Out and About: A Spring Drive in Northern Dutchess
Mud season; relentless, sepia-toned mud season has us all cowering by the hearth and scratching at the window glass. But one day soon, the world will turn a tender shade of green, and we will want to kick up our heels, rush outside, and go…where?
Some people find satisfaction at this time of year on the golf course; others, in the garden. But am I alone in feeling the urge to jump in the car and go someplace? The question, though, always is where? How often have we sallied forth, heart and gas-tank brimming, only to drag home hours later cranky, dissatisfied, and ill-fed. It’s not a question of knowing what we want, it’s a question of figuring out where it’s hidden.
Over the next several weeks, Rural Intelligence will outline itineraries for country outings in every part of our region. If this one errs for you on the side of the overly familiar, sit tight; soon there will be another whose highlights, we hope, come as news. What sort of outings? To me, a day’s outing near home should be everything a holiday in someplace like, say, Provence would be—some beautiful scenery, a little shopping, perhaps a cultural or historic enhancement, and a lovely lunch.
This particular ideal day begins with shopping at Hammertown Barn in Pine Plains. There are, of course, two other Hammertown stores, one in Rhinebeck and another in Great Barrington—both great places in their way. But for sheer entertainment value, they cannot compare with the mother ship. First, there is the sense of discovery—coming upon this intriguing converted barn set back from the road in the middle of nowhere (no offense, Pine Plains, but it is well beyond the edge of town) is special. Then, once you park and go inside, there’s so much stuff—an exquisitely edited, enticingly arranged, seemingly endless array of well-priced home furnishings, housewares, and surprises—soaps, toys, wallets, books, and the sort of gift items you secretly long to keep for yourself. To call all this mere merchandise is to diminish the sense of delight and surprise it ignites.
But today we have not come all this way just to browse and be charmed. Hammertown has just begun to carry Fishs Eddy Sturdyware at the Barn and in their Rhinebeck store (it will come later to Great Barrington). And, as it happens, Fishs Eddy and I go way back.
Fishs Eddy is the unlikely name of a Manhattan shop near Union Square that sells dishes—not elegant china; in fact, quite the opposite. Fishs Eddy dishes, which I began collecting nearly thirty years ago when Julie and David Gaines opened their first shop on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, are the sort used in diners and college dining halls. Thick, typically off-white, and indestructible, they have an appeal similar to that of old ironstone, and they cost next to nothing. Hammertown’s Joan Osofsky has made her usual unerring choices, including one style in pale blue and another with a leafy bird pattern, both of which feel so right in her store, it’s a safe bet they’ll work in almost any country house.
I always have to tear myself away from Hammertown Barn; but today hunger propels us. At Joan’s suggestion, we are off to Bangall, a hamlet 8 miles south, to try a new restaurant. When you leave Hammertown Barn, turn right onto Route 199, then once you get into Pine Plains, turn left onto Route 82. Drive south until you see a sign for Bangall and bear left onto Route 87. At the dead end, turn left and Red Devon is immediately on the right. [Note to birders: On Route 82, you will pass Buttercup Farm Aububon Sanctuary, over 500 acres of diverse habitats, six miles of trails, and, on a good May day, over 80 species of birds, including, if you’re lucky, nesting Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Bobolinks.]
If a restaurant could qualify for sainthood, Red Devon would have a halo hovering over its roof. Instead, said roof (a brochure we pick up inside informs us) is about to gain a 10-inch-thick layer of soil in which something unspecified but no doubt healthy and eco-friendly will grow. This small café, which doubles as a bakery and produce market, is open just for breakfast and lunch. In May, a larger, more formal room, is expected to open for dinner.
But back to Red Devon’s virtues. The building and grounds, a thorough overhaul of James Cagney’s old Stage Stop Restaurant, which closed some time ago, have features that are variously described in the brochure as green, indigenous, “pervious,” recycled, energy-efficient, zoned, natural, sustainable, non-polluting, and ultra-low flush. Likewise, the menu refers to ingredients that are homemade, local, organic, grass-fed, dirt-scratching, house cured, and did I mention natural? All this goodness could be heavy going were the food not good, too, but it is. The lunch menu features the sort of things we actually crave at lunchtime—spicy gumbo (cup $3.99; bowl, $6.99), warm quiche with mesclun greens, ($7.95); roasted chicken on ciabatta with lemon/shallot aioli, a smear of pesto and some oven-dried tomatoes ($9.99). A word of caution: unless you order a sandwich, be sure to ask for a side of chips; otherwise, you’ll either suffer order envy or spend the entire meal filching these irresistible sheets of fried fabulousness (salt well first), as I did, off your companion’s plate. We both left wishing we lived near enough to dine here once they start serving at night.
When you leave Red Devon turn immediately right again onto James Cagney Way, aka Route 86, aka the Bangall-Amenia Road. Virtually from beginning to end, this road is breathtaking—one immaculate farm after another, with heart-stopping vistas as backgrounds. This amalgam of natural beauty and the highest possible standards of maintenance brings to mind something someone once said of the Rockefeller estate in Pocantico Hills: It’s what God would have done if he’d had the dough. You might even find, for the duration of the drive, that your position on excessive executive compensation softens; after all, somebody has to pick up the check for all this magnificence.
Fortunately, you’ll regain your senses the moment Route 86 dead ends at Route 44. Turn left and drive into Amenia, then, at the light, left again onto Route 22. After a quick stop at McEnroe’s Organic Produce, it’ll be high time for a caffeine fix, and Millerton, which lies straight ahead has two topnotch purveyors of legal addictive stimulants. At the light, turn right (toward Lakeville) onto Main Street, site of (almost immediately on the left) Harney & Sons for tea and (further down on the right) Irving Farm for coffee. Both are exceptional in their respective ways, Irving Farm has it’s own brand of high-end coffee, but Harney’s is the far rarer treat—an American countryside version of the fabled Mariage Freres in Paris’s Marais district. Harney’s is no mere tea shop, it is a beautifully designed tea-lovers mecca, a place to taste, compare, and learn (they also serve light lunches). Sidle up to the tasting bar where 150 canisters contain teas from around the world or take a seat in the back at a cozy table and order a pot ($4.00 for small; $6.50 for large). Each comes with a scone or two, and for an extra dollar, clotted cream and jam (both sublime), thus turning the occasion into a cream tea. (Not to be confused with high tea; which is actually just an early supper, a far less festive affair.)
Thus refreshed, we end our outing with a civilized half hour or so browsing in Oblong Books and Music, another bastion of exceptional quality tucked away in this small country town. The well-edited fiction selections here include, not just high-end American literary fiction, but translations of European titles—unusual for such a small bookstore. The poetry and music CD sections are equally sophisticated. Oblong’s proprietors clearly are literate and literary, and they obviously have a demanding and well-read clientele. What better way to end a day’s outing than with something to read and/or listen to later at home by the fire, which, incidentally, ought by now to be looking pretty good to you again.
Hammertown Barn, 3201 Route 199, Pine Plains; 518.398.7075
Monday - Saturday 9:30 - 5:30; Sunday 10:30 - 4
Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary, Route 82, Pine Plains
Dawn until dusk, seven days per week. For further information, contact sanctuary warden David Wheeler; 518.325.5203.
Red Devon Café, 108 Hunns Lake Road, Bengall; 845.868.3175
Breakfast and lunch 8 - 3, market 8 - 6
Harney & Son Fine Teas, Main Street at the Railroad Plaza, Millerton; 518.789.2121
Monday - Saturday 10 - 5, Sunday 11 - 4
Irving Farm, 44 Main Street, Millerton; 518.789.6540
Monday - Thursday 6 - 5, Friday 6 - 10, Saturday 7 - 10, Sunday 8 - 5
Oblong Books and Music, 26 Main Street, Millerton; 518.789.3797
Monday - Thursday 9:30 - 6; Friday & Saturday 9:30 - 9; Sunday 11:30 - 4