Nostalgia ruled the evening. The City Squire was among the first restaurants I enjoyed when I moved to Schenectady.
I remembered it as dark paneled, dimly-lit and cozy, with the L-shaped bar separated by a half wall from the dining area.
I remember friendly Buzzy and Paul, the bartenders, and Carol the caring waitress. The food was always more than adequate and often downright creative.
The City Squire I visited this week still had some of these features but with differences.
The paneled wall now is unfinished pine. The bar is less separated from the dining area, and there is another bar on a second level (I did not venture upstairs).
Friendliness is augmented by the noise of happy voices. The food is still more than adequate, and the staff (now younger) is still caring.
Nurse Lois and I had our first “date” at the City Squire during a particularly stressful time in my life. She sensed I needed a warm meal and a good listener. So we returned recently to a very different City Squire, but one that nevertheless met our needs.
The relatively brief menu was intended to ease the restaurant’s way into full operation.
Neither coffee nor desserts (except for New York-style cheese cake with strawberries and whipped cream) were available yet. Owner John Isopo, very visible during our visit, explained that a full menu would be available the following week.
Lois and I began with two appetizers to share: Onion rings ($8, breaded and served with chipotle aioli dipping sauce) and Korean chicken wings ($12) tossed and deep fried in sweet honey soy (mild), Korean chili garlic (medium — our choice) or Squires Revenge (hot) sauce. Accompanied by sticks of celery and carrots with a small side of bleu cheese dressing, the wings were tender, juicy and perfectly seasoned. The onion rings were browned and crispy. Lois noted a loop of onion skin which had been left on one ring, and decided it was too minor to mention to server Courtney.
We were still nibbling on rings and wings when the rest of our meal arrived.
Lois’s Squire burger ($11) was served on a Challah bread bun with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and Thousand Island dressing, and was slightly pink though she had ordered it medium well.
But because the burger was otherwise flavorful and not overly seasoned, she opted not to send it back to the kitchen.
I ordered the corned beef Reuben ($13) out of nostalgia. With lots of thinly-sliced corned beef piled high on grilled rye/pumpernickel marble bread with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, the sandwich was near-perfect. It would only have required a little more grilling to have prevented sogginess on the underside from the sauerkraut.
Both dishes were rounded out by stacks of fries which were crispy, hot and not saturated with oil.
For a restaurant in its infancy (the new City Squire had only been opened a little over a week), the food and service were more than acceptable.
Owner John Isopo was present to address questions that might otherwise have gone unanswered.
The Squire does not take reservations yet. We decided to dine early to avoid a rush. It did not work. Even at 5:30, all the tables and most of the seats at the bar were occupied.
A small crowd began to cluster at the door in an area too small to be called a lobby. There were no chairs to sit in while diners waited.
We were told the wait would be 15 to 20 minutes. If I were not on a mission, I probably would had quietly left.
A booth-like set up was unoccupied, but we were told it was being saved for a larger group. Understandable, although a “larger group” never materialized during our dining, and the table was occupied only by a young man filling out what appeared to be a job application.
Eventually, hostess Sarah located a table for us. Had we been able to manage the flight of stairs leading to the second floor, we could have been seated sooner.
Sarah continued to be apologetic, and 35 minutes after we arrived, we were seated. From that point, it was smooth sailing.
Handicap accessibility was not yet perfected the night we visited. The door opening from the ramp on the parking lot side of the restaurant was locked and a hand-written sign on the door instructed the customer to “Please Use Front Entrance.”
But the Keyes Avenue entrance required six stairs to access. Stairs (no elevator) lead to the upstairs seating. At least half of the tables downstairs were high-tops and either uncomfortable or inaccessible for diners with mobility issues.
Nevertheless, judging from the packed house, the City Squire is well on its way to becoming the local favorite it once was.
I doubt I have ever highlighted flatware in a review, but the obviously new forks, knives and spoons were of high quality, heavy in the hand and were designed for dining, not just eating.
City Squire Ale House Kitchen & Bar
WHERE: 1018 Keyes Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12309, (518) 382-1800,
WHEN: Daily 11:00 a.m. — 11:00 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $44.00 for two appetizers and two entrees before tax and tip
MORE INFO: six stairs outside, large parking lot;
no reservations; take-out and delivery available;
cash, VISA and Mastercard accepted;
second floor with stairs, outside ramp unavailable
as of this writing