Best Shrimp Ever. Nature’s Place Shrimp from Hannaford

The other day I was walking around my local Hannaford and was perusing the seafood counter. It was later at night, so the counter proper had closed for the day, but I poked around the freezer counter next to it and found the best shrimp in the Albany, NY / Cap Region area.

You heard me. Best. Shrimp. Ever.

I’ve been slightly disappointed by shrimp lately, and I wasn’t sure if it was shrimp in general, or just my tastebuds changing. Thankfully, it’s not me. It’s the shrimp.

I noticed the Nature’s Place bag of shrimp next to the regualar frozen shrimp for $8.50. I skeptically looked at the front of the packaging and read buzz words like “All Natural” and “Farm Raised”. Farm raised shrimp doesn’t really strike me as something all that great, but that’s just me.

I flipped the bag over and read the ingredients list. Shrimp. Salt. Shrimp and salt. No sulfites or other added preservatives like their other Hannaford brand frozen shrimp. I don’t like Hannaford’s other frozen shrimp because the preservatives in it give it an oddly rubbery and smooth texture, and the flavor is just bland and vaguely shrimpy.

I saw it was a product of Thailand, which I’ve heard is generally not that great from a sustainability standpoint (The Montery Bay Aquarium has great info on seafood sustainability, and a handy pocket guide).

But the call of minimally processed shrimp was too great to ignore at this point. I also looked at the “jumbo” shrimp that were treated with preservatives – they were smaller than these Nature’s Place shrimp! Bigger. Better…

“JUST TRY IT!!! IT’S SHRIMP WITH ONLY SALT! SHRIMP AND SALT! YOUR TWO FAVORITE THINGS IN THE WORLD!!” my inner voice shouted.

So I marched up to the register and bought it.

The shrimp were still frozen stiff when I got home, so I cooked them in boiling water. Now here’s a test. The shrimp with preservatives from Hannaford generally take an oddly long time to cook in boiling water (3-5 minutes) and just don’t taste that good. Weird texture thing, ya know?

These cooked up in about a minute or two. Keep in mind they’re larger, too. Once I got them out of the water, the first thing I noticed was the deep pink color, and how tightly the skins stuck to the shrimp itself. Then I noticed that there wasn’t really any shrinkage in the shrimp from raw to cooked. In my experience, the meat shrinks and the peels look loose on shrimp that has been processed, and the shrimp only get a pale pink color.

See? Hardly any shrinkage. Here’s a peeled shrimp on top of an unpeeled shrimp. Once cooked and peeled, it doesn’t lose much of its size.

Flavor-wise, it reminded me of the Royal Red shrimp I ate in Mississippi. It was shrimp like it should be. The texture and flavor were spot-on. The shrimp had a nice snap to it when bitten in to, and had a slightly sweet/briny flavor of the sea. There was no rubbery texture, and no questioning that you were eating shrimp. They were so good they didn’t even need melted butter. It would have been a great addition, but these shrimp tasted so perfectly like shrimp that I couldn’t bring myself to do it this first time. Next time, I’m bringing on the butter.

I know this is post is all “I love Hannaford and this brand of product” but I promise ya that this is just consumer love and goodness coming your way for an amazing product that I highly recommend trying if you’re as crazy about shrimp as I am.

Stuyvesant Plaza Chipotle Opening

Chipotle opens Tuesday, August 31st (tomorrow) in Stuyvesant Plaza (1475 Western Ave, Albany, NY). Hours of operation will be from 11 am – 10 pm daily, and their phone number is 518-459-1025

Chipotle will also be accepting SUNY Albany’s Podium Account cards. If I were a SUNY student, I think I know where I’d be spending all of my podium money.

As Steve mentioned, they will not be doing a free burrito day giveaway open to the public to mark the opening due to the crowds experienced at previous openings. Albany John and I were able to stop by as guests of Chipotle during their preview today. It is only open to those with previous physical invites (generally given to their neighboring businesses). Or lucky local bloggers.

Albany John got their beef tacos with hot sauce on them. So good. I wouldn’t suggest tacos to some office workers nearby (dudes, how many offices are near Stuyvesant Plaza? Looks like quite a bunch). It could be a messy situation. Get a burrito. Neat, and all wrapped in that yummy soft shell.

We also got chips. I got a side of guac, and he got a side of corn salsa. According to the calorie counts (on every menu), each baggie of chips is enough for two people (570 calories total). I don’t care. These chips were a little on the salty side, but the lime flavoring on them is so addictive, with or without guacamole. The guac was cream, fresh, vibrantly green, and had some nice sized chunks of avocado mixed in.

I got a burrito with half beef AND half chicken. Mild salsa, sour cream, and guac. When I got the guacamole, the person behind the line informed me that it would normally be an extra $1.85, except today everything was free. I thought that was a good way to inform the public. Nice, polite, and sure to avoid confusion in the future.

I also got a soda. Normally I don’t order sodas in fast food spots, but hey, it was free! And guess what? They had COKE FREAKING ZERO ON TAP! Woah, nice surprise. I am pretty indifferent to most carbonated drinks, but my achilles heel of soda is Coke Zero.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you how great my burrito tasted. Okay, I will – creamy goodness!

Beef and Pork burritos, bowls, and tacos cost $6.50 each. Chicken and vegetarian (black beans and guac) ones are $6.10. And don’t forget that they’ll also make you anything you ask them to with ingredients they have on hand. I’m pretty uncreative in that field, but I’m sure you could come up with some neat combos (have you?).

The set up of the store is pretty neat – there are low metal-topped counters lining the front windows with cushioned stools to sit at. There are other tables and chairs, but I thought this was the coolest seating. In comparison to the Clifton Park and Latham Chipotle stores, the Stuyvesant Plaza Chipotle is a smaller store with has less seating.

I think tomorrow I’ll stop by and see how they are doing on opening day. And I’ll probably buy a burrito bowl, since I usually only get burritos. But it will be hard to veer off of the burrito path. They’re so good.

Ala Shanghai & Sweet Temptations

Guess where I went for lunch again? Ala Shanghai! Their driveway is getting full with all of the popularity they are gaining!

This time I was joined by Dear Daniel (you might know him as The Profussor) and Little Miss Fussy! Dan hadn’t been to Ala yet but wanted to try it, so I figured it was a good spot to grab lunch and catch up. Hello, XLB!

After we were warmly greeted and seated, we got some free samples of the egg drop soup.
Uh oh, I think someone’s on to me and my not-so-secret identity!
There was a recipe change after I mentioned I thought it was a little gloppy the last time I was there. I read about the change earlier on their facebook page, and it knocked my socks off to know that something I mentioned was worth changing their recipe for.
It’s a great change, too. The soup is much lighter and tastes freshly of egg and corn. Now if you get one of their lunch specials, you’re really getting a deal! I think soup can be so-so sometimes when it’s included with a meal, but when included soup is good, oh man – that just makes it all the better.

And how can I go to Ala Shanghai without ordering the scallion pancakes? I can’t. We got two orders ($2 each). So crispy, flaky, and chewy all at once! Little Miss Fussy really liked them and kept clamoring for “More, please!”

Dan wanted to try the wontons in spicy sauce. 10 to an order, and covered in what seemed like three sauces in one. One dark and soy sauce-y, peanut, and a chili oil. They weren’t super-spicy (I ate them with no pain), just had a nice kick of heat to them. The sauce was a different one to me, but man oh man am I in love with how incredibly tender and thin those wonton wrappers are. You could easily see through them!
The meat inside was moist, and had a pleasing texture to it. It was a coarse grind/chop of meat which contrasted beautifully with the silky wonton skins.

Then the stars of the meal arrived! Two steamer baskets of pork soup dumplings ($4 each)! Xiao Long Bao, yaaaayy!

I first noticed how delicate these looked – more detail in the pleats, and skins that were a bit thinner than on previous visits. And the dumplings looked quite juicy and full of liquid.
AND THEY WERE!!!
These soup dumplings were juicy and are getting to the level of soup dumplings you may be accustomed to in New York City. They were full of hot, soupy goodness (plus meaty goodness, too).
Gotta eat XLB with more scallion pancakes.
Before it’s time for round two. More pork soup dumplings! Don’t forget your vinegar and special soy sauce and ginger slices, either – even juicer!

When I went to pay, I had to compliment Ala Shanghai on the progression of their soup dumplings, and the owner explained to me that they had made them intentionally non-very-soupy in the first place. Why? Liability! So people up here would get used to what they were and not burn themselves! So they’ve gradually increased the amount of soup in each dumpling the longer they have been open. Ah ha – mystery explained.

Also cool to know – he brought all of the staff up here from NYC. Everyone knows what they’re doing in the front and back of house, chefs and servers alike. He said he wanted to do it right up here, and I think they’re off to a great start.

We ordered the Shanghai lo mein noodles ($8). It had pork, chicken, and beef in it, plus some veggies.

The noodles were made in house! Ala makes their noodles from scratch about twice a week. The noodles were soft, and picked up a good amount of charred flavor. In Chinese cooking the char in stir fries is a good thing – it adds a little smoky flavor. If you don’t taste the char, the wok wasn’t hot enough to sear the ingredients!

Dan was asking if they made hand pulled noodles (he’s all spoiled from living in Cali). It turns out that you need a special chef who specifically knows how to pull noodles, and they’re very hard to find right now, even in NYC. I suppose the current noodle craze in the City doesn’t help either.

Still, these noodles were quite tasty.

Little Miss Fussy was head over heels in love with the noodles. She is not enjoying things that are green, so I helped with some of the veggies.

Heads up – if you’ve got an Entertainment book, Ala Shanghai has a 20% off coupon you can print out once a month. Our total for this visit was a very affordable $22 after that coupon!

They brought some heart shaped jelly bean candies before we left. I tried the green one, but we had other places to head to:

Like Sweet Temptations (496 Albany Shaker Rd, Colonie, NY). Dan misread his blog reader and thought the cake sample giveaway was today, but it turns out it was yesterday. Whoopsie.

SOME SWEETS! HAHAHA. Little Miss Fussy and I saw some other things that caught our eye.

Even though we were mistaken, they were still sweet as pie (or would that be cupcakes?) and gave us a free original cupcake to try. Killer!

And holy moly. I know the whole point of the free sample was over how you don’t need transfat based ingredients to make a good buttercream icing, but the cake is what stood out most to me. The icing didn’t really taste buttery to me but was plenty smooth, fluffy, and light. But the cake. Oh mama. It was SO incredibly moist. It was like a pudding cupcake. I usually think of the cake part of cupcakes as being vehicles for icing, but man, this vanilla cupcake alone made me think “Hmm, maybe cupcakes don’t need icing,”

THESE THINGS DON’T HAPPEN!! EVER!

Ok, so I have to say, Sweet Temptations has the best vanilla cake I’ve ever tasted. I will definitely be back for one. Maybe one without icing, even (but probably not. Hello, icing!).

And since I felt kind of guilty/odd that they gave us a free whole cupcake because we walked in and pretty much admitted we missed free sample day, I felt like I should buy something.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt this urge if both Little Miss Fussy and I had not immediately set eyes upon these Hello Kitty decorated cookies upon walking in. At least I was slightly more reserved and didn’t yell “KITTY!” when we saw them. Well, that loudly…

At $2.75, it was a bit on the higher end, but hello, Hello Kitty. And it was probably more icing than cookie, so it wins out in the Albany Jane frosting : item frosted ratio of things. The sugar cookie underneath all of that frosting was moist and just a bit chewy in the best of ways.

Man, I feel like their goods don’t even need icing. When’s the last time you ran across a baked good like that? My head’s ready to explode at the very idea: doesn’t need icing. Pshh, since when?!

And Little Miss Fussy even backed off the cookie when I was all OCD and like “Hey, no! I need to get a picture first! And smile for the camera!”

We managed to polish off about a third of the cookie (and cover ourselves in frosting). Dan also got a red velvet cupcake for $2.50. He liked the vanilla more, but I thought the red velvet was good, too. Solid cream cheese frosting (not too sweet or gloppy). I’d eat it again.

And get this – they also don’t bake JUST CUPCAKES. A good amount of their display case was cupcakes, but as you can see we also managed to sample a cookie, and they had some danishes for sale, too. And probably other things, but at this point I am off the walls filled with a sugar and XLB happiness high!

Mr. Fuji

Albany John was had a hankering for some sushi one night. We decided to venture out further than we normally would and try some Clifton Park sushi. It was a toss up between Sakura and Mr. Fuji in Clifton Park, NY.

Both Mr. Fuji and Sakura had coupons on CouponClipper.com. If you can save a few dollars and the coupons are there, why not?
Sakura had their website up online. But there was the mystery of Mr. Fuji… what was their menu like?
Mr. Fuji had some positive reviews on Yelp and Sakura had some meh reviews. Overall I’ve heard positive word of mouth reviews for both.

We decided to go with Mr. Fuji, at 19 Clifton Country Rd, Clifton Park, NY 12065. We google mapped it, and… The Google was wrong.
Turn RIGHT on Clifton Country Road, not left like Google says. Otherwise you end up in an apartment complex. But either way, y’know where Chipotle is in Clifton Park? It’s in the Hannaford plaza right across the street from it. Easy to find.

And I can’t fault them for not having enough signage. Hmm, I wonder what they serve? Oh yah, SUSHI!

We walked in and saw a mostly empty restaurant. It was small, but very clean and smelled nice (like food – yummy). There were a few booths to the left, a sushi bar in the back right corner, and some tables to the right. Some low lighting set a cozy and relaxing atmosphere. I’d go back to dine in.

If you can’t tell – we got our food to go. Two sashimi deluxes ($20.95 for 20 pcs sushi), tako appetizer, and seaweed salad.
The sashimi deluxes came with rice, miso soup, and salad. The rice was fine. The miso soup was a bit on the watery/bland side. The salad was the usual iceberg lettuce with a slice of tomato, cucumber, and some carrot shreds and ginger carrot dressing (a little on the creamy side).

Unlike most of the sashimi I’ve gotten from restaurants, the sashimi from Mr. Fuji came with garnishes on top of it. I don’t know why more places don’t do this. It was delightful!

There were also different types of fish in there than I’ve had… next time I’ll eat in so I can ask. You can see the salmon, tuna, and mackerel, but there was another one that tasted similar to the mackerel, but had darker spotted skin (the left hand side). And there was white fish with some orange topping. It was lightly fruity and went really well with the fish.

And OH MY GOSH, there was this other white fish kind of in the center with a brownish sauce poured over it. The sauce was sweet and thin, but it made the sashimi taste like pork! SO good. It was similar to the fat layers in crispy skinned pork (siu yuk). No need for soy sauce or wasabi with those bites.

Size-wise, these weren’t huge, but I found them easy to eat in one bite. You might say it’s on the smaller size of normal in terms of sashimi size.

My only gripe was that the tuna was a little mushy. Fresh tasting, but mushy in texture. Probably frozen and thawed one too many times.

There was also a ton of shredded daikon in each order. Usually it’s a little decorative bit (I still eat it), but there was a pillow of shredded daikon under almost every serving of sushi. I wonder if there was so much to fill out the container for presentation purposes because it was take-out? Just another reason to go back and dine in. Either way, made me feel like I was eating a bunch of veggies with my sashimi and being very healthy.

Here is a decent picture of the seaweed salad ($5.50). It was on the sweeter side, with some sesame flavor and a few sparse flakes of hot pepper (red bits). I think I would have liked it a little bit crunchier and saltier, but overall it was enjoyable.

You can also get a little peep of the included salad above the seaweed salad.

And finally, the octopus appetizer. I probably won’t get this one again, because although tasty, it was $7 for 5 thin pieces of octopus. I know seafood isn’t cheap, but c’mon. Seemed like a bit much since they were so thin. At least give me 2 more thin slices so I can kind of justify it at $1 per slice.

Still, I can’t fault them on presentation or flavor. They were fanned out beautifully over a bed of cucumber matchsticks and came in a light and slightly-tart dressing. Not heavy at all.

Overall, I’m eager to return to Mr. Fuji and dine at the sushi bar and suggest others do the same. The fish all tasted fairly fresh, and were presented nicely. For the most part, their prices were on par with any other sushi restaurant in the area and the atmosphere inside seemed friendly and inviting.

Supermarkets: which one do you like?

What is your favorite supermarket in the area? Where do you do most of your food shopping?

I usually like to shop at farmers markets, but they can be pricey sometimes. I usually visit non-chain stores in the area like the Honest Weight Food Co-Op, Asian Food Market on Colvin Ave, Asian Supermarket, Kim’s, Halal Meats, Roma Importing, Cardona’s, and other ones like them. I like the smaller businesses, and they usually have things I can’t get/find elsewhere.

I like Save-A-Lot as a discount chain store, but their supplies are often limited or of inferior quality to what I desire, so the chain supermarket I most often frequent in the area is Hannaford. Their associates are generally upbeat and chipper, the stores are clean and bright, and most of them are open 24 hours a day. For the most part, their prices are affordable, they don’t need a club card to monitor your purchases, and I don’t have much of an issue with the quality of their house brands.

I don’t shop at Price Chopper or Wal-Mart.
I’ve had some poor customer service experiences at Price Chopper to leave me with no desire to become a “Chopper Shopper” again. Generally these were at the crappier locations, like the Student Chopper on Madison Ave, and at the Westgate Chopper on Central Ave. Overworked and unfriendly associates left a bad taste in my mouth, and following up with customer service generally left me with an even worse opinion of the company. While they do have some great loss leaders, many of Price Chopper’s non-sale items are much more than they’d cost at Hannaford.
I pass on Wal-Mart because of how they treat their employees. I used to freaking love shopping at Wal-Mart. When Albany John and I first started dating, he was the one who was anti-Wal-Mart. But using my feminine wiles, I convinced him to start shopping there. I totally enjoyed some cheap-o pints of Ben & Jerry’s and other non-treat groceries. But dudes. Dudes. I’ve known people who work at Wal-Mart and all I’mma say is it’s a company I do not want to support with my hard earned doll-hairs.

I guess you could call me a bleeding heart liberal hippie or something like that. Most of why I shop somewhere is based on experience than price. But I don’t know. I just think that people should be happy where they work, and treat customers nicely. Most of the people I’ve talked to that work at Hannaford have been there for years and had no plans to leave any time soon. They’ve all said they were happy there, and were fine with how much they were paid. I like that.

At the end of the day, I don’t think I matter much to most supermarkets any way. I don’t mean this in a pitiful “poor me” kind of way. My shopping patterns tend to veer towards lower priced items. Flour, bulk pasta, broth/stock, beer (hey, gotta get the essentials), some cheeses, and most of my purchases are under $30 a go. I tend to purchase so little from supermarkets in comparison to the rest of my shopping.

Rt 66 Smokehouse Sausages and Burgers

Albany John randomly driving around the Cap District getting lost (anyone else like doing that?) and called me up:

John: “Hi, yeah, I’m somewhere in Rensselaer. I think. Or maybe East Greenbush.”
Jane: “Okaaay…” (I call him a lot randomly, too)
John: “I passed a laundromat, and some woods, and some animals and – woah, smokehouse. Call you back.”

**Click**

It turns out he was in Wynantskill and passed Rte 66 Meats & Smokehouse on Main Street.

He spent about $10 and brought home a few goodies to sample. Everything was about $2 each. Two Swiss and mushroom burgers, some chorizo sausage, spicy sausage, and regular sausage.

The burgers seared up nicely on the stove and were filled with tons of shredded swiss and mushroom bits.

The sausages were kind of explode-y.

We couldn’t figure out if Albany John had manhandled them in between buying them, transporting them, and taking them out of the fridge to cook, but these seemed to be delicate sausages. Every single one of them had burst, and oddly enough, none of the ends were tied or anything. Just loose ends of casing.

See? Explodey. I didn’t get why there were no tied ends on here, either. That’s my favorite part of the sausage. All of the snappy casings concentrated in one end.

The casings were natural, but so very thin.

They cooked up okay in the broiler. Tada, naturally cased sausages!

Albany John did a great job searing the burger. Mmm, dark crusty goodness.

And pinky interior goodness! Man, look at that cheese! These burgers were savory, melty, and good. They had a coarse grind to them, which I love in a burger. Makes it feel more substantial and meaty. I’d get these again. And the swiss tasted sharply swiss. Not just melty and cheesey.

The sausages were fine, but not great. I think they were all chicken sausages? They were very lean and finely ground, except for the big guy on the right. I think that one was pork, but still finely ground. I like sausages with nubbins of meat in them, not finer grinds. The consistency is too paste-y to me when they’re ground finer.
I don’t think I’d get the sausages again. I liked the spicier ones, but overall the texture and flavor weren’t enough to pull me to try them again. But the burgers and other meats, I am definitely interested in trying again at some point.
So far the best chicken sausages I’ve had in the area are from Cardona’s – juicy, moisty, and plenty of snap to their casings. I’d bought those on a lark, but was surprised with how good they were.

Oh, and crusty bread is also pretty good with sausages. I made no-knead bread. And good lard, it is sticky stuff in this humidity. I’d up the flour to 1 3/4 of a cup in this NY summer weather. Way too wet of a dough.

Rte 66 Meats & Smokehouse is located at 195 Main Ave, Wynantskill, NY 12198. Phone: 518-283-0482.

Farmers Markets Saturday

I went to the Menands and Troy Farmers Markets before heading to the track on Saturday.

Um, hello, I had Dream Puff marshmallows to sample! This one was coffee, but I’m with Ginny – I think it tasted like chocolate. (And chicky, I don’t care what your samplers say, Godiva liqueur is always a good thing to add!)

But before I went to Troy, I hit up the Menands market first. Sweet Jebediah, I love that Amish stall. Whoopie pies, and cookies, and all those sweet, fatty treats. If I were Amish I’d have to be hooked up to the plow to burn off all of the calories from all the food I’d eat.

But after the Menands market it was Troy time where I made a beeline for DP Marshmallows before running around and getting the rest of my weekly shopping done before trying to head out and be somewhere on time.

Saratoga

This past Saturday, the husbear and I went to Saratoga Race Track. I was unfamiliar with Saratoga’s popularity until moving to the Capital District. When everyone started talking about Saratoga, I’d wonder “What is Saratoga?” or What was up with Saratoga Springs, NY, horse racing, and the big to-do about it all? I’m not into horses or anything, so even though I’d grown up in NY state, I had never heard about Saratoga. But up here, it’s hard to not hear about, given its proximity and all.

Saratoga is the casual way of referring to both the city of Saratoga Springs, NY, and the race course at Saratoga Springs. I have friends who love Saratoga and grew up spending summers at the track. I’ve been under a handful of times. Here is my most recent excursion to the track, and some of my observations. Maybe you will find them handy if you’re like me (i.e., not into horses, like food and beverages, not a big gambler).

You first find parking. There is free general admission parking at the track, but there are loads of other places that are close that will charge you something like $5 to park your car. But if you don’t mind walking a bit, the free parking is fine. They had a courtesy shuttle, but all in all I think it was under 1/4 of a mile, and we got there late.

There’s this thing called Post Time, and it’s when the races start. Usually the first post time is around 1 or 1:30 pm, and there are 11 races throughout the day. We got there after the first post, which meant we walked longer from the free parking. The doors open around 11 am for general admission, so parking is easier to find then.

General admission is $3 per person, which is paid at the gates when you enter above. There is no stamping or wrist banding. Once you enter, you are in. If you leave, you pay another entrance fee. So don’t leave anything in the car unless you are willing to pay another entrance fee if you need to leave.

You see the peace officers with white chains? There are horse pathways throughout the race course that intersect with people walkways. There are people stationed at them to close off walkways to the public when horses come through.
One of the big things to remember at Saratoga is that horses always have the right of way. These are pampered, high-energy horses that are worth thousands of dollars. And no flash photography. This particular jockey (guy riding the horse) stopped the horse there so a little kid could get a better look at the horse. Quite nice of him.

The horses seem to know they have the right of way, and walk through pretty unbothered by all of the fuss around them. I was caught at one of these horse crossings while exploring the grounds.
The only other time I was at Saratoga was while a guest of someone in the At The Rail pavillion, so I didn’t get the opportunity to do any exploring, and found the whole thing to be, frankly, quite boring. Bad food, people betting, and some horses on TV. Whoop-dee-doo for a first-timer who had zero interest in any of it, right?

Oh, and as an aside, since my only other experience was At The Rail, I figured I’d need to find a nice dress and maybe a hat to wear to the track. Saratoga is overloaded with posh looking and moneyed people during track season, and I do love a good dress code. Albany John said it was unnecessary for me to find a fitted dress because:

Albany John: “You know how in Titanic there was the upper deck with the rich people dressed all nicely?”
Me: imagining that we’d be in some area with chamber music and ball gowns “Yes!”
Albany John: “And then there’s the lower level? And the level under that?”
Me: “Uhhhmmm, yes? …”
Albany John: “And under all of that, there’s the Irish level, where they’re sweaty and dancing and drinking a lot? That’s going to be our group.”
Me: “So… no dresses?”

I still wore a dress, damnit. But one of those stupidly casual jersey fabric ones. And guess what? I could have worn a cocktail dress and fit in, ALBANY JOHNNNNNN.

I consoled my semi-casually dressed self with finding Shake Shack. It was really easy to find. I always mean to go to the original Shake Shack in Central Park, NYC, but never do manage to make it over. I figured this was as good a time as any to try it. Unline the NYC Shake Shack, there weren’t many people in line at all.

They have a simple menu. Burgers, dogs, fries. And really expensive beer. Well, most things at the track are expensive, and most prices in Saratoga are expensive during track season.

The meat that goes into the burgers is angus, antibiotic- and hormone-free. Given that, $5.75 isn’t too expensive, especially at the track.

After putting in my order, I waited and looked at Blue Smoke. Not very busy there, either.

My wait was about 10 minutes. Must have been made to order. They were calling out names on tickets when they were done, which would have been easier were it not for the very loud speakers positioned right above their awning that projected track related stuff intermittently.

I got a shackburger and fries. $9.50 total. The burger price I didn’t really mind, but $3.75 for these fries seemed a bit steep. But I figured I may as well try them since I’ve heard so many good things about them, too. Carpe frites, right?

I was a big fan of the burger. Soft potato roll (I’m usually anti-potato roll, but these got me to change my mind), loosely packed meat, fresh toppings. I couldn’t really taste the shack sauce, though. But everything came together really well. I don’t know if it’s better than the sum of its parts, because every part of it was quite tasty.

I really, really liked the meat, though. Perfectly salted, and bursting with beefy flavor. It was cooked all the way through, but not at all dry. I’d opt for one of these over Five Guys any day.

I probably could have also eaten a double shack burger pretty easily, too. The single patty was more like a light lunch (on its own) than a substantially large burger. But in these times of burger behemoths, it’s nice to have a burger with a size that one can reasonably consume.
The fries… meh. I think they were fine for track prices, but I wasn’t really in love with these. They were crispy on the outside and soft/potato-y on the inside, and well salted, but… I just wasn’t feeling them. They just tasted like industrial crinkle cut fries. Fine, just not my cup of tea. For $3.75, I’ll skip them next time and get a double shackburger.

You don’t have to subject yourself to buying food from the track. Saratoga Race Course also allows you to bring in coolers of your own food, provided you don’t have any glass containers. So you can bring in a whole picnic, complete with beer or wine so long as they are not in glass containers. It makes a day at the track very affordable.

But if you really want to spend money, there are gift stores throughout the track. Plenty of places willing to take your money.

Lots of bar areas, too. You can walk around Saratoga freely with a can of beer or a cocktail glass. Beers were around $6+ each, and I saw one bar stand selling Grey Goose cocktails for $12.

In addition to easily accessible bars, Saratoga Race Course also has a plethora of accessible rest rooms that are incredibly clean and neat. I was impressed – I was expecting a scary public restroom, but these were enjoyable to use.

If you are sitting outside, you should bring a chair, unless you arrive early enough to snag a picnic table. Thankfully someone in our group got there early and got a table outside, so Albany John and I had a place to sit. We don’t really have chairs, which is something we should work on…

But there are other seating options inside. I thought this part was funny – it was in between the outside of the track and the track itself. It was covered, but the track was just a few more feet away, and yet people would sit inside and watch the races.

Here’s the NYRA-only area of the track. Looks nice. They wisely don’t let riff-raff like myself in. Or, y’know. People without NYRA badges. The covered seats are grandstand seating for people who pay clubhouse admission. There is more seating to the right that is not NYRA-only, and you only need to pay $2 more to have access to the club house, bringing your total admission fees to $5 per person.

I wasn’t curious enough to shell out the extra $2 – there was plenty for me to see just in the general admission area.

I decided to watch an actual race since I was at a horse racing track and all. It was pretty boring and over quickly. There was some inital excitement when they were initially parading all of the horses out though – #2 ran off without his trainer and they were scrambling to rein it in. But since I have no interest in horses or racing, all of the excitement of the race was lost on me.
I eventually returned to Albany John and his group and have decided that Saratoga is fun from a social aspect – It’s partly like a county fair, and partly like a park. You don’t pay much to enter, and you get a ton of people watching in one spot. And the bathrooms at Saratoga are way cleaner than those at a park or fair!

These also cracked me up – the covered TVs outside, so the masses can see what’s going on inside the track if they placed bets, etc.

Buh-Bye Ms. Pasko Brunch

Yesterday was a good luck/bye brunch at Jess‘ place. She’s headed off to the windy city (Chi-town) and some folks in the area brought some goodies and ate food in celebration. Fondue, fruit, bagels, croissants, ham, and desserts.

I made gluten-free mini red velvet (well, pink velvet) cheesecake. I think it could have been sweeter. The g-f part was the cookie base. I thought it tasted like an oreo, and Albany John called it a molasses cookie. Either way. Not bad.

I’m pretty sure I could bathe myself in cheese fondue. It would be hot, but cheesily delicious.

She also had free stuff to give away in light of her move, and I’m currently rocking a cute pair of kitten heels.

Washington Tavern

Last night I went to a Mushroom growing workshop (more on that later). One of my friends from college moved back to town and he and his fiance met us there. After we reveled in shroomy goodness, we headed to Washington Tavern.

Washington Tavern is better known by many in the area as WT’s, or simply T’s. My blurred out picture won’t do it much justice, but the exterior is clean and solid looking. When I first came to the area, Washington Tavern seemed fitting title for its polished looked. But after time, like a friend, WT’s fit better. And after a few nights drinking pitchers and cheap wing specials, T’s works every so often, too.

Another thing that’s always tickled me is that WT’s is located at 250 Western Ave, Albany, NY 12210. Western Ave. Washington Tavern. On Western Ave.

WT’s has drink specials any given night of the week. Our gang decided to go with the buckets of Yuengling. $6.75 for 5 Yuengs (The prices on their website are off/old). I thought it was fitting that they put it in a Saratoga bucket. Non-Cap Regioners – Saratoga’s a horse racing event. People that are in to horse racing know about it. I hadn’t heard of it before I moved here. But it’s kind of a big deal to some folks up here. Any way…

They also had buckets of twisted tea for $6.75, but I was the only one that wanted them. But, y’know… maybe next time, haha.

WT’s is such a melting pot. There are locals, people of all ages. And T’s is also popular with the students. It can get pretty loud, but nothing ever too rowdy. That’s when you’ll see girls dolled up in minis and heels and older guys wearing an old t-shirt. Kind of a neat juxtaposition of clothing styles. Albany John got Irish Nachos ($8.25). It was a big platter of fried potatoes, corned beef, and all the usual nacho fixings. He left a few nachos on his plate, but the poatoes were really well fried. Crispy outside, and soft insides. Kind of like a potato chip, but not… I’m doing a shitty job of describing it, but imagine a thick kind of potato chip that isn’t crispy all the way through… and that it is awesome. Well, that is what these chips taste like.

My friend ordered pub fries too – they’re more shaped like steak fries, except they stayed crispy and didn’t get soggy on their exteriors. How awesome! I’ll venture a guess that Washington Tavern knows their way around a fryer.

Being the dainty flower I am, I ordered the cheeseburger with sweet potato fries ($9.50, $1 extra for sweet potato fries). It came out rare as ordered. I think it could have used a little more seasoning. I’m a salt fiend, so I might be biased there, but a little more flavor kick would have bumped it up to a great burger. The inside was a nicely coarse grind and juicy. I’d have taken a picture, but the lighting wasn’t that great and I probably would have pissed someone off taking so many flash pictures.

Good bun – soft and toasty without being overwhelming. The sweet potato fries were great! Crispy all on the outside and soft and sweet potato-y on the inside. No sogginess at all. They had a generous sprinkling of flaked salt on them, too. Yum. Definitely worth the extra buck.

I ate everything with surprising ease and speed. There was also a little bowl of fruit pieces. Nice way to end the meal.

Solid meal. I usually order the wings when they are on special ($7.75 for 12 otherwise). They’ve got a few $0.40 wing nights and serve them crisply-skinned, well-sauced, and moist on the inside. They’re some of my favorite wings, so if you get the chance to try them out, do. But if not, these are pretty tasty offerings as well.