Weekend in Saratoga

I went to Saratoga Springs for the first time over the weekend, visiting Todd Engel, a long-time horse lover and attorney specializing in Equine Law. He's local to the Syracuse area, but also spends much of the racing season in Saratoga Springs. We took a whirlwind tour for the weekend. The city has a walkable downtown with restaurants, art galleries and retail shops. The area has tradition and money. Here are some of the spots we hit.

Olde Saratoga Brewing Company. Olde Saratoga does Red Tail, King Fisher, and a bunch of other brews – including Schmaltz, which is a nice coffee porter. They've also taken over Sackets Harbor's 1812 Ale. They have a tasting room that draws a variety of people (both tourists and townies). We saw people in their early 20s and people in their 60s and 70s.

Gaffney's and Sperry's. These are two bars across the street from each other. They both have large patios (we didn't go inside either place) with outdoor bars. Gaffney's has music and is a bit rowdier; Sperry's includes outdoor dining space and is a bit more upscale.

Frankie Flores Gallery. Frankie Flores is a talented painter and illustrator. He had an opening for some new works. He's got storefront show space with a beauty salon in back. Turns out he's a nice guy, too; he joined us for dinner after the opening.

Jacob & Anthony's. A grille with a very pretty bar and a large patio (complete with fire pit), Jacob & Anthony's boasts good service and good food. The Cuban is good, the fries are very good, and I had tastes of the fish tacos and jambalaya as well. Well done, all around. And bonus: You can get something in your price range, whether it's $12 a plate or $30 a plate.

Yaddo. An artists' and writers' retreat, Yaddo boasts a large rose garden with over 200 varieties of roses, and a team of volunteers tending the gardens three times a week. Great spot for photos (oh yeah, I have a few hundred photos I need to pull off my camera – yipes).

Saratoga Saddlery. I'm not big into the whole shopping thing, but the Saddlery has some nice stuff. Cowboy boots, varying styles of hats, horse gear (as in gear you'd wear while riding), and, of course, saddles.

Saratoga Coffee Traders and Uncommon Grounds. Uncommon Grounds is clearly the more popular spot – it's huge, and the line for coffee was 20 people deep when we got there on Sunday morning. Coffee Traders is quaint, has better coffee (also organic/fair trade, I hear), and penny candy (which doesn't cost a penny anymore, but still is within reach).

Saratoga Reading Rooms. The Reading Rooms is a private club abutting the racetrack. I'm told they were founded in the 1930s as a place for men to read the dailies before the races; I feel like I may be placing myself and the people who read my blog in danger if I say any more (even if there's not a Masonic eye on the building).

Saratoga Race Track. We made two trips to the track – in the morning to watch the horses work out, get baths, etc., and again in the afternoon for the races. It was a new experience for me. Workouts were fun, and it was interesting learning about the business. Races were also fun – who doesn't love dressing up and sitting amongst people who are out to be seen? I didn't do any betting, which is probably just as well because in my head I would have bet a show on a horse that won and would have lost every other race we saw.

Siro's. Apparently this was once the place to be seen after the races (it's adjacent to the track). Now it's the place all the tourists go to try to see. The outdoor bar and raw bar are fun, and there were a lot of people.

Hatties. Best fried chicken north of the Mason-Dixon Line. That is all.

9 Maple. Despite the hideously uncreative name (it's just the address of the joint) 9 Maple Avenue is a bar with a ginormous whiskey list, broken into the regions of Scotland (those would be scotches), as well as having both Irish Whiskys and a fair bunch of bourbons (which are an American thing, despite the French word). Very classy, intimate, with a nice jazz quartet playing in the corner.

Adelphi. The Adelphi has done its best to recreate the atmosphere of its origins (Civil War-era), with the exceptions of modern electricity, plumbing and pricing. Their patio is gorgeous, with Adirondack chairs, candlelight, visible stars, and they manage to block the sounds of the city.

Country Corner Cafe. Ah, breakfast. Potato pancakes (but not latkes, which are cooked in olive oil) on the menu in various incarnations, but more importantly a Syracuse favorite – Paul de Lima coffee.

Lyrical Ballad. This is a bookstore built in old bank vaults. As such, it twists and turns, and the first editions are still gated. Sweet little spot I could have spent hours in if we had time.

Definitely worth the trip; I'll probably do it again next year!

Your Take: Bars to work at

My bars to work from were the Blue Tusk, Al's, Empire, the Limerick and Suds.

Bob has some great ideas, too. Not sure how comfortable I'd be bringing my laptop to Dino, but I like Bull & Bear as a spot, and Alto Cinco is a nice spot.

In comments, Greg added Clark's, which I wish had more electricity, but I'm still down.

Your Take: Coffee Shops to Work From

The brief 5 places... series received a bunch of feedback. Wow! So now we're going to do your takes for the next few days.

My 5 coffee shops to work from were Recess, Kubal, Funk N Waffles, and two Freedom of Espresso stores.

On LinkedIn, Jill hadn't previously heard of Kubal, and Bob pointed out that it's really small. Glenn suggested the Route 57 Starbucks:

Other places that came up in comments:

Sugarpearl
Strong Hearts
Second Story
• Freedom of Espresso's other two locations
• The cafe at Syracuse University's Bird Library

Dining Review: La Taqueria

I tried La Taqueria recently, and the short version of this review is, it's worth a few trips.

La Taq is a new restaurant, and a sister to Dolce Vita, which as some of you know has quite an eclectic menu. La Taq does the taco/burrito/nachos thing, but throws in some Dolce with it.

They have a daily (rotating) Dolce-inspired burrito – the first day I went, it was Bombay chicken (shredded chicken with a curry sauce). Rather than that, I tried a three-taco plate, giving the carnitas, steak and chicken a try, as well as the soft and hard tacos, and whatever sauces they happened to have on hand that day.

I was a little nonchalant about what I wanted where, making the woman putting the tacos together a little nervous ("which sauce with which meat?" "eh, whichever order you happen to pick up the sauces is fine."), but as I told her, the first time somewhere, you go to get an idea of what they have, try as much as you can, and then go back the second time and actually get what you'd like.

And now I know when I go back (because I will), there's some darn good stuff on the menu.

It's reasonably priced, the food is fresh and delicious, and they're open good hours. Hopefully they're not cursed by being in that location (it's on South Clinton Street just below Walton) – Slices and a late-night Mediterranean place were both short-lived there.

Let me know what you think if you've been!

5 Places to Bring Colleagues and Clients in the Syracuse Area

After my post last week about coffee shops to work at in the Syracuse area, Jill asked if I'd write a post about places to bring colleagues and clients:

So here we are.

1. Freedom of Espresso, Franklin Square. OK, this was on my coffee shop list, too, but that makes sense, right? I sort of use it as an office sometimes, and this Freedom store is convenient to downtown, but outside of the bustle. And did I mention there's a hot dog cart across the street at lunch time? Well, when the weather supports it, anyway.

2. Alto Cinco. Alto Cinco, for you non-Spanish speakers out there, translates literally to "high five." If you need another reason to bring a client or colleague, try it yourself first. The atmosphere is cozy (they've avoided expansion though they could easily fill a room three times that size), the food is really good, and if you need a wine recommendation, they're right there for you. Bonus: It's across the street from Recess so you can grab some joe or hot chocolate on your way out. No wifi at the restaurant, but it's a good spot for a meeting anyway.

3. Edward Thomas Cigar. OK, this is kind of a boys' club. As in I'm not really sure they'd know how to react if a woman walked in (any volunteers?). But Edward Thomas's new digs are pretty sweet. Most of the space is now members-only; really a ploy to let people bring in some booze. There's a non-member smoking lounge with a big TV. There's no alcohol allowed and the wifi is weak back there. The rest of the place, however, has a strong wifi signal and members can bring a cocktail and a guest or two. The space includes a large room with a dozen flat panel TVs and leather recliners; computer carrels; a conference room; a poker room; and a more open room with one of those coffee tables with a top that lifts toward you.

4. Al's Wine & Whiskey. Al's made my bars to work from post last week. Pull up one of the couches, or take over the pool table in the back room. If you tip your bartender, s/he might even surrender the back room remote control.

5. Burnet Park. Again, no wifi, but Burnet Park has a zoo, a golf course, a pool, a skating rink, a basketball court and softball fields, in addition to some open space. And if you feel the need for food and drink, both Nibsy's and Coleman's are within a few blocks.

5 bars to work from in Syracuse

Yesterday we did my favorite coffee shops to work from in the area. Well, it's Friday and you're ready to get your weekend on, so where can you get a good brew while finishing up for the week?

1. The Blue Tusk. OK, so the Tusk is over-priced, has consistently mediocre food and a staff that could care a little more. They have a great beer list, and a back room with two little counters that have electrical outlets and wifi from about six different places. There's almost never anybody back there, and even the bar staff will forget you're back there if you stick around long enough. Just don't get locked in!

2. Al's Wine & Whiskey. You kind of have to sneak around at Al's to snag some electricity, but the food is excellent, as are the happy hour specials. They keep a rotating selection of 20 bottles of wine available for $20 each, and if you don't finish it, they'll give you the rest in a to-go bag (for realz). They also have decent beers and a fair whiskey and fine spirits selection, as far as the local scene goes (check 'em out). The place is comfy, and they managed to get entirely rid of the cigar smell from when they allowed that kind of thing. Just watch out for your mouse – they kept the holes in the counter where the ashtrays were!

3. Empire Brewing. Empire probably gets the two biggest thumbs up for food and drink. But the basement location means poor reception for some cell phones, and there's not much electricity. I'd take the last remaining hour of your laptop battery here and plan to spend a few hours "finishing up."

4. The Limerick. Terrible website aside, the Limerick is much bigger and much cleaner than you remember it. And those two cute little side counters across from the bar? They have lamps on them and electrical outlets below them. I get pretty strong wifi signals there from several different sources, and the place doesn't get crowded until 8ish. You'll also be the only working there (unless I'm there, too).

5. Syracuse Suds Factory. For the last time, no, the Suds Factory does not make soap. They make delicious beer (though, to be honest, not as delicious as Empire). It's got a great hardwood-and-exposed-brick atmosphere, and they're happy to share their wireless password if you show that you're buying while you're working. There's unfortunately only one outlet in the entire place and it's nowhere near the bar. Order some food, though; it's consistently awesome.

photo credit: Mike McCune

5 coffee shops to work from in the Syracuse area

Over at Outspoken the other day, Lisa Barone wrote about some etiquette for working at coffee shops. Basically, it's how to grab some focus while not being a jackass to other customers, and, more importantly, to the business you're patronizing.

You should read that post, then come back; I'll tell you my favorite coffee shops to work from in the Syracuse area.

1. Recess Coffee. Recess is tucked in the Westcott neighborhood and is open late. There's free on-street parking within a block, although during the school year it can get tough to find parking since the students who rent in the area are stuck parking on the street. They roast their own coffee, and it's clear they're coffee drinkers, because the coffee's really good. They also have creative hot chocolates that bring a lot of people back. They don't have a ton of electricity, so bring a fully charged laptop. And bring headphones; the music can sometimes get a little loud.

2. Freedom of Espresso, Franklin Square. For me, this is the most comfortable of the Freedom stores to work from (and one of two to make my top five spots in town). It's comfortable, has electricity all the way along one wall, and, with the exception of the fact that without fail someone will make or take a really loud phone call during the day, it's the quietest cafe in town. The wifi is stable, parking is plentiful, and if you need a little inspiration, there's a statue of Benjamin Franklin across the street and the CreekWalk about 50 steps in the other direction. There's also a hot dog cart at lunchtime. Word.

3. Funk 'n' Waffles. Funk has the strongest coffee in town, and really good food. Seriously, where else in town can you get fried chicken & waffles? They have overstuffed chairs, plenty of electricity, very stable wifi...the only thing that makes me shy away from going there is the parking. It's on the SU hill, so you're either going to pay a fortune for parking or walk a mile. It's great for consolidating trips up there, though.

4. Cafe Kubal. Kubal is another place that roasts its own coffee and clearly is run by coffee lovers. They also make brilliant sandwiches. It's open before 8 a.m., which makes it a winner for me, since I like to get going early. There's plenty of free parking, too. Unfortunately, it's tiny, the machines can get loud, and it can get crowded. The electricity per capita is really good, if you can get a seat.

5. Freedom of Espresso, Fayetteville. The only real problem with this Freedom store is the wifi is iffy. They have plenty of large leather chairs, and a long counter space in front of the window that is meant to be workspace – it has electricity for every seat, and a space between the counter and the wall for cables. Plenty of free parking next to the store and in the back.

Tomorrow, it being Friday, we'll get your happy hour on with my favorite bars to work from.

photo credit: Ballistik Coffee Boy

A Taste of Philadelphia

If you're in the Syracuse area, you've probably driven past A Taste of Philadelphia a bazillion times and thought, "I really need to try that place."

I've been doing it for seven years.

And then Dan Lovell (blog - Twitter) said I had to try it, and put his money where his mouth was.

He recommends the pizza cheesesteak, but it being my first time there, I had to try the special. And since there will most definitely be a second time, I'll try the pizza next time.

The place is the sort I tend to prefer: dark, lacking pretense, full of stuff on the walls that matches the theme of the place (umm, Philadelphia, why would you even ask?). And good food, for really reasonably prices.

Give it a try, really. There's even a little parking lot next to the building so you don't have to deal with parking on James Street. Do it. Today, even.

Launching Local: Dolce Vita to Debut Local Menu

Dolce Vita, a restaurant with an eclectic menu I really enjoy, is going local for its food, and they'll be featuring many local beers and wines. They're launching their local menu at a private event for Syracuse First, with tickets available for $35 for Syracuse First members and $40 for non-members. Here is the invite.

***

Dolce Vita has created a “Local Menu” and has offered to give Syracuse First members a first taste!

This private event will feature a three course menu of Local Cuisine with beef from Nancy Lorraine Hoffman, poultry from Crossman Farms, and vegetables from CNY farmer’s market.

Dolce Vita’s “Local Menu” is part of their one year anniversary celebration (also in June) called “We’ve taken you around the world, now we’re taking you the place you least expect.” Everything served as part of this menu has been produced locally within the CNY and Finger Lakes region.

“Launching Local” Details:
When: June 2, 2010. Happy Hour starts at 5:30, Dinner at 6:30
Where: Dolce Vita, 907 East Genesee Street, Syracuse NY 13210
Why: Living local, loving local, launching local!
Price: Tickets are $35 for Syracuse First members and $40 for non members.
*Price includes a three course meal, presentations of the menu, specials on local wines and beers, entertainment and raffles!

Tickets can be purchased with credit/debit card by calling Dolce Vita at 315-475-4700 or via cash or check at the Syracuse First Networking event on May 27th or at the restaurant.

Additional Info:
*Space is limited! Purchase your tickets today to be sure you can participate in this great event!
**Please note that gratuity is not included in the price and we encourage you to tip the hardworking Dolce Vita staff !

An evening of food and drink in Armory Square

Happy hour and dinner on a Friday night can get stale. Last week, we mixed it up a bit.

Since we were arriving at different times, we met at our usual Friday haunt, the Blue Tusk. Rather than my usual Boddingtons (cold days) or 1812 Amber (warm days), I stepped out of my mold and tried Stone's Old Guardian. This is a barley wine from the people who make Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Old Guardian is a smooth wine that takes on the characteristics of an Irish red – slightly hoppy, with a little bit of a chocolate overtone. It's served in a 10-oz glass, and is a slow sipper.

The three of us then went on to Bistro Elephant, where we were seduced by menus, soft jazz, and a waiter who disappeared into the kitchen for two minutes to check the specials and came out with a 15-minute soliloquy.

I'll just get right to the goods here. We shared an appetizer of a spring roll filled with king crab legs and vegetables, served with a dipping sauce of rice vinegar with jalapeño peppers.

For dinner, M— had duck in a tamarind sauce, served with rice and paired with a pinot noir recommended by our server. J— had sea scallops the size of her head, served with mixed mushrooms and rice, and paired with a raspberry framboise. I had their house duck, served in a Grand Marnier sauce over mashed potatoes, paired with a bourbon old-fashioned.

Our desserts included a raspberry sorbet, a mixed-sorbet basket, and a chocolate cake with a molten center served with burnt sugar ice cream. They make all their sorbets and ice creams in-house.

I topped the evening off with a glass of Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, served the good ol' way (room temperature in a glass) at Clark's Ale House, famous for its roast beef sandwiches and for not accepting tips at the bar.

Both the Blue Tusk and Clark's are on All About Beer's worldwide list of 125 places to have a beer before you die.

Highly recommended, all the way around.