In Switzerland, fleece blankets are draped over bistro chairs for cold-weather dining. In Paris, husband Eric and I drank red wine in winter under a heater at an outdoor cafe on Ile Saint-Louis. Capital Region residents don't engage in fresh-air dining in winter, so we have to make the most of the short season we have.
In Saratoga Springs, sidewalk cafes have long been part of the downtown experience. In Schenectady, a number of outdoor dining spots have popped up on lower Union Street and in other downtown locations.
Here are some good choices for al fresco dining, in no particular order. Get yourself out and enjoy the brief season. And bring a sweater.
1. The Waters Edge Lighthouse, 2 Freemans Bridge Road, Glenville, 370-5300, www.thewatersedgelighthouse.com
Enjoy appetizers, sandwiches and pizza on an abbreviated menu while dining at the Cabana Bar overlooking the Mohawk River. If you're cruising, tie up at the dock.
2. Lanie's Cafe, 471 Albany Shaker Road, Loudonville, 438-5005, www.laniescafe.com
It doesn't matter that the patio at this incredibly popular restaurant overlooks a parking lot. Lanie's has a well-earned reputation for good food with a wide-ranging menu that leans Italian. Have a burger, chicken piccatta, a steak. It's all good, that's why it's always crowded.
3. Jumpin Jack's Drive-In, 5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia, 393-6101, www.jumpinjacksdriveininc.com
Grab a sunny picnic table and watch out for little leaguers as you make your way the Charcoal Pit for a burger and some onion rings. Leave room for soft ice cream or cotton candy from the Twin-Freeze. Outdoor dining doesn't get any more family-friendly than this.
4. Johnny's, 433 State St, Schenectady, 982-5657, www.johnnysdowntown.com
There's no better place to soak in our revitalized downtown Schenectady than the patio at Johnny's. The restaurant features classic Italian food, homemade pasta and some of the best desserts you'll ever taste.
5. Nico's Rooftop Tavern, 441 State St., Schenectady, 372-6024, www.nicosrooftoptavern.com
Located above Nico's Pizzeria in downtown Schenectady, it's convenient to entertainment and has a view of the gleaming golden City Hall dome. In addition to the full pizzeria menu, the Rooftop has appetizers, salads and entrees. The Buffalo mac and cheese is preposterously fattening and delicious.
6. Lanzi's on the Lake, 1751 Route 30, Mayfield, 661 7711, www.lanzisonthelake.net
From Lanzi's outdoor deck, you can see enjoy a spectacular view of the spectacular Great Sacandaga Lake. The restaurant, which includes a marina, has become a tradition for both permanent residents and seasonal visitors.
7. Mill on Round Lake, 2121 Route 9, Round Lake, 899-5253, www.myfavoritetaverns.com/the-mill
Casual food you want to eat, not should eat. Enjoy sandwiches, burgers, wings, quesadillas on the large patio.
Umbrella tables for day, a fire pit for night. Convivial atmosphere.
8. Prime at Saratoga National Golf Club, 458 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-4653, www.golfsaratoga.com
This is a swanky joint but you don't have to be a member, and it's classic Angelo Mazzone so everyone is made to feel welcome. Enjoy matchless steaks and faultless service. There's a covered patio in case of rain but it's gorgeous inside as well as out. You don't even have to like golf.
9. Circus Cafe, 392 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1106, www.circuscafe.com
You can get both a Mojito and cotton candy here but you probably don't want them together. Burgers are famous and kids are welcome. Centrally located on Broadway for excellent people-watching all hours of the day and night.
10. The Brick, 54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park, 383-2222, brickhousepizzany.com
Easily the best outdoor dining location in Clifton Park, The Brick has a sprawling deck and outdoor bar that overlooks a charming pond. The white pizza is out of this world, prices are friendly, and if you don't want to go outside there's plenty of screens to watch sports.
12. Brown's Brewing Company's Troy Taproom, 417 River St., Troy, 273-2337, brownsbrewing.com
Brown's was a brewpub before brewpubs were cool. Dependable wings, salads, burgers, and a few entrees with a view of the Hudson River. When it gets too crowded it's a short walk to patios at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and the new Wolf's Biergarten.
13. Your local ice cream stand or drive-in
I'm talking about the Country Drive-in in Halfmoon, Cappie's Drive-In in Amsterdam, Snowman in Troy, Poppy's in Rotterdam, Kurver Kreme in Albany and too many others to list. Make an excuse to visit your favorite joint soon. Support locally made ice cream. Stewart's counts, too.
Read more about food, kids, day trips and entertainment in the Summer Big Edition.