Diary of a Transplant: Eating Out Upstate

  |  July 5, 2012

As I’ve been blogging in the last few weeks, moving up to the country has had a dramatic effect on our food lives. Between rural grocery shopping (challenging), losing the Park Slope Food Coop (tragic), connecting with local farmers (awesome), and producing our own food (satisfying beyond words), the way we eat has changed radically.

Eating out is no exception. We came from Brooklyn, which is (forgive this former Brooklynite a moment of unabashed boro-pride) the epicenter of the urban food movement.  It is like Berkeley in the 60’s. It is churning with foodie-ness. From our South Slope house, we could walk to any of several pubs that served grass-fed burgers, groovy cafes with fair-trade coffee, or restaurants whose menus were more provenance-guides than food descriptions. When we left Brooklyn, I knew we were in for a change.

Let me add that not only was I coming from foodie-capital Brooklyn, but I have been food-obsessed for most of my life, and I worked in restaurants for many, many years. I’m a difficult customer.

I’ve been so happily surprised.

The bottom line: like everything else in the country, there is a smaller selection, we have a long drive to get there, but things are awesome once we do.

Here are some of our stand-bys:

Pizza by the Slice, “Upstate Style”
In Brooklyn we lived a short walk from Lenny’s, a pizza place on 5th Avenue run by old Italian guys. It was perfect NYC-style pizza. Perfect. When we moved, I hadn’t really prepared my kids for the fact that their pizza lives were about to end. Luckily, I didn’t have to. Paul’s Pizza Pasta, on the crossroads before our turn off from Coxsackie, makes excellent pizza. There are white teenagers with ear plugs and iridescent eye shadow behind the counter. Not an old Italian guy in sight. But they’ve figured it out. The pizza is great. We have yet to come in for dinner, as half of Coxsackie seems to on weekend nights, and sample the baked ziti and shrimp scampi and others classics of the sit-down family pizza joints from my childhood, but some day we will.

Fancy Pizza
Baba Louie’s is one of the reasons we chose to move to the Hudson area. Three years ago we did a tour of upstate regions within commuting distance to the city. In Hudson, we went out for Megan’s birthday dinner, at Baba Loiue’s. Inventive salads served family-style in big wooden bowls with wooden spoons? Thin sour dough pizza crusts topped with things like figs and prosciutto?  I could live here. Baba Louie’s has not disappointed. It’s a stand-by.

Even the country bumpkins we’ve become need a nice dinner out once in a while. The place we go for fancy dinners is invariably the same: DaBa. The first time we went it was because the menu offered $8 burgers in addition to $23 main courses, and with two kids to feed that’s a deal maker. But DaBa would hold its own in Brooklyn. It’s inventive Swedish cuisine using local foods, and fancy enough that each meal starts with an amuse bouche (which introduced Ernie, 12 at the time, to chicken liver mousse), but sweet and mellow enough that the (square) burgers come on toasted white bread with sweet potato fries. We’ve had foie gras, elk carpaccio, tea-smoked clams and an allium-and-bacon dish, but I had the burger the last time we went, and now I’m not sure if I’ll ever order anything else. The service is almost always perfect. It’s been our family’s favorite restaurant for two years running. In fact, I think we might have to go tonight.

Wasana’s Thai Restaurant in Catskill. I get my Asian food fix when I go down to work in the city, but sometimes that’s not enough. In that case we head to Catskill, for this hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant. It’s family-run: from what I understand, the husband is an American culinary school grad; the wife is from Thailand. This place is low on ambiance. Really low. But the food is great and so are the prices.

Quarry Steak House
We pass this old school restaurant every day. The parking lot is always packed. We finally went one night for Megan’s birthday dinner (her choice).  It was old-fashioned, the way restaurants were when I was a kid. Wood paneling and a carpeted floor. You choose your salad dressing, your starch, and I think even your vegetable. Our meal came with a vat of buttered peas for the table, and everyone got soft white rolls, and, of course, bread plates. It brought me back. I don’t know if we’d go again, unless they started getting their meat from someplace like here, but it was a fun evening.

The Bees Knees at Heather Ridge Farm, in Preston Hollow. A little cafe and store in a house on a hill, serving food the farm has raised. Get the corn-chicken chowder. Or the pork-ciabatta sandwich. Or the Oink-Moo Chili. Or the cherry tart. Or the honey-cinnamon ice cream. Get anything, it’s all delicious.

Places I still want to go:

Reds, a Fish Fry joint in Coxsackie. Why are there so many Fish Fry places up here? This one has been around since the 1940’s.

Grazin Diner. This is one of those old silver diners, and it serves all local, sustainable, awesome food.  Hudson. It is our next stop.

Blue Plate in Chatham. People keep telling me to go here. I’m going, I’m going.

The Yellow Deli in Oak Hill. A vegetarian place run by the Twelve Tribes. All homemade bread and their own produce. Another place on my list. We’ll hit it on our way back from Zoom Flume, which opens next week.


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