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Pooky Studio: “Everything Beautiful And Artistic In A Biscuit”

Yes, this is a cookie.

By Lisa Green

Pooky Amsterdam makes cookies that are such works of art, it’s hard to believe anyone would dare eat one. But people do, and they should, says the Hudson-based artist/baker behind Pooky Studio, the art cookie craft bakery whose creations include baked structures, villages, cookie pops, crowns, avatars, stamped cookies and the likenesses of magazine covers. Because as beautiful as they are, they are as enjoyable to eat.

“It’s not just about how they look,” Amsterdam says. “They have to taste amazing.”

Amsterdam’s occupations have varied as much as her cookie lineup. She’s been a standup comic and worked on Wall Street for many years, licensed “to sell everything but God,” she says. When her cookie business took off, she left Wall Street, and over the years created a lot of cookie magazine covers, including the annual Vanity Fair cover for its yearly parties at Morton’s. Her portfolio includes cookie boxes in the shape of the New York Public Library for Brooke Astor, and cookie portraits of the Lauder family. Her specialties have been sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York.

Amsterdam, in apron and pearls.

In 2009, she moved herself and her business to Hudson, and also runs an animation company, Pooky Media LLC. (She declined to reveal her “real” name, saying Pooky was a nickname that stuck.)

Although her degree was in economics, Amsterdam was always connected to her creative side. She graduated high school early to go to the Art Students League, and also studied painting and skeletal structure (it’s helped in the construction of the cookie figures) at Boston University’s School of Fine Arts. The cookie baking started earlier, thanks to her Aunt Lee, whose cookies with sugar paste colors inspired the young Pooky to start experimenting with edible food colorings.

Today, most of the food coloring she uses is natural and she bakes with Hudson eggs and cream. There’s no frosting involved, so there’s a certain earthy quality to the baked surfaces of the cookies.

“I love the alchemy of baking,” she says. “You take sugar, butter, eggs and flour, and create the material that can be made into anything.” Combine the top-quality ingredients and their extraordinary artistry, and you’ve got “inner beauty cookies — they make you beautiful inside.”

Recently, she’s created a collection called Skyscapes, which reflect the colors in Hudson’s sunrises and sunsets. A custom-ordered cookie features a portrait of Ella Fitzgerald. She’s also rendered Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in cookie form. Amsterdam loves fashion (she’s on the board of The Second Show, the Hudson thrift shop) and felt called to do a Met Gala figure, either Anna Wintour or Amal Clooney. Amal won. “I feel really happy with it,” Amsterdam says. “I’m always trying to push myself artistically and make the product the best it can be.”

(You, too, can get a likeness of yourself in cookie form; submit a picture and Amsterdam can replicate it at just about any size. They ship really well, she promises.)

Despite the complexity of these cookies, she says making 200 pieces a day is not a problem. She recently finished making a dozen roses on a lollipop stick for Mother’s Day. Some of the figurative cookies (like the Game of Thrones ones — chocolate with black food coloring made from licorice) take longer, 10 or 20 in a day.

Currently Amsterdam rents commercial space, but hopes to get a commercial kitchen of her own. One of her long-term goals is to employ people. “The ability to give somebody a job is one of the best things you can do,” she says. All of the cookies now are custom made and special ordered, but she would like to find a partner or store that would sell them on site.

“Cookies satisfy so many sensory requirements — taste, smell, visual,” Amsterdam says. “I’m happy to be in the business of something so joyous.”

And about that dilemma of whether to eat these works of art or not? Amsterdam has a solution.

“I recommend people order two. One to eat, one to save.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/14/18 at 10:52 AM • Permalink

Coppola’s Comes Home to Downtown Poughkeepsie

By Jeff Kosmacher

No calamari? No mussels and clams? It’s hard to believe that the standard Italian fare wasn’t known in the mid Hudson Valley until 1961. That’s when the first Italian restaurant came to the area, thanks to the Coppola family. Luigi Coppola proudly points out that when his family’s initial restaurant opened in Poughkeepsie, “We introduced this area to many of the dishes that people have come to know from Southern Neapolitan Italian cooking. No one around here knew what calamari was, mussels and clams, all of that was brought to this area by my father and his brothers.”

It was a hit. That first Coppola’s establishment remained downtown at 187 Main Street until 1980. Regrettably it had to move a few miles to the east because its business had been crippled by ill-fated urban planning: its prime downtown section of Main Street was unsuccessfully turned into an automobile-free pedestrian mall, in an attempt to lure back the shoppers abandoning downtown retail for the proliferating malls.

Flash forward to December 2017 when, in a hopeful sign for downtown Poughkeepsie’s resurgence, the now multifaceted Coppola’s food enterprise opened its newest restaurant at 296 Main, only steps away from the family business’s founding location. The new Coppola’s at Liberty & Main “has a simpler menu than our other places,” says Coppola. “We’re trying to do something more casual, more of a deli style, which we hadn’t done before.”

From the outset, dishes such as veal or chicken parmigiana, chicken Marsala, and zuppa di pesce (a large Italian-style “Fisherman’s Platter” over a bed of linguini) have remained the go-tos at the more formal Coppola’s locations in Poughkeepsie and nearby Hyde Park. By contrast, the biggest sellers at Liberty & Main are new and very un-Italian specialty sandwiches: a grilled turkey reuben and the Main Street Monte Cristo (both $8). “We expected items like these to be nice complements to our classic Italian fare, and it’s turned out to be the opposite,” Coppola says. “What we’re seeing is that people who have enjoyed our signature dishes over the years see something new and think, ‘This has to be good, too, I’ll try it.’”

The family’s take on broccoli di rabe ($8) exemplifies a longtime favorite that was chosen as a more Italian offering at Liberty & Main. Fresh rabe is sautéed with oil and garlic, then sausage is added to the sauté, with the mix eventually tossed with penne. “It’s very simple, and I just love broccoli rabe because growing up it’s what we ate morning, noon and night,” says Coppola.

No one’s leaving this restaurant hungry. Minestrone and escarole are soup mainstays ($4). Eclectic pasta choices include a mac & cheese with alfredo sauce, diced bacon, onions, peas and chicken ($8). In addition to an extensive salad bar, prepared salads range from an insalata de arugula with fresh plum tomatoes, walnuts, diced red onions and boiled egg, tossed with lemon vinaigrette ($8) to a classic cold antipasto ($11). Choose from Francese, Marsala or cacciatore sauces for your sautéed scaloppini chicken medallions ($10). Satisfy your homemade lasagna craving ($10), or “build your own panini” from an abundant palette of meats, veggies “accents” (Applewood smoked bacon or prosciutto, for example) and spreads (from sriracha aioli to cilantro jalapeno hummus).

The Coppola brothers.

Antonio Coppola (pronounced “cuh-PO-lah”) partnered with his brothers Joseph and Vincent, over from Naples to Poughkeepsie, to start the family’s first restaurant. Now in his 80s, he still butchers for the dynamic company that has grown to include four area locations, an extensive line of jarred marinara sauces (sold online and by roughly 600 retailers in the Northeast such as Hannaford’s, Stop & Shop and Price Chopper), and a catering service. Bringing the family business back to downtown Poughkeepsie after more than 35 years completes a very personal circle for Antonio’s five sons, who succeeded their father heading the family operation – Nick (57), John (55), Anthony (53), Luigi (48), and Vinnie (45).

“For about the first ten years of the restaurant we lived in the apartment right above, and Poughkeepsie was our playground,” Luigi Coppola says. “We would play in the parking lot, we would play stickball, you name it, whatever it was we ended up doing there. We would walk up the street to get our accordion lessons, dragging that big monster accordion with us.”

“And,” he continues, “it was like a neighborhood in the old-fashioned movies, where moms would lean out the window and scream for their kids to come in the house.” (Cue the legendary Prince Spaghetti commercial.)

Coppola’s at Liberty & Main
296 Main Street, Poughkeepsie, NY
(845) 452-3224
Open Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/23/18 at 11:39 AM • Permalink

Food, Sweat And Cheers: The Green Cafe, Lakeville, CT

By CB Wismar

If the name The Green Café isn’t enough of a clue that the food in Leslie Eckstein’s new eatery in Lakeville, Conn. is going to be healthy, then the four-word slogan will seal the deal. “Wellness…Vitality…Nutrition…Balance.” They could have added the words “Fresh…Appetizing…Delicious” to the logo, but perhaps they ran out of room.

The Green Café is housed jointly with Studio Lakeville, Leslie’s fitness center, in what for years was the abandoned firehouse. With Leslie’s vision and under the skillful hand of builder Seth Churchill, the building was converted to an attractive, welcoming space that is buzzing with spin classes, yoga, Pilates, Zumba and a cafe open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. that is rapidly attracting raves from the wider community.

Leslie has brought Karen Jacobs in to be chef/manager of the café, and the breakfast and lunch offerings are well worth the drive. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Jacobs is keen on sourcing local produce and sustainable, organic, non-GMO proteins.

Leslie Eckstein and Karen Jacobs

Breakfast is an ample offering that features huevos rancheros with avocado, baby heirloom tomatoes, black beans and cage-free eggs ($7.95); multigrain French toast with fresh berries ($7.95); and a breakfast burrito brimming with either scrambled eggs or tofu, cheddar or vegan cheese, salsa, black beans and tomatoes ($7). The appearance of “vegan” and “tofu” as alternatives in menu items underscores Eckstein’s emphasis on healthy eating and Jacobs’s flavorful execution of that vision.

For those who want a lighter breakfast break — or replenishing refreshment after a workout — the smoothies are worth a visit in themselves. What better way to start the day than with a mango-banana smoothie with hemp seeds or a coffee-maple shake?

Lunch offers a two-sided menu. One side invites those who identify themselves as “herbivores.” Flip the sheet over, and “carnivore” invites your attention.

On the herbivore side, a tasty avocado toast on grilled baguette with tomato, balsamic drizzle and micro greens tops the list ($8), followed by several salads with ingredient choices from beets, kale and baby spinach to chickpeas and red onions. Prices range from a simple house salad at $6 to $11 for each of the more sophisticated offerings. If a sandwich is more your midday style, then the “Melty Goodness” offers cheddar, gruyere and mozzarella with spinach, tomato and carmelized onions ($9).

For carnivores, you’ll find the “Bangin’ Burger” of grass-fed beef, cheddar, avocado, pickled red onion and local greens on a fresh bun ($14) or a blackened salmon sandwich, yogurt sauce, pickled onions and arugula ($15). The “Lakeville Cubano” is a delightful blend of flavors, combining roasted turkey, citrus-marinated pork loin, pickled red onions, Swiss cheese, pickles and Dijon mustard. At $13, this sandwich is spectacular, as is the “Gobbler,” a cold combination of turkey, avocado and cranberry mayo served on pecan cranberry house-made bread ($13).

The “house-made” distinction is most important for the baked goods at The Green Cafe. One of Leslie Eckstein’s career stops was as pastry chef at the former Harvest Bakery in Salisbury. She demonstrates both her expertise and her love of baking by creating breads, muffins, scones, biscotti and other baked delights which are treasures worth taking to go if you’ve already enjoyed breakfast or lunch and just can’t find the room for something more.

Sign up for the daily menu feed via email and discover specials that are very special, indeed. (Perhaps the announcement of a carrot-coconut soup or a salad Nicoise with salmon will appear in your inbox.)

Plans call for expanding the current hours to include dinner when spring turns to summer and the outdoor patio can be opened for patrons. 

The Green Café
9 Sharon Rd., Lakeville, CT  
(860) 596-4580
Open 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/02/18 at 11:53 AM • Permalink

The New Copake General Store Awakens A Town

By Nichole Dupont

Despite the fact that it’s not that far away, my only visits to Copake, New York have been to see my mother-in-law in her little house on the lake. It’s always a nice drive through farm country, where we would meet at Dad’s Diner for, well, diner food. But on a deadly quiet gray day in Copake, there is one place, among the corner gas station and pizzeria, that is hopping like a gold rush saloon in its heyday. The Copake General Store (formerly Copake Front Porch) is packed to the rafters on a Saturday. The line reaches almost to the door on the first day of their live music jazz brunch. People are seated everywhere, while couples, whole families, and solo sojourners are throwing back turkey meatball sliders. They are flying out of the kitchen like seagulls.

While I wait, I have time to take the place in. The music is an amalgam of high lonesome guitar and bass (Luke Franco of Tiny Hearts Farm, and Nick Edwards) and the atmosphere, while anticipatory, is pleasant. Everyone is smiling. Those waiting in line are treated to shortbread cookies, and then a round of spongey apple cake while we make up our minds about what to choose from the specials board, which on this day includes braised pork butt, roast beef banh mi (both $11), a charcuterie sampling, and a turkey bacon sandwich with herbed mayo and pea shoots, along with breakfast staples like bagels and cream cheese, and a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich.

The congenial atmosphere and creative menu items have been carefully curated by the new owners, Seung Suh and her husband Bob Caccamise, who left New York and moved to Ancramdale in 2016. A former writer/producer for WABC-TV, Suh’s long-term ambition was to move to the country and open a general store. In her mind, it would resemble a Norman Rockwell vignette, all neighborly people and good will and a welcoming light. “I want to create that,” she says.

It seems she has. It’s not just a take-away eatery. It is actually a general store — complete with a creaky wooden floor, a wide elevated porch and, of course, the staples of rural life. Refrigerators and coolers are loaded with local meats, cheeses and eggs from Jacuterie, Pigasso Farms and Chaseholm Farm. Of course, there is the obligatory produce section with fresh veggies and fruits, and low shelves holding potato chips, canned goods, specialty cooking oils, honey and a gem-colored array of Les Collines preserves and Grannie Fannie’s jellies. Tay Tea, a New Delhi, NY artisan blender, is well represented with several of its products, including “Better Than Sex,” available for purchase. On the gift-y end of things, the CSG offers up carved L’ouvriere candles from the Catskills, beauty products and candles from Beacon Bee, and SallyeAnder soaps.

You could definitely stop here and create a meal to take home, or just grab one of the fresh pastries or heartier fare. When it’s my turn to order, despite wanting to pack my face with a bagel and lox situation, I ask simply for a croissant the size of a cat’s head and coffee (Irving Farm). I find a tiny spot on the edge of a bench in the middle of the store and listen to a raspy, live rendition of “Summertime” and wonder if I’m the only one who hears the irony. Leaving the place, and the warmth of people in the middle of their lives, is a melancholy affair. The wind nearly slams the door shut when I go outside to face the gray.

The windows are foggy from the warmth inside and yet I can almost taste lemonade.

Copake General Store
171 County Rte. 7A, Copake, NY
(518) 329-3663
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Closed on Wednesday

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Posted by Nichole on 03/09/18 at 01:15 PM • Permalink

Omelettes Meet Duets: 5 Musical Brunches In The RI Region

Bobby Sweet & Lara Tupper at The Starving Artist

By Jeff Kosmacher

“Let’s meet for brunch.” Who doesn’t love that suggestion? It evokes such a great vibe of hanging out around food and conversation, along with, if you like, permission to start drinking early. As if brunch wasn’t already a sublime creation, we must also celebrate whomever was inspired to add live music to the menu. Honestly, you can drop me into the sensory pleasures of a musical brunch and I will soon lose all track of time.

Lucky for us, the glorious alliance of brunch and live music is alive and well in our region, with inspired culinary and melodic offerings.

The Starving Artist Creperie & Café

Musical brunch began the very Sunday this downtown eatery opened in 2011. “I still remember it like it was yesterday,” recounts manager Emmy Davis. “We had The Easy Ridin’ Papas play.” The laid-back place favors acoustic guitarists, with small jazz combos mixed in, all locally sourced (as is their art gallery). Brunch includes more breakfast items than their primary menu. A favorite is the Beet Sweet Hash crepe — sautéed local roasted beets, caramelized onions, uncured organic bacon, sweet potatoes and red potatoes, and local goat cheese, topped with two local sunny side eggs. Or go sweeter, with the crunchy breakfast crepe made with organic sliced bananas and strawberries, and topped with homemade granola, Greek yogurt and local maple syrup.

Brunch Hours: Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m., music 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
40 Main St., Lee, MA
(413) 394-5046


Daryl’s House

It’s no coincidence that music (bluegrass, blues, jazz or gospel) is on the brunch menu here every Saturday and Sunday, considering the owner is Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates fame. Top touring and regional acts are on stage while you dine, such as on a recent snowy Saturday when I had the great fortune to hear two sets by the banjoist Hubby Jenkins from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This club, with its rustic and open feel, also takes good care of your tastebuds. Fried chicken and waffles, brioche French toast, and the crabmeat and avocado omelette are fan favorites. Or you can sink your teeth into a burger or fish and chips. 

Brunch hours: Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., music noon-2:30 p.m.
130 Route 22, Pawling, NY
(845) 289-0185


The Rhinecliff Hotel

Sunday jazz brunch here goes back to 2008, when this haven alongside the Hudson (and an Amtrak station) re-opened after a thorough restoration. Look forward to a casual and fun atmosphere. The full English breakfast is hard to find anywhere else in the area — sausages, bacon, blood pudding and all — and is a testament to owners James and David Chapman, brothers from across The Pond. Or try the Timbuktu, a simple cheesy hash with onion and tomato topped with a fried egg. Their prix fixe includes juice; choice of mimosa, Bloody Mary or Prosecco; any brunch dish; and coffee or tea. You’ll hear straight-ahead jazz, often from small groups led by Bard professors or a vocalist like Elaine Rachlin.

Brunch Hours: Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m., music 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
4 Grinnell St., Rhinecliff, NY
(845) 876-0590


Two newcomers to musical brunching are also worth mentioning. Both present music on a more seasonal schedule:

J&J’s Gourmet Café

Julianne Homola is proud that since she took over this cozy village spot in 2017, every dish has been made fresh daily in-house with local ingredients. She describes building her brunch with an “artistically plated menu.” For your appetite and eyes there’s the Rainbow Sandwich with beet hummus, red cabbage, baby spinach, cucumber, pepper, tomato and a slice of beet on local artisan brioche. The Brunch Bowl became so popular it’s now a weeklong offering — a large mixed baby green salad with sprouts, carrots and tomatoes, topped with edible flowers when they’re in season. J&J’s keeps the music light, mostly with guitarists and vocalists.

Brunch Hours: Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., music 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (March-Sept.)
1 East Market St., Red Hook, NY
(845) 758-9030


The Stagecoach Tavern at Race Brook Lodge

Duke, Billie, Thelonious and Miles are smiling down from jazz heaven on the setting of this “cozy fireside Sunday brunch,” held in a beautifully maintained space from the 1760s. Sundays featuring area jazz musicians kicked off this January for a limited annual run through April (brunch is served year-round). Chef Laurel Barkan’s inventive menu is divided among savory, sweet, and side dishes, ranging from smoked salmon with potatoes to mouth-watering buttermilk biscuits with eggs. And prepare yourself for her grilled chocolate bread sourced from the nearby Berkshire Mountain Bakery. Talk about orchestration!

Brunch Hours: Sunday 11:00-3:00, music noon-3 p.m. (Jan.-April)
864 Undermountain Rd., Sheffield, MA
(413) 229-2916

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/09/18 at 10:00 AM • Permalink

Joel Viehland Resurfaces At Swyft In Kent, Conn.

Joel Viehland. Photo by Evan Sung.

By CB Wismar

For those of us who develop attachments to our local (usually renowned) chefs and make it a practice to keep up on their whereabouts, there’s good news. Joel Viehland, who conceived the award-winning Community Table in Washington, Conn. and left it a few years ago, has landed at Swyft, which he opened recently in Kent.

Located at the corner of Main and Maple Streets, Swyft is the casual half of a duo restaurant combination that will be completed in the summer of 2018 when Ore Hill, the formal half, opens in the totally renovated Swift-Bull House.

The gourmet vision of internationally celebrated, James Beard Award-nominated chef Joel Viehland will benefit from Viehland’s impressive credentials garnered over a career that spans Noma in Copenhagen, the Gramercy Tavern in New York, Herbsaint and Bayona in New Orleans and, of course, Community Table in Washington (which appears to be coming back to life soon under new management).

“I’m really excited to build upon some of the regional themes I was exploring at my previous restaurant and bring a rustic but elevated experience to diners in Kent,” Chef Viehland said.

Photo by Evan Sung

Both restaurants will take advantage of the excellent resources of local farms. The Swyft menu appears simple enough, but the chef’s attention to the detail is apparent with every dish.

Clearly, the signature dish at Swyft is the Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza. There are four “red” pies on the menu and three “white” pies. Prices range from $14 to $17, depending on toppings. Toppings, sourced at nearby Rock Cobble Farm, will change with the seasons. 

The Al Diavolo red pizza ($17) has a refreshing snap to it, balanced by a hint of sweetness supplied by a touch of hot honey. The translation of the Italian may approximate “to the devil,” but the pizza is heavenly.

For all the pizzas, which are baked to perfection in a Pavesi oven that Viehland imported from Naples, the underlying crust is truly worth noting. Elsewhere on the menu, in the “small plates” section, there also is an offering of naan, the puffy Indian bread that is served hot out of the oven. The pizza dough — created from the chef’s 30-year-old “Sour Girl” dough starter — enjoys the puffy texture of naan, topped by such ingredients as house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, stracciatella cheese, pecorino, pancetta and sweet peppers.

Photo by Evan Sung

Further into the small plates section, Maine mussels in a tomato broth ($16, or $18 with fries), baby back pork ribs with a magical guanciale xo sauce ($15), and Parmesan gnocchi with leeks and dried tomato ($17) are standouts.

If full entrees are your preferred fare, then you may have to travel far to match Swyft’s rabbit Milanese ($25) or the stalwart of southern Italian menus, pasta Bolognese made with hand-cut pappardelle, beef, pork, veal and San Marzano ($21).

As we have noted in previous reviews, a fine measure of a new restaurant is how they treat the humble, yet important hamburger. The Swyft Burger boasts fontina cheese and basil aioli and comes with “old school fries.” At $17, it’s well worth ordering and was cooked to absolute perfection as directed to the server.

The staff at Swyft seems as young as the restaurant, but that is a very good thing. They are enthusiastic about the offerings, responsive to the guests and knowledgeable about the chef’s intentions as well as the ingredients. They’ve mastered the wine and beer offerings (which change from time to time) and can readily explain the choices of the whiskies, rums, tequilas, scotches and gins offered from the ample bar.

Incidentally, if you’ve left room for dessert, the citrus cake with yogurt and calamansi ($10) is elegant, as is the flourless chocolate cake with hazelnuts, mountain mint and crème fraiche ($11).

The entrance to Swyft is a modest garden gate on the Main Street side of the building. Signage is in keeping with the understated rustic elegance of the building restoration. Care has been taken to preserve many of the 18th–century features, including the hand-hewn beams and the fireplaces. 

Swyft
3 Maple St., Kent, CT
(860) 592-0404
Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30–10 p.m. 
Reservations are encouraged.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/03/18 at 11:25 AM • Permalink

Garden Of Earthly Delights: Botanica Grows In Great Barrington

By Nichole Dupont

The first thing you notice about Botanica, the newest torchbearer of café culture in Great Barrington, is that there are a lot of plants. So many, in fact, that they steam up the windows — a marked tropical rebellion against the cold outside. Big glossy banana leaves, dozens of brilliant red and pink amaryllis, some succulents… all in pots, all beautiful and all for sale.

This is not the first time I’ve been to Botanica since its quiet opening the day after Thanksgiving. And I know I wasn’t the only one who was chomping at the bit, waiting for the café/plant shop to open. In fact, according to co-owners Carla Blades, a well-known local baker, and designer Adam Medina, they had to paper the windows while they remodeled the space at 34 Railroad Street (formerly the Seeds housewares store) because so many people were peeking in. Now, the 12-foot front windows give way to ample sunlight in the long galley cafe, which enjoys even higher, pressed tin ceilings and a clean, open layout that is equal parts sunroom, eatery and micro-market.

“A place like this is kind of like a cultural establishment,” says Medina. “There is an immediate sense of belonging where we can contextualize ourselves in our daily lives.”

The second thing you notice about Botanica: there is no official, recognizable percolator. Instead, eight single-cup glass filters hang from the wall behind the bar. It’s a guarantee that every cup of coffee is fresh, made with beans roasted exclusively for the café at Assembly Coffee Roasters in Pittsfield. In addition to pour-overs, the beverage menu includes the usual suspects — espresso, cappuccino, latte, Americano, flat white — all churned out from an impressive Slayer espresso machine and served in Botanica’s now signature red cups. I ask if they have milk alternatives for lactose wimps like myself. Blades is already shaking her head no.

“We don’t have almond milk, we don’t do soy milk,” Blades says.

“But I want to try the cortado,” I say. “I can’t do milk. It will ruin me.”

“Oat milk,” she says with finality. “Seriously. It’s delicious.”

Turns out I’m not the only one with a milk “difficulty” (a few of the charming baristas and Blades herself can sympathize). The oat milk cortado — I’m a devoted coconut milk girl — is rich, and, of course, complements the coffee. Other non-coffee beverage offerings include Burnt Sugar Lime and Rose Petal Honey house sodas, a Maple Steamer, assorted teas, and even root beer floats.

The temptations are many. And there’s the food. Everything on the one-page menu is familiar, yet foreign within the context of the Berkshire victual culture. Definitely something you’ve seen before, just needing a little nudge out of palate nostalgia. Steel cut oats served with rock salt and marmalade, or with seared pears and almonds ($9), baked eggs with bacon, leeks and fresh ricotta (served in a small skillet, $13), and egg tacos with a healthy hit of chorizo and lime sour cream ($11) all round out a simple, yet flavorful breakfast menu. Salads highlighting seasonal offerings — pears, oranges, olives, lavash crisps — give way to flavorful mains and soups.

“I love food, we love food,” says Medina. He is waiting on his own polenta bowl to power up for the busy day ahead. “What we have here, people are familiar with. It’s traditional food but it’s interesting. It’s not limited.”

There are subtle changes in the menu from week to week, but one staple that many revisit is the Sopa de Lima. I’ve had it at least three times. You can actually feel yourself not wanting to carry on casual conversation while savoring this wide bowl of chicken, mountain yam and chipotle lime ($12). It is… spoiler alert: cliché… healing. And the borscht is a delight for caraway lovers. Both soups, just like the rose geranium plant that I continue to covet and will most likely purchase, are fragrant, and require focus and reflection.

“We still have so much vision for this place,” says Blades. “We’re constantly stretching that to see where it can go.”

For now, Botanica is keeping pretty strict café hours, but plans to extend beyond the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. window are already underway. Talk of opening the back patio at the first sign of warm weather, as well as opening the house for special evening events, is already on the proverbial wind. But for now, excellent coffee and soup will suffice.

Botanica
34 Railroad St., Great Barrington, MA
(413) 645-3548
Open 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.

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Posted by Nichole on 01/29/18 at 02:28 PM • Permalink

Yum Yum Noodle and Annabelle’s Open in Red Hook

By Jamie Larson

When the two most visible and well-situated business locations in the center of Red Hook, New York went vacant at the same time last year, we, along with everyone else, waited with bated breath to see what would open in the prominent, window-lined buildings, catty-corner from one another at the crossroads of Route 9 and and 199. The village and region has lucked out with the new arrivals, Yum Yum Noodle Bar and Annabelle’s Village Bake Shop.

The former is the third brick-and-mortar location of the hip and extremely popular Asian fusion restaurant company first opened in Woodstock, then Kingston. The latter is a quaint bakery filled with the aroma and flavor of top-notch artisan bread and mouthwatering pastries.

Annabelle’s Village Bake Shop
7501 N. Broadway, Red Hook, NY
(845) 835-6071
Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays
7 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends

When you first walk into Annabelle’s, the grand picture windows, high ceilings and elegant decor are almost enough to distract you from the siren smell of bread and pastries. Almost. The star of Annabelle’s is the long glass display case packed with bakery staples and an ever-changing array of goodies created by owner and baker Anne O’Doherty.

What makes Annabelle’s so well suited to the center of the village is O’Doherty’s approach to business: she listens to what the community wants. She changes the lineup of what she’s making nearly every day based on what people are clamoring for the most. Right now she says she’s selling a lot of raspberry bars ($2.95), quiche ($4.50 by the slice, $25 for a large, $15 for a medium), cinnamon buns ($3.95), croissants stuffed with spinach and cheese ($4.95) or ham and cheese ($5.95), and big cookies of all types ($1.50)

There are also all manner of pies, cakes, pastries and cupcakes rotating through the cases on any given day and O’Doherty will be happy to make whatever you like to order. She’ll even use your recipe. Haven’t had your grandma’s signature dessert in a decade? Dust off the notecard from the ancient recipe box and she’ll whip it up.

Her loaves are fabulous, as well. If you’re the type of well-meaning bread snob that judges a bakery by its baguette, then Annabelle’s is going to rocket to the top of your favorite bakery list. There’s a subtle depth of flavor, and a perfect texture to the crust and interior. The first time we tried it, it was a genuine and welcome surprise.

Annabelle’s opens at 7 a.m. so it’s a perfect spot for breakfast on the go, although you’re going to want to get comfortable at a window seat even if you’re just running in and out for a coffee and a scone.

Yum Yum Noodle Bar
7496 S. Broadway, Red Hook, NY
(845) 835-6383
Open every day 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

We’ve sampled Yum Yum’s dishes many times over the years from its food truck, which pops up at events across the region, but now that Yum Yum is in Red Hook, the full menu and hip atmosphere that’s made it so successful at the Woodstock and Kingston locations is all ours.

The space is warm and inviting, with Yum Yum’s trademark raw wood bench seating and purple and green floral design. The window-lined walls draw you into the space, and once you’re in make for excellent viewing of the bustling town as you warm yourself with a bowl of noodles, dumplings and inspired signature cocktails. Even though this is the third Yum Yum (fourth if you count the truck), for owners Nicole Cawley and Erica Mahlkuch, there isn’t the slightest whiff of stale franchise. The space feels vibrant and part of the community already.

One of the best things about Yum Yum’s menu is how easy it is to personalize. If you’re getting a noodle bowl, you get to pick from a list of broths, types of noodle, and protein, so you can order what you’re comfortable with or try something new. It’s both an excellent place to take folks who don’t have a lot of experience with Asian food, as well as for those who are looking for more authentic regional dishes. Yum Yum also makes things easy for vegetarians and the gluten-free set.

For $13.50 you get a huge noodle bowl with your choice of noodles including ramen, rice, soba, udon or tonkotsu. Your broth choices are vegetarian, coconut curry, pork, chicken, dashi and miso, and you then add beef, braised pork, chicken, house-made seitan or tofu. Pork belly, shrimp or salmon are a few dollars extra. Every bowl comes with veggies, mushrooms, nori and a soft-boiled egg. Each customizable item is well balanced and dynamically flavorful. It’s the perfect meal for the current cold snap.

But there’s a lot more than “just” the noodle bowls at Yum Yum. There is a red curry fish stew ($17), vegetable pad thai ($10, proteins extra), miso-sake cured salmon ($16) and more. Yum Yum also has inventive daily specials. Whatever you get is perfect for lunch, dinner or takeout. It would also be a shame to overlook the small plates; they include steamed or fried dumplings ($8), steamed buns ($9.50) and satay, ($8) to name a few.

Once you start going to Yum Yum Noodle, it’s hard not to get addicted. It’s easy to find something you love and get it over and over again, but it’s also a place that rewards you for getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/15/18 at 05:03 PM • Permalink

All That Java: Walk Right Up For A Cup That’ll Make You Smile

All That Java, Rhinebeck. Photos provided.

By Lisa Green

This is a an unequivocally happy story.

After all, it’s a story that owes its genesis to coffee, and if you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll understand why it’s a mood enhancer.

But it’s also about a couple of happy folks in the Hudson Valley who not only love their coffee, but wanted to bring some of that joy to others — and deliver that joy in the most efficient and, may I say, adorable way possible.

Samantha Sapienza conceived of ALL THAT JAVA and, along with her partner, Patrick Madden, manifested her vision to create small, mobile coffee shops emitting “stellar coffee and a happy vibe.” The first location, in Rhinebeck just outside the village, became an instant hit when it opened in August 2016. The second, on the Poughkeepsie side of Walkway Over the Hudson, took up summer-into-fall hours in May last year. This winter, the Walkway location has been moved to Windham (New York) Mountain Resort to offer coffee slope-side.

Sapienza, who lived in Millbrook, New York before she moved to Seattle, became a drive-through coffee fan out West, and when she came to Rhinebeck to visit her mother, was astonished they didn’t exist in this area.

“These places are all over the West Coast,” she said. “It was part of life out there — it was the norm to have one on every block. I always thought they needed to be here.” An idea was planted.

After 15 years in Seattle, divorced and with three young boys, Sapienza moved to Rhinebeck in 2012, and began planning her coffee dream. Getting her ducks in a row took longer than she expected, but she used that time to work on branding, at which she is expert. A former photographer, she had dabbled in graphic design, but her skill is evident in everything from the ubiquitous ALL THAT JAVA logo, her charming videos, ATJ’s Instagram feed, and even its whimsical tchotchkes. (The name, by the way, was always in the back of her mind. It’s a reference to her parents, who are jazz musicians, and a play on the Bob Fosse production “All That Jazz.”)

Madden and Sappienza at The Walkway Over the Hudson.

The coffee shops are actually tiny houses built on a trailer and are semi permanent. The 8x12-foot structures, which they put together themselves, are super efficient and meant to be run by one person, but can handle two or three when it’s busy. Since buying land is not part of the dream, the mobile aspect offers the best-case scenario.

For the first location, Sapienza drove around Rhinebeck to find somewhere convenient but not in the village. She approached the Rhinebeck Tack owners, who gave her free rein over their sizable parking lot. She wanted it to be a drive-through but Rhinebeck wouldn’t allow it, so it’s a “modified drive-up.”

Walkway location

The Walkway, too, was an easy sell. “We reached out to them, and they came back to us quickly. They’d been looking to do things like this and were thrilled to have us,” Sapienza said.

And the coffee? It’s not an afterthought. Sapienza procures the beans from a roaster outside of Seattle (“we leave the roasting to the roaster; they’re the experts”). It’s a really simple operation. There are two blends — one for espresso, one for drip coffee. The menu is fairly basic — for coffee houses these days, anyway — but includes Zoda, ALL THAT JAVA’s own coffee soda recipe, and Frappienza, a reflection of Sapienza’s name and the shop’s own version of a certain coffee house’s Frappuccino. There are coffee ice cubes for the iced drinks, gift cards (“All That Money”) and the beans are for sale. There’s ordering by text, too.

The convenience of the walk-up coffee is great, sure, but it wouldn’t have caught on and stayed popular if the java didn’t deliver the goods. A quick glance at the reviews on ATJ’s Facebook page indicates why the local coffee lovers have so quickly embraced their tiny java supplier. 

“It starts with the coffee,” Madden said. “The coffee is great. Our customers come here and for a few moments there’s no red states or blue states, just a good moment to start the day. Coffee is a way to bond people together. And people come back.”

Back, then, to the joy that surrounds this mom-and-pop effort. “Our vibe is happy,” Sapienza said. “It’s how we are as humans, how we operate, how we want to treat everybody. And honestly, we spend so much of our time laughing together. We love our Java.”

And about their expansion plans: can you expect an ALL THAT JAVA to roll in near you? Quite possibly, if you’re in the Hudson Valley.

“We’re planning to expand as rapidly as we can,” Sapienza said. “The theory is to bring ALL THAT JAVA up and down the Hudson from Saratoga Springs to New York City. But we’re not trying to be a café. The mobility of the unit allows us to be a to-go-focused coffee location.” Drive-ups are still the goal.”

The cheerful baristas are clearly living their tagline: Smile. Drink Coffee. Be Grateful. Love Life. “It’s a little bit like Cheers,” Madden said. “We’re like daytime bartenders, but for only two minutes long.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/08/18 at 05:03 PM • Permalink

Troutbeck, A Food And Lodging Legend, Is Reborn

Photos: Tanya Blum

By CB Wismar

If you are local to the Litchfield Hills, the Berkshires or the Hudson Valley, then venture to Troutbeck for the food. You should not be disappointed.

If you are bent on exploring the area, then add to your sojourn a night at one of 17 fully renovated guest rooms in The Manor House (c.1919). It offers all amenities and recreation opportunities, which begin with three trout ponds in the Webutuck River running through the 45-acre property, tennis courts and miles of hiking trails, with access to cycling, skiing and equestrian sports.

Corporate group, wedding or family reunion? The Century Lodge (c.1760) is a modernized four-bedroom cottage with an adjacent building housing 12 rooms and a large gathering space. The elegantly re-done ballroom can handle groups of up to 240, with smaller spaces for up to 40 participants.

In short, Troutbeck is back. After years of sitting quietly dormant on the outskirts of Amenia, New York, just over the border from Sharon, Conn., the entire complex of buildings and grounds has been carefully renovated, upgraded, comfortably furnished and enhanced.

Which leads us back to the restaurant.

Chef Marcel Agnez has assembled an elegant, seasonally influenced, farm-to-table menu that makes decisions difficult for the diner. The scallops or the black bass? The venison chop or the roasted chicken with braised endive? A vegetarian delight, an enticing pasta dish or one of the specials?

On days of operation (Thursday through Sunday) breakfast and lunch are offered, as well as a Sunday brunch. For dinner, starters range from fresh oysters with a blood orange granita ($3 each) to a refreshing Belgian endive salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and poached pears ($13). For a warm-up during colder months, there’s a savory baked oyster and leek chowder ($11).

Entrees are listed as “specialties,” and the designation is apt. Each dish offers a great use of flavors, textures and enticing aromas. The grass-fed grilled pork chop with apple sauce and haricots verts ($26) is moist and tender. Pan-seared scallops are elegantly set off with carrot turmeric sauce, red beet tartar and almonds ($21). A standard fare like roasted chicken becomes a tour de force when presented with braised endive, potatoes, sorrel, sunchoke and truffle madeira ($26).

The menu is adjusted with the season, so dishes will change as fresh items become available to the chef. Specials are added daily to enhance the options (and complicate the decision-making process). Troutbeck has turned to no fewer than eight local Hudson Valley farms to source their ingredients, supplementing their selections with daily shipments of seafood and other fresh ingredients.

Desserts are elegant. Cakes, crème brulee and other delights will tempt the table to at least “have one to share” as an accompaniment to an individual pot of French press coffee or selected fine teas.

The Troutbeck wine list is well balanced and reasonably priced, with the most expensive offering a French Delamotte champagne for $68. Clearly, great care has been exercised in offering both white and red wines from California, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Argentina. Four whites, three reds, a rosé and a Prosecco are available by the glass, most in the $12-$15 range.

Troutbeck’s website offers lodging and restaurant reservations as well as snippets of information about the property, the area and local activities. There are also some intriguing quotes from those who have made Troutbeck home and a vaunted destination for over two centuries. One such quote from noted naturalist, conservationist and nature essayist John Burroughs (1837 – 1921) about farmer, naturalist and poet Myron Beecher Benton (1834 – 1902) who spent his entire life at Troutbeck, captures the elegant, honest flavor of the property and the extent to which its re-birth has been successful. 

“I liked Myron Benton from the first sight of him. He had the flavor of the farm and of the country — a rural quality of mind and character that had been touched and mellowed by the influence of the best literature.”

Troutbeck
The restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner.
Reservations are strongly suggested for dinner.
515 Leedsville Rd., Amenia, NY
(845) 789-1555

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/01/18 at 11:49 AM • Permalink