When we moved from Syracuse back to the Capital District, there were a few things left behind that we knew we’d miss and had a hard time finding replacements for – Hofmann’s coneys, fisherman’s cheese, Hyman Smith coffee (and, in restaurants, Paul deLima coffee). But we settled in and picked up the food traditions of greater Albany, and largely forgot that when we moved to the depths of Pennsylvania, there would again be some things we would miss. Some were to be expected, some were complete surprises. And while the local devotion to pretzels is . . . charming, and there are these satanic cookies called Sweetzel’s mini-cremes, it doesn’t quite replace what we left behind.
- Bagels. You don’t have to tell me that, on the whole, bagels in the Capital District aren’t like bagels in New York City. I know. (But, hey, try Psychedelicatessen’s, because they’re pretty damn good.) In fact, these days most of the bagels in New York aren’t like the bagels in New York. But trust me, if you lived where I live now, you’d be dying for something that even remotely resembled a Bruegger’s bagel. Most of them come out more like a hard roll than a bagel.
- Ginger biscotti from Our Daily Bread in Chatham. Please, ODB, please: Offer to ship. Right now we rely on friends, relatives and our occasional trips back home to keep our stockpile going.
- Lucy Jo’s Coffee. While we love what they serve up at Spill’n the Beans, we became big fans of Lucy Jo’s as well. We didn’t think we’d have trouble finding another coffee roaster in the trendy suburbs of Philadelphia, where we have a whole foods store that isn’t that whole foods store. But, weirdly, haven’t found anything local that wowed us. Happily, Lucy Jo’s does ship, and quickly, so we can keep getting our Brink on.
- Not actually from the Capital District, but similarly, we haven’t been as smitten with local pasta makers as we were with Flour City Pasta, which makes a tremendous variety of grain types and flavors, and it’s all of such quality that I swore off ever eating grocery store pasta again. They’re from Macedon, out near Rochester, but they come to the Troy Farmer’s Market most weeks, and are also more than happy to ship us their great stuff.
- Fish fry. I didn’t understand that fish fry was a regional thing. Don’t misunderstand: there are restaurants with fried fish of the haddock/cod variety. It exists. But there aren’t delicious homey little seasonal fish fry stands that serve a simple fish fry in a paper boat with enough fries to put you under.
- Cider donuts. Pennsylvania has amazing apples. Pennsylvania has good cider. Pennsylvania has good donuts along the nature of a fry cake. But do they have cider donuts as an upstate New Yorker would recognize them? They do not.
- I need to qualify that statement, and then unqualify it. When I tell people around here that I can’t find a cider donut, they look at me amazed, and then recommend places where they are supposed to exist. Most of those places are miles and miles from here, and on the rare occasion when I have tried to hunt them down I’ve found something that really wasn’t what we’d consider a cider donut – they may be donuts, and they may have cider in them, but something isn’t right. And then I make the point that I shouldn’t have to drive half and hour (around here, that’s about 10 miles) to find such a thing, that in fact I can hardly cross the street without tripping on one where I come from. Further, we have stopped at tens of farm stands that absolutely should have had cider donuts, only to be greeted with quizzical looks.
- Then, at the local farmer’s market, one of the cookie and scone bakeries had cider donuts. I kvelled for a minute, in a way that may have startled the proprietress. She asked, “How many do you want?” I said, “I want ALL the cider donuts!” “Oooohhhkay.” “How much are they?” “Two dollars.” I thought I had misheard, because surely a half-dozen cider donuts has to go for more than two dollars. Well, I had, and it does . . . because what she meant was two dollars per donut. And by that time, I was so desperate for a fix that I paid it. It was, if you have never had an upstate New York cider donut, a perfectly fine piece of confectionery . . . a firm, flavorful fry cake that in absolutely no way whatsoever resembled a cider donut.