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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Raising the Brunch Bar

From the Back of the Fridge Dept.: This was the last of the handful of reviews I wrote in exchange for a fully-comped meal. In order to inaugurate Metroland’s food column with no budget for dinners out, we begged a freebie from the restaurant. Soon enough, there was a budget. However, Rexford’s has long since vanished, replaced these many years by a Taco Bell.


HERE’S SOMETHING YOU MIGHT WANT TO check out before the Hudson Valley Community College kids discover it: Rexford’s Café, just across the street from the campus. Not that it's really any secret from the student populace, a few of whom were in evidence the other Sunday when I brought a pair of professional food-samplers to the café to investigate the brunch, rumored to be quite a treat.

Photo by Drew Kinum
It was. It’s not a near-to-the-college kids’ hangout by any means, but rather a tastefully-appointed full-service restaurant with terrific food, the quality of which is overseen by chef Leland Armsby, himself a graduate from just up the hill.

“I’ve been here almost one year,” he explains. “We’ve been doing a lot of business, and a lot of lunches. I started an early bird menu that’s been popular. And about four months ago we started serving a brunch which hasn’t really been discovered yet. I think the problem is that people think we’re a jacket-and-tie kind of place, but we’re not. I just want the people to come in, try us out. We’re not stuffy.”

The casual brunch atmosphere begins with the bright look of the dining room: a large area with walls of bare brick or a green flower-print paper. Red and green are also the linen colors, and the service has a tasteful green decoration.

The room is reminiscent of the large dining areas in old beach-front hotels, with the only difference being the obvious newness of Rexford’s – and the fact that the outside deck overlooks not the Atlantic Ocean but a nearby Pizza Hut.

Inside, the room is set off by plants and a skylight, and a handsome array of old framed portraits against the back wall.

Keeping it casual, the menu is announced by the server. We were offered a choice of crab melt, eggs Benedict, waffles with strawberries and cream, seafood crêpe or ham-and-cheese quiche.

“We prefer to do it this way instead of buffet style,” says Armsby, ‘because it gives us the chance to give a good presentation. Buffet tables can get sloppy-looking real fast.

Brunch ($7.95) includes complimentary champagne, mimosa or bloody mary, and we availed ourselves of the first-named, a fairly dry domestic product that proved a nice companion to morning coffee.

As the chef promised, presentation was indeed lovely. The freshness of ingredients was emphasized by the large, hand-hewn pineapple slices atop the crab salad on Susan’s order – a salad in which the seafood was mixed with scallions and celery, then placed atop a sliced English muffin. Muenster was melted over the fruit arches, and a garnish of fresh fruit salad and home fries graced the plate, along with a side dish of cottage cheese.

Drew is now a confirmed eggs Benedict fan and found the twin peaks of muffin, ham, egg and sauce very much to his liking, while my own plate of fresh-baked waffles was right up in the top ten of the all-time Fat Parade. I mean, strawberries and cream are caloric enough, but with a vehicle like waffles to carry them, you’re adding several inches to the waistline.

The plates shared similar garnishes, and I noticed that presentation all around the room was of similarly high caliber.

And it’s not just brunch that’s available on a Sunday afternoon. The seven-item early bird menu is served from noon to 4 and includes fish and chicken and steak dishes all in the $6 range: the regular menu starts with a page of appetizers and cheeses and goes on to cover soups and salads, burgers and other sandwiches, a page of “specialties” comprising sandwich-based combos, and two pages of dinner entrees, served daily between 5 and 10 PM, in which beef, veal, chicken. pork, fettuccine, shrimp and other items are treated to Armsby’s traditional and imaginative preparations.

Then there are the desserts and coffees. Except for a few pies and cakes, all of the baking (and that includes the daily bread) is done in Rexford’s small kitchen, which we toured after staggering up from a slice each of Kahlua cheesecake and a chocolate torte, not to mention my own choice of a hot brownie with chocolate ice cream.

There is an attractive bar with a free-standing fireplace nearby. Weekends you’ll find live entertainment, and the place was as cheerful as our hostess, Rose, who oversaw the meal with a practiced eye.

Rexford’s matchbook proclaims that the place specializes in “the abatement of hunger, the quenching of thirst, and the proliferation of good times.” That’s an accurate boast.

REXFORD’S CAFE • 60 Vandenburgh Ave. Troy. 272-xxxx. Full bar, banquet and catering (A nice banquet area upstairs) Open seven days from 11:30 AM: dinner daily 5-10 PM: late-night menu available: Sunday brunch 11:30-4. All major credit cards.

Metroland Magazine, 11 September 1986

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