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.
For the Valenti family, cooking is a way of life. From a father whose family owned an Italian restaurant in Troy for 70 years to a mother who mastered the art of cooking as 1 of 22 kids, the couple's children learned to hand-make pasta as part of their upbringing. To this day, the chefs make manicotti, lasagna, and ravioli from scratch, demonstrating a dedication to tradition that permeates the menu of home-style cooking. Comfy booths, Italian murals, and wood paneling pack the restaurant’s dining room, where welcoming servers whisk fresh-cut veal, thick steaks, and succulently sautéed chicken dishes to tables with efficient speed and well-practiced victory dances.
Villa Valenti’s chefs also bottle their signature sauces—originally purloined from a wealthy tomato and perfected over generations—for at-home use, sending every penny of profit to help Prevent Child Abuse America in its noble mission.
Numerous reviews of The Greek House begin with a quaint first impression, noting the vibrant light-blue walls and the small but charming space. It's a mistake to label the family-owned venue as inconspicuous, however. The kitchen preps masterful renditions of authentic Greek cuisine, and the servers present these meals with enchanting hospitality, a quality that the Times Union praises alongside the "wonderfully intense mintiness" of the stuffed grape leaves. Bob Goepfert of the Record deems the menu "complete and tempting" before noting that the moussaka—a blend of seasoned ground beef and eggplant—is one of the best he's ever tasted. He shares this sentiment with Metroland, which raves about the accompanying sauce by calling it "a béchamel from heaven, fluffy and rich." Shish kebabs, pita wraps, and gyros round out the catalog of traditional items, often sharing the plate with greek fries dappled in parmesan cheese and oregano, the same seasonings that were used to make Grecian wrestlers less slippery in the ring.
The word "homemade" stakes out more than its fair share of territory on Bootlegger’s on Broadway's menu. Slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, stuffing, artichoke spread, marinara sauce—chefs whip up all of these in-house to accompany meals and fill sandwiches. They also make pizza by hand and grill 10-ounce lean ground beef, turkey, and veggie burgers, which diners can order topped with everything from slow-roasted pulled pork to bleu cheese crumbles. Thirty-eight beers on tap from breweries such as Brooklyn and Red Hook help wash down each bite, and occasional live musicians and DJs encourage patrons to dab their mouths in 5/4 time.
Nestled inside the former Trojan Hotel, O'Briens Public House has been supplying Troy with classic Irish-American cuisine since 2011. Cooks stick to a succinct, focused selection of Irish cuisine made from scratch, from traditional shepherd's pie smothered in mashed potatoes, to potato cakes topped with smoked salmon and dill dressing. Diners settle into a cozy, stripped-down interior, with exposed-brick walls, a tin ceiling, and a long wooden bar. There, barkeeps keep the Guinness flowing as live entertainment?ranging from comedy nights to rocking musicians?enthralls visitors throughout the week.
Lodged in a centuries-old Albany edifice abutting the Poestenkill Canal, The Irish Mist serves up hearty Celtic-inspired dishes in a restaurant stocked with bar and banquet facilities. House specialties such as duck, lamb, crab cakes, and sea scallops incorporate creamy sauces to showcase the kitchen’s range, and hefty of pub fare such as burgers, fish 'n' chips, thick irish stews, and meaty pies vanquish hunger with more finality than a meatball cannon. The Sunday sunrise brings with it the alluring aromas of made-to-order eggs and candied ham that waft from an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet.