It’s sad to see a restaurant fail. Maybe the paint is the first thing to fade. Then the lights dim and the bathrooms get a little less then sanitary. The menu deteriorates as well, with more frozen shortcuts and fewer fresh ingredients in sight.
That’s precisely how Dallas and Ted Gilpin found The Dutch Ale House when they purchased it in early 2018. Although the couple had long since fallen in love with the space on Friday night visits during their weekend trips upstate, it wasn’t until they bought the property from its former owners that they came face to face with the reality of the work that needed to be done on it. The tavern area was presentable, but the attached dining room, the home of a former t-shirt store, required extensive renovations.
The Gilpins already knew that, though. The husband and wife team, both of whom have backgrounds in finance in New York City, did extensive financial planning prior to the purchase. They knew how much it would cost to repair the deteriorated space, and they were more than willing to put in the legwork to make it happen.
Fast-forward a few months and the new Ale House is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. From the moment you first step through the door, the 82-seat restaurant charms with rich hardwood floors, an original mahogany bar, and classic brass trimming everywhere you look. In the dining room, the Gilpins tore down plaster walls that were polka-dotted with holes to reveal pristine brick walls. Now resurfaced, the bricks, which were made in Saugerties, are an ode to the town’s history as a brick industry center.
Of course, the décor isn’t the only thing that’s new. To help create a new seasonal menu, the Gilpins brought on chef Jonathan Botta, formerly of Harry & Ida’s, Colicchio & Sons, and Ducks Eatery in New York City. As for libations, the couple sought the help of Derek Williams, previously of The Huguenot and A Tavola Trattoria in New Paltz. Together, the core team melded their past experiences with the restaurant’s 80-plus year history to create a dining concept that honors tradition and highlights the bounty of the region.
The menu is a fine balance of old and new, traditional and innovative. Botta offers creative takes on Dutch flavors without going too far out of anyone’s comfort zone. It helps that Southern undercurrents, odes to Botta’s North Carolina heritage, ripple across the curated list of dishes. Then there’s the fact that everything, everything, is homemade. From the pickled cauliflower and carrots in the Pickle Jar appetizer to the IPA mustard on the sausage plate, even the smallest elements get the TLC treatment. Perhaps most notable, however, is the fact that Botta makes all the bratwurst and kielbasa himself. In the back of the restaurant each and every week, he smokes his kielbasa for four hours and poaches his bratwurst in beer to create final products that are almost too delectable to be lumped in the far too generic realm of “sausage.” On the starter menu, his sampling of bratwurst and kielbasa pair beautifully with zingy IPA mustard and caraway seed-flavored sauerkraut.
Although there are a number of vegetarian options on the menu, meat is the true star of the show at The Dutch. Botta takes time to ensure that each and every cut is cooked to perfection, from the hot smoked salmon, which is smoked long and low before getting a final sear to create a delectable coriander crust, to the pastrami beef rib, which can only be attributed to some sort of voodoo on Botta’s part. The “rib,” as the menu declares it, is so large it looks like a hunk of meat from a triceratops. As for taste, it falls apart with the touch of a fork (no knife required here). The most bewildering thing of all, however, is that the meat tastes exactly, and we do mean exactly, like pastrami. Served with a light horseradish sauce and roasted potatoes and fennel, the dish alone is worth the trip to Saugerties.
On the shippable side of things, Williams impresses with a cocktail menu that is clever and approachable. The Dutch, a blend of burnt orange-infused Bol’s Genever and Aperol Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, is appropriate year-round and honors the restaurant’s European history. The Oliver Lewis, meanwhile, with Prairie Vodka, Chareau, blueberry and sage compote, and lemon, is a tribute to the town’s HITS horse races (Oliver Lewis was a jockey who rode in the first Kentucky Derby). Williams’ wine list impresses too. Ask him for a recommendation and he’ll direct you to anything from Bujanda Tempranilo, a spicy Italian red, to Grand Moulin Sauvignon Blanc, a grassy white that’s ideal on clear summer evenings.
In true alehouse form, the venue wouldn’t be complete without a top-notch selection of craft brews. It has 16 beers on tap and an ever-rotating selection of bottles. Even though its doors have only been open since March 31, the eatery has already become a go-to destination for limited tap releases from local vendors. According to Dallas, coveted beer releases, which the restaurant announces on Instagram, can sell out in a matter of hours.
If changes evident on the menus and throughout the eatery are any indication, The Dutch is only getting started with its rebirth. Yet even as it moves forward, it never loses sight of its past. It will never get rid of the Dutch shoe collection that hangs on the way by the entryway or the 100 cup program that allows a limited number of repeat visitors the chance to get a larger glass of beer during each and every visit. Diehard Dutch fans can still order The Harvest, the beloved Thanksgiving-style sandwich that was a longtime favorite on the old menu. Botta has adapted it, thankfully, with homemade cornbread stuffing and turkey meat that he brines and roasts himself.
The true charm of The Dutch is the length its team goes to preserve a heritage, however tarnished it may be. Only four months into its new timeline, the Ale House has already found a solid footing with locals. That’s a good thing, since it’s clear that the best is yet to come. Botta and Williams have an eagerness to slowly stretch their limits without ever going too far beyond tradition, while the Dalpins have the commitment to the space itself that makes it all possible.
The Dutch Ale House
253 Main St, Saugerties