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Pork, Salt, Time & Place

Chef Cesare Casella relocates to the Catskills

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY MEREDITH HEUER

It isn’t a sprig of rosemary that chef Cesare Casella wears in his pocket; his signature accessory is a veritable hedge. When we meet, the greenery is jammed into the breast pocket of Casella’s brown corduroy jacket, its spiky branches causing the jacket’s soft fabric to jut in a conspicuous bulge. As we talk, a scent-cloud of crushed rosemary envelops us, its pineyness smelling of summer, despite the fact that it is now fall. Even as we walk down Hurleyville’s chilly Main Street, an aromatic puff of rosemary occasionally hits my nose, serially evoking (whiff ) Italy, (whiff ) sun and (whiff ) food.

Fragrant boutonnieres aside, no place can be further from Casella’s native Tuscany than Hurleyville, a quiet Sullivan County hamlet nestled among the remnants of the Catskill Borscht Belt resorts. Nowadays, no one is dirty dancing in Hurleyville. The only lingering ghosts of the Borscht Belt’s mid-century heyday are the clusters of abandoned and moldering tourist cabins dotting the outskirts of town. Yet here is where Casella is planning to site his new artisanal butcher shop and salami factory, Casella’s, opening this winter.

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Main Street Revival

Cesare Casella is the latest—and arguably the most famous—of the New York City chefs heading to the Hudson Valley. He is the former chef of numerous critically acclaimed restaurants in NYC, a James Beard Award–nominated cookbook author, the dean of Italian studies at the International Culinary Center and the owner of the import company Republic of Beans, Inc. Casella (and his trademark rosemary) have long made the rounds on national food television, appearing on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Top Chef, Iron Chef and After Hours with Daniel Boulud. Currently, chef Casella is a partner in Giorgio’s Salami, whose products can be found at Del Posto and a variety of high-end retail outlets, including Eataly in New York City and Chicago.

Although Casella confesses that he is a country boy at heart (he grew up in a restaurant family outside the city of Lucca), Casella’s presence here in Hurleyville—halfway between New York City and Binghamton—is still a bit shocking. In his elegant sing-song Tuscan accent, he admits that when he came to Hurleyville, this sleepy hamlet “was a ghost-uh town-uh.”

Hurleyville, previously a center for dairy farming in the region, is currently making huge strides to pull itself from the ashes of the Borscht Belt’s decline over the last 30 years, an effort fomented largely by the presence of the Center for Discovery. According to the center’s president, Patrick Dollard, the many-armed nonprofit is “a care program for kids with complex disease and disability.” Currently, the center houses and cares for more than 300 residents, roughly 50 percent of whom live with autism spectrum disorders. Casella heads up the Center for Discovery’s Department of Nourishing Arts (DNA) based on 150 agricultural acres spread over multiple sites in and around Hurleyville. These are collectively known as Thanksgiving Farm. On this land, the Center for Discovery offers educational and therapeutic programs for its residents. Additionally, the farm yields much of the food that the center serves to its residents and employees—nearly 2,200 meals per day. Thanksgiving Farm also sells some of its produce through the high-end restaurant distributor Baldor.

According to chef Michel Nischan, president and CEO of Wholesome Wave (and three-time James Beard Award winner), Thanksgiving Farm has proven a boon to both residents and chefs. Citing the successes of noted livestock industry reformer Temple Grandin (herself also autistic), Nischan notes that working with animals can “stop the madness” for people living with autism. The idea that Grandin asserts is that people with autism often share an intrinsic comfort level with animals because the two process thoughts on a sensory realm, rather than in a word-based manner. Then, there is the fact that Thanksgiving Farm is raising its organic/biodynamic produce—and, often, heritage breed livestock— on lush Hudson Valley pastures. Laughs Nischan, “They’re just raising really good pigs.” Nischan, who was the executive chef of the Dressing Room (Paul Newman’s farm-to-table restaurant in Westport, Connecticut) until it closed in 2014, notes, “When I was at the Dressing Room, we bought a pig every six or eight days from Thanksgiving Farm. They’re stupendously delicious pigs.”

For nearly a decade, the Center for Discovery has also been extending its influence into downtown Hurleyville. The nonprofit is buying and rehabilitating the town’s dilapidated buildings, then finding tenants like Cesare Casella, whose 210 Main Street factory site once housed the town’s Polish market. The center has also leased 218 Main Street to Hurleyville’s only gastropub, the Pickled Owl. It also owns the site for Wild Turkey Bakery and Market (238 Main Street), which vends products from Thanksgiving Farm. According to Dollard, the Center for Discovery is hoping to make Hurleyville “a really foodie town.”

Dollard’s plan is not exactly a moonshot, entrepreneurially speaking. In nearby Monticello, Indian billionaire Dr. Subhash Chandra is behind a $90 million Ayurvedic spa, resort, yoga and wellness center under construction on the site of the Borscht Belt icon Kutsher’s. Less spiritually minded plans are afoot for another Borscht Belt landmark in Monticello, the Concord. In 2014, New York State’s Gaming Facility Location Board granted permission to Empire Resorts to build an $800 million complex complete with casino, 18-story hotel, indoor-outdoor water park, conference center, cabins and hiking trails on the Concord’s former grounds. Casella (and the town’s other frontiering tenants) are betting that these two projects alone will funnel well-heeled tourists through Hurleyville’s newly rehabbed Main Street.

It is a surprisingly collaborative process
between chef and government. As
Casella describes it: “They test; I taste.”

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Pig in Place

Casella’s occupies a modest red-painted frame building at 210 Main Street. Its tiny, white-tiled storefront will serve as a butcher shop selling housemade salumi and fresh heritage-breed pork and pork sausages. Though Casella has also been associated with beef—his connection to the Center for Discovery began when a friend suggested he move his lone heritage breed Tuscan Chianina cow to Thanksgiving Farm—the theme of Casella’s in Hurleyville is decidedly porcine. The real action at Casella’s will be glimpsed through a glass panel behind Casella’s rustic retail shop tables, both of which were hewn from locally sourced lumber. Here, Casella will operate a small-scale salami factory with the noble—and somewhat moonshotty—aim to re-create the salami of Casella’s Tuscan childhood under the USDA’s most stringent control. Casella envisions that this small factory, which is slated to open in January 2017, will act as a proving ground for a much larger operation nearby.

“Today in the U.S. you can find great salumi, great salami. But what I wanted to create was in my memory from when I grew up in Italy, to create the same flavor. To do that, I need to start from the pigs and then work my way up.” He continues, “The problem is that the pigs here, they are smaller than the ones in Italy. There, you have pigs that are 400 pounds. At this moment, it’s very difficult to find the right pigs.” Obviously, Casella has explored buying Thanksgiving Farm pigs “whenever they have them,” but that program’s meat production is primarily allocated for the diet of its residents and employees.… Read More

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Everything is Transformed

A new era for Bartlett House

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROY GUMPEL

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“You should never sit comfortably in business; you must always be keeping alert, keeping current.” Lev Glazman snaps closed his eyeglass case and reaches for his sunglasses. When Glazman and Alina Roytberg opened their first neighborhood shop selling beauty products in 1991, neither imagined they would go on to grow the then Boston-based apothecary business into Fresh, a global beauty brand.

Flash forward to 2013, Kennebunkport, Maine, where a friend introduced Glazman to Damien Janowicz at a party. “The world shuddered!” Janowicz laughs. This fateful meeting connected two men both ready to merge their strengths into a mutual vision of hospitality. Glazman was impressed with what Maine Magazine aptly called Janowicz’s “polished ease,” a characteristic that had graced guests during his management of the properties of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection. “We discovered that we viewed the world in the same way, and we share a desire to act on our passions.”

Now all three business partners, Glazman, Janowicz and Roytberg, are a modern trifecta bonded by a sense of curiosity and inspiration, each one contributing expertise to their concept, taking the art of hospitality to a whole new level.

Should the word “hospitality” conjure up sterile hotel management courses or marketing acumen, think again. The team started out by spending a year developing personal mission statements and core values that drive their high-level concept. Before they found a physical space for their venture, they rooted themselves, and their business, within an intentional operational structure that demonstrates integrity, accountability and spirit.

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The bakery at Bartlett House

Historic Decision

Bartlett House, a four-story utilitarian brick building built in the 1870s along Route 66 in the town of Ghent, had operated as a railroad hotel for the New York Harlem and Hudson and Boston Railroads until about 1948. After the rail line was abandoned, the crowds disappeared and the hotel fell into many years of disuse. This national historic site had sat vacant for 11 years before Glazman, Janowicz and Roytberg laid their eyes on it. The building, complete with central location and 19th-century charm, was a perfect venue to house all of the components of their vision: a bakery, a dining room, offices and an apartment for team members. “When we saw Bartlett House, we saw our dream come alive,” says Roytberg. “It’s our hub of creativity, collaboration and companionship.”

Glazman’s eyes light up when he describes the experience of doing business together as a family thus far. Under Janowicz’s genial stewardship, business decisions are made according to what guests want. This approach is working—since opening in July 2016, there has been a line out the door for the straightforward but sophisticated, well-prepared food served out of their state-of-the-art kitchen and in-house European style bakery and café. The space is exceptionally warm and inviting and walks that line between country chic and rustic opulence.

If the promise of contentment does lie in the details, not a single one was overlooked during the complete redesign-build project undertaken in 2015. No corner was cut, and no compromise made during the revitalization of the rectangular, terracotta-colored brick landmark building. While the interior was gutted and restored to original quality, a quote from Antoine Lavoisier, an 18th-century French chemist, printed on the scaffolding cover read: “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed,” assuring passersby of the good things to come.

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The three house visionaries: Damian Janowicz, Alina Roytberg, and Lev Glazman

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The aesthetic of Bartlett House feels instinctive and immediate. The team has designed the new elements to feel as if they were in the building all along. The visuals knit together eclectic furniture and light fixtures in a way to re-create a landmark feel to the place. The colors of the Bartlett House exterior, brick, off-white and black, dictated the color palette for the interior, and the classic late-19thcentury American typeface lettering on the building is a recurring motif. To create the dining room wallpaper, Peter Fasano, a printmaker from Great Barrington, assembled a collection of vintage silkscreen blocks. Among them was a botanical design that was re-scaled and re-colored as the central element of the print. To deepen the texture of the environment, another wallpaper in the back of the café, this one made from recycled newsprint, adds a level of personality to the room and serves as a suitable background for an antique Dutch wall phone and the early century copper sconce. The ceramic tile used on the café counter brought a notable visual design code to life; the blossom print is utilized on in-house packaging and labels. The result is a space in which each piece of the puzzle has a rich individual tale grounded in the collective human story and history of the area. The tenor of the dining room and café is high; the quality of the materials provoke discussion and invoke travel.

The community is as proud of Bartlett House as the team is. People come to the Bartlett House as a weekend ritual, bring their guests and their families and leave feeling emotionally charged by the experience. “Like a love affair!” exclaims Glazman. Supporting the social and economic growth in their immediate community is a core principle of the company and taps into something the team feels strongly about: reciprocity. In hospitality, you take care of those you need, a demanding but ultimately enriching undertaking. The journey of bringing the building back to life was met with a very strong community welcome; one woman even came in with flowers to thank them for their thoughtfulness in reviving the structure and simply for being there.

Photographs of the Bartlett House by Walker Evans, the famed mid-century photographer and photojournalist, in the 1930s depict train tracks just meters in front of the front doors, telling of the town’s earlier days as a place shaped by the railroad and the traffic it brought. Ghent is a town with a visible sense of history, but what the revival of the Bartlett House has ensured is that functional yesterdays will have a beautiful future. Certainly from the food perspective, the central stopping place is better than it’s ever been.

Ghent is a town with a visible sense of
history, but what the revival of the
Bartlett House has ensured is that functional
yesterdays will have a beautiful future.

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Woolen blankets provided during the colder months for those that want to dine on the porch

Bread and Butter

Sitting empty for many years was good advertising for the Bartlett House. Word spread of the revived eatery, as irresistible aromas of baking traditions, including exquisite breads, and reimagined pastries, such as the pear rosewater muffin, began wafting out onto the streets of Ghent. Bartlett House has quickly become a destination for breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch. With a particular focus on sourcing locally, the establishment serves skillet dishes, soups, salads and sandwiches. Coffee and tea are an essential aspect of the Bartlett House experience. Dedicated to serving the best coffee beans they could find, the team selected to work with Sightglass, a San Francisco–based company specializing in sustainable harvests that ships freshly roasted beans weekly. A selection of 18 fine organic teas brings classic Japanese tea rituals to life, and makes for dynamic, aromatic moments.… Read More

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El Norte

The makings of a Mexican food
identity in the Hudson Valley

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAUNDI WILSON

The 1980s were a great time for Mexican cuisine—especially in the Hudson Valley. It was this decade, after all, that saw the Mexican community grow larger and faster than any other immigrant group in the nation. Towns like Poughkeepsie and Newburgh swelled as young men arrived to pick the valley’s apples and wash onions and lettuce grown in its black dirt fields—and the Mexican food followed shortly after. In Newburgh, several Mexican- owned grocery stores sprang up to quell the demand for authentic Mexican-made staples, like corn tortillas and spicy chiles redolent of the arid soils of the motherland. It was in these bodegas, with their teetering shelves piled high with the delights of Mexico, that Mexican-Americans were able to find a little taste of home, though thousands of miles away. What’s more, such pioneering businesses paved the way for the region’s now flourishing Mexican culinary scene and the crowds of gringos ready for freshly griddled picaditas.

In Newburgh, Los Portales’ port-wine-colored awning marks its place as one of about 10 Mexican restaurants now jostling for real estate in the city’s center. Once home to a small, predominantly Puerto Rican immigrant community, over half of Newburgh’s 29,000 residents are Mexican or Latino nowadays. Most are from the states of Jalisco and Puebla: The city is practically swimming in mole sauce. One satisfied customer at Los Portales, spooning the soft, yellow corn of a tamale into his mouth, elaborates on the city’s transformation: “In the ’80s there was nothing here. One ‘Tex-Mex’ (here he adds in the quotation marks—a snub to the Southwestern-born hybrid cuisine) place. First, a few groceries came to sell tortillas, now we can have real food.” And the tamales at Los Portales are the real deal: a recipe handed down from owner Bernadino’s mother, packed with a mixture of flavors from spicy to sweet. To get a taste of the tamales, head to the restaurant early in the day and enjoy in typical Puebla style—as breakfast.

Food like this
doesn’t just cultivate
community, it bonds
it together like the
alchemy of flour and
water, merging to make
the glutinous magic of
risen bread.

Tortilla Curtain

The story of Mexican food and its lively diaspora heads upriver from here. Head north along the Hudson on Route 9 and discover the fabled city of “Oaxakeepsie.” Similar to Newburgh, the Poughkeepsie (the city’s actual Dutch given name) scene is a mixture of restored theaters, magnificent river views, clusters of restaurants up and down the spectrum of fabulous to simply edible and a fair amount of general urban squalor situated around Main Street. It’s this pairing of grit and elegance that gives the city its charm, and the Mexican portion of town—with residents hailing primarily from Oaxaca—is no exception. Departing from the more quaint environs of neighbors to the north and south (towns like Rhinebeck and Beacon), walk Poughkeepsie’s Mexican hub and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another country altogether. Stop in at any of the small, family-owned restaurants here and the feeling will deepen: At El Bracero, vendors drift in and out selling lunchtime essentials like socks, while groups of Mexican construction workers arrive, ordering stews and combos decidedly not on the menu. But take heed—not all of what’s on offer at these places is good. There are, however, certain unmistakable authentic ingredients tying the food together that are good. Very good. And together these ingredients spin an elemental web up and down the valley, forming the backbone of this culinary community.

Take the gratis bowl of chips and salsa, offered at the beginning of every meal. The chips are flaky, fried triangles of corn tortillas— not the dry, flour-based imposters found in your average grocery store—and by and large they come from one of the valley’s tortilla factories. El Azteca grocery in Newburgh was a mainstay for small restaurateurs seeking authentic chips (which are actually handmade tortillas, cut up, tossed in a little salt and deep fried) until it burned down last year. Still, there’s Tortilleria Chinantla and Plaza Piaxtla further south in Brooklyn, a growing number of small specialty tortilla makers like La Milpa De Rosa in Yonkers scattered in and around the valley and Escondida, a giant factory that ships all over the country, based right in Newburgh: If authentic tortilla chips are what you crave, you’ve got options. The salsa, too, is a point of pride and distinction. At El Azteca (same name, different town from the unlucky tortilla shop mentioned above) on Poughkeepsie’s main street, the waitress checks to make sure customers are prepared for the housemade salsa. It’s picante, meaning, hot. You won’t find any of the sweet, saucy stuff we gringos have grown soft on here. Leaves of cilantro float in a tomato broth, concealing seeds of boiling hot peppers waiting to explode in the mouth (and get wedged in your teeth). There’s a smoked salsa, too, rendered from dried toasted chiles and pureed tomatillos, or a cactus-based version, made from the softened, baked and blended paddles of the prickly pear—perfect for slathering on an open taco or one of El Azteca’s hearty lunchtime tortas.

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Comida at El Azteca Mexican Deli in Poughkeepsie

Catskills Comidas

As these ingredients have slowly percolated further north, good restaurants and authentic fare have followed. Food like this doesn’t just cultivate community, it bonds it together like the alchemy of flour and water, merging to make the glutinous magic of risen bread. These Mexican communities have retained an integral part of their heritage through the making of mole, the stirring of pozole and, of course, the insistence on that bedrock of Mexican cuisine: corn-based tortillas. But someone has got to be on the leading edge, the far flung frontier of the diaspora, and that man might just be Martin Morales—owner of Mi Lupita, a grocery and restaurant in the Catskill Mountain town of Fleischmanns. In fact, the whole town, which is about 20% Mexican as of the last U.S. census in 2010, is decidedly an outlier when it comes to the data points that make up the pattern of Mexican migration in this region. This small Catskills town, once a retreat for wealthy city business owners, is now a sleepy hamlet with little over 350 people residing there year round. What’s more, it’s been known to snow in May in Fleischmanns (this is the Catskills, after all)—a stark contrast to the warm, cactus-studded state of Puebla. But start asking the Mexican residents of Fleischmanns why they came and it’ll all become clear in short order. Morales describes the hamlet as very community oriented and a safe place to raise children. He opened the store hoping to create a place for his family to work, and that sentiment wasn’t novel, either. In fact, Fleischmanns has three restaurants that sprang up to provide jobs to community members (and serve up cactus salads, pumpkin flower quesadillas and those irresistible corn tortilla chips to drooling customers). Owners of the other two Mexican joints in town, Sam’s and La Cabana, both echo Martin’s feelings that Fleischmanns is simply the place to be—it’s friendly, inviting, safe and somehow (despite the snow) it just feels like home.… Read More

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A Little Empire Thinks Big

Mount Kisco plays host to
an outgrowth of concept eateries

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Salmon-Lentil Crepe, from Little Crepe Street in Mount Kisco

PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTINE ASHBURN

Intuition tells us to start small before going big, especially in the food business. The adage is one held by restaurant owner Bonnie Saran, who opened a string of Westchester eateries in the last six years, collectively known as the “Little Empire” of restaurants. This empire includes Little Spice Bazaar, Little Crepe Street, Little Kabab Station and Little Drunken Chef, all of which are within a stone’s throw from each other on East Main Street in Mount Kisco. There’s also the Little Mumbai Market in Pleasantville.

How Saran ended up owning all the “Littles” is a story in and of itself. She hails from a town near Mumbai, India, where her dad was in the Indian army (she often refers to herself as an army brat) and her mother cooked for various regional concession stands and local movie theaters. “We helped her every morning,” Saran recalls, “starting early around 4 a.m., preparing sandwiches and burgers to be distributed. By 10:30 we were done.” Although her college major was stage and set design, Saran had a strong entrepreneurial streak coupled with a business sense, and while still in India, she successfully promoted brands for such multinationals as General Motors, Coca- Cola, Yamaha, Pepsi and Corona. When she came to this country, she never envisioned owning a small chain of restaurants, but a serendipitous series of events led her to opening her first place, Little Kabab, in February of 2011.

“It was a fluke,” Saran says, remembering how she stopped for lunch at a small, rather dingy deli on East Main Street in Mount Kisco and noticed it was poorly run. When she learned that the place was for sale, a rush of ideas she had about the local cuisine became a flood of possibilities. “I wanted a place that would meet my own personal tastes particularly since all the takeout places around were either Chinese food or pizza. I asked myself, ‘Why not Indian food, too?’”

“There is one basic rule:
no one gets preferential treatment.
Bill Clinton gets the same chipped dish as a kid.
Everyone is welcome from the
youngest to the oldest person.”

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Owner Bonnie Saran overlooking her mini-empire

Small Wonders

Saran sold her apartment in India, purchased the deli and, with the help of two friends, began to transform what was a mere hole in the wall to a jaunty, energized space with an east-west decor, an artsy theme (possibly informed by her turn in set design) that would later replay in her other restaurants. Three months after Saran bought the deli, Little Kabab opened, seating about 14 customers.

It was early 2011 and the great recession saw folks curbing what they spent on dining out. Key to Little Kabab’s success was a low-priced takeout menu replicating the fare of food trucks in India; street food that was good and affordable. “I was always impressed by how street vendors appealed to everyone, rich and poor,” Saran says. “We have a great income disparity here, but on the street that disparity is removed by the food trucks.”

Saran knew that she had to promote a catchy brand that would reflect her new venture. The “Little” concept is reflected on the menu with “Little Bites” but also includes “Medium Bites,” “Kabab Platters” and “Station Curries.” It’s food that caters to nibblers as well as the ravenous. The $5 to $6 Bombay Frankie Roll, a longtime favorite street food in India, uses hot grilled broad wraps with an array of meats and vegan fillings topped with scrambled free-range eggs, lemon, spiced onions and mint chutney.

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A platter including Jamon + Manchego Croquetas, Smoked Salmon Open-Faced Sandwich,
Moroccan Harissa Wings, Gambas Al Ajillo (all available at Little Drunken Chef in Mount
Kisco), and an assortment of loose spices (available at Little Spice Bazaar in Mount Kisco)

“I wanted a place that would meet my
own personal tastes particularly since
all the takeout places around were either
Chinese food or pizza. I asked myself
‘Why not Indian food, too?’”

Opportunity Knocks

Just 10 months later, a photo shop two doors down from Little Kabab became vacant; Saran, needing more space to store her spices, moved in and called it the Little Spice Bazaar. “It was a really good deal,” Saran says. “But I couldn’t just use it for storage without making it profitable. It had to sustain itself.” She created a mini-marketplace selling loose teas and spices under the sign “Loose Spices with Good Character,” a nuanced nod to discerning palates. Also sold are products from India: rice, dried pulses, teas, soaps and incense. But selling these imported items alone still wasn’t going to make Little Spice Bazaar totally profitable, so Saran installed what has become a very popular juice bar whose biggest seller is the lassi, an Indian smoothie made with yogurt (made fresh on the premises), fresh fruit and spices, among other ingredients—a refreshing drink staple in India, as well as here.

By then Saran realized that something else was happening. The restaurant and juice bar was a hub resonating an easy, symbiotic relationship between her and what was becoming a very supportive Mount Kisco community. “I am very loyal to this town and find many people here are loyal to me as well.” Her style of ‘give-back’ comes every year on Thanksgiving and Memorial Day when she invites veterans and those in need to enjoy a free plate of food at her restaurants. “I do it with my heart because it’s a two-way street,” she says. “For the last five years, volunteers have showed up to help out.”

About a year after she opened Little Spice Bazaar, another small space right next door became vacant. Within 24 hours, Saran signed a lease. At that time, Viktor Solarik, a local architect, became Saran’s partner and helped open the new venue. “The place had been a cigar store and reeked of smoke, so we had to gut it completely,” says Solarik. Saran and Solarik decided the main fare would be crepes, the popular street food in France.

“I never made a crepe before in my life,” admits Saran. “But I easily tapped into this community, talked about it with my Little Kabab customers and asked for their favorite crepe recipes. The feedback was great and many sent or brought in their recipes.” After experimenting with numerous recipes for a few weeks, she felt she had arrived at the perfect batter and invited customers to try the crepes for free so she could hear what they had to say. Meanwhile the space was being reconstructed and Solarik used pictures of France for inspiration. “We came up with festive colors and natural materials like the wood floor, exposed brick, exposed beams. It’s another small space with an open kitchen and seats about 20.” Saran wanted to create a mixed bill for the menu, offering crepes that are either savory or sweet. The savory crepes range from traditional fillings to more cross-cultural crepes like chicken tikka masala and a Middle Eastern version, while sweet crepes range from butter and sugar to chocolate grilled cheese with strawberry prosecco.… Read More

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Put a Bird On It

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PHOTOGRAPH: LAWRENCE BRAUN, COURTESY OF EARLYBIRD COOKERY

When the average person grows weary of her desk job, she usually stands up, stretches and goes for a walk. But when Amy Miller left her New York City-based graphic design business, she headed in a completely different direction. “I was tired of sitting at a desk all the time,” she remembers, “and I had always loved to cook.” Amy had also been running a little bed-and-breakfast in Sullivan County, where she bought a weekend home in 2001. Feeding her guests from the bounty of local farms inspired her to enroll in the chef-training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute. It was a bold move and one that had a big impact on Amy as well as the many who have enjoyed the many pleasures of Early Bird Cookery in Callicoon.

What started as a private chef business in the city turned into a meal delivery service based upstate when Amy moved to her weekend place full-time in 2010. “Early Bird Cookery is all about the amazing farms in this area,” says Miller. “My clients—in the city and everywhere— really want locally grown food and I’m proud to highlight it.” In Miller’s creative hands, locally sourced ingredients are transformed into delicious dishes that emphasize fresh vegetables and sustainably raised meats. Offerings like radish tempura, crostini topped with nettle pesto and leg of lamb with a thyme-salt crust subtly allude to the ethos and sensibility of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where Miller had previously interned.

Busy city folk can sign up for weekly deliveries of prepared meals on Early Bird’s commerce-friendly website. Hudson Valley denizens can pick up her wonderful ice creams, sweetened only with local honey, at the Callicoon farmers’ market. Flavors range from elderflower to tomato-watermelon to goat cheese with maple walnut. Early Bird is known for putting on quite a spread, and Miller has her hands full catering upstate weddings from May through October. Several years ago, she also began hosting seasonal four-course dinners at venues such as Basin & Main in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. “We don’t have a proper storefront or a place where people can come find us,” explains Miller, “so these supper clubs are a chance for us to get exposure, connect with the public and dream up some fun menus.”

Last fall, Early Bird hosted nearly 100 outrageously costumed diners at a festive Day of the Dead-themed supper club that featured a local band and ornate spun-sugar skull favors. Despite this high-octane ambience, the food more than held its own. Standouts from the Mexican-themed menu included a flavorful nut-crusted guinea hen with tomatillo mole and a decadent dark chocolate tart with caramel corn ice cream. As with everything from Early Bird Cookery, it was accompanied by a full portion of local charm. —Laura Silverman

earlybirdcookery.com

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Applestone Meat Company

A whole new animal

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY JENNIFER MAY

Joshua Applestone has been on the front lines of a revolution and lived to tell about it. When the former vegan and his wife, Jessica, opened Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats in uptown Kingston in 2004, the concept of a shop that sold locally, humanely raised animals, broken down by expertly trained butchers, was revolutionary. In fact, it was so revolutionary that most people simply did not get it. “Everyone was like, ‘I thought all cows were grass-fed…’” says Applestone. “We’d tell people what we were doing and their response would be, ‘That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.’” But that attitude wasn’t the only challenge they faced—the learning curve for these two first-time entrepreneurs was steep, the work physically demanding and dangerous and the profit margins narrow.

Not surprisingly, educating people about the benefits (health, environmental and culinary) of well-raised meat was key in making Fleisher’s successful. And succeed they did, thanks to a huge amount of hard work, sheer stubbornness, the strength of their convictions, the force of their personalities, the high quality of their products and their commitment to teaching would-be-butchers the largely lost art of whole animal butchery. Arguably their combined talents and past work experience helped; Jessica has a background in public speaking and media relations while Josh speaks in profanity-laced sound bites and sports butchery-related tattoos.

“We fought a battle that no one thought we were gonna win and we won,” says Applestone, who is still floored by the extent to which their idea caught on. But it’s clear that the way the world thinks about meat has shifted dramatically in the past 12 years. Now you can find grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free meat in most supermarkets, and butcher shops are opening again after decades on the decline.

“Every big meat producer now does an antibiotic-free line. Shake Shack uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meat in their burgers. Even Hardee’s offers a grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free burger,” says Applestone with a kind of gratified awe.

The Applestones are widely acknowledged as pioneers of the sustainable meat movement, having literally written the book about the topic (The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry and More, Clarkson Potter 2011) and trained many of its leaders of butchery, including Tom Mylan, co-owner of the Meat Hook in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Tim Forrester, the co-owner of Harlem Shambles in Harlem, and Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura, the owners of Lindy & Grundy in Los Angeles.

But fighting a war takes a toll, even if you’re the victor. “The everyday stress that entrepreneurs are up against is tremendous,” says Applestone. A few years after expanding Fleisher’s to a second location in Brooklyn, the Applestones decided to step away from the company.

Jessica wanted to pursue other interests—she’s an excellent writer (and often a contributor to this magazine), among other things— and Joshua had an idea he thought just might be the next step in the evolution of the sustainable meat revolution.

applestone2Joshua Applestone, owner of Applestone Meat Co.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE MEAT REVOLUTION

“My problem with artisan butcher shops—even the one that I created—is that they get to be a bit elitist, they get to be a bit expensive—it intimidates a lot of people,” says Applestone. Enter the Applestone Meat Company. The new business aims to increase access to sustainably raised, local meats by lowering prices and helping local farmers reach a wider customer base.

There are some similarities to Fleisher’s—the animals come from the same farms—all within 100 miles of their facility—and end their lives at the same slaughterhouse—Meiller’s in Pine Plains, but that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Fleisher’s, the Applestone Meat Co. is not a traditional butcher shop—there’s no butcher behind the counter. In fact, there’s no counter. Customers place their orders via the website or over the phone and pick them up at one of several locations or have them delivered for a small fee, which is based on the distance from their headquarters in Accord.

And since convenience rules supreme, Applestone installed a pair of brightly lit, refrigerated vending machines to let customers buy sausages, hot dogs and burger patties at any time of day or night. “We wanted to be able to sell retail but without huge overhead costs so these machines were an obvious fit,” says Applestone, “It’s a new way of having a 24/7 access to something fresh to eat.”

The first set of vending machines (dubbed “Meat-O-Mats”) are located in a small room next door to the company’s office on Route 209 in Accord. The space has a rather stark, almost futuristic feel, thanks to corrugated steel walls, a blue vinyl floor and the two glowingly lit black and white Meat-O-Mats. With the exception of the two vintage video arcade games (a passion of Applestone’s) that grace one wall, offering customers a choice of Power Drift, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man and Burger Time, everything is new and clean. Applestone plans to install more of these vending machines in the new space they will open in Stone Ridge this summer that will serve as Applestone Meat Company’s primary public-facing location.

And, if things go according to plan, Applestone hopes to install the Meat-O-Mats in many more third-party locations in the future, beginning in the Hudson Valley and moving outward from there. “I’d love to put these in gas stations and stock them with burgers, hot dogs, jerky and more—everything you need to tailgate or picnic and way better for you than a Slim Jim or a pack of Oscar Mayer’s,” says Applestone.

applestone3Applestone seen through the glow of his “Meat-O-Mat”

Sweat, blood and
tears sums it up
pretty neatly.

INSIDE THE BELLY OF THE BEAST

A roughly carved wooden bear stands guard outside the door, and a small, pink neon pig sign hanging in the window of the small office reads “OPEN.” Inside I find Applestone, the CEO, head butcher, plant manager, production manager and self-described “grand high poobah” of Applestone Meats. Applestone is a small but burly man with dark-rimmed glasses, long brown hair worn in a ponytail, and an artistically shaped reddish goatee grizzled with gray. After we’ve been talking for a few minutes, he notices that he’s still wearing a pair of heavily insulated blue snow pants—standard issue for work in the walk-in freezers in the plant—and strips down to a pair of worn jeans and a black sweatshirt.

Also at the table, literally and figuratively, is Samantha Gloffke, Applestone’s general manager and one of its four owners. Gloffke is a dark-haired woman in her late twenties who exudes an air of quiet competence and calm—the metaphorical eye in the storm of Applestone’s rapid-fire verbal thought process. Gloffke followed an unexpected path to her current role as manager, starting out as the babysitter for the Applestones’ infant son eight years earlier and sticking with the family in one capacity or another ever since.

“I met them on Craigslist,” says Gloffke. “Apparently we all have the perfect blend of personalities to stick together.” Applestone adds, “Jessica and I call Sam ‘the gift’—I basically begged her to join the team.”

As Applestone and Gloffke trade arcane-sounding notes on various food safety procedures, I study the whiteboard on which someone has diagrammed the company’s three-pronged offerings—wholesale meats for distribution to grocery stores, delis and restaurants; retail meats for sale via their refrigerated vending machines or via online and phone orders for in-store pick up or home delivery; and custom co-packing services for farmers, ranchers, hunters and restaurateurs looking to produce high-quality sustainably raised hot dogs, jerky, sausages, deli meats and more.… Read More

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As Cool As They Don’t Want to Be

whiskCoolPHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF WM. FARMER AND SONS

The city of Hudson is no stranger to a culinary cool and a tailored aesthetic. As much as this stature is celebrated, it is almost equally derided as “too cool” or “hipster” even. So when does “cool” get to reclaim some of its lost value and just be a sort of humble cool again?

Wm. Farmer and Sons (pronounced William Farmer and Sons), a bar/restaurant and boarding house directly across from the Hudson train station on the fringe of the Warren Street corridor, arguably recovers a sense of this humble cool with its handsome interiors, bespoke cocktail program and southern-tinged menu with nods to both the Hudson Valley and Appalachia. If you were to ask co-owners/ husband and wife team William Kirby Farmer and Kristan Keck about the cool factor, they would be dismissive and insist that such self-importance and “highfalutin coolness” is not at all their aim. Their aim is true, or at least intended to access a flavor of truth in regional American cuisine that draws influence from Farmer’s upbringing in the Carolinas.

Farmer and Keck met a decade ago in NYC and moved up to Germantown in 2008. In spring of 2013 they purchased the property that is now Wm. Farmer and Sons (the name is a salute to three generations of Farmers—Kirby, his father, William, and his toddler son), which was operating as a guesthouse with an abandoned restaurant space on the ground floor. Farmer and Keck continued running the guesthouse on the upper floors while they gutted the ground floor, making way for what would be the bar, restaurant and café (called Mercantile), which opened in 2015. The project was admittedly no easy redo but gave the couple the ability to completely reconsider the venue and find their mode of expression through the space, menu and overall purpose of the endeavor. To hear Keck say it, they decided to really “bloom where they were planted.”

The bloom is an impressive one, with rustically masculine interiors, with repurposed naval chairs in the dining room (outfitted with a little under-shelf to store your naval cap) purchased in Keck’s home state of Maryland, working gas lamps on the exterior of the building and a long communal table in the center of the dining room. The menu is a reflection of Farmer’s roots. Even though he is a Culinary Institute grad, Farmer populates the menu with Chicken Fried Frogs Legs and, as you could imagine, a lot of pork in the form of ham, shanks and even chicharrones. The bar program was lovingly engineered by Sasha Petraske of Milk and Honey in NYC and is a balanced mix of contemporary elegance and whimsy (there is a drink called Penicillin with Scotch whisky, lemon, ginger and honey). The upstairs digs, featuring 11 guest rooms, all uniquely outfitted, redone and named after both family members and beloved canines, serve as an ideal destination to rest your head after a generous meal and equally generous libations. —E. Steinman

Wm. Farmer and Sons
20 South Front Street, Hudson
518.828.1635
wmfarmerandsons.com

 

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Decamping to Points North

Gaskins lands in Germantown

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Owners Nick and Sarah Suarez standing before their labor of love, Gaskins

PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTINE ASHBURN

Promptly upon completion of an MBA at New York University, Nick Suarez enrolled in night classes at the French Culinary Institute. Nick’s love of food was inspired by family vacations and by his father, a 1980s commercial tabletop film director (those who provided images of milk bouncing off of bowls of cereal on TV commercials). He followed this love of all things epicurean and took a job in the tasting department at Wine Spectator. Not only fun, this job was also handy for charming his new sweetheart, Sarah Gaskins, with nice bottles of bubbly. When the two met in 2009, Sarah’s résumé was formidable, stacked with hefty management experience in Brooklyn’s top restaurants—Beer Table, Franny’s, Marlow & Sons and Diner. Her sights, set on becoming second- in-command in restaurateur Andrew Tarlow’s dynasty, changed when she met Nick. With few to no overlapping nights off, dating life as two people in the restaurant industry became impractical, and the now married couple soon realized that the only way to have a sustainable life together was to start something together—out of the city.

Seeing that even big names in the industry could barely afford New York City rents, the couple realized that opening the mom-and-pop joint they envisioned for themselves would mean owning their own building.

“I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 16, it’s the only kind of job I’ve ever really had. Was I sure I had it all down?!” Sarah laughs, and looks over at her now husband and business partner. “But,” Nick chimes in, leaning over the table, “nobody trains you in where to put the stove so the kitchen flows. And nothing prepared us for Day One.” Opening night as head chef in his own restaurant was Nick’s first night as chef anywhere. “Scariest day of my life! Sheer fear.”

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It seems people reach a certain point in the lives
when they want to figure out what they need
to do in order to make themselves happy—
the creative, craft-based surge we are witnessing
here is the result of that moment across
a particular generation

Window Shopping

Before they even laid eyes on what would become Gaskins, their commanding blue-painted restaurant in the center of Germantown, the couple spent a year of Tuesdays and Wednesdays (their weekend) searching for a place. They peered into closed midweek windows of many upstate eateries, ate at many others and schemed and dreamed about a satisfying post-Brooklyn chapter of their lives. They cast a wide net; after considering Portland, Maine, the Berkshires, the Catskills and Western New York, they zeroed in on the Hudson Valley. The corner building they bought met all of their criteria: on Main Street, with accommodations (they now live above the restaurant), in a town with at least one peer business (which they found in Germantown’s beloved food market Otto’s), close to the Amtrak station and in an untapped zone between already restaurant-rich Tivoli and Hudson, Germantown really needed and wanted a restaurant: a perfect match. “Ironically, now we are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays!” says Sarah. “I see people peering in through our windows, and I think of where we were just a couple of years ago.”

The hardest decision? Naming the place. After hearing many a suggestion shot down, one of the designers proposed they go with the title of the contractor’s job ticket—Gaskins. At first hesitant, Sarah then agreed that using her maiden surname, Gaskins (which she changed to Suarez after marriage) would act as a sweet homage to her father, a gourmet himself who passed away when Sarah was young. “I was a picky eater, and I wanted to work. So my father got me my first job at a little French restaurant, saying he would only let me work there if I ate anything they cooked for me. I did.”

Open Doors

Nick and Sarah’s story may not sound unique these days, for those of us familiar with the perceived culinary exodus from NYC—a young, entrepreneurial couple in food moves to the Hudson Valley in hopes to make their own way, and to have a life on their own terms. Undeniably, the valley abounds with signs of the movement. Nick and Sarah Suarez are of it, and they are successful examples of it—but their success should not be seen as inevitable. Rather, it is the result of two hardworking individuals who, through their desire to be in service to farmers and to hospitality, have created a formula whereby their restaurant coaxes and promotes the good out of the human and natural environment around them.

The two are motivated by the challenge of how to continue to open themselves up to their customers, by how they can truly become part of a community. The couple began their Hudson Valley lives by operating an events company called Backyard Catering, which allowed them, during the yearlong design-build process of Gaskins, to share their name and vision through neighborhood and civic events. They cooked for the fire department fund-raiser and sponsored and entered the Hudson Valley Bounty Chili Contest (they came in second). They invited friends to come help scrape floors of their yet-to-be-opened restaurant. This considered approach to outreach and promotion made Gaskins a hub before it even opened, and, they believe, established a more inclusive dynamic than the practice of keeping the windows papered until opening night.

Savvy, yes, but most of their efforts, Sarah explains, arose out of their simple newfound pleasure of not working nights. “We actually had time to meet people! Before the community could have a reaction to the restaurant or food, people could react to us. The creation of community for ourselves and for the restaurant was simultaneous, and that was a true luxury.”

Having done their time in the competitive New York City restaurant industry, they were encouraged by the enthusiasm they met among the Hudson Valley business community. The two are dedicated to a vision of a rising tide lifting all boats. Beyond the necessity of running a business in the black, they aren’t interested in necessarily setting themselves apart from the wave; they understand the social phenomenon that they are part of, and, Sarah says, wholly embrace it. “It seems people reach a certain point in their lives when they want to figure out what they need to do in order to make themselves happy—the creative, craft-based surge we are witnessing here is the result of that moment across a particular generation. I don’t think it’s Hudson Valley specific. We wanted to have personal health and happiness—including (gasp!) vacations in Ecuador where Nick’s family is originally from—to count as part of our success. That is harder and harder to do that in all cities, not just New York City.”

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A plate of golden tilefish from Montauk
with fennel and carrot puree

Market Driven

As they adapt to the valley’s pace, Nick and Sarah strive to retain key values and standards of their big city mentors, at a scale adjusted for a small restaurant. While some dreams, such as whole animal purchasing, aren’t yet possible due to space and processing capacity, what is attainable is a network of intimate relationships with farmers and suppliers.… Read More

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whiskRelighting

Relighting the Lantern

whiskRelighting
PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF THE LANTERN

Tucked away in Wassaic, on the eastern edge of Dutchess County, lies The Lantern, a former 1890s inn and speakeasy during the Prohibition era, which eventually evolved into a small-town bar. Recently, it has been resurrected as a casual restaurant. Here, writers, artists and locals escape their busy lives for a pint of craft beer and a wood-fired pizza.

On a weekend night, the five taps are flowing with brews from the area, such as Keegan Ales of Kingston and Westchester’s Captain Lawrence. Past the bar is the open kitchen, where you can place your order with the cooks and grab a number tag for your seat at one of their welcoming wooden community tables. Middling bar food this is not. The Lantern pulls its mozzarella cheese in-house, and sources many of its other ingredients from the soils around them. The kale, salad greens and eggs are from Wassaic’s Olde Forge Farms. The sausage on the rattlesnake pizza is made at Jacüterie in Ancramdale. The beef for the burgers is from Pine Plains. In the springtime, foraged ramps are highlighted on the menu during their short season. And any mushrooms or wild harvests that can be foraged, will be.

“Being able to do something simple, well, like really well? That’s sort of like the pinnacle,” says Jeff Barnett-Winsby, manager of the Lantern and co-director of the neighboring Wassaic Project, a community-based arts project and annual festival now in its eighth year. When the Lantern was bought by Dick Berry and Tony Zunino in 2010, Jeff Barnett-Winsby and Bowie Barnett-Zunino, co-directors of the Wassaic Project, were given a blank canvas to paint their vision on. They would bring locals together, and this time by running a down-to-earth food joint.

The Lantern’s atmosphere invites customers to linger long after they’ve finished eating. They can have another drink at the bar or head outside to let the crackle of the bonfire warm their spirits. Patrons dance along to a shelved collection of 1960s records, entwine themselves around the offerings of live music and crack and disperse with the pool balls as the local pool league continues its legacy.

It may seem strange to come to the quiet hamlet of Wassaic, New York, especially after dark. But once you spend an evening there, you realize that the energy inside the Lantern is what carries Wassaic’s glow; it flickers a profound iridescence among passersby. —Katie Fenton

The Lantern
10 Main Street, Wassaic
845.373.8389
www.wassaiclanterninn.com

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Farm and Table

whixkFarmTable

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whixkFarmTable3
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF HEATHER RIDGE FARM

The greatest benefit of operating an eatery in the Catskills is the close proximity to a wealth of farms and purveyors. At Heather Ridge Farm, which runs a monthly and year-round “Supper Club,” the ingredients for dinner often come from just outside the kitchen door. Carol Clement and her husband have been working this 200-year-old farm since the late ’70s. It’s a diversified operation that specializes in sustainable meats, but the couple also tend bees and produce honey. While Clement has been operating the weekend Bees Knees Café for some time, in 2014 she recruited chef Rob Handel (then just 23 years old) to run culinary operations on the farm as well as the increasingly popular Supper Club.

Handel has brought vision, ambition and wit to what would otherwise be your run-of-the-mill farm dinner. Last fall Handel held an “Eat Like a Pig” Supper Club dinner, which was a five-course menu featuring three breeds of heritage pork. Another example was the “Why a Duck?” meal, which was an all-poultry affair with goose, guinea fowl and duck. Levity aside, Handel fills plates in the always-packed dining room with housemade terrine, charcuterie and often (season permitting) foraged mushrooms and greens. As Clement likes to say, because so much of what is served is grown or cultivated on the property, the Supper Club is decidedly a “farm and table” venture.

The Heather Ridge Supper Club is $75 per person (plus tax) and is limited to 20 guests. The next event is held on April 16 and reservations are required.

Heather Ridge
989 Broome Center Road, Preston Hollow
518.239.6234
www.heather-ridge-farm.com

 

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