HUDSON, NEW YORK’s SAVORY REVIVAL
‘Rurban’ FOOD & DRINK SCENE DRIVEN BY EX-GOTHAMITES
There is a countrified cocktailian at fish & game. Look beyond the menus displayed on Warren Street restaurants in the exciting food-and-drink hub of Hudson, New York, located 115 miles north of Manhattan, and you will find chefs, somms and bartenders who left their New York City careers happily behind.
What’s driving this unusual exodus from city to country? Hudson Valley-based journalist Anne Marie Gardner, who was quoted in a recent New York Times feature on Hudson’s remarkable boomlet, noted that the city’s revival is a prime example of “ ‘rurbanism’, where urban expats bring their cultural touchstones and appetites with them when they move to a place like Hudson.”
Another key ingredient: The ‘rurban’ trends that have fired up Hudson’s still expanding restaurant and bar scene have likewise inspired a large migration of former city dwellers to purchase and revive old dairy farms and stock pasture and pen with cows, goats and sheep to produce cheese of all kinds; or others who cultivate new market gardens, which yield a year-round cycle of seasonal veggies (all organic, naturally); and still others who have built homesteads where they raise all kinds of pigs, sheep, cattle and poultry, free-range style, and where heritage breeds truly rule the roost and barns; you know, the kinds of sustainably raised pork, lamb, beef and fowl that you would never see at your local Safeway or Kroger.
Emblematic of this urban-to-rural re-invention phenomenon are ex-Gothamites in Hudson such as former Manhattan-based Fatty Crab chef Zakary Pelaccio and his wife Jori, who along with partner, Patrick Milling Smith,launched the acclaimed fish & game restaurant last year. Or Jeffrey Gimmel, formerly chef at Michael’s – another culinary landmark in Manhattan – and his wife, Nina Bachinsky-Gimmel, herself a former pastry chef at Union Square Café, who opened Swoon Kitchenbar in 2004. Or top toque John McCarthy who runs Crimson Sparrow, well, he once worked for Wylie Dufresne’s famous WD-50 on the Lower East Side. They have all decamped from New York and moved with wives, children, sous-chefs, and mixologists to Hudson and nearby hamlets in upstate New York’s Columbia County.
Celebrating a year since opening fish & game, Pelaccio says: “I was ready for a change from New York City. I have always wanted to live in the country, and Hudson and its surroundings are just rural enough.” Pelaccio has been praised by no less a food authority than Ruth Reichl. The former editor of the now-defunct Gourmet, Reichl
compares Zakary to Alice Waters for his resolute sourcing of all things local. Yet he departs somewhat from this ethic when it comes to fish & game’s wine list. While the wines are definitely global, Pelaccio revels in featuring obscure grape varieties from off-the-beaten path appellations. (When is the last time you have poured a Poulsard red from Arbois, France or a Sagrantino from Umbria in Italy?) But it is these vinous discoveries that please Zakary as well as tempt and delight his adventurous clientele.
Kat Dunn, who bartended for almost two decades at a number of Manhattan watering holes before joining Jori and Zakary at fish & game, says that since taking over the bar, “We’ve moved from more city-style drinks to more seasonal and local offerings.”
Perched on the inside edge of Dunn’s bar, there is an array of small brown bottles that are lined up like a company of tin soldiers; each contains a concentrated potion Dunn has distilled or concocted from local botanicals. Essences that Dunn employs range from anise and borage to smoked agave and local honey, one or more of which she might carefully stir into her one of her original, “forage-based” drink recipes or any classic cocktail her customers might request.
During this past winter, Dunn’s signature house cocktail ‘Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire’, a smoky mescal-based creation, was the bestseller and remains so, she adds. (See recipe below for fish & game’s signature cocktail, ‘Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.’) But Dunn also served up ‘The Tainted Lady’, a blood orange-infused Tequila drink, with charred Meyer lemon juice, Yellow Chartreuse, honey syrup, graced with a pink peppercorn-and-salt rim on the glass or her ‘Fall From Grace,’ a eye-opening, palate-stimulating blend of Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, ginger syrup, a home-made ginger liqueur made from a Cognac base, local, fresh apple cider, and a shot of India Pale Ale from a nearby micro-brewery.
From Whale Oil to Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It has been these dedicated agro-artisans who furnish a breadth and quality of ingredients appreciated and supported by Hudson chefs. Diners are beating a path to these Hudson addresses too, some of whom think nothing of taking the 2-hour train from New York City just to sample Hudson’s locavore delights; well fed, they catch a late train home to the big city. And to top it off, there’s a barrel-full of new distilleries, wineries and microbreweries that have sprouted up all along the Hudson River Valley all the way north to Albany. Not surprisingly, these spirits, beers and wine too have pride of place on Hudson’s back bars and wine and beer lists.
Taken together, these former city-dwelling chefs, countrified cocktailians and 21st century organic farmers and ranchers have transformed this former whaling port on the Hudson River into a thriving culinary and drinks destination. Facing the majestic Catskill Mountains to the west, the city first came to national prominence in the 1830’s and ‘40s. In that era, globe-encircling clipper ships sailed up the river and off-loaded
tons of whale oil and luxury goods in Hudson, all of which was bound west on the newly opened Erie Canal. It was these rich deliveries that spurred the city’s original boom as wealthy ship captains and merchants erected block after block of elegant Federal and Victorian townhouses and mansions, massive brick warehouses, local bakeries and bustling iron foundries.
Today, dozens of Hudson’s 19th century-era structures have been restored and artfully re-purposed into antique shops, bookstores and gourmet food boutiques, the latter stocked with expensive extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oils from Tunisia to Sicily. Like so many other buildings there, Pelaccio’s fish & game restaurant, an old blacksmith’s shop, was completely gutted and totally rebuilt; it’s located around the corner from Warren Street, the town’s central artery. So grab a ticket and train up (or drive) to Hudson and see what its version of ‘rurbanism’ is all about; and don’t forget to ask Kat for her signature drink!
“WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S FIRE”
Recipe: Courtesy Kat Dunn, fish & game; serves one.
1.75 oz. VIDA MESCAL
0.75 oz. THAI CHILI-INFUSED APEROL
1 oz. FRESH LIME JUICE
0.5 oz. SMOKED AGAVE SYRUP (smoked in a pan inside a lidded grill)
2 dashes Scrappy’s bitters
Combine all with ice, shake, and double strain. Serve up in a coupe with a dusting of sumac powder and grated dried Persian lime.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article has appeared in the May 2014 issue of The SOMM JOURNAL, whose editors the author wishes to thank for their permission.
The author also wishes to acknowledge his debt to Chronogram magazine’s food and drink editor and photographer Peter Barrett for his help in the preparation of this story; please see: http://www.acookblog.com to view more of Peter Barrett’s work.