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Railhead Jerk: Savory Dinner On The Right Side Of The Tracks

By CB Wismar

By all means, don’t let the name of the restaurant perplex you. “Railhead Jerk” is not a pejorative directed at an employee of Metro-North. It is, in fact, a delightful restaurant that has blossomed on Route 22 in the southern end of Amenia, N.Y.

When Julette Barker-Wilson came to a point of reflection in her life — the fashion company she had been with for 21 years as an FIT-trained fashion designer was sold and the jobs moved overseas — she decided to fall back on the things most enjoyable in her life: cooking and entertaining.

Enter Railhead Jerk, just “up the road” from the Wassaic train station, Barker-Wilson’s daily departure spot for more than two decades.

Born in Jamaica and well schooled in the recipes and cooking techniques unique to the island nation, Barker-Wilson [right] relied on the recipes she had known in her childhood — recipes she tweaked and modified to make her own. 

“I love the dishes we prepare,” she says with the radiant smile that has become a signature of her restaurant. “Everything on the menu is something I’ve cooked for years… something I still love.”

For those who have sampled and truly enjoyed authentic Jamaican cooking, Railhead Jerk is like a homing beacon. On any given evening, tables and seats at the bar are populated with customers who remember the savory jerk sauce cooking that turns chicken, pork and ribs into warming, satisfying meals.

The jerk specialties, all marinated in their own secret sauce (a secret recipe is just that — a secret) and smoked, take center stage. The restaurant uses fresh meats, only (Julette does not want a freezer) and all dinners come with two sides.

Port Antonio jerk chicken ($17.95), Port Antonio jerk pork ($18.95) and Railhead Jerk BBQ back ribs ($20.95) are excellent headline offerings. They’re so good that the menu offers a whole chicken with no sides ($22.50) and a full rack of ribs ($27.95), both of which drive a robust carry-out business. Smaller portion sizes (Likkle Tings) are offered on the menu, a welcome option for those who are not hearty eaters.

Island specialties are served with plantains and rice and feature dishes that belie the wide range of cultural influences that have been merged in Jamaican cuisine. Tallawah curry chicken ($15.95) and Tallawah curry goat ($17.95) hint at the Indian influence. Fricasse chicken done in a brown sauce that has great bouquet ($15.95) reaches to other influences — France and Spain.

If some additional spice is desired (no one queried at Railhead Jerk found any need to enhance the already bountiful sauces made in house) there are bottles of Spur Tree Crushed Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce on each table. Difficult to find in local retail establishments, bottles are for sale at checkout.

As the seasons turn, hearty soups will be in great demand, and the pumpkin soup with beef or chicken ($10.95) and pea soup with smoked beef or turkey ($11.95) will have great appeal.

For fish lovers, the Calypso fish ($18.95) is served with a spicy Junkanoo pepper sauce. Since Junkanoo is also the name of a holiday parade and festival in Jamaica, this dish might well have you eager to join the celebrations. Run Down fish ($19.95) is a bit milder, served with an elegant coconut sauce. And, for the Jamaican traditionalist, the ackee and saltfish ($16.95) is served with breadfruit dumplings and ripe plantains — the traditional “national meal of Jamaica.”

The choice of sides (Pon Di Side) makes each dinner an individual signature choice. Railhead baked potato salad features both sweet and “plain” potatoes while the oven-roasted vegetables are a medley of seasonal vegetables from local markets. Rice and peas can be deceptive to the first-time diner, as “peas” in the Jamaican parlance are really red beans, making this wonderful side akin to “red beans and rice” from Southern cuisine. Fried ripe plantains are in ample supply while the menu recommends bammy and breadfruit as appropriate accompaniments for the fish dishes.

Barker-Wilson has not forgotten dessert (Sweet Tings), and the sweet potato pudding ($4.75) [above] is smooth, richly flavored and served with a dollop of cream in a portion suitable to share. Jamaican fruit cake ($5.50) will be available shortly.

Railhead Jerk has both a beer and a wine license, and currently offers diners access to world-renowned Red Stripe beer. Wine selections are coming as the team decides what pairs well with the various entrees offered.

Service at the simply decorated restaurant is “Jamaica friendly” and the pride in the superb menu items is apparent. Although the décor appears to be an afterthought (a few requisite Bob Marley posters adorn the walls along with travel images) it’s clear that the focus has been on the kitchen and the food that brings people back again and again. In true Jamaican patois, if you’re yearning for food from “Jamrock,” then Railhead Jerk is “Big Up!”

Railhead Jerk
4789 NY 22, Amenia, NY
(845) 789-1540
Thursday, Sunday, Monday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Reservations and carry-out orders accepted.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/15/17 at 08:02 PM • Permalink

Updated Menus Still Pack People In At 2 Litchfield Cty Eateries

By CB Wismar

Longtime diners of The Falls Village Inn and The Woodland already know about the revamped menus at these places, and the new culinary fare is still bringing them back time and time again. Newcomers, we’re quite sure, are just as welcome.

The Falls Village Inn, Falls Village

The Falls Village Inn occupies an historic building — originally built 175 years ago as a railroad hotel — set in an historic town. When the iron industry dominated the Housatonic Valley and the surrounding hills, the town flourished with several banks, shops, markets and a lumber yard to supply the burgeoning building industry. The nearby waterfalls provided the hydroelectric power for its industrial base. 

These are quieter times. The railroad languidly rolls through town carrying only freight. The markets, banks and shops have moved out to more populous areas. The Falls Village Inn remains, offering Bunny Williams-designed guest rooms and a reliable, well-prepared menu curated by new Executive Chef Addison Todd.

Appetizers are carefully selected for a wide range of tastes. The bang-bang crispy calamari ($14) packs a pleasant “snap” nestled on a bed of lettuce. Maryland crab, jalapeno, scallion and goat cheese wontons ($14) offer a nice fusion touch to the menu. Crispy house wings ($13) are great to share and are a popular selection in the quaint pub room.

Salads rely on local suppliers during the growing season and add refreshing elements that set them apart from “just salad.” The Mediterranean salad ($14) includes roasted red peppers, artichokes, chickpeas, cucumbers, feta cheese and tahini dressing.

Entrees include the Falls Village Bridge burger ($15) that commemorates the re-opening of the bridge across the nearby Housatonic River and features local Whippoorwill Farms grass-fed beef. Long a favorite at The Inn, the lobster mac ‘n’ cheese ($25), features fresh Maine lobster, three cheeses (Vermont cheddar, Gruyere and cream cheese) and is topped with a Parmesan panko breadcrumb crust. The pan-roasted cod ($24) sits atop a bed of creamy white beans and ratatouille-style vegetables. The goat cheese-stuffed chicken breast ($24) is served over a wonderful ragout of potato, sweet corn, smoked bacon, fennel and mushrooms.

The signature entrée is steak and frites ($28), a New York strip steak grilled and topped with a bernaise butter, complemented by housemade fries.

Desserts change with the season and usually feature a fruit crumble ($8) that can be topped with vanilla ice cream for a pleasant end to a sumptuous meal. Portions are ample and “take home” cartons are often in view.

The Falls Village Inn
33 Railroad St., Falls Village, CT
(860) 824-0033
Tuesday – Sunday, dinner starting at 5 p.m.
Reservations accepted.

The Woodland, Lakeville

Let’s start with a word to the wise. Make reservations.

You see, The Woodland on Sharon Road is a popular spot. For close to 35 years, this country bistro has been a local favorite, consistently delivering excellent locally-sourced dishes enhanced with an exceptional sushi menu created by Chef “Leon” Li. Daily specials make the arduous task of selecting just one entrée a real, but most enjoyable challenge.

Appetizers run the gamut from an excellent charred filet of beef with ginger dipping sauce ($14) to tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, thyme and Parmigiano Reggiano ($12). Salads are ample and savory, with the arugula with roasted pancetta, pine nuts and Parmigiano ($11) a real standout. Daily additions bring a soup, additional salad offerings tied to the season and a semi-regular appearance of steamed mussels with garlic and white wine ($11). Frankly, it’s easy to simply order a few appetizers for an entire dinner.

That, however, would keep patrons from enjoying the magic of The Woodland’s entrée selections. Standouts are the pistachio nut-crusted salmon with lemon beurre blanc ($25) and the grilled pork chop, polenta and smoked bacon onion sauce ($22). We’ve long measured the sincerity of a restaurant by the way they treat their burger, and the burger with Grafton cheddar on Great Hill Blue (cheese) and house fries ($17) is fair indication that this is a sincere kitchen. The steaks are uniformly superior with the sliced hanger steak on garlic toast with sauteed spinach and house fries ($24) superb. The sauteed filet of sole meuniere on almandine ($26) is beautifully delicate.

Again, the daily specials offer great diversions with several pasta offerings. The basic spaghetti with Sungold tomato, basil and garlic ($19) appears in various versions throughout the year. Linguini, ravioli, penne and black spaghetti (made with squid ink) are all well prepared with a variety of complements. Prices range from $18 to $23 for pasta selections.

And, don’t forget the sushi. As an appetizer or an entire meal, the creations are fresh, skillfully prepared and beautifully served. Basic offerings — tuna roll ($7.75) and jumbo shrimp tempura roll ($9) are joined by the special Woodland roll with Cajun tuna, smoked salmon and sprouts ($9.25) and a wide selection of sashimi (3 pieces for $6) and nigiri sushi ($4/piece).

The fact that the housemade desserts are all priced at $6 (parfait with hot fudge, key lime pie, rum raisin rice pudding), $7 (vanilla crème brulee or warm chocolate cake) or $8 (peach, raspberry and almond crisp, bananas foster) makes ending the meal a real challenge. 

The wine list is solid without being overwhelming, the bartenders are known for a generous pour, and the serving staff is both friendly and knowledgeable. The Woodland is a classic dining experience. Just remember to make reservations.

The Woodland
192 Sharon Rd., Lakeville, CT
(860) 435-0578
Tuesday – Thursday, Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 5–9 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 5–10 p.m.
Sunday, Dinner 4–8:30 p.m.
Closed Mondays.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/11/17 at 02:13 PM • Permalink

Sowing Seeds: A Harvest Café In The City Of Peace

By Nichole Dupont

Summer is nearing its end. We all knew it would come. I was driving along with my 13-year-old son, Lucian. We had just dropped my daughter off at a leadership event at Ramblewild. And we were starving (we are always on the brink of hangry). I pulled into the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, my gut filled with hope.

“Baby animals?” He was confused. Disappointed even. He is obviously “too old” for the baby animals.

“Food,” I said.

It was a beautiful day; the landmark Round Barn gleamed in the distance. But more importantly, the little chalkboard sign of Seeds Market Café, the village’s reimagined eatery, signified that it was open, and ready to feed these two ravenous sojourners.

We scoped out a table, picked up a menu and perused the one page roster of Shaker brown bread ($6), smoked trout rilletes ($13), grilled vegetable panzanella ($14), poached salmon with sweet corn salad ($17), a BLT with basil aioli ($13) — all a creative and authentic twist on Shaker sustenance, and all sourced from local growers and purveyors. The menu carries the creative signature of Chef Brian Alberg, executive chef and vice president of culinary development at the Red Lion Inn and Main Street Hospitality Group, who is known for his close ties to local farmers and seasonal eats.

“I’m definitely feeling a hamburger,” my predictable second child said.

“How about a lamb patty with potatoes?”

“Hmmm. Okay. I’ll try it. ”

I ordered at the counter, every few minutes glancing at the lone teen boy gulping chocolate milk by the window. A bittersweet image. Other families had found the place, some with HSV passes stuck to their shirts, others travelers like us who were drawn to the idyllic farm while they were passing through. I brought my fresh cup of No. Six Depot cold brew to the table and people-watched through the enormous windows.

“God, what a beautiful day,” I said.

“I can’t believe school is starting in two weeks.”

The food arrived, looking almost like a spread from Lucky Peach. Lucian’s “patty” ($10) was the size of a baseball mitt. Thick, not dry, sitting on top of a mountain of fingerling potatoes, a healthy pile of pre-dressed greens, all interspersed with bright, chunky, house-pickled veggies.

“Nice,” my son said. And dove in.

On my end there was no shame either. It has been years — literally years — since I helped myself to a ham and cheese sandwich ($13). And this one was an icebreaker like no other, thick with tavern ham and Berleberg cheese. My sandwich also arrived with greens and the jewel-hued pickled vegetables. I bit into a carrot slice and looked up at my son.

“Good, right?!” He was crunching on the broccoli.

They were sweet and tangy and the not even a little bit mushy. We could have easily eaten several servings with zero regrets. Once the plates were cleaned completely, we mulled over the idea of dessert — blueberry pie ($7), lemon curd & raspberries ($8), strawberry pound cake ($9), SoCo ice cream ($3/scoop) and milkshakes ($8).

“We’ll have to come back,” he said, shaking his head and patting his stomach a little. “The vegetables were like a dessert in a weird way.”

Lucian walked over to a shelf that was displaying products for purchase including Bola granola, salsa and sriracha from Kitchen Garden Farm, Fire Cider, Barrington Coffee Roasting Co. beans, and house-made trail mix.

“I don’t see the vegetables,” he said, clearly disappointed.

“Yeah, we’re coming back,” I reassured him. “Summer isn’t over yet.”

Seeds Market Café at Hancock Shaker Village
1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, MA
(413) 418-9100
Open daily through November 12, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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Posted by Nichole on 08/28/17 at 07:32 AM • Permalink

Backbar: An Asian-Inspired Reflection Of Hudson

By Jamie Larson

There are few places in Hudson, New York that encapsulate the enigmatic modern style of the hip city as succinctly as Backbar. It’s a bit of a living altar to all the things that have come to define Hudson over the past two decades: art, antiques, historic architecture with a trademark layer of sexy grime, incredible food and booze, and a collective demeanor of crocodilian calm – laid back but ready to snap, strong and well designed by time. 

To imbue this complex identity into a casual bar and restaurant is an impressive feat. Backbar is the collaborative fruit of two of the city’s best known tastemakers, architect/designer Michael Davis and restaurateur/chef/author Zakary Pelaccio. Tucked behind Davis’ well-known 3FortySeven gallery (at 347 Warren Street) and opening onto a large hidden courtyard through big garage doors, Backbar is an urban oasis decked out in a curated hodgepodge. The design of the space, which has been slowly evolving since it opened in 2015, combines both refined elements that belie the city’s high-end commercial tastes and more worn industrial pieces that accent the historical texture of the bar, formerly a gas station. A heavy dose of vegetation surrounds and adds a secret garden feel to the outdoor seating area. 

Into this unique environment Pelaccio (of Fish and Game and formerly Fatty Crab and Fatty Que in NYC) has added a menu of Asian-inspired small plates that are a casual culmination of his years of culinary study of regional Asian cuisine and his obsession with farm-to-table cooking. The food is exciting and challenging at times — but enjoyably so.

A great way to start your evening, after ordering your drinks, is with the spicy eggplant dip called Nam Prik ($8), which comes with slightly sweet and slightly briny puffy shrimp chips, which are surprisingly satisfying. There are a number of dishes excellent for picking at between sips or sentences. Try an order of chicken wings in a garlic, pepper, curry leaf and fish sauce glaze ($9) or the iceberg wedge with smoked trout, Asian dried anchovy, coconut and mint ($12). They also serve up three types of satay skewers to mix and match including pork belly ($4), taro cake ($3) and skirt steak ($4).

Pelaccio isn’t afraid of spice or assertive flavors, which is welcome. It wouldn’t fit the space to serve safe, predictable bar food (even if it were elevated, as so much is in Hudson). The food, like the space, feels alive and vital. You feel like a part of a conversation.

For slightly more substantial dishes, there’s fried chicken with a chili-honey-vinegar sauce ($15), a spicy shaved pork laab, with fresh bibb lettuce for wrapping and cutting the heat ($14), assam laksa made with mackerel, noodles, pineapple, cucumber, chilies and cilantro ($15), and quite a bit more. All the “mains” are conducive to sharing with a group with the aid of a couple bowls of rice (additional $3 unless listed).

It should be mentioned that Backbar is also a fabulous bar. The bartenders are skilled and make excellent versions of your go-to cocktail. But if you’re looking for something different, they offer signature drinks including the expertly balanced mixture Cat’s Pajamas with chamomile-infused gin, lemon, honey, egg white and Szechuan pepper ($12). Or the whimsical slushy Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire ($13) that’s got a lot going on. That icy adventure mixes mezcal, Thai chili infused Aperol, lime, smoked agave and sumac. And, of course, the beer selection is excellent and focuses on local craft brews.

Backbar is a social place and the food reflects that; the dishes are easy to share or you can just linger beside your beverage as you drink alone. But even if you do show up by yourself, you’re likely to find yourself in conversation with a stranger or someone you haven’t seen in a while. There’s always a comfortable mix of tourists and natives in the courtyard, which gives off a feel of something happening, something unique and unmistakably Hudson.

347 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
(518) 828-0567
Sunday – Thursday, noon–midnight
Friday and Saturday, noon – 1 a.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 08/21/17 at 09:33 AM • Permalink

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.

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