Take a Bite out of...Albany!

Full disclosure, I am a volunteer in the Miss America Pageant Organization. I know, I’m one of those girls. My involvement in Miss New York activities take me all over our great state, most often to Albany, in which the state pageant is held. When we consider fun day trips or weekend getaways, it’s easy to ignore the Capital in favor of higher profile spots, like Lake Placid or the Catskills. But Albany is so much more than the home of our state legislature! It’s a great base for a weekend trip, and super easy to navigate. As someone whose parents frequently accuse her of not being able to find her way out of a paper bag, this is key. The hotel options are plentiful, and because the city sees so many business travelers during the week, fantastic rates can be found for weekend stays. From your base of Albany, it’s only a short drive to Saratoga Springs (so much more than horse racing – hello, fried chicken!), Lake George (outlet mall Heaven) or Cooperstown (baseball fans, stand up). We’ll explore some of my favorite places to eat in those areas in a future post. Today, we’re camping out in the capital.
There are plenty of fun things to do right in Albany. Coming up in early May, Albany blooms with the Tulip Festival. There are theatres, sports teams, museums, galleries, and shopping throughout the city. But this blog is called Big Hungry Shelby, so guess what I like to do best when I’m in town? You betcha. I’m scoping out restaurants!
One of my favorites is, gasp (!), located in the Crossgates Mall. I know, I know! I call myself a foodie, and here I am, telling people to eat at a mall restaurant! For shame! But give me the benefit of the doubt. The Standard Restaurant and Lounge is not a chain – it’s independently owned and very unique. Think…an upscale diner run by Humphrey Bogart. The décor is swanky, with large booths, 40s era details and modern lighting. It’s gorg in there. The ginormous menu boasts inventive appetizers, huge salads, sandwiches and burgers, plus traditional comfort food entrees dressed up with goodies like truffle oil, miso sauce and caramelized onions.
I happen to know that their bloody mary is one of the best in the state. Let’s just sidestep how I acquired that information. I’ve had a couple of the entrees here, like the meatloaf stack and the rigatoni marsala, which were good, but I keep coming back to the macaroni and cheese, which can be embellished with prosciutto and truffle oil. Now, I happen to believe that macaroni and cheese is one of Earth’s perfect foods. I like the cheap kind – straight from the freezer – and I like the homemade kind, with River Rat extra sharp cheddar and a hint of nutmeg in the béchamel. The Standard’s comes in a sizzling tray, crowned with that fantastic prosciutto and glistening with truffle oil, which I highly recommend. It is happiness incarnate. Plus, you can get a half portion, which is still enough for two Big Hungry meals! Bargain alert! I don’t know what three cheeses are wrapped up around those little pasta shells of delight, but this dish is soothing, groan-inducing and delicious. Don’t make the mistake of looking down on mac and cheese as too pedestrian for your tastes, just get it, eat it and thank me later. You’re welcome.

My friends in the waiting area at The Standard. This picture may or may not have followed some bloody mary consumption. It definitely followed mac and cheese consumption. The baby has vowed not to spill the beans either way.
If you’re in downtown Albany for an event at The Egg or goings on at the Capital, check out Jack’s Oyster House, on State St. Jack’s is much more upscale than The Standard, and has been operated by the same family since it opened in 1913. The interior is classic, with white tablecloths, crown moldings and checked floors. The service is high-end, too. When my family and I dined there last summer, our waiter was engaging without being intrusive, knowledgeable about the menu, and very attentive. Serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, Jack’s is old school, yet still affordable. The chef is classically trained in French techniques, so this probably isn’t the best place if you’re dining with children. But the risotto I had there was sublime: creamy, al dente, and fully flavored. The menu changes here regularly, so check things out online before you go. They also have a very affordable bar menu, which I haven’t tried, regretfully, because it features fried pickles and crab cake sliders!

You’ll be seeing more Albany recommendations from me later on this summer, after I spend four days there for the Miss New York Pageant in June. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I’m going to fill you in on my favorites in Saratoga Springs and Bolton’s Landing, which is near Lake George and the hometown of my girl Rachael Ray. So check back in with Big Hungry Shelby. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Jack's Oyster House on Urbanspoon

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