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Thursday, March 05, 2015

One More for the Road

From the Vault Dept.: The construction wore him down, that seemingly endless process of siting a manufacturing complex in Malta. And John Bove had been talking of retiring for a while anyway. So this piece, from 2008, chronicles my final visit to his one-of-a-kind restaurant, which closed in 2011.


RACING SEASON IN SARATOGA is fun if you’re not too misanthropic (or agoraphobic). If you find exhilaration in the presence of crowds, all the better. But even the doughtiest will quail in the face of a jam-packed restaurant. Which is why it’s a good idea to follow the spiral one evening or more, easing out far enough to shake off those – a majority, I’m sure – too timid or reluctant or set in their ways to travel.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The My Way Café sits unobtrusively at the corner of Routes 9 and 67 in Malta, just south of Northway exit 12, its approachability hobbled in places by ongoing construction. Seek it out. Chef-owner John Bove describes it as having a “1940s roadhouse atmosphere,” and it certainly looks like the kind of place in which Ann Dvorak might show up next to you on a barstool, with jealous Jack Carson trying to distract her.

As the restaurant’s name suggests – insists is more like it – there’s a Sinatra theme at work. Paintings, posters, albums and other memorabilia decorate the walls; the Chairman’s songs underscore the dining room’s soundtrack. Sinatra on Bluebird, on Columbia, on Capitol, Reprise – each phase of his singing career is celebrated.

Bove and his wife, Susan, have been running the place for nearly a quarter century, and his time in the restaurant business approaches twice that amount. He shows no sign of slowing. He’s baking bread and fashioning deserts in the morning, doing the other dinner prep in the afternoon.

You’re greeted with a dish of tangy pasta salad and a hot serving of “flowerpot bread,” a loaf prepared and served in a small clay pot, bread that is yeasty and yielding.

The menu is Italian at heart, but enhanced and rearranged in signature style. Appetizer pricing is simple: each dish is a reasonable $8, and increase of a dollar since I last wrote about the place five years ago. From prosciutto-wrapped scallops to shrimp cocktail, antipasto to fried provolone, you get a good-sized serving of the starter.

Steamed mussels arrived in a white wine broth with added fresh tomatoes, a traditional, satisfying approach. Fried calamari are so tender that I initially thought that they’d been left out of the dish, leaving behind calamari flavored breading – but closer examination revealed the most yielding rings I’ve ever tasted, served with a good marinara.

“Always minestrone and always different” is the menu description of a daily soup ($3/$4), and we were fortunate enough to visit when the restaurant’s garden was providing components – and the brew itself is tailored to the season, with a lighter consistency for the warm months.

You get a cup of minestrone or a house salad with most of the entrées, and the house salad also reflects the freshness of ingredients, with a very crisp lettuce mix and vegetables from the garden.

Skillet pastas are a Bove innovation that he’s been featuring for many years, an all-in-one creation that assures you of a thorough mating between pasta and sauce. We tested his skillet pasta skill by ordering the carbonara ($17), a simple, traditional meal that more often than not emerges colorlessly.

Bove’s carbonara has a profound prosciutto presence. The fettuccine is firm, the sauce – a mix of cream and eggs and grated cheeses – rich and touched with an added surprise: spinach. Good luck finishing a helping of this.

Other skillet pastas are puttanesca ($18) and mussels fettuccine ($18). Other pasta creations include lasagna rolled and stuffed with spinach and a cheese mixture ($17), chicken or shrimp Alfredo ($18/$20) and ravioli stuffed with portobello mushrooms in a tomato-vodka cream sauce ($18).

Spinach also figures in the Napoleon, another original. Thin layers of chicken ($19) or veal ($20) alternate with the cooked greens, as well as eggplant, ricotta and provolone. Topped with a pomodoro, garnished with parsley and cheese, it’s another massive portion. Our sampling of the chicken Napoleon began at the restaurant table and carried on at home the following day. With some still left over for the next.

Homemade pork sausage can also be turned into a Napoleon ($19). Other sausage dishes include linguine Bolognese ($18), served with a sausage meat sauce, and Tuscan style ($19), with peppers and spinach and gorgonzola cheese.

 Of course there are the parmigianas, made with eggplant ($18), chicken ($17), veal ($18) or sausage ($18). Veal saltimbocca ($19) is the classic breaded cutlet topped with prosciutto and provolone, with an added sage-leaf flavor.

The steaks and seafood lists feature unadorned sirloin ($23) and the hot peppers-enhanced pizzaiola ($27), as well as shrimp scampi ($18), broiled scallops ($19) and blackened tilapia ($18).

Although the sausage Tuscan was tempting, I ordered a variation that places grilled sirloin at the center. The $25 dish was started with a tremendously delicious cut of meat, grilled to my specification (rare) and served over wilted spinach, topped with roasted red pepper and gorgonzola and served alongside a handsome array of steak fries. I can’t praise this dish too highly, and advise you only to refrain from finishing it.

Because you’ll want a tiramisu to send you out the door, created from a recipe handed down in Bove’s family, as good version of this as you could wish.

Dinners are comparatively economical, especially if you’re fleeing downtown Saratoga, but Bove offers a Trilogy for Two: A $66 meal that lets you share an appetizer, order an entrée apiece, enjoy a glass of house wine or draft beer with each of those plates, and finish with a shared dessert and two coffees.

Susan Bove oversees the floor, and was funny and friendly and informative, guiding us through the menu, getting out our meals and making sure we were satisfied all along the way. Her husband emerged at the end of our meal, and proved as good a raconteur as he is a chef. But that’s not surprising: the brand of conviviality he encourages extends well beyond the mere mechanics of a meal.

My Way Café
, Routes 9 and 67E, Malta, 899-xxxx, Serving Mon-Sun 4-close during racing season; Tue-Sun 4-close otherwise. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 7 August 2008

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