SCHENECTADY The Union Cafe, which was a long time coming on upper Union Street, has been operating now for seven months and is entering a new phase by offering dinner three nights a week.
On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the cafe will be open until 8 p.m. and, besides the regular menu, there will be dinner specials like Stuffed Chicken Florentine, Prime Rib and, on Fridays, baked fish, according to Jessica Hollenbeck. Hollenbeck and her partner, Ron Dikas, operate the cafe on the site of the former Pizza Hut, where they spent months on renovations and updates to the building.
We dropped in for breakfast on a recent Saturday but decided to have lunch instead. At that point the cafe was serving breakfast and lunch all day (from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) They began serving dinners on Thursday, and based on our luncheon experience and the happily munching patrons around us, we anticipate they’ll do well. Hollenbeck told us they’ve applied for a license to sell wine and beer and hope to have it in place soon.
WHERE: 1725 Union St., Schenectady. 280-1600
WHEN: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted; children’s menu available
Hollenbeck and Dikas are veterans of the restaurant business — they ran the Windmill Diner in Amsterdam for a number of years — and that was clear from the service we received. As I scanned the menu, Beverly was watching the goings-on in the kitchen and service area and was impressed enough to mention their efficiency.
After changing my mind three times, I finally decided on lunch after discovering the chicken salad club sandwich ($9.29), a nostalgic favorite of mine.
We wanted to try the soups du jour ($2.49 per cup) before anything else, because both sounded interesting — a lobster bisque and chicken vegetable with d’italini pasta.
Both soups were enjoyable, with the lobster nudging the chicken slightly in terms of taste.
The cafe’s version of the chicken salad club comes on toasted bread of your choice (rye for me) and includes bacon, lettuce and tomato as well as a generous portion of a creamy mayo-based chicken salad. The accompaniments were a half-sour dill pickle and house-made macaroni salad. I could find nothing to quibble about with any of the food.
Beverly’s choice was from the Greek portion of the menu, pork souvlaki sandwich wrapped in a voluminous pita ($6.99). Besides the marinated chunks of pork tenderloin, there were diced tomatoes and onions and house-made tzatsiki sauce. The pork was flavorful and well-complemented by the yogurt-based, subtly tart sauce.
The cafe menu lists under “favorites” a hot corned beef Reuben with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing grilled on rye bread ($8.99) and French dip, thin slices of roast beef on a French roll with melted Swiss cheese and au jus for dipping ($8.99).
Salads include a Greek version ($8.99) to which you can add chicken or pork souvlaki ($8.99/$10.99), and a basic garden tossed salad to which you can add marinated and char-broiled chunks of chicken breast ($6.99/$8.99).
There’s also a selection of wraps, triple-decker clubs and grilled sandwiches including a tuna melt with fries or macaroni or potato salad ($8.99), or a “Happiwaitress,” described as marinated chicken breast, cheese and tomato grilled in rye bread with choice of fries or macaroni or potato salad ($8.99).
There’s a decidedly Greek bias to the menu — the appetizers include feta cheese in olive oil and oregano with pita bread ($7.29) and spanakopita (spinach pie) made with filo dough, spinach, onions, herbs and feta ($7.99) as well as stuffed grape leaves ($6.99).
Under “Greek Platters,” you’ll find Moussaka and Baked Pastichio, each priced at $9.99, which was the highest price we could find on the menu.
If you go for breakfast at the cafe, you’ll find a selection of omelets, pancakes and French toast, waffles and breakfast sandwiches, muffins, rolls and the usual suspects among breakfast meats.
Our experience at the Union Cafe was positive overall. Our server was co-owner Hollenbeck herself who was friendly and professional, checking on us from time to time and answering all our questions (and no doubt wondering why we were so inquisitive).
Our tab, for soup, sandwiches and coffees came to a reasonable $33.37 with tax and tip.
We took a Sunday ride along picturesque Route 20 and met friends for brunch at the American Hotel in Sharon Springs. I spent little time on the menu because I already knew what I wanted — Chef Lee Woolver’s corncakes — savory griddlecakes studded with kernels of corn and layered with slices of Granny Smith apples and crispy bacon. They’re accompanied by a velvety maple butter, and were as wonderful as I remembered them.
New to us was one of the soups of the day — Chicken and Dumplings — comforting in its warmth, aroma and savory flavors. In taste and texture it evoked its namesake, a Sunday dinner staple not so long ago. Friends Howard and Debbie were first-time visitors to the American but we’re quite sure they’ll be going back.