The Lantern Inn is the type of place you wish was in your town.
From the get-go, it welcomes visitors with warm wood-paneled walls covered with time-tested posters, picture frames, and the occasional neon Budweiser sign. In the booths and sidled up along the bar, locals of all ages — grandparents, teenagers, and rambling toddlers — smile and laugh while celebrating birthday parties, anniversaries, or nothing at all.
Come summertime, visitors ebb and flow out into the garden, where outdoor seating reaches the upper hundred and dogs are free to pad their way along the grounds.
What’s everyone eating? It could be anything from wood-fired pizzas sprinkled with soppressata and honey to miso ramen topped with pork belly or roasted Hudson Valley carrots dressed with buttermilk and crispy shallots. The dishes go down easy with local drafts from breweries like Crossroads and Sloop, which take up prime real estate on the bar’s eight taps.
The vibe is a cool, albeit effortless one that speaks to The Lantern’s simultaneous roles as a community watering hole and honest to goodness Hudson Valley restaurant that makes the drive to Wassaic more than worth it.
And now the eatery has one more incentive to lure locals to town.
At the tail end of September 2019, Minh Le and Erika DaSilva, the husband-and-wife team who’ve been running the restaurant for the past year, welcomed Johnny Dearth to the fold. Dearth is a new-ish Hudson Valleyite who moved to New Paltz after more than a decade of kitchen time in New York City. He’s also an old-ish friend to the couple, who met him when he and Le worked at The Meatball Shop when it first opened in the Big Apple. After the two went their separate ways — Le to Union Square Hospitality and Dearth to Toro in New York City — they both reunited in the Hudson Valley this fall.
“We’re so excited to collaborate with somebody who we know will treat the ingredients with the upmost respect,” DaSilva, who runs The Lantern’s beverage program, enthuses. The former general manager of Wildair, a small natural wine bar in Manhattan, she and Le relocated from New York City to the Hudson Valley upon hearing the praises of upstate living from friends. After a brief stint near Storm King Art Center, they took the reins in Wassaic and haven’t look backed since. The couple fell in love with The Lantern both for its history — the former tavern is about 100 years old — and its longstanding community presence near the Wassaic Project in Dutchess County.
Now that Dearth is on the team, the trio have flavorful plans to expand the menu and incorporate Dearth’s experience with grain-focused pastas and breads.
“I learned a lot about homemade pasta and what it takes to run a Michelin-starred restaurant,” Dearth observes of his time as chef du cuisine at Faro, the Bushwick eatery he transferred to after a year and a half at Toro. “We would get our rye, spelt, and wheat grains whole and use them in pastas, doughs, and different types of breads. We made bread every day.”
Dearth is big on pasta, but not in the way you’d expect. Leaning away from tried and true red and white sauces, he wants to bring a newness to The Lantern’s noodle dishes with unconventional ingredients and pairings.
“A lot of people don’t understand that you can enjoy pasta in a not very Italian way,” he says. “It’s like of like pizza in that you can use it more or less like a canvas.”
His excitement to introduce new pasta and bread programming pairs well with what DaSilva and Le already have going on at The Lantern. Although the duo stepped into the role knowing that the eatery’s community was primarily a small-town one, they’ve enjoyed tweaking the staple lineup of burgers and pizzas to include specials as varied as handmade dumplings and dim sum.
“We wanted to add things that we really love to eat and be mindful that not everyone up here gets to have those things,” DaSilva says. Thus far, locals have been receptive and open to the additions, she notes. “They’re trying ramen, they’re trying fairytale eggplant that we cooked in the oven, and no one had heard of that. It’s really cool to see people open up.”
If new is the name of the game on The Lantern’s menu, then local is the secret to each dish’s success (well, that and the pizza dough, which comes straight from the O.G. batch at Roberta’s in Brooklyn). The restaurant sources the bulk of its ingredients from local farms, working extensively with Maitri Farm in Amenia, Harlem Valley Homestead in Wingdale, and Fat Apple Farm in Pine Plains. It also makes every effort to support regional breweries and fills its select lineup of taps with brews from Chatham Brewing and Hudson Brewing Co., to name only a few.
Cocktails are not on the menu, but that doesn’t mean they’re not available. Instead, The Lantern staff prefer to chat with diners to find the perfect drink, then mix up something one-of-a-kind. DaSilva is currently hard at work to expand the eatery’s collection of amaro, which she loves introducing to visitors who have never sipped it before. Of course, she and Le are happy to let diners BYOB for a $15 corkage fee. Whatever makes their diners comfortable works for them.
“It’s a nice environment to be in,” DaSilva muses. “The Hudson Valley is such a melting pot for people from all over, and we just managed to find this magical place.”
The Lantern Inn
10 Main St, Wassaic
The early days of The Lantern in the Hudson Valley