Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gym People

I have a membership at the exit 8 Planet Fitness in Clifton Park. I go four nights a week at 5.30PM each night. I stretch, do cardio and light weight work, then stretch to end it. I never give the routine much thought. I show up, turn on the Wilson Phillips station on my Pandora, and go to work. But lately, I’ve started giving my gym life a little more thought. It is a HUGE part of my week, all things considered. What else do I do so consistently?

As I watch the PF world from atop the treadmill or elliptical machine, I began to realize it’s a reality show, full of little story lines and bizarre, colorful characters. It’s always the same people there when I’m there, doing the same exercises. Nobody really talks to each other. Everyone just goes about their business; lots of headsets and I-pods. Somewhere along the way, I subconsciously formed opinions about these people I spend four to five hours a week with, every week, and do not know personally, and never talk to. Opinions based on nothing but the way they look and what they do at the gym. For instance, there’s blue-warm-up-pants guy, and too-many-tattoos guy, and skin-tight-stretch-pants-and-goggles guy, and twinkle toes (he walks on the balls of his feet to build up his calves), and the cute brunette who wears black compression pants and does five minutes on the bike and two sit ups, then quits. Don’t forget too-tanned girl who talks on her cell phone the whole time she’s on the treadmill. Who are these lunatics? Four to five hours a week. Outside the gym, there are only a handful of people I spend that much time with.

As I run on the mill or work the elliptical, I try to figure out who these people are outside of their gym personas. Where do they work? What do they do for fun? When wondering this, you can’t forget about the guy who only comes to the gym and hangs out at the counter, never works out. I call him the Mayor. What does that guy do for a living? Perhaps I could ask that bulky guy who always watches himself in the mirror what his favorite Wilson Phillips song to work out to is, but, like I said, he’s only interested in staring at his abs in the mirror, doing that Mike ‘The Situation’ thing where he lifts his shirt off his stomach. Then there's that skinny guy who always wears the baggy Umbros, and insists on doing lifted-leg sit ups, giving the entire gym a really unwanted show. Maybe he’s super cool in the real world. But I’ll never know. I can’t get past the Umbros. I saw a guy work out in dress clothes the other day. There's a guy who works out in jeans. Huh? Gym people.

Do I ever see people from the gym outside of the gym? Sure I do. It's weird. But something even weirder has happened at the gym in the last few weeks. A handful of people that I work with have started going to my Planet Fitness. So now I see these people at the gym every night AND at work every day. And these people, ironically, are the only colleagues I don’t really talk to at work. So now I don’t talk to them at work OR at the gym, and they’re always at the gym when I am. So that got me thinking about the people who actually work at the gym, what a gaggle of characters they are. I couldn’t imagine being at PF for forty hours a week.

After my workout, I try to spend as little time as possible in the locker room. There are many middle-aged men who are VERY comfortable operating in the nude. Not there's anything wrong with that. I grab my coat off the hook and walk out of the PF for the day, saying goodbye to no one as I go, and nobody saying goodbye to me. Today while leaving, I wondered something else: What does everybody at the gym think of ME? Do they hate me because I stretch too long or always wear white socks pulled to the knees? Do they have a nickname for me, like really-big-earphones guy or way-too-sweaty dude? Then I relax a little, because such a thought is silly. If anybody has a nickname for me, it would be something like perfect-body guy or great-looking guy. Phew. I’m the only not-weird guy at my gym.

Any other gym characters or gym nicknames out there?

Brian Huba

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Top 10 Movies Based on Books

We all know the old saying: The movie is NEVER better than the book. And, in most cases, it’s the truth. We need not look further than WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, THE LOVELY BONES, or the vastly overrated THE HELP to see that it’s hard for the movie to match. And I think WILLIE WONKA is the creepiest movie ever made, so forget that argument. I don't care about TWILIGHT, HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE RINGS, or HUNGER GAMES, and I'm not going to pretend I read THE 'WONDERFUL' WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND to make comparison, and I didn't read THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, but wow, is Meryl Streep amazing in that one. Every once in a while a movie adapted from a book does trump it. The following is my list of the 10 flicks that prove it’s possible for the movie to be BETTER than the book.

10. THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987): This romantic comedy is based on the 1973 novel of the same name by William Goldman. It’s a good book but such a great movie, a must have in anybody’s DVD collection. Plus, it’s the acting debut of Andre of the Giant. I don’t know how you get better than that. Remember the poison wine switch scene? Love this flick.

9. THE SHINING (1980): “Here’s, Johnny!” The first time I saw this movie I was a wee lad of eight years old. I didn’t sleep right for the next year. The twin girls, redrum, the labyrinth scene. In fourth grade I tried writing my own Shining story. I was terrified by it, obsessed by it, loved it. Then I decided to read the Stephen King novel that the movie was based on. I didn’t like it as much, but I say this is the scariest flick ever. I still don’t trust myself to watch it.

8. CASINO (1995): A non-fiction entry. This crime drama is based on the book by Nick Pileggi. I own the book but have never been inspired to read more than a few excerpts from it. I love this movie. How could you not? The only bad part is how Joe Pesci sort of ruined his Tommy from GOODFELLAS, maybe the greatest character portrayal ever on-screen, by trying to retread it here as Nicky. CASINO is a great, great film, and a bit overlooked by historians, in my opinion. I watch it every time it’s on TNT or USA.

7. THE SECRET OF NIMH (1982): “A cartoon, Brian?” Get real, right? The first book that ever caught my imagination was the 1971 book MRS FRISBY & THE RATS OF NIMH. I was engrossed in this book, even trying to set up a NIMH world in my own backyard. Don't judge me, I was seven. And if it wasn’t for this book and Cormier’s I AM THE CHEESE, I may not have become a life-long reader. But Guess what? The cartoon based on NIMH was better than the book. I could watch it 10 times a day back then. It was the first time I saw the movie (albeit a cartoon) trump the book. I’d watch it right now.

6. MYSTIC RIVER (2003): One of the best movies ever made. Clint Eastwood is our finest living director. Sean Penn is a god in this movie. I still watch it several times a year, and discover another wrinkle in the story every time I watch. The acting, writing, directing: A+. It’s based on Dennis Lehane’s book of the same name. Don’t get me wrong: Lehane is a great writer, one of Stephen King’s favorites in fact, but no book beats this movie, the first flick since BEN HUR to win both the best actor and best supporting actor Oscars.

5. THE GODFATHER (1972): My grandfather used to say, “There’s every movie ever made and then there’s THE GODFATHER.” I know how much people love this film and I recognize it as an epic masterpiece, no doubt. I tried to read Puzo’s 1969 book of the same name, but just couldn’t do it. The book was so boring. But the movie is, well, it’s the godfather of movies.

4. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007): Best movie of 2007, no question. The Coen Brothers hit a homerun with this flick. How many hours I spent talking about what the end of that movie meant. As for the 2005 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, I can only say the following: Every book by Cormac McCarthy is fundamentally unreadable. Don’t let anybody trick you into reading a McCarthy or telling you how GREAT it is. People just say that to sound smart. Nobody can actually read a McCarthy. They are written not be read, I’m convinced of it.

3. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975): Based on the amazing novel by Ken Kesey. “They’re out there . . .” It is one of my all-time favorite novels, but I have to admit the movie is a little bit better, and Oscar agreed in ’75. Jack Nicholson IS! Randle P. McMurphy. The film and all the actors look exactly like I’d imagine it when reading the book. A historically-great book followed by a historically-great flick. How can you go wrong?

2. FORREST GUMP (1994): In my opinion, Forrest Gump is the 2nd greatest movie ever made, behind only TITANIC. It’s based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. I’ve read some of the novel, and it’s good, but Tom Hanks just brings this idiot alive on screen, plus a killer soundtrack backing up his Oscar-winning performance. When I first saw this movie, I started acting like I was Forrest Gump, running really fast everywhere like a buffoon. Don't judge me, I was twelve. It’s a masterpiece, and the highest moment in Hanks’s brilliant career. But I still say Hanks isn’t funny on SNL.

1. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994): OK, it’s based on a novella if you want to get technical, Stephen King’s RITA HEYWORTH & THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. And, in the novella, Red (our narrator) is actually a white, Irish guy with red hair, instead of Morgan Freeman. I’ll take Morgan Freeman, and that’s saying a lot, because King is the best author in America today, and he was when he wrote this novella in the 80’s. But Morgan was born to narrate, people, just accept it. This movie is actually #1 on It’s a masterpiece, no way around it, and my personal 5th greatest movie ever. I even tried to get myself falsely imprisoned so I could attempt a tunnel-style escape. Don't judge me, I was twenty-seven. I LOVE the 110-page version, but I LOVE-LOVE the 3-hour screen version. Tim Robbins’s greatest starring role ever! Such a watchable movie overall. It doesn’t get much better than this adaptation.

Did I miss any?

Dedicated to Mike Morano (INTO THE WILD is my #11, friend. But the idea is all yours!)

Brian Huba

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Titanic Mini Series? You Can't Be Serious

Let me get this straight: ABC is taking the next few Sunday nights to broadcast a four-part miniseries that chronicles the real and imagined stories that took place on the Titanic before it sank. All this is to mark the 100th Anniversary of the mighty boat's sinking at sea, I get that, and I hate to break it to the ABC brass, but I think this concept's been done already. Here's ABC's overview:

The series is a four-part television costume drama created by producer Nigel Stafford-Clark and written by Julian Fellowes to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the maritime disaster on 15 April 1912. It sets out to paint a portrait of a whole society, telling the stories of a wide range of characters, both real and imagined, from every social level. Their narratives are developed and gradually interwoven over the first three episodes, each of which ends in a cliffhanger as the ship begins to founder. The fourth and final episode draws all of the different stories together and reveal to the audience who survives.

Have any of these ABC writers or producers, etc, ever heard of a little flick called TITANIC? You know, the greatest motion picture ever made. Not to mention the highest grossing, hitting 2billion this past weekend. I think we've already covered the fictional love story that crossed classes aboard the doomed Titanic. We've already met the unsinkable Molly Brown, and guess what, I think we all know how this epic four-part story ends. We know because every person in the first world has seen TITANIC. Like I said, 2billion in gross. Why do a retread of the same thing as the movie? It's just plain lazy. You can't think these TV actors can rival Leo and Kate, the players in the greatest on-screen love story ever, can you?

Why would ABC try to remake something that can never be topped or touched in quality? Can't even come close. What's next? The cast from WHITNEY making a mob drama about a gangster with mother issues and a therapist? Let it go, guys, nothing will ever match James Cameron's TITANIC. Please, you're embarrassing yourselves.

And this means no more DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES until May. For the five remaining HOUSEWIVES watchers, that's the worst part.

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Brian Huba

My Four Days in the Big Easy

Last Monday we took off to New Orleans for four nights. I am not a huge fan of traveling, and am terrified of flying, so I only fly once a year. Two years ago: Vegas. Last year: Miami. This year: NOLA. I do not understand how planes NEVER crash. How is it possible? 28,000 US flights a day, and nothing EVER goes wrong. I don’t get it, and for that reason, it boggles and terrifies me.

We stayed on the 12th floor at the Marriot in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The hotel was OK, but the view from our room was nothing to text-pic home about. (At one point we got up to the 41st floor and took in the city from way up. That was great.) Before going to NOLA we called on people to help us put together a list of the best places to eat and the most interesting things to do, and the consensus was NOLA is so much fun. Our first stop was Bourbon Street, the famous strip of bars and gentlemen’s clubs, etc. Worth seeing, but in a word: Scary. It was like walking down the middle of a carnival show, full of freaks, and pick pockets, and drunks. Some guy tried scamming us with a pitch about helping retired teachers feed kids in Africa. Yeah, OK, dude. If I hit Bourbon when I was 23 I would’ve loved it. But now? I was happy to get off of it.

Everyone talked about how good the food is, so that was something I was super excited about. I love going out to eat, and we went to the most recommended places. Our first night, we hit a spot called ACME Oyster House. After waiting in the 45-minute line, we had our first taste of Po Boys, fried & breaded fish sandwiches on toasted French bread rolls. They were fantastic. The Gumbo was great too. I had two cups. But the rest of the time our lunches and dinners were just OK. At one restaurant we waited 55 minutes for lunch, and it was empty. At another place the waitress used the most filthy word in the English language in conversation with us. Southern hospitality? I didn’t really see it until the owners of a French Quarter candy shop chased us down the street and gave us a free bag of their famous pralines. They had closed for the night and were worried we'd be 'disappointed' so they hooked us up. That was cool.

On our second night there, a bartender at a dueling-piano place scolded a customer for only giving a $1 tip on a $10 dollar round of beers. I’m sure we went to too many tourist spots, I get that, but we only chose the places that were recommended again and again, so I don’t see how we could’ve missed the hot spots by that much. I think we hit a home run on night #1 with ACME then just a bunch of base hits (food wise) the next three days. How many times can you have a Po Boy? Or Crawfish? Or Gumbo?

“But, Brian, what about the Jazz?” We took in a free show at Legend’s Park. That was cool. We tried hitting Preservation Hall a few times, but the line to get inside was over two hours every night. No way. We took in the French Quarter Fest for a few hours on Thursday. What do you want me to say? It was Alive at Five on steroids. I like jazz for a little while, but there was no way I was listening for more than a few hours, at most! So again, the music, like the food, was OK. Even NOLA’s view of the Mighty Mississippi was kind of, uh . . . industrial.

What did I like? The Beignets at CafĂ© du Monde. I had about 30 of them in four days. I also liked going to Archie Manning’s restaurant in Harrah’s, and getting my picture taken under Eli's framings and wall quotes. But things got pretty ugly when I instigated a heated debate about how much better Eli Manning is than Drew Brees. Those NOLA fools actually think Brees is better than Eli. Ugh, Southerners. I liked the WW2 Museum as well. We duped the woman at the ticket counter into giving us the student rate. It would’ve been $38 otherwise. Yeah, $38 to walk around a museum.

Here’s the problem: I’m from New York. Nothing overly impresses me. The Vegas Strip? Loved it, sure, but it was Times Square with slot machines. South Beach? A junior NYC on the ocean. NOLA? Not even close. Boston? What is this an 8th-grade field trip? I only go to Bean Town to wear Larry Bird jerseys and jump around. New York City is the best city in the history of the world. Nothing else can touch it, and every other city I’ve been to is trying to be NYC. The food is tops in NYC, the entertainment, the sheer awe of it all. So when I wonder why I’m such a lousy traveler, I remember that I’ve been spoiled by the Big Boy about 150 Miles south of my house.

And the best part about going to NYC? I don’t have to fly, which means I don’t have to spend a pre-trip week on the Internet, stressed out and reading about the worst aviation wrecks in recorded history, convinced it's gonna happen to me. It's enough to make you crazy.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fighting spirit of NOLA. You're talking about a US city that has existed on the edge of destruction, and any actual NOLA native you meet is proud of their city's enduring nature, and it is almost Anti-American not to be proud of them as well. But I'm glad to be home again, back in the Cap Region. The 43rd best place to live in America. 43rd? There’s no beating that.

Brian Huba

Saturday, April 7, 2012

AMERICAN REUNION: Don't Believe the Bad Press

There’s only one way to say this: AMERICAN REUNION was great.

Friday night. Back at the CP Theatre. The 10.00PM showing of AMERICAN REUNION. At first I was worried. The 25 minutes of previews were all terrible, nothing but movies about decapitating people and the end of the world. You could feel the life getting sucked out of the theatre from these in-your-face, Armageddon-themed promos. We’re PIE people. We came to party and laugh, not hear about the end of the world. Who’s in charge of placing previews with certain movies? Know your audience. After that brief glimpse at the end of days, it was time to get down to business.

Truthfully, I went into this movie expecting it to be really bad, just another forced, money-hungry sequel, like AMERICAN PIE 2 & AMERICAN WEDDING were. I only went to REUNION because, as a card-carrying member of Generation X, I was obligated to go. Those two movies I just mentioned were total junk, stupid, annoying, the grating chronicle of Stifler (Sean William Scott) going from cool, high school party dude in the classic AMERICAN PIE, to really disturbing psycho in 2 & 3. But Stifler was totally cool in REUNION. I was certain that Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) would again talk like a four year old. “Holy potatoes, Jim.” But she talked and acted like a normal, adult woman, like she does in HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. I won’t give away the story, but I will say the whole cast was perfect this time around, all of them at 30 years old, and back in Great East Falls for their, uh, 13 year high school reunion. As adults they were exactly the way PIE fans would wish them to be. It really worked. If you loved the 90's music that trademarked the entire franchise. More of the same on that score.

The entire cast was brought back, even Tara Reid, who looked good. I can’t believe I just wrote that: Tara Reed looked good. Oz (Chris Kline) looked good, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas ), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Heather (Mena Suvari), they all delivered with perfect balance. Plus, we only had to endure about 15 seconds of Shannon Elizabeth’s God-awful Nadia. The cast’s chemistry was phenomenal. One reviewer, who bashed the movie of course, said that PIE’s sequels just don’t work, because this ensemble is no AMERICAN GRAFFETTI, they lack what that ensemble had. Lack? The PIE cast is far better than the GRAFFETTI cast. And Eugene Levy (Jim’s Dad) was Oscar-worthy in this movie. Did you just read that? Oscar Worthy! OK. Maybe Golden Globe.

In REUNION, there were no forced scenes, i.e. Jim gluing himself to the adult movie, or Stifler and Finch trading identities to win the affection of some insignificant female character. None of that dumb filler, where Jim was mistaken for Petey at Band Camp, or Michelle’s mother eating a dessert that was actually dog do-do. Dumb, dumb, dumb. This movie was actually a legit comedy, like THE HANGOVER and SUPERBAD. I laughed the entire time. It was clever, it was true to its own identity. It didn’t sell out in the end. And believe me, guys, I wanted it to bad, I wanted it to sell out so I could bash it. But nope. I kept waiting for it to get dumb, but it never did. It was just funny. After 10, 20, 40 minutes, I turned to the person I was with and said, “So far, it’s great,” Then, “So far, it’s great.” It was great from opening credits to closing credits.

“But Brian, US Weekly said it was dumb.” Please don’t believe the National Critics, all of whom have panned REUNION from coast to coast. I don’t know what they’re seeing. “Tired” “Worn out.” I don’t get it. One reviewer simply wrote, “It’s terrible.” Maybe they were shown PIE 2 or WEDDING by mistake, because REUNION was the best the franchise has ever produced, even better than the original. When the humor stopped, the heart started. There is a scene between Jim (Jason Biggs) and his dad (Eugene Levy) that is so heartfelt. It was almost Soprano-ish. I can’t believe I just wrote that. But it’s true. God! I wanted this movie to stink. But nope. It blew my expectations out of the water. It was 1,000 times better than BRIDES MAIDS. It was better than HANGOVER 2. It was better than both MEET THE PARENTS sequels, way better. It was better than DUMB & DUMBER. OK, just kidding about that last one. It was good. But not THAT good.

I won’t give away the ending or the character arcs. I will just say that if you are a PIE fan you will be 100% satisfied with how the franchise walks off into the sunset. It was so well done. Stifler finally exacted long-overdue justice. And, in what I thought was a great sign of respect, the REUNION producers let Eugene Levy have the final scene, and it is EXACTLY how you’d want to see Jim’s dad go out. I don’t know what to tell you guys. I wish I could find something, anything wrong with it, but I can’t. At one point I went to the bathroom during the film. I sprinted back to the theatre, so I would miss as little as possible. Sprinted like an idiot. And guess what? I was told I missed a hilarious part. Of course. PIE fans, it was worth the nine-year wait, trust me. Go see it. You won’t be sorry.

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Brian Huba

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ten Best Restaurants in the Capital Region

People ask me all the time, “Brian, what are the Ten Best Restaurants in the Capital Region?” (For the record, nobody has ever asked me that.) I'm not going to say places like Prime and Jack’s Oyster House, just to name drop, and I hated Cafe Capriccio. I don’t go out for Indian or Thai, and I don’t venture into Schenectady much, although Ferrari's is good, and the Saratoga Strip has no great places. I will leave off anyplace that you can’t sit in, like Jack’s Drive-In or Genoa, and I will leave off the Black Cat in Cohoes, but I like it. The Brown Derby and Yono's are more of a "place to be seen." So here it is: The Ten Best for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.

10.New World Bistro, Delaware Avenue, Albany: Bistros are sometimes bad, a bit too yuppie, sure. But the food here is a homeroom, a real change of pace if you’re Italian, Mexican, or Cheeseburger guy on date night. Speaking of which, they claim their cheeseburger finished #2 at the State Fair. Guess the State Fair never heard of McDonald’s and Burger King. The food is killer, yes, but everything else is... The service is just OK, they always seat you in one of those tables that share with strangers, and every time I try to use the bathroom, there’s a line. A bathroom line? But it is great food at good prices, just be ready to rub elbows with some synthetically-uppidy couple who they’ve sat two inches from your table. Website:

9.Cheesecake Factory, Colonie Center, Albany: A chain place? Are you serious? It’s good food at really, really good prices. Every time I go there, I've been ready to bash the place, and one of the strangest dining experiences happened to me there, click here: But I always love my dinners and really love the bill at the end. The menu is thicker than a Jodi Picoult novel, and the atmosphere is nice. Just don’t let them sit you at one of those tables with strangers. They try that trick too. I hate those tables. Website:

8.El Mariachi, Hamilton Avenue, Albany: I don’t know how excited you can get about Mexican food. But I’m much more excited about El M’s after a recent visit to Pancho’s in Clifton Park. Wow. Thems was some bad eats. El Loco? It's OK. But I’d say El M’s is the best Mexican around. Good drinks, good food, good atmosphere, dirt cheap. I’ll put it to you like this: If you suggested El M’s for a Friday night, I’d say sign me up. Saturday night? I’m probably going to want to go a bit bigger. Website:

7.Jonathan’s Pizza, Pearl Street, Albany: If you want to grab a table, order a pizza and a pitcher of soda, and just have a good “Pizza Parlor” experience, Jonathan is your guy. (Purple Pub is AWESOME too.) The cheese pizza is great, and I think it’s the best place to go before hitting an event at the TU (Aerosmith, June 29th). So next time you’re downtown, go to Jonathan’s, tell him Brian sent you. After he says, “Who the heck is Brian?” order the large cheese pizza and pitcher of Pepsi, and enjoy. Website:

6.Manory’s, Congress Street, Troy: I'm not a fan of breakfast food, but the few times I've done breakfast, it’s Manory’s (or Pepper Jack’s or the Iron Gate which are both great). Manory's is a diamond in the rough in Downtown Troy, and you can’t go wrong with anything on their breakfast menu. It’s a cool place to go with your friends or best girl, grab a Sunday NY POST, order fun food. Most every other place I've eaten breakfast, I've hated, especially I-Hop, which serves vomit on a plate. Breakfast food is always overrated, but I have to say Manory’s leaves me satisfied. Do they serve lunch? Dinner? Who cares? Facebook Page:

5.Sandwiches to Go, Maiden Lane, Albany: Best lunch in the Region. Sorry Bob & Ron's. When I was in middle school, on Winter Break, my mother would bring me and my friend Jason to work with her on Thursday, and we’d walk around Pearl Street with the snow coming down, go to the top of the Corning Tower; hit the Museum. Back then Albany felt like NYC to me. One year my mother told me the best place to get lunch was a little deli on Maiden Lane. She was right 17 years ago, and I'm right today. In addition to the Winter Break trips, once a week during the school year, mom used to bring me home half her turkey on rye with Russian from her own lunch. I used to meet her in the driveway for that white deli bag. And now, as an adult, I go there a few times a year, and I’m still as excited as ever. My fav: Turkey BLT on rye w/ Russian, pickle, chips, cole slaw, and cookie. Menu:

Now that the breakfast, lunch, and Friday night places are taken care of, let’s get to the main event: the Saturday night hot spots. . .

4.The Barnsider, Sand Creek Road, Albany: I’m not a steak guy but I love this place. I don’t go often, but when we do, we go all out. I get the NY Strip Steak with the baked potato side. Love the calamari. Love the make-your-own salad bar. Love the atmosphere. LOVE the breads. Very spread out and roomy, but a real classy feel, without losing that Albany vibe, if you know what I mean. Best steak around. Great seafood too. Website:

3.Longfellows, Union Avenue, Saratoga: There is absolutely nothing that isn’t a home run about this place. The food is so good words alone cannot describe it. The restaurant’s different rooms, with the fireplaces and wine cellars, are such great places to eat. The wait staff is a team of pros. There is no place in the Region that has a deeper variety of different foods, deeper in the sense that anything you get is going to maybe be the best meal you ever had. Is it expensive? Oh yeah. Is it worth every penny, plus the 30% tip? Bet your life on it. Website:

2.The Villa Valenti, West Sand Lake Road, Wynantskill: If I murdered somebody, was sentenced to death, and was told I had one final meal before they gave me the gas, I would send out for the Villa Valenti: chicken parm, homemade pasta, and the bread, oh my God, the bread. Click here: So why isn’t it my #1? Well, the atmosphere isn’t always so good. It’s usually dead by 9PM, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, and some of the servers are second rate. In fact one of the worst experiences of my life happened at the Villa when I was 19. I went there with my friend Bill. We got dressed up, scraped together $25.00 plus these sauce-jar coupons from a promotion they were running: Buy one meal, get the other free with coupon. So we went, feeling pretty important for being able to hit the Villa. The waitress brought us bread and soda, took our orders. I showed her the coupon (a sauce-jar label), and she said she couldn’t take it, because we didn’t have the receipt to go along. We explained we didn’t have enough cash for dinners without the coupon, and she said “Oh well, sorry,” then took back our bread and soda, and we had to get up and leave in front of everyone. This waitress still works there, and she’s still terrible. I’ll never forget that humiliation. She couldn't just let two kids eat? That’s why the Villa Valenti isn’t #1. But I love Ralph Valenti, and I loved Emma, and the food is stratospheric. Website:

1.D’Raymond’s, Osbourne Road, Colonie: Every time I walk into D’Raymond’s I’m greeted like a Golden God. The bartender that meets you at the door is the greatest bartender ever. He knows your name, has the drink coaster out by the time you check in & get to the bar, your favorite soda ready to roll. From that point on the good times are nonstop. The atmosphere is fantastic! The wait is never bad, and the table you get is always great. I usually prefer waitresses to waiters (for obvious reasons), but D’Raymond’s has the greatest waiter ever, a robot-waiter, sent back in time from the future of restauranting. The bread, apps, salads, fried dough, where does the greatness end? All I do is laugh and eat amazing food the whole two hours we're there. Round after round of foods. If Heaven’s a place on Earth, it’s D’Raymond’s in Colonie. Every time I go there: Grand slam homerun!! What’s good? Everything! Is it expensive? Who knows? Who cares? I’ve never even looked at the bill. It’s the perfect price, worth every red cent, every time. D’Raymond’s never fails, never leaves you hungry, always makes you ready to come back ASAP. They treat you like A-1 class. I would go to D’Raymond’s every weekend if it wasn’t weird and socially unacceptable. Don’t be one of those knuckleheads that dismisses D’Raymond’s because it’s in a strip mall, behind a suntan place. In a Region where great food is everywhere, D’Raymond’s is the undisputed champ.

A Few That are Overrated:

Ralph's (Albany), The Fountain (Albany), Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue (Troy), Taste (Downtown Albany), KOTO Japanese Steak (Colonie), Lombardo's (Downtown Albany), PF Chang's (Colonie Center), Raven's Wood (Clifton Park), Circle Cafe (Saratoga), BEFF's (Albany)

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Brian Huba