The Red Barn, Me and U
Why is it that all the places I like best around here are both u and non-u? I’m not referring here to the “u” and “non-u” popularized by Nancy Mitford in her priceless 1954 essay, The English Aristocracy. The u was short for upperclass and her piece was about the words that group use, and those they disdain. My u stands for “upscale,” which is an entirely different matter. Things that cannot be purchased, such as people, are seldom described as upscale, but their tastes often are —an upscale neighborhood, or lifestyle, or restaurant. And so are certain acitivities—shopping and dining, in particular.
When it comes to u and food, I tend to want it both ways. I love simple, non-u fare (hamburgers, meatloaf, roast chicken, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes), especially when someone other than myself has gone to great lengths to assemble the freshest local ingredients, then has prepared them in a way that betrays a sophisticated grasp of the culinary arts. Presentation: simple, simple, simple; really, I insist. That it also must be impeccable, well, need that be said?
Which brings us to The Red Barn, in Ghent, NY. Many long-time residents of Columbia County still refer to it as the Red Barn Luncheonette, which, for the better part of half a century, was a reliable source of chicken-salad sandwiches and homemade ice cream doled out by a cranky old man—at least he was cranky toward the end of his run as a restaurateur. Then in 2001, the property was taken over by a New York City dentist and his wife. Monday through Friday, Dr. Bert Goldfinger practices dentistry in Manhattan. On Friday and Saturday nights, he switches from a dentist’s smock to chef’s whites and clogs and mans the stove, while his wife Christine Jones, a former advertising executive, bakes and makes ice cream by day and oversees the front of the house by night.
“Back when there were next-to-no good restaurants in Hudson, we looked for a place there to buy,” says Jones, who, along with her husband, has been weekending in Columbia County since 1993. “Then we saw this place, and Bert said, ‘You know in the French countryside, how you’ll go to a place in the middle of nowhere that looks like nothing, and you have a fabulous meal? We could do that here.’ ”
Long before leaping into that fire, however, the couple had learned their way around a frying pan. Both had studied at the French Culinary Institute, then he had spent three years working the night shift in such unabashedly u New York restaurants as Aureole and Le Cirque. By the time they bought the Red Barn, they had a vision of what their restaurant would be and Le Cirque, while commendable, wasn’t it. The Red Barn would be a bistro, but with an American accent, where they would serve food raised and grown by their farming neighbors and even some they would grow themselves on a 1/2 acre plot at their own place, not three miles away.
In the beginning, the Red Barn was a bring-your-own wine place with virtually no decor. Over the years, it has inched ever-closer to u, though, I’m happy to report, it has not yet crossed the line. Today it has a full bar and a good-though-reasonably-priced wine list. The dining room now has a snappy yellow-black-and-white scheme that looks as if it was done by someone stylish, though not likely a design professional. In short, the Red Barn has managed to gain a pound of splendor, without sacrificing an ounce of homey-ness. The menu still features American classics, including crispy fried chicken ($13.50), a great burger ($9.75), a “Country Club Wedge” (iceberg lettuce with bacon and blue cheese dressing @ $7.85), and, my personal favorite, a rich-bitch version of a lobster roll ($24). Like vermouth in a martini, mayonnaise plays but a minor role in this lobster salad, and celery barely has a walk-on. Instead an entire pound lobster is cut into large chunks, that are piled atop a classic toasted-and-buttered bun—more an allusion to the beach fast food that gave birth to this dish, than a practical means of consuming it. A fork is the only way to go—if that isn’t too u.
The Red Barn
47 Old Post Road (Route 9H)
Ghent, NY; 518.828.6677
May - January; dinner Fridays & Saturdays only, 6 - 11 p.m.