How far would you travel for a cupcake?
I’m not talking about a hoity-toity NYC cupcake featured on the Food Network that costs as much as a full meal at Alteri’s in Clinton. No, I’m talking a classic confection with just the right amount of sweetness topped with a glorious icing that completes this mouth-watering dessert.
This $2 piece of heaven can be found at Perecca’s, an Italian bakery in Schenectady’s Little Italy. Go there and also buy a loaf of bread, which I must admit tops my local favorite found at the Franklin Hotel in Rome, and buy some soup, roasted peppers, pasta fagioli, or some wonderful fontina cheese.
No, we didn’t travel to Schenectady just for cupcakes, which I first discovered when Couple M brought some to their son’s Cazenovia College baseball game. I still remember the day, and the time, when I tried one. It was the third inning, Caz was hitting. OK, enough.
My wife and I went to Schenectady, where we lived for a dozen years, to visit with Couple M and some former colleagues at The Times Union newspaper. It turned out to be a terrific tour of the city’s downtown, which if you haven’t been to lately, has come a long, long way.
We began at Bombers Burrito Bar on State Street, a restaurant specializing in, of course, burritos, and beer, and tequila. Now this place makes my list even though there are two of them, one is on Albany’s Lark Street, because the restaurant helped revitalize a dreary section of downtown Schenectady and was launched by a graduate of Union College, which is just five minutes away. (The benefits of a college education!)
The place is high-energy, lots of tables and a long bar where you can get tasty margaritas, so I’m told by Wife L, and choose from a good beer selection (personal experience, there).
We moved across State Street to the Aperitivo Bistro. You’ve heard of tapas restaurants? Well Aperitivo’s serves piattini, Italian for “small plates.” I felt like a pseudo-hipster in this well-appointed space, which is right next door to Proctor’s Theater.
Most dishes are around $8. You sample, share, and move on to the next. We enjoyed a great fresh mozzarella dish that had a balsamic reduction, oven grilled mascarpone polenta, and a pomodoro sauce. Pan seared scallops -three of them — were presented with couscous, and two specialty flat-bread pizzas were terrific.
It was just enough to keep our group of eight energized and moving to the next stop.
We walked just a few minutes up Broadway, to Parenzo’s Italiano restaurant. Couple M say the upscale Italian served here is worth the trip.
We only ventured to the bar, sad to say, and got no further. We were, though, able to push aside the bad karma from our conversation about recent layoffs at The Times Union. Folks I worked with during my time at the paper were dismissed; tapped on the shoulder and walked out the door. Not good times for newspapering.
But good times were still to be had in Old Dorp (really, a Dutch name for Schenectady).
We moved across the street to 20 North Broadway Tavern.
You know how you walk into a place and either find yourself saying something like, “Cool,” or in other cases, “Uh,oh.”
This was a definitely a “cool” moment as a very friendly vibe greeted our group (down to six) even though we definitely fell into the older segment of the crowd.
No legitimate pub crawl in upstate New York can be called complete without chicken wings. And we sampled some very fine examples at 20 North. Crisp, meaty, and with just the right heat, they were terrific. And that’s not just Sam Adams talking.
One more stop: the historic Van Dyck Restaurant and Lounge in the Stockade neighborhood.
This restaurant first opened in 1947, and has featured legendary musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, and Thelonious Monk.
Jazz still can be heard, along with other styles of music, in what is as acoustically perfect a setting as you are going to get in a club. A recent $1 million makeover has restored fine archictectural details in this historic treasure.
We shared some final eats before calling it an evening. There is a wide variety of food offerings here, from prosciutto and argula pizza to a crab cake burger to a cobb salad to veal scaloppini.
I had half of Mrs. M’s smoked turkey panini sandwich and fries, which, in the light of day, I can now admit to stealing from her plate. But you have to do what you have to do.
We ventured home with cupcakes in tow for my daughter, who could barely mumble welcome home as she quickly devoured a confectionary delight.
If you haven’t been to the Capital Region lately, make sure to make a stop at Old Dorp. The city still has its rough spots, like many in upstate, but you’ll find it has a new face downtown, and it’s smiling.