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.
Lee and Barrye Cohen have been roasting and brewing fresh beans into caffeinated elixirs since 1976, when they first began expanding horizons with then-unheard-of espresso and cappuccinos. Using the same trusty vintage coffee roaster they used back then, they continue to roast aromatic gourmet beans. They brighten mornings and afternoon slumps with traditional coffee or energize lattes, mochas, and chai with rich espresso. Chefs cook up a menu of updated classics daily with local farm-fresh eggs and housemade sauces, stacking egg sandwiches with andouille sausage and deli sandwiches with pit-baked ham.
On select evenings, melodies and spoken words can be heard emanating from the Troy location, which hosts an open-mic night where local artists play music or slam poetry books onto the floor as guests sip cocktails and wine. The Cohens are proud of their local roots, and give back the loyalty they've received by frequently donating to local charitable causes. Daily Grind also has an online store, which outfits kitchens with loose-leaf teas, cappuccino machines, and gelato machines from brands such as Baratza, Gaggia, and Nemox.
Whether it's the size of a dixie cup or enough to fill the bathtub, at Yeh! Yogurt, customers are in control of their servings. Amid fuchsia walls and bright-green accents, customers pull the levers on self-serve machines as the low-calorie, nonfat delight swirls into their containers. Available flavors rotate monthly and seasonally and include options such as fudge and marshmallow, spicy pumpkin, cake batter, and piña colada. More than 40 toppings such as candies, chocolates, nuts, and farthings cascade over yogurt peaks. Other sweet options include crepes, smoothies, and coffee drinks.
Named for Herman Melville, Melville’s Mug celebrates the esteemed author with walls the color of the deep sea and a pair of carved, wooden whales. Fair-trade and organic coffee blends from Capital City Roasters top the café's burnished counter, as well as freshly baked pastries illuminated by the soft glow of pendant lights and wall-mounted electric eels. The kitchen staff prepares a light menu of deli sandwiches, which diners can enjoy at a cluster of round, wrought iron café tables.
Times Union food critic Cheryl Clark didn't mince words when describing the Illium Steak Wedge salad at Illium Cafe, declaring it "a revelation." Tossed with the salad's bacon, toasted almonds, fried goat cheese, and blue-cheese dressing were "the most tender, flavorful medallions of beef I've enjoyed in a while."
The salad is one of the many dishes lovingly crafted from local and organic ingredients by the cafe's resident chef, Marla Ortega. Alongside salads, her lunchtime feasts spotlight innovative sandwiches, such as quesadillas filled with seared scallops, bok choy, and local cow's-milk cheese infused with black truffle. That spirit of experimentation remains for breakfast, when Marla mixes seared wild salmon into omelets and pairs banana-and-macadamia-nut pancakes with banana-infused whipped butter.
An entire menu of coffee drinks complements Marla's cuisine, running the gamut from gourmet roasts and frappes to iced drinks, which are made with coffee beans harvested from icebergs. The Times Union also praised the caf?'s elegantly decorated dining room for its "gorgeous woodwork," which complements its painted tin ceiling, pull-down glass windows, and landscape mural.
One step inside The Epicurean Bistro & Wine Bar and visitors are transported to a French village complete with tiled awnings, lampposts, and yellow-brick walls that ascend into a sky-like ceiling. The authentic French atmosphere was created by founding partner Claire, a French-Canadian and consummate traveller, and French-born executive chef Dominique Brialy, whose training has taken him all over the world. Working together, their restaurant was named named Best French by Metroland in 2012, won the Award of Excellence in 2013 from Wine Spectator, and earned a mention in the inaugural edition of Best Chefs America. They pour attention into the eatery's details, from the rustic wall sconces to the sage-scented parsnip purée that accompanies the roasted venison. Claire's husband and business partner Sandy has curated a wine cellar filled with 2,200 bottles from every region of France and internationally sourced varietals that complement every meal. Guests may also order from a full bar that features an extensive craft and imported beer selection, as well as an array of whiskeys, single malts, and bourbons.