Where to Eat in the Hudson Valley in 2011

Foodies of all types have discovered the Valley and its wide variety of top-flight restaurants. One chef even predicts we’ll soon be vying with California’s Napa Valley as a dining destination. Find out what all the buzz is about with these profiles of local eateries

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse is well-known for “kicking it up a notch,” the TV tag line he invariably shouts while tossing liberal amounts of his secret spice blend into whatever tasty dish he is preparing for his audience.

In a similar vein, Hudson Valley restaurants are amping up their offerings for diners. The farm-to-table concept — in which chefs seek out ingredients for their dishes from local farmers — is becoming standard practice in the region. The words “grass fed” and “organic” are showing up on more and more menus. And many chefs seem to be experimenting with different foods and their presentation. (See the photo on page 35 for one eye-catching example.)

From Haverstraw to tiny Earlton in Columbia County, we’ve scouted out eight noteworthy restaurants where you can satisfy any culinary craving. Looking for baked eggs for brunch in a relaxed, laid-back spot? Locally sourced foods prepared by a pedigreed chef? Asian-fusion specials served in a hip, Soho-like atmosphere? The Valley’s got it all — and then some. Read on for all the details (but be warned: you’ll be calling for reservations before you’re through).

- Advertisement -

Chef Mark Strausman in the kitchen at Agriturismo during dinner service


A City Chef Comes to Farm Country

On weekdays, chef Mark Strausman caters to the size two, Prada-Manolo crowd at Fred’s, the chic eatery at Barney’s in Manhattan. On weekends, he heads to Agriturismo, his recently opened restaurant in Pine Plains, where heartier eaters can tuck into the rustic Italian fare he was known for at Sapore de Mare in the Hamptons, at Coco Pazzo on New York’s Upper East Side, and — more recently — at Compagna, his own raved-about restaurant in the Flatiron District.

What’s a man with a string of swanky addresses behind him doing in the middle of Dutchess County? Strausman, who looks like central casting’s idea of a jolly chef, says it’s simple: He wanted to open a restaurant surrounded by farms that could provide good, wholesome produce. “It’s a chef’s dream — like being in Europe, where all the great little restaurants are in the country,” he replies.

Strausman has a lot to say about the pitfalls of agribusiness. “For the first time, our fresh food is contaminated — it never happened before with fruits and vegetables. It was unheard of for people to sit down for a raw spinach salad and end up dead,” he says. “We need to know who’s growing our food. That’s the great thing about the Hudson Valley… The young kids are all into farm-to-table, but it’s nothing new — just new to us. We’re late coming to the table, but it’s great that we’re waking up.”

- Partner Content -

When Strausman began weekending in the Hudson Valley a couple of years ago, he realized its potential for a new venture. “I thought, ‘This is the place to be. It’s on the cusp, it’s about to blossom.’ ” Driving through Pine Plains one day with Susan Littlefield (his ex-wife, good friend, and current business partner all in one), Strausman spotted a small, wood-framed building with a For Rent sign. “I screamed, ‘Stop the car! This is it! All we need is to give it a paint job and get some furniture.’ ”

After the paint job and a few other preparations, Agriturismo (the Italian term for farm vacation) opened last September. The growing season for fresh vegetables was winding down, but Strausman made connections with surrounding farms for other produce. He gets dairy products from Ronnybrook and Hudson Valley Fresh; eggs from Feather Ridge; cheeses from Coach and the Amazing Real Live Food Co.; pasture-raised meats from Northwind, Josef Meiller, Herondale, and Sugar Hill. “We’re hooking up with Sol Flower Farms and Sky Farms for produce. I’m so excited about spring. We’ll have asparagus then, and it will all start.”

agriturismo seafood dish
One of Strausman’s starters combines sautéed octopus, calamari, and littleneck clams with garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes

Agriturismo’s short and changing dinner menu runs from Tuscan chicken liver pâte and sautéed chanterelle mushrooms for starters, to main courses like chicken under a brick, pan sautéed rabbit, and braised lamb — all from local sources. Suckling pig in port wine sauce is a big favorite, and also shows up in the form of hash on the hearty Farm Breakfast menu.

“The first year is the learning curve,” Strausman says. “As a chef, for the first time in many years, I’m using parts of my repertoire that I haven’t used in a long time, and it’s invigorating. I’ve been buying lambs, so there’s always ground lamb in the freezer. I say, ‘What am I going to do with this? Okay, lamb meatballs.’ They sold out.”

- Advertisement -

Strausman, 54, grew up in Queens in a housing project. “I was a pudgy little Jewish boy, because I loved corned beef and pastrami, bagels and lox,” he says. “I grew up among Jewish, Irish, Italian — it’s all about food in those households, and that got me started. I never did well at school and I always liked to cook.” When Strausman was 14, his father died, and his mother had to work, which left little time for preparing food. “I said to her, ‘I’ll make a deal with you: I’ll do the cooking, you do the cleaning.’ She kind of laughed, and I said, ‘I’ll do the shopping, too.’ I’d go to the produce department and ask questions. The guys are going, ‘Who’s this kid?’ I learned how to cook from the butcher. And I watched Julia Child — it was fascinating. I learned technique, and realized I was pretty good.”

At Queens College, where he went to study communications, Strausman worked at the college pub, making bacon burgers and cheeseburgers. (“Right, let’s take a hamburger and put 75,000 more calories on top,” he says, laughing at the memory.) Studying, which Strausman struggled with anyway, took a back seat. “The chancellor called me in and said, ‘We love you, but if you’re not going to go to class, we may have to expel you.’ Then I found out there were schools in hotel management — and one at New York City Tech.” Strausman transferred, earned a degree, then went to Germany for three months as part of an exchange program for culinary students. A chef helped him land a position in Montreux, Switzerland, despite his limited experience. “I said, ‘How will I get a job?’ The chef said, ‘Do you have two hands? Do you have two feet? In the middle of the season that’s about all they look for.’ They had to teach me and I had to learn fast.”

Strausman ended up staying in Europe for four years, working his way up in the kitchens of hotels in Germany, Switzerland, and Amsterdam — “all five-star,” he says. “It was like going to Harvard… Language was only a handicap until they realized I was a hard worker; then the chefs loved me. All I said was, ‘Yes chef, no problem.’ I was there to work, not have a good time. But with my personality I had a good time anyway.”

When Strausman returned to the U.S. in the mid-’80s, Italian cuisine was eclipsing French food in popularity. In 1988, he teamed up with restaurateur Pino Luongo to open Sapore de Mare. With “nothing Italian in my bloodstream,” he took a seven-week sojourn in Italy to experience the food firsthand. Sapore soon became a Hamptons hot spot. Coco Pazzo came next, and in 1994, a hot spot of his own, Compagna.

Now, Agriturismo is “Compagna in the compagna,” as he likes to say. The setting is casual and countrified, but it’s a bright, polished country. A lavender wall jazzes up the otherwise white space, with its traditional black and white checkerboard floor and dark wood chairs and tables. Ex-wife-best-friend Susan Littlefield works the front of the house. “She’s great at it. It’s important karma for the restaurant,” Strausman says.

“I think in the next 10 years the Hudson Valley will be the second most popular destination for foodies, after California. People will come for foodie vacations. I don’t think we’ll eclipse the Napa Valley yet.” He pauses to reconsider. “But then Northern California doesn’t have the beef, lamb, chicken, pork… We have a lot more farms people can visit.”

2938 Church St., Pine Plains 518-398-1000

antoine mcguire's chef anthony accomando
Chef Anthony Accomando stands just outside the dining room of Antoine McGuire’s Oyster & Ale House, his popular Haverstraw eatery

Antoine McGuire’s Oyster & Ale House

Haverstraw’s Happy Hybrid

“A little French, a little Irish and a whole lot o’ fun!” proclaims the menu at this upbeat Haverstraw hybrid that’s part bistro, part pub, with a dash of old-time New York oyster house thrown in for good measure. Anthony Accomando, the 31-year-old chef who owns the place with his friend Peter McGuire, 40, says the idea was to honor McGuire’s Irish roots by offering pub grub, but with French touches that reflect Accomando’s own training at the French Culinary Institute.

» Read The Accidental Foodie’s review, “A Gallic-Celtic Alliance”

“Our shepherd’s pie is the perfect example of how we married classic French cooking and Irish pub food,” he says. “It’s a French lamb stew, braised in wine, served in a dish lined with puff pastry and topped with mashed potatoes.” Other Celtic-Gallic specialties are beer-battered Brie, corned beef gratin in a béchamel sauce topped with Gruyere, and Dublin-style fried oysters remoulade. Grandmere’s roast chicken would fly in any language. “It’s comfort food, but people are surprised at how light it is,” Accomando notes. “Even the Guinness braised short ribs, which are cooked the traditional French way but with Guinness — the flavors are quite clear…. The raw bar is huge,” he goes on. “We get the absolutely freshest oysters. The Raw Deal is one of our signatures: three oysters, three clams, shrimp, and mussels in a galvanized bucket — it’s the average man’s seafood tower.”

» Read Hudson Valley’s review, “Culture Shock”

raw deal shellfish dishServed in a metal bucket, the Raw Deal is the restaurant’s signature shellfish dish

Antoine McGuire’s opened in the old Mardoff’s Bakery building on April Fool’s Day last year — a date chosen as “sort of a gag,” explains Accomando, because delays by the state Liquor Authority had locals joking about whether they’d ever get in the door. The space is divided into a bar (the oyster and ale side), with exposed brick walls, beams and a pubby atmosphere; and a softly-lit dining room with red banquettes and a black and white tiled floor. Peter McGuire acts as host, when he’s not at his day job, putting out fires in the Bronx. “The restaurant is the main draw, but we get a nice little bar crowd,” Accomando says. “We have three huge TVs, tuned to sports, news, and the cooking network — so you can get all the information you need in life.”

Local farmers supply much of the meat and produce. Prices are fair, with the most expensive entrée only $23 (the filet mignon, Gaelic style). The wine list comes sorted by price ($25, $35, and $45), while the beer list is divided into imported and domestic brews by type, some of which are from local breweries like Defiant in Pearl River and Captain Lawrence in Pleasantville.

“It’s a sophisticated but comfortable place,” says Accomando, who grew up in Haverstraw and once helped out at his parents’ eateries. (Mom runs the J&B luncheonette; his father owns Babe’s Bar & Grill in West Haverstraw.) “You feel you’re in a hip, happening place.”

basement bistro fake egg
The “phony” egg: The “egg white” is preserved cattail shoots with wild wood sorrel-infused grapeseed oil; the “yolk” is a poached sungold tomato that was pickled in rhubarb vinegar; the “pepper” is purple bush bean powder; and the “bacon” is a parsnip that’s been brined in stevia, then dried

Basement Bistro

Destination Dining

Less “where to eat now” than “where to eat in 2013 (if you can score a reservation),” Basement Bistro — a tiny restaurant in Earlton, Greene County — has been a foodies’ secret since before the term “foodies” had gained much currency. Damon Baehrel and his wife, Elizabeth, opened the 20-seat eatery in the refinished basement of their home back in 1989, mainly to allow potential clients of their business, Sagecrest Catering, to sample Baehrel’s cooking.

At the outset, Baehrel offered a menu of what he calls “Native Harvest” cuisine — dishes based on ingredients from his property. But customers were not adventurous. “They wouldn’t order a puffball mushroom with basil wood-smoked corn, or cedarberry-smoked cabbage — it sounds weird. I started sending things out for people to try, and they enjoyed those tastes more than what they’d ordered. So I started the tasting menu only.”

Even now, when we think we’ve heard it all, some of Baehrel’s food sounds a little strange. While he was being interviewed, for instance, he was cooking a rutabaga in soil. “I just dug it up in a block of frozen soil, and put it in a pot in a really slow oven. The soil slowly defrosts. It can take three, four, or even five hours to cook. It’s so much fun!” he exclaims. “It’s in its skin, so the soil doesn’t really touch it,” he adds, for the benefit of the squeamish. The humble rutabaga is a staple for Baehrel, who uses a reduction of it to emulsify most of his sauces. “Everyone uses butter, butter, butter — if you’re doing half a dozen courses, everything tastes like butter. The taste of rutabaga disappears, and it gives a fluffiness and texture that lets the food shine through.”

Now in his mid-40s, Baehrel retired Sagecrest Catering five years ago to devote all his time to the restaurant, newly named Damon Baehrel at Basement Bistro as the first step in phasing out the “bistro” part altogether. “It’s not a bistro, it’s not quick, and it’s not inexpensive,” he explains. “We’re changing it to something more appropriate.”

chef damon baehrel
Chef Damon Baehrel prides himself on serving what he’s dubbed Native Harvest cuisine: He personally grows, butchers, churns, or forages for nearly all of the items offered on his menu

Naming his restaurant for himself may sound like typical chef ego, but Baehrel is the restaurant — the culinary equivalent of a one-man band. He greets customers, cooks and serves the food, acts as sommelier, and then cleans up when everyone’s gone home. He makes and ages cheeses using local milk; churns butter; bakes breads; buys whole animals from local farms and butchers them; and smokes, dries, and cures charcuterie. On his 11-acre property, Sagecrest Organic Gardens, he grows all the produce he serves, using cold frames and a greenhouse in winter. He taps trees for syrup. He forages for sorrel, ramps, burdock, fiddlehead ferns, mushrooms, and other wild plants many of us may not know are edible (like staghorn sumac and cattail shoots). He preserves, pickles, and dries foods. He uses lemon balm in place of lemons, acorns as a coffee substitute, and pine needles for brine. He makes vinegars “out of everything.” The only ingredients that come off a truck are seafood, and you get the impression he’d fish, too, if he weren’t in landlocked Earlton. “Native Harvest is my way of life,” he says, talking a mile a minute, and brimming with enthusiasm. “I’m obsessed.” And evidently tireless: “I’m one of those people that needs four or five hours sleep at the most.”

Baehrel grew up on Long Island, and summered in the Catskills with his family. His mother was an avid gardener and preserver. “It occurred to me one day that everything we needed was right here,” he observes. A self-taught chef, he says his culinary education began at age 14, when he was working at a local resort as a dishwasher and was promoted to man the egg griddle. “The chef’s name was Bozo. I often had to wake him up because he was hung over. So I’ve no great pedigree in that area.”

The restaurant is small and simple, with gold-colored walls and an oak floor. Guests pay about $128 (excluding wine, tax, and gratuity) for the tasting menu, a four-hour procession of nine to 12 courses served on Villeroy & Boch china, with wines in the appropriate Riedel and Spiegelau stemware. “A true gastronomic adventure,” proclaimed epicurious.com, calling Baehrel a “genius” after listing the meal: “Fragrant lavender bud and parsley flatbread, rich and gamey venison speck, perfectly cooked shrimp atop Savoy cabbage seasoned with smoked cedar berries, earthy wood ear mushroom soup with applewood smoked corn, moist and crackling duck confit served over a smooth purée of jade and butter turnips, and triple chocolate ganache.”

The only help Baehrel has is someone to juggle reservations. And therein lies the drawback. Earlton, which is about 20 minutes from Albany, “is not exactly the culinary capital of the world,” he observes, yet the waiting list for a reservation is very, very long. “People come because food is their hobby and their passion — they’re not just coming to eat. Some fly into Albany; we get West Coast folks all the time. It’s unbelievable … I haven’t had a cancellation since 2005.”

Why not expand? If all is to be believed, he could make a lot of money. “It wouldn’t be the same,” he replies. “We live below our means. I’m more excited about carrots than caviar — pathetic, I know. But I love what I do. I’m not going to do anything to blow it.”

boitson’s fried chicken and burger
Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, and the Boitson burger with fries


Buzzing American Bistro

Half the fun of eating at Boitson’s is the happy-hour vibe that permeates the place even during hours not officially designated to be happy. In neighborhood bistro style, it’s a casual, easygoing spot where you’ll see everyone from the nose-stud set to local suits, blue collar workers, and chic weekenders, all settling in at the marble-topped tables or sipping a cocktail beneath the leaded-glass “Lubrication” sign hanging over the bar.

» Read The Accidental Foodie’s review, “Bistromania!”

Much of the cheerful mood comes from the setting itself, in one of Kingston’s atmospheric, century-old storefronts. Owner Maria Phillipis designed the interior, keeping the exposed brick and pressed-tin ceiling in the long, narrow space, and adding a cork floor. Banquettes and a row of tables along one wall face the “Lubrication” station on the other. When it’s warm, you can eat on the deck in back, with its distant view of the Catskills.

boitson’s chef kris roberts
Executive Chef Kris Roberts at the stove

boitson’s lubrication station
Manager (and bartender) Seth Allen prepares a cocktail

A new chef, Kris Roberts, continues to cook the original roster of American bistro comfort food, “but he’s brought it up a notch,” Phillipis remarks. The menu mixes French bistro classics (escargots, steak frites) with Southern standards (fried chicken, biscuits, and gravy) and crowd pleasers like mac and cheese, buffalo wings, and burgers. “Our burger’s a killer,” Phillipis adds. “It’s a blend of short rib and brisket that we have specially ground for us. It comes on a brioche with caramelized onions and hand-cut fries. Kris has perfected the fries, too.” Specials might be something dressier — like pan-seared duck breast — or a reflection of the season. One winter offering was pot-roasted beef brisket with horseradish mustard and stewed red potatoes, reports Phillipis. “It’s probably the best brisket I’ve ever had. It’s a recipe Kris got from a 90-year-old man up in Hunter, and it’s a secret. He won’t share.” The raw bar is also a big draw. Chocolate espresso pot de creme has become the favorite dessert, although peach cobbler and bread pudding are contenders.

Regulars often sit at the bar and lubricate via a Pimm’s cup, or a cocktail named for a New York City borough. Loyal locals can go for the Kingston (made with honey vodka, lime, and mint syrup), or choose from a list of New York State wines and beers. Prices are affordable, with entrées topping out at $23.

Phillipis, who has worked in local eateries on and off since graduating from SUNY New Paltz, opened the bistro last June. It was the fulfillment of a dream that her onetime Brooklyn landlord helped her to realize, not only by encouraging her, but by leaving her some money when he died. She honored her benefactor, Mr. Boitson, by naming her eatery after him. A more whimsical tribute can be found in the bathrooms: frescoes inspired by sailors’ tattoos, in memory of Mr. Boitson’s time in the navy.

bull and buddha
A lively crowd fills Poughkeepsie’s Bull & Buddha on a recent Friday

Bull & Buddha

The Scene

When the Asian-fusion restaurant Bull & Buddha opened on Poughkeepsie’s Main Street last fall, droves of young professionals appeared from who knows where to nibble on small plates in the SoHo-esque lounge, or sip cocktails at the backlit honey onyx bar, where the namesake two-ton Buddha presides over the creative mixology. Those in the mood for something more substantial — Japanese-accented steaks, Korean BBQ ribs and such — head to the sleek dining room in back (where the average age skews a little higher). Sushi fans can perch at another glowing onyx bar in the hallway between the two main spaces and watch their morsels being prepared in front of a dramatic, cascading wall of water.

» Read the review

It’s chic, it’s hip, it’s hot, it’s happening. Evidently, price was no obstacle in refurbishing the onetime clothing store — the setting was designed to impress, although, as owner Alex Libin says, “without hitting you over the head.” Opinions differ about the cuisine (see review in our Jan. 2011 issue), but judging from comments posted online, that’s not the main attraction anyway. Rather, it’s the exciting, see-and-be-seen atmosphere.

bull and buddha orient

Bull & Buddha’s night-club vibe ramped up on New Year’s Eve, when Orient, an actual night club connected to the restaurant, had its “soft” opening on the second floor. “It was an incredible night,” reports Kevin Swenson, Orient’s young and “awesome manager,” as Libin describes him. “We expected about 100 people and got a force of 200. We had good expectations and it went above and beyond.” Since then, he reports: “We are packed.”

“Packed” is something, given that the space is about 4,000 square feet. It’s as deluxe as the restaurant downstairs. Bands play at one end of the main room, and there’s a bar at the other; an exotic beaded-curtain tent (complete with chandelier) occupies the middle, surrounded by tables. There are private, VIP rooms. “The idea was to create a lounge feel,” says Swenson, “so there’s no defined dance floor. What ended up happening is that people just dance everywhere.”

About 30 percent of the crowd comes up from the restaurant, Swenson says. “A lot of people enjoy the mellow, soft atmosphere downstairs, and then we have the energetic, cocktail environment upstairs.” If you need a nibble during night-club hours, you can go down to the restaurant for sushi and small plates, which are served until 1 a.m.

Open daily for lunch and dinner; until 8 p.m. on Sunday. Orient is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 p.m. until the small hours, with no cover.

caffe macchiato sandwiches
The caffe’s prosciutto sandwich with fresh mozzarella and homemade pesto

Caffé Macchiato

Italian Style in Newburgh

When Brooklyn transplants Edwine Seymour and Barbara Ballarini were looking for a place to open an Italian caffe, a narrow storefront on Newburgh’s Liberty Street seemed just right. Many people may not have thought so. Washington’s Headquarters (across the street) is an attraction in the slowly reviving historic district, but the neighborhood is a little rough around the edges; and the building itself, a food market 50-odd years ago, was a mess. “It was completely burned out, destroyed,” Ballarini remembers. “But we fell in love. We thought, ‘We can make new life for this place.’ ”


» Readers voted Caffé Macchiato “Best Lunch Spot” in 2009

Seymour (who’s originally from Haiti) and Ballarini (who’s Italian) spent months renovating the space, transforming it into what everyone agrees is a delightful little slice of Italy. Opening the caffe was doubly adventurous, considering neither of them had any restaurant experience. Seymour was a photographer and Ballarini a journalist when they met and married, but friends who’d enjoyed the couple’s cooking encouraged them in the venture. “We love to eat and we love to cook. We decided to run off and put ourselves in the business,” Ballarini says. They opened in March 2005, with Seymour adopting the role of pastry chef and Ballarini preparing the savories.

The simple, traditional menu offers a variety of panini and sandwiches (the porchetta, with roast pork, roasted sweet red pepper, honey mustard, and provolone, is a standout for only $8). There are salads, a pasta of the day, and a daily soup in winter. Egg dishes like frittatas and baked eggs are popular. “We serve a sunny-side egg dish with Italian ham and alfalfa sprouts that I invented,” Ballarini says. “It’s so good, I surprised myself.” Weekend brunchers rave about the crepes, pancakes, and waffles. Ballarini imports cheeses and cured meats like bresaola, sopressata, and capicola from her motherland. “In summer, we supplement with local, organic produce — there are lots of farmers around here,” she says. Muffins, croissants, biscotti, tarts, tiramisu and all kinds of tantalizing, fresh-baked goodies lie in wait in the display case.

Even though it’s off the beaten track, the caffe is usually buzzing. The mood is relaxed enough that kids romp on the pillow-strewn couch by the front window. “Or they sit at the bar like big people and drink hot chocolate,” Ballarini says. “Sometimes we have a row of six or seven of them sitting there.” Ines, the couple’s eight-year-old daughter, is often a charming presence.

It takes an iron will to pass up the pastries, but some customers stop in just for coffee, or a glass of wine or beer. “We make lots of drinks with Champagne, too,” says Ballarini. “Fragolino with fresh strawberry juice, Bellinis, mimosas. We also have a hot wine with spices and herbs — it’s really aromatic and good, especially when it’s cold outside.”

oriole 9 baked eggs dish
The baked eggs dish contains spinach, roasted tomato, and Parmesan

Oriole 9

Breakfast & Brunch

Even jaded New Yorkers get excited about the breakfast and brunch served at this friendly Woodstock hangout, launching themselves onto yelp.com with raves about the “healthy, responsible, beautifully presented” and “straight-up delicious” food. “The standard breakfast is not standard by any means,” declares a Rego Park resident, who describes it as “a work of art.” Quite a compliment for eggs. “Delicious coffee,” noted a number of reviewers. “I really dig their style,” comments one Ed. J. from Chicago, adopting the hippie vernacular to drive home his point.

» Read the review

Choices run from the health-conscious (oatmeal with dried cranberries and flaxseed, yogurt with granola) to hedonistic (vanilla French toast with cinnamon spiced banana and whipped cream). There’s an array of omelets and eggs for traditionalists (Italian style eggs with spicy sofrito sauce are popular). Hearty eaters can go for corned beef or tofu hash, or the bread pudding with bacon and maple syrup. The best-selling Cuban press sandwich with pork, provolone, and ham will carry you through until dinner, as will the tasty grilled Moroccan lamb kofte wrap with roasted tomato, red onion, and basil cream — especially if you follow up with apple pie or bittersweet chocolate mousse. There’s a soup, pasta, and stew special each day, along with half a dozen salads and a kid’s menu. Ingredients are mostly organic and from local sources.

nina paturel oriole 9
Nina Paturel, co-owner of Oriole 9, stands near a list of the restaurant’s daily specials, which make use of local, organic ingredients as often as possible

Nina Paturel, who opened Oriole 9 with her chef husband, Pierre-Luc Moeys, five years ago, says the idea was to create a European-style café. “Not just a place to eat and leave,” she says, “but a place to spend an afternoon and feel comfortable. People are in here half the day. A lot of groups hold meetings, sit for a few hours, and do whatever they do.” In that regard, Paturel is continuing in her parent’s footsteps: In the 1960s, they ran Woodstock’s Café Espresso, where Joan Baez and Bob Dylan hung out with lesser-known folkies. Oriole 9 was the Woodstock exchange back then, when phone numbers had a colorful prefix.

The setting is relaxed, but it’s stylish and inviting, too, with orange walls and wood floors. You can sit at one of two communal tables, at a table for two or four, or at one of the round tables in the corners, where half-moon banquettes scattered with pillows encourage lounging.

Moeys trained in Europe in the classic French and Italian styles, which explains many of the flourishes on the menu. “Luc misses cooking dinners,” says Paturel. “So about once a month we serve an Italian family-style dinner. He makes a whole bunch of food, chef’s choice. We push the tables together — it’s always a fun night.”

Recently, Oriole 9 was the second restaurant in Ulster County to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association. “It’s kind of a big deal,” Paturel says.

zen dog cafe band
Zen Dog Café hosts live musical performances (mainly jazz) every Wednesday and Friday night. Above, the Andrew Greeney Quartet — featuring George DeLeons on sax, Malcolm Cecil on bass, and Mike Kuilp on piano — sets the mood

Zen Dog Café

All Jazzed Up

“This is the greatest thing to happen in Rhinebeck since Washington stayed at the Beekman Arms,” declares D.J. Kadagian, the exuberant owner of Zen Dog Café, which opened last August a few doors down from the illustrious inn. Kadagian, a man who enjoys a little hyperbole, says he launched the café-gallery-bookstore-music venue to suit himself. “I was interested in having a place to hang out, and I wanted an excuse to be around music — live West Coast and Brazilian jazz in particular,” he says. Wednesdays and Fridays, everyone can hear such music played live, admission free; at other times, it’s the café’s soundtrack.

The place is as quirky as its owner. The building, probably once a two-family home, housed accounting offices “for about 50 years,” Kadagian says. “And it looked like it. It was pretty dated.” He gutted the space, but kept most of the warren of rooms, transforming the front of the building into a café on one side and a small wine bar on the other. There are three lounges in the back and an art gallery upstairs, where the works include lithographs by Dali and Chagall. Traditional Victorian elements (like octagonal, black-and-white tile floors and silver pressed-tin ceilings) blend with the new vaulted ceiling; pedestal dining tables; boxy, black leather furniture in the lounges; and contemporary art. Purple napkins match the canopy outside. There’s a baby grand piano in the corner of one lounge, books on topics from religion to politics in another, and flat-screen TVs all over the place (which display album covers that match whatever music is playing). Kadagian also plans to screen short films. “We have an amazing sound system,” he adds.

zen dog pizza zen dog craft brews

The menu bills itself as “farm to table,” so it’s driven partly by what’s in season. Starters and small bites might include a lamb burger slider, a hummus platter, or duck rillet. “Eclectic gourmet pizza is the backbone of the menu, so that you don’t have to spend $20 on an entrée,” Kadagian says. Among the pizzas are the classic tomato and mozzarella, a Mexican style pie, a “cheesy quartet,” and a deep-dish variety — although the Indian-inspired Mumbai pie seems to be the favorite. If you do want to spend about $20 on an entrée, at dinner you can choose more robust dishes like braised beef short ribs, lamb tagine, or a pasta or fish dish, all of which have fine-dining touches. You’ll find soups and sandwiches on the brunch and lunch menus. Wine enthusiasts can sample some of the unusual, mostly organic labels at twice-monthly tastings. Craft brews are on tap for beer lovers.

As for the crowd: “We get a steady flow of movie stars,” Kadagian jokes. “Actually, we get an interesting mix, all ages, the New York crowd, local people, artsy people. We get people who didn’t realize they like jazz, and made believers out of them. We get a lot of musicians coming in, too. That’s a good sign.”

Kadagian, 47, a former hedge fund manager (“before hedge funds became a four letter word”), filmmaker, and briefly a divinity student, fell in love with Rhinebeck when he was filming at the Omega Institute. “It feels like Europe,” he says. “Especially if you sit on the patio outside when the church bells are going.” And how does a former financier and filmmaker find being a restaurateur? “I loved creating it; running it takes a particular skill set that I may not have. But I’m having a good time, hanging out, drinking beer, and listening to jazz.”

“One other cool thing,” he adds: “We have electric car chargers for four electric cars. We’re expecting them to pull in any minute.”

6387 Mill St., Rhinebeck 845-516-4501

Our Digital Partners

Learn how to become a digital partner ...

Our Excellence in Nursing Awards take place on May 1!

Our Best of Hudson Valley ballot is open through March 31!

Unveiled: A Boutique Bridal Brunch is February 25!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.