Devin and Marybeth Mills both had big New York City restaurant careers, but still, “We had always thought about coming up this way,” says Marybeth. “One day we were up here visiting and drove past an abandoned building; we looked at each other and said, ‘This is it; let’s give it a go.’ ”
That was a dozen years ago, and the couple have more than made a go of it. In fact, with an inventive farm-fresh menu and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere, Peekamoose in Big Indian has steadfastly remained one of the very best restaurants in the region since its December 2004 opening.
“The building had such an incredibly rich history,” says Marybeth, noting that it had previously housed Rudi’s Big Indian Country Kitchen. “It was part of an ashram, and was quite cutting-edge for that time — they served fried ice cream and hummus. Lots of people stop by and tell us that it was the very first place where they ever tried hummus.”
During their two-year renovation, the Millses set out to create a space “with some distinction. People really feel like they can explore here. It’s pretty fun,” says Marybeth. She’s not kidding: Everywhere you turn in this refined yet rustic space, there’s something original to look at. “It’s always evolving,” says Marybeth. “You know, any taxidermy that our customers’ wives want to get rid of may end up on our walls.”
There are also lots of logs. The long bar in the tap room is crafted from a log, logs separate the lounge from the private dining room, and there are a couple of logs that serve as chandeliers in the main room. “Literally everything is made from wood that has fallen on our property,” says Marybeth. A small children’s play area — stocked with trains, books, and (naturally) Lincoln Logs — even has a tree standing right in the center of it.
Fun and funky: The White Sangria (left) is made using pears, berries, grapes — as well as white wine and house-infused raspberry vodka. A stuffed critter oversees the bar
Adding to the fun factor is the ever-present bonfire. Situated on a small patio right outside the front door, the fire area is stocked with a bowl of marshmallows and bamboo sticks. “Nothing makes me happier than families hanging out here, watching a dad show his daughter how to roast a marshmallow,” says Marybeth. “Some people come around for a drink and before you know it, guitars come out and it becomes very ‘Kumbaya’ out there.”
Of course, it’s the food at Peekamoose that has created such a loyal following. Marybeth says they work closely with many local farms, including KSD Farm for vegetables, and Snowdance Farm for their “unparalleled chickens.” “We drive around separately filling up our cars with whatever comes out of the ground that day,” she adds.
Favorite appetizers include the house-made local charcuterie board, an arugula salad, and roasted beet tartare — all of which we sampled during a recent visit. A hint of Worcestershire sauce, an emulsified aïoli, sea salt, caper berries, and bit of white truffle oil created what we all agreed was the best beet dish we’d ever tasted. The salad — with peaches, goat cheese, toasted pistachios, red onions, and fresh strawberries — was simply exquisite.
The eatery’s signature burger features Slope Farm beef and balsamic onion tomato jam on a house-made brioche bun
For main dishes, we tried the hanger steak and the vegetable terrine; both were excellent. The steak was especially flavorful. “The cuts we are getting these days are exceptional,” says Marybeth. “Then we cook it over cherry wood, which really ups the flavor.” But the slow-braised beef short ribs remain the restaurant’s signature dish. “I married my husband for his short ribs,” jokes Marybeth. “It’s a 16-hour braise and a three-day reduction on the sauce. Even when it’s over 100 degrees, people want the short ribs.”
And luckily for the Millses, people seem to want many of the other things on the menu, too. “I admit that I came up here kicking and screaming a little bit. But I’m so glad that we did,” says Marybeth. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else now.”
Peekamoose Restaurant & Tap Room
Appetizers and salads $6-$17, entrées $9-$29
8373 State Road 28, Big Indian
Pulled pork quesadilla from Roxbury’s Public Lounge
Roxbury’s Public Restaurant & Lounge has come a long way since its first incarnation as a martini lounge eight years ago. Although the long metal-topped bar — with its warmly lit, amber and white striped glass bottom — still dominates visually, the focus nowadays is firmly on the food. Public serves up American-style fare using locally grown ingredients to a diverse crowd that includes locals, second homeowners, day-trippers from Brooklyn and Manhattan — as well as guests from the Roxbury, a themed boutique hotel located next door that draws visitors from all over.
Owner Nickolett Sprague was a waitress and bartender at Public for five years before taking the helm in January 2013. “I’d worked with Trish and Jill (the previous owners) for so long that we’d become like family. So when they made the decision to move, we decided that I’d take over.” She updated the menu, adding more classic dishes — such as the popular slow-cooked St. Louis-style ribs slathered in homemade barbecue sauce and served with roasted potatoes and homemade coleslaw — and creative cocktails like the Flamingo Cosmo served with a house sour mix and pomegranate juice to the line-up. Other favorites include fresh fish dishes, like Arctic char with lemon dill sauce and fish tacos paired with a watermelon salad. “I use as much from local vendors as possible,” says Sprague. “We’re right next to the Schoharie Valley, so that makes it easy.”
As word spreads about Roxbury’s sleepy charm, zany motel, and growing local food scene, more and more diners are arriving to sample Public Restaurant’s fare. Sprague has increased the restaurant’s capacity by about 40 seats to a total of 75 and hired eight more staff members to keep up with the demand.
Public Restaurant & Lounge
Bridge St., Roxbury
Lucky Dog’s ginger cake with lemony whipped cream
Holley and Richard Giles were living in New York City when they fell in love with the beauty of the Catskills while visiting friends there in the late ’90s. The mountains, the streams, the woods — they loved it all. But they really fell for the soil. Richard had grown up working on big, conventional farms in the South, but the Catskills inspired him to start something different — an organic farm. “We started looking for a farm in 1999,” he says, “and just happened on this one that had a house, a barn, and beautiful land right on the river. Everything we needed.”
Before they knew it, the couple had bought the 45-acre property and relocated to the hamlet of Hamden. One year later, they purchased an old store in the center of the village. “Without a store, a village has no heart. Holley wanted to open the store to bring some life to the village,” Richard says. The Lucky Dog Organic Café opened a few years later. The menu features light fare: sandwiches, soups, and salads made with vegetables grown right on the farm, and nitrate- and hormone-free meats from local farms when possible. Holley bakes all the bread, buns, cookies, and cakes herself, using grain grown by Richard — who this summer plans to rebuild an old stone mill on his farm with the help of a neighbor.
Inside the café, the daily offerings are listed on a number of blackboards hung on cheerful yellow walls. A Cuban spiced pulled pork sandwich adds a new twist to locally grown pork, and comes with coleslaw and a choice of balsamic marinated beets topped with chèvre and walnuts, or a simple kale salad with olive oil, garlic, and sea salt. Fresh juice blends may be available depending on what’s been picked that day. A recent menu offered a juice titled simply “Green” made from apple, fennel, and pea shoots. For those with a sweet tooth, the homemade honey ice cream with fruit topping or fresh ginger cake with lemon whipped cream may prove irresistible.
In addition to Holley’s baked goods, the old-fashioned farm store offers fresh (and frozen in the winter) produce and products — cheese, milk, vegetables, berries, beef, pork and poultry, fresh pasta and ravioli, maple syrup and honey — from Lucky Dog and other local farms. On either side of a huge hand-pieced quilt that hangs at one end of the store, tall shelves are neatly stocked with locally made products including goat milk soaps from Windy Willows Soapworks in Hancock, candles made by a couple in Hobart, seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, and much more.
“Between the farm, the café, the store, and our two children, we’re busy. A little too busy, actually. But the bigger project here has been trying to rebuild a farm community that’s built on good food and local labor,” says Richard.
Lucky Dog Organic
Open Tues.-Sun., call for hours
35796 State Highway 10, Hamden
Brushland’s pork schnitzel, accompanied by buttermilk zucchini salad with grilled onions and fresh parsley
The newest Catskills restaurant on the scene opened in mid-May. Located in tiny Bovina, the Brushland Eating House can be found in the Main Street building that was most recently home to Two Old Tarts bakery, which relocated to Andes. Owner Sohail Zandi, who previously worked at Manhattan hot spot the Grocery, lives directly above the new eatery with his girlfriend and plans to make it a real neighborhood gathering spot. Preliminary buzz? All good — especially regarding the pork schnitzel. Stay tuned.
Brushland Eating House
Open Wed.-Sun., call for hours
Appetizers $7-$10, entrées $10-$26, dessert $6-$8, brunch $5-$12
1927 County Highway 6, Bovina Center