The Local in Rhinebeck is Worth a Detour
Every town should be so lucky to have a restaurant as good as The Local, which combines sophisticated cooking served unpretentiously with a welcoming, small-town vibe. Two months ago, chef/owner Wes Dier (who’d run Rhinebeck’s popular 40 West, which closed a few years ago) opened his new restaurant in a two-story house on East Market Street. Although the menu features food from many local farms and purveyors, the name is not primarily about locavore cuisine. “We wanted this to be a neighborhood place, a hangout for the locals,” says the 38-year-old Dier, who is a C.I.A. graduate. “Many of the restaurants in town are really geared to a tourist trade. The name also reflects that my wife and I are locals—I have lived in Rhinebeck for 25 years, and she was born here.”
For the past three years, Dier had been personal chefing and catering, but he longed to get back into the fast-paced restaurant business. As it happened. his in-laws owned a house next to his old restaurant and his cousin was renting an apartment in it. “I would have dinner there and imagine it as a restaurant,” he explains. “I got a layout in my head and put down masking tape on the floors, and then I approached my father-in-law, who got behind the idea.” Dier designed the restaurant himself (with help from an architect for the engineering plans) and it’s both fresh and quirky. When you enter the restaurant, the first thing you encounter is the open galley kitchen. “People are very enamored of seeing how their food is prepared, and I like that I can see what is going on in the dining room,” says Dier. “And it forces us to keep the kitchen really clean.” Dier’s kitchen can also be observed from some tables on the second floor. “Instead of trying to squeeze in a lot of tables, we cut two holes in the first floor ceiling to open it up to the second floor to create a lofty feel,” he says. “There is not a bad seat in the house.” The restaurant combines a graphic modernist sensibility with vintage touches such as old wooden Post Office benches for the banquettes upstairs and exposed beams. “The second we opened the doors, people said the restaurant felt like it had always been here.”
With his wife, Bryn Bahnatka, running the front of the house and overseeing the exclusively American wine and beer list, Dier can now focus most of his attention on the food. A couple of weeks ago, when tomatoes were abundant, he offered a special heirloom tomato Bloody Mary that may have been the most delicious cocktail I’ve ever tasted. “We made that with organic Crop cucumber vodka, which married really well with the tomato,” he says. The regular cocktail menu includes a Pink Salty Dog—pink grapefruit juice, pink grapefruit vodka, and pink Himalayan salt—that is delicious and served in a large glass that justifies its costing $12. “Our bartender is the busiest person at the restaurant,” says Dier. “Drinks are very important to us. We only serve top shelf liquor.”
The food, of course, is the main event. Dier describes his cooking as “refinement through simplicity.” Everything you need to know about Dier’s attention to detail is evident in his sublime sliders ($14 for two.) He has made what has become a contemporary restaurant cliché his own by pairing the Scottish Highlander beef (“from Sepascot Home Farm three miles away”) with molten Old Chatham camembert, roasted Roma tomatoes, a secret sauce, and fragrantly seeded brioche buns. “These are juicy, beefy and delicious,” said my friend the award-winning chef, who has worked in restaurants for 30 years. We devoured the perfectly cooked Stone Church Farm Normandy duck ($26) that came with luscious rosemary-infused spaetzel studded with sopressata and mushrooms. The sweet potato agnolotti ($12) was surprisingly piquant and served in a rich sage brown butter sauce and garnished with sweet shallot crisps. There seems to be a surprise element in every dish such as the crispy fried kalamata olives, which garnish the BLT Salad ($10) that combines Romaine hearts, dehydrated tomatoes, jowl bacon and Hawthorne Valley Farm buttermilk dressing. And truth be told, we were not so thrilled by the crispy Migliorelli Farm eggplant ($10), which was overwhelmed by its sweet-and-sour sauce.
The Local is the sort of place you want to return to often, but, alas, you cannot go there for lunch or on Sundays or Mondays. “Working only five days has really made a difference in how we all feel,” says Dier. “We often go to brunch on Sunday with our staff so we can try other restaurants. We decided to give ourselves a break and have a real two-day weekend.” Dier keeps his kitchen open until 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Friday & Saturday, so there is ample time to try snag a reservation on the nights when The Local is open.
38 West Market Street, Rhinebeck; 845.876.2214
Tuesday - Thursday 5:30 - 10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 5:30 - 11 p.m.
Closed Sunday & Monday