The Bear’s Steakhouse – Duanesburg
7.54 – 8, 7.8, 7.75, 7.75, 7.5, 7.5, 7.5, 7.3
A group-OK’ed Monteverd pick had one car picking through the twists of scenic back roads of the Helderbergs while the other went west, then north, then east (Middleburgh, Schoharie, Duanesburg) before reaching a much anticipated revisit at Bears’ Steakhouse, with previous visits in 2004 and 2005.
It is a simple white farmhouse, with an internally lit sign with a cute bear, that we mostly remembered when we pulled in. The dining room seemed half the size of what some of us remembered.
But, the almost two foot metal platter with a succulent, almost-cut-with-a-fork Chateaubriand re-freshened our memory banks. Although we hear a menu exists, placing orders ahead for groups of four or more allows for a platter like ours or of prime rib.
Server-son John quite proudly, and gently, lowers a hefty plate of 20 generous slices of beef, sided with four baked potatoes, a clump of carrots, and a bed of greens, in the middle of one group of four, drawing stares of longing from the other group, a situation quickly rectified as John returns and fills the other table center.
A bit of broth, barely a draw of the steak knife, and we are transported back to our favorite moments of delectable steaks. Add a dab of horseradish beyond the norm, and we were dream-like.
Within minutes of seating and the drink order, John nestles a loaf of Mama Bear’s homemade white bread, accompanied by individual butter portions.
A couple appetizers started:
A choice of soup or salad awaited. Five chose salad – a worthy one, with excellent dressings, especially the blue cheese. Three opted for the soup – a meal in in itself, composed with steak ends and some hints of broth, and a vegetable. One of the best soups on my all-time list.
Two bottles of Graffigna 2014 Malbec was a worthy accompaniment. Menu list of $34 per bottle, found online for low-mid $20s, making it one of the smallest mark-ups ever.
And then dessert.
Although seemingly slightly limited in
range, Bears desserts together are among the best we can find.
Service by son John: To quote an Albany reviewer; “Attentive, cheeky and smoothly experienced.” Waiter’s attire will not likely be imitated anywhere else but… it is the Bears.
And Chay was able to wheedle a “can’t do that” portion of horse-radish to take home.
Ambiance, to again quote the Albany source, sums it up: “Old fashioned, cozy, upstate classic” with a personality of “Vintage upstate New York.” It is dated but it does not matter.
Pacing is smooth and non-rushed, taking about two hours. Only one seating happens now, compared to two in the old days. John likes it better, he said.
The final bill came to $186 per couple, a new record for DP8. The old record belonged to Bears and three of our four highest bills belong to Bears. (For the curious, Aubergine is the other.)
Scores should be mentioned. Only two other DP8 events in fifteen years have scored higher, with this Bears score tying the third highest of twelve years ago. (Want to guess the other two? Answers at the very end.) Again, to quote the Albany reviewer: “Overall Rating: The Bears' is a unique experience, a little rough around the edges, in a star category of its own.”
Both cars headed back the same way this time, via Schoharie. Topics of discussion in the cars and at Bears included: the Monteverd southward trip soon, the Notar trip to Virginia, 35 blissful years for Chay & Deb, the Sagamore on Lake George, mid-autumn gardens, the Quinns in Ireland and Italy, Chris’s house, memories of past Bears’ visit, Mama Bear’s fall, new Schoharie fire house, past coaching/reffing trips to other schools a long ways off (Berlin, Sharon Springs, etc.), mediocre foliage season, Wexler wedding coming up soon, expensive restaurants, future DP8 dates, baseball playoffs, hurricane damage in Florida, friends acting like parents they complain about, traveling in deer season, dry lawns, a call to Judy about banana cream pie, and there must have been more.
A special addition:
The Times-Union review of Bears of last year was so spot on that I am including most of it below:
Early Look: The Bears' Steakhouse
Meat-lovers' paradise Bears' Steakhouse a rural dining outpost that proudly sticks to what it does best
By Susie Davidson Powell
Updated 2:12 pm, Friday, December 23, 2016
On an unassuming road upstate, The Bears' Steakhouse is an unexpected treasure. Other than an illuminated sign with a potbellied (and possibly intoxicated) bear waving a flagon of beer, there's little to outwardly distinguish it from any rural home. It's the epitome of a family-run restaurant, occupying the first floor of Pat Payne's Duanesburg home. Pat bakes, eldest son Robert Jr., an instructor and executive chef at Schenectady County Community College, runs the kitchen, and his brother John smoothly manages front-of-house.
Technically there's a menu, but that's not important for first-time guests. The mission here is meat: great, thick welts of it. The Bears' is famed for prime rib and a Chateaubriand that dispenses with the usual center cut and Escoffier's traditional sauce, instead serving the entire tenderloin — from butt to filet mignon and tip — in ruddy, myoglobin-leaching slices. It arrives on the kind of embossed metal platter that could carry John the Baptist's head. About 70 percent of customers pre-order the Chateaubriand — more than 40 whole tenderloins a week. Both cuts, like your table, must be reserved well in advance. As expensive as Chateaubriand roasts usually are, a whole tenderloin for four at $179.80 is a reasonable steal.
You'll encounter vegetables, mostly local, crisply steamed and serviceably plain. Carrots are given a crinkle cut that in salon terms might be a "wash and set"; potatoes are simply baked. Make no mistake: These are escorts for the meat. This is no place for vegetarians, moral or fearful of flesh. Nor is it a place for young children, no matter how cute or advanced the palate. Pat calls it "an adult restaurant," so you'll just have to overlook the friskiness that suggests. The focus is on quality, quantity, friendly service and fair price, not your namby-pamby restrictive diet or tantrum-throwing kids.
The Bears' has hardly changed in menu or interior since Robert "Papa Bear" Payne and "Mama Bear" Pat opened 48 years ago. Today, as the well-oiled kitchen sends house classics out to the dining room, Pat handles landline reservations from her living room armchair with "Judge Judy," "Wheel of Fortune" or "Jeopardy" blasting in the background. Her late husband — by all accounts an irreverent character famous for terrifying tradesmen selling meat he deemed subpar — passed away in 2013. For gustatory preparation, his obituary is well worth a read.
Floral walls, net valances, framed family photos and a glittering Christmas tree beside the whiskey-hued, wall-to-ceiling knotty pine bar bolts the winter chill outside, creating a sort of festive, cozy upstate hygge It's welcoming, homey, old-fashioned and — like the hardworking nubby carpet covering the dining room's wonky floors — slightly worn.
Perched on the bar is a stuffed bear cub gripping business cards in stiff paws. Behind it, drinks are mixed in pours powerful enough to supercharge a Russian athlete. My towering glass of wine — resembling a stemmed pint glass in my hand — must hold a half bottle and lists starboard when raised in cheers. Liquors are a common crop, though local distilleries in cocktails (take Middleburgh's 1857 potato vodka) suggest the sons' subtle modernizing influence even with the format unchanged.
We're not shown menus or asked how we'd like our Chateaubriand. It will arrive medium rare to rare, as Papa Bear intended. John — all in black, the rolled sleeves and form-fitting T a ringer for Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing" — leans on fingertips to rattle off the usual appetizers. We'll go for inch-thick slabs of herb-dusted tomato and mozzarella with roasted red peppers ($3.95) and drag fat, chilled shrimp ($14.95) through the famously nose-prickling cocktail sauce packed with house-ground horseradish. We fight over firm pickled herring ($5.25), a house favorite shot through with salty-sweetness from two-step salt and white-wine-vinegar brines and smothered in sour cream and capers. The kitchen ejects appetizers at a speed and in formations that suggest neatly prepped plates ready to roll. One nightly seating, 48 guests, a half-dozen entrées, five appetizers — four cold and one scratch-made soup — could be a Christmas song.
John tells us he'll slap us with the herring if we order salad instead of his mother's beef soup, a nourishing, slow-simmered broth made with the trimmed tenderloin chains. It's a meaty blast of fond-rich gravy, enriched with tomatoes, and subtly sweetened with a glug of sherry or wine. I could live on this all winter and reach spring in good shape.
But let's talk about the Chateaubriand. The Paynes are 35 years into a standing contract with Iowa Beef Products, and John has taken over inspecting and rejecting shipped cases, with a little more tact (he says) than his dad. Dry-aged for 40 days and dry-rubbed with Robert Sr.'s original garlic-peppercorn marinade, the enzyme-fermentation yields tenderloins soft enough to slice with a fork. The subtle barnyard funk of ripe cheese or dank hay notes of a Bretty red wine hits you instantly — the science of fat oxidation and bacterial action — with a beautiful concentration at the outer edges.
Food critic A.A. Gill said you can tell a lot about a place by its desserts. Here, an honest place where hearty meat and potatoes rule, desserts will pad fat reserves to see you through a New York winter. Salty, flaky pie crusts cup the dolloped curves of coconut, banana and blueberry cream, and a three-tier chocolate-mousse cake is ignominiously rich. At 80 years old, Pat makes the desserts daily and still scratch-bakes bread. (On a call to set up photos, she was overheard yelling about opening doors affecting the barometric air pressure where her bread was proofing.) Daringly, John has perfected his mother's thickset New York cheesecake, moderating its measured sweetness with a thin layer of sour cream and homemade caramel sauce. You'll be ruined for life.
From the vintage Syracuse "black lace" china to the unapologetic "my way" pride, The Bears' is a pure distillation of classic upstate. It's not easy to get a reservation. Though the number is listed online (in earlier years, you had to know their number or know someone who did), calling is your only option. Reservations left on the answering machine or sent through the sparse Facebook page (which Pat disputes exists) are ignored. There's only one dinner seating at 5:30 or 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and most weeks are booked well ahead. After weeks of trying, scoring a midweek 5:30 p.m. reservation for four prompted as much victory excitement as a last-minute opening at Le Bernardin on a Saturday night.
Dinner for four — including a round of aperitif cocktails, a $30 bottle of wine, four appetizers, Chateaubriand for four and three desserts — came to $407.40 with tax and 20 percent tip.
One comment so far:
I have spent many scrumptious meals at the Bears. Nothing puts a smile on my face like a nice medium rare rib eye with baked potato, carrots and the perfect ending of banana cream pie. Growing up in Duanesburg, I really didn't appreciate the Bears until I moved away and now it is a special treat to go and enjoy bantering with John about anything and everything. If you haven't been to The Bears, you are missing out on one of the best culinary experiences of a lifetime. Do yourself a favor and eat dessert first to really be able to enjoy the home made pies. Leftovers are just as good the next day.
answer about top two scores:
May 2004 – American Hotel #1 – 7.75
Jan 2014 – Mountain View Brasserie #7 – 7.61
Oct 2017 & Apr 2005 – Bears #2 & #3 – 7.54