Over the drink coolers in the bright and brand-new, expanded Halfmoon Sandwich & Salad Shoppe hang two small signs. One says “Clifton Park,” the other, “Long Island.” They bring lots of good things to the Capital Region from the Island.
We displaced Islanders whine and mourn the superiority our Italian bread, Chinese food, bagels and especially the pizza, tragically left behind, improved and canonized in retrospect. But we fail to mention that plenty of Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies go down the Thruway, and Schenectady’s bakeries produce different but equivalent Italian bread and pastries. Capital Region cuisine has its charms.
Halfmoon Sandwich & Salad Shoppe
WHERE: 1613 Route 9, Halfmoon, 371-2902, Fax 371-4235
WHEN: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $28.59, with two sodas, a cinnamon bun, and tax
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover. Wheelchair accessible. Catering available. Local delivery.
Mom and I visited the HS & SS when it was in a tidy, cozy building with a few tables and came away impressed. It was bustling then, and though there are way more tables now, I still saw folks waiting for seats at lunch. Which explained why we’d seen people eating in their cars in the parking lot.
Recently, Mom had an extraordinary burger (8 ounces, hand-formed, on a real challah roll, $4.50) and fat golden fries so good we ate them without salt, and I had delicious homemade chicken soup.
The old building was demolished and HS & SS moved into the much larger building next door last November. Big windows make it bright and cheerful, with black-and-white tiled floor and tables for four with comfortable matching upholstered red retro dinette chairs. I didn’t care for the five flat screen TVs but caught myself checking YNN. Extra chairs are lined up along the wall, but they’re planning to add a few tables and reconfigure the space.
Look for the whiteboard with the day’s specials when you come in, because it leads to the counter. Pause to check the specials, and take a menu. But before you get on line, grab a drink from the cooler. If you haven’t had one, you must try the very cool Boylan’s sodas in the slender glass bottles.
When Mom and I stopped for an early dinner we found the place quiet. Mom got a Boylan’s root beer and I took a diet black cherry and we headed for the counter. Mom was ready; she’d zoomed in on sandwich #5: Asian roast beef, blue cheese, crisp fried onions, mesclun greens with aioli on focaccia.
Our meals came out as we watched an energetic squall swirl snow across Route 9. There was only one other table occupied in the restaurant, plus a woman on her cellphone examining the takeout dinners.
The sandwich, stuffed with Boar’s Head meat of course, was impressive. Satisfied, Mom showed me the thick layer of roast beef and praised the bread. “Delicious. The tomato sauce on the focaccia adds another dimension.” She took home half, still wrapped in its white paper.
Placing your order
I ordered salad since I’m on a diet, and salads are part of the name of HS & SS. The kind person at the counter led me through the steps, because it is a process, and not one I’m sure I’d want to carry out during a busy lunch rush. Take the order sheet and pen and check off what you want.
First, pick the greens and the size. I chose mesclun, large ($7.50). Lots of toppings are included; check the ones you want. I took carrots and celery, croutons and tomato. For a bit more, I got blackened chicken, grilled vegetables, caramelized onions, croutons and dried cranberries.
Then you choose the dressing, in my case balsamic vinaigrette, which came separately in two big cups. It made for an odd salad, I admitted, as I paid up. The employee tactfully said that if you go through the list and just check off everything you like, the results can be mixed. It’s best to have a plan, so keep that in mind when you order.
My salad arrived stuffed into a large clear clamshell, so loaded with toppings I couldn’t see the greens. In the northeast corner there was the sliced celery, quartered carrot coins northwest, tomatoes southwest, and cranberries southeast. The sweet caramelized onions were somewhere in the middle, under the blackened chicken, grilled vegetables and croutons.
It weighed over a pound, I’m sure, and I only just reached the lettuce when I called it quits. Their homemade croutons are great, but then I wasn’t crazy about the seasoning on the grilled vegetables, and mustard was the culprit. Mom said: “You don’t need dressing on these.” The blackened chicken was a bit sweet with an agreeable bite.
The only criticism was that most of the lettuce was in full pieces. They have knives, but still. You can get it chopped, but for this combination, I’m glad I didn’t.
I joined the woman by the cooler on her cellphone. “They have baked ziti, mac and cheese, eggplant Parm, and chicken Parm dinners,” I said to husband Eric, as my neighbor recited the same litany to her caller. He settled on the chicken ($7.95) and I took it to the counter to be wrapped with the leftovers.
Good food to go
To go, there are also pasta sauces and homemade dressing, not to mention the specialty groceries like imported pasta and ladyfingers, and don’t miss the dessert cooler. It’s filled with specialty sweets like cookies from Brooklyn and homemade desserts like bread pudding. Mom took a cinnamon bun to go.
After 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees, the chicken Parm was perfect. “Nice hint of garlic in the sauce,” Eric said later that night. After another bite, he reconsidered: “More than a hint of garlic.” The mozzarella got soft and creamy, a nice contrast to the rich, pulpy sauce. “Wow, that was good,” he said.
Mom really enjoyed the cinnamon bun for breakfast the next day, and said it was very fresh. “It’s $2.50 a pop but it was worth the money,” she said, high praise indeed.
The tab for lunch with two sodas came to $28.59, not including the change I threw in the tip cup. They were nice to us, and as we left we heard someone sing out, “Have a great night, ladies.”
Thank you, HS & SS, for bringing me Entenmann’s fruit pies, bread from downstate, egg-on-a-roll, and Brooklyn cookies. And for being nice.
Oh, and by the way, HS & SS, you’re not a Shoppe anymore. Step up, you’re an emporium, a shrine, a destination for all we miss. You might want to consider changing the name.