10 Things To Love About Kinderhook
By Jamie Larson
While the City of Hudson has rapidly re-ascended in stature over the past decade and a half, the town of Kinderhook, New York had been the center of life and less-fashionable culture in Columbia County for generations before that. The town’s rolling farms, forests and streams is the definition of bucolic. And the two villages contained within, Kinderhook and Valatie, are steeped in history and built with architecture that sends you back to an earlier time. But with the rise of Hudson, and Kinderhook’s formerly increasing status as Albany’s farthest suburb, there weren’t a whole lot of reasons to visit the town. We can all be thankful that’s changed. New restaurants and attractions have joined old favorites to liven up the sleeping beauty. Here are 10 things we love about Kinderhook that shouldn’t be missed.
Kinderhook has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to historical architecture, from the grand Vanderpoel House to the humble Van Alen House. But any discussion of the town’s history begins at Lindenwald, the home of President Martin Van Buren. Though not as whimsical or as massive as Olana, Lindenwald does have a totally unique appearance and feel. The national historic site around the home contains much of the president’s original farm, and the home has been painstakingly restored. In the summertime, events are held on the great lawn in front of the house and Kinderhook residents get to show their pride for their most famous neighbor. And if you take the tour of the first Democratic president’s home, we promise you won’t leave without saying, “Wow, what a small bed!”
2. Jack Shainman Gallery: The School
Kinderhook has been on the rise since the end of the recession but I think it would be uncontroversial to say that its recent boom is in large part due to one man. When Jack Shainman opened his massive The School gallery in the previously abandoned Martin Van Buren schoolhouse, the little Village of Kinderhook immediately lit up like a beacon on the art world’s radar. With a ton of space to display the best in modern art, The School not only saved a historic building in the center of the community, it has invigorated a sense of cultural relevancy that is bleeding into the new businesses that are undoubtedly choosing Kinderhook because of the increased attention. There’s almost an unreal, dreamlike quality to Shainman’s gallery because the setting and quality is so exemplary. If The School were picked up and dropped, in its entirety, in Manhattan or Brooklyn, it would instantly become one of the city’s best small museums. But it’s not in NYC, it’s in Kinderhook, so go there…on Saturdays, because that’s the only day it’s open.
3. Broad Street Bagel Co.
As the New York City air has been creeping up the Hudson Valley, apparently so has the water (the fabled secret to perfect NYC bagels). While we still love the soft pillowy offerings at local institution Bagel Thyme, the Bagel Co. is offering a wholly different approach and atmosphere. Their more traditional dense and chewy bagels are an example of a good thing done perfectly right. The place makes great sandwiches with quality ingredients in the more modern and sophisticated style we’re coming to expect from our region. The decor is classic/modern café, highlighting the old building’s exposed brick and wood but accented with art and steel. The Bagel Co. is perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast or an hour-long hang on the couch with a friend.
4. The new class: Dyad Wine Bar and The Flammerie
This trend of modern establishments sliding seamlessly into place in a town that’s decidedly old America continues at the town’s newest dining establishments. The Flammerie has already grabbed rave reviews (including ours) for its French-German comfort food. But now the Dyad Wine Bar has opened across the street. In a historic old home (that’s kind of the only option in Kinderhook, anyway) Dyad offers wines and beers perfect for the aficionado or layman. They also have a very reasonably priced small plates menu with the dishes given as much thought and care as the wine parings. The atmosphere is warm and den-like and just perfect for these dregs of winter.
5. Lover’s Leap Farm
One of the standout ingredients at The Flammerie is the pork from Lover’s Leap. Located just down the road, the farm is raising heritage breeds rarely seen on any menu. The animals also spend the spring and summer foraging for food through the fields and woods of the farm, named for an attractive rocky outcropping. The pigs at Lover’s Leap are fat, happy and antibiotic free. Getting so much of their diet through foraging allows them to live as comfortably as they would in the wild. The pigs are happy, and so are we; their uncommon breeding and varied natural diet imparts a rich and meaningful flavor to the pork that comes across as a signature — not just of a type of pork but also the exact place it was raised.
6. Hidden cemetery – Prospect Hill Cemetery
The Village of Valatie (pronounced va-LAY-sha) has breathtaking scenery, wonderful farms and a rich colonial-industrial history, lovingly detailed in Dominick Lizzi’s authoritative book Valatie: A Forgotten History. Sometimes one of the best ways to experience a place’s history is to visit a cemetery, especially if it’s as attractive, interesting and spooky as the Prospect Hill Cemetery tucked away off blink-and-you’ll-pass-it Albany Ave. The Village of Kinderhook’s cemetery may have the grave of Martin Van Buren but Prospect Hill has some really unique features, and even though it’s not far from the bustle of the village, the way in which it’s tucked into the woods makes it eerie quiet. Stones date back to 1796. There are numerous trails through the large, well-landscaped and eminently strollable cemetery. There’s also an unverified legend in the very back, past the older monuments and the koi pond, off the path and little ways back into the forest. That’s where you’ll find the Witches Circle. It’s believed that the tight semicircle of worn old headstones are the graves of a group of woman executed for practicing witchcraft by early settlers and is still the site of modern Wiccan rituals. However, it should be noted that this legend was passed down to me in my youth by teenagers who went back there to smoke pot. So, you know… maybe, maybe not.
7. Carolina House
The Carolina House is Kinderhook’s culinary history. While it may have opened in 1983, it feels like it’s been there forever. The classic barbeque menu is a treat for date nights or the entire family. The large log cabin restaurant is decorated in a pretty, old-school style but it doesn’t seem outdated. There are a variety of seating areas including a deck, a sunroom, a rustic tavern and a main dining room with high-backed booths. Having grown up in the area, I ate here as a kid so I have a nostalgic tongue, but others agree the Carolina House’s ribs are as top notch as ever. As more modern restaurants become the norm in the region, it’s nice to visit a restaurant that speaks so much to the area’s past while still offering a great meal.
8. Kinderhook Farmers Market
Though it may seem like the earth may never tilt on its axis again and leave us in frigid darkness forever, let me assure you, spring is coming and with it the bounty of our celebrated farms. The Kinderhook Farmers Market is one of the area’s longest running and is just as much about socializing and village chatter as it is about food. There’s also a welcome dynamic brought to the market by the preponderance of crafts and prepared foods. More than just a high-quality outdoor grocery, the Kinderhook market is a place to browse and take your time, meet folks and buy something you hadn’t intended to.
9. Golden Harvest /Harvest Spirits
One of Kinderhook’s best-known and busiest farms, Golden Harvest is a staple for locals and visitors. For generations, the farmstand at the northern end of Valatie has been drawing people in with its produce, baked goods, cider, cider doughnuts and, of course, apples. The giant apple balloon up in the sky helps, too. Nearly a decade ago, Derek Grout helped expand the family farm in a whole new direction. Using the tons of surplus apples left over every year, and thanks to a timely change in state law, the farm started producing Core Vodka. Harvest Spirits was born and over the years Core has been joined by a line of apple jacks, whiskey and brandy, all made and flavored with produce grown at Golden Harvest or right down the road. There’s a crisp authenticity to the taste of Harvest’s stock that somehow speaks to the hard work Grout, his wife, team and family have put into the business. They’re making spirits at a high and refined level with the work ethic of the farmers they are.
10. Dutch Desserts
A somewhat unusual addition to the list because they don’t have a storefront, Dutch Desserts is a husband-and-wife team that makes traditional Dutch tarts we crave. They’re sold in shops around the area and also can be ordered online. Whether you’re in the mood for something specific, or need a whole spread, you can call them up. It’s an elegantly simple business that make some really wonderful goodies. They say their apple tart “made people forget all about mom’s apple pie” because of their secret crust recipe, and that none of their treats are over sweetened, so you can taste the fruit instead of the sugar.