Thursday, April 22, 2010

DeFazio's Pizzeria

There is something to be said about great pizza. There are thousands of local pizza places in this country. Pizza is a staple in many households on Friday nights. Out of these thousands of pizza places, there is one in the Capital Region that stands out in my mind, and that is DeFazio's in Troy NY.

Review: DeFazio's Pizzeria and DeFazio's Italian Imports
Location: 266 4th St Troy, NY 12180
Business Type: Italian Restaurant and Specialty Shop

Who has the best crust in the Capital Region? DeFazio's. Who has the best pesto pizza in the Capital Region? DeFazio's. Who has the best meats and cheeses as well as specialty Italian products in downtown Troy? DeFazio's. Are you getting the point?

DeFazio's is located in Troy just South of the "Downtown". It is in the heart of Little Italy Troy, which has some of its beginnings in this area, thanks to Rocko DeFazio, owner and operator of this fantastic small business.

Before I talk about my experiences at this local gem, I want to discuss why this business should be a model for any entrepreneur attempting to open a local restaurant. Rocko is the ideal local business owner. He produces a great product, understands his customers, and gives back to the community. One defining characteristic that sets his business apart, is the community activity they are involved in. Rocko is one of the organizers of the Little Italy Farmer's Market, he has also managed to create a business district known as "Little Italy" that encompasses a great deal of Troy. His goal with this was to decrease the amount of crime in this area and help it to thrive by making the area appealing to other business owners. He has succeeded. Since I have lived in Troy, I have seen a decrease in crime on that side of town, and Rocko can be the one to thank.

Enough about that, we are here to review the business after all. Since the restaurant is connected directly to the specialty food store, I will review both, and comment on my experiences here.

The food from the restaurant half of this business is typical Italian food you can find at pretty much any similar restaurant. Pizza, pasta, chicken parm, calzones, salads and bread. The number of seats inside the restaurant is small, about enough room for 15-20 people. You sit right next to the counter where you place your order, and the food comes quickly.

I have had their pizza countless times, and I am partial to a few types. Their pesto pizza is great, and has inspired the style in which I create my own pesto pizza. They mix the cheese and pesto together in a way that makes the pizza have great flavor. Though I will say that I wish there was more pesto and less cheese, but others may disagree. I have also had their "Fra Diavolo Pizza" which has homemade sausage and peppers on top. This pizza I was also happy with, but would only say that the peppers tend to overpower the pizza. Other pizzas I have tried are the Four Cheese, and the regular cheese pizza. Their dough is the best; hands-down out of any dough I have ever had at an Italian restaurant. It is so good in fact, that I have made pizza with their dough several times myself, both wheat and white. It costs a measly 2 dollars for raw dough, which is insignificant when you realize you can feed 4 with it.

As for other types of food, I have enjoyed their calzones, which are literally the size of a large pizza, only folded in half. Try finishing one of those! This is the place I go for pizza, so I cannot comment as much about their other foods, which I'm sure are excellent as well.

My only complaint is the cost of pizza here. Their regular cheese pizza is 12 dollars, which is expensive compared to other pizza places in town. I will say again that the quality matches the price, as they always use fresh ingredients. I am willing to pay for the taste, which is always fantastic.

Right next door is a specialty Italian shop. Here you can get pastas, homemade and canned sauces, homemade pastas, deli meats that are always fresh, cheeses, and of course, homemade sausage. The prices here are good, especially for the location, seeing as the nearest specialty Italian shop is 15 minutes away.

Rocko and his staff are extremely friendly, and always happy to help. Just go in and say hi, and you are sure to get a great story about the family. This restaurant is truly a gem in Little Italy, and well worth the trip. After dinner you can even walk around the corner and enjoy gelato from Gelateria Lisa (review to come).

If you have had an experience at DeFazio's Pizzeria, then please do share, good or bad! We welcome comments and reviews from other locals. Thanks for reading!

Additional Information:
AllForLocal Listing: DeFazio's Italian Imports; DeFazio's Pizzeria
Phone: 518-274-8866 ; 518-271-1111

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spill'n the Beans

I came to live in Troy about 5 years ago when attending RPI as a freshman. Since then, downtown Troy has progressed dramatically from a place that students were once scared of. There was a taboo on this place, and students would constantly pass around stories that showed this beautiful city in a bad light. One thing I noticed when I began visiting the area regularly, was the frequency of cafes. One cafe that the AllForLocal team took to pretty quickly was called Spill'n The Beans.

Review: Spill'n the Beans Coffeehouse and Bistro
Location: 13 3rd Street, Troy NY 12180
Business Type: Cafe and Bistro

This cute cafe is located in a busy part of the downtown area, just a minutes walk from Monument Square, located right next to Market Block Books, and across the street from the Troy Atrium. Its elegant atmosphere and wonderfully decorated interior makes it a great hangout spot.

As a bit of background, I will say that the team went to this coffee-shop dozens of times since we first discovered it. If a new person is in town, this is the first place they will see. If a business meeting were to occur in Troy, this is the suggested spot. If we are bored and want to get out, chess at Spill'n is the thing to do. We are regulars; for life.

As I already said, the atmosphere in this cafe is great. You can choose from a wide variety of seats: some right outside on the gorgeous streets of downtown Troy, some just inside that are on stools for a more elevated cafe experience, some are couches where you can enjoy chess or simply read a newspaper, and some are traditional tables and chairs in the "dining area". Wifi is also available for those with laptops and mobile devices.

The walls are sponge painted orange, which gives the interior a very vibrant look. The aromas emanating from the kitchen and coffee roaster make you want to stay here forever. And the food is amazing as well!

The menu here is typical of cafes: coffee, tea, hot chocolate as well as a multitude of other drinks, breakfast sandwiches, paninis for lunch, fresh baked goods, and homemade soups. Unfortunately I cannot comment on the coffee as I am not a drinker, but from what I have heard it is the best in town (please comment if you agree to back up this claim). They roast the coffee beans in house, and offer a wide variety of flavors, how can it be bad?!

The service is excellent as well. Your food is delivered to your seat, and the staff is friendly and always happy to talk. The chef also really knows what he is doing.

As for the food, I have had the hot chocolate, which is by far the best I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. I have also enjoyed several of their paninis, which are consistently excellent. I have eaten several different types including the Caprese (mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto) and the chicken with sauteed peppers and onions (with Mexican flavors and cheese). These sandwiches are tasty and satisfying; grilled to the utmost crispy perfection. They come with your choice of chips (Cape Cod potato chips?) or salad, which has a sweet balsamic dressing that is to die for.

Now that I have stated the good, I will tell you about the bad: the prices. Let me say before I go on, that we still consistently eat here, but for those with a tight budget, 14 dollars for a sandwich, salad and a hot chocolate or coffee is pressing the wallet a bit. The food is so excellent that it is worth it. But I cannot do this business justice if I am not honest.

Overall, this is a great coffee shop and highly recommended. If you have not tried their food (specifically their coffee), then go down one day and check it out. Make sure to comment here if you have an experience that is worth noting.

Thanks for reading, and we welcome additional reviews of these businesses. This way we can get an unbiased set of reviews that give a thorough description of what these local businesses have to offer. (Pictures to come!)

Additional Information:
Hours: Monday - Friday 7am - 5:30pm; Saturday 8am - 4pm; Sunday 8am - 3pm
AllForLocal Listing:
Phone: 518-268-1028

Monday, April 12, 2010

Market Block Books

Independent bookstores are the epitome of a brick and mortar business. A good local book shop is a defining aspect of a town and provides value to local society. Many wear several hats, acting as part giftshop, book seller, back-to-school store, part confessionals, and all of them literacy advocates.

Review: Market Block Books
Location: 290 River Street, Troy, NY 12180
Business Type: Bookstore

Troy is fortunate to have a truly superb local bookstore: Market Block Books. Established in 2004, Market Block is part of a trio of locally owned bookstores including The Bookhouse and The Little Bookhouse in Stuyvesant plaza that is now celebrating its 35th anniversary.

A visit to Market Block books is an aesthetic experience. It is located at the corner of 3rd and River Street, a stone's throw from the Hudson, in one of the most architecturally attractive sections of down town Troy. The bookstore stands out, Market Block stands out, resembling the Flatiron building of New York City, only smaller and in brick red.

The store is wrapped by a continuous series of windows which serve the dual function of displaying featured books to pedestrians and allowing indirect sunlight to bathe the interior in a warm glow, contributing to Market Block's inviting atmosphere.

Not only is Market Block unique in its good looks, it is also special in the way it does business. There is something wonderfully personal about shopping at this bookstore. On each visit I get the impression that the staff loves the store, loves books, and loves their customers. Susan Taylor of Market Block put it this way, “Book store customers are the nicest people in the world, and independent bookstore customers are even better.” With an attitude like this, it's easy to forgo the convenience of buying a book from

If you live in or around Troy, and have ever had a conversation about books, you will likely have gotten wind of a book recommended to someone from Market Block. The store is renowned for having staff that goes beyond the call of duty to ensure that customers walk away with excellent reads. “You know we are reading,” said Susan Taylor, “we know our customers and keep their tastes in mind when buying for the store.”

Even if you are not a interested in a conversation, small handwritten recommendation cards line the shelves throughout the store. I prefer to engage with the staff to get their suggestions. Susan, who I happen to share a favorite genre with has introduced me to several fantastic authors, most notably Patrick Rothfuss, who has become one of my all time favorites.

If you want a deeper insight into a book, but are not able to make it to the store, the staff of Market Block and The Book House keep blogs in which they discuss recent reads (links are available through the store website).

The store also features a strong selection local authors and host book signings periodically, giving local authors and readers a great opportunity to connect and network.

One thing to note about Market Block Books is that it is not the worlds biggest bookstore. As a relatively small independent, it does not have an inventory to rival that of a national franchise or They do, however, make every effort to compete. If you need a book that they don't have in stock, they will promptly order it for you. To compete on prices, they offer book cards that save regular customers a significant amount of money after a few purchases.

Market Block Books is an excellent piece of a perfectly relaxing day. I like to go by, pick up a new book recommended to me by Susan or Stanley, then get lunch and a coffee from Spillin' the Beans, a great cafe just next door. If it is a Saturday, a stop by the Troy Farmers Market is a great addition to the experience.

Additional Information:
Hours: Monday - Saturday, 10am - 6pm
AllForLocal Listing:
Phone: (518) 328-0045

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Plum Blossom

From my experience living in Connecticut and New York, I have found that Chinese restaurants are typically hit or miss. This type of cuisine is common in this area, and it is easy to compare restaurants as they generally have the same menu, just cooked with different styles. Plum Blossom is a restaurant that I am a regular at, and I am pleased to write a review about it.

Review: Plum Blossom
Location: 685 Hoosick Street, Troy NY, 12180
Business Type: Chinese Restaurant

Plum Blossom has received a makeover for the interior of the restaurant a little over two years ago. When you enter, you are immediately welcomed by statues and art that engulfs you and transports you to China. The style of the restaurant is unique and the atmosphere is welcoming. The relics and statues are not overdone, and ensure a quality experience when you sit down for lunch or dinner.

The waitstaff and hosts are all pleasant, and usually the owner (I think) is to seat you and welcome you. You will either be seated in the middle of the restaurant which has bigger tables for large parties, or on the rim of the restaurant which has booths and other seating.

When it comes to any type of restaurant, the atmosphere is important, but makes little difference to the overall experience. What I mean is that you can have a terrible atmosphere with amazing food, and it's still an excellent experience. The opposite is true for an amazing atmosphere and terrible food. The food is what matters. Plain and simple.

I frequented this restaurant with my two other business partners for meetings a while back. We would come once every other week to discuss business. I also celebrated at least two birthday dinners at this restaurant. I say this so you understand that this is a restaurant that I have been to more than fifteen times.

The menu at Plum Blossom is typical of most Chinese restaurants. You can get the typical chicken, beef, seafood, and vegetable dinners available at any Chinese restaurant. Your meal begins right when you sit down with unlimited pots of jasmine tea and fried noodles with duck sauce. You can get fried rice and lo mein, as well as spring rolls and soups. The first few times I ate here, I got the General Tso's chicken, which is a classic at all Chinese restaurants. This is the dish that I most commonly get at any Chinese restaurant. Their General Tso's is good, but not the best item on the menu.

I truly discovered this restaurant when John let me taste his sesame chicken; since then we (John, Sandro and I) have all gotten that dish every time we eat at Plum Blossom. There is no need to try anything else because it will only be compared to this perfect dish (in my opinion of course!). The sesame chicken here at Plum Blossom is the reason I still go back. It is partially crunchy but maintains a great flavor. The sauce that accompanies it, is to die for. This is probably my favorite Chinese dish I have ever gotten at a restaurant. If you get this dish, you will understand. The texture, taste, and consistency are perfect. It is not too greasy as can be common with Chinese food.

The portions here are always amazing, and you will be sure to take leftovers unless you are a power eater.  If you get a combination platter you get an egg roll and soup with your meal and rice. Again, plenty of food for most.

On occasion I get the spring rolls which are fried and crunchy, and very good. The miso soup has too big of chunks of tofu in it, but tastes good. The egg rolls are huge, about two inches in diameter and 4 inches long. They are great as well. The wonton soup is average, nothing to call home about.

Overall the experience at this restaurant is of excellent quality. You will enjoy a great atmosphere with great food and portions. I would try other dishes in order to be less biased, but I feel I would be wasting my money because I know the sesame chicken is a great hit. Based on the two dishes that I have had at Plum Blossom, I assume that everything else is great as well. If you visit this restaurant, make sure to comment here and let us know what you thought of the restaurant! Thanks for reading!

-Joe Balestriere

Monday, March 22, 2010

Aquilonia Comics and Cards

What I have found since I became so interested in local businesses, is that some types of specialty businesses cannot be franchised, because of the special knowledge necessary to run them. An example of this is a card/comic store. The products can be sold elsewhere, but the expertise required to maintain loyal customers is more necessary for these types of establishments. This brings me to my review of Aquilonia Comics in Troy NY.

Review: Aquilonia Comics and Cards
Location: 412 Fulton St, Troy NY, 12180
Business Type: Comic/Card Store

I have been a regular at this comic store since my freshman year at RPI when I became more interested in the card game, Magic the Gathering (which is brilliant by the way). This store is owned and operated by a local named Bob, who offers great service to his patrons on a daily basis. This man knows his business.

Aquilonia offers many unique items that you usually can't find at other big stores, such as Magic cards, comic books, accessories, and other collectibles. Even if another store offers these items, you will be hard-pressed to find an employee that knows anything about them. This is not the case at Aquilonia; Bob knows all about the most recent comics and their release dates, Magic cards and everything associated with them, and is always ready to serve your needs when you enter his store.

Upon entering the store, you are slapped in the face with the colors of fantasy, myths, and legends. You step off the streets of Troy into any fantasy reader's dream world. If you are a Magic card collector, then you will by happy with the selection of rares, uncommons and commons all at very reasonable prices. If you buy in quantity, you may be able to receive a discount for spending more money; do big box stores give you discounts for buying more items? Nope.

Although I have never attended any events at this store, they host such things as Magic the Gathering drafts and other types of tournaments weekly or monthly depending on the event. If you are bored on weekends, this may be a great way to spend your night.

It seems there is one store that sells these types of items in every town. In most cases, it is locally owned and operated, and the owner has a passion for the games that he offers, and the knowledge necessary to serve his customers. This is exactly how I would describe Aquilonia. I have no complaints of this store, because Bob does a great job of keeping his customers happy.

If you are interested in these types of hobbies, then make sure you check out this gem in downtown Troy. Bob is happy to help you find whatever it is you are looking for!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saratoga Peanut Butter Company

Peanut Butter. Over the past few years, I have increasingly used peanut butter for the regular things: peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter with apples, or bananas, peanut butter in shakes, in ice cream, and pretty much everywhere else peanut butter can go. It has become one of my favorite foods. Over the years, I have also strayed from the typical brands that generally use hydrogenated oils to make their peanut butter fluffy and smooth. Currently though, there is one brand of peanut butter that stands out in my mind, and it is made locally in our very own Saratoga Springs. The name of the company that makes this wonderful product is Saratoga Peanut Butter Company.

Review: Saratoga Peanut Butter Company
Location: Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Business Type: Peanut Butter Creator

Before I go into the review of the peanut butter, I want to give some background information on this company. Saratoga Peanut Butter Company (SPBC) was started in historic Saratoga Springs in 2005. Since then, the company has grown to distribute its peanut butter to retailers all over the Capital Region and beyond. Now, it makes 9 different flavors of peanut butter (Yes! 9!), including: Plain Jane Chunky, Creamy, or Organic, Chillin Chocolate (dark chocolate), Blizzard Butter (white chocolate), New York Maple (infused with maple syrup), Monkey Boy (bananas), Adirondack Jack (almond, peanuts, cranberries, and a few other ingredients), and Almond Butter. All these spreads are made with the highest quality ingredients, which you can view on their website.

I first found SPBC at the Troy Farmer's Market where they consistently deliver peanut butter to the masses. Usually they have a very friendly person working the booth, handing out free samples of this delicious spread with pretzel sticks. What a perfect way to start your Saturday! I immediately fell in love with this peanut butter, specifically the Blizzard Butter which is infused with white chocolate. Through my discussion with one of the business owners at the Market, I was told that this particular butter was most favored by males, and the Chillin Chocolate most preferred by females (just a fun random piece of info).

Anyway, this peanut butter is of the highest quality. Because it is made so fresh, there are extremely small pieces of peanuts in the butter, which makes it less than smooth. Under normal circumstances this may seem like a not-so-good thing, but don't judge before you try it! It makes the peanut butter have character. Most peanut butters strive to be smooth, this one stands above the rest and dares to be different. I like that. I usually eat this spread on bread, or in any of the ways stated in the first sentence, but with a spoon is definitely the best. The white chocolate flavor makes it so unique, and terminates any competition.

The only complaint I have about this peanut butter is the price. For seven dollars at the market, it's a bit pricey, but the quality, the texture, the flavor, makes it well worth it. Of course, that is relative to the mass-produced brands such as Jiffy and Peter Pan which go for 2-4 dollars depending; when compared to other organic peanut butters, it competes with their prices.

I am not a regular consumer of the other flavors, although I have tried each and every one of them at some point in time. The unique flavors of each make trying them all a must. You will not regret making the trip to the Farmer's Market (or any of the regular retailers, Price Chopper for example), to get to try this wonderful spread. Of course, you do not get the awesome experience of "shaking the hand that feeds you" when you visit the supermarket, so I do prefer the Farmer's Market.

Visit one of their retailers and try this. It is a must for your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Please comment if you agree or disagree, because I would love to hear everybody's opinion on all of our reviews. Thanks for reading!

-Joe Balestriere

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cardona's Market

Yesterday was my first actual experience using AllForLocal to find something that I wanted/needed locally. In this case, I was looking for lunch on a Sunday somewhere near Troy (lunch, food, deli). If you know Troy well, finding anything on a Sunday downtown is a difficult experience, so I knew I would need to go further than Troy for my meal. Since I was on my way back from Stuyvesant NY, this would be a perfect opportunity to find something in Albany. After narrowing down my choices online, I called a few local delis and restaurants to get more information if AllForLocal did not yet have it, such as hours of operation and menu items. Eventually, I was pleased to find Cardona's Market in Albany NY.

Review: Cardona's Market
Location: 340 Delaware Ave, Albany NY, 12209
Store Type: Specialty Italian Food Store and Deli

I ordered my food ahead of time to avoid the lunch rush. Just a simple chicken parmigiana grinder, a classic favorite of mine, can't mess that up! I arrived at the store, conveniently located a minute from the entrance to I-787 (easy to get to). Even though parking around this establishment was horrid, I managed to find a parking space right in front of the shop.

Upon entering, I was immediately taken into a different country, to Italy that is. This market reminded me of the same type of grocery store you would find in my parent's hometown in Italy, very similar to one that our family owns. It had all the items you could possibly need from your home, and specialized in Italian imported items such as Nutella, Italian coffees, Italian sweets, and pretty much everything you would find at a regular supermarket. It also had a full-service meat market, with deli meats, the most fresh meat you will ever find, and sausages and sopresata for great home cooking. The atmosphere was very homey, and it made me feel like I was in the family.

This kind of market is not too common with the growth of big supermarket chains, but Cardona's maintained a great atmosphere, a very up-to-date store, and was extremely clean. What surprised me the most was with how busy it was at lunchtime on a Sunday. I assume all the local college students make this store one of their regulars after a long Saturday night. This was the biggest problem I had - long lines 15 minutes before closing (but hey, if being busy is their biggest problem, then they don't have much to worry about).

Anyway, back to my food. Since I was splitting the grinder I purchased (which was a total of 8 bucks with potato chips), I only had the pleasure to eat half. It was excellent and surprisingly satiating (for half a sandwich...usually I eat a whole grinder with ease). Since chicken parm grinders are the most common sandwich I purchase, this was no easy feat. I have to put this sandwich on the top 5 grinders I have ever had! Now I am motivated to go back and shop around more, once I have the time to do so. I will definitely visit this deli/market again maybe for some food, maybe to shop instead of the less local alternatives. This way, I can give a more thorough rating of this shop and tell you more about it.

Take my advice and try this place out! The prices are very reasonable, and even if it is not within your budget, the food and atmosphere make the trip worth it!

-Joe Balestriere