Brunch in a food establishment tends to be a weekend event. Or even just a Sunday-after-church treat.
That pattern has changed, though, at least for the Café Madison in downtown Albany and for its newer sister café in the Loudon Plaza in Loudonville. Both cafes serve only brunch from early morning to mid-afternoon. Besides creative egg and pancake breakfasts, the twin cafes serve salads and burgers.
The establishment occupies the corner of a small strip mall at the end of Albany-Shaker Road kitty corner from Albany Memorial Hospital. As with most malls, parking is rarely a problem. We left the car close to the front door and joined the short line waiting for tables. Ryan at the door suggested the wait might be 20 to 30 minutes and took my name. We sat near the entrance and were called near the shorter end of the wait. Our small but adequate table was placed at the epicenter of activity where the bars (one large, one short) met the register, the entrance and the larger dining area.
It sounds hectic, but thoughtful organization rendered it quite calm, and I had a front-row seat for observing the inner workings of the production.
We had studied the menu while we waited for a table and were ready to order by the time we were seated. Brunch guest JP immediately ordered the café mocha ($4), which arrived in a V-shaped glass mug in three layers created by different densities: chocolate at the bottom, coffee in the middle and a lovely layer of fluffy egg white on top. My bottomless café house blend ($2.99), though more mundane, was excellent.
Guest ordered the Dorothy Zbornak Breakfast Nachos ($14), named for Bea Arthur’s character in the Golden Girls. Roasted zucchini and yellow summer squash were sliced and seasoned with house bayou mix and pico de gallo. Scrambled eggs with shredded cheddar cheese, crispy bacon crumbles and avocado crema occupied a third of the plate, while a large portion of home fries took up the lion’s share of the space. JP wished the quantity of eggs and potatoes had been reversed. His side of toasted dill onion bread (one of about 10 varieties offered) prompted him to purchase a savory loaf ($6) to bring home.
When I ordered oatmeal pancakes (two for $6) with raspberries ($1 extra), I was not aware that the Café Madison was well-known for the dish. And no wonder. The pancakes were light and tender, while the berries added a sweet-tart flavor. Real maple syrup is served with sweet treats. I requested a side of bacon ($3) and a small orange juice ($2.75) to round out my brunch. With the first bite, it became clear why raspberry oatmeal pancakes are such a hit at the Café Madison.
Besides innovative, well-prepared food, the Madison exhibits creativity in other ways. Its décor in soft tropical colors creates a calm atmosphere, something rarely found in other places such as diners where breakfast is served. Muffin tins are nailed end to end under the bar, where one can enjoy both mimosas and omelettes. Large rolling pins are attached as footrests below each bar stool. Mirrors are hung diagonally in front of mirrors that are hung horizontally. A variety of colorful small drawers on legs lead the diner’s eyes to an otherwise mundane wall behind the bar.
The bars served as surfaces for brunching, while 12 tables, three large booths and a scattering of tables with umbrellas outside provided seating for hungry customers.
Caring staff made diners feel welcomed and important. Donna took our orders with a genuine smile, while nearly invisible employees whisked away used tableware. Near the end of the meal, a young woman, who I guessed was the manager, asked us how everything was. “Excellent!” we responded simultaneously and honestly.
Although pico de gallo can be prepared with a variety of ingredients, the sauce begins with finely diced salsa of red chile, fresh tomato, green chile and white onion (the colors of the Mexican flag). Chopped cilantro and garlic may be added, along with a freshly squeezed lime to bring out the flavors.
Café Madison Loudon
WHERE: 359 Northern Blvd., Albany, 12204; 518-898 9630; www.cafemadisonalbany.com
WHEN: Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Friday-Sunday 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $35.24 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Lot parking, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, alcoholic beverages served, outdoor dining, gluten-free and vegetarian options, catering, p.m. private parties.