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Hanq’s: A New Perspective On A Menu… And A Town

By CB Wismar

The stairway to a second floor entrance at 131 Water Street in Torrington is the only notice you get when approaching Hanq’s. Is that enough to entice you? In this case, it pays to be curious. Because in all honesty, Torrington is not known for great dining establishments. That is, not until now. Hanq’s is more than a great restaurant… it’s an experience, one that you can have inside in the dining room or tap room, or outside on the rooftop terrace.

Hanq’s (the name honors Kris’ faithful dog) is the fulfillment of owner Kris Kelsey’s dreams of offering a varied, high-quality menu with an ambience that actually promotes lingering, sampling and relaxing. It combines the atmosphere of a Greenwich Village or Rush Street or Poydras Street club with a menu that cheerily offers the best seafood, meats, vegetables beers and wines available with signature drinks and desserts that call for return trips.

To start, the Santa Fe clam chowder ($6) is a savory departure from the typical Manhattan variety. Spices associated with Southwestern cooking give the chowder a spicy bouquet that supports the fresh ingredients. 

Two salad standouts, each with a secret ingredient are the Mediterranean salad and the panzanella salad (both $12). They are amply sized to be full meals and are certainly large enough to share as a first course.

During the growing season, the herb garden that occupies a space of honor in the rooftop dining area yields mint, pineapple sage, oregano, thyme, cilantro, rosemary, various flavorful peppers and cherry tomatoes. Salads feature these “just picked” accents as long as the frost holds off and the garden can thrive.

Kris Kelsey honors the fact that some folks are lighter eaters, so the assortment of “plates” is designed to cater to them. The marinated skirt steak ($14) is a great customer favorite that has well-deserved notoriety because the soy/garlic/brown sugar marinade keeps the steak both tender and flavorful. Served atop potato gnocchi with fresh tomatoes, baby spinach, pepper pesto and a “hint of cream,” it comes as no shock that the serving team is quick to identify this dish as their personal favorite.

Even a plate of wings ($13) — a pub standard — can be ordered one of four ways. Traditional Buffalo wings are joined by coconut curry, honey sriracha and truffle parmesan options.

The pasta at Hanq’s is made fresh and the lobster ravioli ($34) is filled with fresh lobster, spinach and a sherry cream sauce that is simply elegant. Also notable on the entrée menu is the “Air Chilled” D’Artagnan half chicken ($24) — brined for 24 hours, seasoned with a house-made dry rub, roasted and served over a fresh apple slaw with sweet potato crisps. Plan to take some home for the next day. 

To truly test fine American cuisine, it’s often suggested that the lowliest item on the menu — the burger — be used to judge the sincerity of the chefs. There are two ways to test that theory at Hanq’s, and both are memorable. The Hanq’s burger ($14) is black angus beef done to each customer’s exact directions served on bibb lettuce, sliced heirloom tomatoes, pickled onions, white cheddar cheese and crispy bacon on a toasted brioche bun. In all sincerity, its gets an A-plus.

For the more sophisticated experience, the Asian burger ($18) starts with grass-fed wagyu beef, adds truffled potato strings, sriracha aioli and goat cheese. All sandwiches can be accompanied by the choice of sweet potato fries, dressed greens or “sidewinders,” thick-cut fried potatoes that could be a meal by themselves.

For other sandwich-type fare, the fish tacos ($16) featuring Cajun-rubbed Alaskan cod with avocado mousse and mango salsa are superb, as is Hanq’s Cuban ($14), which combines slow-roasted shaved pork with shaved pastrami, house-made dill pickles, melted smoked gouda and Dijon mustard on a toasted hoagie roll.

But, whatever your dinner selections may be, please leave room for the desserts ($8), all of which are made fresh in Hanq’s kitchen. The tiramisu includes coffee anglaise and chocolate- covered espresso beans, the hint of spirits and a cake that is moist and tender. The strawberry crème brulee is a unique combination created by one of the chefs. Smooth, elegant and richly flavored, it’s served with macerated strawberries.

One dessert special that elevates unbridled indulgence to new heights is Hanq’s take on coffee and a donut. On a bed of coffee anglaise, a split donut opens like an oyster to deliver its pearl of coconut almond ice cream (a Hanq’s signature item) and elegant berry preserves. Donuts will never be the same again.

A true “plus” to the Hanq’s experience is the periodic appearance of live musical groups who take their place in a corner of the rooftop when the weather cooperates or on the club stage in the main dining room. Kris Kelsey understands both hospitality and the complete entertainment experience, and the combination of great music and wonderful food yields memorable results.

Coming to Hanq’s is both a lunch menu (timed to coincide with the opening of the new courthouse in Torrington) and a brunch menu that will entice diners into the fall. Not a re-working of the current menu, both lunch and brunch menus will offer items uniquely Hanq’s.

Hanq’s
131 Water St., Torrington, CT
(860) 309-7200

Mon & Tues: Closed
Wed & Thu: 5 – 10 p.m.
Fri: 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Sat: 1 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Reservations encouraged.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/06/17 at 04:41 PM • Permalink

Game On: House Rules Café Offers Food And Board

By Jamie Larson

The New House Rules Café in Hudson, New York, is a tabletop game café, a playful new trend just reaching our region. House Rules offers up some elevated café fare and a stacked shelf of games, old and new. Proclaimed by friends a “board game sommelier,” the café’s owner and former wine seller Kathleen Miller prides herself on an innate ability to match you with the perfect game.

“Curating board games is very similar to curating wines,” says Miller, who spent five years at Hudson Wine Merchants. “It’s very personal to an individual’s tastes.”

While the games are what makes House Rules unique, Miller’s focus started in the kitchen.

“I’ve wanted to do something based around comfort food my whole adult life,” Miller says. “I worked for Hudson Wine Merchants for five years and realized that when I started my own business I didn’t want to contribute to the bar culture. There are already a lot of bars.”

The menu is simple and unpretentious and is tailored not to get in the way of your cards, dice, fake money or figures. There’s a grilled cheese with artisan cheeses and house-made roasted tomato butter ($8), a couple of homemade hummus preparations ($7), roast beef on olive ciabatta ($9) and more. There is also a list of sides and salads that can easily be treated as small plates or tapas, great for sharing with friends.

House Rules also serves a variety of coffee drinks and milk shakes using Ronnybrook dairy products and Jeni’s Ice Cream. Much of the menu is or can be made vegetarian and gluten free.

If you don’t have the time for a round of Settlers of Catan, House Rules is also excellent for takeout and they will soon be offering pre-made lunch boxes to grab and go. Miller is talking about delivery down the road.

“Board game cafés are this new industry and that gives me a lot of freedom to figure out what that can be,” Miller says. “I’ve always been a geek and now it’s sort of the age of the geek.”

Miller says that over the past 15 to 20 years there’s been a board game revolution. New games are coming out with innovative themes, mechanics and styles. One of the benefits of House Rules is you get to try them without buying them. There is a $5 charge for hanging out and playing games but that’s waived if your bill goes over $45.

For someone who hasn’t gamed in years but wants to try something modern, Miller recommends Qwirkle, a surprisingly deep tile-matching game. “It’s easy to learn at first but you can also play it with a high level of strategy.”

Miller actually didn’t think to incorporate board games into her culinary vision until 2015, but when she saw the corner storefront was for rent last year, she pulled the trigger. Miller and her crew undertook significant renovations and there are still more to come. The big comfy couches are on their way and plans are to complete a reading nook and the children’s area. 

“I know how hard it can be to go somewhere with a baby and a toddler,” says Miller. “I kept seeing strollers on Warren Street and there’s just really not a lot to do for families. I started thinking about how to make it kid friendly and parent friendly.”

Board games make anyone feel like a kid again, she says, adding that it’s really relaxing to get away from screens and everyday stress and just enjoy a game with some good food and friends.

House Rules Café
757 Columbia St., Hudson, NY
(518) 828-5938
Open every day: 7 a.m.–9 a.m. and 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Open until 9 p.m. Friday–Sunday.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/31/17 at 08:54 AM • Permalink

Farmers Market Fave Aba’s Falafel Now Available Year-Round

By Andrea Pyros

For those who frequent our area’s bountiful farmers markets, the final days of fall signify not only the end of the outdoor market season but the last time we can get our hands on Aba’s Falafel until the following spring. Talk about heartbreaking! Though winter is guaranteed to come again, at least now lovers of the popular vegan booth won’t have to suffer falafel withdrawal: Aba’s has opened a restaurant in the village of Rhinebeck, serving falafel six days a week, year-round.

Rural Intelligence chatted with Roy and Cathy Naor, the husband and wife owners of Aba’s, after their first week’s soft open to talk about their family — and family business.

The pair met in 10th grade in Israel, and were friends for years. After school, they stayed in touch while Roy went into the Air Force and Cathy studied neurobiology and traveled extensively. In their 20s, they became a couple, living in Israel and raising their two children, Kai and Mika. For 22 years, Roy was a pilot in the Air Force. After he retired, he became a commercial pilot for El Al, flying every week between New York and Tel Aviv. It was then that Cathy suggested that they “go live on the other side of the line.” 

Being self-described rural people, living in the city wasn’t an appealing option. Instead, they drew a circle around JFK and began researching spots within traveling distance that offered transportation to and from the airport. During his layovers, Roy looked around the tri-state area. When he’d describe what he and Cathy wanted from their new home, two different people told him to visit Rhinebeck. He did, after which he called Cathy to tell her, “You’d like it here, no one is wearing makeup and everyone is wearing jeans.”

In 2005, the Naors moved to the Hudson Valley, happily settling in. Except… “We missed the food from Israel,” Cathy says. “We loved living out in the country and coming to the farmers market and one day we said, ‘Why don’t we just sell falafel in the market?’” Plans came together quickly. “When we decided to do this, I was on a carb-free diet, and we took a bunch of recipes and tweaked them to be low carb.”

“We figured out a system to fry them even though there is no binder,” Roy adds. “The falafel don’t absorb a lot of oil, so it’s fluffy.” Not only fluffy, but extremely light and flavorful, which explains Aba’s massive lines at the markets each week.

They had no plans to open a restaurant, but they were looking for a bigger kitchen since they’re currently at three different markets each week, and when they saw the space in Rhinebeck become available, they couldn’t resist. “It’s such a great location, you can’t not do something!” Cathy says.

Although their storefront recently housed a small market and then a jeweler, for many years it was the neighborhood barbershop. “The amount of people who come in and say, ‘I got my hair cut here,’” Cathy says and smiles. To honor that history, the Naors bought a small barbershop sign and placed it in their restaurant.

“Many people tell us that we’ve revived this piece of the street,” Roy says. “It’s so nice on this corner, and that’s why we chose Rhinebeck. It has the feel of a neighborhood.”

There are no plans to expand beyond the lunchtime hours. “I want to eat at Terrapin! I don’t want to be here all day long,” Cathy insists.

Right now the couple like the way that people can come in to Aba’s (“Aba” is father in Hebrew) for falafel, then Samuel’s for coffee or Bread Alone for sweets, so don’t expect their simple menu — hummus, falafel, with pita ($8) or without; a variety of handmade Israeli salads; tahini, pickles and hot sauces, plus Roy’s special lemonade (made with anise) — to expand much, either. “Maybe espresso,” Cathy muses. Sundays, in order to avoid competing with the Rhinebeck market right across the street, they’re serving malawach, fried phyllo dough served with tahini, grated tomato and hot sauce, and sabich, which is fried potato, eggplant salad with tahini and a mango curry sauce in a pita (each $10.) It’s all delicious, freshly made, vegan and incredibly satisfying. Visit now, or in the dead of winter. They’ll be there.

Aba’s Falafel
54 E. Market St., Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 876-2324
Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/21/17 at 10:46 AM • Permalink

The Old Mill: Country Elegance, Exceptional Food

By CB Wismar

The menu is one page. “Keep it simple” is one of chef/owner Terry Moore’s restaurant rubrics at The Old Mill in South Egremont, Mass. The daily specials are hand written on a second sheet. Armed with those two guides, a great dining experience begins.

The Old Mill (the building was a grist mill in the early 1700s) has been a landmark in the southern Berkshires for almost 40 years. The warmth of the staff, the absolute unswerving dedication to fresh, superior ingredients, the skill of the artists in the kitchen and the graciousness of Moore’s personality that infuses the entire operation suggest that it will retain its revered status for a long time to come.

Appetizers range from $8 to $16, but within that spectrum there’s everything from fresh oysters — The Old Mill serves 600 fresh oysters a week — to shrimp prepared several ways to a house-made country pâté to a steaming crock of onion soup gratinee. In season, asparagus, chilled gazpacho, beet salad, a chopped salad with seasonal vegetables and dried cherries, and a delightful offering of burrata, fresh strawberries in balsamic vinegar and rashers of crisped prosciutto are enough to tempt diners to simply order several “first courses” and not let their eyes wander to the entrée column.

What a mistake that would be. Fresh fish, brought in daily from Gloucester, is in abundance. The menu affirms “The Old Mill serves only sustainable wild caught and/or organically farmed seafood.” Trout, shrimp and Icelandic cod are each prepared to appeal to a range of tastes, and always accompanied — as is every entrée — with a mixed green salad with a sherry-dijon dressing that can be topped off with crumbled blue cheese.

In keeping with Terry’s “keep it simple” directive, the regular menu offers two excellent chicken dishes: a classic chicken parmesan that elevates the dish beyond common standard, and a skillet-roasted organic half chicken prepared with an aromatic blend of roasted garlic, lemon and rosemary. Daily specials offer a third chicken dish, often complemented with wild mushrooms.

Grilled lamb chops and two preparation choices of angus strip steak are menu standards with specials adding New England pork and tender, flavorful roast prime rib of beef accompanied, in grand English fashion, with a fresh popover. Entrée prices start at $26.

It’s always intriguing to find out which menu offering is the most popular. What brings diners back again and again? In this case, it’s the offering that is quite unique to menus of today. The pan-seared calf’s liver with caramelized onions, smoked bacon and house fries elicits phone calls from as far away as New York City and Long Island as visitors make weekend travel plans. They want to make sure liver is on the menu so they can build their itinerary around a stop at The Old Mill.

The English tradition comes naturally to owner Moore. He shipped off at age 16 as a cabin boy on the Cunard Line’s majestic Queen Mary. Working his way up through the hospitality staff ranks, he eventually served in the exclusive First Class lounge. 

“When the ship was being refreshed in New York, I sampled the cuisine in some of the world’s finest restaurants,” he says. “I fell in love with the city, its food, the entire culture.”

One experience Moore shared was the magic of entering the prize fighter Jack Dempsey’s eponymous restaurant on Broadway and being greeted by “the champ” himself. That level of hospitality lives on at The Old Mill, with Moore at the front desk most nights, greeting customers like old friends and making first-time diners feel that the entire place has been eagerly awaiting their arrival. The service staff is both charming and responsive, without a hint of pressure. Many of them have been part of Old Mill for years, and the mutual dedication of Moore and his front-line staff is evident through the evening.

Desserts, the subject of conversation from table to table, include profiteroles au chocolate, a menu stalwart — a classic coffee ice cream sundae with elegant chocolate sauce and roasted walnuts — and the dark chocolate semifreddo [pictured] served with almonds and whipped cream — just the sort of decadence that caps an elegant dinner.

The restaurant has a full bar and a tap room reminiscent of a fine English country pub. The full dinner menu is available in the tap room and a simpler pub menu is offered there for those who prefer a more casual dining experience. The wine list is not presented in volumes, but carefully selected and balanced between domestic and imported wines.

The Old Mill
53 Main St., Rte. 23, South Egremont, MA
(413) 528-1421
Dinner is served seven nights a week from 5 p.m. with reservations accepted for parties of five or more.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/17/17 at 10:29 AM • Permalink

The Millerton Inn: Greek Roots Tied To The Family Farms

By CB Wismar

At The Millerton Inn, farm-to-table means not only their table — but their farm, as well.

Peter Stefanopoulos, a longtime restaurant owner and operator in the Hudson Valley/Litchfield County area, has combined fresh, exceptionally well-prepared food with a welcoming ambience that encourages comfortable conversation, all in an historic Millerton, New York building.

Stefanopoulos, who also owns Yianni’s in Chatham, N.Y., The Boathouse in Lakeville, Conn. and is a co-owner of the Four Brothers Pizza restaurants, has managed to bring a touch of Greek cuisine to the menu (even the olive oil, which is amply poured and served with locally baked crusty bread, comes from a family grove in Greece) while ensuring that local ingredients and specialties cover a wide range of tastes.

The Millerton Inn occupies a formidable building in the heart of Millerton, a location that hosted many an excellent dinner when it was known as the No. 9 Restaurant (later The No. 9 Restaurant and Inn). When former chef and innkeepers Tim and Taryn Cocheo headed north to Popolo Restaurant in Bellows Falls, Vermont, Stefanopoulos bought the enterprise and gave it a head–to-toe makeover. The results are pleasing on many levels. Ten guest rooms occupy the upper floors, while on the main level the restaurant occupies every room, leaving the parlor as a cozy place to await the escort to your table.

Appetizers are beautifully presented and offer a welcome variety of options. The steaming clam chowder appears in a bowl garnished with toast (“charred bread” according to the menu) and sporting clams in their opened shells, as well as pancetta and fingerling potatoes. Local herbs combine with a touch of white wine to make the dish that evokes plaintive “I should have ordered that…” comments from around the table. It’s not the heavy cream-based chowder so often tagged “New England Clam Chowder” but a light, flavorful soup that preps the taste buds for adventures to come.

Another appetizer that bespeaks Greek roots tied together with the family farm is the shrimp saganaki, with feta cheese that adorns roasted tomatoes and jumbo shrimp en casserole.

If salads are your interest, then the Millerton Inn Greek salad will delight. Again, the local influence is evident in both the greens and feta. The dressing is a family secret, and its own special treat. The traditional Caesar salad becomes a highlight with whole anchovies and spicy croutons topped with a tangy dressing.

Main courses offer a compact range of selections from market fish to market steak, both of which are offered at the discretion of the chef. For steak lovers, the New York strip au poivre is both substantial and flavorful. Even the Millerton Inn burger carries a pedigree, credited to Meiller’s Farm.

For the vegetarians among us, the baked moussaka elevates the lowly eggplant to star billing and includes, in the “best supporting ingredients” category, a mushroom ragout and bechamel sauce that announces its arrival at the table with a wonderful aroma.

There are pasta specialties, as well, one of which is the peasant’s pasta. Among the listed ingredients is Andouille sausage, broccoli rabe and a wonderfully mysterious cheese called Kefalograviera. Research will tell you that the cheese is produced in western Macedonia, Epirus, and the regional units of Aetolia-Acarnania and Evrytania. That would be… Greece. The combination will encourage us all to admit our “peasant” roots.

Desserts are no less sumptuous than the appetizers, sides, salads and entrees. An encounter with the tiramisu is encouraged, even if your notion is for the “table to share.” 

There’s a full bar (and well-trained bartenders), and the drink lineup includes signature cocktails—Byzantine Heads and The Horse’s Bath are worth trying for the names alone. The wine list is ample, but not intimidating, and the selection of beers that is supported by micro American brews really finds its stride with imports from Belgium, England, Austria and Canada. 

When visiting The Millerton Inn, it’s essential to listen to the specials offered by the waitstaff. During the summer and fall months, as new offerings appear on the farm on a daily basis, the chef’s imagination is piqued and the results are superb. During asparagus season, the chef finds a wonderful way of creating a salad with lumps of crabmeat, fresh asparagus and spring mix that is a true temptation.

Since most diners are interested in value as part of the dining experience, the price points are in line with the quality of the dishes and the thoughtful presentation. Appetizers, which some in the research party chose as their main course, are priced in the mid-teens. Salads are in the same range, while entrees are in the $20-$30 range and burgers are priced at $15. 

And Stefanopoulos has made the place a comfortable destination. The front dining room is decorated with lush figured wallpaper and paint to match. The back dining room is quieter, more subtle. In the rear of the building, the Tap Room is a bit more lively, with several large screen TVs placed in convenient, but not imposing spots. This is where the locals can be found — which is always a good sign. When the residents make a restaurant a regular spot, then it’s a fair indication that the food, the service, the atmosphere and the welcome are well aligned. So it is at The Millerton Inn. 

The Millerton Inn
53 Main Street, Millerton, NY
(518) 592-1900

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/02/17 at 03:26 PM • Permalink

Anxiously Awaited, The Amsterdam In Rhinebeck Delivers

Photo: Liz Clayman

By Andrea Pyros

Over the past months, Rhinebeck locals watched with curiosity as construction crews worked to ready a new restaurant for its rumored spring opening. Hints on what diners could expect from The Amsterdam were doled out slowly, and discussed extensively on local Facebook groups. How would husband and wife owners Howard and Chris Jacobs use the setting of a 1798 Dutch townhouse? How would they and their team define “farm to table,” a term that’s a way of life to the RI region and its inhabitants? Some worried that the youthful and stylish servers who appear tableside in flannel shirts and black Converse or vest-wearing bartenders pouring hip cocktails might make us feel unwelcome. In short, would The Amsterdam live up to its hype as Dutchess County’s hottest new place to eat?

When the restaurant finally opened to the public, any fears that The Amsterdam wouldn’t do justice to the community and to the history of the region were quickly put to rest. The establishment fits seamlessly — and lovingly — into the Hudson Valley food scene, honoring the foods, ingredients, and the traditions of our area, while offering something unique to diners who care about good, quality food prepared and served with care.

Photo: Jennifer May

The first thing you notice upon entering The Amsterdam is how big — and how gorgeous — the space feels. There’s a large wraparound bar up front, and a high-ceilinged, bustling main dining room where patrons can peer into the open kitchen. That’s where Chef Sara Lukasiewicz, a Culinary Institute of America grad and James Beard Award Rising Star Chef Nominee and her team capably work. There’s also a lovely and surprisingly peaceful backyard with a fire pit and casual tables for dining, and an upstairs lounge and a private dining room for parties from 12 to 40.

Drink up, Rhinebeckians and others. You’ll be able to find something to please you on the extensive cellar list, or within the shorter but very good array of beers, ciders, and wines by the glass. General Manager Jeff Turok, a former Union Square Hospitality Group staffer, obviously had fun coming up with the cocktail menu. Try the kick of Andy’s Askin’ for Ya ($13) with gin, vermouth, grapefruit and caraway, or the lighter, refreshing Dutchess ($13), with vodka, cassis, thyme, lemon, and soda. 

Then settle in, because though the space is a showstopper and the drinks make you feel warm and suddenly more cheerful about the world, it’s Lukasiewicz’s cooking that makes an evening at The Amsterdam so delightful. There’s certainly plenty of fresh, local greens, including a lovely roasted beet salad ($13), to start, and cheeses from New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, but whatever else you do, do not miss (I mean it!) the house smoked salmon ($15), served on hash browns with chives, crème fraîche and crispy capers. It’s truly incredible, and big enough to share, as was a spring pâté of pork and onions, tarragon, mushrooms ($7) from the charcuterie menu, served with fresh bread, small dollops of mustards, and sides of pickled onions and cucumbers.

Photo: Jennifer May

There’s a tasty burger ($19) for an entree if you’re in the mood for something hearty and simple (we saw a few kids happily digging into theirs), a fish and chips ($23) option made with porgy that came out hot and perfectly crispy, and an indulgent yet delicate plate of farmers cheese gnocchi with roasted mushrooms ($26). Portions are generous, and even on a busy Saturday night, courses arrived quickly, so don’t worry if you just have to have a second order of something particularly delicious. The friendly and competent staff (overseen by Turok and Guest Experience Manager Ryan Stutzbach) clearly want you to enjoy yourself, and it shows from start to finish. The diners around us were smiling, too.

Desserts, other than the gelato and sorbet selections from Artigiani Del Gelato, are made in house. The chocolate hazelnut pot de creme ($8) was light and flavorful, and the after-dinner drinks are a fun way to drink your dessert. The only miss in our entire meal was the honey cake ($8), which featured a too-heavy cake and a rather bland brown sugar buttercream filling. Otherwise, everything, from start to finish, was fantastic.

Jeff Turok, Howard Jacobs and Sara Lukasiewicz. Photo: Liz Clayman

It’s clear that a great deal of work and passion went into getting The Amsterdam off the ground, from the space to the food to the staff, but even early in its opening, everything worked, and no one seemed flustered, or rushed us out the door when we were done eating. In fact, our server casually told us to stay as long we’d like after our meal ended, so we lingered for a little bit over an after-dinner drink called The Amsterdam ($10), and took part in a little people watching — another popular tradition of our region.

We’re “snout to tail,” our knowledgeable waitperson explained as she answered questions about the menu, and shared that Chef Lukasiewicz seems to have farmers appear magically at The Amsterdam’s door each morning with various homegrown treasures. Before she walked away, our server added, a little bit of awe in her voice, that Lukasiewicz is “fierce.”

That she is.

The Amsterdam
6380 Mill Street, Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 516-5033
Sunday to Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.
Weekend Brunch coming soon.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/19/17 at 08:55 AM • Permalink

Governor’s Tavern Fills The Iron Horse’s Big Shoes

Ortega, Dykeman and bartender Fernando Martinez

By Jamie Larson

The new Governor’s Tavern in Hudson, New York is a welcome surprise behind its humble alley corner entrance along some train tracks. From the former beloved and historic dive bar, The Iron Horse, the new owners, Renee Ortega and Brian Dykeman, have created a professionally executed yet comfortably local hometown pub. Governor’s is also offering some truly elevated pub grub, cooked up by a British expat head chef, that combines expected staples with the flavors he misses from home.

“We wanted to create a place where people could feel comfortable, whether they’re regulars or it’s their first time visiting,” says Dykeman, who grew up just outside Hudson and knew the old bar well. “We didn’t want to alienate anyone who used to come here — but we also want to bridge the gap.”

Ortega also owns the Zombie Hut in Brooklyn, where she and Dykman met, but they only go down to the city to check in once a week, having chosen to move to Hudson full time and focus on Governor’s. She says they feel the most important thing to a successful neighborhood bar is a great staff; cultivating a fun community atmosphere starts with a crew who enjoy being there, too. They must be doing something right because they were able to convince Chef Steve Rawlings to move up to Hudson after working in some significant NYC kitchens including Brucie, The Breslin and Reynard.

What Rawlings is doing with a standard tavern menu is truly a reason to check Governor’s out. He’s created a signature hamburger, with onion strings that actually taste like onions and an au jus that, when dipped, almost tricks your brain into experiencing a mouthful of French onion soup.

What’s more, Rawlings has brought authentic UK tavern fare to the table as well as standards like fish and chips and English-style curry on Wednesdays.

Dykman is serious about beer and curates an ever-changing list of taps. There’s usually something local on tap and drink prices in general are very reasonable, even offering a $3 Miller Light for your thrifty session.

Governor’s, named for the couple’s first bull dog, Governor Russell Smalls, is appointed traditionally, embracing dark wood and exposed brick. What’s most striking is the mural-sized photo on the back wall of Warren Street from the 1800s, taken from a vantage not far from the (then) State Grill.

But Governor’s has big shoes to fill. Frank Martino’s Iron Horse was an institution. Opened some time before 1883 as the State Grill, the inn was an affordable boarding house and tavern for farmers journeying to Hudson for provisions. The barn behind the bar was used to house the horses and coaches. It operated in some capacity during Prohibition and up until the ‘90s opened at 8 a.m. to accommodate shift workers. A number of movies looking for a classic bar shot scenes inside, including “Iron Weed,” “Cake Eaters” and Paul Newman’s “Nobody’s Fool.” 

“We loved the feel of the Iron Horse,” says Dykeman, adding they initially hoped to change little about the interior. “But we quickly found out nothing was up to code, and it was going to fall down.”

When Martino passed away in 2013 it was hard for locals to see the Iron Horse sitting empty, and harder still to watch later as it was gutted for restoration. But it only takes one trip to see that Governor’s is not just a worthy successor to The Iron Horse but a continuation of the building’s legacy. They are still using the original bar-back and repurposed the original bar, which they found in the walls. Dykeman says they are also restoring the original State Grill and Iron Horse signs for later display.

“The Iron Horse was special because Frankie was always here,” Dykeman said. “It’s important to us that we are here too, being involved, being a neighbor.”

In an old newspaper article about the history of the Iron Horse, which the new owners found during renovations (and I happened to have authored some years ago), Martino discussed the future of the establishment. Since his own grown children were off in other professions, he said he daydreamed about a nice young couple buying the place, fixing it up and maybe even serving up some food from the back. Dykeman and Ortega said it makes them happy to think that they are that couple.

Seasons change, and it’s spring again at Governor’s. The owners’ combination of professional acumen and connection to the area seems the perfect mix to steward the historic watering hole into a new era.

Governor’s Tavern
14 South 7th Street, Hudson, NY
(518) 697-5609
Open Tuesday-Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. (2 a.m. Friday and Saturday)

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 05/15/17 at 10:03 AM • Permalink

Vegan Or Not, You’ll Love Shire Kitchen’s Community Dinners

Mariana Bergtold in the tempeh shed, where the kitchen manufactures 100 pounds of chickpea tempeh at a time.

By Lisa Green

Fans of the Dancing Vegan, a plant-based, takeout shop in Pittsfield, Mass., were severely disappointed when Chef Mariana Bergtold closed its doors in 2009. Even now, local vegans (and others) wistfully refer to the days when outrageously good vegan food was available and conveniently located, every day.

But now, those same fans can rejoice, because Bergtold, who left the Berkshires to head the kitchen of the largest retreat center in Hawaii, is back, and so is the magic she creates sans eggs, dairy and other non-vegan ingredients. The self-confessed workaholic has opened Shire Kitchen, a vegan commercial production kitchen that lives within Shire City Sanctuary. Besides producing its own tempeh and seitan, Shire Kitchen offers full-service catering, cooking classes, and the icing (vegan, of course) on the cake: the Shire Kitchen First Friday Community Dinners.

Each month, Bergtold selects an ethnic cuisine and goes to town with it, first conducting copious research on the foods of that culture and then preparing a plant-based menu from start to finish. This month, since the dinner fell on May 5, it was cuisine in honor of Cinco de Mayo. Around 40 people dug into a variety of salsas, guacamole, chili con queso and oyster mushroom ceviche — all just starters, which were waiting at each table. The main course, served buffet style, included squash and pablano tamales, tempeh tacquitos, vegetable mole and more. Carmel flan and churros finished off the meal for those who could muster one more bite. Drinks, too, were Mexican inspired: a coconut tamarind mixture and hibiscus iced tea.

June’s dinner will celebrate Indonesian food, and in July, it’ll be Southern barbeque. You don’t have to be vegan to love what comes out of this kitchen, but the variety and flavors you encounter will inspire you.

Tables are set up in the kitchen, family style; the food itself is the icebreaker that gets conversations started. Bergtold visits each table to talk about the flavors and ingredients of the dishes, and she seems to enjoy the feedback she gets. Of course, it’s pretty much unanimously enthusiastic.

“I’ve had some people who met here who come every month now to see their new friends,” Bergtold says. “Some are my former customers from the Dancing Vegan. There are some people who lean to the far right politically, and others to the left. I’m hoping if we break bread together, maybe we can talk to each other.”

Bergtold’s generosity of spirit informs all that she does. A French-trained (Cordon Bleu) chef who worked in corporate settings and restaurants, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2002. The now-closed Kushi Institute, a macrobiotic-based wellness facility, brought her to the Berkshires and renewed her interest in natural foods. And now, full of energy and quick to laugh, she runs programs to share the benefits of eating healthfully.

At Shire Kitchen, everything is on wheels so the space can be set up for its various activities: manufacturing, classes and community dinners.

Education is a big part of her mission. The kitchen hires interns who are home-schooled and students from Alchemy Initiative. “I’ve almost turned the kitchen into a school,” Bergtold says. “We train the kids and help them get a job.”

She teaches a cooking class the Saturday after each community dinner, and starting this week, will be cooking and selling her food at the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market. She has also embarked upon an additional business, manufacturing a chickpea-based tempeh. In fact, Shire Kitchen recently bought the Hosta Hill tempeh division, and Bergtold’s soy-free version is being produced in the kitchen, along with a take-and-bake tempeh puffed pastry. At this point, it’s still an artisanal — read “small batch” — product (“You can’t get chickpeas in a big bag,” Bergtold says with a smile) but it will be available at farmers markets and on the menus of local restaurants.

Bergtold, originally a California girl, began her career in the early ‘80s when the food revolution was just beginning. “I’ve been in the middle of it and loved it,” she says. Happily for us, she’s back in the Berkshires, which she says resonates with her. And her culinary prowess keeps us coming back to her kitchen.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/11/17 at 04:46 PM • Permalink

The People’s Pub In Chatham Ramps Up For The Season

By Joanna Virello

A friend from Claverack who loves hyper-local beer suggested that I check out The People’s Pub, a new establishment in Chatham, New York, opened by Angus Van Beusichem and Gray Ballinger, who grew up just a few miles south in Harlemville. Along with a few other friends, they constructed a new food and craft beer mecca in the old Welsh bar on Main Street, the former Peint o Gwrw. Once I heard they had a beer list that pays homage to a great number of small breweries from all over the U.S. — as well as something called Free Bird Wings rubbed with “ancho chile” — it was all over. When we arrived at The People’s Pub and learned it was $1 Oyster Night, I could barely contain myself.

Inside The People’s Pub, we were greeted by a large stuffed bear and cruised by the ornate 19th-century American Gothic bar en route to the stunning main room with its old-school tin ceilings and exposed carved beams. The room is strewn with leather two-seaters and a fireplace that glows near the back. We were seated next to the kitchen, giving us a clear view of everything that was coming out of the open kitchen and the food prep by CIA-trained Chef Kouri Killmeier and his swift staff.

Ramps For The People

Last summer while building out the restaurant, Chef Kouri [above] and Van Beusichem (who did the bulk of the construction) needed a break, so they went swimming at a local watering hole. They stumbled upon a ramp “goldmine” and harvested enough to get through the summer season. This year they have already been back to their secret spot and have foraged around 10 pounds so far. They are featuring a weekly ramp specials. My advice: get there early. The ramp pesto was sold out by the time we got there, but we did get our fill with a dish called Ramps on Ramps, [below] which was ramp tempura with a ramp aioli served on a sliced log plate. Simple yet so fresh and flavorful.

“There is nothing like an early season ramps — they are just so fresh and not abrasive.” says Von Beusichem. Chef Kouri would like to preserve and pickle enough to get them through the winter and he wants to incorporate ramp kimchi, pickled ramps, pesto and purees into future offerings.

The place is billed as a pub, but the cocktail menu is full of interesting $12 options such as The New Fangled (Albany Distilling Dark Rum, Luxardo Marchino, Dry Curaçao and bitters), The New York Ass (Bootlegger Vodka, fresh lime and ginger beer) and The Chatham Reviver (Ballast Point Gin, Cocchi Americano, Dry Curaçao, lemon, Chef Handsome Homemade Bitters, with an absinthe rinse.) I went with a New Fangled that was nice and sweet with a large hand-cut cube of ice and a lemon peel garnish; it packed a new-fangled wallop. We got a pint of The Chatham Brewing/The People’s Pub Citracot IPA to savor as well. That collaboration was a big success for me and I’m not a huge fan of IPAs.

Drinks served, we ordered six oysters, three Blue Points from Long Island ($1) and three west coast beauties from Oregon ($3). They were served with three mignonettes, one that was made with carrots and ginger, another that was a dill, pickle and vinegar concoction, and the third was “secret” traditional recipe. All three were quite good.

After the mignonettes and fresh oysters, we moved on to the risotto fritters ($16) and the Brussels sprouts ($7), both worthy of ordering, especially the fried Brussels sprouts all bacony and sweet. The fritters were a delicious meal in themselves and the tomato broth they sat in was perfection. The buttermilk chicken sandwich ($14) was satisfactory but the Spanish octopus ($17.50) was a showstopper. It was charred with vermicelli noodle salad dressed in lime and herbs. I could have eaten two.

A very popular item at The People’s Pub is The People’s Burger ($13.50), made with Kinderhook Farm beef, and fries, served with a healthy heaping of Parmesan cheese, garlic aioli and fresh garden herbs. The staff nailed it.

And about those wings ($11): Van Beusichem, one of the owners, elaborated on the thoughts behind the recipe.

“Chef Kouri’s goal when creating his infamous Free Bird Wings was to encompass all the things you want in a wing: juicy but crispy and spicy, and he chose a flavor profile that satisfies almost everyone’s tastes,” says Van Beusichem. “It pushes approachability without being too esoteric.” Our less esoteric verdict: beyond satisfying — thanks especially to the citrus zest.

We’re looking forward to returning to try the rest of the menu, and The People’s Pub has spring and summer specials planned that will be sure to get us there. Next month sees the launch of a Sunday brunch, with a menu that includes a chicken and waffle sandwich with bacon and maple syrup aioli. In mid May, the Upstairs Espresso Bar will open, featuring coffee selections using No. Six Depot Roastery in West Stockbridge, Mass. and dairy products from Hawthorne Valley Farm. And on May 22, The People’s Pub is collaborating with Sloop Brewing on a four-course beer dinner with four of their beers and food pairings from Chef Kouri.

The People’s Pub
36 Main Street, Chatham, NY
(518) 392-2337
Kitchen hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 4-10 p.m.
Bar hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m. - 1 a.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/23/17 at 09:23 PM • Permalink

Getting ‘Served’ in Salisbury: The Lockup

By Nichole Dupont

We both needed a break from everything, including ourselves. Of course, food (and booze) is one way to slip down the rabbit hole of sensory overload for a few hours. Ambience helps, too. The Lockup on Salisbury’s quaint Main Street has both. That’s where my “sister” and I escaped from the rain, ducking our heads into what used to be Peter Becks Village Store, now a highly textural eatery owned by restaurateurs Eric and Liz Macaire, former owners of The Bubble Lounge (in New York and San Francisco). Liz led us through several dining nooks — a front end adorned with a magnificent marble table, a long “galley” dining area covered floor to ceiling with rough-hewn pallet boards — into a dimly lit lounge area with a plush velvet couch, provocative art, red leather chairs and a dark-stained, hefty bar.

“Will this be alright?” she asked.

“Absolutely.”

My “sister” excused herself to use the ladies’ room while I pored over the menu: spring salad with breakfast radishes and fava bean puree ($14), braised short rib agnolotti ($15), salmon crudo with mint and citrus, fettuccine Bolognese with veal-pork-beef ragu ($28).

“This place is… relevant. You need to check out the restrooms,” she said when she returned.

We mulled over the wine list, but both agreed that we needed something a little stronger, something as rich as the décor. I went to my usual Old-Fashioned, which came to me in a generous tumbler filled with amber and orange liquid. We hemmed and hawed over the menu, and finally gave in to the octopus carpaccio ($16) to begin, then a Lockup Burger ($15) for her and a basic spaghetti with pesto ($19) for me.

“This reminds me of the Mt. Kenya Safari Club,” she said, reaching through the decades to her teen adventure in Africa.

“It reminds me of an artist’s haunt in Paris,” I said, reaching even further back, muddling the raw sugar at the bottom of my drink.

The octopus arrived, and was completely surprising to the eye. It didn’t “look” like octopus. In fact, the thin wedges of white meat settled in jewel-toned aspic made me wonder if I had perhaps gotten the wrong appetizer. But, we are adventurers, she and I.

“Try it,” I said, scooping some of the saffron-infused fennel onto a soft bite of the re-imagined sea creature. The taste was a reminder, wholly different in texture but familiar to the palate. Not fishy, not chewy, just a little smoky. We cleaned the artisanal arrangement with zero shame. I popped the little chive flower in my mouth.

“Wow, that was a perfect finish to this dish.” I imagined that this is what a sampler at Noma is like. A distilled essence of something, jumpstarting a memory somewhere in the sleepy brain.

Before our entrees arrived, I took a walkabout to check out the restroom situation she had raved about. Doors, totally encased in sheets of copper held on by determined rivets. I have a thing for copper, and this was almost too much. When I got back to our table, I just nodded my head at her.

“Right?!” she said.

Our second round arrived, and her burger—complete with a fried egg and a healthy portion of French fries — could’ve easily been worn as a catcher’s mask. It was that generous, and loaded with fresh greens, little fried shallots, and a light Mornay sauce. In that moment, I was so pissed off that I couldn’t eat red meat.

But the pesto and house-made spaghetti more than made up for my angst. I needed some comfort food, and I got it. In the licorice-y essence of the fresh basil and pasta. I ate every bite. And some of her fries.

Then there was that moment in the evening where our relaxed, fun server asked if we wanted to hear about dessert. It was the night before Easter. We are a French family. Treats had been consumed…almost daily…leading up to this point.

“Absolutely,” we said. In unison. Maybe a little too loudly.

The theme for dessert, and for more than a few items on the menu, was ricotta. Makes perfect sense since spring is here, and fresh, light cheese pairs harmoniously with the early spoils of the garden. My sister enjoyed a lemon ricotta cheesecake with a “side” of house-made chocolate ice cream.

“The ice cream alone,” she said, shaking her head.

It would have been a crime not to try the warm, ricotta filled beignets (the size of hush puppies and covered in a light caramel sauce). And I’m not a criminal. So I ate them. All of them. And even licked the sauce from the plate.

The Lockup
19 Main St., Salisbury, CT
(860) 596-4371
Lunch, Sunday brunch, dinner, bar and lounge — call for hours.

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Posted by Nichole on 04/17/17 at 12:49 PM • Permalink