Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Exotic Albany

Unexpected Jewels in New York's Capital City

I visited New York's capital region, a destination rich in Americana. Among the bowling alleys, drive-in movies, estate sales and homey porches are community vegetable gardens, old school diners, and a solid tradition of soft-serve ice cream.

There are piles of old cookbooks to be found in junk stores and garage sales, from church-lady collections to volumes compiled to promote a single product, such as Diamond walnuts or bananas or peanut butter. I love the illustrations of these books, especially the gelatin depictions. Luminous and futuristic, I try and understand the appeal; how it might have seemed modern to suspend food in any shape we wanted,with gem-like chunks set in a color-coded and quivering force-field. As interested as I am in texture and mouthfeel, imagining these dishes in my mouth does an effective job of reinforcing my interest in authentic foods. Especially ones I can't suck through my teeth.

At our visit to the Pig Pit barbecue joint I was thrilled with fried okra, sliced brisket and corn fritters. My southwestern genetic heritage giggled as I focused on my okra and glanced around to see the words "tamales", "Frito pie" and "RC Cola". I knew not to get too excited about the Frito pie, and was right to be skeptical as I saw one being made, apparently created with a dollop of everything edible in the room.

At the Snow Man in Troy, NY, I had the most perfect soft cone of my life. It had a beautiful texture and was so dense and smooth that it displayed the fine lines from my tongue for a moment before slumping slightly into a mirror-melt surface.

Lunch at the Miss Albany Diner was a wonderful adventure. Its a compact original diner on an industrial stretch of road and has clearly staked out its greasy place in the world. There are rules posted everywhere mostly pertaining to how your kids should behave ("perhaps you should look into acting schools if your kid is attracting the attention of other patrons") and how many people can sit in the small wooden booths on what days that there are no substitutions. The cook regularly comes out to serve food and joke or give people a hard time, and there is an inventive "gourmet" side of the menu, which is totally unique. I had some pork sausage ("we make it in the kitchen and it has herbs, such as sage") with eggs and several cups of coffee.

On the way out I go in an abandoned-looking office furniture place across from the Miss Albany Diner to see if they have anything old or interesting. It looks like no one is there, but eventually a towering, shiny woman appears from behind a bank of computers and shows me some old (lame) stock in the back room. As I am leaving without chairs I notice that the mysterious office furniture woman is tanned and made up and hair pouffed and is wearing several inch high black patent leather heels with ankle straps and a satin miniskirt and top. Maybe this is Miss Albany herself?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Next time, also be sure to check out TOLL GATE ICE CREAM in Slingerlands (just a hope down I-87 from Smalbany)!


It's good all year round, but my favorite is the Watermelon Sherbet in the Summer. It's right near my grandmother's house, so perhaps I am also swayed from all the years of going there with the fam.