Favorite 15-year-old Sarah and I passed the buttoned-up patio of Puzzles Bakery & and Café on the corner of State and Barrett streets in downtown Schenectady. “Even the raised planters look like puzzle pieces fitted together,” Sarah said.
Inside the café was warm and welcoming — a contrast to the blustery October Saturday. At the end of the narrow table-lined room was a glass case and counter, half of which was filled with freshly baked cookies, brownies and other delectables. On the wall above were seven large boards announcing the menu in red and blue.
Besides baked goods, Puzzles offers breakfast, beverages, half and half meal deals, sides, hot and cold sandwiches, soups and signature salads.
Puzzles Bakery & Café
WHERE: 515 State St., Schenectady, 280-2620, www.puzzlesbakerycafe.com
WHEN: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $35.75 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, parking on street, all major credit cards accepted, noise level and music permits conversation, Wi-Fi available
We both opted for a salad and a sandwich. Sarah chose the Chipotle Roast Beef ($8/5.25) and a small Edison Chicken Salad ($8.50/5.50), while I was intrigued by one of the hot choices: French Brie and Ham Croissant ($7.00/4.75) and a small Greek Salad ($7.50/5).
Given the cold day, I also ordered a cup of turkey, corn and sweet potato soup ($3.50). Other choices of the day were Split Pea and Kale, and Spicy Lemon and Tomato with Chicken and Chickpea.
Our salads arrived almost immediately, with balsamic dressing on the side. Sarah dug into the bowl of grilled chicken, arugula, red onions, red quinoa, couscous and roasted red peppers.
My salad was the standard Greek variety with spring mix greens, red onions, feta cheese, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives and cucumbers. Both salads toed the mark for ingredients, size and freshness.
Our sandwiches were delivered by smiling staffer Tim while we were still munching on greenery. The more the merrier, we decided.
Sarah’s Chipotle Roast Beef on sourdough bread arrived with the requested banana as a side. I noticed that except for their lovely baked goods, Puzzles offers healthy choices: pre-packaged tiny carrots and hummus, and apples and oranges instead of starchy, mayonnaise-laden deli salads (obligatory chips were, however, offered for those who must have their daily dose of salt and fat).
This was not an over-stuffed deli sandwich where one is required to hose off between bites — or eat it with a knife and fork. It was modest but filling, said Sarah between bites.
My corn with sweet potato soup was just shy of my asking to have it warmed a little more. But it was golden creamy, gently seasoned, and came with a slice of fresh rye bread. Perfect autumn fare.
The French Brie and Ham Croissant had been warmed in a panini press, flattening it a bit and branding it with parallel lines. A nearly transparent layer of raspberry jam provided a unique sweet-tart finish to the savory grilled sandwich.
Zhena’s gypsy teas (Organic Lemon Dandy for Sarah, Raspberry Earl black tea for me) warmed us with fall flavor to accompany our lunches.
We saved the best part for last. There were those tempting baked goods on the left side of the glass case beckoning to us: cupcakes, muffins, cookies, brownies and scones ($1.75-2.50). We chose the establishment’s signature puzzle cookies for dessert. Sarah selected a boxful of bakery delights to bring home to her parents and two brothers.
I chose a pair of lemon lavender shortbread cookies for my take-home treat. Heavenly with tea!
Noting that Puzzles has an atmosphere of a hometown café, Sarah remarked that it would be a good place to do homework. The sleek white tables surrounded with bright blue metal chairs can be arranged into larger groups, while the four large posters of Schenectady added that hometown touch.
Music (classical in the morning, jazz in the afternoon and seasonal music in the evening) is soft enough to permit intimate conversation. Original paintings on the wall are available for sale.
Puzzles Bakery and Café is a casual place to go for good food at exceptionally reasonable prices. Two lunches of soup, salad, sandwiches, tea and cookies were $35.75.
Owner Sara Mae Hickey was playing a board game her with friend/contractor Jason. She had been working on opening Puzzles since her graduation from Skidmore. Her goal was to create a place where all people, including those with special needs like her autistic younger sister, can enjoy a meal in a restaurant.