Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bacchus Wood Fired Pizza: Good Food and Good Beer

It's been five months since I moved to the Capital Region.  In that time of exploring the food and drink scene of the area, one thing I've been disappointed in is the lack of interesting, yet casual, restaurants that also serve good beer.  Something beyond standard pub fare.  This is one of the reasons why, with all due respect, I don't fully agree that this is a great beer town, but extended thoughts on that are best saved for another time. 

Now, I don't want to cast a final, blanket statement on these matters after being here for such a short time; there's a ton I have yet to discover, and would love recommendations on places to find both good food and good beer.  I know City Beer Hall is one strong option, and though I didn't agree in my experience, I've seen enough praise for The Merry Monk to trust that there is probably some solid food being served there.  People seem to like Brown's brewpub all right, and I'm looking forward to trying Druthers up in Saratoga.  But the common denominator with all these options just mentioned?  They're beer places first, food places second.

That's fine, and a check in the "good beer town" column.  But on a Saturday night when K and I wanted to A) get a good meal without driving into downtown, B) eat in relative peace (no bands, no crowds of loud folks at a bar), and C) still be able to drink some good beer, we were left feeling stumped as to any options that would satisfy all those criteria.

But then we stumbled upon Bacchus Wood Fired Pizza in Troy. 

It's not like Bacchus is some secret amongst those in the know out here; it did, after all, garner a good amount of love on All Over Albany's favorite foods of 2012 post, and several respected area foodies have talked it up since the restaurant's opening five years ago.  Plus it was voted into All Over Albany's Tournament of Pizza "with the highest (by a lot) crowd vote total" this year, so clearly it has its fans.

That's not going to stop me from adding to the praise, though, especially as a place where one can find both excellent food and drink in the area--in a really great space, no less.  Bacchus occupies the basement of Daisy Baker's, a fine dining restaurant on 2nd Street in Troy.  It's easy to miss Bacchus when driving by; walking along 2nd, I noticed the glow of a neon Dogfish Head sign in the window shining like a flare in the night.

Bacchus is down there, in the basement.
As I said above, we visited Bacchus on a Saturday night and were hoping to be able to hear each other talk.  Upon walking in, we had a brief moment of concern on that front--there was a handful of people sitting at the bar, one or two of them shrieking fairly loudly.  But we were led to another room, blocked from the bar by a brick wall, and the noise from the first room was considerably muted.  That's some smart design.

And it's a beautiful space, too.  K had a good view from her booth seat of the pizza oven (shown at the top of this post), the flames churning inside.  I loved all the exposed brick, the way it creates a warm and comfortable mood in the restaurant.

Service at Bacchus was top-notch.  The first good sign was when a chalkboard listing the beers on tap was moved to just across from our booth and propped up against the wall.  The second was when our server offered me samples of multiple beers I'd never before tried.  This is an easy way to win over the serious beer-drinker, and probably a good way to increase beer consumption.  When you keep only good stuff on tap--some seasonal, some local, some classic craft beers--odds are the customer might be drawn to whatever they test out (you can read here about my drink choices at Bacchus).  Even after the taste test, our server was attentive and efficient throughout the night.

A sign of good things to come.

Bacchus is primarily a wood-fired pizza restaurant, but it does stand above the land of pub grub because of the salads, appetizers, pastas, and types of pizza offered.  Look--there are absolutely days when I want wings or a decent burger to go with some good beer, and I know there are several options in the area where I can find that.  But some days, especially when dining with somebody who is much more about the food than the drink, you want something more than that.  And Bacchus certainly delivered.

We started with individual side salads, which were a nice touch; instead of having to decide on sharing a larger salad, maybe a bigger, more expensive portion than we were looking for, we each got a cheap (under $3, though I didn't note exact prices and they don't seem to be available online) personal size salad featuring a varied mix of greens, grape tomatoes, and olives.  There was no iceberg, nothing wilted in sight, and the roasted red pepper house dressing was a strong match for the greens.

In addition to the salads, we decided to share the roasted garlic bulb appetizer and one pizza.  The appetizer (around $6), featuring two garlic bulbs roasted in the wood-fired oven so that the garlic was blackened in spots on the skin and left soft inside, was served with crunchy bread and hot peppers.  There was some good flavor here, but the garlic didn't seem to be cooked consistently; some parts of each bulb weren't as soft as others.  It's a tricky balance, because parts were blackened and left nearly burnt-tasting--any additional cooking for softness and you'd have nothing but char.

One of the biggest appeals with the pizzas at Bacchus--beyond the way they're cooking in that imposing wood oven--is the variety of toppings, innovative options, and the choice for diners to create their own pizza.  K and I went with the latter option, drawn to the opportunity to pair figs and prosciutto with red sauce.  I'll admit the pizza isn't cheap at Bacchus, considering the crust is quite thin and won't fill you up quickly; ours came to almost $15.  But from what I've read, the dough and sauce are both made in-house at Bacchus, and when you get a 12-inch pizza liberally covered in figs and prosciutto, you can't exactly complain at that cost.

I know Bacchus's pizza didn't fare terribly well in its first-ever inclusion in the Tournament of Pizza, but based on our experience, I do believe that can be chalked up to the pizza not traveling well (or just being a random, undercooked clunker).  I enjoyed the slightly chewy, just-crisp-enough end crust of our pizza, while the bottom crust was firm enough to cradle the toppings.  And the crust did possess some of that classic wood-fired taste, that desirable hint of char and smoke.

The sauce, reportedly house-made, was a simple naked blend of what seemed to be just tomatoes, salt, and a bit of basil.  It reminded me of the sauce K makes for her homemade pizzas; I found it to be a fine complement to the salty, chewy cheese and the toppings.  As I said above, Bacchus didn't skimp with the figs and prosciutto, and I certainly appreciated that.  It's a classic combination on its own, and here on the pizza it shined in harmony with the crust and other ingredients.  With the slight caramelization of the figs and the salty, meaty goodness of the prosciutto, we were left completely sated--and I was happy to have some good beer to sip while slowly working my way through the pizza.

There's nothing wildly innovative (other than that pizza oven) at Bacchus, and that's why I hope to be able to find more places like it in the area.  The food is simple, with small touches to make it more interesting, and the beer list is good.  That attention to detail is discernible to the diner, and after just this one meal, I can understand why Bacchus has developed a loyal following in the community.

Bacchus Wood Fired Pizza is located at 33 2nd Street in Troy.


  1. We should go to Merry Monk (the four of us) for a redo. I've had only good experiences there. The burger is my favorite. I know that the mark of a good place is having good food served every time, no matter what you order, but I am still pulling for MM.

    I really enjoyed Bacchus! Glad you found it--it is sort of hiding. We got a kind of quiet but big table for 6 right against the front window.

    1. I'm hoping that my experience at The Merry Monk was an issue with what we ordered, or maybe when we went (dead at lunch on a Saturday). I'd definitely be up for a do-over; I can't write them off that quickly, certainly not with a beer list like the one they have.

  2. The Gastropub at 261 New Scotland Avenue, in Albany, will definitely sate your gastro-zymergic needs.

    1. We definitely have to try that. For some reason, it keeps slipping my mind, though I should say that a few days after I posted this I remembered it (and of course still haven't gone). Any tips on when to go (I hear it's a small space) or what to get?

  3. My husband and I enjoy The Point on Madison Ave, which has great food and good beer. If you're in the mood for more of a pub style restaurant, Juniors, right next door is good, and they are really amping up their beer selection. We also love Mingle, and New World Bistro on Delaware Ave. New World is tougher to get into on a Saturday night, but we've never had trouble getting a table at Mingle. One last place to try, is the Midtown Tap and Tea Room on New Scotland Ave. This is more of a "small plates" restaurant, but the food is always great, and again, they have the good beer:)

    1. Thanks for the tips--we definitely have to check those places out. I wish some of these places were a little cheaper, but from what I've heard they're good, so you can't really complain.

      And really, no excuse to not have gone to New World Bistro yet!

  4. Wow! That looks amazing. A lot different from when I saw it. Great job!

    wood fired pizza ovens

  5. Also try the Bier Abbey in Schenectady. Great casual food and the best draft selection in the region. They post pictures of the chalk board beer list daily on facebook.