During the summer meet festivities at the Saratoga Race Course, the thoroughbreds are the stars who pack the small town of Saratoga Springs with horse racing enthusiasts and tourists. But after the last race of the day, the restaurants and bars become the main attraction, and finding great food and a party is easy. Just keep in mind that most places during this time of year are very busy, but getting a table isn’t impossible.
The brightest stars among the numerous options are Prime at Saratoga National and Sperry’s. If you want to rub elbows with celebrities, horse owners, trainers and jockeys, these are the spots…
Prime at Saratoga National (458 Union Avenue, www.golfsaratoga.com) This sumptuous restaurant is definitely in the fine dining category. Located on a picturesque, award winning 18-hole golf course, Prime will take your breath away as soon as you pull onto the winding driveway. As a Mazzone Hospitality restaurant, you are certain to receive impeccable service, excellent food & impressive (and extensive) wine selections. Prime, as the name suggests, offers classic American steak and seafood choices, alongside select dishes with an Asian flair. I love the tuna sashimi to start and the 14. oz bone-in filet as an entrée, but you really can’t make a bad choice at Prime. If reservations are not possible there are two bars, one inside and another outside and covered to sit and sample the fare.
Sperry’s (30 1/2 Caroline St. www.sperrysrestaurant.com) Open since 1932, Sperry’s has to be on the list for anyone wanting a true Saratoga Springs summer meet experience. This jewel of downtown dining has an amazing staff of servers and bartenders who will make you feel right at home. With GM Seth Berger at the helm, the menu, which recently went through an overhaul with a new chef, Phil Fitzpatrick, still boasts it’s very popular wasabi shrimp, which my husband orders before he even orders a drink. For dinner, I love the pan roasted breast of chicken or the grilled pork chop. The bartenders are some of the best in town (a Grey Goose Dirty Martini from Nick is perfect) – but it’s hard to ignore their wine list, a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner. Not for the light of pocketbook but definitely worth the money.
For more casual dining, here’s a short list of some of my favorites:
Max London’s (466 Broadway, www.maxlondons.com) Both a popular dinner and brunch spot, Max London’s mixes some of the best cocktails in town in a very cool and upbeat atmosphere. Additionally, their commitment to utilizing the very best from local farms and purveyors helps them create a menu that has something for everyone. While sitting at the bar enjoying a cocktail, it’s hard not to order a salami and cheese board, as they have many meat and cheese options to customize your own board. I also get the marinated olives on the side. Max London’s has a great pizza crust and offers both traditional and unique toppings (lobster pizza anyone?)
Boca Bistro (384 Broadway, www.bocabistro.com) THE spot for Spanish fare and tapas, the environment here is both funky AND cozy. Boca Bistro is a busy spot year round, and has great lunch and dinner menus. For a light lunch, you can substitute your sandwich bread for a lettuce wrap – my husband Jimmy is a big fan of the steak with lettuce wrap. I love the simplicity of their kale salad and definitely recommend the flat iron steak…it is amazing. From the tapas menu, the croquettes are crowd pleasers and I can’t resist the warm olives and herbs. Look for the big metal pig on Broadway and you’ve found the place.
The Horseshoe Inn (1 Gridley Street, www.thehorseshoeinn.com) During the summer meet, “The Shoe” triples in size as it expands outside its’ walls to include an outdoor space for a large bar and stage for live music and dancing. Located a horseshoe’s toss from the backstretch, this is a popular spot for many track patrons after the races. Serving solid bar food classics, you can’t go wrong with the chicken wings, which you can get both grilled or deep-fried. The quesadillas are great and filling enough to be an entrée. If Jordan or Toma is behind the bar, order one of my favorite shots, “The Pickleback.”
Druthers (381 Broadway, www.druthersbrewing.com) If you like craft beers, Druthers is a must, with a beer list that offers a lot of variety, including some award-winners. In a location reminiscent of an old-school biergarten, their refined pub-fare menu pares perfectly with their brews. Druther’s famous mac and cheese served in a cast iron skillet makes a great appetizer for everyone to share, with both meat and vegetarian options. The calamari is something special as well.
Pennell’s (284 Jefferson Street, www.pennellsrestaurant.com) If you’re looking for classic Italian-American food, Pennell’s has been serving it since 1922. Since they grow a lot of their own produce, it’s hard to pass up the fresh mozzarella and tomato salad during the summer months. Their homemade tomato sauce is the real deal – I often just order the linguini with sauce, no frills needed. Bonus: portions are so generous that you usually have enough left over for the next day’s lunch.