I think I can remember four incarnations of 611 Union: a jazz/wine/cheese cafe; a beer pub; a restaurant specializing in beef; and the current venue. In an area now known as Restaurant Row, the new name makes the venue easy to locate.
I’m guessing a long, narrow room might be difficult to convert into a warm, comfortable place for dining: A small lounge with sofas and a fireplace, a bar area, a two-tiered space for listening to live jazz was my favorite. At 611, the space is essentially long and narrow, climaxing in an open kitchen featuring an oven with a formidable flame (the better to cook pizza with, my dear!).
As nearly as I can tell, 611 has changed little physically: same location of the open kitchen, same arrangement of tables, same patio, etc. There is a second-floor lounge that I have never seen, either time.
But what has changed is the quality of the food and the service. And that’s a good thing.
We were seated immediately. “Anywhere you like,” hostess Courtney said, because it was still early for dinner and most tables were unoccupied.
I’ve seen the menu described online as “American with a European flair or Italian.” It’s an eclectic menu: appetizers to pizza to salads to burgers and entrees.
Dinner guest is a fan of Utica greens and chose an order as her appetizer. The 611 version of the dish ($10) was described on the menu as escarole, capicola, onions and hot cherry peppers sautéed in butter and garlic, topped with panko and imported Romano cheese, and finished with a balsamic glaze. She described it as spicy and a little “softer” than what she was used to. When asked to elaborate, she explained that the greens had less of a vinegary bite than she anticipated.
My appetizer, the hummus plate ($8), was designed to share. It consisted of a small bowl of hummus (herb and olive oil the day we were there), grilled pita wedges, and crisp carrot and celery strips. It’s the kind of dish that slows one down and enables conversation.
Guest’s entrée was Union Pasta ($14). A combination of capicola, onions, hot cherry and roasted red peppers sauteed with butter and garlic over pasta, topped with seasoned bread crumbs and imported Romano cheese, the dish ironically contained ingredients almost identical to those of the Utica greens. The result, however, was vastly different due to the substitution of pasta for escarole. Chef’s magic!
My entrée was twofold: Baked french onion soup ($6) and traditional cheese pizza ($9). The soup was served piping hot in a crock with gruyere and provolone cheeses melted down the side. Pulling the cheese off and nibbling on it is my favorite part. Food to have fun with. My experience with French onion soup led me to expect a beefy broth. Instead, it had a dominant flavor more akin to sautéed onions. The remaining onions and croutons dissolved into a flavorful but unappetizing-looking mush.
The second half of my entrée was a straightforward traditional cheese (mozzarella and parmesan) pizza with chiffonade of fresh basil sprinkled evenly over the top.
What a masterpiece! It was a culinary example of the “less is more” theory.
Although when first served the pizza lacked basil, server Courtney corrected it immediately, and our table was scented with the aroma of fresh-cut, sweet-spicy basil.
The pizza itself was an homage to Italian cooking. A thin, crispy crust was covered with housemade tomato sauce, then a blanket of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses topped it off. Thin ribbons of basil added color, aroma and flavor.
Of course we had dessert. Guest chose New York-style cheesecake ($10). The small slice was more cake-y than creamy, but garnished with fresh strawberries and a little strawberry syrup, the overall effect was quite acceptable.
My Gabby Truffles (three for $4) were housemade, ultra sweet and outrageous (in a good way). Each one was different: The first was coated with honey and crushed graham crackers; the second was coated with colored sprinkles; and the last (my favorite) was an Oreo cookie truffle coated with powdered sugar. I would have enjoyed sipping a hot strong espresso with the delightful little balls of intense sweetness. But alas! Espresso was not offered.
WHERE: 611 Union St., Schenectady, 12305; 518-630-6003; www.611union.com
WHEN: Wednesday-Thursday 4 p.m.-12 a.m., Friday-Saturday 4 p.m.-1 a.m., Sunday noon-8 p.m. (brunch specials available), Monday-Tuesday closed
HOW MUCH: $61 (for two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts, one nonalcoholic beverage) without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Sunday brunch, street parking (public lot nearby), noise level permits conversation, accessible (ramp in front, access to bar requires stairs), private parties, takeout, gluten-free and vegetarian items available, outdoor patio in front, live music on weekends, all major credit cards accepted, Wi-Fi.