Tomas Tapas Bar and Restaurant, Wappingers Falls
Where to eat in 2013: European-style tapas in Dutchess County
Photographs by Jennifer May
When Tomáš Monosi arrived in the United States in 1994, he was “broke, with two suitcases and nowhere to go.” He didn’t have a clue what he was going to do, but he knew he was going to accomplish something — something big. Fast-forward almost 20 years and voilà: Monosi owns one of the hottest new restaurants in Dutchess County, the glossy European-style Tomáš Tapas Bar & Restaurant. In fact, the eatery was named a double winner in this magazine’s Best of Hudson Valley this year.
It’s an unusual spot for a city-style tapas joint. Located in a nondescript strip mall in an area of Wappingers Falls that most people think is actually Hopewell Junction, “some people still don’t know we are here,” says Monosi about the restaurant, which opened in September 2012. “It’s not as though you are going to get any foot traffic over here. Some people don’t even know what tapas are. Occasionally, I hear, “Oh, a topless place?”
Still, Monosi admits that he’s beginning to get some accolades. “Now I get people calling from Westchester trying to make a reservation,” he says. But it’s been a long road on his way to success. Monosi did work in the hospitality industry in his native Czech Republic, “but I never trained as a chef,” he says. He spent several years working on cruise ships; when he landed in Manhattan, he contacted every single person he knew to try to find a job. “I called a lady who I had met two-and-a-half years earlier and asked her if she remembered me. She said, ‘Of course — come to Poughkeepsie.’ I said, ‘What? What is a Poughkeepsie?’ ” But Monosi showed up nonetheless, and slept on a mattress on the floor of her apartment. “She got me a job at the Dutchess Diner,” he recalls. “I worked the graveyard shift from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. I’d ride my bicycle down Route 9.”
Little plates aplenty: Just a few of the offerings at Tomas Tapas Bar
Monosi worked hard and jumped around to different gigs. He bought his first car — a Chevy Chevelle — for $330. “It had no front suspension and I had to lean forward to avoid a hole. But I was so, so proud. I’d listen to my AM radio, I remember hearing the country songs and thinking, ‘This is America.’ ”
He met his wife at the local tennis courts and after they married, “the jobs started coming,” including stints at the Alumnae House and the Arch in Brewster. “Eventually people started asking me to cook for them. So I did.” In 2000, he started his own catering business with a kitchen in his garage; he followed that up five years ago with a small café/bakery in Hopewell Junction.
Monosi has now merged all his businesses into the one space. He chose tapas because “I like choices. I never do the same-old, same-old.” Currently, there are at least 30 tapas items on the menu at all times. Monosi, who says he learned to cook “by watching TV, reading books,” cites the steak, baccalà, meatballs, ham croquettes, and arancini with fresh lemon as perennial favorites. But you can try anything from grilled sirloin with cilantro pesto and piquillo pepper salsa, to cheese from Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, or a hickory-smoked and fresh salmon salad. Open for both lunch and dinner, a full entrée menu is also available. Gluten-free items marked on the menu are a nice touch.
The polished bar offers a full array of wines, specialty cocktails (“I love Scotch, so I made a special cocktail with local maple syrup and bacon dust,” says Monosi. “I call it Pigs in Scotland”) and beers, both local — like Captain Lawrence — and from around the globe. Monosi is rather passionate about the quality of the beers he serves, as he’s involved in the Hudson Valley Hops Initiative. He offers a beer flight so customers can sample Staropramen — a famed Czech import — four ways: premium, granat, dark, and unfiltered.
Monosi also sees to it that the bar and 80-seat lounge (which is also available for parties) are put to good use. “Friday and Saturday night every weekend we have bands playing listening music,” he says. “Then after 9 p.m. they ramp it up, so people can get up and dance.”
More entertainment is always being added to the lineup. On November 8, actor Louis Vanaria — of Boardwalk Empire fame — performs with his band. Says Monosi: “His agent was impressed with the lounge. He really liked it. It’s all good.”