A moviemaker in need of a charming small-town setting would do well to consider Cold Spring for the part; it has easygoing appeal without drifting into cutesy. And if there’s a role in the movie for a sweet little small-town cafe, Hudson Hil’s, Cold Spring’s newest eatery, is a shoo-in — it’s straight out of central casting. We were there on a recent sultry evening, when sunlight was still pouring through the big windows in front, although with its buttery walls, white beadboard, and golden pine floors, the place still had an inviting glow after dark.
Those of you paying close attention to my Accidental Foodie blog will recall that I’d much enjoyed a turkey, prosciutto, and mozzarella sandwich for lunch in the cafe in early spring. The place had just started serving bistro-style dinners a few days a week, and, although it’s an hour drive from our house, the deliciousness quotient of that sandwich finally lured me back, this time with my other half, to check out the dinner menu.
Owners Hilary and Bob Hayes
Hudson Hil’s was launched at the end of 2010 by Bob and Hilary Hayes (it’s named for Hilary, which explains the awkward spelling). Bob, a classically trained chef, had been a stay-at-home dad for a couple of years, living in Garrison and “kibitzing with the other moms” (as his wife puts it) about the shortage of local eateries serving simple, freshly made breakfast and lunch fare, especially for those with kids in tow. He and Hilary, who was then commuting to Wall Street, decided that she’d leave the world of finance and turn to something more wholesome. They would fill the niche themselves, providing cafe cuisine, made from scratch, using high-quality, local ingredients. And no cop-out junk food for the tots, either. (“Parents thank us for putting steak and broccoli on the kid’s menu,” says Hilary.) The couple stocked the market space adjacent to the cafe with baked goodies, artisanal Valley cheeses, and prepared foods to go. Locals and weekenders responded with enthusiasm.
Breakfast choices are served until 4 p.m., and include oatmeal (with raisins, brown sugar, and bananas), and egg dishes (Benedict, Rancheros, frittatas, omelets, and such). The lunch menu offers sandwiches and wraps, salads, a black bean burger, and an already locally acclaimed regular burger made with grass-fed beef. The dinnertime cooking is classic American bistro: good, unfussy, and homey, with five or six staples and a couple of specials that reflect whatever fresh produce is available. Wines for under $35 a bottle along with half a dozen craft beers from regional breweries round things out.
“Former Wall Street equity analyst” doesn’t sound like the ideal credentials for a restaurant meet-and-greeter, but Hilary has a friendly, welcoming way, and the cafe has a comfy, relaxed feel. The night we visited, the mixed crowd included kids, young marrieds having a date night, old marrieds (us), friends, and a woman tapping away on a laptop by her plate.
(Continued on next page)
Off the hook: A whole trout is stuffed with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Camembert and fresh spinach, and served with buerre blanc and pine nuts
Our polite, helpful server brought some slices of baguette along with a mildly cheesy dip-cum-spread that turned out to be a pureed blend of cottage cheese, olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper — we found it surprisingly good, considering neither of us like cottage cheese (a common reaction, Hilary noted).
“Pleasant surprise” seems to be a hallmark of the place — all the dishes we chose had special touches. In the case of the lightly battered artichoke fritters, it was the sauce of intensely flavored, roasted cherry tomatoes and red peppers; the Asiago cheese added an additional tang. A nicely spiced vegetarian empañada got extra zip from a “Southwestern sauce” made with ancho chilies, tomatoes and red peppers; the jicama slaw that accompanied it was a crisp, cool contrast.
After we’d polished off those appetizers, I discovered that entrées come with a cup of soup or a salad, a fact mentioned on the menu that I’d managed to miss. As I can rarely refuse edible freebies, I happily spooned up a cup of carrot soup spiked with ginger and curry, and blissfully chilled, which suited the hot day. The house salad of fresh young greens was dressed with a light-touch vinaigrette.
By the time my horseradish-crusted salmon came out, I was feeling sated, but I tucked in anyway and loved the slight crunch of the piquant garlicky-horseradish-breadcrumb crust that cut the salmon’s slight sweetness. Rice flecked with wild rice made a nice side, as did the day’s vegetable medley — al dente medallions of steamed yellow and green squash and broccoli florets. A couple of carrots, whole with a little bit of the green top still attached, looked pretty but were so gently blanched that when I tried to stick my fork in one, it skidded over the plate and catapulted a broccoli floret across the table. Luckily, this is the kind of spot where nobody will look askance if you (a) accidentally send your food flying or (b) pick up your carrot to nibble it.
My spouse enjoyed his sliced flank steak, which was tender, juicy, and done to a turn, with a mildly smoky chipotle sauce capping it off. He, too, got the vegetables and tricky carrots, along with roasted red-skinned potatoes so earthy and delicious he would only let me have one small one.
Desserts have a similar homey appeal: grilled pound cake with berries, fruit pies, and tarts. Rhubarb and strawberries are one of the best sweet-sour culinary matches, and their season is so fleeting, it’s a sin to pass up a pie made when they’re at their peak. So we didn’t. Instead of a solid crust, the pie was topped with a lattice of golden, buttery pastry, which lets the steam out — my preferred method with such juicy fruits. The filling was just right, too, grown-up sweet rather than syrupy. A scoop of vanilla ice cream cost a little extra, but made the whole thing swoon-making. We waddled out, wishing we had a movie-worthy, affordable, cut-above cafe like this within walking distance of home.
Hudson Hil’s Cafe & Market
Breakfast and lunch fare from $6-$14; dinner and appetizers $7-$15; entrées $18-$22