SCHENECTADY — Winter never gives up without a fight, I thought, as I made my way down the Arctic wind tunnel that was Jay Street in Schenectady.
I ducked through the doorway into Bud’s; by contrast it was cozy, the kind of warm that comes from old cast iron radiators and cooking. Very comforting.
Bud’s on Jay is unpretentious — welcoming to people and dogs, easy on you. Coffee comes in big cardboard cups you can hold in two hands on a day like this one.
The coffee shop, as it calls itself, is made up of three storefronts in what looks like two separate buildings. Virginia, who met me for lunch, managed to find the only door of three that doesn’t open.
Bud’s has the kind of old-building gravitas a historic industrial city confers on independent businesses that you won’t find in the suburbs or a strip mall: high tin ceilings, arched doorways and pushed-out storefront windows. There are bistro tables tucked into those windows and a small dining room a few steps up at one end.
The business takes place in the middle section, where you order and can choose pastries from a glass case. There is a serious-looking coffee making machine behind the counter and rows of bottles of Torani syrups.
It’s a coffee shop, so you can get smart coffees such as nitro and latte and cold brew. Virginia said the drip coffee was excellent, nice and hot.
Chalkboards announce new items. Bags of coffee beans are for sale, as are bags of chips and locally made beef jerky. Grab a drink from the coolers at the State Street end of the shop, near the condiment station under the Jay Street mural.
“Hi there,” sang out the counterperson whenever someone new came in. There’s a big menu board hanging behind the counter, but give your eyes and neck a rest and take a paper one from the stack. It’s breakfast and lunch here, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Breakfast is served all day.
Prices are friendly, and along with the breakfast and lunch standards you’d expect there are vegan and vegetarian options. Try a breakfast sandwich ($4.99) with your choice of bread and meat, or a vegan version ($5.99). The Bud Burger ($11.99) is topped with cheddar, egg, lettuce, tomato and onion. The Bernie Burger ($15) swaps the beef for a Beyond burger. Sandwiches include a side salad or chips and pickle.
I took a diet root beer from the cooler and claimed a table in one of the windows. When Virginia arrived, I put in our orders at the counter and our meals were brought to us when they were ready.
“It’s nice to be able to look out at Proctors,” observed Virginia. Pedestrian traffic was light, but in summer there are tables outside along Jay Street and plenty of folks around.
One blue-painted wall in the dining room displays local art for sale, an eclectic selection. It gives Bud’s a community feel. There’s an old-school Pac-Man arcade game here, too. Oversized lighted ghosts and Pac-Man look out over the dining room from an alcove.
Virginia enjoyed The Lox ($7.99), a toasted sandwich smeared with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon, capers and chunks of tomato and red onion. You can choose from a hard roll, bagel, croissant or several kinds of bread. Virginia opted for a hard roll.
“The knife and fork help,” she said, diving into the open-face sandwich. There was plenty of salmon, she observed, and she liked the chunks of fresh tomato and red onion.
“It has that wonderful mix of flavors from the cream cheese and the lox. The onions and capers add a little extra excitement,” she said. A sprinkling of dried dill topped it off. Very good, she decided.
I ordered a Buffalo chicken salad ($12.99) that I wanted to love as much as the rest of the place. Sometimes that happens; there’s only one visit and one dish per person for each review. I didn’t love the salad, though they got points for presentation and service. The hot sauce was overpowering and the smell of the vinegar was overwhelming. The sauce was better on the chicken than on the greens; it was OK on the chicken, but it was hard to eat around on the greens.
The greens were a mix of baby spinach and colorful lettuces. There were chopped tomatoes and shredded carrots and cheddar cheese.
Ranch dressing might have helped but I chose a vinaigrette, which while tasty, didn’t make it past the hot sauce. Next time I’ll have a breakfast sandwich — they looked heavenly — or a burger.
“Oh my gosh, that looks beautiful,” said Virginia as I took a chocolate peanut butter cookie ($2.99) out of its bag. It’s a large cookie, with chunks of soft chocolate and peanut butter chips, fresh and delicious. We made short work of it.
I brought home a weighty hunk of crumb cake ($3.29) for husband Eric’s breakfast the next day. “It’s about the crumbs,” he observed. “Half cake, half sugar,” he added, approvingly. The cake was nice and moist, which he noted was “a big deal,” and said he’d eat only half, but he didn’t.
The tab for all this came to $40.76 including a 20% tip.
I’ll go back again and try something else because I want to savor Bud’s funky, friendly atmosphere.
Independent coffee shops are a welcome addition to any community, and Bud’s inexpensive breakfast and lunch — and good coffee — make Jay Street, and Schenectady, a more interesting place.
Bud’s on Jay
WHERE: 185 Jay St., Schenectady; (518) 952-4466; budsonjay.com
WHEN: Winter hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, subject to change.
HOW MUCH: $40.76 for two, with drinks, dessert and tip.
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Apple Pay. Part of the restaurant is wheelchair accessible, enter through the main door. Downtown Schenectady street parking (good luck). Delivery through third parties such as Grubhub.