BALLSTON LAKE — Historic houses and farm fields form the backdrop for this lovely, old-fashioned little store and cafe. Horses and cows graze in lush, vast pastures. Endless driveways wind away from the main roads. And time stops here.
The Charlton General Store & Cafe is on the old stagecoach road within the historic district, right next to the Charlton Tavern. It’s homey and welcoming, with a pineapple sign on the wide, low porch that says just that.
Outside, it’s a mix of styles: wood siding, old and newer windows, metal roof. Inside, it’s the same approach, with wooden counter and raised, wood-topped spinny barstools; shelving with jams, baked goods, jars of penny candy, a few groceries, lots of knickknacks and seasonal decor; and coolers of drinks and ice cream.
The floors are wide planks, the walls are wood-paneled, there are mismatched wood-topped tables and assorted chairs. The heart of the large dining room is a brick fireplace.
We got a friendly greeting and husband Eric chose a table near the hearth, where a fire was well underway.
The server brought menus and dispensed information: It’s breakfast all day, help yourself to coffee over there, grab cold drinks from the cooler, the special is two hot dogs and fries.
Eric chose a root beer from the cooler ($1.87) and I made myself a hot chocolate from the foolproof machine. “It’s such a nice setting,” said Eric, looking around the store.
Charlton General Store sells locally made products and goods such as Lady Lilac Farm soaps, Anna Mae’s homemade jams, home-baked goods from Smith’s Orchard, maple syrup and treats from Fraser’s Sugar Shack and Stony Meadow Farm honey.
At breakfast, they use real maple syrup. A breakfast sandwich, egg and cheese with bacon, sausage or ham is $4.95; two eggs and toast is $3.99. They make Belgian waffles and pancakes, and home fries while available.
At lunchtime, choose from hot and cold sandwiches, hot dogs and salads. An 8-ounce hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion, pickle and choice of sides is $7.99. Hot subs, like chicken Parm or meatball, are $8.99 with pickle and chips. Wings are made with Frank’s Red Hot sauce (10 for $8.99) and there’s pizza ($8.50 for eight-cut cheese).
Eric started with a cup of Tuscan sausage soup ($3) It was “salty in a good way,” according to him, and “there’s a heat to it that’s nice.” There were vegetables: sliced greens, celery, chunks of potatoes. “The sausage is great,” he said.
My garden salad ($2.99) came with two plastic cups of tasty Italian dressing. A pile of shredded lettuce was topped with sliced white onion and thinly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and lots and lots of sliced black olives. It was as if sub fixings were used to make the salad, but at that price I wasn’t complaining and besides, everything was fresh.
I would come back anytime for their hot chocolate ($2.29), so cozy in a thick white china mug. I’d added two small cups of creamer, but it didn’t need it. It was rich and velvety, with just enough foam on top, miles better than that stuff from the packets.
Eric had a ham and Provolone sandwich on wheat bread ($7.99 with cheese upgrade and mustard), piled high with shredded lettuce and thinly sliced white onion. The mustard application was a bit heavy-handed, resulting in some structural breakdown, but Eric enjoyed the sandwich and finished it. He said the coleslaw “was a bit sweet, finely shredded and crunchy.” Just how he likes it.
I opted for the steak sandwich ($8.99), griddle-cooked sandwich steak slices with chopped onions and mushrooms on a soft, fresh torpedo roll. The thinly sliced steak was surprisingly tender and flavorful, and I liked the tomato-based marinara sauce on the side, not too spicy. It’s a big sub — I only ate half. The chips were salty and crisp.
The dining room emptied out and the server was cleaning up for the day, clearing tables, emptying coffeepots. She gave us plenty of time to sit and talk, even after we finished, which, I suspect, happens a lot.
One of the ladies at a neighboring table forgot to take her leftovers. “She forgot her hot dog,” the server said, scooping up the package and heading to the parking lot, where she delivered it to its owner. The warmth at the Charlton General Store isn’t just from the fireplace.
The tab for our meal, including beverages, came to $29.02. Bring your receipt to the counter to pay.
As we drove away, Eric said, “It’s so charming.” I agreed. “Yeah, and not phony charming,” I replied.
“It’s real,” decided Eric.
Charlton General Store & Cafe
WHERE: 747 Charlton Road, Ballston Lake; 518-399-2888; thecharltongeneralstore.com
WHEN: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $29.02 with tax and before tip
MORE INFO: Parking lot. Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover. Limited wheelchair accessibility.