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.
As stunning fall colors settle into the leaves of Saratoga County, beer lovers gather at the Malta Drive-In to celebrate the changing of the season with 27 different German and seasonal fall craft beers. Traditional German food complements a wide selection of American seasonal favorites, such as the Fall Summit ale from Peak Organic Brewing Company and the traditional Oktoberfest beer produced yearly by the Spaten brewery. The organizers endeavor to entertain more than taste buds, arranging live musical performances throughout the day from German accordion player Herb Liebenhagen, Saratoga favorite Headband Jack, and the Bluz House Rockers. Visitors also partake in games and contests such as Best Brat Costume or Who Smells the Most Like Cabbage.
Chef Joe Sorbello fashions a menu of classic American fare and house-made creations at J and J Café. Midday diners avoid digging the family lunch pail out of the attic and instead opt for the café's signature Devil'd Dogs, hot dogs stuffed with deviled ham and then cloaked in crispy bacon ($4.99). Other noontime nourishment includes a bowl of venison chili ($6.99) and the house-made mac ‘n‘ cheese accompanied by two grilled kielbasas ($7.99). J and J Café also appeases appetites earlier and later in the day, with breakfast and dinner selections available. Opt for breakfast favorites such as buttermilk pancakes, french toast, and egg dishes, or pack up protein for a day of marathon sonnet writing with the house-made corned beef hidden beneath two poached eggs ($7.99). Dinner dishes include the 12-ounce bone-in pork chop, doused with gravy and barricaded by sides of roasted potatoes and asparagus ($12.99). Additionally, the create-your-own pizza ($6.99 for six pieces; $8.99 for eight pieces) grants eaters naming rights and a choice of red or white sauce ladled beneath two toppings.
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D.P. Dough’s extensive menu sports an appetite-sating array of unique calzones, tasty wings, and fresh wraps. Before setting into a bready entree, conquer a feta- and olive-laden greek salad ($6.48), or bulk up a saucy moustache with an order of baked wings ($4.63 for six). Each of D.P. Dough's calzones ($6.48 each) is as unique as a snowflake's mix tape: the A'wakin N'Bacon rises and shines with scrambled eggs, bacon, and mozzarella, and the lunch-ready Barbecue Steak overflows with steak, mozzarella, american cheese, and zesty sauce. The mozzarella- and garlic-accented Eggplant Zone buddies up with the broccoli-, mushroom-, and ricotta-filled Veggie Zone to fill the exclusive center of Venn diagrams charting vegetarian tastes.