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Monday, October 21, 2019

Revealing Cuisine

From the Culinary Vault Dept.: When I reviewed the Albany strip club DiCarlo’s back in 2008, it was still under the management of founder Sal DiCarlo. After he died in 2012, the club was purchased by Tess Collins, an excellent restaurateur who has operated the wonderful McGeary’s in Albany’s downtown for many years. She cut back the hours and changed the menu, so don’t expect the fare described below. But the show goes on.


A SMALL STAGE IS FLANKED by cylindrical columns of bubble-filled water, the color of which changes throughout the show. Color-changing lights flash rhythmically on the stage and a disco ball sends its fragmented sparkle around the room. A reverberant voice announces the next dancer, and a woman strides into view, her costume something she might wear to bed when in a frivolous mood. Men at the bar and the ringside tables are watching, most feigning I’ve-seen-it-all-before disinterest, all of them happily in touch with that persistent adolescent hope of hopes and wish of wishes: I’m about to see a woman’s breasts.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
It’s Hooters without the hypocrisy. (Of course, the ontology of ecdysiastics is riddled with its own many-layered hypocrisy, but that’s for a different essay.) And it’s worth noting that Hooters is long gone from Albany while DiCarlo’s soldiers on, one of the longest-lived “gentlemen’s clubs” in the area.

I’m not a frequent enough patron to analyze the reason, although I suspect that the club’s professionalism and cleanliness have a lot to do with it. What I want to tell you about, however, is the culinary discovery I made. If you’re looking for an economical lunch of pub fare, and don’t mind the rather loud, distracting entertainment going on around you, you’ll find some very good eats here.

Chef Jeff Hickok has been in the kitchen here for over 20 years, dating back to before any clothing was removed. Obviously, food isn’t the first thing one now associates with DiCarlo’s, so Hickok has streamlined the operation into a one-man show. But he brings the experience of a Culinary Institute grad who spent several years in other prestigious area kitchens before arriving here and settling in.

“I use the KISS principle,” he says, surveying the small kitchen. “You can get sandwiches here, homemade soup – and then there are things like the tortellini with shrimp scampi, which comes with a nice reduction sauce.”

He notes the number of celebrities who have stopped in and enjoyed his food over the years, “and we have a lot of regulars. And the majority of the people like the food and come back for it. In fact, some people know that I’ll make whatever they want, as long as I have the ingredients.”

Start with a soup. Hickok doggedly makes fresh daily brews, and my samples of vegetable beef and Yankee bean ($2.75 for a cup, $3.75 for a bowl) proved that he knows the secret of a good stock – the basis of superior soups and so much else.

And even a goofy dish like nachos grande ($7) works, based on the excess of cheese and jalapenos topping the chips – along with beef, lettuce and tomatoes, of course. Other starters include wings, teriyaki beef skewers, fried calamari and shrimp cocktail, all in the $6-$8 range.

Consider that $6.75 gets you a mushroom-and-Swiss burger with fries or salad and a pickle spear, and it might be worth the distraction of some flashing lights and flesh. Or dress your burger with bacon and cheese, barbecue sauce and onions or blue cheese and steak rub for the same price.

There’s no avoiding the fact that the nature of this place casts much of what I write into double entendre land. We’ll just have to endure it. And so I note that I very much enjoyed the pressed pork panini ($7.25), squeezing tender meat into grilled tight buns. The secret here is a roasted garlic spread that adds sweet flavor to a combo that also includes cheese, cilantro, caramelized onions and jalapeno slices.

Other panini fillings include mixed Italian meats and cheese, chicken parmigiana, and roast beef and Swiss cheese (each also $7.25).

Wraps, for all their perceived dietary benefits, don’t always lend themselves to neat eating, but the fact that one of my came apart was hardly noticed, such was the unwrappage competition. With both hands firmly in place, you can enjoy a bacon-lettuce-tomato-turkey combo, tuna, roast beef, sliced pork, even a vegetarian assembly, for $7 apiece.

The traditional deli fare of turkey, roast beef, roast pork, tuna, salami and ham can be assembled into a club sandwich for $7.50 or in a more traditional setting of white, wheat, rye, Kaiser roll or ciabatta for a dollar less. Specialty sandwiches like a Reuben, barbecued beef or pork and grilled vegetables with provolone are in the $7 range, and there’s fish and chips for $7.

Here are more bargains: An eight-ounce NY strip steak for $11. Apple sausage-stuffed chicken breast for $10. Veal cacciatore (with mushrooms, peppers and onions in a sherry-tomato sauce) for $13.

Unless you’re from a family of unusual entertainers, I can’t say that DiCarlo’s feels like home. But I was there as the Thanksgiving decorations were giving way to Christmas designs, festooning a room already hung with posters and photos, many of them signed, of the personalities who’ve visited. And let’s face it: lunch and a show here is far cheaper than the movies these days.

DiCarlo’s Gentlemen's Club, 1165 Central Avenue, Colonie, 518-482-2696, Albany’s long-running strip club is now open only at night, and the menu has scaled back to such hors d’oeuvres as empanadas, mac and cheese poppers, spring rolls, fried mozzarella, and such. Open Mon 8 PM-1 AM, Tue-Thu 8 PM-3 AM, Fri-Sat 8 PM-4 AM. AE, MC, V.

Metroland, 11 December 2008

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