’Twas a dark and stormy night, and neither of us was in a mood to cook.
“Clinton’s Ditch is close by,” I remembered, and off we drove with torrents of rain whooshing down the windshield.
The Ditch, of course, is named for the Erie Canal (now Erie Boulevard) and for former New York governor DeWitt Clinton.
The three-step entrance without railings to the venue would pose a problem to anyone with mobility issues. Near the end of our dinner, server Fallon explained there was a back door that was handicap accessible. Unfortunately, there is no parking near the door, nor is there a sign at the front door suggesting folks with handicapping conditions should drive around to the rear. If the door is locked, Fallon advised, patrons should phone the Ditch.
Once in the building, we noted mostly high-topped tables in the bar area, but a variety of high and low tops in the dining area, where the original firehouse had been.
We chose a cozy table for two against the avocado-painted wall. Circling the room like a necklace were black-and-white photographs of firefighters. Toward the rear was a stairway leading to a balcony for private parties, which looked out over the high-ceilinged room trimmed with a deep cranberry.
As I was easing myself into the chair, our server asked, “Would you like something to drink?” Feeling pressured, I snapped, “I’ll order as soon as I sit down,” feeling instantly ashamed of my bad manners. A few minutes later, John requested a soft drink and I hot tea with lemon.
The menu focused on pub food sprinkled with a few seafood items such as steamed littleneck clams ($9), shrimp cocktail ($10), tuna sandwiches and wraps ($9-$10) and shrimp scampi ($18).
To prepare for a restaurant review, my guest and I attempt to sample a variety of items. The Appetizer Sampler ($10) consisted of 12 pieces: three each of Mozzarella Stix, Chicken Tenders, Cajun Tenders and Jalapeño Poppers, with a choice of two sauces. We voted for BBQ and horseradish mayo, both of which enlivened the otherwise ordinary breaded and fried appetizers.
John was in a steak frame of mind, and the Ditch offered a winner: a grilled 16-ounce New York strip ($24) topped with sautéed mushrooms, served with a side salad, mashed potatoes and sautéed crisp-tender yellow and green squash, and roasted red peppers. The exceptionally tender and flavorful steak was prepared to a perfect medium rare as requested, with prominent crisscrosses of charring where the meat had kissed the grill. The garlic mashed potatoes proved their authenticity with flecks of thin red skin and hints of lumps. My dinnermate remarked that every Romaine lettuce leaf was gently coated with excellent Caesar dressing.
My 8-ounce Angus Beef Build a Burger ($9) was served on a fresh deli roll with lettuce, tomatoes and red onions. Additional toppings (75 cents each) of bacon, sautéed mushrooms, red onions, hot cherry peppers, roasted red peppers, American, mozzarella, cheddar, Swiss, provolone or bleu cheese were also available. A slight scattering of cherry peppers was just enough for me to add zing to a tender, juicy and flavorful burger.
I was offered a side of fries, potato chips or the salad of the day, which on this evening was an excellent shell pasta with tuna. Alive with bits of green peppers and orange carrots, the salad was bound with sufficient mayonnaise to keep the ingredients together without drowning them.
At the end of the meal, Fallon recited the daily four desserts. Chocolate cake and chocolate peanut butter pie stood out on the list, but we were already full, bringing home half our entrees, and politely declined.
As she was walking us to the door, Fallon offered an apology for her rush to obtain our drink order. I offered my regrets at having been snappish. Besides the quality food and pleasant ambiance, it will be Fallon’s considerate and sincere behavior that will stand out when I think of Clinton’s Ditch.
Named after then-Gov. DeWitt Clinton, the 363-mile-long Erie Canal was built to create a navigable water route from New York City (Hudson River) and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes (Lake Erie). Sarcastically called “Clinton’s Folly,” and “Clinton’s Big Ditch,” a portion of it in Schenectady was filled in and became Erie Boulevard, inspiring the name of Clinton’s Ditch on South College Street.
WHERE: 112 S. College St., Schenectady, NY 12306, 518-346-8376, www.onefortheditch.com
WHEN: Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., bar open later, closed Sunday
HOW MUCH: $48.75 with two nonalcoholic beverages, but without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Full bar, specials, lot parking, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, three stairs to front door with no handrails, two stairways to two balconies, back entrance for diners with mobility issues about 50 feet from parking with one curb, private parties, catering, happy hours, patio in warm weather, takeout.