Ambition Coffee House and Eatery tempts patrons to linger for hours at its bar or at the charming hodgepodge of tables and booths as they order from a menu packed with breakfast specialties, sandwiches, espressos, homemade gelato, and libations. Sink into a plush red chair beside the fireplace with an egg-and-cheese croissant ($3.50), or nosh on one of 16 specialty sandwiches, such as the Maryland-style crab cake on a grilled pita ($9). Green and yellow walls ensconce patrons as they sip martinis, wine, and specialty cappuccinos at the bar or around patterned tables. Ambition Coffee House and Eatery also hosts weekly live events and millennial tectonic-shift parties.
Baristas at Altamont Coffee Café froth fresh-ground coffee drinks made from locally roasted beans, and dish out quiches, crepes, and sandwiches stuffed with healthy local ingredients. The bistro's menu tells the savory story of a daily vegetarian quiche ($6.95) and a rotation of fresh fillers. Spicy curry powder balances sweet mango chutney in the chicken curry wrap ($6.95), and the caprese panini unites basil, tomato, and mozzarella on a crispy baguette ($5.95). Fresh off the griddle and confident, the blueberry crepe ($3.95) steps into the ring with a pastry chef who lands blow after blueberry blow as orange marmalade shouts encouragement from the corner and sour-cream maple syrup watches with an expression bordering on concern.
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.
No matter how hard he tried, Kevin Brown couldn't shake the chef's hat. After years of working in restaurants and hotels throughout Connecticut and New York, he finally decided to leave the kitchen for good in exchange for a family-friendly job at GE. Once he retired, though, the siren song of the professional kitchen beckoned to him again, and he purchased a Cajun catering company. In no time, Kevin Brown was back in the kitchen at Café NOLA, which stands for New Orleans, Louisiana.
As both the chef and owner, Kevin devises a menu that spotlights the distinct blends of herbs and spices that characterize Cajun food. As a result, the kitchen churns out alligator bites, crawfish nachos, and crab cakes, as well as sandwiches with a Southern influence, such as the NOLA club and a grilled portobello sandwich. Honey-stung fried chicken served with cornbread makes stomachs grumble from across the room, and étouffée, a house specialty, sails out to guests accompanied by dirty rice. The beignets aren't the only sweet thing around the place—live entertainment occurs up to five evenings a week, running the gamut from tarot-card readings to zydeco music.
Beneath the ruddy brick walls of Iron Roost, the clatter of forks punctuates conversation drifting from low-slung leather couches. A range of irons close with a sizzle, sculpting batter into golden squares, heart shapes, or silhouettes of the inventor of the waffle, who was perfectly round. The batter is infused with garlic and herbs, cinnamon, or a range of other ingredients, and savory toppings include swiss cheese, pesto, cheddar, and bacon. Sweet waffles are crowned by swirls of whipped cream, fresh blueberries, and tawny splashes of Nutella. The chocolate-and-hazelnut spread matches the dark tables around the lounge-like dining room, where patrons click through free WiFi on laptops.
Bake For You’s confectionery magicians mix together organic sugar and flour, free-range eggs, and creamy Vermont butter to conjure forth a daily menu of cupcakes, cookies, scones, and other decadent desserts. Made-to-order and filled with coconut and chunks of pineapple, carrot-cake cupcakes hide from prowling bunnies under thick swirls of cream-cheese icing. The oven light never sets on Earl Grey brownies ($27/dozen), which honor their queen with a crown of powdered sugar and impeccably polite chocolate flavors. Oatmeal-cranberry cookies ($18/dozen) harbor just enough bite to deter potential sweet-treat snatchers, and crispy scone sextets ($15) blend butter, cream, and flour with in-season fruits or savory cheddar and thyme.
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 bleu-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 café's elegantly decorated dining room for its "gorgeous woodwork," which complements its painted tin ceiling, pull-down glass windows, and landscape mural.