Welcome to Warwick

BY ROB LEDONNE

PHOTOGRAPHY BY PHIL MANSFIELD

roadTripWelcome

roadTripWelcome2It’s a quiet Tuesday afternoon at the Warwick Valley Bread and Breakfast, but the solitude won’t last for long. High season has arrived in a town that revels in local flavors.

“Our biggest draw has always been the apple orchards,” explains the B&B’s innkeeper, Loretta Breedveld. And, while apples remain a literal and figurative core attraction, something has happened, or at the very least is happening, in Warwick, New York. You can sense it on its breezy streets, the way tourists and locals seem content and happy to be there, or sense it in the way each season suddenly brings promise. Some locals pinpoint this fact to the community’s burgeoning wineries or its newly minted music scene. Perhaps, as some think, it’s simply everything that’s inherently different while still retaining a small town charm—a notable feat, indeed. Throughout all of the changes and all of the potential, there is one thing that ties everything together in Warwick: the food.

A TOWN AWAKENS

Warwick, population 32,065, is (as many locals call it) a stone’s throw away from New York City and known as an integral part of the local “black dirt” region that boasts some of the most fertile soil in the country. Snuggled on the border of Pennsylvania, the town seems to have escaped many of the pitfalls similar communities have faced over the years, namely a rash of box stores and commercial sprawl. If quaint main streets and private businesses are supposed to be disappearing, someone apparently forgot to tell Warwick, where locally owned establishments are king. “We hardly even have any strip malls,” muses Kristen Ciliberti, who co-owns South Street’s Tuscan Café with friend Cristie Ranieri. “Everything is pretty much locally owned,” she explains, trying to grasp the words to encapsulate the current essence of the town. “I’d say it’s just a collaboration of old school and new school. We have both farmers and people who have moved up from New York City, and for the most part everybody has learned to coexist.”

Ciliberti knows all about coexisting; the Tuscan Café is one of those congenial, slightly bohemian places you’d find in the middle of Greenwich Village, never mind Orange County. “The type of food we have, I don’t want to call it healthy because people get scared of that word, but it’s fresh,” says Ciliberti. “We make everything on premises, from the hummus to the baked items. So there’s a level of care we have.” Catering to a knowingly hip clientele, the Tuscan Café effortlessly blends a menu chock-full of vegan and gluten-free options, served up in a space that also hosts, of all events, live and sometimes raucous punk rock shows.

“We basically started having them because there was nothing like it in the area,” Ciliberti explains. “I knew enough local bands to get it going, and it’s grown and grown since. We get bands through the Internet and word of mouth; I hardly have enough time to answer all of my e-mails about it.” Imagine: a place that serves fresh eggs, Swiss, potatoes, guacamole and mushrooms (cooked in a balsamic vinaigrette) on a wrap, as well as short stacks of chocolate chip pancakes all day long, also happens to be a local nexus where downstate rockers come to shred their guitars. However, in a town like Warwick, a place like the Tuscan Café blends right in.

FARM FRESH

So does an establishment like the Tuscan Café sum up Warwick? No, but it’s surely a nice start, since the Tuscan offers up two of the things that make the little town stand out, chiefly food and music. It’s those two things that bring tens of thousands of people every year to Applefest, a massive celebration of fall, apples and Warwick’s first claim-to-fame of sorts, which initially began in 1989 and continues every October. Since then, it’s grown in respect and notoriety— much like the town, which originally only drew people to visit its famed apple orchards. Sure, the fruit orchards are still major draws, like Ochs, a third-generation family farm that originally opened in the 1930s. Ochs, like Warwick, continually has tried new things to great success—from its homemade ice cream and cider to a variety of pick-your-own produce, including apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, pumpkins, nectarines and tomatoes (just to name a few). Ochs is patronized by locals and tourists alike, including Loretta Breedveld, at the Warwick Valley Bed and Breakfast, who always makes it a point to purchase fruit from Ochs and fresh eggs from Sweet Water Farm on Boden Road.

“I like buying fresh eggs because I know exactly where they’re coming from and how the chickens are fed,” she says, noting people always tell her they love the difference. “The egg’s color is a deep yellow, and sometimes orange. Fresh eggs also have a much richer flavor.” According to Breedveld, in the process of Warwick’s popular fruit and vegetable farms becoming well known throughout the area (including Lowland Farms, Pennings Orchard and even the popular Warwick Valley Farmers’ Market), another, quite lucrative, crop began to take root.

roadTripWelcome3Left: Bellvale Farms; Middle: Main Street; Right: Banoffee pie from Noble Pies

If quaint main streets and private businesses are supposed to be
disappearing,
someone apparently forgot to tell Warwick

A TASTE FOR WINE

Italian-born Francesco Ciummo has owned and operated Demarest Hill Winery since 1994. Back then Ciummo was a sprightly 63 years old, but today he still runs day-to-day operations along with a loyal group of co-workers, some comprised of family. “I was an auto repair man with a body shop in Bergenfield, New Jersey,” he bellows in his thick Italian accent. “When I passed it down to my kids and retired, I didn’t like not working. I came to Warwick because it’s beautiful. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in New York State.”

Demarest Hill sits on 15 sprawling acres along the Pine Island Turnpike, and the wines produced there have won numerous awards, specifically, as Ciummo proudly points out, a few at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. It’s no wonder—Ciummo’s roots stretch much further back from that body shop in Bergenfield; as a boy growing up in Molise, Italy, he picked up the tricks of the trade from his father. Now, he says, “I probably have too many varieties” of wine. Ciummo is equally proud of his homemade liquors, some of which include sherry, Limón cello, applejack and brandy.

Demarest isn’t the only game in town. There’s the Black Dirt Distillery, the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery and Jonathan Hull’s Applewood Winery, located on Four Corners Road. Slowly but surely when outsiders trekked to Warwick, the wineries became a must-visit destination, and an important part of Warwick lore. “We get a lot of visitors, especially on the weekends. We’re very busy,” Ciummo explains. “People from all over New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island come between spring and Christmas to visit.”

A SWEET NEW LIFE

At one point, Leslie Noble and her husband, Tom Herman, were two of those visitors. The owners of Noble Pies on Route 94, Leslie originally lived in neighboring Rockland County. “I come from a corporate background where I used to run a pharmaceutical company, which is a whole other world,” she says from the kitchen of her bakery. “At one point, my parents bought my daughter a horse that was kept here, so we started visiting the town and fell in love.” Noble and her family then put their life savings into an old house in Warwick and got into the horse business in town until the economy started to tank. “Everything came to a screeching halt, so we literally started selling pies on the side of the road.”

Those pies, which derived from her grandmother’s recipe, developed such a following that, soon after, they opened up a shop, making Noble Pies yet another independent business success story in Warwick. “All of our apples are from Ochs orchard, who usually has such a great supply of apples. The thing about our pies is that they’re not very sweet, there’s only about three ounces of sugar for the entire pie, but they’re so flavorful because we only use the best, high-quality ingredients,” Noble notes. Along with the fresh, and local, apples, Noble Pies are baked on premises using the kind of basic and integral ingredients one would expect from a piece of homemade goodness—all of which combine for something that keeps people coming back again and again.

In addition to the sweet stuff, Noble Pies introduced a line of savory dinner pies around two years ago, which quickly turned into a hit as well. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I like experimenting with everything,” Noble says. “The first one we debuted was our chicken potpie.” Response to the classic was so favorable that it was quickly followed by a shepherd’s pie (made with ground lamb, carrots, celery, onions, all topped with mashed potatoes), a Southwestern chili pie (made with ground beef, black beans, corn and chili peppers, all topped with cornbread) and a chicken and mushroom pie (with chicken, potatoes and three kinds of freshly grown mushrooms). Says Noble of the success of her menu, “Using such great ingredients, I think the details make the difference.”

roadTripWelcome4Ochs Orchard; impromptu bluegrass jam at The Eclectic Eye Antiques

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CARING ABOUT THE COMMUNITY

Maybe that’s how one should describe Warwick as a whole—whereas most towns use generalities to describe what makes them special, perhaps Warwick’s greatness is about the details, as Leslie Noble has found. “There’s such a spirit in this community, I couldn’t believe it when I first came here,” she exclaims while tending over some bread baking in the oven. “I think about how Warwick believes in the community all of the time. They don’t just talk about it. People that live here patronize the local shops and care about the land, and nature and sourcing local fruits and vegetables. Sometimes you pay a little more, but you know where your stuff is coming from.”

It’s obvious Noble could go on about the town she knows and loves so much, and it’s the same way with many in Warwick, including Kristen Ciliberti back at the Tuscan Café. “It’s the type of town where everybody says hello. The streets are clean, we have beautiful scenery and there’s always something to do and eat,” Ciliberti explains. Noble echoes that sentiment: “It means a lot to me, my kids and my husband to be in a community that cares. I wish more communities could feel what that’s like.”

A QUICK ’WICK LIST

To be certain, Warwick is not a one-horse town, and there exists a multitude of eateries, creameries, wineries and other points of interest that help round out the Warwick bounty. Here is a short list of destinations (some mentioned in the story, some not) that make the area more than just an appealing daytrip:

Applewood Winery • 82 Four Corners Road
845.988.9292 / applewoodwinery.com

In addition to their limited edition wines, Applewood has gained a popular following for their tasty hard cider crafted from local apples. Visit for a taste and tour on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Bellvale Farms • 1390 New York 17A
845.988.1818 / bellvalefarms.com

A beautiful, pastoral working farm and (maybe more importantly) a productive ice creamery dishing out more than 20 flavors of ice cream for hot summer days.

Conscious Fork • 20 McEwen Street
845.988.KALE / facebook.com/consciousforkwarwick

The phone number may say it all. This vegan/vegetarian market and juice bar provides a nutritional boost, in the form of groceries and a healthy lunch, for the road weary.

Demarest Hill Winery • 81 Pine Island Turnpike
845.986.4723 / demaresthillwinery.com

Francesco Ciummo makes red, white and sparkling wines, along with grappa and brandy, that provide a taste of old Europe using local grapes and fruit.

Iron Forge Inn • 38 Iron Forge Road
845.986.3411 / ironforgeinn.com

With a contemporary American and farm-friendly menu, this 18th-century inn at the foot of Mount Peter is a very cozy option for brunch, lunch or dinner.

Noble Pies • 121 Route
94 845.986.7436 / noblepies.com

Sweet and savory pies made in abundance, with local fruit and locally farmed ingredients.

Pennings Orchard & Farm Market • 161 Route 94 South
845.986.1059 / penningsfarmmarket.com

This family-run market, based on a 100-acre farm, has it all: produce, locally sourced food, a nursery, ice cream stand and even a grill and brewpub.

Tuscan Café • 5½ South Street
845.987.2050 / tuscancafe.net

Veggie burritos, cappuccinos and a periodic punk rock show make Tuscan Café decidedly more Hudson Valley than Tuscan.

Warwick Farmers’ Market • On South & Bank Streets
Sundays 9am–2pm, May 12–Nov 24
warwickvalleyfarmersmarket.org

Celebrating 20 years of a strong and viable community market, Warwick shows its stripes with this exemplary collection of black-dirt farmed produce, wines and fresh baked goods.

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery • 114 Little York Road
845.258.4858 / wvwinery.com

Probably best known for their Doc’s Draft Cider, this winery and distillery (open year round) produces a tremendous collection of spirits and local wines. An ideal place to stop for lunch at their Pané Café as well as for a taste of the harder stuff.

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