Un­lock­ing hearts of pub grub lovers

Al­bany’s Loch & Quay boasts lovely ren­o­vated space, am­bi­tious food and drink aims, but ex­e­cu­tion some­times shaky

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FLAVOR - By Susie David­son Pow­ell

For those in need of a pint and light bite in down­town Al­bany, Frank O’con­nor has dusted off a piece of Old Al­bany and minted a com­fort­able vin­tage pub, Loch & Quay. Op­er­at­ing al­most con­tin­u­ously as a bar since 1937, 414 Broad­way has been va­cant since Franklin’s Tower abruptly closed in 2013, and the re­cent $1.4 mil­lion re­furb of the build­ing by co-own­ers Tom and Lau­ren Kennedy and O’con­nor’s fa­ther, Frank O’con­nor IV, helped by sev­eral his­toric re­vi­tal­iza­tion grants, has re­sulted in a fab­u­lous re­make.

Our first re­ac­tion is im­pressed sur­prise. In­spired in part by O’con­nor’s time in Galway, Ire­land, Loch & Quay (pro­nounced “lock and key”) feels lov­ingly up­dated with­out wan­der­ing too far into tarted-up gas­trop­ub­bery. The orig­i­nal tin ceil­ings and pen­dant lights are there, old booths sal­vaged for ta­bles and wain­scot­ing, and the curves of an im­pos­ing late art deco bar built by lo­cal cab­i­net­mak­ers Spalt & Sons after the re­peal of Pro­hi­bi­tion have been pol­ished to a dark ma­hogany sheen.

O’con­nor, who worked at The Shop in Troy and the Olde English Pub in Al­bany, pumped his con­nec­tions bring­ing in Rich Matthews, ex­ec­u­tive chef of The Shop, and for­merly Jack’s Oys­ter House, to draft the lim­ited menu and get the kitchen off the ground. Some­how a long skinny kitchen has been carved out of the bar’s width, with the orig­i­nal kitchen on the se­cond floor now-new apart­ment space.

If you’re ex­pect­ing the in­ter­na­tion­ally in­spired, quirky dishes of The Shop, you won’t find it here. Such a tiny kitchen doesn’t al­low for more in­ten­sive food prep like smok­ing ba­con or bak­ing bread. And while Troy’s young, hip au­di­ence drives The Shop’s ad­ven­tur­ous, ve­gan-for­ward menu, early of­fer­ings at Loch & Quay lan­guished be­hind an all-day egg and ba­con sand­wich and burg­ers fired to or­der, re­flect­ing the lunch pref­er­ences of of­fice work­ers and down­town res­i­dents.

Rather than com­pete with the chef-driven menus at the City Beer Hall, the Olde English or Lost & Found, Loch & Quay keeps things sim­ple with up­scale bar snacks, burg­ers and sand­wiches. Kitchen op­er­a­tions are now in the hands of two chefs who split the daily shift. Still, Matthews’ fla­vor-chas­ing mark is ev­i­dent in cheese curds with roasted gar­lic, chile-in­fused honey and fresh basil; or warm, herby olives — all easy enough to plate — and the use of qual­ity in­gre­di­ents like D.o.p.-cer­ti­fied olive oil and Bread Alone bread. Know­ing the mar­ket has meant switch­ing from hand-wrapped pot-stick­ers to pre­made, and work­ing to keep costs down.

Sweet maple but­ter on a Por­tuguese muf­fin (a dense and less ho­ley English muf­fin) makes an in­spired foil to ap­ple­wood-smoked ba­con in the fried egg sand­wich. A plough­man’s burger (lo­cal Re­li­able Broth­ers pat­ties) is fired a per­fect medi­um­rare, though the crumbly brioche bun has a hard time han­dling meat juices, horse­rad­ish mus­tard and ooz­ing melted cheese; it’s sod­den too soon, and a proper slab of sharp ched­dar with Branston-style chut­ney would help it live up to the plough­man name.

Avo­cado toast topped in roasted gar­lic, pink pick­led onion, coarse sea salt and fried chick­peas los­ing translu­cent sk­ins is a crowd-pleaser; the kitchen’s Cholula hot-sauce mayo pow­ers up a chicken “cin­n­ful” sand­wich — a per­ma­nent spe­cial de­vised by one of the cooks — though cin­na­mon-tinged onions cre­ate a baf­fling fla­vor war. No sur­prise to find ridged po­tato chips and mac­a­roni salad ac­com­pa­ny­ing sand­wiches, but the tangy pasta salad is no­tably good, boosted with horse­rad­ish mus­tard, hard-boiled egg, chipped ba­con and lash­ings of dill.

Glanc­ing around, we’re taken by deco roots di­aled up with punches of color. O’con­nor’s

sis­ter, Jen­nifer, made some dar­ing de­sign de­ci­sions with a vivid blue wall paint that pops against mus­tard­gold cush­ions and mag­i­cally mim­ics col­ors in an an­tique litho­graph print. Pot­ted plants and cloth-bound books add to the am­biance; a Board­man & Gray pi­ano dis­cov­ered up­stairs has new life as a gold-let­tered shelf.

Hand­ing over kitchen op­er­a­tions is no doubt hard, and slips are clear: The smoky roasted egg­plant with tahini and olive oil (baba ghanoush by any other name) is bit­ter from ex­ces­sive burnt lemon, and, served fridge to plate, is as chilled and stodgy as ri­cotta cheese. A dense tomato soup misses salt and heat; soft chick­peas in pi­quant Buf­falo sauce beg to be prop­erly crisped, and such a big pile is too much even for four; while but­ter­nut squash in an arugula salad is com­pletely naked, as if mi­crowaved and sliced rather than roasted with the carameliz­ing ef­fect of oil and spice. Noth­ing dire, but de­tails more at­ten­tive eyes would see and fix.

We use the op­tion of half pints (in 10-ounce pours) to jus­tify a mid-day Guin­ness and two sour beers, one whis­per­ing mildly of blue­ber­ries, the other masochis­ti­cally tart. With 14 drafts on tap, O’con­nor’s kegs are in such fre­quent ro­ta­tion nei­ther the printed list nor the flat-screen menu be­hind the bar is up to date. Look­ing for the sweet spot with what sells best, the fu­ri­ous turnover should even­tu­ally slow.

Un­like the ware­house district brew­pubs and tast­ing rooms fa­ther north on Broad­way, this southerly end nearer I-787 and the port has fewer op­tions, mak­ing Loch & Quay ideal for a fast lunch and time left to mosey around the Fort Orange General Store next door. Trivia nights and crowds after Times Union Cen­ter shows are quickly fill­ing Loch & Quay’s bar by night, and those still lament­ing the lack of wa­ter­front din­ing in the state cap­i­tal might be in­spired by the frilly Flem­ish Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture of the SUNY/D&H Build­ing across the street. In fair weather, these side­walk ta­bles will be the seats to beat.

Avo­cado toast and a half pint of beer will cost $12 with tax, be­fore tip.

Susie David­son Pow­ell is a Bri­tish free­lance food writer in up­state

New York. Fol­low her on Twit­ter, @Susiedp. To com­ment on this re­view, visit the Ta­ble Hop­ping blog, blog.time­sunion.com/ table­hop­ping.

Photos by John Carl D’an­ni­bale / Times Union

At top, Chicken Cin­n­ful at Loch & Quay. Above, The Any Time Egg Sand­wich at Loch & Quay.

John Carl D’an­ni­bale / Times Union

Roasted egg­plant at Loch & Quay.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.