The expert candy makers at Saratoga Sweets draft delectable concoctions to form a selection of more than 100 confections. Their 5.5-inch Peppermint Pigs arrive at a solid 8 ounces of hardened pink peppermint, packaged with a red-velvet pouch and nickel-plated hammer ($13.95) for smashing the candy into bite-size pieces as the Pig Wall of Fame looks on in silent judgment. White-, milk-, and dark-chocolate-covered chunks of almond buttercrunch ($15/lb.) please sweet-toothed archaeological hobbyists, who can revel in the historic layers of roasted almonds, crusted chocolate, and toffee that make up the tiny pieces of candy earth. Boxes of spring-water taffy ($5) serve as quick refreshments in place of bottled waters, and jars of chocolate mud ($6.50) yearn to envelop bowls of ice cream or igloos made of sugar cubes.
Let's meet our competitors. In the blue corner, weighing in at five pounds: a stack of oversized pancakes covered in whipped cream and fruit. In the red corner: you. The match is a single 30-minute round, and if you win, you earn a free meal. Few win. In fact, scores of potential champions have failed the Ugly Rooster Cafe's colossal pancake challenge, including The Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin, but so far none have been knocked out—just blown away by chef Ariel Pagan's fluffy pancakes.
Though nothing else is as colossal as the pancake challenge, the rest of Ugly Rooster's breakfast menu still packs stomachs pretty tight. Aside from omelets and breakfast burritos, the cafe's french toast soaks bread (or cinnamon buns for the more adventurous) in a batter that hints of vanilla and nutmeg. For lunch, the cooks assemble burgers with avocado and bacon or BLTs with fried green tomatoes and garlic mayo sauce. Whether refereeing a pancake challenge or simply greeting customers at their tables, Chef Pagan works side by side with his two children, Chris and Cesare, ensuring that the family-owned restaurant operates as smoothly as a production of Ball Bearings on Ice.
The treats at Control Tower Ice Cream are so tasty that they regularly cause pilots to land their planes near the shop. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Albany International Airport’s north runway is paved a few 100 yards from the creamery’s door. Regardless, from March to September, the staff serves nearly 20 specialty sundaes and more than 40 flavors of ice cream that woo adults and kids alike. More savory foods, such as hot dogs, burgers, and paninis, complement the desserts. After eating, guests can watch the planes land and take off or visit Control Tower’s go-kart track, miniature-golf course, or batting cages.
When Nord Brue and Mike Dressell began perfecting their bagel recipe with the help of a professional NYC bagel maker in 1983, the bagel was still an anomaly in the food world—it was geographically and culturally still isolated in New York City. Fueled by a desire to change that, the duo opened up the first Bruegger's deli with the hope of eventually introducing the rest of the country to the bagel. Brue and Dressell have since realized their dream, sharing their distinctive recipes and culinary traditions at 300 locations spread across 26 states. To this day, they oven-bake their centerless bread rolls every morning and afternoon, populating counter displays that also brim with daily made breads, Vermont cream cheese, and custom-roasted coffee.
Executive Chef Phillip Smith and his network of chefs still use the original five-ingredient recipe for their dough, which they shape into more than 20 bagel varieties. Because they draw from each region's local recipes and from dialogue and Pictionary games with local consumers, certain menu items may vary from store to store across the country. The bagels are often served with Bruegger's eclectic cream cheeses such as bacon scallion or pumpkin, or as sandwiches with meats, cheeses, and veggies often sourced from local or organic produce. Coffe gets just as much attention, with house blends of 100% arabica coffee.