One of the nicest mini-vacations around is grabbing a seat at one of the Valley’s riverside restaurants and watching the sailboats go by. This June the view will be even more special, as the New York State Quadricentennial River Day Commemorative Relay Flotilla comes sailing up the Hudson from June 6 through 13, tracing Henry Hudson’s path from New York Harbor to Albany.
Your first sighting in the Hudson Valley will be Saturday evening, June 6, when the flotilla arrives in the Haverstraw area. But of course, riverfront dining will be de rigueur the rest of the summer, too.
Here’s a tip: Watch the flotilla go by while seated under one of the dozens of orange umbrellas on the deck of the Hudson Water Club (845-271-4046). Located in the Haverstraw Marina, the restaurant has 250 seats on the deck and 150 inside. “People want to be out on the water — it’s so tropical. You hear the breaking of the waves. It’s like a little getaway, like being on an island,” says co-owner Chris Martin.
Boaters can pull up to the restaurant at a dock that accommodates about 15 watercraft. But many stay at the adjacent marina. “Some come to spend the weekend on the boat,” says executive chef Michael Dobias. “After you’ve been out all day fishing, sunning, or waterskiing, it so nice to come back and clean up, then walk right next door to a restaurant and have a couple of cocktails and dinner. We have an outside tiki bar with a band area, where there’s music on Wednesday through Sunday.
Seafood is the emphasis here, with crabcakes as the number one seller, perfect with a light, hoppy summer brew like Blue Moon garnished with an orange slice. Chef’s selections like citrus-glazed shrimp and chilled avocado soup enhance the summertime vibe. Light fare, like a grilled portobello sandwich or cheese-and-chicken-filled nachos, is also available from the dockside menu.
Newburgh’s Cena 2000 offers glorious scenery and serious food
Photograph by Michael Nelson
Next stop for the flotilla: Sunday, June 7, through Wednesday, June 9, when it sails into Beacon-Newburgh Bay, accompanied by some 400 excursion boats and yachts. Expect the restaurants of the Newburgh waterfront to be hopping. The West Point band will play on June 8 from 6:30 to 8 pm, and the Beacon-Newburgh ferry will be operating on an expanded schedule. In honor of Flag Day, June 14, the antique fireboat John J. Harvey will spray crowd-pleasing plumes of red, white, and blue water.
These events will draw a lot of people. Fortunately, there are quite a few restaurants on the waterfront to accommodate them. Let’s begin at the northern tip with Torches on the Hudson (845-568-0100). The kids will be mesmerized by the 6,000-gallon saltwater aquarium (don’t the fish look like they’re smiling?), but you’ll likely be even more smitten with the views. Since it opened in 2001, this waterfront restaurant has become well-known as a venue for parties, fund-raisers and weddings. Sit on the two-tier deck and people-watch, or cast your eyes on the ever-changing river with Mount Beacon beyond. If it’s hot and sticky outside, you can also savor the view from indoors, courtesy of floor-to-ceiling windows (the interior accommodates 220, while the patio can hold 180).
Boaters from as far away as Manhattan, New Jersey, and Tarrytown come for a stayover at Torches on the Hudson Marina. Ten transient slips are available for those who just want to dine and then push off. Of course, you can come by car, too: Torches has a nice-sized parking lot. In the evening, when the torches are lit, the bar gets hopping and the nightlife begins, with a variety of DJs spinning tunes. Oh, yes, and there’s the food. Start with an appetizer of Buffalo calamari over mixed greens or Maryland-style crabcake with chipotle remoulade. Move on to entrées like mixed grill Alambre (a Brazilian-inspired mix of steak, chicken and shrimp) and artichoke-crusted salmon. If you’re looking for something simpler, there’s always the panini-style fresh pressed sandwiches and the raw bar. Popular new cocktails include French 75 (Bull Dog gin with a simple syrup and lime juice) and Elderflower (a mix of liqueurs, chilled and strained over ice), both topped with champagne. The selection of artisan beers changes every few weeks,
Stroll down the walkway to Cena 2000 (845-561-7676). The Italian opera music is your first tipoff that the fare will be classic Mediterranean. A substantial patio with a canopy and umbrellas makes it possible to sit out in all kinds of weather. Outdoors there is seating for 150; indoors seats 70. The view here is just the icing. This place draws serious foodies. At the alfresco oyster bar you can get oysters and clams on the half shell and lobster cocktails. Summertime specialties include softshell crabs, pasta with shaven black truffles, grilled filet mignon served over arugula with white truffle oil, king crab legs, and glorious seafood platters. Every night there are four or five choices of fresh fish. A chocolate soufflé or hazelnut gelato makes a nice finish.
Perfect for a waterfront location, Havana 59 (845-562-7767) is a Cuban-American fusion experience. At lunchtime, many diners opt for the Cuban sandwich, a generous pileup of roasted pulled pork, ham, swiss, pickles, and spicy mustard. At dinner, you might start with a Havana sampler (which includes mini tacos and addictively spicy cheese-stuffed jalapeno bottlecaps). Shrimp and scallop tequila scampi is a house favorite.
Gully’s, a restaurant barge, features alfresco dining, and docking for 15 boats
Blue Martini (845-562-7111) is a clever name for a restaurant that specializes in martinis and seafood (blue martin, get it?). Settle into a seat at one of the eight outdoor tables or enjoy appetizers at the tiki bar (there’s also an indoor bar, with fun blue lighting). The dining room opens to the outdoors and seats 40. Every day, there’s a fresh catch for sushi. The mixed grill, an array of seafood, is another specialty. Or sample offerings from the raw bar, complete with oysters and clams on half shell, as well as lobster tails. A staffer is quick to point out that their 40 different types of martinis, made with vodka or gin, are “not your uncle’s martini. They won’t knock you off your barstool.” Check them out at the daily happy hour. Some favorites: Up All Night (made with Red Bull) and Very Berry (fragrant with Chambord). Tuesday is ladies’ night from 9 to 12.
Sometimes, you don’t want to comb through a million choices on a menu. That’s when a place like Cafe Pitti (845-565-1444) comes in. Specializing in wood-fired thick-crust pizzas and wraps, the restaurant makes its strengths perfectly clear. There is a selection of wine, beer, wine, sodas, iced teas, and coffees — but no cocktails. Look for the perky yellow awning.
Of its 150 seats, 95 are outside at The River Grill (845-561-9444). There is also a four-seat outdoor bar. This spot for contemporary American cuisine bustles from lunch to dinner as ceiling fans whirl beneath a blue canopy. For lunch, choose among wraps like buffalo chicken, or spinach and portobello mushrooms. Try the triple-decker diner-style BLT with a fun addition: pastrami-flavored salmon. Dinner selections include grilled mahi-mahi with a fresh strawberry and mint salsa, broiled Atlantic salmon topped with a macadamia coconut crust, and pan-seared Chilean seabass topped with a pesto-parmesan herb crust.
Also American, but with a New Orleans touch, Big Easy Bistro (845-565-3939) offers gumbo any way you like — with vegetables and andouille sausage, with seafood, or with chicken — catfish filet, and a variety of po’ boys at lunch. For dinner, pecan-smoked babyback ribs, a signature bouillabaisse, stuffed chicken breast, trout meuniere, and blackened pork chops are favorites. The restaurant runs a $32 special from Sunday through Friday that includes two entrées and a bottle of wine. The seating is split 50/50 between indoors and out.
On the south end of the riverfront cluster, 26 Front Street & Tiki Bar (845-569-8035) really has two personalities: By day, it’s a tranquil place to listen to waves lap up to the shore and have a drink at the tiki bar or on the deck. The emphasis is on casual fare like chicken sandwiches and burgers. No walkway separates the restaurant from the river. Tank tops and flipflops are definitely encouraged. At night, change into your dancing shoes, but lose the tank top and even your sunglasses (see dress code on the Web site). Live entertainment and a dance floor make this one of the most happening spots in Newburgh. The restaurant doesn’t open til 3 pm on Tuesday through Friday, but is open for lunch on weekends; the restaurant is open May through September.
To really be on the water, head to Gully’s (845-565-0077), a restaurant barge that has set anchor for over 20 years. Located at the Newburgh Municipal Launch Ramp, it offers docking on all sides for 15 boats (there is also a large parking lot). A social hangout, Gully’s draws people to both its 100-table open-air top deck and its air-conditioned dining room below (the hull) that seats 60. Don’t worry about getting dressed up — the many motorcycle-riding patrons certainly don’t. Menu favorites include lobster tails, king crabs, wings, clams, and burgers. No trendy drinks here. Old favorites like rumrunners, mudslides, piña coladas, and strawberry daiquiris do a brisk business. The restaurant is open May through September.
In addition to spectacular views, Shadows on the Hudson serves up signature cocktails and desserts that beg to be shared
Photograph by Steven Planck
The flotilla arrives the evening of June 9 in Poughkeepsie and stays til the next day. And if you happen to be sitting at the tiki bar on the newly expanded deck of River Station (845-452-9207), you’ll be in luck — the boats will be docking in adjacent Waryas Park. For over two decades, this waterfront stalwart been drawing a faithful clientele. On one lazy Friday afternoon, old friends met over lunch on the open-air deck (seats 125) and watched sailboats pass under the Mid-Hudson and Railroad Bridges. A gentleman arrived at noon, as he does every Friday, to have lunch after a train ride from Manhattan. The proximity to the train makes River Station a fun destination that works well for a day trip. Reinforcing the railroad theme, a Lionel train set on the ground floor snakes all the way around the dining room. There is a Hudson River mural as well as an original tin ceiling, which gives the place an old-time charm. Climb the stairs to the 120-seat second floor for more great views and a display of historic photos. Menu favorites include Cowboy steak in peppercorn sauce, twin lobster tails, swordfish, red snapper, tilapia, and fish and chips. Parking is available.
For a million-dollar view, few can challenge Shadows on the Hudson (845-486-9500), perched high above the water. Part of a larger complex that includes Grandview, a catering facility, Shadows has transformed this part of Poughkeepsie from a no-man’s land to a destination. For lunch, diner, or brunch, it’s popular with all age groups. The staff will happily accommodate food allergies, people with celiac disease, and special requests. The appetizer of Chardonnay-steamed littlenecks over roasted garlic mashed potatoes draws raves. You’ll also appreciate the shaved parmesan that tops your Caesar salad, which is complimentary with entrées. Desserts, like berry shortcake, are meant to be shared. Two bars, inside and out, keep patrons blissed out on signature cocktails. Try the Raspberry Mojave, a house favorite that’s been featured on the Food Network. At night, there’s music and partying in the lounges. Stay tuned: plans call for a three-quarter-mile riverfront walkway, six more restaurants, and a 100-slip marina.
You can also view the boats as they sail out of Poughkeepsie from Mariners on the Hudson (845-691-4711) in Highland, on the river’s west bank. The water splashes right up to the restaurant’s deck. With over 200 slips free of charge for dining and bar patrons, the restaurant is an excellent option for boaters who want to grab a quick bite. Sit wherever you like on the huge deck, even if you’re just ordering a soda. Then take in the views of the Marist Boathouse, the Culinary Institute, and of course the Walkway Over the Hudson.
A recent remodeling introduced windows that actually open, so you can feel the river breeze and hear the call of gulls even if you’re inside. Three dining rooms and a private dining room available for parties seat 200 to 300, while the outdoor decks seats about 200. An outdoor tiki bar adds to the festive mood.
Under the direction of executive chef Thomas Muss, menu fare has moved away from pub grub to culinary chic. “We didn’t want the reputation of a place that relies on its view,” says co-manager Connie Dutra. You’ll still find favorites like little neck clams, shrimp cocktail, and mussels with garlic, but foodies will welcome ginger-sesame eggrolls and oysters on the half shell with a white truffle-chive vinaigrette. Burgers, pizza, and sandwiches are on offer, but also tuna with wild mushroom risotto or monkfish braised in white wine and tomato. Look for details of its River Day celebration on its Web site calendar.
Captain’s log, June 10: The flotilla arrives at the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s historic docks in Kingston. How fortunate for you that Rosita’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina (845-339-5372) is right next door and even has its own marina, with four slips open to guests. Grab a deck seat, order some nachos, and relax with a mango tequila. Your first clue that the boats are approaching will be the clanging church bells, whistling steam engines, and cannon fire. Stick around for a live WAMC radio broadcast and concert by on-air personalities and folk musicians Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. The museum promises to distribute handkerchiefs and flags to wave.
Steel House Restaurant & Catering (845-338-7847) is another hot ticket on the Rondout waterfront. Just for the Quadricentennial, look for $16.09 specials (1609 was 400 years ago). The restaurant accommodates 175 people on the deck, or you can dine inside with a view of the river (the inside seats 250-300). Look for daily seafood specials and a Southern bbq menu all summer. In addition to frozen drinks from the tiki bar, there’s an encyclopedic selection of beer, including Kegan Ales of Kingston.
Every Wednesday is karaoke night; country night is Thursday; live music is featured Friday and Saturday.
But there’s more! Mariner’s Harbor (845-340-8051) bills itself as an alternative to a trip to New England on account of its lobster bakes, held Tuesday through Thursday. It includes lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, and baked potato. With both an outdoor deck that seats 80 and an enclosed patio/porch that seats about 40, there are many options for a direct waterfront view. There is also an outdoor bar, a great place to watch the weekend entertainment. If you’re lucky, you’ll see members of the local rowing club gliding past on the water, not to mention the many boats that come to the City of Kingston Municipal Marina, where you can dock hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly. It’s just down a short path to Mariner’s Harbor, making the restaurant an easy place to access by car or boat.