I’m driving West on Rt. 44 past beautiful rolling hills in Salisbury and Lakeville on my way to Hudson Valley for a two month stay in Rhinebeck and High Falls. As I cross into New York and head over Winchell Mountain Road to Rt. 199 which will take me into Rhinebeck, my jaw drops as I come to the top of the hill and gaze out over miles of some of the most breathtaking countryside I’ve seen on the east coast. It probably didn’t hurt that the sun was also setting behind the Catskill Mountains creating a stunning skyline as well. I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to explore this area when I’ve lived less than two hours away for most of my life.
When people say that Hudson Valley is the Napa of the east coast – I couldn’t agree more. And we’re not just talking about the wine. The list of things to do here is endless: outdoor recreation like hiking, biking, water sports; harvest festivals; pick your own farms or roadside stands; educational experiences; farmstays, farm dinners, and tasting events. The fact that Omega and the Culinary Institute of America are here within a few minutes of eachother is reason enough to come!
While there are so many towns and places to explore, I’m concentrating on the following that I feel have the most to offer to really get the experience of living here – Hudson, Rhinebeck, and Kingston. However, there are so many little towns and hamlets, by no means is this an all-encompassing list.
If I had to pick a favorite location to base myself in, it would have to be Rhinebeck. First, the proximity to all of the other locations is perfect – just a 20-30 minute drive to Hudson, Kingston and New Paltz. Plus, I love the vibe in Rhinebeck – it’s a little more sophisticated than the other towns and has a great variety of shops, restaurants and bars. Also – I have to admit my favorite restaurant in all of the areas of Hudson Valley that I explored is here – The Local. I liked it so much, in fact, that I went there three times!
The Village, referring to the downtown area, boasts tree lined streets that beckon you to meander for hours through unique specialty shops. You’ll find men’s and women’s apparel, jewelry & lingerie, spa & beauty services, holistic practitioners, home furnishings, books, stationery, gifts, tabletop, kitchen gadgets, hiking & equestrian gear. I had a fantastic iced mocha at Samuel’s Sweet shop – almost coming close to rivaling my all-time favorite coffee shop – The Coffee Trade in Avon! From charming B&B’s to exquisite hotels, there is a range of wonderful places to rest your head at night. With its fine dining, casual bistros, and a thriving locavore movement, Rhinebeck has been touted as one of America’s best Gourmet towns.
Eat & Drink: There are many spectacular restaurants in Rhinebeck, but my favorites are listed below:
In a two-story bungalow, Chef Wesley Dier whips up some amazing creations and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. With his use of organic vegetables, homegrown herbs, local cheeses, grass-fed meats & artisanal poultry he has garnered much critical acclaim, including praise from Bon Appetit & Wine Spectator magazines. The menu changes weekly – which I love – but there are always a few staples that remain on it regularly. A few of the dishes we sampled were: Fried Oysters -‘TARTUFO’ black truffle vinaigrette, shaved Brussel sprouts; Chinese Chicken Dumplings from North Wind Farm with savory poussin broth, Wiltbank Farm shiitake mushrooms, scallion; Cast Iron Roasted Monkfish from Connecticut with lobster bisque, sous vide – grilled leeks, saffron Carolina Gold rice. Grab a seat on the upper or lower deck in nice weather and you can even see the sunset.
An outstanding Indian restaurant in the Village, Cinnamon is rooted in age-old traditions, delivering taste sensations that take you beyond your expectations. They make their own spice mix and use local, fresh produce whenever possible. I love the Peshawari Naan – naan stuffed with mildly sweet filling of ground cashews and pistachios; and the Chicken Biryani – saffron basmati rice scented with rosewater, turmeric, cardamon, star anise and cinnamon mixed with curried chicken and veggies.
Here’s where you come to feast on amazing Italian dishes. Best described as “Hudson Valley Mediterranean”, Gigi’s menus celebrate the seasonal bounty of local farms with innovative, artfully crafted dishes prepared with the freshest Hudson Valley produce. Great outdoor patio to relax with a nice glass of wine and people watch. We tried the Watermelon salad with arugula, fennel, feta, mint, jalapeno, fresh lime and the Tagliatelle – Housemade fettuccine, Gigi Bolognese (Meiller Farm beef and pork ragu), fresh ricotta.
Terrapin will satisfy just about anyone – from craft cocktails and beer to gourmet burgers to tapas to make your own sandwiches to delicious pastas to organic and grass-fed meats and vegan/gluten free options – it’s all here. Chef Josh Kroner has been a driving force behind the farm to table movement in the Hudson Valley since he opened Terrapin Restaurant in 1998. His unique style of New American cooking blends a classical French approach with the influences of Asia, Italy, and the American Southwest. He has also worked under the tutelage of such notable chefs as Emeril Lagasse at the Food Network and Bobby Flay at Manhattan’s famed Mesa Grill. And he did not disappoint!
I had a fantastic Gooseberry Mojito – yes I said Gooseberry! If you really want to splurge try the XO Connection – a perfect marriage of Martell XO Cognac and Mandarine Napoléon Grande Cuvee at $32 a pop or the Sauternes Margarita – a Partida reposado tequila and Sauternes with fresh lime juice and a half rim of himalayan pink salt for $22.
The food was just as outstanding. We tried the Truffled Fig, Brie and Roasted Shallot Quesadilla; the Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho with Chile-lime creme fraiche crouton, and the Hudson Valley Cattle Company Beef Burger with manchego, smoked onions, and maple mustard.
Almost a tie with Rhinebeck for me, this town is going through an amazing revival. A lively urban gem Hudson is beautifully preserved (hundreds of historic buildings representing every architectural style of the last three centuries) yet buzzing with all the ingredients of a city many times its size. Many people told us not to bother driving up there – but I’m so glad I didn’t listen! It’s a location not to be missed with its diverse and creative people, world class retail and dining, and a happening art and music scene.
Eat & Drink: There are many fantastic restaurants in Hudson, but my favorites are listed here:
Pots of flowers and herbs line the ramp up to the entrance, enveloping you in the sights and smells of nature. And the food is startlingly fresh and beautifully presented with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients. We tried the Beet Salad with house ricotta, arugula, horseradish, pepitas; the Local Zucchini Salad with ewe’s milk cheese, herb salad, crispy zucchini which tasted like it was just picked today and probably was; and the House Made Linguine with speck, local corn, pickled chili. Every dish was amazing.
What more do you need than a hotel, mercantile, bar and a restaurant all wrapped into one? That’s what you’ll find at the eclectic Wm. Farmer & Sons. Spacious and open, the bar/dining room invites you in with cozy seating and floor to ceiling windows for people watching. To start I enjoyed a fresh and delicious Berry Gimlet with Gin, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup, and Raspberries. We had the Grilled Wild Harvest Prawns with lemon and house salt; the Point Judith Clam Fritters with celery root tartar, the Jonah Crab Salad with corn-tomato gazpacho, turmeric and sweet basil and the Sunburst Appalachian Trout with red bliss potatoes.
Probably the coolest place we went to in Hudson was Or. The name Or, meaning arrow or scar in Icelandic, reflects the owners love of Iceland. They converted an old garage into a bar, gallery and event space with live bands. We just had a few drinks there, but were delighted with the Smoke Signal cocktail with tequila, mescal, lime, pineapple and cinnamon.
Long known as the Gateway to the Catskills and a Jewel of the Hudson Valley, Kingston has also become known as a vibrant center for the arts, music, fabulous dining and shopping experiences. There is a funky downtown area with lots of cool shops and great restaurants and a beautiful area by the river with waterside dining.
Eat & Drink: My favorites are listed here:
A cozy little place with only 6 seats at the bar and a few tables serves up fantastic, fresh, farm-to-table dishes. Seriously, some of the best food we had in the Hudson Valley. We had the Roasted Baby Carrots with yogurt, pistachios, and blueberry harissa sauce; the Local Heirloom Tomatoes on whipped local ricotta with drizzled salsa verde; the Truffled Mac & Cheese with roasted mushrooms, sherry, and housemade truffle oil – to die for; and the Local Fish of the Day – probably the best trout I’ve ever had.
Food here was good – not outstanding, but the cocktails and view are totally worth it – located on the historic Rondout Waterfront. The only thing that really stood out for me were the Corn Fritters with maple syrup butter.
A great craft cocktail place reminiscent of an old time speakeasy. Too many amazing choices of Depression Era cocktails. Notables: Grasshopper Lies Heavy with Rhum J.M, crème de menthe, crème de cacao, cream, and the T’Coco with Tequila Blanco, crème de coconut, lime and Hellfire bitters.
Other things not to miss in Hudson Valley are the wineries – my favorites were Whitecliff Vineyard, Robibero Vineyard, Nostrano Vineyard and Brotherhood Winery – America’s oldest winery established in 1839! And of course…the hiking! Two hikes that are an absolute must are Mohonk Mountain Labyrinth and Lemon Squeeze and Minnewaska State Park. The Lemon Squeeze hike was amazing and exhilarating! The highlights: insane views, cool stroll around Mohonk Mountain House and property, crazy rock labyrinth, and a claustrophobia-defying climb up a deep crevice. I absolutely loved it!