A meal that starts with a complimentary bowl of buttery popcorn in a basket simultaneously placates ravenous children and sets the tone.
Christel MacLean, former owner of the city's iconic Hattie's restaurant, and her husband, Colin, a theater producer, returned to Saratoga in 2004 with their young child in tow to open the kind of family-friendly, theatrically themed restaurant they'd known in Manhattan.
[...] the red and electric blue decor, orange tube lighting, colorful Venetian glass chandeliers, French clowns and tightrope bicyclettes that accent the bar hold natural appeal for the pint-sized crowd.
The bar, uplit in purple neon, flanked by sports screens and stretching almost the length of the slim space, also has natural appeal for those in need of cocktail or pint.
First out of the kitchen are crisp chicken and vegetable pot-stickers ($7), pinched, fried and glistening with still-sputtering oil, and a Thai mustard sauce on the side.
The thick, chunky chicken and vegetables bears remarkably close resemblance to the equally sturdy base of the clam, chicken and crab chowder ($5), so my daughter handed over the latter, seeing no point in eating both.
Twelve years on, Circus Café is community royalty: a sidewalk summer staple, an inexpensive destination for families, a place to catch the Sunday game, home to live music, trivia and open-mic nights and karaoke belted by Saratoga's theater crowd.
The MacLeans are juggling the meteoric expansion of their latest venture, Saratoga Juice, so a manager runs the show; their popular second restaurant, The Crown Grill, which opened in 2013, is for sale.