No matter how vast the Valley’s culinary scene has proven to be, at the end of the day, it’s that quintessential neighborhood establishment that we all seek: That ideal spot where the staff gets to know your order, where you have a favorite table and a preferred server, and that you stop into on an ordinary Tuesday and reserve for your anniversary. It’s exactly this type of place that Rhinebeck’s newest dining standout, The Amsterdam, strives to be.
Each facet — from the genuinely warm greeting to the butter-soft lighting, to the snack menu — is completely on point. It’s all thanks to an outstanding team and meticulously vetted design brought together by founder Howard Jacobs, an executive from New York City who recently shed a successful career in marketing to move to Rhinebeck and follow up on his passion for hospitality. “I’d like to think of myself as a happy survivor of corporate America,” he jokes humbly.
Jacobs began his relationship with the Valley as a vacationer, discovering Rhinebeck on a whim while he was visiting Mohonk Mountain House with his wife one summer. They were struck by how fresh and vibrant everything was, and rented a home in the area for an entire month the following year. “Almost immediately we started looking at properties, and actually put an offer on a house during that trip,” he says. “We envisioned friends and family being able to gather there.”
Though his professional profile boasts a roster of big names — Madison Square Garden Company, SiriusXM Radio, and Turner Broadcasting Company, among them — Jacobs had spent the last 25 years or so more emotionally connected to the world of hospitality: “Unfortunately, my passions have been different than what I’m good at,” Jacobs laughs. He was in awe of the way food, wine, and a shared meal could motivate so much joy, but found himself unable to progress beyond the point of outside observer.
It was the purchase of The Amsterdam’s handsome, 19th-century building that was the catalyst for this dream project to fall into place. Just as the space was being put up for sale in 2014, Jacobs was fortuitously introduced to the owner. At the time, he had thought about shifting gears and opening something in the community, but nothing was concrete. “[The property’s owner] peppered me with questions about what I was doing in town, my intentions, and insisted on meeting my wife,” he tells. “Then she told me how much she wanted for the building, we shook hands, and as my wife and I were leaving, we were like, ‘Did we just buy that?’ I was excited — scared, but excited.”
A snowball effect ensued: Drawing on his tenacious business abilities, Jacobs dove head-first into learning about the hospitality industry and committed full-time to his Rhinebeck residence by 2016; plans for a build-out that preserved the building’s authentic Dutch character were made; and a rigorous staff-selection process took place.
The result is an atmosphere that is both classic and contemporary, with two floors of a warmly lit blue, brass, and wood palette. The downstairs dining room features an oversized bar surrounded by a fleet of tiles and an open kitchen that welcomes onlookers. The second level is home to a lush lounge area that can be converted for private events; the backyard reveals a bocce ball court, fire pit, and seasonal outdoor seating. As Jacobs tells, “We really wanted it to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible.”
But noble design alone is not what makes this new restaurant great. For that you must look to Executive Chef Sara Lukasiewicz, a CIA grad and Momofuku Noodle Bar alum, who was nominated as a James Beard Rising Star while working at Bangall’s Red Devon in 2012. With a seasonal menu ranging from basic to special-occasion, you won’t be eating fancified foraged pine needles here. Instead, you’ll find simple, ingredient-driven plates executed with a precise hand and the resources of a contemporary chef. “The term ‘farm-to-table’ is overused now,” says Lukasiewicz. “That’s what agricultural communities have been doing for centuries, you know? We aren’t sourcing locally as some sort of marketing trick, we’re doing so because it makes the most sense in a place that’s full of great farms.”
The menu utilizes a nose-to-tail perspective, and features rotating charcuterie options alongside traditional preparations (like Roast Chicken with vegetables and spaetzle or a house-made burger) and dishes that highlight local produce (the Confit Carrots and Mushroom Toast are standouts), as well as familiar plates that still push the culinary envelope (anything but standard, the duck breast is dry-aged first). As Lukasiewicz notes, “We plan to make it interesting, and really showcase these great purveyors in a way that’s simple but different from what other people are putting forward. We’ll still have the basics; just the best of the basics.”
The food is complemented with a bar program designed by another esteemed culinary pro — Jeff Turok, who helped define the beverage direction at NYC’s North End Grill before joining as general manager at The Amsterdam. A full suite of beverages is on offer, including artisanal cocktails, state-centric ciders, and a wine list of both old-world and new-world choices that has “about 80 percent easy-to-love and 20 percent hard-to-find options,” says Turok, all of which were chosen to match Lukasiewicz’s cooking. The beer selection is “not over-extensive,” he tells, “but certainly competitive within the craft beer scene.” Even the non-alcoholic drinks are chosen with a discerning mindset; there is something to appeal to every taste and temperament.
However cleverly conceived the menu, ornamented the space, or educated the staff may be, here’s the takeaway: it works. The Amsterdam has managed to slip seamlessly into Rhinebeck’s tight-knit setting and stalwart restaurant scene, continuously energized by the enthusiasm of their new community. A meal here feels more like a holiday spent with family, or dinner at your best friend’s house, than it does eating out. And it’s the places like this that seem to be the most rare, and the most memorable.
6380 Mill St, Rhinebeck
Open for dinner seven days