My friend John tipped me off about Cafe East, a cute spot at 243 Fair Street in Uptown Kingston that opened in April. He’d been at the Ulster County office building opposite and had wandered in for a grilled cheese, which was a staple of the sandwich shop that formerly occupied the space. “I can make you a grilled cheese, but wouldn’t you like something more interesting?” asked the new owner, Deena Rae Turner, producing her east-meets-west menu. John agreed that he would like something more interesting, and ordered a chicken satay and a Vietnamese shrimp salad — both really tasty, he reports.
Woodstock residents may recall Deena’s silver food cart, from which she dispensed her eclectic goodies. At East, she presides over a minimalist open kitchen, conjuring a mix of Southeast Asian-fusion dishes — mostly Vietnamese, Thai and Korean with a sprinkling of Malaysian and Indonesian — plus a few favorites like patatas bravas from other parts of the world.
“It’s all about satisfying the umami taste bud,” she says. You can satisfy yours at breakfast with dishes that run from house-made granola with yogurt and fruit to an all-American plate of steak and eggs, if you’ve got that kind of day ahead of you. In between are the banh mi breakfast sandwich, a baguette with chocolate-almond spread, banana walnut pancakes, and omelettes (including one with house-made kimchi).
At lunch, you’ll find more banh mi; fusion tacos (skirt steak, chipotle fish, shrimp and pineapple, chicken or marinated tofu); beef negimaki soup; and pad Thai, with shrimp, chicken or tofu. I can vouch for the tasty classic tofu pad Thai, which I finished with no trouble, even though at first I thought I’d have to take half home. Wash one of those down with a Singha pale lager, as I did, and you’re ready to go and do what has to be done.
Now that the wine and beer license has arrived, East Cafe is open for dinner Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when Deena calls the place Medic, and goes with a MASH theme and a tapas menu. If your umami taste buds are demanding a burger, you can get one. But forget ketchup. Deena’s grass-fed burger comes with sriracha sauce, house-made mayo, cilantro, and pickled carrot and daikon “on wonderful multi-grain,” she says. And the price includes a beer.
The Art Deco-ish space has colorful walls, stainless steel accents and a friendly atmosphere. Choose one of the few tables, or sit at the bar and watch Deena at the wok or griddle, conjuring up the food. She’s installing an open-flame grill this week, so there will be drama as well as those delicious, charred flavors.
Meats are antibiotic-free, eggs are free-range, breads are artisanal, oils cold pressed and all like that, and Deena makes her own marinades, sauces and rubs. Get chatting with her and she may tell you how this kind of cooking is good for you, particularly the Southeast Asian dishes with their fermented condiments. “Pickles are alive, so the enzymes are helping you digest,” she explains. “It’s really healthy for your flora.”
The food’s good, the beers are cheap, there’s a fun Korean soju cocktail menu or you can do sake shots — AND give your flora a boost, while you’re at it.