A Catered Affair
A longtime events planner settles down to offer a la carte dining
By Jorge Arango
To reach Pamela’s on the Hudson, a casual family-style restaurant under the Newburgh side of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, you descend a residential boulevard lined with large old homes and make a slight left past Cigar Box Studios. At the studio’s freight entrance, you hang a right under a narrow overpass wide enough for just one car, passing a condo development and ending up next to the Newburgh Yacht Club. It’s a fairly isolated waterside location with no shops or other entertainments in sight, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s more of a spot that people travel to for special events than a regular hangout.
In fact, for the past 18 years, owner Pamela Resch, with her company, Pamela’s Traveling Feast, has been primarily a caterer of just such events. But when this space became available in the spring of 2005, the beauty of the spot sparked her desire for a restaurant, which officially opened last summer. Still, catering and running a restaurant, while both food-centric occupations, come with their own sets of rules and rhythms. It’s possible to be excellent at one and not as adept at the other, which is fine if the food being served winds up pleasing your taste buds — as it does, for the most part, at Pamela’s.
Victorian antiques mingle with modern restaurant-issue furniture, all of it arranged atop a commercial broadloom carpet. Inspirational words posted around the premises — “Believe,” “Live,” “Love,” “Laugh” and so on — and an XM radio tuned to the “Heart” station (Barry Manilow, Elton John, Anita Baker and, it must be said, Air Supply) make you feel a bit like a guest at a wedding reception. But no one’s going to quibble with the panoramic view of the river (with a full moon rising over the hills on the far bank the night we were there).
The staff is friendly and certainly unpretentious (our waitress kept punctuating our menu selections with a reassuring “You got it”). Amiable as everyone is, it’s clear they’re more attuned to catering service, which involves feeding crowds in a single sitting, rather than restaurant dining, which is staggered to suit the arrival times of individual groups. There were long, irregular pauses between courses, and tables remained unbussed long after diners had left them. Eventually I’m sure they’ll settle into the proper groove.
We ordered a new wine on Pamela’s list, a Spanish Avian 2005 Albarino. Its slight effervescence and green apple flavors were perfect for a midsummer evening, and at $30 it was a good buy that skirted the higher end of the very reasonably priced wine list. We started our meal with steamed littleneck clams in garlic, herb and wine broth ($12.95) — the portion’s 18 mollusks beautifully plump and briny — and escargot en croute ($10.95), a special appetizer that evening. Resch roasts whole garlic cloves, pops one in each of the ramekin’s six indentations along with a snail, some shallots and parsley, then covers them with puff pastry and bakes them. The choice of roasted garlic sweetens and mellows this classic appetizer, cutting the often hammerheaded garlicky whomp and adding an interesting dimension. This dish and a green salad would make a superb lunch.
As it happened, we were able to sample the house green salad (served with each entrÃ©e), which was good save for being slightly overdressed. My main course, a cedar planked salmon (made ubiquitous at the dawn of New American cuisine in the 1980s by Larry Forgione) got a spicy makeover with a Cajun rub ($19.95). Roasted on a cedar shake in a hot oven, its cayenne and paprika left my lips smarting nicely. Rice on the side helped mollify the fire, though the fines herbes with which Resch tossed the broccoli seemed an unnecessary flavoring for a perfectly good vegetable accompanying an already highly seasoned dish.
My dining companion ordered a thick, succulent center-cut “Midwestern” pork chop ($22.95) that had been marinated in lemon, salt, coarse-ground pepper (the menu calls it butcher’s pepper), olive oil, and fresh herbs. This was expertly grilled and as honestly satisfying a comfort food as any. Its simplicity, though, highlighted even more the superfluousness of seasoning the broccoli that accompanied it.
This is a caterer’s technique I’m sure, a way of perking up batches of vegetables that have been par-cooked ahead of time. But like the herbs in the whipped butter that came with our bread, they are unnecessary embellishments. Resch also uses granulated garlic and onion, which is understandable when cooking for multitudes (chopping 20 heads of garlic, after all, can be labor-intensive). But these tend to flavor things too intensely and they impart a faint aftertaste that can mask the freshness of other ingredients.
Desserts, whipped up by pastry chef Fred Whittle, are excellent. I’m usually a purist where crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e is concerned, so I feared the lemon-scenting of Whittle’s version ($6.95). But it turned out to be deftly handled and refreshing. A chocolate truffle torte (also $6.95) was deep, dark and delicious, though whipped cream seemed like gilding the lily, since it already comes topped with vanilla ice cream.
Resch likes to call her cuisine “familiar foods with flair.” While innovation is not a major feature here, that needn’t be a bad thing. With some simplification, the cuisine is very pleasant. And if you’re looking for pleasant fare served in a lovely setting â€¦ well, you got it.