SCHENECTADY — Oh my goodness, that was fun.
Amy and I stopped for lunch at the Bellevue Cafe on Broadway and had a terrific home cooked meal in a lively, authentic, diner-like setting.
It hooked us right from the get-go: the comfy booths; walls of windows that allow the sun to shine in on two sides; counter with spinny stools; and Tiffany-style lamps. The place was abuzz with diners around noontime, but that didn’t mean we had to wait. The hostess took us past a glass case filled with delicious-looking baked goods to a booth right next to a window. The place was spotless. Every table that wasn’t occupied was bussed.
We were happy to be in the main room; the back is pleasant but not as charming.
“It feels more like a diner in here,” said Amy.
You can be sure the food is, “Hearty, Healthy and Homemade” — after all, it’s printed on the back of the servers’ black T-shirts.
We were delighted to be a captive audience for advertisements from local businesses printed on our place mats. How better to learn about a community than by reading the colorful ads while you drink coffee?
Amy and I were lamenting the decline of local businesses in large cities we’ve visited recently. In New York, she had trouble finding a place to eat breakfast that wasn’t part of a chain. In Chicago, I’ve found one coffee shop where servers will bring you tea in a cup, and that’s where we go on every visit.
Schenectady still has vibrant, locally owned small businesses such as bakeries, restaurants, pizza parlors, import stores and coffee shops. If you don’t want any surprises go to the chain place, but I’d much rather meet and support local folks who make their own food and run their own businesses.
The Bellevue Cafe, on Broadway in the neighborhood of the same name in this fine city, is owned by Aphrodite Slingerland. Her father, Spiro Mikropoulos, an immigrant, started several businesses including diners and doughnut shops in this area in the early 1960s. Bellevue Cafe opened in the 1980s.
They’re open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., serving breakfast (until 11 a.m.), lunch and dinner.
You can afford it. One egg, any style, with toast and home fries or hash browns, is $4.29, one of many breakfast selections. The Bellevue Cafe burger with lettuce, tomato, onion and fries, is $10.25. Along with menus, we were handed a sheet with a long list of the day’s specials that include soup and dessert. Have a sandwich, salad or an entree for lunch or dinner. Hearty entrees, like broiled pork chops with applesauce ($15.25), include soup, potato, vegetable or salad.
“I want something diner-y,” said Amy. She went with the hot meatloaf lunch special ($10.49) and a cup of homemade vegetable barley soup.
“Delicious,” said Amy of the soup. “The broth has a starchy richness, with nice chunks of celery, carrot, tomato and soft barley.” She added, after a bit, “It has mushrooms, too.”
My chicken noodle soup was delicious. It came in a thick white china cup, just right. There was orzo and tiny round bits of pasta in the broth, along with pieces of white-meat chicken, celery, carrot, onion and spinach. The clear broth tasted of the meat, not salt.
Along with the soup came an endangered species: the bread and cracker basket, with individual packets of saltines and oyster crackers, plastic-wrapped fresh sliced Italian bread and butter packets. I stashed some bread in my handbag and had both saltine and oyster crackers in my soup. It felt lavish.
I approve of the Bellevue’s meatloaf. It has lots of flavor and moisture. Amy liked its fine and dense texture very much. We tasted oregano and plenty of garlic, which she noticed later, every time she opened her refrigerator that held the leftovers. The meatloaf is served grandly, over white-bread toast points, and with an ice-cream sized scoop of nice, fluffy mashed potatoes. There was gravy on the side.
It’s not my meatloaf, but it’s very good — dare I say, on par, but different.
We both loved it, even the gravy, which was miles better than what I recently had at an upscale steakhouse.
“The portions are very generous,” observed Amy, “but the food is good, too.” It went down easy, though she only finished half. There was still dessert to come, included with the meal.
I see grilled chicken as a test: Can a restaurant take a dry piece of white meat and make it flavorful and interesting? Here, yes. I was quite impressed with the grilled chicken sandwich ($10.99).
I wanted a side salad instead of fries but you can’t get it, one of only two things about this place I didn’t love. The other is the noise. I’m glad they’re busy, but we were also happy when folks began leaving and we were able to hear each other without leaning across the table.
As for the sanfwich, first I admired the genuine, fresh hard roll dusted with cornmeal, then the bits of grilled, juicy chicken sticking out the sides of the roll. I was pleased to find a small, delicious puddle on the plate. There were two pieces of chicken on the roll, perhaps from one whole small breast, flattened and quite tender. They are marinated and have added flavor from cooking; you can see the caramelization.
But our attention was on the gorgeous onion rings.
“We have rings so infrequently,” observed Amy. It’s not the kind of thing you have at home. They’re a treat, we agreed.
These were, with golden-brown delicious crunchy batter coating onion slices that slithered out, super hot and slippery. My advice is to wait until they cool a bit.
Though Amy was surrounded by food, she happily accepted a ring.
“It’s not excessively oily,” she observed. It was cooler now and easier to eat. The onions had a bit of pleasant sweetness.
We ate all the rings, and the server brought boxes for our leftovers.
Amy ordered the homemade rice pudding for dessert and thoughtfully asked for another spoon.
“Strong vanilla taste,” she reported. “Super sweet,” but “exactly what most people would want.” We agreed that the grated nutmeg cut the sweetness a bit. “Really delicious,” Amy said.
We wrapped up the meal as the delicious aroma of just-delivered, fresh-cooked french fries wafted over from the booth behind Amy.
The tab for this feast came to $37.45 for both meals, my diet soda and a generous tip. Bring your check to the hostess stand.
Schenectady has spirited independent restaurants — they’re spunky, sometimes gritty, but honest, free from dreary duplication, and sometimes inspired. It’s one of the best things about the city.
Someone call the Schenectady County Historical Society and let’s talk about keeping records of the history of these family-owned businesses that become gathering places and reflect so much culture through their food. They add so much to this city.
Anyway, go visit the Bellevue Cafe for its expansive menu, friendly and proficient servers with apron pockets full of straws and, not last, home-cooked food at a reasonable price. It’s not fancy, but we did so enjoy it.
WHERE: 2630 Broadway, Schenectady; (518) 393-7720; thebellevuecafe.com
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
HOW MUCH: $37.45 including tax and tip
MORE INFO: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover.
Parking lot. ADA Children’s menu.