Ballston Spa

At the Table: Takeout pub fare is rich, satisfying at Front Street Social Club in Ballston Spa

The bar area at the Front Street Social Club in Ballston Spa. Inset: Chicken and beignets, the restaurant’s take on chicken and waffles, served with maple butter dipping sauce.

The bar area at the Front Street Social Club in Ballston Spa. Inset: Chicken and beignets, the restaurant’s take on chicken and waffles, served with maple butter dipping sauce.

I’ve had a lot of decadent food while in lockdown, but I haven’t had bacon, cheese sauce and dressing over french fries. You have to visit the Front Street Social Club for that.

And let me tell you, it’s worth the visit.

This “Village of Friends” has an outsized share of history. In 1771, the first mineral spring in America was discovered here. Its supposed restorative powers attracted visitors from all over the country. By 1803, the country’s largest hotel at the time was built, the Sans Souci, modeled after the palace at Versailles. It attracted distinguished visitors from around the globe. And in 1804, the more modest Village Hotel rose on Front Street. It’s now known as the Medbery Inn and Spa, which brings us to our story today. For inside the historic hotel is a saloon-like restaurant called the Front Street Social Club.

We ordered food to go, and after some confusion about the time takeout begins, put in our order at 5 p.m.

There’s just enough to see on a walk along the few blocks of the village to pass the time while your dinner is being prepared. Husband Eric and I had scoped out the restaurant and observed diners at other places on Front Street, some waiting for the restaurants to open.

When we arrived the wooden porch was already full of happy diners; in warm weather the restaurant spills out of the building it shares with the Medbery Inn. Inside, the restored 200-year-old pressed tin ceiling evokes a speakeasy feel. More pressed tin lines the walls, and a well-stocked and lighted handsome bar commands attention.

Our food was neatly packaged and ready to go, and smelled delicious all the way home. While our dinner kept warm in the oven we had a cocktail on the sunny back porch.

From their wide-ranging menu of mostly small plates and casual food, we took our niece Ann Marie’s recommendations and had a delicious, if filling, meal.

The Fronkenburger ($17.95), named for owner and Chef James Fronk, is a half-pound behemoth topped with maple bacon, smoked cheddar chipotle ranch dressing and an onion ring. We didn’t have it because Ann Marie did; she loved it and said it would “change how you look at all burgers going forward. Each topping highlights the next — and get your napkin ready, because it is not dainty.”

On her recommendation, Eric chose the Baja fish tacos ($16.95), a specialty of Fronk, who spent two decades soaking up Southern California cuisine. Tilapia, the featured fish, is coated in a crispy, spicy batter and served on three zesty, lime-scented corn tortillas along with grilled pineapple slaw and pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and chipotle crema.

“The fish is great,” said Eric of his first taco, adding, “we picked it up hours ago and it’s still delicious.” The fish was moist, he said, adding, “It’s a great way to take a bland fish and make it exciting.”

When Fronk had run our credit card at the restaurant, I asked him, how are the fish tacos? “FAN-tastic,” he said, stretching out the word. He’s right, they are.

I had the chicken and beignets ($14.95), the restaurant’s take on chicken and waffles, served with maple butter dipping sauce. They use excellent quality white meat chicken strips, steeped in a zingy citrus dijon and coated in a crispy beer batter. The sauce was syrupy, maple-scented, rich and wonderful.

The sugar-coated fresh beignets served as dessert. Eric topped his with ice cream and put them in the microwave. Faced with melted ice cream, he added more, explaining, “In my defense, I had a martini.”

Some of the sugar on my beignet got inhaled, as happens with all good freshly deep-fried and powdered dough. The beignets were delicious plain, with ice cream and left over the next day.

We shared an order of bacon cheddar fries ($7.95), which disappointed Eric but not me. “It looks like a casserole,” he said, when we got ready to eat. I picked off a piece of sweet maple bacon and ignored him.

Front Street uses hand-cut wedges of fresh potatoes which, after some time, lose their resemblance to fries; they were more loaded baked potato than topped french fries at this point. I blame COVID.

That’s not to say they weren’t delicious, because that cheese sauce rocked and the bacon was sweet. “This is a junk-food lover’s dream,” observed Eric.

Overall we agreed it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal, and some exercise for our taste buds, which have gotten complacent.

The cost of our meal was $42.64 plus tip. We will definitely revisit the Social Club to see the difference in the fries, and the chicken strips, when they are eaten straight from the kitchen.

“I couldn’t eat like that every day,” said Eric. And you might not eat such food at home, but what a treat to have when you go out, or take out.

Caroline Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Troy. Reach her at [email protected]

Front Street Social Club

WHERE: 52 Front St., Ballston Spa; (518) 309-3245; [email protected]

WHEN: 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday

HOW MUCH: $52.64, with tax and tip

MORE INFO: Parking behind building. ADA compliant. Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express

Categories: Food


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