Road Trip

With its incredible river vistas, top-rated restaurants and chic boutiques, an afternoon in Piermont is close to perfection.



Peerless Piermont

 

 

I love taking long walks on long piers. Which is why, if you were to ask me to name my favorite strolls in the Hudson Valley — not hikes, but easygoing ambles where you hardly break a sweat — the Piermont pier would be near the top of the list, if not number one.

Of course, there are other good reasons to visit this Rockland County village — the shops and restaurants, and the general ambience, which reminds me so much of hilly San Francisco, perched as it is upon the steeply sloping Palisades. But it’s the tree-lined pier that continually draws me back. In the half-hour or so it takes to reach its apex, the waves lapping at your heels and the wind blowing through your hair, you begin to feel like you’re on a seaside holiday. And once you hit the end, so far out in the river you might as well be on a boat, don’t be surprised if you find yourself grinning. This is as good as it gets in these parts.

Not, however, to the soldiers — 40,000 a month — who shoved off from the pier during World War II. To them, this was known as “Last Stop U.S.A.” “Next stop” was likely as not a foxhole in Europe. A flagpole near the pier’s tip commemorates the structure’s historic importance. We are a nation that celebrates arrivals; we sanctify spots where discoverers planted their feet. (Think Plymouth Rock.) This may be the only monument in the Valley to a departure.

 

 

As its name implies, the pier is the reason for Piermont’s existence. The 1,400-foot structure was actually constructed over a 14-year span in the early 1800s. Originally, it served as a dock for steamboats. Later, it became the eastern terminus of the great Erie Railroad, the most far-reaching train service in the country at the time. Goods from Lake Erie would arrive on the pier and complete their trip to Manhattan by boat. When the railroad decamped to Jersey City in 1861, the village’s population was halved; it has remained fairly steady, in the 2,500 range,  ever since.

Fishermen are fixtures on the pier, and they’re a fascinating lot. They sit at attention in folding chairs, up to half a dozen poles rigged so they don’t have to hold them, waiting, watching. The last time I saw such intensity over a sedentary activity was when I walked through a Las Vegas casino at four a.m. The men and women gazing into the river had the same fierce look in their eyes as those folks staring at the slot machines.

By the time I got back to the “mainland,” I had a fierce desire for lunch. Fortunately, for a small village,

 

 

Piermont provides plenty of culinary choices. There is high-end fare at Peter Xaviar Kelly’s renowned Xaviar’s at Piermont and adjacent Freelance Café. These immensely popular eateries (which received “Best in the Valley” ratings for service and food, respectively, in the most recent Zagat Survey) draw their share of celebrity diners and Manhattan visitors. (I still rave about the simple yet outstanding potato galette I enjoyed years ago at the café.) Sombreros are optional at Sidewalk Café, where Mexican fare highlights the menu. I can vouch for the homemade gazpacho, which is so thick you can practically stand your spoon up in it. There are al dente delights at Pasta Amore and steaks at Slattery’s Landing. At the Turning Point, you get top-flight music with your evening meal. Its performance roster has included greats like Arlo Guthrie, Robert Cray, and Kris Kristofferson.

If the weather is cooperating, you could opt for take-out — maybe a designer sandwich from Community Market, as well as one of their delicious desserts, such as raspberry mousse cake. And if you want to espresso yourself, head to Bunbury’s Coffee Shop. In addition to a host of javas, they offer fist-sized muffins (the peach cobbler one was, well, a peach), croissants, and sandwiches. If an easy chair is free, this is a great place to unfurl a newspaper.

What about shopping? The good news is that there are an amazing variety of stores. Better news,  at least for those (like me) who hate crowds, is that you’ll have them pretty much to yourself. On a recent pre-Christmas Saturday, when fistfights were breaking out over parking spaces at the nearby Palisades Mall, you could have fired a cannon filled with buckshot down Piermont’s main drag and hardly hit a soul.

The shops don’t carry things you necessarily need, but stuff that would be cool to have. Take Boondocks. The store stocks  Brushkins: fanciful animals crafted in the Philippines from native plants and seeds. There are candles that look like sticky buns, and Kozy Kittenz, cat-shaped pads that can be heated in the microwave or cooled in the freezer then draped around your neck. For me, the pieces de resistance were Perfect Pets. These stuffed cats and dogs appear to be breathing; as they slumber in their beds, their chests heave in and out. I was bending down to stroke a kitty near the front door when I noticed it had a price tag on its back.

Another favorite was Buttercup & Friends, a toy store that’s a blast from the past for anyone over 40. There was an old-fashioned doctor’s bag (a repro of the kind physicians carried when they made house calls) and life-size paper dolls. One of the dream birthday presents of my childhood was an “ornithcopter” — wind it up, and the bird-like contraption would flap its wings and take off. I let out a gasp when I saw one for sale here. (It’s called the “Tim Bird” and costs $10.)

There are women’s fashions galore at Abercorn Place (funky outfits), Abigail Rose and Lily Too (dig the chintz socks), and Paradise Blue (jeans and tees for the younger set). If you’re in need of a crystal chandelier, you’ll find a bunch at Antiques of Piermont. And the delightful shrimp-shaped seafood forks at Ned Kelly & Company almost made me wish I liked eating crustaceans. I do love fondue, so the chocolate fondue fountain at The Mole Hole was a real temptation. Necklaces of polished stones and intricately cut cameos fill the shelves at AB Artisans.

 

 

Closer to the river, in a contemporary shopping plaza, there are a host of galleries offering everything from Art Nouveau and Hudson River landscapes to sculptures made from found objects. The best known is the Piermont Flywheel Gallery, which is run by a cooperative of artists. It, and the nearby Flywheel Creamery — a must for milk shake lovers — are named after the huge rusting piece of machinery sitting in a park across the street. It once powered a paper mill on the site. When the mill was demolished, the flywheel proved too stubborn to remove, so it remains, looking like a sculpture that got lost on its way to Storm King Art Center.

When it’s time to depart, drive north on Piermont Avenue, right along the Hudson’s shore. (This is also known as Rockland County Route 1.) In a short while, you’ll come into Grand View-On-Hudson, which more than lives up to its name. The river vistas are marvelous, but so’s the scenery on the road’s west side. The lineup of homes — Victorian, Gothic, Colonial — is spectacular, and a great lesson in Hudson Valley architecture.

One more suggestion: Don’t worry if you feel you haven’t seen everything Piermont has to offer. The village is so alluring that I have no doubt you’ll be back, and soon.

 

Newsletters

Email:
Type: HTML Text
The Hot Ticket (events e-newsletter)
Be the first to find out what’s happening in the Valley, from rock concerts to food fests.
The Corner Table (dining e-newsletter)
We dish on the best restaurants, recipes, and tips from our Accidental Foodie.
HVM VIP Invitations & Special Offers
Get special offers on local events, products, and services.