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McKinney & Doyle serves up a mouthwatering Reuben sandwich with tender corned beef, sauerkraut, carmelized onion, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing piled high on grilled homemade rye bread. Photo by Eva Deitch

 

A new roster of the region’s most craveable and creative comfort foods.

By Sarah E. Daniels

 

Frosted windows and frosty mornings, followed by days that are dark by 5:30 p.m., and, worse — a chance of snow; it goes without saying the first thing on our to-do list this time of year is to get (and stay) cozy. And, we all know, one of the most sure-fire ways to warm up has always been to tuck into a big ol’ serving of something nice and hearty.

Chefs throughout the Hudson Valley seem to agree. Calling on classic and nostalgic flavor combinations, these flavor makers are creating a whole new category of melty, soft, sink-yourself-into sweet and savory. So grab a blanket, hit the couch, and turn the page to discover where to find your new favorite comforts.

 

Breakfasts

 


A can't-resist breakfast is what we consider the French Toast Supreme at Red Line Diner. Photo by Drake Creative

 

French Toast Supreme

Red Line Diner, Fishkill

If you think the only way to enhance average French toast is to switch up the bread you’re using, visit the Red Line Diner in Fishkill, order the French Toast Supreme, and prepare to have your mind blown. Here, the skilled team behind the griddle cuts four thick slices of buttery brioche, soaks them in a mixture of milk and egg, then cooks, layers, and stuffs them with clouds of luscious mascarpone cheese. The whole thing gets a shower of powdered sugar and is delivered to your table with fresh strawberries.

 


Fishkill's Red Line Diner. Photo by Drake Creative

 

Personal Preference

It’s easy to agree that comfort food means a meal that’s soothing in some way. What’s not so easy to see eye-to-eye on is what that means. Where does the idea of comfort food come from, and what exactly qualifies anyway? We asked an expert for some insight.

“There really isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ definition for comfort food,” explains Chef Waldy Malouf, director of Food & Beverage Operations at The Culinary Institute of America. “The term can have as many meanings as people have taste preferences. During the colder weather months, people may apply the term to heartier foods that warm both body and spirit — things like soups, stews, baked pasta dishes like lasagna or macaroni and cheese, or classics like meatloaf and mashed potatoes.”

Malouf supports that the chefs featured here are right — the category is more personal than historical. “Some people may think of a big salad as comfort food. (I am not one of those people.) Others may associate [it] with foods they enjoyed during childhood…something that was cooked by a loved one, a perfectly melty grilled cheese, French fries or clam strips from a favorite roadside vacation stop, even breakfast foods.”

Though responsible for food and beverage operations at all three CIA campuses in the country, including restaurants, student dining, special events, and catering, Malouf can easily wax poetic on the Valley’s excellent comfort food opportunities. “One of the things that is most comforting about the Hudson Valley during the winter months is the local ingredients that are essential to some of the season’s most warming and comforting recipes: root vegetables, cheeses, and meats. We change our menus seasonally at the restaurants at The Culinary Institute of America [in Hyde Park], and I always make sure a few of my favorite winter dishes are on there.”

 


The shirred eggs dish at Hudson Hil's is just one of the farm-fresh menu items. Photo by Eva Deitch

 

Farm-Fresh Menu Items

Hudson Hil’s Café & Market, Cold Spring

With a boutique front porch, kitchen table-style seating, and a friendly, any-town-USA feeling, a trip to Hudson Hil’s in Cold Spring is reminiscent of going home to visit your parents — if your parents catered to your every whim and were obsessed with local ingredients. The menu is loaded with farm-fresh updates on breakfast and brunch, but if you’re hoping to avoid a morning sugar rush, consider the shirred eggs sourced from Feather Ridge Farm, sprinkled with fontina cheese, and lightly baked on a bed of wilted tri-colored Swiss chard and roasted mushrooms sautéed with garlic. Or go for what could be the most consoling, stick-to-your-ribs option: a plate of old-fashioned buttermilk biscuits smothered with country-style gravy, served alongside eggs and perfect-cooked potatoes.

 


Cold Spring's Hudson Hil's Cafe & Market. Photo by Eva Deitch

 

Handhelds

 


The Garden Melt. Photo courtesy of Amazin' Melts

 

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (of any variety)

Amazin’ Melts, New Paltz

The namesake of this restaurant is a dish that “is one of the first hot sandwiches we eat as a young child — and that we’re allowed to cook as an older child,” says owner Debbie Gould. “It’s that go-to meal in cold winter months.” The menu offers specials, signature melts (such as Mom’s Tuna Melt and The Garden Melt), as well as make-your-own and gluten-free options. And, of course, the classic: Pullman white bread matched with American cheese, plus a griddle, butter, and bam — perfection. If you’re feeling hungry, you can buy a six-pack of them.

 


From left to right: Turkey Club, Make It My Way Melt, Mom's Tuna Melt. Photos courtesy of Amazin' Melts

 

“Comfort comes from the simple and traditional recipes that were shared together as a family from childhood. It’s that food we innately share with our own children.”

—Debbie Gould, owner of Amazin’ Melts

 


The Meatloaf Extraordinaire sandwich takes this common dish to the next level with melted Monterery Jack cheese on hearty rye bread. Photo by Eva Deitch

 

Meatloaf Extraordinaire

McKinney & Doyle, Pawling

Anyone can make a meatloaf. That’s the beauty of it. “It’s delicious, hearty, and can be served many different ways,” says Shannon McKinney, owner of McKinney & Doyle in Pawling. Though no one, including McKinney, can deny the supremacy of “a hot meatloaf dinner with gravy and mashed potatoes or a cold meatloaf sandwich with lots of ketchup,” the chefs at this Dutchess County stalwart take the dish to the next level. Visit the warm-lit, brick dining room and you’ll find their take stuffed into the Meatloaf Extraordinaire sandwich, thick slices of the house-made, beef-pork-veal-based meatloaf layered with Jack cheese and grilled between slices of hearty rye bread — made in their bakery — until nice and melty. The menu is filled with many more "comforts" including tuna melts, Reubens, and braised beef short ribs.

 


Left: takeout items can be purchased at the bakery counter; Right: the tuna melt is on a homemade English muffin. Photos by Eva Deitch

 

Entrees

 


Holy Schnitzel! The fried pork schnitzel, with garlic mayo, whiskey barbecue sauce, Swiss cheese, and a layer of apple slaw, has us drooling.  Photo by Jared Barton

 

Pork Schnitzel

The Shop, Troy

Opened in 2014 and built out of wood and exposed brick, The Shop is a rustic-chic spot in Troy that’s all about internationally inspired comfort creations. “Imagine the foods you look forward to after a difficult day…Comfort food means different foods for different people, but the end result is the same,” believes Head Chef Rich Matthews. “If you really dig into the recipes, you’ll notice that though the ingredients may change, in a lot of cases [they] share similar characteristics.” Look at the menu and you’re sure to feel the same. Choices range from wonton nachos and coconut curry to a garden gyro and poutine. For something to please palates across the board, however, order the pork schnitzel. Locally sourced pork loin is pounded ultra-thin, seasoned to perfection, and pan-fried until golden-brown delicious. The presentation has been known to vary, but it’s often served with dual smears of garlic mayo and whiskey barbecue sauce, covered in Swiss cheese, and balanced by a layer of crunchy apple slaw, then piled on a perfectly paired grilled potato bun. Drooling yet?

 


American Glory Restaurant's BBQ is dry-rubbed, brined or cured, and then smoked low and slow using local apple wood from Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook. Photo by Roy Gumpel

 

Ribs Platters

American Glory Restaurant, locations in Hudson and Tannersville

Ask Joe Fierro what part of the menu at his “gastro que-pub,” American Glory Restaurant, could be considered comfort food, and he won’t hesitate in exclaiming, “All of it!!” No kidding: Opened in 2014 and with locations in both Hudson and Tannersville, the chefs here employ modern cooking techniques to traditional dishes to create all new, contemporary comforts. As such, the offerings run the gamut from beer-battered fish & chips to a salad of Hudson Valley beets, firehouse-style red chili with cayenne and steak frites. “Food brought to the New World by our ancestors, reinvented, regionalized, ‘Americanized,’ and then served by Mom…that’s American Comfort food,” says Fierro. Amidst all of this pandemonium of comfort plates, it’s the restaurant’s BBQ rib platters that really get us. Assess your hunger, then choose between three, six, or nine rib portions. These babies are dry-rubbed, cured, and smoked — the right way — low and slow over locally sourced apple wood. Plus, each plate comes piled up with fresh cornbread, a mix of sweet, house-brined pickles and onions, and your choice of another side. We recommend the sweet potato fries. We also recommend you show up wearing your favorite sweatpants.

 

The best day for comfort


Photo courtesy of Essie's Restaurant

We’d be remiss not to mention the excellent, three-course, “Comfort Food Tuesdays” at Essie’s Restaurant in Poughkeepsie. Opened in 2016, the spot was quick to earn a reputation for its high level of hospitality with its warm, inviting environment. Each week, Chef Brandon Walker cooks up a different appetizer-entree-dessert menu of dishes that would all qualify as ultra-comforting. “To stay cozy, I like to cook stews, chowders, and gumbo. [But] my idea of comfort food is the food that I grew up eating from my mom and grandma, which translates globally,” says Chef Walker, whose family is from the Caribbean and the American South. As such, Tuesday’s meals are known to be equally international. “In the past, we have done roasted chicken with potato puree, caramelized onion gravy, bouillabaisse, pork schnitzel, fried chicken and waffles, seafood vindaloo, bolognese, and Yankee Pot Roast, just to name a few.”    

 

Dessert

 


Everything about Miss Lucy's Kitchen screams comfort, including the strawberry shortcake. Photo by Preston Schlebusch

 

Strawberry Shortcake

Miss Lucy’s Kitchen, Saugerties

Whether it’s a holiday reunion or a girls’ night in, everyone’s favorite place to hang out is always in or near the kitchen. So it should come as no surprise that Miss Lucy’s Kitchen is winning hearts with its homey Saugerties digs and classic creations. “Comfort food is something that’s very satisfying and familiar,” says co-owner Michelle Silver. “A lot of the food [here] falls into that category.” Though she admits to loving cold evenings when the restaurant is slower and all the locals gather for the dinner menu, the strawberry shortcake — stacked with light and fluffy sponge cake, strawberries, and fresh whipped cream — remains a favorite. “There’s something nostalgic about it…it’s the type of food people have with friends and family at gatherings or summer dinners outside.”

 


Miss Lucy's Kitchen. Photo by Preston Schlebusch 

 


Photo by Patrick McGuire

 

Triple Chocolate Waffle à la Mode

The Poughkeepsie Grind, Poughkeepsie

Sure, you can stop into the small, minimally furnished storefront of The Poughkeepsie Grind for a good cup of joe. It is fresh roasted, after all. But why stop at the brim of your mug when there are crazy-good waffles — the stuff lazy weekends and holiday breakfasts are built of — on the menu? The Triple Chocolate is a favorite and really more of a dessert than a breakfast item. Case in point: a chocolate crisp-filled waffle is pressed to perfection and served warm with a chocolate morsel topping and a dash of mocha. For bonus comfort points, you can even order it à la mode, topped with smooth vanilla ice cream.

 

Four Takes on Mac 'n' Cheese...because we can never get enough

 


Photo by Eva Deitch

 

BBQ Pulled Pork Macaroni and Cheese

Twisted Soul Food Concepts, Poughkeepsie

This place offers exactly what the name suggests: big, bold, soulful flavors all twisted into a combination of dishes. Squeezed into a cozy storefront, a visit here is sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure take on comfort. The menu features multicultural categories — from Colombian-style arepas and steamed dumplings to salads and quick snacks such as yuca fries — and it’s up to you to decide on the fillings and toppings. “Argentinean empanadas are comfort food to Argentinean people, chicken lumpia is comfort food to [the people of the] Philippines. When I travel I look for the comfort food of the country, that is what my menu reflects,” says chef/owner Ira Lee. Of course, mac ’n’ cheese makes the cut. The no-brainer, best topping choice? Barbeque pulled pork. A big bowl is served up, mixed with homemade pulled pork and BBQ sauce, topped with arugula. Approachable, simple, and just plain good.  

 


Photo by Michelle Whipland

 

Buffalo Chicken Mac

MIX N MAC – Mac & Cheese, Middletown

Here you can choose from 35 varieties of macaroni and cheese, dictate your own concoction, or even try a deep-fried version. “We’d like to think our food could create a warm feeling tapping into those childhood memories,” says MIX N MAC co-owner Michele Whipland. “The kind of food that makes you forget about your worries with flavors that people connect with today.” But the top choice? The Buffalo chicken mac. “People love Buffalo chicken wings and [these] seem to be an ultimate for those fans,” continues Whipland. Composed of chicken, Gorgonzola, hot sauce, and cheddar, this definitely isn’t your childhood mac ’n’ cheese.

 


Photo courtesy of Schatzi's Pub

 

Mac-n-Cheese Burger

Schatzi’s Pub, locations in New Paltz and Poughkeepsie

“Comfort food is exactly what Schatzi’s is known for,” says Matt Krieger, the general manager of the New Paltz location. At first glance, the restaurant appears to be a German brew and burger joint, which is definitely a welcome winter respite all on its own. But the menu actually spans the culinary map. “From kimchi to guacamole, we use it all,” Krieger says. This allows the chefs to create limitless innovative renditions on all the comfort favorites. The Mac n’ Cheese Burger is no exception. It’s a playful combo of a blended chuck and short rib beef patty plus a handmade, fried cheddar and spaetzle patty, all covered with beer cheese sauce, topped with crisp bacon, and served on a pretzel bun alongside a pile of German potato salad or hand-cut fries. “Welcome yourself to a food coma.”

 


Photo by Stefan Baumann

 

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Terrapin Restaurant, Rhinebeck

“Comfort food is food that tastes good. Macaroni and cheese is a classic,” says Chef Josh Kroner at Rhinebeck’s Terrapin Restaurant, which is home to both a fine dining room and a casual bistro. And Kroner would know: The latter of the two eatery options is comfort food-centric. Originally opened 20 years ago in West Hurley, Terrapin made the move to Dutchess County in part because of comfort food. “It allowed me to expand the restaurant to include the bistro, where I could simply serve good food that I wanted to eat,” he says. “[At the time,] there weren’t a lot of places that you could go in the area to get good nachos, a good burger, or, yes, even a good mac and cheese.” Though the focus here has remained on the basics, Kroner and team do kick the mac up a notch or two these days. “We use a combination of cheddar and raclette cheese for the perfect warm, creamy cheesiness that people crave,” he says. A warning to those who visit, though: All this is served in a dining room with warm lighting, plush booths, and natural paneling — and if you’re from the area, probably filled with your friends. You may never want to leave.