Today, day seven, we leave Rhode Island for upstate New York and a three and a half hour drive. At 10 am it is already blistering hot and muggy. We skip breakfast and hope to find road food. Gulf stations and McDonald’s have the Mass turnpike locked up. We make do with cheesy crackers and red twizzlers and decide to wait until we arrive in Saratoga Springs.
An uneventful fairly dull drive, alleviated by The Bugle podcast with John Oliver. Eventually the highway starts to get hilly and we can see the Adirondacks in the distance. Arriving in Saratoga Springs we are already impressed. Exit 14 takes us right by the racetrack and horse stalls, as well as along a street lined with large, stately Victorian manses. Lovely. We head downtown to Broadway, a very pretty avenue lined with shops, one-of-a-kind boutiques, restaurants and outdoor cafes.
Parking is competitive but we luck into an unmetered street spot and head off in search of a late lunch. We don’t go far before we spy Cantina. Hmmmmm….Mexican this far north? Bound to be crap. We have done no advance research for this town, so are really winging it here. Rob checks out the posted menu and notices Mexican street corn on it. He says this is the real deal and in we go. Inside the place looks like it was a British pub in a former incarnation. Add some Mexican pottery and some fake fiesta flowers and bam! Mexico.
Our young waitress, tattooed from neck to foot with gauged ears, all very tastefully done, brings fresh, homemade tortilla chips (the thick kind which are not my favorite) and good, finely diced fresh salsa. She answers our many questions about the menu, and the town. We are particularly intrigued by what may be going on today because we have, no joke, weeks ago by telephone, secured the very last room available in town. Even tiny outlying motels in this town of beautiful resorts proudly display NO VACANCY signs. Our young server informs us that it is the anticipated yearling horse sale, and the town will be full like this for the next five weeks.
We order well made margaritas and Verduras guacamole, fresh made avocado guac topped with lump crabmeat, mango and pistachio crumbs. Creamy and fresh. The crab is excellent and the mango lends a little sweet. Excellent. Traditional guacamole is also offered.
For mains I ordered the chile relleno and Rob chose the spicy shrimp tacos. Both entrees came with refried pinto beans and well made Mexican rice in reasonable portions instead of a huge platter of filler common in so many Mexican joints. My chile relleno, a large roasted poblano pepper, stuffed with Mexican cheeses, spicy ground beef, coated in cornmeal, baked and then covered in a fresh red tomato sauce and accompanying crema.
Rob’s shrimp tacos (three) come on soft, spectacular, house made corn tortillas filled with sauteed shrimp, jalapeno, shallots, chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage and pickled onion. Very good tacos.
Bellies full, we think we should head to our hotel and secure our reservation so we don’t have to sleep in the car. The Hotel Calif – I mean Roosevelt Inn is at the edge of town. We check in and find our “suite”. Mmmmm…smells cottagy. It is very dark but has the basic necessities. The carpeting is dark forest green and is probably hiding a multitude of sins. You could murder someone in here and the blood would not show. It’s fine though….really.
Not much point hanging around the “resort” which I have noticed is up for sale. We drive into town to Union street to go backtrack at the Saratoga Racetrack to take some pics. Traffic is mental. Saratoga is an extremely well done town. We pass a beautiful park with a carousel and fountains. Would love to stop and photograph many points but parking although mostly free, is hard to get today.
After tooling around a bit backtrack, we head over to Hattie’s for dinner. Hattie’s dates back to 1938 and is down home New Orleans cooking. On this particular unrelenting evening Hattie’s was more like Hades, cooled by a few ceiling fans, and perfectly recreating the steam bath that is New Orleans in August.
You enter through an ancient screen door and make your way to the front to ask for a table. The small dining room is packed so this takes some effort. We are informed there is a 15 to 20 minute wait and are sent to the bar in the rear, which is really a mardi gras tent over a patio. Coloured lights and chandeliers, masques and beads and dolls all contribute to the cheerful party vibe. We order Purple Haze beer from Abita which we first had at Coop’s Place in New Orleans.
Soon as we drain our beers we are seated in the homey dining room, with cobbled together cupboards, red checkered picnic table cloths and handmade curtains. Hot sauce, vinegar with sport peppers and tiny lamps decorate the table. Fresh cornbread, biscuits and butter are brought over.
We order the fried chicken which we have seen being carried by because it looks amazing. It comes with two sides. I get the mashed potatoes and cucumber salad, Rob gets the cranberry coleslaw and butter and sugar corn. It takes some time to get our order. Everything is homemade. Shortly though our heaping helpings arrive. We will be taking half back to our room for breakfast.
The chicken, a wing, a leg, thigh and a breast, is crisp, crunchy, deliciously moist and succulent inside, and not the least bit greasy. Thin slices of cucumber, vinegar and a little sugar make a very tasty salad. The mashed potatoes are classic, creamy mashed spuds. Rob’s corn is sweet and not over cooked and the cranberry slaw is tasty and unusual, a nice balance of sweet and sour, with dried cranberries and a nice vinegar bite.
I finished the evening with a perfectly made sazerac and then we literally melted away into the evening.