The Brown Bag satisfies hunger

Woe to the college student on a budget who leaves the toasty warm residence halls in search of food in the dead of night; for lo, the Rathskellar closed at 11 pm, Father’s closed at 2 pm, Big Apple Pizza has closed at 3 am, and by 4 am The Ruck will serve you nothing but alcohol (or nothing at all, if you’re under 21). With those depressing hours in mind, it is no surprise that The Brown Bag has quickly become the go-to place for late-night eating in downtown Troy since opening last November.

Chances are, if you’ve wandered around downtown Troy, you’ve noticed the small, brown brick corner building that was empty except for a green sign in the window, proclaiming “Enjoy Troy.” The so-called “Enjoy Troy” building at 156 4th St. is now home to the only downtown restaurant that’s solely open for nighttime business—they’re open Monday–Sunday, 9 pm–6 am, eat-in or take-out.

The setup is simple: a few mismatched tables and chairs were scattered along the walls, with long cushioned bench running the length of the front window; a bar with some stools, and the open grill and kitchen area extending to the back. A stack of board games, ranging from checkers to Connect Four, are piled up in the corner to play while you wait for your food (or while you eat). The evening’s menu is written on a tall blackboard next to the bar. If you look up, the original tin ceiling from the early 1900s is still up there and in pretty good shape; any holes have been patched up with loose change. It’s not meant to be a fancy place, but it is homey. Take-out is packaged in familiar brown paper lunch bags.

Offering $4 hamburgers and cheeseburgers (with or without “the works,” an assortment of toppings including lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, and mustard); grilled cheese sandwiches; well-seasoned french fries; breakfast sandwiches; coffee, and an assortment of local soft drinks; the Brown Bag is definitely one of the best deals in town. I guarantee that no meal will cost you more than $10. They also have specials throughout the week, ranging from special menu items like hot soup and sausage and peppers (last Tuesday’s special was free bacon, if you used your smartphone to check in on Foursquare or Facebook) to home-baked chocolate chip cookies. Everything is made fresh and to order, so there can be a wait (especially if there’s a large crowd), but it’s worth it.

The first time I ventured there was with a friend during finals week of last semester. It was a bitterly cold night, and business was pretty slow. We ordered hamburgers and a side of fries, which were hand-made by the owner, a friendly guy who brought our order over to the table and stayed and chatted with us for a few minutes until the next customers came in. At first, everything was a little bit greasy for my tastes, but the extra grease gave the food a classic American diner-food feel.

Since then, the Brown Bag has installed free Wi-Fi and set up a credit card machine for those of us running low on cash. The walls are now decorated with artwork by local artists, all up for sale. Now, it’s not uncommon to find the place full of all kinds of people, ranging from workers on the graveyard shift to college kids. I went there last Sunday night, and while I waited for my take out, I watched a crowd of people come in and order, some sitting at the bar to chat, others setting up a game of chess while they ate.

Honestly, the food is still really good; I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’ve got the best burgers in Troy, but it’s certainly the best late-night food within walking distance of campus. The burgers are well-cooked but juicy, the toppings are fresh, and the grilled cheese sandwiches were perfectly melted. (The chocolate chip cookies, when available, are also delicious and served warm.) The fries are probably my favorite: they’ve gained some extra seasoning and pepper over the last few months, which only makes them tastier.

So whether sober or inebriated, in a hurry or just in need of a study break, the Brown Bag is worth visiting if you’re looking for a late-night (or early-morning) meal on a budget. I wouldn’t plan on taking a date there, but if you’re looking for a place to hang out, check it out. Daily specials are usually announced on http://facebook.com/TheBrownBag/.