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Best New Restaurants in the Hudson Valley 2011: New American Cuisine at Rock and Rye Tavern, New Paltz, NY

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“Being behind the times is the whole point at Rock and Rye Tavern,” says co-owner Cassie Fellet. “It encapsulates our paradigm here: creating a laid-back environment for people to have fun, like taverns did a hundred years ago. We take fine dining seriously, but there are enough fussy restaurants out there.” Fellet, who likes to say that she’s “on a lifelong tour of bartending enlightenment,” takes fine drinking seriously, too, and chose to name the restaurant after an all-American beverage as a sign of her commitment. “Rock and Rye is one of the oldest bottled cocktails,” she says. “It’s more like a punch, made of whiskey, fruits, and rock candy. You’d find it behind the bar at any old tavern.” Fellet specializes in pre-Prohibition cocktails, “but I pride myself on being able to make anything people want,” she adds. She also enjoys dreaming up her own recipes. One fall concoction involved applejack whiskey with local cider and apricot brandy. “I call it the Jersey Harvest,” she says. “It’s really going over well… We’re also one of the only restaurants in the area offering cask beers, which differ from keg brews, and are a big deal for people who are into beer.”

rock and rye staff and ownersFrom left: Rock and Rye manager Matt Sweeney, co-owner Cassie Fellet, Executive Chef Jeremy Kolakowski, and co-owner Sue Fellet, above; below, the grilled Rykowski farm pork chop is served with cider-braised red cabbage and herb spaetzle

grilled pork chop

Cassie and her business and life partner, veterinarian Sue Fellet (who moonlights as hostess), took over the former Locust Tree Inn and opened up as Rock and Rye in April. Set at the end of a tree-lined drive, the building is a lovely, atmospheric place that’s part 1759 stone tavern and part 1830s addition, where there are two pretty dining rooms. The Fellets found the existing décor a little austere, so they gave the place a paint job to warm it up, and installed a wood-burning stove in the tavern end.

Chef Jeremy Kolakowski created a New American bistro-style menu of what Cassie calls “simple, upscale comfort food” to match the easy spirit. “Simple” is a relative term, though. You can get a burger or a steak sandwich, for instance, but among the appetizers and small plates are some sophisticated combinations — like pan-seared pork belly over fig jam on toasted brioche with a port reduction, or sherry and thyme chicken liver bruschetta. Kolakowski enjoys creating charcuterie, so there’s house-smoked duck breast and trout on offer, along with an artisanal cheese plate. Entrées include gussied up roast chicken, house-made rigatoni, grilled wild salmon, and pork chops. Most meats, Cassie notes, come from local farms that raise their stock in a healthy and humane way.

Overall, “the idea is to provide something for everyone,” says Cassie, “whether you want a burger and a beer or more elevated dining.”

Bottom line: Small plates from $7 to $14; entrées from $14 to $27
Crowd pleasers: Pork belly, duck breast and leg confit; and the Gin Gin Mule cocktail made with Beefeater, fresh lime juice, mint, simple syrup, and ginger beer. “It’s nice and refreshing,” says Cassie
Diners’ verdict: “A gorgeous setting” with “terrific food” and “perfectly crafted drinks”

» Visit Rock and Rye Tavern in New Paltz, NY
» More Best New Restaurants 2011
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