Photos by Mark Fredette
From the chef behind Clermont Café, Columbia County’s Iron and Grass puts a whole-animal spin on the steakhouse concept.
The Hudson Valley is a playground for chefs who are passionate about their food. Local farmers produce high-quality ingredients that elevate not only farm-to-table dishes, but also beer, wine, and spirits. The Valley’s rolling hills and verdant pastures serve cattle especially well, leading to top-notch beef and leather. At Iron and Grass in Hudson, Chef Mark Fredette emphasizes sustainability through a whole-animal approach to a modern steakhouse.
“I guess it’s simple enough, I’ve never not wanted to be a chef. It’s something I’ve always wanted to pursue my entire life. My parents don’t remember me wanting to be anything else,” Fredette says.
Fredette grew up in and around kitchens. His father worked in the hospitality industry, and Fredette always wanted to catch a glimpse of the magic behind food. When he moved to the Hudson Valley from Boston, MA, in 2010, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America.
After that, he became enthralled with the Hudson Valley’d farm-to-table movement. As the executive chef for Sprout Creek Farm, he dove into behind-the-scenes work. Seeing how food gets to a restaurant was an invaluable opportunity.
“My wife and I always said we would open up a place if Sprout Creek ever closed, and it did,” he says.
As luck would have it, Tousey Winery sought to open a café on its property. Fredette opened Clermont Café, a small yet very successful spot. Firstly, he created a menu with the elegance of any chef-run foodie boutique. Secondly, he got very close with Columbia County beef farmers. He’d use what was available, allowing the farmers to showcase the freshest cuts.
“I realized, there’s there’s only 22 cuts of ribeye to a cow. When it comes to the New York strip, the ribeye, and the tenderloin, that’s what, maybe 15 percent of the cow,” Fredette explains. The rest becomes ground beef, and, well, you can only sell so many burgers. As he learned more about the local beef industry, the diligence and dedication of Hudson Valley farmers captivated him. He discovered that grass-fed, organic, rotationally-grazed cattle produce amazing food. Fredette was so confident in the product, even with lesser-known cuts like picanha and cheaper options like petite sirloin, that all he had to write on the menu was “local steak.”
“I found the challenge of breaking these steaks down and pulling out these cool and unknown cuts, and powered through it. I made my portion match the price that was set on the menu,” Fredette says. Cheaper cuts manifested in massive steaks, while the most expensive and popular cuts were served as small, sophisticated plates. Above all, his creativity brought fresh, local ingredients to foodies in delicious meals.
Clermont Café garnered a massive fanbase in Columbia County. However, starting a full-blown steakhouse always permeated Fredette’s mind. Very few operate in the Hudson Valley, and even fewer have a focus on sustainability.
“So, I thought it could be educational and fun for everybody for me to work through a cow on that level, and to get my staff educated on the various cuts.” He left Tousey Winery and opened Iron and Grass in late-August 2021.
A concise, focused menu demonstrates Fredette’s philosophies toward food. Let amazing ingredients speak for themselves, and utilize the bounty of the land surrounding you to its fullest.
For instance, examine “The Burger.” Fredette uses grass-fed, grass-finished beef from Dirty Dog Farm in nearby Germantown.
“It was one of the first firms I saw out here. You can visually see the fields being grazed in intensive rotational grazing. And so when I contacted them, I was like, ‘I need your meat,'” he recalls. He makes the bun from scratch, along with ketchup from local tomatoes and a jam from local onions. Fredette tops each burger with local Swiss. For the side, he swaps French fries for crispy smashed fingerling potatoes. Other side dishes include grill-charred Hudson Valley broccoli (with local lemon), kale roasted in local cold-pressed sunflower oil, and sweet peppers.
Iron and Grass also features beef from Golden Farm in Germantown and Grimaldi Farm in Ghent. In a similar vein, Fredette sources duck for his miso-glazed wings from Belle Farms in the Sullivan Catskills. He takes special care to preserve the integrity of local flavors. He dry-ages the tomahawk steak for 21 days, and sous vides bone-in chuck for up to 24 hours.
Of course, Iron and Grass’ cocktail menu will follow suit, using quality products with a Hudson Valley touch.
“Obviously Tousey Winery is with us, you know, that’s where where we started. Good gins, good bourbons, good brandy, it’s all here. Grain grows well in the Hudson Valley, it’s a great breadbasket area, and you can make a really good liquor,” Fredette says. He aims to partner with Hillrock Estate Distillery, Cooper’s Daughter, and other local distillers for clean cocktails that compliment the meat. Peach Manhattans, groundcherry margaritas, and developing concoctions feature farm-fresh fruit in the mix.
Eventually, Iron and Grass will open a retail butcher shop. Fredette wants to buy larger cuts from farms in a “hoof-to-snout” program. He’ll break the meat down himself and work with similarly passionate people to offer the best service possible. The restaurant’s dry-aging program will commence sometime in the next year.
“Our team knows a lot and will be able to give customers all the information they need. We may not have ribeye for sale all the time at the retail store, but our butcher can talk to you about Denver steak or tell you about the teres major and how to cook it.”
Tables at Iron and Grass fill up fast, so be sure to make a reservation before digging into some of the juiciest steaks around.