Aunt Ronnie’s gets back to the basics

I remember the Brandywine Diner as my stop for the guilty pleasure of a grilled cinnamon horn on my
Clockwise from bottom left: pork ribs with rice and beans, collard greens, fried fish with mac and cheese and candied yams at Ronnie's. (Beverly M. Elander)
Clockwise from bottom left: pork ribs with rice and beans, collard greens, fried fish with mac and cheese and candied yams at Ronnie's. (Beverly M. Elander)

Categories: Food

I remember the Brandywine Diner as my stop for the guilty pleasure of a grilled cinnamon horn on my way to lunch at Petta’s on Duane Avenue. Superfluous, delicious, unnecessary—and heavenly.

The diner has recently been replaced by another taste of heaven.

Recently at the junction of Brandywine and Duane avenues and Emmett Street in Schenectady, old friend John and I chose to escape the heat on a Friday evening and seek comfort food at the relatively new Aunt Ronnie’s Soul Food Restaurant.

Aunt Ronnie’s Soul Food Restaurant

WHERE: 216 Brandywine Ave., Schenectady; (518) 579-0129; more information available on Facebook

WHEN: Tue-Sat 11:00 am – 8:00 pm, Sun 11:00 am – 5:00 pm, closed Monday

HOW MUCH: $21.98 for two people without tax and tip

MORE INFO: small parking area in front of restaurant, street parking, major credit cards accepted, one step into building

We didn’t quite evade the heat — the venue was quite warm from the outside temperature and the inside heat of the kitchen — but Ronnie’s husband, Rhamel, set up a small fan nearby to move the hot humid air around and it was effective.

The restaurant still retains the atmosphere of its predecessor: a counter with nine original stools, three rooms containing approximately 17 booths, not much in the way of décor.

But you don’t visit Aunt Ronnie’s for the ambiance; you go for the food and human warmth.

“You have to try the fried chicken and Ronnie’s mac and cheese,” advised a friendly woman at the counter as she picked up her take-out order. As a regular customer, she had her preferences on the menu.

This is an uncomplicated menu: lunch and dinner with cornbread and two sides (12 items ranging from medium for $9.99 to large for $10.99); 14 sides (mostly $3); and 13 wraps and sandwiches ($2-$6.99). Several desserts were not listed on the menu but recited by daughter/server De-Asia.

Trying the unfamiliar

We purposely ordered food that was less familiar to us than hot dogs, chicken tenders, French fries and wings.

Both John and I ordered medium-sized meals ($8.99 according to the sales receipt), which came with a baby loaf of cornbread swaddled in aluminum foil and two sides.

John selected the fried fish with mac and cheese and collard greens. A single fillet of tilapia arrived on a large plate with a generous mound of creamy mac and cheese that covered half the dish. The side of tangy smoky collard greens arrived at the same time in a small bowl.

My choice was BBQ pork ribs with sides of candied yams, and rice and beans. The two ribs were large, incredibly tender and flavorful. An ample hill of rice and beans seasoned with cured meat (possibly ham?) completed the rest of the space on the dinner plate.

The candied yams waded in a slightly sweet sauce which initially defied our taste buds. Cinnamon, we conjectured, yes, but what else?

John guessed a hint of vanilla, which was later confirmed by cook/owner Ronnie. Sweetness came from a combination of brown and white sugar. The proportions, of course, remained Aunt Ronnie’s secret.

Although we were too full for dessert, we took home a large, not-cloyingly-sweet slice of three-layer carrot cake with cream cheese icing. It was excellent and easily big enough for two appreciative dessert fans to share.

Other end-of-the-meal treats were banana pudding, red velvet cake and cheesecake — each a reasonable $3.

Just the essentials

Aunt Ronnie’s is a mom-and-pop enterprise in the finest sense of the term. Because they have opened recently and choose to offer quality food at reasonable prices, frills are omitted: paper napkins instead of cloth, no lemon wedges or decorative parsley on the plate, a simple menu—just the essentials of good food and service.

They deliver, and anyone who wants home cooking without having to fuss over a hot stove is able to appreciate the convenience of Aunt Ronnie’s real Southern cuisine.

Known for feeding people in her own home, she decided to turn it into a family-operated business — an American dream to bring her special brand of soul food to Schenectady.

Dinner for two without tax and tip was $21.98.

Napkin notes

Collard greens (collards) are various loose-leafed cultivars of Brassica oleracea, the species that also contains vegetables including cabbage and broccoli. They are part of the Acephala Group of the species, which includes kale and spring greens, and the name is a corrupted form of the word “colewort” (wild cabbage plant).

Cooked collards are seasoned with smoked and salted meats like hamhocks, onions, vinegar, salt and black, white, or crushed red pepper, and sometimes a little sugar (information adapted from Wikipedia).

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