Hill Street BluesFebruary 2, 2010
In our little burgh known as Albany, pubs and taverns are commonplace, and each of them offer similar menu selections – from burgers to wraps, wings to salads, nachos to sandwiches. Some do certain dishes better than others, but overall, they offer comfort food at reasonable prices in a relaxed atmosphere. The Hill Street Café near downtown Albany is one such place – they have been entertaining the late-night hunger cravings of revelers for over 25 years. Its proximity to the Egg, the Times Union Center and other downtown locales makes it a welcome stop after a festive evening.
The beer selection is decent enough, featuring several local breweries on tap. The bar staff is friendly and the menu is varied and reasonably priced. My companion and I started with an order of wings, and chose “hot” from their selection of about 6 different wing sauces. As I’ve come to expect in Albany, “hot” really means “medium” anywhere else, but the flavor was very good, and the wings were big and juicy.
The entrees, however, is where the story takes a turn for the worse. A pub favorite is the French dip sandwich – piles of lean roast beef on a roll, with a cup of au jus for dipping. But on this night, I got a pile of overcooked, dry meat with absolutely no seasoning or flavor to speak of. I was hoping the au jus would rescue the bland, arid sandwich, but I might as well have been dunking the food in warm water. I guess it’s no surprise that it had no flavor at all, since au jus is made from the drippings of the roast beef, and if the beef has no flavor, well…it was extremely disappointing.
My friend ordered a patty melt, which is another favorite dish of mine. But again, the Hill Street Café’s version was far from good, even far from mediocre. The rye bread tasted like it had been toasted separately from the burger, and was toasted too long – it was hard and way too crunchy. A patty melt should be cooked like a grilled cheese, but with ground beef and onions. The patty itself was cooked fine, but it was too thick for a patty melt – it completely masked any taste of the sparse amounts of onions and cheese. So it ended up tasting like a plain burger on crunchy rye bread. Again, it was extremely disappointing.
The one saving grace for each entrée was the steak fries, which were cooked quite well – crisp on the outside and soft and velvety on the inside.
Perhaps we just went at the wrong time of night, and in the wrong state of mind – maybe the food tastes better at 2:00AM with lots of alcohol flowing through your system. But I’m skeptical. So I highly recommend the beer, wings and fries at the Hill Street Café; it seems you take a risk ordering anything else. The Mouse House Kitchen gives Hill Street Cafe 2.5 out of 5 stars.