"Have you tried the quinoa chili? It’s incredible.”
Tim Barker loves the homemade Peruvian food at Schenectady Greenmarket. As he waits in line, the Schenectady resident eyes the cabbage and chorizo empanadas, the fried bananas and pork tamales.
Finally, he makes his decision.
“Yucca,” he says. “Today, I’m trying the yucca.”
At a nearby table, Faith Weldon of Glenville has selected an Eastern European dish for her lunch.
“Spanakopita. It’s delicious,” Weldon says, plunging her fork into the thick, warm layers of spinach, cheese and phyllo.
“I had a burek last week,” she says. “I come here every Sunday to have lunch at the market.”
In November, when Schenectady Greenmarket moved indoors to its winter home at Proctors, it expanded into Key Hall.
Each Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the elegant former bank lobby is transformed into a bustling food court with hot and cold dishes served by vendors from local restaurants and catering companies. Shoppers can take a seat and enjoy a meal or a snack at big round tables topped with white tablecloths and listen to live music while they dine.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady — in Rob Alley, the downstairs Education Center and Key Hall
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through April 28. Closed on Easter, March 31.
MORE INFO: www.schenectadygreenmarket.org
It’s like an indoor picnic at Proctors, with foods from around the world and a festival atmosphere, and it’s attracting more people every week, from young couples with babies to college students and senior citizens.
“It’s going really well,” says Betsy Henry, board chairwoman for Schenectady Greenmarket, which is marking its fifth winter and has 73 indoor vendors.
“Key Hall is such a beautiful place. And our customers are finally getting a chance to sit down.”
The half-dozen or so vendors that sell prepared food in Key Hall like the new addition, too.
“The Greenmarket is very good. People are getting to know the restaurant,” says Shami Waheed, owner and chef of Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant on Jay Street in Schenectady.
Every Sunday, Waheed brings vegan, vegetarian and some chicken dishes to Proctors.
“Everything is mostly vegetarian,” she says.
Spinach and lentils, simmered with onions, garlic, cumin and tomatoes, is a favorite with her customers. “Our rice pudding is very popular.”
Near the State Street entrance to Key Hall, Robin Brown of Schenectady’s Café Nola, pushes lemons through a press, adds sugar and shakes it up.
“We make the lemonade right in front of folks,” Brown says. “This week, it was passion fruit. Sometimes it’s guava.”
On a recent Sunday, her Cajun/New Orleans menu featured blackened catfish etouffee over dirty rice, mac and cheese and cheddar corn bread.
“I have a different menu all the time,” says Brown, who makes the food with her husband, Chef Kevin, and daughter Rachel. One week, it’s short ribs slow-cooked in Louisiana’s Abita Turbodog beer and cinnamon, the next it might be crawfish jambalaya.
Café Nola served food at the market last year, in the lower level under Robb Alley, where there was only a tiny, crowded dining area.
“It’s better this year, and it’s a lot to do with the location. The Greenmarket has helped us promote our cafe. Where else are you going to get the opportunity to eat all these cuisines in one location?”
Happy to be back
Euro Delicacies, an Albany catering business, has also returned for a second winter.
“It’s a good community. We’re happy,” says Armin Hrelja, who operates Euro Delicacies with his parents.
Along with the spanokopita, Hrelja’s most popular dish is the burek, a rectangular roll of flaky, buttery phyllo filled with ground sirloin.
Their menu of warm dishes also includes stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, moussaka — an eggplant dish with bechamel sauce — and pile pita, a phyllo dish made with chicken and carmelized vegetables.
Hrelja and his parents, who came here from Bosnia three years ago, prepare Eastern European food for office parties, weddings, summer festivals and Troy’s winter farmers market.
“My parents were chefs in Europe,” says Hrelja.
Maria Lloyd of Albany, who runs Maria’s Peruvian Delights, grew up in northern Peru, and came to this country 25 years ago after marrying an American. “The Greenmarket has given opportunities to many people,” says Lloyd, the mother of two daughters who are both in college. “That’s how I pay their education.”
Lloyd cooks for the International Food Festival and Spanish Heritage Festival in the Empire State Plaza and the Latino Festival in Washington Park.
“These are all Peruvian dishes, with a little fusion of American and with Peruvian seasonings,” Lloyd says. “Quinoa is grown in Peru. I cook a lot with quinoa.”
Quinoa chili is a mix of tomatoes, garbanzos, kidney beans and Peruvian spices. Another market favorite is a quinoa salad with mango. Yucca or cassava is a potato-like tuber that is common in South American cuisine.
“I try to make it healthy,” she says.
Her empanadas are small, crescent-shaped breads stuffed with beef, chicken, spinach and cheese, or cabbage and chorizo, that can be topped with a green sauce made with cilantro and jalapeño.
“Peruvian food is not very spicy. You make it spicy,” Lloyd says.
For less adventurous eaters, there are other vendors.
Jean Hull of Gilboa bought her lunch, a big cup of bean and garlic soup and some spinach pie from Chick and Hen Baking Co. of Gloversville. “This is our first time here,” says Hull. “We came for the whole market, but we knew we could get some delicious homemade food, so we came at lunch time.”
Pika’s Farm Table, a Belgian-run company from the Hudson Valley, makes handmade Belgian waffles at the market.
And it’s not just the food that brings people to Key Hall.
“You bump into your friends, you have time to chat,” says Pam Pearlman of Schenectady, who is there with her husband, Jim Kalohn.
“Today we’re trying the food from Taj Mahal, vegetable samosas and masala,” says Pearlman.
“I like the music,” says Weldon, who sits across the table from Pearlman with her husband, John.
“The music is bringing people in,” says Brown, the Café Nola vendor.
On most Sundays, there is free, live music in three places at the market. The schedule is listed on the web site, with solo artists and groups performing jazz, folk, classical and pop.
Sometimes three acts play for the first two hours and three more play for the last two hours.
“Potentially, it’s six different acts on Sundays,” says Henry. “The customers just love it and it really adds to the atmosphere.”