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At the Table: Ravenswood serves tasty meals but popcorn is the star

Sunday, July 14, 2013
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— For us, it was all about the popcorn. Our dinners were pretty good, and we enjoyed sitting outside on the porch, but at Ravenswood restaurant, it’s the popcorn that will bring us back again.

Ravenswood, open since 1984, is practically a historic site in a town as young as Clifton Park. Recently, it became part of My Favorite Taverns, a group that runs three other restaurants in the Capital Region: The Rusty Nail in Clifton Park, Bentley’s Tavern in Malta, and The Mill at Round Lake. All offer casual dining, a wide variety of beverages, and cater private parties, at a moderate price point.

Although the restaurant is undergoing a transition of ownership, everything ran very smoothly during our visit.

Ravenswood Restaurant

WHERE: 1021 Route 146, Clifton Park, 371-8771, ravenswoodpub.com

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday.

HOW MUCH: $74.10, with wine, tax and tip.

MORE INFO: Children’s menu. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible.

The first thing we noticed as we stepped into the cozy, shadowy restaurant was the smell of popcorn, then a smiling employee who was ready to seat us. We visited on a rainy night when the screened-in porch was preferable to the air conditioned, publike dining room. The porch, with its pine plank floor and ceiling fans turning lazily up in the rafters is charming and the roomy, booths have a view of a thick woods just beyond the parking lot.

You’ll notice that Ravenswood is family friendly. Most of the other parties in our section included at least one small child. All were well-behaved, but some left the floor under and around their tables littered with sugar packets, wrappers and food. I hope the extra cleaning is balanced out by a hefty tip.

Focus is casual

The menu focuses on casual food, starting with meal-sized appetizers like quesedillas and chicken fingers. A basic half-pound burger is $8.95 and comes with fries or chips and a pickle. There are salads, panini sandwiches and a few entrees, mostly steaks.

None of the appetizers was more appealing than the free, fresh, hot popcorn, however, and I scurried over to the popcorn machine as soon as we put in our order. It’s help yourself! We each sipped a glass of icy, grassy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine ($7.50 a glass) and munched away. “What’s better than popcorn and wine?” said Mom, exactly what I was thinking.

We had knocked off two bowls of popcorn by the time our meals came. Since she had mentioned it about four times on the way over, I wasn’t surprised when Mom chose the Crumbler ($17.95), a 12-ounce sirloin steak with Montreal seasoning topped with sautéed onions and mushrooms, and melted bleu cheese.

The steak had the proportions of a massive baked potato. It was quite thick, almost 2 inches at one end, and tapered off to about an inch and a half. That made it tricky to cook: it was medium-rare, as requested, but only in the very center of the thick part.

You’ve got to factor in extra cooking from the hot onions and for melting the bleu cheese, so the cook should have stopped grilling at rare. It was delicious, however, a fact that Mom continually asserted.

Tasty fries

The beer-battered fries were hot and delicious, tasting of whatever oil they use for frying, but not greasy. They were browned nicely, and soft in the middle, like mashed potatoes, crispy and seasoned on the outside. The cole slaw also got a thumbs-up from Mom, who said it tasted homemade and fresh. She finished everything.

I chose the Buffalo chicken salad ($9.95), with fresh Romaine lettuce and a good mix of baby greens. The tomatoes were pink and underrripe, but I liked the chopped celery and Mom liked the peeled cucumber slices. Ravenswood didn’t disappoint on the Buffalo flavor — a hefty dose of hot sauce livened up the meal — but the breading on the chicken was soggy and instantly fell off. The balsamic dressing I’d requested on the side was very sour. There was a small, forgettable dinner roll on the rim of the black plastic platter, and a packet of butter, but the hard-boiled egg slices reminded me how good a simple egg can be.

Shortcake a downer

Ravenswood brings in most of its desserts, although the strawberry shortcake ($4.25) is made there, we were told. It would have been an acceptable dessert in January, but it was a heartbreaker in June. The strawberry sauce is made of sliced fruit whose liquid formed a pink puddle under the slice of pound cake. It didn’t taste like fresh strawberries at all. The exuberant covering of whipped cream helped only a little.

Mom’s Reese’s cake ($5.25) had delicious dark chocolate layers and a peanutty filling, but was made overly sweet by the application of too much chocolate sauce.

Ravenswood’s service was friendly and top-notch, and, overall, we enjoyed our visit. Mom is already planning a trip back for lunch with my sister.

I’ll try a burger or something fried next time, and perhaps skip the dessert. It’s pleasant, not too expensive and it’s locally owned, all good reasons to go. But for Mom and me, it will always be about the popcorn.

 
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