In Poughkeepsie, Crave Hits the Spot
By Kathryn Matthews
There’s delicious new incentive to stroll Walkway Over the Hudson and work up an appetite: Crave.
Last December, when chef-owner Ed Kowalski opened Crave, a stylish contemporary American restaurant in Poughkeepsie, he was deemed a “genius” for his choice of location—on Washington Street—right beneath the entrance to Walkway Over the Hudson.
This wasn’t the back-slapping reaction that Kowlaski, 38, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, got five years ago when he opened Lola’s, his off-premise catering company and café, in the space adjacent to Crave.
“Back in 2005, the same people, who are now congratulating me, told me that I was crazy opening Lola’s in this neighborhood,” he said with a chuckle, adding, “How’s that for irony?!” Now that a newly installed stairway, which opened two weeks ago, descends directly from the Walkway entrance to Crave, Kowalski really does deserve the last laugh.
In any case, Kowalski has no quibbles with the fate the restaurant gods have bestowed upon him. He is thrilled to have finally realized his lifelong dream: owning a restaurant (with his wife, Laurie Kowalski), that is “romantic, intimate—and American at heart”.
Crave boasts not just one, but three CIA-trained chefs: Kowalski (center), 38, executive chef Catherine Williams, 29, and sous chef Craig Capano, 25. And good news for hungry Walkway strollers: Crave is now open from 2pm to 10pm on weekends. During the week, however, it serves dinner only, from 4pm to 10pm.
The menu, which changes seasonally and sources locally whenever possible, features updated, pan-American favorites, often with creative, international twists. You might expect the crab cakes, “maple lacquered” salmon, grilled veal rib chop, or filet mignon (P.S.: a heart-friendly eight ounces). But you might not expect Cuban-style pork belly with pear mostarda ($11); Asian-style barbecue-glazed baby octopus, paired with grilled pineapple and baby greens ($10); or sea bass served with spicy, coconut peanut soba noodles and a scallion-radish salad ($25).
The food, décor .and atmosphere embody what Kowalski desires in a dining experience: “With Crave, I wanted to create an intimate, romantic restaurant, serving City-caliber food, where I could take my wife to dinner.”
Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar & Grill and Danny Meyers’ restaurants were sources of design inspiration. The interior and the façade of the building, which previously housed a rowdy, late night (open until 4 a.m.!) college bar, were completely gutted. The couple hired Darron Andress of FW Interior Design in Wappingers Falls to help transform the once ramshackle space into a cozy 32-seat restaurant, done in warm earth tones. The lighting is soft and subtle, emanating from elegant drum pendant light fixtures that hang from a copper ceiling, and an exposed brick wall, alight in a sea of votive sconces. The enclosed 20-seat patio, adjacent to the Walkway above, offers an al fresco dining option.
After strolling the Walkway one recent balmy summer evening, my husband and I stopped at Crave. The summer menu features two salads, and we ordered both. My starter arugula salad, dressed in a Champagne vinaigrette, was a delightful medley of contrasting textures: peppery arugula, creamy avocado, tangy pink grapefruit and crunchy, candied pistachios ($11). My husband tackled his baby spinach and pickled Asian pear salad, garnished with blue cheese and toasted walnuts, with equal gusto.
Main dishes are well-executed, if a bit hearty for the summer season. The pan-roasted duck (right), toothsomely tender and pink inside, with perfectly crisped skin—comes with a creamy mash of polenta, topped with foie gras and Swiss chard ($28). While tasty, the wild striped bass, served with a too-crunchy ratatouille of summer squash, artichoke hearts, haricots verts and an overabundance of green and black olives, didn’t quite hang together ($25).
On another Friday night, fresh off Metro North (just a five minute drive away), we arrived at Crave famished. My husband opted for the pork tenderloin (left). First cooked sous vide (in vacuum-
sealed plastic pouches at low temperatures), then grilled, the pork arrived with a trio of rainbow carrots on a bed of sautéed spinach and a crock of jalapeno and white cheddar grits ($24, left). My Scottish salmon, draped over a lovely ragout of local beans, sweet corn and fingerling potatoes, typically bathes in an andouille cream sauce (made of corn stock, white wine and cream), which I requested on the side. By end meal, hunger was a distant memory.
Much of Crave’s success, from its location to the CIA-trained staff, is intertwined with Lola’s, Kowalski’s first venture.
Despite initial naysayers, Kowalski, who grew up in Poughkeepsie, was comfortable opening Lola’s, then Crave, in a transitional, still rough-around-the-edges neighborhood, off the Main Street drag.
As a teenager during the late 1980s, Kowalski had worked in the same exact two buildings—formerly, an Old World Italian deli and restaurant—that Lola’s and Crave now occupy.
The journey to owning a restaurant in his hometown has been circuitous. It’s taken over a decade for all the right pieces to fall into place. In 1998, when Kowalski graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, he was a 26-year-old father with two young children, aged two and four.
There were job offers, including one from the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan, but Kowalski was reluctant to uproot his young family. “That’s when I decided to plant my roots in the Hudson Valley,” he said.
He worked at the Inn at Wicopee in Hopewell Junction (it has since closed), then switched to catering in 1999, when a friend, then owner of Gourmet to Go in Millbrook, asked him to run the company’s catering division. It was here that he became a mentor to 17-year-old Catherine Williams, another Poughkeepsie native and aspiring chef, eager for restaurant experience that would enhance her application to the CIA.
After his friend sold Gourmet to Go to a new owner in 2005, Kowlaski, who was ready to start his own catering company, conceived Lola.
Despite “the neighborhood”, Lola’s, which serves freshly made sandwiches, panninis, soups and salads, was an instant success. Kowalski, who had originally anticipated running the entire catering and café operation himself, now has a dozen employees at Lola’s.
One of them was Williams. After graduating from the CIA and spending eight years in Virginia, she returned to Poughkeepsie in 2008 and worked with Kowalski at Lola’s, while pondering her next career move. Soon after, the space next to Lola’s became available.
Kowalski’s decision to open Crave was contingent on whether Williams would agree to stay in Poughkeepsie and be his executive chef. The rest, as they say, is history.
Before Lola’s moved into the building, it had sat vacant for seven years. The rent was reasonable, and although Kowalski didn’t own the building, he refurbished it. He did the same with Crave. Little by little, the block is improving. The Walkway (view from it above) has also brought more business into the area. “We joke that the ‘revolution’ started when I opened Lola’s,” he says, “but it’s gratifying to know that, in being here first, I’ve played a role in taking this neighborhood to a better place.”
129 Washington Street; 845-452-3501
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Kathryn Matthews, Rural Intelligence’s Dutchess County correspondent, is a lifestyles writer based in Red Hook and New York City who frequently writes about travel, health, food and leisure for the New York Times, Town & Country and O Magazine.