By Sabrina Sucato, with additional reporting by Janet Siroto
A prior version of this article originally published in August 2019.
Oh, Rhinebeck. Just when you think the town couldn’t get any more marvelous, it goes and turns out another gem.
This time, that jewel would be Golden Russet. A hybrid café and grocery store that’s technically part of the town of Clinton, it’s a passion project for Jenny and Craig Cavallo, a former Brooklynite couple who ditched the city to pursue a new life upstate. After daydreaming ways to leave New York City for years (18, to be exact), the duo said goodbye to metropolis and hello to country living in 2018.
“In January 2018, a month after we’d gotten engaged, we hatched the plan to leave the city, get married in California (where Jenny is from), and open the café,” they explain. At the end of July 2018, they packed their bags for good, crossed the country to California, then road-tripped their way back to New York to make a permanent home in the Hudson Valley in November. As newcomers to the area, they camped out at a friend’s house in Rhinebeck and began to search for a location for their café concept.
They were days away from signing a lease on a space in the Catskills when the opportunity to take over the old Schultzville General Store came their way.
“We got to know the owners over the winter and learned they might be ready to hang up their hats,” the Cavallos note. “We had fallen in love with the area and the people in Clinton, and it felt like the right place to be.”
That place, the former Schultzville General Store & Café, is a 200-year-old general store in the Hudson Valley. Technically, the building is in its second life, since it was rebuilt in 1930 after a fire destroyed the 1807 original. A true sliver of local history, the space – and its potential – called to the duo, who both have backgrounds in the food industry.
Thanks to his time spent working in a number of NYC restaurants and writing for Saveur and other publications, Craig has had a hand in every facet of running a restaurant, apart from actually owning one. Jenny, meanwhile, is a former winery and HR manager with a longstanding passion for baking.
Needless to say, their experiences are coming in handy at Golden Russet.
“Craig and I started this café as a way for us to combine our skills and be able to work together all the time,” Jenny says. “As much as we hope the café is an extension of our own story, we are both eager to talk to folks, get to know the community, and develop a network of regulars and visitors alike that can depend on us.”
With a goal to make Golden Russet a true community destination, the couple made a point to integrate the history of the space into their aesthetic. Inside, visitors can walk on old wood floors, take a seat on one of the fixed stools, and peek into the vintage cooler filled with local dairy and eggs. On the shelves, Hudson Valley produce and pantry essentials abound, with cider, beer, and wine on draft and cans of beer to go. Keeping in line with its predecessor, Golden Russet is a true hybrid of a café and a grocery store. Similar in concept to Otto’s Market in Germantown, the space is just as worthy of a visit for artisanal pantry essentials as it is for farm-fresh breakfast or lunch.
“Golden Russet is…the extension of two individuals who have merged their life’s journeys and made their separate perspectives one,” they say. “We want that to be apparent as soon as you come in, whether it’s to eat, say hello, or sit at the counter and read the paper.”
Golden Russet opened for business on July 12, 2019, with its official ribbon cutting on August 3, 2019. Located on scenic Fiddlers Bridge Road, it’s a prime stop for day trippers, bikers, and locals who crave a great bite or need a dozen local eggs. In the years since it’s been open, the eatery has developed a following with its simple, flavorful café menu.
“Our bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich is a huge hit for breakfast, and our fried chicken sandwich is a lunch favorite,” Jenny enthuses, adding that the ricotta toast with seasonal jam is a sleeper success. She’s the one in charge of the café’s sweet offerings, like its sea salt-topped chocolate chip cookies, while Craig covers savory staples like tomato sauce, chicken stock, and potato salad.
If the name is any indication, the café is as Hudson Valley-centric as it gets. The couple chose “Golden Russet” as an homage to the region’s apple and cider-making industries after Craig, who is writing a book about the impact of apples and cider in the United States, came across Golden Russet apples during his research.
“Golden Russet is an apple touted by cider makers and one that originated in New York State early in the 19th century, around the time the original building our café is in was built,” the Cavallos explain.
For cider lovers in Dutchess County, Golden Russet is home to quite an assortment of ciders, thanks to Craig’s love for the hard drink. Beyond their stock, the Cavallos are embarking on their fourth year of partnering with Rose Hill Farm for a crowd-sourced cider that was solely made to benefit the community.
How it works: There’s a rich history of growing fruit in the Hudson Valley, and many folks’ properties have too much fruit to use. “We invite people to bring us fruit throughout September. There’s a big bin on our property,” explains Cavallo, “and we also pick from some properties.” Rose Hill then crushes, presses, ferments, bottles, and labels the cider. The Golden Russet sells it and donates half of the proceeds to a good cause.
The first year’s yield resulted in 12 cases of Clinton Community Harvest Cider; 2021 saw that number surge to 50. Last year’s donation went to the Clinton Community Library. “We wanted to give back to the people in this wonderful community that keeps our business alive, so we chose the library down the road,” says Cavallo. To donate apples or taste the fruits of this effort, follow Golden Russet at @goldenrussetcafe or visit goldenrussetcafe.com.
Golden Russet Café & Grocery
835 Fiddlers Bridge Rd, Rhinebeck