The Raindancer Restaurant is a warhorse on Route 30 north of Amsterdam. Who, reading this review, can remember a time when it was not present? The worn red carpet leading to the front door can attest to the venue’s longevity.
Entering the Raindancer is like a trip back to the Fifties. Both menu and décor reflect a time of Tiffany lamps lighting most tables like round kaleidoscopic faux jewels, dark wood, salad bars and smaller rooms carved from large spaces. Even the menu suggested a time when portions were large, meat was red and lettuce was iceberg.
A friend would categorize the Raindancer as a “brown gravy” establishment. Basic. Nothing on the menu that could not be pronounced.
Pete Wells, restaurant critic at the New York Times, summarizes it best: A good restaurant should do what it promises to do, and do it well.
That would describe the Raindancer.
The parking lot was nearly full when we pulled in a little before 6 p.m. one Thursday evening.
The person with whom I spoke that afternoon, however, said a reservation for two people would be unnecessary.
We were led to a booth, a womb-like cubicle with three high sides, insulating us from the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant, a place where we could talk and not worry about the folks across the aisle listening in. Our server neither rushed nor neglected us.
The menu was what we expected — standards and comfort food. And yes, turkey and beef with gravy—topped with gravy, gravy on the side — even the soup of the day was gravy-based.
Faithful Sidekick perused the appetizer page of the menu, glancing past the calamari, shrimp cocktail, wings and Flowering Colossal Onion ($11.50 for a jumbo sweet onion dipped in seasonal bread crumbs, deep fried to perfection and served with horseradish sauce), and settling on the soup du jour, Creamy Beef Vegetable. The price of the soup was listed on the menu as $4.99 but varied according to the rest of the customer’s meal.
Because my guest had ordered one of the daily specials, his soup was two dollars less than stated on the menu. The salad bar was priced on a sliding scale as well; ours came with our dinners with no extra charge.
The salad bar itself was about eight feet long, with duplicate offerings arranged on each side.
Besides the usual fresh vegetables, there were prepared salads like pasta with celery and a hint of tuna. Six dressings were offered along with four kinds of bread which the menu stated was baked on the premise and hand sliced.
The piece of pumpernickel I sampled, however, had not been baked that day.
The freshness of the ingredients (no limp lettuce) was apparent, and the salad plates were stored in a refrigerated chest to keep them cool and clean.
Guest’s Daily Special Seafood en Casserole ($16.50, consisting of baby scallops, shrimp and a crabmeat blend baked in a creamy au gratin sauce topped with a shredded cheese blend) arrived at the table too hot to touch. Bursting with seafood, the result was nevertheless mild in flavor.
He perked up his side of mashed potatoes with the remaining creamy beef “soup” (aka gravy with peas and carrots).
My craving for red meat diminishes by the year, but on this particular night, my cavewoman gene kicked in and I ordered the Raindancer’s popular Roast Prime Rib Au Jus ($37.99).
Served oven-roasted and bone in, the three-inch thick mountain of meat sent me into a paroxysm of nervous laughter. What was I thinking?!
Server Marissa suggested a small cup of sour cream horseradish sauce on the side. Topped with some delicate frizzled onions, the entrée was outrageous — tender, perfectly marbled and seasoned. Once at home, we managed five more servings out of that monster.
Dessert was included with the Early Bird Special. Tonight’s choice was either rice pudding or chocolate mousse. Guest chose the mousse which was not memorable.
With touches of beveled glass, glass bricks, real brewed iced tea served in real quart-sized Mason jars, caring service and reasonable prices, the Raindancer has earned its enduring reputation as a dining destination for couples, families and large parties.
WHERE: 4582 state Highway 30, Amsterdam, NY 12010, 518-842-2606, www.raindancerrestaurant.com/
WHEN: Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 12:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $62.98 (for 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, 1 sparkling water, 1 iced tea, 1 dessert) without tax and tip
MORE INFO: large parking lot, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, private parties, take out, full bar,
Early Bird Specials, reservations not required