There are places I remember all my life
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
— Lennon and McCartney
Carney’s Tavern in Ballston Lake remains, though it has changed since last reviewed by The Gazette in 2005. Owner Robert Carney died in February 2012. His wife and co-owner, Rosemary, closed the business the following October and it reopened after renovation in March of 2013 by their Schenectady County Community College-trained chef Michael Pallozzi.
Carney’s remains because it is a restaurant you return to — comfortable, with decent food, caring service and tables spaced far enough apart to permit conversation.
Sister Janice and I slipped in the back door of Carney’s on a recent frigid Saturday evening. At 5:10, two of the 25 tables on three levels were occupied, with six patrons at the bar on the other side of the room.
Large wooden beams, tables covered with deep red tablecloths accented with off-white woven place mats, and soft jazzy Christmas music greeted us in this 1845 vintage building. We were seated immediately and our drink orders were taken — a house cabernet for Janice and orange peach herbal tea to warm me.
WHERE: 17 Main St., Ballston Lake; carneystavernny.com; 952-7177
WHEN: 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; closed Mondays
HOW MUCH: $62.21 with tax and tip but without wine
MORE INFO: Children’s menu, wheelchair accessible. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover
Menu for everyone
It was a menu for everyone: soups (French Onion au Gratin ($5.95) and a soup of the day ($4.95), six appetizers ($7.95 for Roasted Red Peppers, $11.95 for shrimp cocktail), salads and sandwiches, pizzas ($9.95-$11.95 depending on toppings), in-house burgers (from $8.95 plain to $11.95 for Bacon Cheddar), a variety of entrees ($12.95 for Cheese Raviolis, $23.95 for Filet Mignon Medallions) and children’s menu. Most entrees include the chef’s choice of starch, a seasonal vegetable, and a house salad.
But it was the brief list of five Saturday Evening Specials that grabbed our attention. Janice ordered a fish chowder ($3.95), and the 12-ounce queen cut prime rib au jus from Fred the Butcher in Halfmoon ($16.95). I opted for the Rutabaga Fries with Adobe Chili Remoulade ($9.95) and Skate Wing in Brown Butter Sauce ($17.95).
I knew a skate was a marine creature with a flat body and flipped up wing tips, but what exactly was it, I asked young server Kirsten. She hustled off to the kitchen to find out, but I had already made up my mind. There was still time to live on the edge.
(Turns out, skates are harmless cartilaginous fish whose pectoral fins, often referred to a “skate wings,” once skinned can be sautéed.)
Janice’s soup was more like a bisque — homogenous except for what appeared to be tiny pieces of carrot. We could not identify the seafood, but the flavor was intense and we quickly reached the bottom of the cup.
The rutabaga fries were soggy, limp and way too salty for someone prone to swollen ankles. Admitting they were salty, Janice finished the basket with gusto, loving every saline morsel. The remoulade received two thumbs up — creamy with a substantial bite.
House salads (romaine lettuce, cucumbers, red onion, grape tomatoes, carrots, radish slices), were crisp and chilled. Salad dressings were served on the side in baby ramekins.
Janice’s prime rib was delivered rare instead of the medium rare ordered. She nibbled around the better cooked outer edges but refused Chef Michael’s offer to replace it. A steak knife helped her deal with the slightly tough meat.
My skate was perfect. It was lightly sautéed in brown butter — the classic French preparation — with the deglazed scrapings (primarily sage, explained the chef) flavoring the sauce. Tender tendrils of the scalloped wings teased apart with the gentlest coaxing of a fork tine. Quelle revelation!
Both entrees were accompanied by crisp-tender haricots verts. Starches (mashed potatoes with the rib, citrus risotto cake with my skate) were lackluster. Neither of us detected citrus in the risotto.
We ordered the only dessert offered that evening: an unexciting apple tart ($4.95).
Halfway through dinner, karaoke singer Ed Clifford began singing with a Sinatra soundtrack. Instead of remaining where he was set up in the bar area, he continually visited tables to serenade diners. Fortunately, our conversation warded off the musical intrusion, though other diners seemed to welcome it.
Despite minor inconsistencies, Carney’s remains a reliable destination for good — and even unusual — food, caring service, in a warm environment.
My first date with Irv Dean nearly four years ago was a restaurant review. I told him that my test of a good restaurant was whether or not I would return, and that in this case, I would not. I was dismayed that he quoted me in the review but he explained that if my comment was an honest one, positive or negative, it was fair to include it.
I accompanied Irv on approximately 80 reviews, graduating from Dinner Date Beverly to Friend Beverly, to Fiancée and then Wife Beverly, first as an observer and then as his photographer.
Ah, the romance of food.