 Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 21 August 2014

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