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Big Chuck

January 28, 2013

Local foods worthy of national spotlight

(Continued)

And the half-moon cookie. Born in Utica, these delicacies originated at Hemstrought’s Bakery by Harry Hemstrought before the Depression. They still crank out more than 12,000 fresh half moons a day at the bakery. And Harry’s original handwritten recipe is still tacked up on the wall of the bakery in Utica. Of course downstaters call them “black and whites,” but they are mere pretenders to the cookie throne.

So what is it about Utica that makes it the epicurean center of the universe? I have no clue, but the concept is generally met with agreement. Utica means “good eats.”

A week ago, my wife and I were in Albany. For a fun side trip, I decided to take her to lunch at one of my favorite dives from my college days in the 1960s: The Miss Albany Diner. It is a near-century old railroad car diner, the kind that proliferated in our area in the 1950s. It is located on Broadway just outside of the downtown business district. I ended up perched on a counter stool there many a late night (or early morning?) after an evening of carousing with my classmates in 1968. It was an eggs/sausage/hash kind of greasy spoon. And it was wonderful.

What a surprise to find Miss Albany still there, albeit in a newer transformation. It is now an Italian restaurant called Sciortinos. Not exactly what I was hankering for, but we decided to go in and try it out.

The little railroad car diner was exactly as I remember it. Curved stainless steel walls, Wobbly red leather and chrome counter stools. Booths that had the little jukeboxes in them. Scribbled signs announcing the daily specials. And still the tiniest restrooms in the state.

The menu was decidedly Italian comfort foods. Bowls of meatballs, chicken Parmesan with spaghetti. Lasagna. Pizza. Italian soups. Baked Hats.

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