Best New Restaurants in the Hudson Valley 2011: Gastropub Fare and Southern Style Cooking at Birdsall House, Peekskill, NY
Dine on Southern cuisine at best new restaurant, Birdsall House, in Peekskill, NY
Old Howling Bastard, Bad Elf, Toxic Sludge, Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp — even if you don’t know much about craft beers, it’s fun to read the crazy names on the list at Birdsall House. And if you’re a true beer lover, Peekskill’s tavern-slash-gastropub is a little paradise. You’ll find 20 carefully curated, rotating drafts, mostly from local or New York State brewers (including some rarities) along with 15 well-chosen bottled beers. There are cocktails, special bourbons and scotch, and a few wines on offer, too.
Owners John Sharp and Tim Reinke (who have a hand in the famed Blind Tiger tavern in Manhattan) took over Connolly’s, a long-standing Peekskill watering hole, a couple of years ago. They spiffed up the interior of the circa 1900 brick-and-shingle building; a long mahogany bar now runs down one side of the space, and red leather booths and tables occupy the other. The black-and-white tiled floor and schoolhouse-style pendant lights help create the atmosphere of an old-time bar-restaurant. Sharp and Reinke opened in the spring of 2010, naming their pub for a historic inn that once stood across the street, where George Washington is said to have hoisted a few.
Terrific as the drinks are, the food is equally worthy of attention. Chef March Walker (“I had hippie parents”) took over the kitchen from the original chef in September, and is continuing with the ambitious line-up. “I was sous chef for more than a year, so there were no hiccups,” he says. “I’m familiar with all the techniques.” Those techniques involve making charcuterie, terrines, sausages (including rabbit and spicy lamb), and everything else from scratch, down to the ketchup and mustard. “We’re completely insane,” Walker remarks casually. “We’re in a closet-sized kitchen, too. But I love making charcuterie.”
Like his predecessor, Chef Walker is a southerner, so customers’ favorites like blackened shrimp and grits, buttermilk fried chicken and biscuits, and barbecue pulled-pork nachos remain on the menu. Walker (whose résumé includes stints at Gramercy Tavern and Beppe) is “tweaking the tone of the specials,” he says. Robust examples for winter include seared duck breast with a ragout made of duck and dark beer, and braised brisket with black kale. “I love cooking with beer,” he notes. A recent six-course beer versus wine tasting event proved wildly popular, so more are planned.
Meats come from Hemlock Hills, an all-natural farm in nearby Cortlandt Manor. “We buy the whole animal and use every bit of it,” Walker says. “It’s very satisfying from a cook’s point of view.” In a neat bit of recycling, Hemlock Hills’ cows eat the spent grain from local breweries, and Birdsall supplies the farm with used cooking oil for fuel. “And they give us compost for the back garden,” Walker says. “It’s a happy little cycle.”
Bottom line: Appetizers $10 to $17; charcuterie: choose 3 for $16; sandwiches and entrées: $10 to $26
Crowd pleasers: Shrimp and grits, the Birdsall Reuben sandwich, “and we sell tons of charcuterie,” says Walker
Diners’ verdict: “Awesome beers” and “excellent chow.” “Every town should have a place like this”