Important summertime announcement about where you should be spending your Friday nights: The Cheese Traveler in Albany is again holding a series of cookouts this year. Every Friday from 5-9, the restaurant/cheese shop has a rotating list of guest chefs that are whipping up some quality dinners – primarily burgers, but usually a few other options as well. The food is offered to-go or you can dine in, which is more like dining just outside of the store at some casual covered tables. I recommend eating there to make sure you get the freshest, just off the grill experience.
This past week, the menu included this luscious bacon blue cheese burger, with possibly the most delicious bacon that I’ve ever had. And I am a girl that appreciates some good bacon.
With a little bit of a sweet glaze, the bacon was a perfect complement to the crunchy walnuts, caramelized onions, tangy blue cheese, and the soft slice of pear. It was a hefty burger, for sure (with a slightly hefty price tag of $16), but worth every penny and every calorie.
Another plus about this burger and the rest of the menu – many of the ingredients were labeled with local producers. In this case, the burger was from Tilldale Farms in Hoosick Falls and the roll was from the Placid Baker in Troy. A few other components were from a bit farther afield, including the blue cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont and the Benton’s bacon from Tennessee, but it was still nice to see exactly where the ingredients had been sourced and to see a few local names on the list.
We also tried the lamb burger, which was topped with an aged sheep cheese with truffles, pickled ramps, arugula, and a rosemary aioli.
This one was also great. The burger wasn’t too heavy and strongly seasoned like some lamb burgers can be. It was light and balanced with a heavier vegetable presence than my sinful bacon burger. I thought the ramps were an unusual touch – not something I would have ordinarily picked as a burger topping, but they melded well with the rest of the textures and flavors.
Speaking of vegetables, we opted for a “grilled spring medley” side, which consisted of grilled asparagus, fiddleheads, and morel mushrooms, along with some garlic and soft goat cheese. This was a nice light side to have with the burgers, and the little bits of goat cheese added a lovely creamy element to the plate. I was delighted to see fiddleheads on the menu – I admittedly had never had them before this year (when I tried them in the bibimbap at Sunhee’s in Troy). I love the foraged vibe of little furled up ferns, and they have such a nice earthy vegetable presence.
A second side of grilled cornbread with “hand-churned Normandy butter” and a hint of chipotle spice was enjoyable as well, although it failed to outshine the vegetables.
This is not the cheapest burger meal you can get in the area, but it is possibly the best. Everything was so thoughtfully designed and well paired – not only with the store’s cheeses, but also with great local meats and other high quality ingredients. The menu is tight, with only four options last week (including one vegetarian – a fancy grilled cheese) and a few sides. And seating is even more limited, with just a handful of tables outside. So come early, and be prepared to wait a few minutes, but definitely come. These burgers are fantastic.