The whole is more than the sum of its parts. With restaurants, food, service and ambience, taken in that order, are the ingredients that make a good venue special.
In our area, it would be difficult to beat Druthers at Mohawk Harbor for ambience. It’s drop-dead gorgeous. The outdoor patio is dotted with high-topped tables where one can stand with a Druthers brew. More than a dozen umbrella-topped tables densely pack the opposite side of the space. Two garage-door-styled entrances lead to a large open space indoors that houses the bar and a scattering of high-tops.
Separating the patio from the walkway along the harbor are huge wood planters with full-sized trees and spilling over with brightly colored flowers. Above the patio rises layers of balcony-laced apartments.
A server showed us to a table outside and left laminated, placemat-sized menus. We played a brief round of musical chairs to avoid the dropping western sun from interfering with our menu perusal. A persistent breeze helped scatter the still-bright rays and allowed us to concentrate on choosing our late lunch.
Druthers’ offerings fit neatly into a half dozen categories and on a single page. While classified as pub food, I would add “creative” to that description. A handful of snacks such as Loaded Monkey Bread ($11), Mexican Street Corn Dip ($10) and Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($10) stood out. “Greens” (all $12) including Barley, Beets, Southern and the Mohawk Wedge, can be augmented with chicken, shrimp or hangar steak tips for an additional $6, making the salad a meal.
Wood-Fired Pizza ($13-16), items On Bread (mostly burgers, $13-16), Brewery Pasta (mostly in-house prepared Mac, $15-17) and Big Plates, from Wood-Fired Swordfish tacos ($17) to Steak Kabobs ($19) round out the rest of the menu.
I had been in a burger state of mind all day, so my tunnel vision steered me to the “On Bread” category. A purist, I tend toward the least adorned burger; I don’t want the meat camouflaged by too many other flavors. The sparsest of the lot, the Druthers Burger, sported aged cheddar, Bibb lettuce, pickled green tomatoes, pickled shallots and Druthers aioli. Gluten-free toasted bread could have been substituted (I didn’t), and I chose a heaping salad of balsamic-tossed greens instead of fries.
The burger, prepared from an in-house short rib and brisket blend, was cooked to a perfect medium rare as requested. It was both flavorful and juicy, and the additions enhanced rather than masked the burger. I forgot there was ketchup on the table.
In addition to the burger, I ordered the Mexican Street Corn Dip, which was accompanied by a basket of triangular red corn tortilla chips, properly salty and crispy. The dip itself was a blend of wood-fired corn (you could see the charring on the yellow kernels), jalapenos, sour cream, smoked paprika, aioli and queso fresco, served warm and garnished with a few leaves of deep green cilantro.
John’s Teriyaki Chicken Burger (house-ground chicken, grilled pineapple, pickled peppers, red onions and leafy spinach) was presented on grilled gluten-free bread with fries as requested, and pronounced excellent. He deemed the patty fine-grained, firm and tender, noting that the gluten-free bread did not crumble as he expected.
In order to balance the meal, he also ordered the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with blistered shishito peppers, cipollini onions, sherry vinaigrette and topped with a poached egg and crispy prosciutto (which looked more like bacon). The hemispheres of sprouts were full of flavor and rich.
Leila, our server, was pleasant, efficient and caring. Used dishes and utensils were whisked away before the table became overcrowded, water glasses refilled without asking and our satisfaction was periodically, but unobtrusively, checked. She explained that dessert is not yet offered at Druthers.
Inside the building, music was audible and the brewing apparatus behind massive panes of glass was visible. The features of Druthers Brewing Company create a venue which seems to appeal to a spectrum of age groups and not only the “younger set” as I expected. I’ll be returning soon with friends to sample the Loaded Monkey Bread and Deep Fried Ribs.
Shishito peppers are a sweet green east Asian variety that have a more pronounced and smoky flavor when charred. Cipollini (pronounced “chip-o-lee-knee”) onions are Italian white golf-ball-sized onions which appear to have been flattened. Because their sugar content is higher than regular onions, they are perfect for caramelizing.
Druthers Brewing Company
WHERE: 221 Harborside Drive, Schenectady, NY 12305; (518) 357-8640; www.druthers
WHEN: Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $47 with one nonalcoholic beverage, but without tax and tip.
MORE INFO: Gluten-free bread if requested, several parking areas, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, building on one level but no drop-off or parking for disabled.