It’s unclear whether chef/owner Dan Sherman found the historic 17th-century building that houses the Tappen — or if it found him. “It was fate, I guess,” says Sherman. “I was walking down John Street after looking at a different space, and was secretly hoping that one of these beautiful old stone houses would come up for rent. The next day, I saw the building posted on Craigslist.”
“The building” is the Cornelius Tappen House, a handsome stone saltbox that is thought to be the oldest house in Kingston — historical records say it was built in 1670, according to Sherman. The site served as the city’s first post office; it is named after a former deputy county clerk who apparently saved an impressive number of documents when the British burned Kingston in 1777.
The house sat empty for between 40-60 years before Sherman took on an arduous yearlong renovation. “I’ve always been captivated by the history of these old structures,” he says. “I talked to anybody and everybody that I could about the history of the house.”
Ignore the small bar and the cars outside, and it’s easy to imagine that you’re seated in a 17th-century dining room. Historical documents, woodcuts, and reproductions decorate the mustard-yellow walls, a simple but refined fireplace with a wood stove insert dominates one side of the room, and a pair of tall windows lined with wine-colored velvet drapes offer views of Crown Street.
The Tappen opened its doors in March to rave reviews for Sherman’s unique take on New American cuisine. The chef started cooking at the tender age of eight. “Growing up in the Bronx, there was so much there — Latin food, Japanese food. I was eating everything from crappy bodega food to meals at some of the best restaurants in Manhattan, thanks to my great uncle and father. They were calligraphers, and did menus for some of the big restaurants.”
Sherman’s career eventually took him to Napa Valley and Seattle. “I focus on what is really fresh and regional but use those ingredients in different ways, from around the country and the world,” he says of his culinary approach. “I love playing with food. It’s almost like painting a picture or writing a poem.”
After returning to New York in 2000, he earned his upstate stripes cooking at popular area restaurants — including Terrapin in Rhinebeck, New World Home Cooking in Saugerties, and the Bear Café in Woodstock — before striking out on his own. As he began scouting potential restaurant locations, he focused on uptown Kingston, drawn by the area’s urban revival.
In Tappen’s kitchen, Sherman works with what’s available according to the season — but certain items, like the crème of crimini soup, have become too popular to take off the menu. Order this wonderfully flavorful, creamy soup and you may find yourself longing to lick the bowl clean.
The rosemary chicken with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and roasted beets is another regular sellout. The chicken is pan-roasted and served with a port wine reduction and demi-glace; the out-of-this-world sauce turns this pedestrian offering into crave-worthy comfort food.
Appetizers are an eclectic mix of international flavors. Rattlesnake bean and plantain flauta arrives on a bed of lightly dressed spinach along with two wildly delicious salsas, one green (“I like to call it the green goddess,” Sherman says), one red. Diners also rave about the truffle mac and three cheeses with crispy bread crumbs; the night I was there, it had already sold out.
The drinks menu features local microbrews, a variety of wines, and all the classics with some fun twists. “I like to play around with fresh juices behind the bar,” Sherman says. The resulting cocktails include a delightful pear ginger fizz — fresh pear purée mixed with ginger, mint, turbinado sugar, and a pull of gin or vodka that is topped off with the sodastream.
The Crowd: The majority of patrons fall somewhere between the ages of 40-70. “But once we got our liquor license, the 20- and 30-somethings started coming in more,” Sherman laughs. At lunchtime, there’s lots of foot traffic from local businesses.
Don’t Miss: Forget what your mother said about never ordering chicken in a restaurant; order this rosemary chicken.
The Basics: Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Appetizers and salads $7-$11, entrées $13-$27
10 Crown St., Kingston