Restaurant review: Philly Brewery-Lounge-Coal Oven in Latham – Times Union


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A view of the Philly Bar and Lounge on Monday, June 26, 2017, in Latham, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)
A view of a Chicago dog with tomato, onions, and relish at the Philly Bar and Lounge on Monday, June 26, 2017, in Latham, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)
Rarely am I speechless. I wasn’t expecting a security checkpoint and over-21 hand stamps for a 6 p.m. midweek dinner. I hadn’t banked on the total transformation of the Philly Bar and Grill, as it’s still known to most, that has clearly taken place in the 13 years since Rocky Patel took over the Lookout, an unremarkable watering hole on the forecourt of the Latham Inn motel. But Philly’s has outlasted many in a famously finicky industry. And its growth and success — now as Philly Brewery-Lounge-Coal Oven — is surely the doggedly determined pursuit of a dream.
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Patel expands operations every few years, like a hermit crab decorating its shell. What Philly is, and who exactly it’s geared for, is hard to say. But its large patio has fun, diverse appeal. As a multiprong, split-personality, trend-snagging, bar-restaurant-lounge-club-live music-brewery hybrid, the entire concept is a deep dive inside Patel’s head.
The cumulative expansion may explain the gob-smackingly broad menu. Indian-born Patel, who grew up in Philadelphia, originally made Philly cheesesteaks the star of his Latham menu. Now, split hot dogs join build-your-own cheesesteaks in an arresting mix of sauces (peach ketchup, mango ranch, or horseradish maple aioli, anyone?) and flavor combos from Texas chili to Korean. The latter is an international incident of gochujang BBQ sauce, while the capitalized Kim Chi invokes the Korean-American drag queen rather than fermented relish. Deviled eggs rub elbows with Reubens, Smashburger knockoffs, oyster po’ boys, pastas, steamers and food trends from tuna poke to Tennessee hot chicken. Cast-iron nachos? Confit tacos? Pork belly buns? Check, check, check. You’d need an army to work through this.
Sprinkled throughout are flavor nods to Patel’s Indian heritage locked in an American cultural embrace: sweet potato falafel burger on a tandoori naan ($12) and Buffalo cauliflower pakora ($10), an innocent veg, battered and fried into nubbins of naughtiness smothered in hot sauce and blue cheese. Unlike wings, saucy batter gets limp fast. It might work with sauce on the side.
Patio additions have expanded Philly’s footprint with an outdoor bar, flaming high-top patio tables and something resembling an overhead air traffic control tower where live bands apparently play. A surfboard pinned to an outdoor column reminds me of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, though we pass on the margaritas, having confirmed they’re the vibrant mixes in ice-churning machines. A mojito arrives in a branded beer mug and cocktails in lipstick-y wine glasses with so much ice and so little booze I’m reminded of college bars, where pours are skimpy and pitchers are cheap.
This year’s addition, a huge dining room with open double garage doors tacked on to the original bar, is a shining tower of chrome, chandeliers and wall-mounted TVs in a look that’s part motorcycle repair shop, part Versailles. Up the chrome stairs in a mezzanine overlook is Patel’s latest baby — 215 Lounge — an upscale, dress code-restricted, bottle-service club with leather sofas and weekend DJ/artist events. Judging by the Facebook videos, we’re not the target demographic partying in the space at 3 a.m., but young Lathamites looking for a club may rejoice.
Helping me piece together the puzzle is Kevin Laster, former chef of the Washington Tavern, who came on board after the departure of head chef Tyler Degraf (his talents still touted on the website). Confusingly, Laster is not his replacement. He “sort of splits the chef role” with Patel (both are CIA-trained), and shares managerial duties. Though Laster and Patel are tweaking the menu, there are no plans to hire a new chef. They supervise a sizable line crew, and I sense a casual drift.
In spite of the menu buckling under its creative weight, most dishes are reasonable. An on-trend coal-fired oven — the clean, high-heat anthracite is credited with a teensy boost to the flagging coal industry — turns out beautifully blistered and charred pizzas. Ours, with baby arugula, sticky fig jam and chicken confit ($12), is a win. We order coal-fired Scottish salmon ($26) for the insanity of its triple-P pairing with polenta, puttanesca and pesto vinaigrette. It’s surprisingly successful, a simple chopped olive salsa, and a pesto sparing enough for a nice piece of fish. Better if it weren’t all on one plate.
What’s there to say about a split Hoffman hotdog? It’s in a bun; it’s good. We build a classic Philly cheesesteak, an open-face whopper with shaved rib-eye, onions, peppers and provolone on the authentic Amorosa bun, and pass on the server’s offer of “Wiz.” It’s OK too, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the “refined new menu.”
Proof of Patel’s ambitions is in the new name. The website confidently describes four crisp beers brewed onsite by Umami Brewing, so when I can’t actually find it, our server sheepishly admits it doesn’t exist. Nor, Laster confirms, have they hired a brewer or started to brew. They do offer 28 beers on tap, though tonight is radio-sponsored Bud and bingo. We’re too busy falling off our chairs when our requested wines (“Red or white?”) arrive as a trio of Gallo airplane miniatures. They don’t carry wine by the bottle. Just miniatures. Just Gallo. When I check our bill, it’s padded. An extra double here, an extra wine there — old tricks that late-night revelers will miss.
Students, I’m repeatedly told, are not their target audience but the dinner crowd is so interestingly mixed I count the reverse baseball caps (15), intergenerational tables with children (four) and groups sinking beer flights in plastic cups (three). It stays packed all night. Philly’s charming patio could almost make you forget where you are until late evening pickup trucks peel out with screeching tires and piglet squeals. Then it’s a toss up between a Latham parking lot and a Fort Worth rodeo.
Dinner for three — including a selection of appetizers, pizza, pasta, cocktails and wine — came to $150.81 with tax and 20 percent tip. You could grab a pizza and a beer for less than $20.
Susie Davidson Powell is a British freelance food writer in upstate New York. Follow her on Twitter, @SusieDP. To comment on this review, visit the Table Hopping blog,
Philly Brewery-Lounge- Coal Oven
622 Watervliet-Shaker Road
Phone: 785.9559
Cuisine: Madcap mix of familiar appetizers, sandwiches and pastas, and popular food trends in American and ethnic flavors. Signature Philly cheesesteaks and coal-oven pizza.
Ambiance: Excellent outdoor patio and attractive new chrome extension to the original restaurant-bar. Families and mixed diners early, late-night club crowd. Live bands. Tuesday trivia and Wednesday bingo. Live music cover $5 to $10. Dress code enforced after 9 p.m.
Price: $-$$$
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday.
Credit cards: All major.
Parking: Parking lot.
Handicapped accessible: Yes.
Price ratings for inexpensive eateries based on average of entrée costs:
$: $9.95 and less
$$: $9.95-$15.95
$$$: $15.95 and higher
Award-winning food and drinks writer and longtime TU dining critic, Susie Davidson Powell, has covered the upstate dining scene for a decade. She writes weekly reviews, a monthly cocktail column and the biweekly e-newsletter The Food Life. Susie has received national awards for food criticism from the Society of Features Journalism and served as a 2020 James Beard Awards judge for New York state. You can reach her at and follow her on Instagram:


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