Nola Clams at Café Nola — Photo by Elizabeth Schaffer
By ELIZABETH SCHAFFER
A relaxing, casual evening spent eating a perfectly delicious dinner was how my daughter, boyfriend and I spent our more recent dining experience.
We were both hungry early, so we headed out just about 6. Something made me think of Café Nola in Schenectady, a place that we had only once visited, and that was years ago. So we decided if they had outdoor seating, we would head there. To our delight, their small patio was set up, and with umbrella’s it was perfect to shade us from the still very hot sun.
There were only a handful of people there when we arrived, and all of them were eating inside at tables or at the small, but very cute bar. When we asked to sit outside, they were more than happy to set us up out there. Our server followed us right out with menus and took our drink order on the spot. Neither of us were in the mood for anything strong, so he went with an iced tea, and I went with a soda.
Then it was time to attack the menu. The New Orleans inspired menu offers a variety that will certainly appeal to any taste. The appetizer menu featured items varying from the usual mozzarella sticks, to the much more interesting option of alligator bites. Their main menu was no different, from salads, to burgers, to enticing entrées, there was something for everyone, with each dish featuring some sort of New Orleans/Southern inspiration. As he looked over the appetizer menu, the little neck clams grabbed his attention immediately. Freshly steamed with a bit of beer and andouille sausage, it was his idea of heaven on a plate. Since it was an appetizer, he decided to also order a bowl of gumbo.
My eyes however had zeroed in on something totally different. Southern honey stung fried chicken. It had been years since I had fried chicken and the idea of real, home made crispy goodness had my stomach instantly rumbling. Since it was an entrée, it came with a soup or salad, i went with the soup, which was a seafood chowder.
After I ordered the chowder, I questioned my decision, thinking two heavy dishes might be too much, but I am so glad I kept with it. When it arrived I was really surprised, it wasn’t chowder in the traditional sense of being cream based. Instead it had a lovely, well seasoned clear broth load with clams, fish, potatoes and fresh vegetables. Even though it was a small cup, I didn’t finish it, because it was quite filling, and I really wanted to save room for the main event.
As we had asked, his clams came out with my chowder, and he couldn’t have been happier. I did not taste it, as the spice of the dish would have been too much for me. But, the bowl was loaded with clams, sausage and a great broth. It came with plenty of crusty hot bread for soaking up the sauce and he took full advantage of that.
Then the most beautiful plate of fried chicken arrived. The aroma was enticing, the presentation was perfect, and the serving size massive. With two breasts, a wing and a leg, served atop a bed of freshly cut french fries, with a side of corn salad, corn bread, and honey for dipping – there was enough to feed both of us – had we planned it that way.
My first bite into the chicken was just delightful. Hot, crispy wonderfully seasoned breading, that wasn’t greasy or sticky in any way, led to moist flavorful chicken. As I ate it, I almost fell into a trance of pleasure, it was that good.
As I devoured my meal, the boyfriend dug into his gumbo. The gumbo’s presentation was beautiful as well, a large bowl filled to the brim with traditional New Orleans style gumbo, with a scoop of rice on top, allowing him to decide how much he wanted to add. Garnishes of scallions, tomatoes and a side of corn bread finished off the bowl.
As we ate, a man in an apron arrived at our table. The chef! He said he just stopped out to see how our meals were, and see if we needed anything else. It was a very unexpected gesture that added extra “stars” to our already delightful dinner.
We passed on dessert, as neither of us had even been able to finish our meals (but they were perfect the next day!).
My recommendation? Get to café nola, be a little adventurous with what you order, and your taste buds (and belly) will thank you!