One of The Alt’s most popular stories during our first year of operation was a look at how the Ya Ya’s House was pushed out of its original location on Lafayette Street in Schenectady by their landlord who claimed she didn’t enjoy the smell of fried food. It struck me as a rather obvious and unnecessary injustice and we followed the owner’s struggles to find a new location and grapple with what they saw as discrimination.
Unfortunately, It wasn’t clear that our coverage had in the end, had done much good. That is until late last year when we began to hear rumblings that Amanda Thompson and her husband Mark were considering taking up a storefront near Proctors that was recently vacated by The Hot Spot. Hearing about how the community and local business leaders rallied behind Ya Ya’s and tried to keep them in the area made me feel like there was still a little good left in the world.
When a colleague and I visited Ya Ya’s on their first day operating out of their new location I was ready to be happy with whatever I had. I was very clearly predisposed to enjoy whatever I had. I was happy they were there, I was happy to be in out of the cold and to have a new reliable lunch spot. I wasn’t ready to be handed a complimentary sweet potato pie and chicken wing. Both were more than enough to suffice for lunch.
Ya Ya’s menu is fairly simple offering fried chicken wings chicken, rib and fish sandwiches and traditional sides like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cabbage, and macaroni salad. They have weekly specials that include oxtail, turkey wings, and jerk or curry chicken.
The store was bustling with customers and I found myself paralyzed, unsure just how decadent I should be given that I was already holding a potato pie and wing. I went for it ordering a chicken breast plate and a side of mac and cheese.
I scurried back to the office out of the cold with the insidious smell of chicken seeping into my every pore. I tore open the bag as if that would somehow put an end to that tempting smell. Of course, it instead exploded the scent across the room. The breaded breast and a thigh sat on a paper plate swaddled in white bread. The macaroni and cheese packed thick into a plastic container.
I succumbed, attacking the macaroni and cheese first–its flavor deep and sharp–not a puddle of gooey flavorless muck and not just crisped and cheesed bread crumbs. This mac and cheese is the kind I see when I dream the word mac and cheese–dark orange, dank and chewy.
The chicken breast cracked open, skin and breading leaving the meat exposed. The breading had a full flavor–no major kick of salt, or spice, allowing both the chicken to taste like chicken. The meat itself was moist but well cooked. There was no spray of grease. It felt like I was eating something that had been perfected over time. The sweet potato pie caught me off guard. I’m not a fan of yams but this pie tasted like my grandmother’s pumpkin pie.
I later questioned whether my love of the food was connected to all these other matters–the Thompson’s story, the delight of having another lunch spot close to the office–I decided I better have some more chicken later that week. The wings I ate were just as good. It is no mistake that Ya Ya’s House conveys a real sense of home. Home it seems is part of the recipe and there is no faking that.
My only issue was the pricing. To order anything other than the wings ends up being a little bit pricey. My wing meal with a coke came to about $14. It might be what keeps me from eating at Ya Ya’s regularly but then again, that might be doing me a favor as fried chicken isn’t exactly supposed to be a regular part of any diet. It’s supposed to be a treat. With Ya Ya’s there’s no question that is exactly what you are getting.
Ya Ya’s House Southern Cuisine is located at 135 Broadway, Schenectady NY. (518) 9292. They are open 11-8 Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday.