Zach Brooks, the imresario of Midtown Lunch, is one of my favorite people who I don't really know. I feel as if I know him, sure, but the fact is I really couldn't pick him out of a police line-up if I had to.
Since we haven't met, I guess I shouldn't be insulted that he did not come to me personally with a request for dining tips in the Hudson Valley. He's staying right here in Kingston yet, and he never even thought of asking. What am I, chopped liver?
Anyway, in answer to Zach and almost anyone else who finds himself in the Hudson Valley any time this summer, here's a quick rundown of what's available.
(It goes unsaid that the best place in Kingston is my kitchen, but you have to email first.)
First of all, Fleischer's Meat Market has wonderful cuts of beef, pork, chicken and sometimes duck or goat; that's if you're going to have a kitchen or grill in which to play around. If you don't have that, get some prepared foods--I tried a pastrami just last week which brought me right back to my Long Island girlhood and the days when a cold slice of brisket could be redolent with spices even before you slapped it on a piece of rye bred and slathered on the mustard. Fleischer's has wonderful sausages, and there are subtle ground meat mixtures like "Bork" and lean beef with bacon ground right in which could bring the Buddha back to omnivorism--not to be offensive. You can find such staunch HV brands as Ronnybrook milk and dairy and Sprout Farm cheeses at Fleischer's as well.
Around the corner from Fleischer's you'll find the Saturday Farmer's Market (a nice way to pass the time while you're in town, but most of the vendors appear the following day at the Rhinebeck market, which is bigger and somehow merrier--in my opinion, anyway) and Lucy's Tacos. Lucy's are a local mini-chain, with another branch in Red Hook; fine, well-cooked meats and vegetables in these tacos, and colorful cowboy-kitsch decorations if you want to set a spell while chowing down.
(We don't actually talk like that in Kingston.)
There is also Eng's restaurant on Broadway in Kingston ,where aficionados of American-Cantonese fare routinely fall in love; it's the kind of place where folks heading to Florida for the winter stop and get a few gallons of chow mein to freeze and eat when the fruits of paradise pall.
And there are Stewart's convenience shoppes all over the place on both sides of the Hudson; they have the best ice cream in the immediate vicinity, plus a sort of peaceful atmosphere and zillions (literally zillions) of ice-cold drinks at very low prices.
Again, if you are staying someplace with a real kitchen, stop over at Adams' Fairacre Farms to assemble the nicest produce, fish, odd bits of offal (I've bought sweetbreads, oxtail and lamb shanks here, and many times thought about buying a whole, sculptural, frozen head of pig; it reminds one uncomfortably of the novel 1984 and also of the possibilities of head cheese). The breads and baked goods are fine here as well, but try to stay away from the canned goods and sodas; they are fearfully overpriced, and the local Hannaford's will do you much better on those.
That's it for Kingston. Woodstock, a somewhat famous Ulster County town from another era, is only a few miles away, but I wouldn't suggest you go there on a holiday weekend unless you want to write a very bitter essay about what the burnt-out end of the Summer of Love can come too. It all amounts to hippies and goats, and I don't know if you'd enjoy that.
So this would be the time to take yourself across the river. People say "across the river" around here like you'd have to cross in pontoons. Actually it's a very short bridge across the Hudson and it costs only $1 in toll, which you pay when you're headed East.
In Red Hook you will find a fine little coffee shop called Taste Bud's, which we love for its chocolates, frozen treats, fancy pastries and "Tripple Chippers" which are enormous bar-shaped chocolate chip cookies. (Bud makes a vegan version of these, which always seem to be the first to sell out). Cold desserts and drinks, too. Bud generally has a booth at the Duchess County Fairgrounds, where you'll find a music-and-carnival setup called "The Great American Picnic" this weekend.
The Fairgrounds are between Red Hook and Rhinebeck. (If you find yourself singing "From Red Hook to Rhinebeck, from Memphis to St. Joe, wherever the four winds blow" you will only be doing what I do all the time).
About half a mile down Route 9 from the Fairgrounds you will find yourself surrounded by quaint shops, women in designer sports outfits, and men wearing baggy khaki cargo shorts like it's some kind of law. Yes, you're in Rhinebeck, and the only thing to do about it is to park your car until that feeling passes.
Or better still, get out of the car and walk a little. There are plenty of good things here, foodwise and otherwise.
Just to get you in the right geographical state of mind, you are now about ten miles north of The Cullinary, which some people call The Culinary Institute of America. I'm not sure if or when it will be open, but, when it is open, you can go and look at the incredibly lovely grounds, buy beautiful soups, sandwiches, and pastries from the Apple Pie Cafe, and catch up on your foodie reading at the Craig Claiborne bookstore. It's a fun half-a-day, especially if you want to see the balcony from which The Chairman welcomed the contestants in the first episode of The Next Iron Chef.
Oh, Okay. Well, I liked it, anyway.
Between Rhinebeck and the CIA are Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelts' homes, Springdale and Val-Kill. Unless you absolutely hate history, do stop by. These landmarks are pretty much the model of their kind, and you don't have to be a Democrat (or even American) to be moved by what you'll see here.
Okay, back to food. In Rhinebeck there are several small and medium-sized restaurants where, if you can get a reservation, you are going to want to eat. There's The Calico, best for sandwiches and pastries; Le Petit Bistro for old-school French. The Beekman Inn's resto is nowhere near as good as it was when Larry Forgione used to wear the toque, so you might want to just take a look and keep walking.
There's Samuel's, for candy and, in season, hot chocolate; Pete's Diner, inexpensive and filling. And there is Rhinebeck Village Pizza, as excellent a pizza as you will find anywhere outside of Connecticut and maybe Arizona.
Then there are Gigi Trattoria and, across the street, Terrapin. My favorite between the two is Gigi, because the service is nicer and because Mario Batali once prepared beef cheeks for me and my daughter there, but the food at Terrapin is so good that even staff who have been fired feel they have to go back to eat there.
The place for sushi is Osaka, a lovable neighborhood joint on Garden Street. When there, order an Annie roll. It is an enormous hand roll filled with cucumber under spicy tuna with tempura crunchies. It's named after me. And if you order it, the beautiful Jessica, finest hostess in the Hudson Valley, will giggle and ask you if you know me.
I think that's about it. Zach and any other visitors, I hope you enjoy yourself at Kingston. But don't bother stopping by my house (it's on Andrew St., just behind the High School. The fact is, I'll actually be staying in Manhattan this weekend. And if the Union Square Greenmarket is closed on the 4th, won't I feel like a fool?