Where to Eat in the Hudson Valley

Foodies of all types have discovered the Valley and its wide variety of top-flight restaurants. One chef even predicts we’ll soon be vying with California’s Napa Valley as a dining destination. Find out what all the buzz is about with these profiles of local eateries

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zen dog cafe bandZen Dog Café hosts live musical performances (mainly jazz) every Wednesday and Friday night. Above, the Andrew Greeney Quartet — featuring George DeLeons on sax, Malcolm Cecil on bass, and Mike Kuilp on piano — sets the mood

Zen Dog Café

All Jazzed Up

“This is the greatest thing to happen in Rhinebeck since Washington stayed at the Beekman Arms,” declares D.J. Kadagian, the exuberant owner of Zen Dog Café, which opened last August a few doors down from the illustrious inn. Kadagian, a man who enjoys a little hyperbole, says he launched the café-gallery-bookstore-music venue to suit himself. “I was interested in having a place to hang out, and I wanted an excuse to be around music — live West Coast and Brazilian jazz in particular,” he says. Wednesdays and Fridays, everyone can hear such music played live, admission free; at other times, it’s the café’s soundtrack.

The place is as quirky as its owner. The building, probably once a two-family home, housed accounting offices “for about 50 years,” Kadagian says. “And it looked like it. It was pretty dated.” He gutted the space, but kept most of the warren of rooms, transforming the front of the building into a café on one side and a small wine bar on the other. There are three lounges in the back and an art gallery upstairs, where the works include lithographs by Dali and Chagall. Traditional Victorian elements (like octagonal, black-and-white tile floors and silver pressed-tin ceilings) blend with the new vaulted ceiling; pedestal dining tables; boxy, black leather furniture in the lounges; and contemporary art. Purple napkins match the canopy outside. There’s a baby grand piano in the corner of one lounge, books on topics from religion to politics in another, and flat-screen TVs all over the place (which display album covers that match whatever music is playing). Kadagian also plans to screen short films. “We have an amazing sound system,” he adds.

zen dog pizzazen dog craft brews

The menu bills itself as “farm to table,” so it’s driven partly by what’s in season. Starters and small bites might include a lamb burger slider, a hummus platter, or duck rillet. “Eclectic gourmet pizza is the backbone of the menu, so that you don’t have to spend $20 on an entrée,” Kadagian says. Among the pizzas are the classic tomato and mozzarella, a Mexican style pie, a “cheesy quartet,” and a deep-dish variety — although the Indian-inspired Mumbai pie seems to be the favorite. If you do want to spend about $20 on an entrée, at dinner you can choose more robust dishes like braised beef short ribs, lamb tagine, or a pasta or fish dish, all of which have fine-dining touches. You’ll find soups and sandwiches on the brunch and lunch menus. Wine enthusiasts can sample some of the unusual, mostly organic labels at twice-monthly tastings. Craft brews are on tap for beer lovers.

As for the crowd: “We get a steady flow of movie stars,” Kadagian jokes. “Actually, we get an interesting mix, all ages, the New York crowd, local people, artsy people. We get people who didn’t realize they like jazz, and made believers out of them. We get a lot of musicians coming in, too. That’s a good sign.”

Kadagian, 47, a former hedge fund manager (“before hedge funds became a four letter word”), filmmaker, and briefly a divinity student, fell in love with Rhinebeck when he was filming at the Omega Institute. “It feels like Europe,” he says. “Especially if you sit on the patio outside when the church bells are going.” And how does a former financier and filmmaker find being a restaurateur? “I loved creating it; running it takes a particular skill set that I may not have. But I’m having a good time, hanging out, drinking beer, and listening to jazz.”

“One other cool thing,” he adds: “We have electric car chargers for four electric cars. We’re expecting them to pull in any minute.”

6387 Mill St., Rhinebeck 845-516-4501

» Where to eat next: Antoine McGuire’s Oyster & Ale House in Haverstraw
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