ALBANY Downtown Albany at midday Sunday is a ghost town compared to the bustling weekday center of commerce and state government, so we had no problem finding a nearby parking spot when we arrived for brunch at the Iron Gate Cafe, just outside the historic Center Square neighborhood.
The cafe, whose name comes from its gated wrought-iron fence along Washington Avenue, occupies a latter-day addition to the Holroyd Mansion, a beautiful Romanesque revival sandstone structure with arched windows that once housed School 10 and later was the home of wealthy industrialist James Holroyd and wife Electa.
When we made our reservations, we asked for seating inside the cafe because we assumed it would be oppressively hot outside. Once we got there and discovered that the patio was both charming and cool, we persuaded our server to find us a table there. She obliged us without a quibble, and we soon found ourselves happily ensconced in a courtyard shaded by wonderful architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries and surrounded by a mostly youthful crowd, including a few young parents, some of whose children were well-behaved.
Iron Gate Cafe
WHERE: 182 Washington Ave., Albany. 445-3555, www.irongatecafe.com
WHEN: 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; brunch menu available Saturdays and Sundays
OTHER INFO: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover accepted
The cafe offers a modest selection of beer and wine — usually one white and one red, our server told us — as well as specials like champagne cocktails, Bellinis and, our own choice, Bloody Marys made not with vodka but with Russian rice wine. The resident mixologist makes Bloody Marys with plenty of horseradish and garnishings — like sturdy celery stalks, lemon wedges and fat green olives — and, if it’s less alcoholic than the traditional cocktail, we couldn’t tell.
As we sipped our drinks, we got down to the serious business of making our choices from the menu, which while not an exhaustive offering of brunch dishes was interesting enough to keep us occupied for a while.
Wife Beverly chose the Bacado Omelet, the first word being an amalgam of “bacon” and “avocado.” Besides bacon and avocado, the omelet contains Cheddar cheese and house made salsa and is served topped with sour cream and chopped scallions. The $10.95 price includes home fries and toast made from a lovely rustic loaf of seeded bread.
I vacillated for a while and nearly selected the Elvis Memphis Scramble ($11) — three eggs scrambled with bacon, maple sausage, bell peppers and grilled onions and topped with melted pepper jack. It comes with home fries and grilled cornbread. (Interestingly, the cafe’s warren-like interior includes a room that seems to be an Elvis shrine, its walls featuring several portraits of the king.)
DENVER WINS OUT
In the end, I decided that John Denver would be a slightly more sensible choice, and chose the dish named for him for $10.95: two scrambled eggs and bacon layered over fresh cornbread topped with a pepper jack Hollandaise sauce and accompanied by home fries.
We wanted to sample more, however, and started off with Iron Gate’s Johnny Cakes ($8.95), cornbread pancakes with blueberries served with syrup and choice of bacon, ham, maple sausage or vegetarian sausage. Regrettably, we didn’t specify the real maple syrup and wound up with faux maple syrup, which is never a good idea, but the griddle cakes were delightful — crispy around the edges and both corn-flavored and sweet — and I’d have been happy to make a meal of just them, though the bacon was a great accompaniment.
Other possibilities for brunch include Stuffed French Toast ($9), choice of bacon, maple sausage or ham layered with a fried egg and melted cheese between two slices of Texas toast and accompanied by home fries, a Florentine Benedict ($11), which is two poached eggs, fresh spinach and tomato over an open-faced Portuguese muffin topped with pesto Hollandaise and served with home fries, or the simple Iron Gate Egg Sandwich ($6), consisting of two eggs, choice of meat and melted cheese on a fresh roll with home fries.
The restaurant, which opened in 2004, has daily specials on weekdays including two house-made soups — like their own cream of mushroom and Southwest black bean — and sandwiches like a Turkey Terrific ($7.25), roasted turkey with organic arugula, bacon and horseradish-mayo on a ciabatta roll or Surfin’ Bird (also $7.25), which is grilled chicken, avocado, Monterrey Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and chipotle ranch dressing in a wrap. The regular menu offers an extensive selection of sandwiches and wraps, and you can order food online.
The breakfast menu features bagels, muffins, and the usual array of eggs and breakfast standards.
Our experience at Iron Gate was thoroughly enjoyable, thanks in part to the friendly and helpful staff who took good care of us. Our tab, for what amounted to three brunch entrees plus tax and tip came to $40.81 (not counting our Bloody Marys).
We get tips about restaurants from many sources. The recommendation to check out the Iron Gate Cafe came in the most improbable way, however. My wife and dining partner was stranded at Dulles International Airport in Washington during a severe storm last week. In a conversation with a young woman originally from Troy and a young man from Saratoga Springs, the topic turned to best places for brunch in the Capital Region. The young woman wanted to treat her grandmother, who’s from the Schenectady area, and Beverly suggested the Stockade Inn because its brunch is consistently good. The young man recommended the Iron Gate Cafe, a favorite place of his, and we decided to check it out for ourselves.