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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Had the Jitters

From the Food Vault Dept.: Sometimes it didn’t matter how much I raved about a place. Jitters Café held forth for a few glorious years, serving as a reliable dinner spot when traveling to Saratoga Springs and back – and then it was gone. But here’s what  I about it wrote five years ago.


“I KNOW THIS BUSINESS is supposed to be about turning tables and making money,” says Gina Prince, “but I don’t care if someone comes in here and just buys a cup of coffee and sits for four hours reading or using a computer. We want to be a friendly place.”

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The place in question is tucked into a strip mall on Geyser Rd., on the western edge of Ballston Spa. Follow the road a few miles east and it puts you at one of the entrances to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Which is how we found the place: it sits along the back way to SPAC from my house.

With Saratoga’s dining options in something of an uproar this time of year, it’s a relief to find a place that’s both accommodating and inexpensive, offering an array of light-fare dishes that suit the summer weather well.

Not that I’d label the item I chose, a chicken quesadilla ($10) as especially light, but it became mine by default after my wife changed her mind while in the midst of ordering, opting instead for a portobello wrap ($8). There’s a protocol to dining out with me, one I thought was long established in my own family, for crying out loud. Everybody gets something different. We try to cover as varied a panoply of items as possible. And you don’t change you order.

I wouldn’t complain so much except that as soon as the food was served and my fat-content-tallying daughter got a look at the cheese oozing from the sides of my sandwich, I was hurled a glower of such concentrated disapproval that my appetite put on its hat and left the room. The fact that I finished the dish – no doggie bag for me! – was an act of rebellion. Didn’t hurt that it also was delicious, served with salsa and sour cream and, at my request, a little bit of hot sauce.

So clublike is the atmosphere at Jitters that you might think you’ve stepped into someone else’s house, which, of course, is the strategy here. Except that you’re an invited guest. We visited on a recent Wednesday, which is open mic night, so part of that clubbiness was the familiarity with one another of the performing regulars.

Jitters Café began as a seasonal Lake George stop, but Prince decided after three seasons that she wanted to run a year-round place. It took her two years to find the present location, which opened in 2006. “I’ve been around the restaurant business all my life,” she says, credited three restaurant-owning uncles with instilling in her what can only described as an addiction, one that infects all successful restaurateurs.

“I also love music,” she says, “so I wanted to have a place that combined those interests.” Also integral to her approach is an emphasis on local, in terms both of musicians and raw ingredients, and scratch cooking. “All of the recipes are mine. And I make everything I can from scratch – hummus, tabouli, quiche, the salads, the soup.” She blends her own tea, so look for a good variety there, and her daughter Toviah makes the desserts that are featured in a too-close-for-dietary-comfort display case.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
And there’s coffee. It comes in all the popular permutations, with a large latte setting you back $4.25. Alongside tea ($2.25 for a small pot) are chai ($3-$4), hot cocoa ($1.75-$2.75) and mulled cider ($1.55-$2.15). Wicked Good Smoothies – that’s how Prince describes them, and who am I to dispute? – are $4 and cover the fruit spectrum.

Susan’s portobello wrap sported a secondary wrapping of spinach within; within that were the sliced mushrooms, red peppers, sprouts and other veggies commingling in a pleasant proportion. She chose slaw as a side dish, and it’s a colorful and tasty red cabbage-based mix.

I don’t think hash brown potatoes qualify for a low-fat consideration, but my daughter must have made peace with the diet gods, for she cheerfully consumed half of the serving and saved the other for the next day’s lunch. The filling is classic, again with spinach as the chosen guest star. Quiche alone is $5; with a serving of the soup of the day, which was our approach, it runs $7.25.

The soup was carrot and ginger, and you actually could taste the latter ingredient, which was nice. Not too think, not very creamy, taking its admirable flavors from the ingredients themselves, it also spoke of summer.

Among the many available salads are Caesar ($7), with which I started, and which proved pleasant but unspectacular (add chicken and it’s $9); garden salad ($5.50 / $7.50), chef ($9), spinach ($8.50), Greek ($8.75), Oriental chicken ($8) and tabouli ($6). An egg or tuna salad platter will run you $9; a platter of tabouli and hummus with strawberries and grapes is dubbed the Tree Hugger and is $8.

Breakfast items include bagels and Belgian waffles, and you even can order s’mores ($7 for two people) and fondues ($9) from this fanciful menu.

Get to open mic night early to sign up for a slot – we saw it fill quickly. To check out the music situation for a given weekend, consult the restaurant’s Facebook page (Jitters Café).

I’m amazed we hadn’t found this restaurant during any our the many previous Saratoga trips, but I know we’ll be stopping there again during our next one.

Jitters Café, 418 Geyser Rd. (Country Club Plaza), Ballston Spa, 584-xxxx. Serving Mon-Sat 8 AM-9 PM, Sun 8 AM-7 PM. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 19 August 2010

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