It is hard to miss. The outside of the building at 1549 Carrie St. in Schenectady is painted sky blue. The walls inside the restaurant are phosphorescent lime green.
From shelves near the ceiling cascade garlands of live philodendron.
WHERE: 1549 Carrie St., Schenectady. 280-7766,
WHEN: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $15 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Wheelchair accessible (ramp), parking lot on side, all major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, takeout
Leslie and I had just been beamed down to the Dominican Republic!
The interior was otherwise sparse: nine tables, a glass display case with a long steam table along the right, an upright soda cooler and not much else.
Except for the diminutive woman standing behind the steam table.
Leonora hails from the Dominican Republic by way of Boston with husband Jesus (pronounced “Hay-soos”), who cooked in several prominent Boston hotels for eight years. He said he got his culinary education by watching and listening in the kitchen.
After a year rehabbing the building on Carrie Street, the couple opened Cousin’s last August.
One large laminated menu of about 100 items exists for all diners and for Leonora, who serves food from a long steam table and shares the cooking with her husband.
As nearly as I can tell, the offerings of the buffet from the steam table are $7.50 per person, while about 100 individual items on the menu range from $3-17. A Caribbean breakfast is $3.50, while a breakfast sandwich is about $3.
Where to start?
Leslie and I had no idea where to begin, so we stood behind the glass of the steam table and pointed while Leonora described the dishes to us.
And what an assortment! Steak with peppers, mashed eggplant (which was a little too salty for my palate), beef stew (excellent!), yellow rice with beans (Dominican classic Moro De Habichuelas), fried cheese (queso frito), fried salami, sausage, chicken empanada, chicken on the bone —a joyful sampling all.
Leslie and I traded bites, oohing and aahing over each bite. This was the kind of food eaten family style, trading forkfuls and comparing reactions — what dining, especially dining on unfamiliar cuisine is all about.
“Unfamiliar” perfectly summarizes much of the food. Many of the meats and fish were stewed—and so the menu read stewed beef, stewed chicken, stewed pigs’ feet, stewed liver, stewed goat, stewed oxtail, stewed pork ribs, stewed meatballs, stewed pigs ears, stewed codfish, stewed eggplant — all averaging about $7 for a small portion and $13 for a large portion.
Fried and grilled meats, fish and chicken were also offered for $11-$13.
Seafoood ranged from about $13.50 (fried shrimp) to $17.25 ( Spicy Calamari). Sides dishes like Mofongos (Mashed baked plantain) with fried pork, shrimp, chicken, were offered, for $5.75-10).
From the five desserts listed on the menu, we chose flan ($3), a super-sweet custard, sitting in an equally sweet puddle of caramel sauce made from brown cane sugar poured over a coconut topping. Dominican ambrosia!
All desserts were $3. I might have chosen Tres Leches (Milk Cake) had it been available the day we visited.
Shakes and juices in various combinations could be purchased for about $3.
The most unusual were Morir Sonando (“Die Dreaming”/Orange and Milk), and Naranja Avenja y leche (Orange, Oat and Milk).
While Leslie and I were enjoying our meal at Cousin’s, a mailman came in for lunch. He had clearly visited the venue on more than one occasion, and told us why he liked it. At a time when operations are big and fancy, it is refreshing to find a restaurant like Cousin’s that is small and genuine.
Next time I’ll finish the meal with a strong hot cup of Dominican coffee or Mocha Caliente (Hot mocha) for $1.50.
I have great admiration for Mom and Pop enterprises. The owners/operators put their heart, soul and sweat into the business. They are not employees, and the success of their business depends on their hard work. This is the reason I respect the owners and the work and money they invest in their business.
My Hungarian Uncle Vic loved food. He was a good cook, and used to talk about “taste thrills.” Uncle Vic would have loved Cousin’s Restaurant.
The owners deserve the support of the community they serve so well.