Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ballad of Big Daddy, the Anatomically Correct Bull

It’s probably been fifteen years (at least) since I’ve set foot into a Ponderosa Steakhouse. Growing up, my mother, grandmother, and one of my aunts all worked as servers in the East Greenbush restaurant, so we spent a lot of time there. Many many bowls of ice milk were greedily spooned into our teenaged maws, and we always went back for more dinner after dessert. I remember being in love with their mozzarella sticks and, most importantly, their chicken wings. Those glorious, delicately spicy, crispy wings. My mother once witnessed someone try to sneakily fill a pillowcase with the things. They certainly had the right idea.

So when some of my Twitter buddies expressed the desire to make a pilgrimage to the only remaining Ponderosa in the area (it’s in Amsterdam. So, you know, now you have one reason to go to Amsterdam) I was embarrassingly jazzed. I could still taste and smell the place in my mind’s eye, and since I just recently started eating chicken again, it seemed like a great idea. Oh, was it ever.

Everything was exactly as I remembered it, right down to the assortment of gloopy, brightly colored ambrosia salads. I avoided those as diligently as I would have back in 1993. Just about everything I sampled fell somewhere between perfectly workable and pure heaven. The salad mix and baby spinach were actually quite fresh (only one shriveled leaf among them, and you know how quickly baby spinach can turn.) The macaroni salad and coleslaw were both over-mayonnaised, but I dealt with it, preferring too much to not enough. I couldn’t entirely tell if the mashed potatoes were reconstituted potato flakes, but they were fluffy and mixed well with the buttered peas. The chicken wings were phenomenal. I stopped at four of them, but probably could have eaten about twenty.

The highlight of the meal, for me, was the fruit cobbler, which I thought was blueberry but turned out to be cherry (or something.) I maintain that it tasted very, “blueberry-y,” and it was, like, stupid good. It may have been the best cobbler I’ve ever had. Topped with a little soft-serve ice milk that melted around it, everyone at the table agreed that it was damn good.

Overall, I kind of expected to be disappointed by how nostalgia doesn’t always jive with reality, but in this case it totally did. Everything was as good or better than I remembered. It’s nowhere near gourmet but it’s inexpensive and casual and there are actually some relatively healthy options. Topped off with a manager who cracked us up (“Those teenagers are always moving my magnets!”) and a few shots at the Skill Crane, it was a delightful evening. And, remember, all the cholesterol at Ponderosa is GOOD cholesterol, because it’s delicious and it means well. It’s science.