Catskill Cantina

The Accidental Foodie reviews a south-of-the-border surprise in Ellenville

Around lunchtime one day recently, I happened to be in Ellenville, an Ulster County town not known for its gustatory delights (with the notable exception of Aroma Thyme Bistro, which is only serves lunch on weekends). I’d heard about Gaby’s, a family-run Mexican place that opened just over a year ago and already has a local following. Word has it that their fresh-made guacamole alone is worth a visit.

It’s a casual little place, painted in bright, fruity colors with a corrugated steel bar trimmed in lime green where the chef does his thing. The owner, Genaro Garcia, makes that guacamole at your tableside using a traditional molcajete, a mortar carved from volcanic rock, like the ones the Aztecs used back in the day. Guacamole comes spicy, medium or mild. Applying the Goldilocks principle (spicy = too spicy; mild = not spicy enough; medium = just right), I can now report that the medium preparation has a pleasant tang, and that fresh cilantro can brighten a dreary day.

shrimp in garlic
making guacamole

I was with a friend who said she just wanted a light lunch. First we made short work of the tortilla chips and fresh salsa. Then we shared the guacamole and some really good chicken enchiladas verde, and followed that with a plate of delicious gambas al ajillo (that’s shrimp in garlic, in case you don’t speak restaurant Spanish). These were juicy jumbos, perfectly cooked, with a simple lemony-paprika sauce. A shot of pineapple tequila (a house specialty); a moist, not-too-sweet cheesecake with dark chocolate topping; a bite or two of silky flan; a couple of café con leches, and Ellenville starts to take on quite a glow. So much for a light lunch.

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An unexpected extra: Genaro’s 13-year-old son, Kevin, is a wunderkind — or the Spanish equivalent — as a classical pianist, and he was coaxing such sounds out of the little keyboard in the café, you’d almost think it was a Steinway. He studies on Saturdays at the Manhattan School of Music in a program for gifted young musicians, and sometimes plays in the café. It’s not often you get a side of Beethoven with your burritos. Gaby, by the way, is Kevin’s little sister. Talents yet to be revealed.

Garlic shrimp is a quick and simple dish to make, and there are many variations. Here’s how the chef at Gaby’s makes his, sort of: For two servings, peel and devein 12 large shrimp, leaving the tails on. Heat one or two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and add the shrimp. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, until the shrimp start to turn pink. Add a little bit of butter and a clove or two of minced garlic, and continue cooking another minute until the garlic is translucent. Then add some white wine, about a tablespoon of lemon juice, a dash of clam juice if you want, salt, pepper, and about a half teaspoon of paprika. Continue cooking while stirring just long enough to warm everything through. Serve immediately. Arrange the shrimp on a plate, pour the sauce over the top, and garnish with parsley.

Like many chefs, he wasn’t very precise with measurements. Experiment. It’s hard to go wrong, as long as you don’t overcook the shrimp. And don’t forget to save the shells in the freezer to make stock.

â–º Gaby’s Café
150 Canal St., Ellenville
845-210-1040 or

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