Eatin' Pretty in the Spa City

Saratoga Springs – out near Albany – is one of those places you know is special from the second your car noses over the town limits. You can feel it and see it everywhere – from the beautiful old Victorian homes, to the picturesque main street, historic race track and spas dotting the scene with the frequency of convenience stores in big cities.

This is one of my favorite places in all of New York State. I’m constantly trying to talk people into weekend getaways to Saratoga, and when my parents and I are in the Albany area for the Miss NY Pageant each June, we usually make a pilgrimage over there. It’s just one of those towns that is completely unique and charming. And they have great food, too.

My first stop in town is Putnam Market, which is right on the main drag, Broadway. Putnam Market is a foodie paradise, with gourmet treats, an onsite bakery, prepared foods to go, and an attached wine store. They carry my favorite brand of chocolates in the world, Lake Champlain Chocolates, as well as fancy cheeses, local dressings and marinades and the famed Saratoga Water. On my last visit there in June, I even found bacon chewing gum! Ew and mmmmmmmmmmm…

Of course, I also love all the other fancy little shops on Broadway. A girl cannot eat nonstop all day long; she needs to fit some shopping in there to work up an appetite! This area has everything from Banana Republic and Talbot’s to chic upscale boutiques and my non-food favorite, the Saratoga Shoe Depot. This enormous store has great gifts, jewelry, clothes and of course, shoes!

For lunch, head over to Maple Ave and the Olde Bryan Inn. This step back into Colonial America is slightly off the beaten path of racetrack goers and spa crawlers, and was originally recommended to us by some locals. The Inn was established in 1773, and has had many iterations over that vast time span. Today, it’s a great stop for a mix of comfort food and new world tastes and a heavy dose of history to boot. It’s a great family spot, and our lunch for three only totaled $42, so it’s good if you’re trying to avoid the more high-end haunts Saratoga offers. I had the stuffed turkey sandwich, which if you know me, you know is right up my alley. Turkey and stuffing and gravy, oh my! The cornbread stuffing in the sandwich had great flavor and was studded with cranberries, and the gravy was clearly homemade. It was delicious and rich without being salty. And the turkey was hearty and wonderful; again, real turkey, not deli stuff. Someone is roasting some birds back there!

Mom had the monte cristo, which is another of my favorite things, so you know I had a couple bites. We both agreed that the ham was sweet and tender and that the meat and hollandaise on top were in perfect balance. The sauce wasn’t too heavy, but complimented all that delicious ham flawlessly. Dad ordered an odd little combo of the chipotle pepper beef chili with a side salad and a little mini nut muffin. The chili was fab – it had a little bite to it and was just salty enough. Surprising that a restaurant that’s pretty old school would trot out the new age chipotle peppers on the menu, but they worked really well in this dish. I associate chipotles with Bobby Flay, and this is not a Flay-style joint by any stretch of the imagination. The muffin was an odd addition to this plate, but Dad was thrilled with it and reported that it was pumpkin-y and moist.

Nut muffin spied at 11 o’clock. Heh.

We rated the Old Bryan Inn a 7 out of 10. The pasta salad side that came with the sandwiches was nothing to write home about, but the majority of the food we ordered was extremely well-prepared. It was really hot out the day we visited, so we ate inside, but there’s a covered patio that’s really charming. There’s also enough intriguing food on the menu that I would go back. If you’ve visited and tried the crab and lobster cake appetizer, French onion prime rib sandwich, carbonara mac and cheese, or the chicken and pumpkin walnut sauté, please report in! We just didn’t have a large enough party to try all these menu gems during our visit!

My next recommendation has already been touted by the Food Network, and trounced all over the aforementioned Bobby Flay on his program, Showdown. Hattie’s Restaurant is a Saratoga institution, and has not only the best fried chicken in the Northeast, but a kickin’ back patio bar. Do not miss this place when you visit Saratoga! The chef at Hattie’s, Jasper Alexander, has done his time at culinary school and chi-chi NYC eateries like Gramercy Tavern and Aureole, and is now living the good life upstate, churning out not only award-winning fried chicken, but old fashioned hush puppies, mac and cheese, chicken and dumplings, gumbo and ribs, all with a gourmet twist. He’s sourcing ingredients locally, treating his food with care and panache, and bringing folks back time and again for a legacy started in 1938 by Hattie Gray herself.

When we visited a couple years ago, we all had the fried chicken, natch, and it lives up to the hype. Crispy but not too thickly breaded, incredibly juicy, and very chicken-y (I can’t stand when chicken has no flavor at all)…it is a don’t miss. The mashed potatoes, too, were like homemade. And believe me, I make a mean mashed potato, and will not accept just any other version. Make sure to visit the back patio when you’re there – it’s tented and lit up with twinkle lights, and just has a great atmosphere. I’ve been dreaming of getting back to this place for an entire evening and some killer margaritas…although a manhattan or some southern comfort would probably be more apt! When I make it back, hopefully later this year, I’ll make sure to report back to you on a variety of eats, because I just know Hattie’s has so much more in store than her fried delights.

Saratoga is a place that captures you. It has that same magical quality Lake Placid does – you’re in Upstate NY, seemingly familiar territory, but you feel like you’re a world away. It’s a city I’ve visited twice and crave so much more of. I’ve still not seen the racetrack, nor visited the state park and soaked in the baths! It’s a great place for families, with sweet shops and bakeries right on the main street, historic sites to visit, the racetrack and state parks, etc. I think Northcountry families so often just assume Enchanted Forest and Darien Lake are the only defacto family vacation spots nearby, but the Albany area, with Saratoga, Lake George and the North Pole are really wonderful getaways! If you happen to have a daughter obsessed with horses or requesting a pony – a weekend in Saratoga could be just the ticket. And for foodies like me, Saratoga wins. The Olde Bryan Inn and Hattie’s just scratch the surface of this fantastic food town. There are plenty of accommodation options – from resorts like the Gideon Putnam and the Roosevelt Inn and Suites, all the way to Comfort and Holiday Inns and mom and pop motels. It gets really congested during horse racing seasons, but the edge seasons are absolutely divine. So hit the road with me, Big Hungry Shelby. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Olde Bryan Inn on Urbanspoon

Hattie's on Urbanspoon

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