Saturday, July 3, 2010

Potters Tavern (just outside of Troy, NY)

As a precursor to our upcoming trip to Johannesburg, South Africa for the FIFA World Cup Finals, my husband and I decided to pack up the family car—dog and all—and hit the road for a New England road trip. Aside from a Valentine's Day weekend sojourn to the Catskill Mountains, we had not yet ventured too far outside of Connecticut for exploratory purposes. However, on a beautiful Saturday morning, with the sun shining bright enough to blind us with its piercing rays, we set out for Bennington, Vermont, well, just because.

One scenic road led to the next until, eventually, we ended up on a nondescript strip of highway that held neither fascination nor the hope of picturesque vistas with which to ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaaah’ over. It was approaching mid-afternoon and the guttural sounds of not one, not two, but three stomachs (including the dog, who was lounging fitfully in the back of the car catching rays) erupted almost simultaneously.

“I’m hungry,” I muttered, as we approached an unassuming stretch of State NY Rt. 7.

“Look there, up ahead,” Maarten yelled as he pointed to a tiny strip mall five hundred yards ahead on our left. I looked, but by that point I was feeling faint, light headed and the heat ripples on the road caused the entire strip of land to appear as a lush green oasis with palm trees, a waterfall and scantily clad dancing men.

As we pull into the lot of Sterup Square (which has since been renamed Vermont Village at Sterup Square), we randomly parked the car at an awkward angle and jumped out like Batman and Robin, nearly forsaking the dog which was, by now, sitting up in the back and staring at us quizzically through the window and wondering what had gotten into us. Hunger my dear dog, hunger.

Pulling our collective selves together, we peeked to our right in the direction of the end of the strip and happened upon a patch of shady parking spots around the corner, in front of a place called Potters Tavern*. And lo and behold, it had a shaded outdoor patio. I didn’t care if they were serving burnt snails smothered in grape jelly and washing it all down with rancid swamp water; this was the place where we would placate our hunger.

*Check out the Restaurant Profile of Potters Tavern by the International Restaurant Examiner HERE.

Maarten re-parked the car while I skipped/ran inside to inquire if dogs were allowed on their patio. They were happy to oblige, and we took up residence in the corner of the patio with Kenji in tow.

Giving in to the strong desire to quench my thirst with a cold and frosty one, I ordered a Rope Swing summer pilsner (one of 32 beers available at Potters Tavern). It was as refreshing as it looked and went down smooth and easy.

When you come across an eatery that contains “Tavern” in its moniker, you generally don’t expect the food to be at Michelin star level but that shouldn’t be a deterrent. And it wasn't. However, the menu is quite what you would expect from a bar-type atmosphere.

I refused to allow myself to become too enamored with the “Munchies & Appetizers” as I’ve seen everything listed under said portion of the menu a hundred times over. It was too blasted hot for Homemade French Onion Soup, I convinced myself I would be a fool to order the Fried Calamari from a roadside joint, and I just wasn’t in the mood for Potstickers, Buffalo Wings or any other appetizers. My proclivities didn’t lean towards being teased with food; I wanted the full-on meal.

Sidestepping the munchies, we went straight for the big guns: “Gourmet Sandwiches” and Entrées. I’m not sure if simply adding the word “gourmet” in front of “sandwiches” makes them any more gourmet than, say, wrapping two ordinary slices of bread around a piece of cave-aged blue cheese, grilling it and calling it an “Epicurean Sandwich”. But then again, I could be wrong.

At least a couple of the sandwiches did, however, have flashy—and sometimes appropriate—names that make you want to take a second look. There’s The Pilgrim—a warm turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and herb dressing, and Potter’s “Dagwood Cheeseburger” Club—a traditional club sandwich that adds further insult to injury by topping it with a cheeseburger. Blondie and Baby Dumpling would be so proud.

The entrées had a certain fill-your-gut-and-stick-to-your-ribs quality to them. Who doesn’t have thoughts of childhood when you see Home Style Meatloaf Dinner or Traditional Turkey Dinner on a menu?

Despite all that goodness, I decided to take the path least traveled and order one of the days’ specials. Anthony Bourdain has warned me against this time and time again, but still I refuse to listen. Call it a weak spot, but the Gourmet (there’s that word again . . .) Tuscan Grilled Chicken was yelling and screaming my name and, alas, my resistance was futile. Maarten, on the other hand, ordered The Rueben and thus slid further into the cracks of normalcy while my adventurous streak shot me into the gastronome stratosphere.

While we waited for our meals, one of the employees came out bearing a gift for our dog, Kenji: a big bowl of water, to which Kenji promptly began to slurp furiously. It was a nice gesture, and very much appreciated.

Within almost no time at all, our plates arrived and signaled the start of getting down to business. The Tuscan Grilled Chicken sandwich was a colorful concoction that made my mouth water. Thick slices of roasted red peppers peeked out of the fresh and aromatic Artisan roll and contrasted nicely with the vivid green of the fresh baby spinach upon which it rested. But it was by far the juiciness, tenderness and symphony of seasonings that ran amuck throughout the chicken that made it an unexpected delight. The addition of melted provolone cheese was the crowning glory. Also on the plate were ruffled potato chips, lettuce, a dill pickle spear and a small plastic container of cole slaw. This is where things took a slight turn for the worse.

Alas, I knew there had to be something wrong with this plate. The cole slaw simply was not good. The only benefit derived from it was the crunchy texture that let me know I was, indeed, eating something. Other than that, the lack of flavor and decidedly bland appearance left it with zero appeal to my palate. But that was a simple fix. I just removed the little synthetic tub from my plate and, for me, it ceased to exist.

As Ruebens go, this Rueben was, well, a Rueben. I’m personally not a corn beef kinda gal, but the thick slices of the reddish-pink meat wearing a crown of sauerkraut looked appetizing enough to lull me over to the dark side. Maarten wasted no time in devouring the sandwich. He ‘oooohed’ and ‘aaaaahed’ in all the right places, licked his fingers loudly with reckless abandon a few times and even smiled to himself a time or two as he marveled at the slight buttery sweetness infused in the toasted rye bread. His only complaint—and relatively speaking it was a miniscule one—was that the paltry amount of Swiss cheese pointed to what could be portrayed as Potters Tavern’s tightfisted nature. Surely an extra slice or two of cheese wouldn’t throw their entire day off and wreak havoc on their dairy supply, would it?

In the end, it didn’t change the course of history one bit and nary caused a shift of the earth on its axis. Both sandwiches—whether true gourmet fare or not—were most appealing and, unquestionably, satiated our hunger in a glorious way. Yes, they were mere sandwiches, but hunger has a way of amplifying the good thing that is flavor.

Is Potters Tavern recommended? Of course, as long as you take it for what it is, and what it is not. If you’re expecting five-star flavors, a line at the door to gain entry or cuisine so ethereal that it makes your eyes roll to the back of your head, then, keep driving up NY Route 7. But if you simply want good food in a casual and relaxed atmosphere (and you just so happen to be in the area) then by all means make a pit stop.

Is Potters Tavern a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? Potters Tavern is priced right for the hungry man (and woman) on a budget. The most expensive entrée on the menu is the Rib Eye at $18.95, and that’s an entire meal with potatoes and vegetable of the day.

What about atmosphere and ambience? Potters Tavern is what it is: a tavern. But they have a spacious outdoor patio, they don’t rush you to finish your meal and there’s a relaxing, laid back vibe that serves it well. It’s an instant feeling of “I belong” and the wait staff makes you feel like you’re a long-standing customer.

Potters Tavern
2113 NY Route 7
9 miles east of Troy, NY

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