Thursday, July 26, 2012

Out of the Kitchen: Good food for a bad day

When you're having a lousy day, what do you want to eat?

The menuMacaroni and cheese? Maybe a cheeseburger and some tater tots? Sure, that sounds good. But if you're having a really lousy day... do you really feel like cooking? Nah. Screw it. You're having a rough day. Why not let someone else cook? Why not... head to Comfort Kitchen in Saratoga Springs?

I was recently invited to a tasting event for area food bloggers at Comfort Kitchen, and overall, it was an enjoyable experience, and the food was both good and promising. I can pick a few nits, and I will, but let me just preface this by saying that all of my criticisms are small, and none of them would preclude me from recommending this place. (Apologies are in order at this point for the subpar photography -- the lighting there, while fine to dine by, is pretty awful for taking pictures.)

Tater totsFirst up were a couple of appetizers. The first offering was homemade tater tots. They were a bit rounder than the frozen ones we're all used to, but the flavor and texture were spot-on, with just a hint of rosemary to them. They were served with a bunch of different sauces: your standard mustard sauce, and blue cheese sauce, and a maple barbecue that was alright, and "awesome sauce," which was, indeed, pretty awesome, sort of like Russian dressing, but not quite, not really.

Veggie burger pattyThe second appetizer was mini veggie burger patties. They were a little tricky to eat served this way, bun-less -- I managed to half-drop mine trying to get it from platter to napkin. And I have to say, I was a little nervous about these, 'cause I've never eaten this sort of veggie burger, the black-bean-patty kind -- I've only ever tried the frozen kind that are trying to pretend they're real burgers, the soy-mushroom-nasty kind. But these? They were pretty good, really. I'm not sure if they're something I'd order, given that they have real burgers on the menu, too, but they had a good flavor, sort of like chickpeas, oddly (though I don't think there were chickpeas in there, just black beans and zucchini and maybe some other veggies I didn't catch).

Mini-cheeseburgersThen, it was onward to the main courses.

The first thing served here was mini-cheeseburgers. They were really, really good, perfectly crisp-but-juicy patties, soft buns, tasty toppings that didn't overwhelm the burger, real cheddar cheese and a little surprise -- I tasted something smoky, and sure enough, when I peeled off the bun, there were bacon crumbles on top of the cheese. These were meaty-delicious-awesome.

Here is actually a good time to mention something awesome about Comfort Kitchen: They get as many of their ingredients as possible from local farms, fresh providers, no pre-packed and overprocessed junk allowed in their kitchen. I could've said this at the beginning, 'cause it's a good selling point, but honestly, I don't care how locally sourced and fresh your ingredients are if the end product doesn't taste good. Knowing that what you're eating here comes from good, fresh sources is a nice bonus, though. For instance, the potatoes in their tater tots are from Sheldon Farms. And the meat in the hamburgers, the owner explained, is a customized mix that's fresh-ground for him every other day by the Meat House -- the burgers we ate, he said, were made with meat that was freshly ground three hours before.

Pulled pork mac and cheeseMac and cheeseThe second part of our main course was the ultimate comfort food: macaroni and cheese. There were two offerings, a plain version and one with pulled pork in it. The pulled pork version was really good, meaty and spicy and creamy and soft and, well, comforting. But the original version? I have to say, I had a small qualm here, 'cause while the texture of the sauce was spot-on, nicely creamy and not grainy at all, and in a good proportion to the amount of pasta and crumb topping (made from Rock Hill Bakehouse bread), the flavor was a bit bland. It needed salt -- or maybe a sharper cheese in the four-cheese blend, though that might negatively affect the texture. Really, it felt like a couple of shakes of salt would've been enough to elevate this from eh to awesome.

Strawberry shortcake ice cream sandwichThe final course was dessert, and there was a surprise in store: Strawberry ice cream sandwiches, modeled on Good Humor strawberry shortcake bars, complete with a crunchy strawberry crumble around the edges. The flavors here were phenomenal, especially that of the ice cream, made that afternoon with the last fresh strawberries at the farmers' market. The strawberry flavor just popped, bright and sweet, with big chunks of berries throughout. The cookies, however, while having a very good sugar cookie flavor, were too thick and crunchy for an ice cream sandwich. I wished that the cookies were thinner and softer, and a bit more of that amazing ice cream would've been nice, too. But all of the components here were very good -- the dish as a whole just needs a little tweaking.

Overall, I'd say there's a lot to like about Comfort Kitchen. My biggest complaint, and the only reason I'd tell someone not to go there, has nothing to do with the food: It's that they're probably not open when you'll want to go, 'cause their hours are short and centered around a conventional lunchtime. They're not open at all on Sundays, and the rest of the week, they're only open until 7 p.m., meaning that you're not likely to be able to make it there for dinner before they close (or at least, I'm not, even on my one weekday off, 'cause my fiancé works until 6ish in Albany). But if you can manage to get there when they're open, do, 'cause both the quality of food and the philosophy behind it are worth supporting.

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