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Greasy Spoon Report: Eating out in Albany and Greene Counties Always Disappoints!

10 Jun

The good weather is here and we are venturing out looking for scenery and a nice brunch or lunch in fresh air and sunshine. For generations, southern Albany County and much of Greene County and Southwards was the place to go but that much has changed for the absolute worst.

With very few exceptions, there’s just nowhere in the area to go for service and good food, unless you’re ready to have to reserve a week in advance and then be prepared to pay Manhattan prices for Smalbany quality and service. But then there’s Montréal just 3-4 hours away, which is probably how long we drove around trying to find someplace for brunch, which turned into a late lunch this Sunday.

The Greasy Spoon Report

I’ll share the moral Yes! There is a moral  — to this article so you can keep it in mind as you read:

You never know who you are dealing with; be your best at all times.

It’s true. This Sunday’s weather was beautiful. Imagine: Three days in a row of sunshine and pleasant temperatures. Of course we were sick of sitting indoors, so we headed out to an area that used to be known for it’s resorts, cafés, restaurants, and venues: The Catskills. For us it’s been the area around Cairo and Purling. the area offers beatiful scenery and used to feature some really great but small places to get good food. But that’s all changed.

Let’s start with one of the more representative of the ongoing failures of the area. After driving around only to find our favorite places either closed or simply gone in the space of a year, we had to settle for a small place called the Log Cabin Cafe (outside of Cairo, in Purling). I describe how we ended up there below but here’s the story about our experience.

 

The Log Cabin Cafe was not our first choice. In fact we drove past it twice before deciding we had had enough of restaurants that were either deserted, didn’t care enough to post hours of operation, had idiots for staff, or just plain were out of business (more on this below). It all started when we walked in and were told that we had to sit at the counter. I looked around and right next to us (we were two persons), was a 4-top, with a couple of tables finishing up (also 4-tops) and two tables for two. I don’t eat a the bar or at a counter. Sorry. So I pointed out the empty 4-tops and asked what’s wrong with that? The hostess’ response didn’t set the mood when she responded, “Oh. That’s for four people. We might need it if someone comes in.” I responded “Well, someone has come in and you do need it. Wouldn’t you rather have it occupied that sitting there waiting for someone to come in?” She finally agreed to let us have the table. In the meantime, other tables had become available, and the counter was occupied.

The hostess was friendly enough and the  place was kind of pleasant. The menu looked sparse (Log Cabin Cafe Menu) but adequate, and the hostess offered to recite the specials, which sounded interesting, but that’s where they stopped. Interesting but lousy.

“If I want ‘friendly’ I’ll go to a whorehouse. That’s where I pay for ‘friendly.’ When I go to a restaurant I pay for good service and good food, not for ‘friendly.’ 

The coffee was weak. That’s a very bad sign from the start. If you can’t offer a good cup of coffee, that is, a cup of coffee that doesn’t taste like some old lady’s reused teabag, that’s a sure sign that you’re dealing with amateurs. In the middle of the meal, we noted that the coffee had run out, and nobody seemed to care to make a fresh pot. I signalled to the waitress and asked if there would be a refill, and she said she had to make a pot. I agreed and noted, “Can you please make sure there’s coffee in the basket this time. Mine tasted like tea.” She responded with something like “hot water,” but I ignored it. Major Mistake No. 1. Don’t try to be smarter than the customer — you’re probably not (that’s why you’re serving him and not the other way around); offer to do better.

We had placed our order and asked for two ice waters with lemon. The ice waters came and they had slices of lemon. They also had a very strong odor of sulfur and tasted awful. The lemon didn’t help, and only made the water taste like rotten eggs with lemon. I mentioned to my guest that I would have expected that they would have cared enough to at least use or offer bottled water, given the horrible smell and taste of the well water. They didn’t. Major Mistake No. 2.  If you know your water tastes like it came from the Ravena public pool or from the local sewerage treatment plant, offer bottled water! More to come.

The wait was excessively long for an omelette and pancakes. More like 20 minutes during which we had finished our mimosas, and our coffee, and were not offered refills on the coffee. Not only that, the coffee had run out — they apparently were running only one carafe at a time — so even when we got someone’s attention, we still had to wait for a fresh pot to brew. Major Mistake No. 3. If you’re serving, SERVE! Don’t make the guest follow you! And make sure you have something to serve! I’m  not done yet; more to come.

Still waiting, the hostess told us our food was coming soon. By this time I had almost forgotten what I had ordered. It was a “special”: sweet potato pancakes (which could have been SWEET POTATO pancakes or sweet potato PANCAKEs two very different animals), local organic maple syrup. STOP there. I asked if I could substitute the sweet potato pancakes for regular pancakes if ordered the combo breakfast, which included pancakes OR French toast with “homefries”, two eggs, and bacon or sausage or ham, or honey ham “steak”. I wanted to try the sweet potato pancakes and was prepared to pay a little extra, if necessary. The waitress agreed to make the substitution. And we waited. And waited.

The food finally came. Well, what they claimed was our order finally got to the table. My guest’s omelette, a special, “Hawaiian omelette with ham and pineapple,”  was, well not really an omelette as most of us know omelettes. It was eggs, thinly sliced deli ham, and pineapple in a sweetish sauce. When mine arrived in front of me, it took some imagination to make it actually my original order. Homefries were more like boiled potatoes with onion. The scrambled eggs were dry. The “ham” consisted of four thin slices of sandwich deli ham that had barely touched any heat, but even so, if they had served a single slice of the same ham, thicker and even browned, given the wait, it might have come close to marginally acceptable. The pancakes were the final straw: they were neither sweet potato PANCAKES nor SWEET POTATO pancakes. They were clearly just pancakes, maybe whole wheat pancakes, that were very heavy on the cinnamon or allspice and very weak on anything anyone could identify as “sweet potato.” My order was called the “Hiker” and you’d think for almost $10, that it would be enough for a hearty outdoors person. It wasn’t. More like a badly done kiddie’s meal. Major Mistake No. 3. Be generous and try to impress; put performance where your mouth is. There’s an old saying in business that most Capital District (and Greene County) so-called buisnesses have forgotten: “Nice words don’t butter the parsnips.” Think about that while I go on.

The second cup of coffee came and it was just as weak and watery as the first cup. Watching the waitress as she place the prefilled filter in the basket, she made no effort to add more coffee to improve the quality of the brew. Major Mistake No. 4. When informed of a deficiency, correct the deficiency, don’t repeat it!

In the meantime, the two servers — the hostess and her “daughter” — were  “friendly” but simply not attentive.

My guest is a rather low-key, complacent sort of person, and was uncomfortable when I honestly responded to the hostess’ inquiry about how the food was. He was apparently a bit embarrassed when I read her the riot act and he said, “Did you have to tell her? She’s so friendly.” My response was: “If I want friendly I’ll go to a whorehouse. That’s where I pay for ‘friendly.’ When I go to a restaurant I pay for good service and good food, not for ‘friendly.’  I thought we came here to eat, not to f**k.” He had to agree on that point.

I had placed one of the “pancakes” on the side plate together with two slices of the “ham” and the “local organic maple syrup” cuplet expecting to take it home for my puppy’s dining pleasure. The hostess came to the table and finally cleared the dirty dishes; she returned and took the side plate with my “takeaways.” She returned with the check and, when I asked if she was packing my leftovers, she responded with a surprised look, “I didn’t realize your wanted to take them.” I noted that I had placed everything neatly on a side plate and didn’t feel to tell her to wrap it; besides, she never asked. Look, if it’s mutilated and on a plate, the guest probably thought it should be played with, not eaten. Big clue! If it’s neatly put aside with other bits on a plate, there might be a reason for that, especially if it’s not been touched. She just took it away, and never brought it back.  Major Mistake No. 5. When you don’t know or are not sure, ASK!!! 

Well that was the final straw. No, it wasn’t the final straw. I think it was reasonable for me to expect that given the poor quality of the service and the food that the hostess would have at least offered to comp the two drinks. NOPE. Furthermore, she took my leftovers which were clearly set aside, never asked if I wanted them wrapped, and took off with them. That was half my meal. Did she offer anything. NOPE. Major Mistake No 6. If you know that a guest was disappointed and unhappy, try to make nice, and offer something to make it better. Try to show you Care (even if you don’t really give a shit).

After all was done and said, we left almost $50 (check, tax and 15% tip — my guest left the tip; my choice would have been $1 not in gratitude for poor food and even poorer treatment, but as a statement). We could have done much, much better and then some at the Midway Café (Ravena) for a third of the price! Next time, it’ll be the Midway.

Conclusion: Log Cabin Café, Purling (Cairo). Rating of 2.5 out of possible 5. Poor to Mediocre.  Lousy service; lousy food. Slow staff. They just don’t care or don’t know how to offer professional hospitality. Our advice is: Avoid the place!


The Quest for Brunch — Sure Disappointment

Our very frustrating attempt to find a place for brunch in Greene County, NY, started in the hamlet of Coxsackie. We learned of what promised to be a very good experience at a recent Rotary Club fundraiser, where we met the operators of the Yellow Deli on Reed Street in the hamlet of Coxsackie. That became our first stop on the journey to disappointment.

We left at about 10:00 on Sunday morning, a beautiful late Spring day, and headed south to the hamlet of Coxsackie on the Hudson River. Our most vivid recollection of Coxsackie restaurants and hospitality has been dreary, at best, given the poor service and frequently poorer kitchen skills of the wannabe “chefs”. It’s no wonder that you hear that a new restaurant has opened in Coxsackie, and by the time you get to try it, it’s gone out of business. The sign may be there, but not much else. But that’s typical of the area. Signs once announcing the presence of a business have become windworn monuments, literally wooden grave markers, because the former owners and the local community are such lugs, they don’t even remove the signs — sometimes for literally decades, as in the village of Ravena and the Town of Coxsackie — once the business has long since died.

We had hoped for a different experience when we drove down Mansion Street and entered Reed Street in Coxsackie and caught sight of the Yellow Deli at the bottom of the street. We looked forward to experiencing the full range of the products we tasted at the Rotary fundraiser.

Once again, disappointment. Hanging in front of the building was a shingle reading, “Closed,” and a note on the door announcing that the Deli would not be open because of the Shavuot (Pentecost) religious holiday. The operators are members of the sect calling itself the Twelve Tribes, and apparently place a minor religious holiday over and above doing business and their responsibilities to the community and customers providing them with a livelihood.

The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” … Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

Far be it from us to give a bad recommendation or review to business for observing a minor holy day, but it does leave a bad taste in the mouth, no pun intended.

We’ll give it another shot and hope they’re not in church again. Disappointment No. 1. Yellow Deli closed but only for the day, we hope.


After 59 years, Hartmann’s Kaffeehause, in Round Top, has closed its doors!

If you google Hartmann’s Kaffeehaus you’ll find nothing but excellent reviews. Excellent service, excellent food. Incredible European style cakes and pastries in an authentic German atmosphere where most of the staff were German and loved offering Old World hospitality whether auf Deutch or auf Englisch!

Well, after more than 59 years providing top-shelf service and food, Hartmanns has closed its doors for good, and with that tragic event, we lose yet another local tradition and yet another bit of nostalgia.

We are truly saddened by the loss of Hartmanns because it is truly a loss to those of us who knew and loved the place, and to the community far and wide.

After the Yellow Deli stop, we headed for Disappointment No. 2, when we found Hartmann’s had closed for good.


We then headed for Maasmann’s Restaurant at the Blackhead Lodge and Country Club, Round Top. It was already 12:00 and we had been driving from location to location for about one-and-a-half hours and were getting a bit frustrated.

On arrival at Maasmann’s we found the doors unlocked but the place was deserted. I don’t mean that there were not customers or diners. The place was dead as a doornail. We couldn’t find ANYONE in the place, no staff, no one. We waited a bit and even called out to see if someone would respond. Nothing.

We left a bit amused that the place was left open and unattended. Disappointment No. 3. Massemann’s Restaurant abandoned but open.


We followed other signs in Round Top only to find that they led nowhere, that is, the signs were there along the road but the restaurants were boarded up.


So the next stop was the Mountain Brauhaus, also just outside of Cairo, in Round Top, another quaint German venue that’s been there for years. Actually, since about 1955!

It was about 12:00, two hours into the nightmare. We pulled into the parking lot and checked out the front. No cars but it was still early. Got to the front door and found a sign reading “Use the Ramp for Entrance.” OK. So we went along the side to the ramp. Door locked. No sign. No hours. Went to the deck and checked that door. Locked. No sign. No hours.

Typical of the area. No respect for customers and very low on courtesy. wouldn’t you think they’d at least post their hours of operation? Not in Greene County, friends.

Disappointment No. 4. Mountain Brauhaus closed, locked, no indication of hours. Are they still in business? Your guess is as good as ours!


Next stop was the Bavarian Manor, in Purling, another legacy restaurant, and just down the road from where we were. We’d been there before for lunch and dinner and were not disappointed. But that was then.

We pulled into the parking lot and were enthusiastic because we saw quite a few cars, well maybe 7 or 8, in the parking lot. Was that a good sign? It was already shortly before 1 p.m. and at the entrance the sign read “Sunday open from 1 p.m.”  Things were looking good, friends! Until we went in.

The place, like Maasemann’s at the Blackhead Country Club, was deserted!!! No on, not even staff around. But we heard voices coming from what appeared to be the kitchen so we approached and knocked. A man asked if he could help and we said we were there for lunch. He looked at us like we were from another planet and said they didn’t open until 5 p.m. I informed him the sign out front said that they were open from 1 p.m. He answered, “That’s on Sundays.” I informed him that it WAS SUNDAY! He looked confused and and then said, “Yeah. We open at 1 on Sunday. Yeah. Sorry, it’s Sunday.”  “Well,” I said, can we wait? We weren’t surprised by the response. He informed us, “We’re not open until 1:00. Sorry.” It was 5 minutes to 1.

My guest was ready to wait but I wasn’t. I mentioned that from what I saw in the kitchen they were far from ready to prepare a meal. And I had my doubts about the place if they didn’t even know what day it was.

Disappointment No. 5. Bavarian Manor doesn’t know what day it is and isn’t ready to do a meal.


So that’s how we arrived at the Log Cabin Café. After having skipped breakfast in anticipation of a nice brunch, we spent almost 3 hours riding around experiencing disappointment after disapointment, until deciding we’d stop at the Log Cabin Café. After 3 hours and no less than 5 disappointments that morning, we were ready to chow down on an old shoe and wash it down with river water, if necessary. But, as I’ve already reported, we didn’t even get that at the Log Cabin Café, Disappointment No. 6.


Well, that’s our experience in Greene County on a Sunday. At least the weather was beautiful and we enjoyed some fabulous scenery. But the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and Greene County businesses had nothing to do with the weather or the scenery. If they had, that too would have been DISAPPOINTING.

Greene County Dining. Home of the Greasy Spoon Disappointments.

Fortunately, not all restaurants and diners in Greene County are abject failures. There are a number of really excellent places to eat over the entire price range. We’ll review a couple of them in our next post. Hang in there and don’t venture out to brunch or dinner until you hear back from us. Don’t be disappointed. Eat at home until our next review of hot spots for good food.

 

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