From the moment you walk through the door at Roost, you’ll immediately feel like you’ve been transported from tiny downtown Sparkill to a buzzy New York City bistro. This is the exact reaction that Roost’s owners Chef Kevin Reilly and Maria Santini hope to evoke in this turn-of-the-century building that was once home to the old Sparkill firehouse.
“We wanted it to be industrial but chic, with lighting that would add a Manhattan vibe and an art deco feel,” says Santini, who runs the front of the house, manages private events, and spearheaded the massive renovation of the high tin-ceilinged space in 2020.
The restaurant, bar, and event space on Union Street is larger and airier than the original Roost, the eatery the couple opened in 2013, which was right around the block. Over the years, Reilly had his eye on the 100-year-old former firehouse, which, in the early 1970s had become a collective of co-working musicians and artists before being purchased by Simon Basner in 2010, who continued to maintain it as a performance venue called the Union Arts Center (UAC). “I would jokingly say to Simon, ‘Your space would make a great restaurant,’” says Reilly, who grew up in New City, attended the Culinary Institute of America, and worked in several kitchens, including New York’s Union Square Café and The Water Club. “One day Simon said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He gave us every break and opportunity, especially during the pandemic. It was terrifying, but it was the best thing we ever did.”
The dinner-only menu is deliberately approachable and customizable, with a variety of grilled main options including fish, lamb chops, venison, and steak. Entrées are paired with a side, such as buttermilk mashed potatoes, panko onion rings or miso-glazed Korean sweet potatoes, and there are eight varieties of sauces to choose from, like au poivre, chimichurri, and cherry mostarda. Other best-selling dishes include goat cheese toast with mushroom sauté and black truffle fondue, and Maine mussels with chorizo, hominy, and jalapeño.
“Everything has a Mediterranean influence melded with Latino cuisine,” says Reilly. Santini and her 91-year-old mom, Isabel Santini Pujol, are from Puerto Rico; Pujol lived with the couple in their West Nyack home over the years and has shared some of her recipes, like the popular sautéed shrimp with plantains, which Reilly calls a “dressed-up shrimp scampi.” Diners should save room for dessert; among the delicious options are a Basque-style cheesecake (with brandied morello cherries) and cinnamon donuts with chocolate ganache and vanilla custard.
Pairing a restaurant with an arts center just added to the excitement for the couple, both of whom have artists and musicians in their families. “A blending of the performative and culinary arts seemed natural to us,” says Reilly. Even more important, for Reilly and Santini, it was essential to continue the heritage of arts in the space. “The UAC is an extension of our passion for community-based business—the arts complement the food and vice versa,” Reilly says. “I think the UAC was destined to evolve into a restaurant and we happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
The energy in the Union Arts Center on the second floor is palpable, whether it’s Argentinian tango or a classical recital underway. “Our performers are Juilliard graduates or musicians who have played Carnegie Hall,” says Santini. “They’re often Grammy-award winners who attract a big following.”
The arts thrive on the walls, too. A curated collection of local artwork line the walls upstairs and down, and are available for purchase. “We have a curator who asks artists to submit work and we evaluate everything,” she says. “The art is the background for our events, so we’re very selective.”
Clearly, this is one busy couple. It’s only on Tuesdays, when the restaurant is closed, that you might find them antiquing, a favorite activity. A few go-to spots are Newburgh Vintage Emporium, Beekman Arms Antique Market (Rhinebeck), and the famed Antique Warehouse (Hudson).
What they haven’t had time to do is travel. “Every year we have a running joke that we’re going to Italy for a week and never do,” says Reilly. Without missing a beat, Santini chimes in, “Not this year.” There’s too much cooking to do. And events to plan. And concerts to host. For more info or to make reservations, visit roostinsparkill.com.