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Friday, October 25, 2019

Downtown Gustatory Pursuit

From the Culinary Vault Dept.: Monday’s post, revisiting my 2008 DiCarlo’s review, mentioned McGeary’s Irish Pub, my 2010 review of which, I realized, isn’t on this blog. It is now. Things have changed, of course, but not really by much.


“WE DON’T TAKE ADVANTAGE of McGeary’s enough,” I said. We were headed to see a show at Capital Rep and because I’ve become completely neurotic about parking, I was hoping to dump the car early for dinner and not have to move it.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Pearl Street’s dining demographic doesn’t really include me, so far as I can figure. While I’m often able to inure myself to a bank of TV screens, should there be a phalanx of sports fans glued to a significant event, their cheers and moans typically prove too startling – not to mention that it zooms me back to my fat-kid-tormented-in-gym-class days.

But my tormentors hang out in Jillian’s, leaving McGeary’s free for more gustatory pursuits. Not that you can’t drink there – the bank of beer taps at the long, wide bar promise all manner of suds. And the TVs are quiet.

“Actually, our food business is booming,” says Tess Collins. “Within a week and a half after reopening here, food has jumped up to 50 percent the business.” She’s the new manager,, although factotum may be the better term. As anyone who knows her from her years at Justin’s and the Lark Tavern can attest, once she’s put in charge, things happen. Good things.

Except for one very bad thing that was beyond her control. After investing her money and career in the Lark Tavern and steering it on a successful course, it fell victim to a fire in May that effectively destroyed the restaurant. Thanks to McGeary’s owner Larry Davis, Collins not only was able to get herself back on a steady payroll, but also bring along much of the staff she’s been working with for so long.

That means Shy Abbasi is heading the kitchen, and the new McGeary’s menu reflects some of those Lark Tavern traditions while respecting McGeary’s own history. At first glance it looks the same, but there has been extensive remodeling in recent weeks. With the front of the house smartened up, there’s work going on in the kitchen to modernize a very old setup.

“It’s a very old building, with old equipment,” says Collins, “but we’re making improvements all the time. It’s very rewarding.”

Her loyalty to her staff is matched by a loyalty to her neighborhood – both here and back on Lark Street – and the attention she pays to customers, a reminder that a pub is supposed to be a comfortable place for reliable casual dining.

Tess Collins | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
It’s reflected in the menu, too. You’re not here expecting a gourmet extravaganza. You want a burger, some poppers, some wings. You know the offerings: sliders (4 for $8), littlenecks (12 for $10), nachos (Celtic, using potatoes for chips, $9) and wings (12 for $7) for starters, alongside unusual items like mac and cheese poppers (yipes, $6.79), chicken Cordon Bleu balls (ham and Swiss poppers, $6.79), eggplant fries ($7) and Larkarella sticks, a variation on the mozzarella stick standby (6 for $6.39, 12 for $10.79).

We sampled wings with jerk seasoning, giving the critters some extra bite, otherwise traditional as can be, and went on to dig into a portobello spinach salad ($8.49) with roasted red peppers and the cheerful tartness of sun-dried pomegranate bits, finished with tomatoes and onions and crumbled blue cheese. I prefer a salad like to that to be tossed in the dressing before it’s served, but I fear I’ve been edged out by dressing control freaks who manipulate such toppings by the droplet. Unless nobody’s looking.

Other salads include Caesar, crab cake, chef, cobb and antipasto, all in the $8-$10 range, as well as Asian or Buffalo chicken compotes. But you can add chicken to any of the salads for an extra three bucks, and four will get you some shrimp.

Now, here’s my spouse, considering a Reuben ($8.49). And the menu is generous enough to offer it with turkey, which should be a crime. But the sandwich also sports sauerkraut. Swiss cheese. Russian dressing. And it’s grilled. So what’s her problem? She doesn’t want the damn potato chips on the side. Here’s a suggestion: Don’t eat them.

Like those dressing drippers, she obviously doesn’t trust herself and needs a legislative hand in the kitchen. Fine. But she wants a salad as substitute. Onto which, no doubt, she’ll drizzle dressing by the droplet.

The turkey Reuben was all it promised to be, which, while tasty, is still a weak imitation of a classic. But I studied it as one busily polishing off a Big Ass Burger ($10), a hefty patty actually cooked, as I asked, medium rare, and topped with a big hunk of cheddar and enough lettuce, tomato and onion to have made that elusive side salad. I picked the shoestring fries out of the mix and watched as Ms. I-Don’t-Eat-Potato-Chips sampled them. But I hoarded the burger, enjoying also the garlicky mayo that lurked within.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Many burger stylings are available, and other sandwiches include a deli variety (around $8 each), many chicken sandwiches ($8-$10), and full-out dinners like fried chicken ($12), shepherd’s pie ($11.49), fish and chips ($10) and a 12-ounce strip steak ($16).

Tess is also a big fan of music, and Jim Gaudet and the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers are among the regularly performing groups, with Mother Judge hosting open mic nights. And the roster is expected to build.

“I’m trying to find ways to get involved in the neighborhood,” says Collins. “Capital Rep is across the street, and it’s important to help them out. There’s a church next door that has a food bank, and I want to see what I can do with them.”

The restaurant business can be notoriously unkind, but she maintains an energy and creativity that makes a success out of her every venture – and it’s happening again here.

McGeary’s Irish Pub, 4 Clinton Ave., Albany, 463-1455, Burgers and wings, lots of salads and other sandwiches, and selection of excellent entrées in a newly refurbished setting, with Tess Collins your indefatigable hostess. Serving Mon-Thu 11-1, Fri-Sat 11-4, Sun 12-1. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland, 7 October 2010

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