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