Despite the 3 inches of snow already on the ground, we ventured out of our neighborhood to see what the other folks were eating.
Crave occupies a corner of Western and Quail in Albany. Its two street sides are nearly floor-to-ceiling glass trimmed with black and deep red. The single step into the building from the sidewalk might have been daunting, but a young employee was at the open door ready to help before I even saw him.
The red/black color scheme was evident inside the establishment as well. Butcher block tables with polished grey metal chairs and stools lent a spare industrial look. Lunchmate was only mildly disappointed that Crave wasn’t more “cozy.”
Concern about aesthetics diminished once we looked at the menu, which was available on a two-sided laminated sheet, as well as behind the counter on a chalkboard. I have difficulty reading while looking up and took the menu to my table in the back room.
The venue is a two-room affair (plus a small kitchen). Entering the door, one encounters the working part of Crave: counter, yogurt dispenser, eating bar lining the window, stools. I would have preferred to have sat here because I am nosey and want to observe the action. But sitting at bars on stools is difficult for me, and so we retreated to the more conventional chairs and tables in the rear room.
The menu was divided into easy-to-read sections: Snacks, Wings, Hot Dogs, Fries, Sandwiches, Burgers and Salads. Virtually all items listed were a few steps removed from the expected. Sure, a Crave Burger with the usual lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and Crave sauce was available for a reasonable $7.95, but nearly a dozen other combinations, variations and permutations were listed.
I chose the Sorta Torta burger ($10.95) because the cadence of the name made me smile. In addition, the ingredients (cumin seed-crusted beef patty, avocado, cotja cheese, jalapeno, pickled onion, cilantro and black bean spread on a soft bun), with the exception of the cilantro, are favorites. While I struggled to detect the flavor of the cumin seeds and was mildly disappointed that the burger was cooked to an ever-so-slightly pink medium instead of medium rare, the moistness of the meat and combined flavors of the entire burger more than made up for the overgrilled meat.
Guest was more than happy with her Twice Baked ($10.95), which included cheddar, potato skins, potato chips, sour cream and onion spread cut up and atop (or underneath?) the burger patty. Although it would have been physically difficult for me to deconstruct the creation, I agreed with her that the combined flavors resulted in a most appealing result. The culinary alchemist in the kitchen exhibited a flair for flavor in this and other creations.
A word about gluten — or its absence: I noticed that not only is it possible to substitute a gluten-free bun for a $3 upcharge, but it is also possible to turn any burger into a salad for $2. A patron sitting near me had ordered a chopped salad (iceberg, romaine, bacon, avocado, tomato, pickle onion, ranch, crispy onion for $10.95) and for $5.95 more added a burger sans roll.
To fulfill my noble effort to include as much information as possible in my review, I also ordered onion rings with horseradish aioli ($6) and a Reuben Dog ($6.50) with sauerkraut, Swiss, Russian dressing and toasted caraway seed. The onion rings arrived too hot to eat immediately (and a tad greasy for my guest), and the dog was just a step or two away from how I enjoy hot dogs anyway: mustard, relish, sauerkraut, caraway seeds, and a hint of chopped raw onion and crumbled bacon. Cutting the hot dog into bite-sized pieces, we relished it (pun intended) hors d’oeuvres-like.
Dessert was simple and fun. An array of set-in stainless steel refrigerated units with spigots to dispense yogurt lined one wall. I’m guessing flavors vary periodically. The day we visited, vanilla and raspberry in various combinations were featured. A purest, I enjoyed raspberry, which was a sorbet. Its flavor was as intense as its near-neon color. Sweet/tart, like the berries plucked off my mother’s red raspberry bushes, the first frigid mouthful played havoc with my taste buds. Sold by the ounce ($0.56/ounce), guest sprinkled a colorful array of the 20 toppings offered to embellish her raspberry/vanilla swirl yogurt.
Service was simple and efficient. Once your order is placed and paid for at the counter, the customer is given a number on a stand, and food is delivered to the table in rapid fashion.
Rudolph and Santa Baby holiday music floated, cloudlike, above the dining area.
Cotija, similar to feta cheese, is a Hispanic-style cheese named after the town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán.
Crave Burgers and Frozen Yogurt
WHERE: 217 Western Ave., Albany 12203; (518) 650-6463
WHEN: Closed Monday; Tuesday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Saturday 12-10 p.m.; Sunday 12-9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $47.03 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Street parking, major credit cards, noise level permits conversation, one step into building, dine-in, takeout, delivery via Grubhub, accessible except for one step inside