The Best of the Valley
From peaches to popovers, stationery to salmon, coat check rooms to Chiboust pastry, here's our 18th annual tally of the best and brightest in the Valley. Plus, some longer looks at a few extra special winners.
Best of the Valley
The votes are in, and here are the winners — some 200 in all — in our 18th annual poll
by Anitra Brown, Lynn Hazlewood, Marilyn Mark, Ann Morrow, Rita Ross, Evan Sparling, Polly Sparling, Reed Sparling, Elizabeth Trickett, & Aubrey J. Whitten
TERRAPIN Rhinebeck, Dutchess County “Eating is believing,” states the menu at Terrapin. Here’s betting you’ll be a believer after a single bite of one of chef-owner Josh Kroner’s inventive starters. There’s a barbecued duck quesadilla (our favorite), as well as seared sea scallops on shredded phyllo nests, macadamia-nut tempura calamari, vegetarian gingered leek and tofu pot stickers, and more. Making a choice will be the hard part, but at least you know you can’t go wrong.
Il Cenàcolo Newburgh This is far from the usual antipasto you get at most Italian restaurants — a slab of provolone, a hunk of salami, and a few olives over lettuce. But then, nothing is usual about the fare at Il Cenàcolo. While the treats on the platter change frequently, you’ll love whatever appears: chick peas with onion; peppers with anchovies and capers; 19-month-old aged Reggiano Parmigiano; hot sausage; grilled fennel and zucchini... It’s all so good you may be tempted to go back for seconds and skip the main course.
Aroma Thyme Bistro Ellenville, Ulster County Who’d have thunk that Ellenville would become a culinary destination? Chef Marcus Guilliano has made it one — and a healthy one at that, for he uses no processed foods and a minimum of refined sugar and white flour. The menu is all over the map — hummus, soba noodles, pizzas, jicama salad, Thai curry stir-fry — so you’re sure to find something to please you. And thanks to the moderate prices, you won’t leave with an empty wallet.
River Grill Newburgh Everything tastes better by the water, but chef Mark Mallia’s New American cuisine — steaks and chops and lots of seafood — would be delicious in a room with no view. Still, it’s nice to have that vista of Newburgh Bay, which you can enjoy either inside (through huge windows) or outside on the patio. There’s even a dock, so you’ll have no trouble parking your yacht.
*Café with a View:
Yellow Rock Café at Indian Ladder Farms Altamont, Albany County The café is in an old barn, and it’s charming, but if you take your order to the hillock outside, you can lunch in an herb garden that overlooks the orchards. Or for some real al fresco enchantment, climb the hill behind it, find one of the picnic tables nestled among the pines and wildflowers, and enjoy gorgeous views of the Helderberg mountains. And by the way, the food is terrific.
Busy Bee Cafe Poughkeepsie It’s stuck on a residential street and it looks like a luncheonette, but appearances are oh, so deceiving. The Busy Bee is a smart, classy bistro that serves some of the finest New American cuisine around. In fact, it earned the second-highest rating of any restaurant in Dutchess County in the latest Zagat survey. The menu changes weekly, so return visits — once you find it — are all but guaranteed.
DePuy Canal House High Falls, Ulster County A visit to the Canal House should be a requirement for How to Impress a Date 101. What can go wrong when you’re sitting in front of a roaring fire in an 18th-century stone tavern, surrounded by antiques and enjoying chef John Novi’s groundbreaking cuisine, still nouvelle after 30 years in the kitchen? Even better, between courses you’ll have plenty of time to bill and coo, or pop the question.
Crew Poughkeepsie They’re hearty, thick, made with fresh ingredients, and make an excellent light meal in themselves. For the legion of soup lovers who dip into the bowls at Crew, it also helps that the menu changes almost daily, with three soups on tap. A few of the most popular — and thus more frequently available — are New England clam chowder, chicken and corn chowder, and white bean with bacon. Though more a stew than a soup, the black bean chili also is highly touted.
American Bounty Hyde Park, Dutchess County At American Bounty, students at the Culinary Institute of America get to learn about — and diners get to enjoy — the agricultural riches of the Hudson Valley, as well as delicacies from other regions of the U.S. The restaurant serves up a high-class version of comfort food — chilled cucumber and buttermilk soup, Southern fried chicken, roasted mushroom and goat cheese strudel, etc. — that’s almost as good as traveling cross-country, but without all the hassles.
*Wine By the Glass
Il Barilotto Fishkill, Dutchess County Its name means “little barrel,” so it’s only fitting that Il Barilotto has a superb wine list. Fortunately, much of it can be sampled one glass at a time. There are 17 vintages — reds, whites, sparkling, and sweet — all from Italy and representing every wine-making region of the boot. And since they’re not the run-of-the-mill wines you find on every Italian restaurant menu, you’ll feel like a bit of an explorer.
La Stazione New Paltz, Ulster County Once a train station (as its name implies), La Stazione is still a nice stopover for folks wanting a break from exercise on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail — or anyone schlepping through downtown New Paltz. Small appetites can dig into heroes or individual-sized crisp-crust pizzas, while the trenchermen (or women) among you can tackle a mound of fried calamari and inventive pasta specials.
Cafe Nouba Kingston The latest enterprise of Le Canard Enchainé chef-owner Jean-Jacques Carquillat (See Best French Restaurant), Cafe Nouba kicks traditional Thai food up a notch through creative plating and fusion with other cuisines. For example, the chicken satay comes standing straight up, stuck in the end of a cucumber, while the masaman beef curry combines the flavors of Thailand and India. Be sure to sandwich the main course between one of the martinis at the bar and the calorie-defying chocolate mountain.
Miss Saigon Poughkeepsie
Saigon Cafe Poughkeepsie
Amazingly, both restaurants are on the same street — and both offer superb opportunities to sample one of the world’s most subtle cuisines. Miss Saigon is renowned for its soups and spring rolls; at the Saigon Cafe, good bets include skewers of chicken breast in a lime marinade or the Happy Pancake, a crepe filled with shrimp, chicken, or Oriental vegetables.
China Rose Rhinecliff, Dutchess County China Rose is not your typical hole-in-the-wall takeout joint. Its mustard-colored walls and antique prints of roses beckon you to sit a spell (although you may have to wait for a table — they don’t accept reservations). Still, you can sip a sake margarita on the patio overlooking the Hudson and think about the treats that await you inside, including Szechuan-fried string beans that diners have been known to travel an hour to enjoy. For “west-siders,” there’s also a China Rose outpost in Kingston.
Hokkaido New Paltz, Ulster County Whether raw or cooked is your pleasure when it comes to Japanese cuisine, Hokkaido’s got the bases covered, with fresh sashimi and sushi (readers especially love the Rainbow Roll — a combo of crab, yellowfin tuna, salmon, avocado, and cucumber), tempura, teriyaki, and tasty little dumplings and spring rolls. Even better, the portions are generous and the prices are not in the stratosphere.
Shangri-La at Mountain Gate Oliverea, Ulster County It may be a bit of a drive from “civilization,” but readers obviously don’t mind making the trek here for expertly prepared koftas and currys, biryanis and bharthas. The prices are reasonable, and there’s even a spa on site. An added bonus: you don’t have to worry about a cell phone at a nearby table disrupting your meal: with 3,000-foot peaks surrounding the restaurant, there’s no reception.
*Cheap Cuban Food
Corona’s Lunch Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County Forget the atmosphere — you sit at a counter and eat off a plastic placemat — the food’s the thing at Corona’s, where $5 gets you a whopping plate filled with beef or chicken stew (or other Cuban comfort food), sweet plantains, a hillock of rice (yellow or white), and your choice of beans, black or red. To spice things up, ask for a bowl of the homemade hot sauce.
French Restaurant Business Lunch
Le Canard Enchainé Kingston Authentic bistro fare — duck confit, steak frites, salade niçoise, and the like — prepared by a real French chef (Jean-Jacques Carquillat) brings francophiles and food-lovers thronging through these doors. (Jazz lovers arrive on Saturday night, when there’s live music in the piano bar.) For a real bargain — whether you’re entertaining a client or not — come for the three-course Special Lunch, just $12.95, or splurge for the four-course Executive Lunch, which is $7 more.
Diaspora Rhinebeck, Dutchess County Though it’s a bit remote, Diaspora is worth finding, for chef-owner John Papakonstantis turns out beautifully prepared Greek specialties, from moussaka and pastitsio (akin to lasagna) to taramosalata (fish roe) and galaktobouriko (custard in phyllo). There is also lots of fresh seafood and perfectly cooked lamb. The names may be a mouthful, but your taste buds will be delighted with whatever you choose.
Armadillo Bar & Grill Kingston Southwestern spices meet Hudson Valley produce at this longtime favorite, where South of the Border cuisine is taken to new levels. (You won’t find goat cheese quesadillas or pasta with smoky tomato-chipotle cream at your average Tex-Mex hangout.) Everything’s homemade, including the chips and salsa, and sizzling fajitas are a favorite. But beware, Armadillo is strictly BYOS: bring your own sombrero.
*Indian Lunch Buffet
Jaipore Royal Indian Cuisine Brewster, Putnam County Up to a dozen specialties from India’s northern Moghal and Punjabi regions (as well as treats from points to the south) make their way onto the buffet table come lunchtime at Jaipore. There are lamb, chicken, and beef dishes, as well as lots of spicy vegetable concoctions. Amazingly, the all-you-can-eat extravaganza costs just $10.95 during the week, $11.95 on Saturday. Sunday brunch, which adds on stations offering tandoori delights and fresh Indian crepes, is just $13.95.
Union House Fishkill, Dutchess County When it opened in the summer of 2001, Union House delivered what had long been missing from the mid-Hudson Valley: a high-class, New York–style steakhouse. From the very beginning (long before the Atkins craze), crowds started flocking here for dry-aged Western beef — filet mignon, New York strip, porterhouse, T-bone — grilled to perfection. The sides, including first-rate mashed potatoes and onion rings, ain’t bad either.
Sweet Sue’s Phoenicia, Ulster County These pancakes are so good, some of them have been immortalized in portraits by local artists — the paintings hang on the walls of the café to further whet the appetite. More than 20 pancake varieties are available, including buttermilk (very popular), pumpkin, whole wheat, and four-grain, some piled with fresh fruit in all sorts of delicious combinations.You can top with genuine maple syrup if you want, but true aficionados go for the raspberry sauce and yogurt. P.S. The French toast rates pretty high, too.
*Politically Connected Luncheonette
Francesca’s Troy Francesca, the owner of this neighborly luncheonette, is married to the mayor, Harry Tutunjian. But a more relevant connection is her genealogy: she’s a Lo Porto, as in the family behind popular Lo Porto’s Ristorante, and her upbringing in a clan of chefs is evidenced in the tasty details of every sandwich, wrap, and salad that she serves. “I’ve always loved making sandwiches,” she says. “It’s an art form.”
Gadaleto’s Seafood Market & Restaurant New Paltz, Ulster County You’ve probably seen Gadaleto’s trucks delivering seafood to other area eateries. Those in the know go right to the restaurant (next to the market) for even fresher fish simply prepared. Diners rave about the crab cakes — all crab, no filler. To make things more festive, dine on a night when there’s live entertainment.
Spanky’s Poughkeepsie Mardi gras never ends — or at least the taste of it doesn’t — at this slice of N’Awlins by the Hudson. There’s a different food celebration just about every month — crawfish in May, catfish in September, oysters in November — while the regular menu features such standbys as Southern fried oysters, gumbo, and jambalaya. Save room for Key lime pie and consider bringing a pair of earplugs: the xydeco can get loud.
Max’s Memphis Barbecue Red Hook, Dutchess County Slow cooking is what makes great barbecue, and at Max’s they take things real slow, hickory-smoking their meat up to 15 hours. To go with the fork-tender, savory pork, shrimp, or beef, dig into sides like maple-glazed carrots, Ozark cheese grits, and the de rigueur barbecued baked beans. Just make sure you leave room for the Memphis mud pie, which will have you whistling “Dixie.”
Coyote Grill Poughkeepsie A welcoming interior, more than a dozen varieties of martinis and frozen drinks, and some satisfying grub make the Coyote Grill a great pit stop if you’re in a rush or dinner at home doesn’t appeal.
Place to Eat with Kids
Bugaboo Creek Steak House Poughkeepsie While parents concentrate on their steaks, or more elaborate fare such as Thai peanut chicken salad, youngsters will be entranced by the talking moose and tree. (Even adults have been known to pause in mid-bite to listen to the wisdom of the big-antlered beast.) Little ones will also enjoy the kids’ grub menu, which goes beyond the normal pb&j and hot dogs to include small-size portions of adult entrées like sirloin and baby back ribs. And tykes get free ice cream for dessert.
Via Nove Fishkill, Dutchess County We can’t imagine a more comfortable place to imbibe. Tables in the wine bar at Via Nove — that’s “Route 9” in Italian — look into the glass-enclosed “cellar,” filled floor-to-ceiling with bottles. The walls, painted a warming orange and brown, are also full of bottles (actually paintings of them specially commissioned to complement the color scheme). Many vintages are available by the glass, so you can treat yourself to a tour of Europe without leaving your seat.
Hudson’s Ribs & Fish Fishkill, Dutchess County Though beef and seafood are the stars here, the freebie homemade popovers that come to your table piping hot deserve a best supporting nod. Bet you can’t eat just one.
*Homemade Salsa & Chips
Santa Fe Tivoli, Dutchess County The tri-color triangles at Santa Fe taste like corn — and not the usual cardboard — because they’re that-day fresh and made right here. The same goes for the salsas, a chunky mild one and a thinner, spicy dip. Order a margarita or two, and you’re bound to go through a couple of baskets in no time.
Eveready Diner Hyde Park, Dutchess County It would be hard not to find something tempting on the menu at the retro Eveready: it’s huge and filled with both traditional diner fare (such as burgers and omelets) and more unusual offerings, including Asian and Italian specialties. The stainless steel exterior is not all that’s old-fashioned about the place: some recipes go back several generations, bringing the notion of comfort food to a whole new level.
Main Street Bistro New Paltz, Ulster County If your mom was right and breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you might as well tuck into something extra yummy, like the a.m. fare at the Main Street Bistro: salmon hash, cranberry pancakes, tortillas stuffed with eggs, avocado, spinach, and pesto. The portions are large, and the prices can’t be beat: everything’s less than $10.
Andy’s Place Poughkeepsie Andy’s is a comfort food institution, where locals have been going for hot open sandwiches and super-generous servings of meatloaf since 1948. Obviously, the chili is also a popular draw. Arriving in a brimming bowl topped with cheddar and chopped onions, it’s plenty spicy, but it won’t set off fire alarms. The best place to eat it is out on the wraparound deck, with views of the Hudson.
Desserticus Stanfordville, Dutchess County Devoted to the original notion of “dessert as an entrée,” pastry chef Yvonne Ruperti takes the traditional last course very seriously indeed. It will be hard to choose among her pies, cakes, scones, puddings, and custards — and that’s just a short list. All to the better, then, that she offers a four-course dessert tasting, where you can try a variety of them. Her cakes are such works of art that you may have regrets about cutting into them — for a nanosecond.
ümami Fishkill, Dutchess County Tiny Fishkill is becoming a restaurant mecca, and ümami, which opened in May, is one reason why. The dramatic interior — you’d never know it was once a pizza joint — perfectly complements the cuisine, which is eclectic and innovative yet kid-friendly. When was the last time you had macaroni and cheese with black truffle butter and white truffle oil?
*Fish and Chips
Eggs Nest High Falls, Ulster County It’s the real thing: codfish encased in just the right amount of eggy bread batter, then deep-fried to a golden brown; chunky steak fries that are crispy on the outside, soft and chewy within. Coleslaw and tartar sauce come on the side, although purists apply liberal amounts of English malt vinegar instead. An untraditional bonus: “Nest bread,” which is so tasty and cake-like some save it for dessert. Flavors include cranberry orange, corn, and banana nut, and according to manager Linda Naturale, “There’s a secret ingredient, but I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a secret.”
Blue Mountain Bistro Woodstock, Ulster County The Spanish eat tapas (it means “small plates”) as an accompaniment to their evening cocktails. Blue Mountain offers such a staggering (and yummy) array — olives and Moroccan eggplant, salmon cakes and Swiss chard gratin, tabouli salad and Tuscan duck liver paté — that there’s a good likelihood you won’t need to proceed to dinner.
Thayer Hotel West Point, Orange County There are lots of traditional events at the U.S. Military Academy: football games, summer concerts at Trophy Point, and, of course, Sunday Champagne Brunch at the Thayer Hotel. The buffet tables are laden with so many goodies — waffles, omelets, carving stations, pastries, fruit — you’ll have no urge to eat again until Monday morning.
Four Seasons Kingston
Cosmo’s Corner Restaurant
& Pizza Highland, Ulster County “It’s got some substance; it doesn’t taste like a cracker,” says the guy who answered the phone at Cosmo’s when asked what sets its pizza apart from the cheesy masses. It also helps that “everything is homemade,” using the best sauce and flour. The same is true at Four Seasons, where “good-quality ingredients” were judged the key to a great pie. It doesn’t hurt, either, added the lass behind the counter, that the owners “still believe in old-fashioned ways.”
Lombardi’s North Troy In addition to your normal pasta dishes, including baked ziti and a lasagna that’s a house favorite, Lombardi’s North serves up a variety of tempting entrées that can be ordered with ziti, linguini, fettuccini, or angel hair. Among the options are Alfredo, which can be accessorized with scallops, crabmeat, and shrimp; and Vongole Verde, served with a dozen little neck clams sauteed with spinach in a scampi sauce. Now, that’s Italian!
*New Lunch Spot
Demitasse Cafe Poughkeepsie Emerging from a gutted ruin, this café decorated in Victorian style has the friendly ambiance of a European coffee bar. Comfy chairs, tables set on cast-iron stands, vintage books and demitasse cups arrayed along one wall above the colorful wainscot add up to a welcoming atmosphere. But even if it weren’t so pretty inside, lunchers would line up for the ciabatta paninis and pizzas, wraps, pasta dishes, and delicious sides (like haricots vert with sun-dried tomatoes or tortellini with almond pesto dressing). Finish up with one of the pastries displayed tantalizingly in the front case, sip a cup of gourmet coffee, and you’re set for the afternoon. In warm weather, you can even dine under an umbrella on the patio.
Daily Planet LaGrangeville, Dutchess County French toast and waffles at breakfast, burgers and Buffalo wings for lunch, pot roast and pork chops come dinnertime. At the Daily Planet — named after the newspaper where mild-mannered Clark Kent toiled — it’s almost as if your mama were in the kitchen. Whoever’s working there obviously cares about offering big portions of stick-to-your-ribs fare.
Le Chambord Hopewell Junction, Dutchess County Weighing in at about a pound and a half, this tender cut of beef (the wide end of a filet mignon) is meant for two to share — and very few restaurants these days offer the chance. Chef Leonard Mott prepares it the traditional way, served with a Bordelaise sauce, and accompanied by roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Carved table-side, in a softly lit dining room — what a treat!
The Country Inn Krumville, Ulster County If beer is your bag, log on to Mapquest and get directions to tiny Krumville, where the Country Inn offers an ever-changing lineup of brews — as many as 500 — from Indian pale ales and German rice beer to the latest stout from a U.S. microbrewery. And don’t be surprised if the bloke on the stool next to you speaks with an accent: the bar has received top ratings from Fodor’s international travel guides.
Hyde Park Brewing Company Hyde Park, Dutchess County Chaos Dry Stout, Big Easy Blonde, S.O.B. (short for Special Old Bitter). The names are funny, but the beer at the Hyde Park Brewing Company is a very serious business. The brews, produced in vats right on the premises, come from the finest imported malts and hops. There’s also lots of food, and often live entertainment, so there are plenty of reasons to get your bottoms up to Hyde Park.
Pure City Pine Bush, Orange County Even devoted meat-eaters won’t feel bereft at Pure City, which some have called the best vegetarian restaurant north of Manhattan. In fact, we’ve been told that the veggie ham tastes like the real thing, though there’s nary an oink in it. And those who’ve sworn off tofu may get back on the soybean bandwagon again after they taste Pure City’s artfully spiced creations.
*Place to Pig Out on Pig
The Piggy Bank Beacon “Authentic Southern slow-cooked smokehouse barbecue” is what the Piggy Bank advertises, and by the looks of the crowds who flock to the old bank building in Beacon’s E