Preserving the history and legends
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 Food 8 Ambiance 10 Price – $$$
By Frank Pidgeon
Imagine if you will, the year 1937. You enter Smith’s of Cohoes, a neighborhood bar/restaurant – a rather ordinary edifice – in downtown Cohoes. Cigar smoke swirls through the blades of overhead fans suspended from the tin ceilings. Glasses clank along the nearly 50-foot long African mahogany bar bought from Tammany Hall in New York City (rumored to be the largest bar north of the city). In the far corner of the spacious bar area, wedged into a large, half-round tufted-leather booth, is the 6′ 4″, 300-pound, white-suited figure of “Big Mike Smith”, notable Democratic Party Leader of Cohoes and owner of Smith’s. He gestures boldly and boasts of his campaign support and personal friendship with President Frankin D. Roosevelt. Regulars stroll in across the black and white basket weave inlaid tile floor and settle into political conversation at the huge, stone fireplace in the dining room. Busy waiters bustle by serving popular food and drink of the Prohibition Era. Your desire: to sip a frosty mug or two of beer and to enjoy a springtime stroll back home through the neighborhood.
When Smith’s of Cohoes closed its doors last June, a crucial piece of downtown was missing. The building, which dates back to 1873, has served as a silent movie theatre and pool hall before being converted into a tavern at the turn of the century. It had been run by mother-and-daughter team Eunice Antonucci and her daughter Margaret Kehn from 1981 until they closed, and was a treasure trove of community tradition and memories. Last September, the restaurant was purchased by Waterford developer Joe Hostig, who grew up in Cohoes. It recently re-opened in March and is creating quite a stir – on most nights the place is packed and serves as a reunion spot for long-time Cohoes residents.
As you step into Smith’s, you will notice the spruced-up interior of this very historic gathering place and some menu changes. Hostig has added a Bistro Lite Fare menu for lunch or dinner to be enjoyed in the bar area. The Bistro menu includes a nice array of starters including Smith’s nachos, chicken wings, steamed clams, shrimp cocktail, bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, calamari and steamed mussels. Homemade soups and salads, as well as hearty sandwiches like roast turkey, grilled chicken breast, New York style reubens, Dagwoods and Blondies round out this menu and are served with Smith fries or salad.
On our early evening visit to Smith’s, my wife and I reviewed the comprehensive dinner menu as we each sipped a glass of the house, white zinfandel and chilled pinot grigio, respectively ($5). To begin, we were served a basket of warm, crusty dinner rolls and were treated to samples of two house-made seasoned butters. One was a tasty garlic-herb butter, and its contrasting companion was a sweet, flavorful honey-cinnamon that melted easily into the warm rolls.
My choice of appetizer was a bowl of lightly coated, quickly-browned calamari rings and tentacles tossed in a lemon-butter sauce and served with warm marinara for dipping ($9). Nicki chose Crab Cakes ala Smith’s and enjoyed two generous crab cakes of golden-grilled lump meat accented with a tangy, caper remoulade sauce ($10). Both appetizers proved to be just the right beginning to a casual and comfortably-paced dining experience.
My French Onion soup choice was rather traditional, yet nonetheless tasty and satisfying. A crock of slow-cooked caramelized onions in a robust beef stock with a hint of sherry wine was served with croutons and topped with melted swiss, provolone and romano cheeses ($5). My wife opted for a cup of Smith’s “signature soup” a thick tomato-based soup with tender lump-crab meat cooked lightly into a creamy, tomato and basil bisque ($3).
For salad, I again remained somewhat traditional and enjoyed a bowl of fresh hearts of romaine lettuce tossed with parmesan cheese and garlic croutons served with a classic Caesar dressing ($8). Nicki selected the Smith’s house salad of assorted greens served with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, black olives and red onions drizzled with a snappy balsamic vinaigrette dressing. These provided the perfect lead-ins to our dinner entrees.
Diners can choose complete dinners (bread and salad included) from the “Home Cooking” or “Entrees” menu. Here, we decided to try one from each menu. I selected the old homestyle meatloaf stuffed with chunks of mild Italian sausage and herbs, served with seasoned smashed potatoes and a tomato demi-glace ($11). This meal proved to be more than satisfying and more than I could finish. Nicki chose the chicken cordon bleu napoleon from the entrees menu. The medallions of chicken were dredged in panko breadcrumbs, lightly fried, layered with imported ham and Swiss cheese and served with a fresh mushroom cream sauce ($15).
To complete our dining experience we shared a slice of a smooth and creamy Bailey’s Cheesecake ($6) and a wedge of carrot cake with a swirled cream cheese frosting ($5).
Congratulations and welcome home to Mr. Hostig. To visit is, indeed, to dine with history.
Smith’s of Cohoes is located at 171 Remsen Street, Cohoes and is open for lunch and dinner. For more information call 237.9809 or visit www.smithsofcohoes.com.
Frank W. Pidgeon is an educator/school administrator, freelance writer and winemaker who lives with his wife, Nicki, in Rotterdam.