Dining along the Newburgh waterfront is an experience.
While the city as a whole has a reputation for top-tier cuisine and drinks, there’s something extra-special about scoring a table that offers views of the Hudson River alongside a mouthwatering meal.
And that’s precisely why Jesse Camac knew he wanted to open a restaurant there.
If his name sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve heard it attached to Heritage Food + Drink in Wappingers Falls, which Camac has led since it opened in 2017 (and won multiple Best of Hudson Valley awards in years since). So, when he heard that the space housing the now-closed Cena 2000 in Newburgh was up for grabs, he knew it had top-tier restaurant potential.
But did we mention it was in the middle of the pandemic?
The timing may not have seemed ideal, but it happened to be just the right time to secure the space, create the concept, and build the team. Since Italian cuisine had previously been successful in the location, Camac knew he wanted to pursue something similar. Instead of a typical “red sauce” joint, however, he envisioned Primo Waterfront, a lighter Italian concept with a focus on coastal cuisine and the seafood dishes common to the Mediterranean region. He just needed a chef to lead it.
“At about that time, Frank [Camey, the corporate chef for Heritage Food + Drink] got a call from Ralph Bello, who told us Il Barilotto [in Fishkill] was closing down,” Camac says. Bello, previously the executive chef at Il Barilotto for six years, was looking for a position, and Camac was happy for him to join the team. In no time at all, Bello, Camac, and Camey got to talking, and “all three of us knew [Bello] would be the perfect guy for [Primo],” Camac recalls. With his experience rolling fresh pasta and his background in Italian cuisine, Bello is an excellent fit for the executive position at Primo, with Camey serving as corporate chef for both Heritage and Primo.
With a planned opening in fall 2021, Primo Waterfront will invite diners to experience coastal Italian fare in the heart of the Hudson Valley. The restaurant draws inspiration from the Amalfi coast and Venice for its menu, which is seafood-forward and fresh as can be. Like with Heritage, Primo will source many of its ingredients from Hudson Valley farms and change the menu to incorporate seasonality.
“My wife’s family has been in agriculture for the last 75 years,” Camac explains. “We try to support the local farmers as best as possible. It’s the right thing to do, and the produce is better.”
So what’s on the menu at Primo Waterfront? Upon opening, the Newburgh restaurant will be a go-to spot for antipasti that ranges from creamy burrata to mouthwatering mussels. Pastas are a focal point, thanks to Chef Bello’s skill with crafting them. Staying true to the restaurant’s waterside roots, many of the pastas incorporate seafood, with options like lobster bucatini or octopus paccheri to make mouths water. The mains will be equally tempting, with grilled salmon, cioppino, and swordfish spiedini to make guests feel like they’re dining on the Italian coast.
Of course, the best part of all may be the eatery’s highly curated crudo and raw bar. The menu concept takes inspiration from both Italy’s seafood-focused regions and some of New York City’s top-rated restaurants, which Camac frequented while researching the best way to incorporate a crudo, or the Italian version of a raw bar, concept into the menu. Working with John Daly, a friend of his who boasts experience at Michelin-rated 15 East and Masa, Camac brought him on as a consultant to learn everything he and Bello needed to know about sourcing and butchering fish.
“It’s one of the most special parts of the menu,” Camac says of the crudo section. “We’re buying from the places these omakase restaurants [in New York City] are buying from.”
Indeed, the crudo menu stands out as one of the most unique offerings at Primo Waterfront. With rotating specials based upon ingredients and seasons, Primo’s crudo dishes tempt diners with bites like yellowtail with strawberry, basil, and pink peppercorn or spot prawns with sunflower pesto, lemon, and capers. In short, it’s more than enough to make mouths water.
Of course, the food menu is only part of the picture at Primo. The restaurant also delivers serious flavor on its cocktail menu, which embraces fresh ingredients that rotate seasonally. G&Ts are a staple, while frozen drinks like Mai Tais and frosé are a delightful surprise. There’s beer, too, along with sake and a curated selection of wines. Hey, it is an Italian restaurant, after all.
As for the space, Primo delivers an atmosphere that is completely different from the one at Cena 2000. Thanks to a gut renovation led by Camac himself, the Hudson Valley restaurant is a completely custom project made to pair with the eatery’s higher-end concept. White hues dominate the space, flanked by black and brown accents with pops of blue interspersed throughout the design. Primo embraces its riverside location, with an airy concept and open kitchen inside that flow seamlessly into the outdoor dining space beyond. There are approximately 65 seats in the building, including a private dining room that accommodates 20-25 people, along with another 160-170 seats outside for those who want to eat by the water. Two bars, one indoors and one outside, complete the latest dining experience to arrive along the Newburgh waterfront.
Excited to try it? With an anticipated opening date later this fall, Primo Waterfront is ready to bring a fresh take on Italian cuisine to the Hudson Valley community. Follow along with the restaurant on Instagram for a sneak peek at some of its mouthwatering dishes.
50 Front St, Newburgh