Sometimes you stumble on a place at exactly the right moment in time, and have an experience that is so good it actually makes you a little sad, knowing that it can never be replicated in exactly the same way.
That was how I felt about Bartlett House, a bakery/cafe located in a refurbished railroad hotel on Route 66 in Ghent.
I didn’t exactly “stumble” on this place, to be honest, but rather was invited there by a colleague for a late work lunch. It’s a bit off the beaten path – Ghent is just outside Chatham in Columbia County, about a half hour drive from Albany – but worth the trip if you have some time on your hands, or happen to be in the area.
Bartlett House stands set apart from its neighbors, directly facing – but set comfortably back from – the street. It is beautifully landscaped, with wrought iron tables scattered on the patio and several tables set up on the inviting porch.
The vibe is very much like a traditional French cafe, with rattan chairs (outside), and red-and-white cloth napkins rolled and set upright in glasses at every place setting.
Upon climbing the stairs and taking this all in, I had one of those Proustian-madeleine moments.
When I was a college junior, I lived in Montpellier, France for a year. I spent a lot of time at sidewalk cafes – time I technically should have been in class – drinking cremes and writing in my journal and generally soaking up the atmosphere. Sometimes I spent entire mornings or afternoons doing this, occasionally with friends, but more often than not, alone.
At the time I was probably full of late-teenaged angst. There’s no written proof of this, as I can’t find that journal, though I’ve looked for it quite a few times. Now, though, I look back on those days with nothing but fondness, and also a sort of sadness – actually nostalgia is probably a better word.
I feel a wistful ache when I think about a time when I had hours upon end to sit and do more or less nothing but enjoy the moment. I rarely do that anymore.
According to the Bartlett House website, the four-story brick building was built in the late 1800s, and at one time was the social center of this formerly industrial town.
In 2016, Fresh co-founders, Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg, known for their beauty line featuring products made with food-based ingredients, opened this farm-to-table restaurant along with Glazman’s painter, Damien Janowicz, with an eye toward making it a culinary hub and community meeting place.
Bartlett House quickly got a write up in the New York Times, which noted the focus on fresh local produce and artisanal baked goods.
Some of the Yelp reviews are not so kind, however, citing uneven food quality and indifferent service.
I would describe the service we received as “benign neglect.” No fewer than three individuals came and went from our table at various times, but once our food and drinks were delivered – in a timely manner, I should note – we were left pretty much alone. I had to seek someone out to ask for the check.
But on this particular visit, that didn’t matter. Neither of us was in a rush, and what had started out as a cloudy day suddenly turned brightly sunny and very warm. But it was cool and comfortable in the shade of the porch, and since were had arrived after the traditional lunch hour – around 2 p.m. – no one was anxious to turn over our table.
The food was good, fresh and flavorful, though nothing spectacular, per se. My colleague ordered a grilled cheese, described on the menu as “fontina, cheddar, (and) gruyere” on “pan de mie” with “farm greens” on the side. The sandwich was sizable, and oozing with cheese. My colleague only managed half, and took the other half home for later.
I ordered the nicoise salad, which traditionally comes with tuna along with cold boiled potatoes and green beans, anchovies, and an egg. Sometimes there’s also radishes, cucumbers and capers. This version was quite simple, featuring tuna in oil, tomatoes, peppers, an egg and lettuce in a vinaigrette. It was a bit sparse, but still very tasty.
I had a pot of Earl Gray tea, and my colleague got a cold brew. Bartlett House get its java from Sightglass Coffee, a San Francisco-based, sibling-owned company; and its tea from Divinitea in Schenectedy.
We did not sample anything from the bakery, but I am regretting that decision still. The croissants – the pistachio croissants in particular – looked phenomenal. That gives me a reason to go back. I guess.
The combination of fresh food, good company and the lazy heat of an early summer afternoon, enjoyed while sitting in the shade with no particular place to be other than right where I was made for a perfect – and probably not replicable – moment. But just because the next time is unlikely to be close to the same, it won’t stop me from returning to Bartlett House.
Bartlett House is open Wednesday through Monday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. They recommend reservations for any party size for dinner service. Call (518) 392 7785 ext.203 for reservation inquiries.