I am occasionally asked to explain how I identify restaurants to review. I’m guessing that close to 90 percent arise from personal recommendations. In the case of the café at the Niskayuna Co-op, it was a referral once removed. I was told the co-op had recently opened a small café and I should check it out.
A friend and I drove the short distance to the Schenectady suburb of Niskayuna to check out the cafe. Open for about six weeks, it was still in its infancy. Three small, round faux-tiled tables surrounded by six black wrought iron chairs were wedged in between the bread and the ice cream toppings aisle. We kept our coats on to neutralize the chill.
On each table was a small sign instructing patrons to pay for the food at the cashier’s counter when we leave. I rather admired the fact that we were on the honor system to pay. Honesty seems to be at a premium these days.
Since the menu was on blackboards high on the wall behind the meat/deli counter, my friend sent me photos of the offerings with her smartphone. I’m hoping that in the not-too-distant future, the co-op might consider duplicating menus to leave on the counter.
I ordered an Italian mix deli sandwich (for a reasonable $6.49) and a small cup of chicken noodle soup ($3.49). My friend grabbed a diet soda ($1.89) from the cooler in the grocery section. Following the same routine for herself, she substituted a grilled Caesar wrap (listed at $7.99 but charged only $6.49), a cup of cream of broccoli soup ($3.49) and a soft drink ($1.59).
There were four staff members behind the counter. But because the sandwiches were made from scratch when they were ordered (deli meats were sliced, “grilled” chicken warmed, hard roll sliced), and because there were already customers in line for a pound of this and a quarter pound of that, the wait was longer than expected. Yet my guest persisted.
Except for a slightly soggy hard roll (the sandwich had been anointed with EVOO and vinegar — balsamic, I’m guessing), the combination of salami, cappicola, pepperoni, provolone, lettuce, tomato, red onion, oil, vinegar and oregano was traditional and fresh.
Guest’s chicken Caesar wrap was slightly disappointing. The warmed grilled chicken had been microwaved, with no evidence of previous grilling. Caesar dressing was evident only at the end of the wrap. “Lettuce,” which appeared to be microgreens or small leaves of spinach, suffered in the heat of the chicken. Grated parmesan helped perk up the wrap, and the detection of bacon prompted a friend who had sampled a bite to smile, “I taste real bacon, so everything else is forgiven.”
It might seem as if the soups were an afterthought, but they were not.
My rich chicken noodle was steaming and loaded with noodles. Guest’s cream of broccoli, though not thick and creamy, was flavorful and immensely satisfying on a cold winter day.
The co-op has always sold small portions of locally made salads to take home, and it occurred to me later that we could have added some pasta potpourri ($6.99/lb) or vega quinoa ($6.99/lb) to round out our meal. Next time.
The blackboard menu did not list desserts, which was fortunate for our waistlines. But it would not have been a stretch to have grabbed some cookies (natural, organic or sinful) from the shelves to nibble on at the end of our lunch.
Other items on the menu were Buffalo chicken, Nisky Reuben, turkey florentine wrap, hummus veggie wrap, Southwest wrap, eggplant or chicken parm, and Black & Blue (roast beef). To keep it simple, the co-op prices all sandwiches the same: $6.49 on one of several choices of bread (white, wheat, rye, hard roll); $7.99 for the same ingredients in a wrap; $7.99 for an 8-inch sub; and $10.99 for a 12-inch sub.
It is possible to fashion your own creation if you have special desires or are just plain fussy. It’s the unfailing “one from column A, one from column B” plan. In this case, the columns are labeled “fillings,” “cheeses” and “condiments,” creating dozens of different combinations. If one includes the different types of bread, lettuce, tomato and onions, it brings us into hundreds of possibilities.
At least for the first visit, I let the pros choose the ingredients. After I acquire my sea legs, I’ll be braver with subsequent trips to the Niskayuna Co-op Café and mix and match on my own.
I am optimistic about the co-op’s delve into the sit-down world of food. The store has always offered high-quality food in portions that suit single people or small families. Staff members are friendly and helpful. Shareholders ($5/share, refundable if you leave the area) have a say in the products and operation.
Niskayuna Co-op Cafe
WHERE: 2227 Nott St., Schenectady; (518) 374-1362; www.niskayunacoop.com
WHEN: Market hours, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
HOW MUCH: $23.44 for 2 soups, 2 sandwiches, 2 soft drinks, but without tax and tip
MORE INFO: daily specials, large parking lot, accessible, major credit cards, neighborhood market atmosphere