Old World European charm (and chocolate) are worth the trip
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 9 Food 8 Ambiance 9 Price – $$
A visit to Steininger’s restaurant is kind of like a visit to your grandmother’s house – if your grandmother lived in the quaint village of Salem, NY, and if she made classic American fare with a European twist, and crafted homemade chocolates that rivaled Godiva. Okay, maybe a visit to Steininger’s isn’t that much like a visit to your grandmother’s house, but it’s well worth the trip.
The restaurant is not open for dinner. It’s open 11am to 4pm. Tuesday through Saturday. Peter and I ventured up midday on a Saturday for lunch. The drive to Salem, in Washington County, is a scenic one, taking us up through Troy, Melrose, and lovely Greenwich along the way. I was a little nervous about finding it, because the address on the Web site was simply “Main Street, Salem, NY.” But once in the tiny village of Salem, finding the 150-year-old brick building was not hard, and the sign outside on the sidewalk advertising “Homemade Chocolates,” didn’t hurt.
Upon entering the restaurant, we were immediately greeted warmly and invited to sit wherever we wished. There were 15 round, wooden tables covered with floral print tablecloths, giving the place a homey, cozy vibe. We considered our options and chose a table near the large storefront window.
Steininger’s has been family owned and managed for decades. Upon inquiring, we learned that many of the menu items originated from family recipes for generations. One example is the selection of homemade soups. Our waitress tempted us with the two soups of the day: one, a Ginger Butternut Squash, and the other, a Creamy Tomato Basil (both $3.95 a bowl). To be fair, we ordered a bowl of each, along with something to quench our thirst, a Paulaner Munich Lager for Peter and a Paulaner Hefe Weizen for me. As the soup arrived, I couldn’t wait to see if it tasted as good as it looked and smelled. The Butternut Squash soup was silky, and deceivingly light despite its thick consistency. The precise amount of ginger played up the mild flavors of the squash without being overpowering. I also picked up hints of celery, but clearly the squash was the main attraction. The Creamy Tomato Basil soup was bursting with bits of ripe tomato and fresh basil. It was similar to tomato sauce, yet fresher and brighter.
Both soups were nice segues to our next dish, the Vegetarian Chef Salad, ($9.95), served with a mini-loaf of warm, homemade white bread that was light and airy and yes, addictive. The salad was a perfect complement to our soup starters, and a work of art as well. The plate featured mixed greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, avocado, pecans, slices of Swiss and cheddar cheese, apples, oranges, grapes, blueberries, tomatoes and red onion, garnished with fresh flowers. Even with an abundance of ingredients, this was a dish of balance. The greens and veggies were crisp and refreshing alongside the richness of the nuts and cheese and the sweetness of the fruit. The salad was delicious in its simplicity, but Steininger’s own homemade maple mustard dressing took it to another level. The dressing, by the way, is also available for sale by the jar. And in case you were wondering, yes, I left with a jar of my own, dreaming about putting this spicy, not too sweet dressing on not only salads, but cold cuts, pretzels and more.
The salad was satisfying, but we still had plenty of room left, so Peter and I reviewed the sandwich menu to decide what to tackle next. Our choices ranged from smoked chicken breast with tarragon butter, to a baked ham and cheddar melt, to turkey on marble bread. It all sounded enticing, but I finally settled on the Apple Cheddar Melt ($6.95) on pumpernickel bread. Peter ordered the Eggplant and Peppers on a Croissant ($8.95). We shared both sandwiches, and both were outstanding; however, after sampling Peter’s sandwich I knew that was the winner. The eggplant, onions and peppers were cooked until tender, sweet and saucy, resulting in a sweet, sloppy, comforting mess of a dish. There was no picking this monster of a sandwich up, it was meant for a knife and fork and I dare anyone to eat it any other way.
I had no problem finishing the Apple and Cheddar sandwich; however, it was less imaginative, and could have used some mustard and spicy arugula for contrast. No complaints when it came to the pumpernickel bread though. This was a dense, moist and flavorful loaf of perfection that kept the richness of the fruit and cheese perfectly in check.
If we thought choosing a sandwich was difficult, we were up against a real challenge when deciding on dessert. We were presented with no less than three dessert menus featuring fruit and pastry desserts, cheesecakes, pies and ice cream sundaes. After much deliberation, I went with the Chambord Pie ($4.95), which featured vanilla ice cream full of raspberries marinated in Chambord liqueur nestled in a dark chocolate crumb crust and drizzled generously with homemade hot fudge. I thought after I took the first bite, I clearly made the right choice. Although cheesecake lovers will appreciate Peter’s choice of Chocolate Cheesecake, ($5.95) made by the Nuns of New Skete in nearby Cambridge, NY, whose fruit and cheesecake desserts are nationally known and devoured. I’m not a cheesecake fan. (I know… how can this be?) But according to Peter it was heavenly, (pun intended) with a creamy, rich texture and crunchy chocolate crumb crust adorned with homemade whipped cream. Neither dish was overly sweet, a signature of European desserts that we appreciated, especially after all that we had eaten.
After dessert, we managed to hoist ourselves up out of our chairs to survey the case of homemade chocolates, and chatted a bit with Xavier Steininger (maker of the chocolates). The tiny chocolate confections were so delicate and intricately decorated that some may actually be afraid to eat them for fear of destroying their diminutive beauty. Luckily, I don’t share this sentimentality when it comes to chocolate, and eagerly ordered a half pound assortment for the ride home. Steininger’s also sells a small selection of high quality European soaps and toiletries. Peter indulged not in the chocolate, but in a canister of Mustard Seed bath salts and Speick After-Shave.
In the end, I believe that this is an establishment well worth supporting, not simply because it’s family-owned and run in an era of fast food and chain restaurants, but because it’s just quality food served by people who care.
The total cost for two beers, two bowls of soup, one salad, two sandwiches and two desserts was an amazingly economical $57.73 (excluding tax and tip).
Steininger’s is located in the center of town, on Main Street in Salem. The hours are Tues. – Sat: 11 am to 4 pm. For more information call 854-3830 or visit: www.steiningers.com.
Christina DeMers is an online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in East Greenbush, but eats just about anywhere.