Photos by Hannah Wong
A revered chef brings two concepts—a café and Dutch-Indonesian fare—to the Kinderhook Knitting Mill.
When artist Darren Waterston peeked inside an old, empty brick building on Hudson Street a few years ago, he saw beyond the decay. Waterson envisioned a creative community that would become a welcoming “village within a village.” And with hard work, he has reinvented the 19th-century Kinderhook Knitting Mill into a place that fuses the culinary and visual arts.
Once a textile mill that churned out knitted caps and mittens in the 1880s, the former factory is now focused on food, art, and design. While the 16,000-square-foot space is home to a mix of mostly women-owned ventures, it is anchored by two eateries—Morningbird Café and The Aviary—and a cocktail lounge called The Nest. Folks are flocking to the restaurants because the food is “imaginative and delicious,” says Waterston.
The star of both kitchens is the luminous Hannah Wong, former executive chef at the Michelin-recognized Van Đa, a modern Vietnamese restaurant that she opened with Yen Ngo, co-owner of the Knitting Mill, in NYC’s East Village. “Hannah creates a whole palette that is multi-sensory, striking in its juxtaposition of flavors, textures, and stunning presentation,” says Waterston. “It’s grounded food yet extremely complex.”
On Thursdays through Sundays, Morningbird, a café with a cozy but elegant coffeehouse vibe, offers a rotating selection of house-made breakfast bites prepared by pastry chef and Gramercy Tavern alum Karly Kuffler. The breakfast sandwich is superb thanks to a spicy Thai lemongrass sausage and scallion aïoli. The mochi donuts are highly addictive. For lunch, there are casual Southeast Asian dishes like short rib rendang (beef stew) with bok choy and jasmine rice, vegetable green curry with sweet potatoes and trumpet mushrooms, and a veggie sandwich with marinated halloumi on chili bread.
On weekend nights, The Aviary comes alive with a Dutch-Indonesian menu. The fusion is a “nod to the history of this region and the Dutch-Indo culinary intersection as a result of colonization,” says Wong, “But rather than focusing on particular cuisines, our goal is to offer food that is both interesting and accessible.”
In-season produce and supporting local farms is also important to Wong. “Building relationships with our purveyors is a top priority, and I hope that’s reflected in the food we serve,” she says. Some of the farms Wong works with are Lovers Leap in Kinderhook, Hudson Valley Fisheries in Hudson, Gentle Time in Chatham, and Veritas Farms in New Paltz.
Dinner options change seasonally, but range from a lemongrass shrimp burger on a milk bun with cabbage slaw to the tamarind-braised lamb with celery root purée and chili-garlic collards. Other delicious options include the mushroom rendang with nasi goreng (fried rice) and the boneless beef short rib with scallion chimichurri. “I like to make food that I crave, which often means balancing salt with sweet, plus spicy, sour, funky, and herbaceous elements,” says Wong.
Waterston says Wong’s dishes are unlike anything he’s ever tasted. “They’re a revelation. They’re inventive, and they have a playfulness to them,” he says. Speaking of playfulness, what was the inspiration behind all the bird names? According to Waterston, it was a primarily a poetic choice.
“We just liked the way the avian theme helped link all the space together conceptually, and birds have always played into my own paintings,” he explains. “Plus, my business partner Yen Ngo’s name means ‘swallow’ in Vietnamese.”
Morningbird Café and The Aviary
Kinderhook Knitting Mill • Hudson Street, Kinderhook
Related: Kinderhook Is a Must for Art, Food, and History in Columbia County