SARATOGA SPRINGS We could have stopped with the wine and the appetizer plate, I’ll admit, but then you wouldn’t be getting such a complete rundown of possible choices from the menu at long-running Gaffney’s Restaurant.
By the time we’d completed our recent visit at the Saratoga Springs mainstay, we had a good idea of the kind of food you can get there, and we weren’t disappointed by anything that we sampled. The restaurant has been around for more than 30 years, and draws an eclectic crowd that includes the summer set and college students.
The next morning I mentioned to a colleague that we’d had dinner at Gaffney’s, and his eyes got a far-away look and, after a few moments, he said something about a lot of happy times in the past. I figured he was remembering Gaffney’s bar, but having been there more recently than he, I can tell you the dining room can also mean good times.
WHERE: 16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs. 587-7359,3 www.gaffneysrestaurant.com
WHEN: lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30-11 p.m. daily; brunch 10:30-3 p.m. Sunday
OTHER INFO: Handicapped accessible; all major credit cards accepted
Beverly and I stopped in early on a Tuesday evening for a little relaxation and nourishment. It had been a busy and eventful day — like many lately — and we hoisted ourselves onto comfortable perches at the bar and ordered cocktails right off. We chatted up our friendly barkeep while we perused the dinner menu and also glanced occasionally at the goings-on at the other end of the bar where they seemed to be having a very good time. (Yes, we multi-task, even when we’re out for dinner.)
CAUCUS AT THE BAR
The conversation down there was animated and growing in volume when we arrived. But then, suddenly, everyone took a final swig and headed out the door. We later learned that they were not just customers but employees — Gaffney’s seven-day operation requires a lot of them — and they were headed for City Hall where a forum was taking place to discuss closing time.
Saratoga has had some unfortunate incidents linked to late night watering holes, and city officials are thinking about putting the cork back in the bottle a little earlier than the present 4 a.m. (At this writing, it’s unclear what will be decided, but they have been advised by image-conscious tourism officials to figure it out quickly and with as little public fuss as possible.)
We were more concerned about dinner, however, than about getting entangled in an after-hours ruckus.
The adjoining dining room was almost empty when we were shown to a table, one right behind the front window where we could watch the pedestrian traffic on busy Caroline Street. Gaffney’s has a menu posted outside and it seems to draw the attention of every other passerby.
But enough about the scene, let’s get on with the food, which at Gaffney’s is primarily contemporary American.
I ordered a cup of the soup du jour ($4), a savory beef and vegetable that arrived hot, as it should be, and accompanied by oyster crackers. Beverly was taken by the smoked trout appetizer of the day ($9), featuring horseradish sauce and flat bread crackers. The fish was both delicate and smoky, and the horseradish sauce was a great complement.
We also sampled a tapas plate ($15), a bountiful assortment of tempting noshes that included whole cloves of sweet roasted garlic, a roasted eggplant dip, roasted nuts, assorted olives, smoked trout, fresh roasted peppers, marinated cheeses and flatbread. The array, suitable for two or more, was priced at $15, and most of it went home with us.
A fresh spinach salad ($9), which we shared, featured crumbled bacon and hard-cooked eggs, along with tomatoes and mushrooms in a citrus dressing. It made a great bridge between courses.
Beverly chose Gaffney’s Own “Jazzy Clams” (technically another appetizer for $10) and was rewarded with a pile of littleneck clams steamed with garlic, asparagus, andouille sausage and sun-dried tomatoes in a butter wine sauce. These were devoured on the spot — because steamed clams don’t travel well and they were too good to save for later.
My entrée choice was the Lobster Spaghetti ($14), most of which was carted home because, while it was delicious, it was far too rich to consume in one sitting. The dish consists of spaghetti (overcooked slightly for my taste) in a tomato and basil cream sauce with Parmesan cheese and a generous quantity of lobster, which is never a bad thing.
We sipped glasses of a Gascon Malbec ($7 each) with our meals and concluded the evening with coffees, but no dessert.
Besides the standard menu, there are dinner specials each evening.
On the night we visited, entrees included Grilled Tuna with Chipotle Aioli and Salsa served with rice and fresh vegetable for $19 and Chicken southworth, a stuffed boneless chicken breast with broccoli, bacon and Cheddar cheese in puff pastry with Béchamel sauce, rice and vegetable for $14.
Our tab, for appetizers, entrées, soup, salad and coffees came to $83.55 with tax and tip.
Some background on Gaffney’s: The restaurant has been around since 1978 and owned since 1982 by John Baker. Besides the original bar and restaurant, there are two additional bars, and an outside dining area is available in good weather. Gaffney’s website cites chefs Bobby Holt and Kevin Myers as responsible for the cuisine and specifically mentions their “infamous New Orleans Creole butter and Jambalaya, a true Italian Bolognese [and] Saratoga’s most scrumptious burger with freshly sliced fries cut on the premises,” among other possibilities.