So since today is the day the New York Times writes both on the Catskill Slogan Contest (in an awesome and funny piece by Peter Applebome) and Stanley Fish covers the same three new restaurants I did a couple weeks back for The Catskill Mountain News, I thought it time to stick this up on the blog... And to say, I feel in good company....
By Jennifer Kabat
While ad honchos are busy rebranding the Catskills, trying yet again to get away from the Borscht Belt image that they think bedevils the region, the Catskills themselves seem to be doing just fine on their own, at least in our neck of the woods. Long known for food with local farms and farmers’ markets like the Round Barn now celebrating its 20th anniversary, in Delaware County this summer local restaurants are springing to life – or back into it.
The week of July 4th alone two new cafes opened. In Bloomville, the corner of Main and River Streets was packed as motorcycles and vintage cars and convertibles lined up. Inside were couples in straw hats and Converse sneakers for the opening of Table On Ten. Bloomville is more known as a crossroads, a place on the way from here to there, where people rarely stop, but they’re stopping now.
Inside, tables are bedecked with wildflowers and the rooms restrained with a rustic elegance. Here, the Catskills are almost even returning to their Dutch roots. You’re nearly as apt to hear Dutch spoken as English, and staple items include Dutch specialties like spiced brown speculoos cookies. Table On Ten is owned and run by 20-something couple Justus and Inez Valk-Kempthorne. A Dutch former model, she was in New York for work where she met and later married Justus. The two moved fulltime to Bloomville three years ago.
All of that time they’ve had their eye on the building on the corner. Three years ago they tried to buy it, but it was too expensive. This winter when it was still unsold, they went back to the realtor to see if the owner might lower the price. Soon they had a building, but no business plan, Valk-Kempthorne recalls.
A trained carpenter and cabinetmaker, Justus did all the renovations, and the couple put together a business plan, working with Delhi’s economic development center. Now the business isn’t reliant simply on serving food but serves as she describes it, “as a beehive” and “a community hub.”
The café is devoted to local food, or “as local as you can realistically get,” she explains, in the midst of making a milkweed frittata and preparing a catered chicken dinner for a fashion shoot in Bovina over the weekend. Upstairs are studios. Sonia Janiszewski from Farm Catskills has an office there, as well as award-winning poet Anna Moschovakis who recently won the lauded Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Bovina-based, British photo agent Julian Richards.
Soon the basement will be Justus Kempthorne’s carpentry workshop. A carpenter in the city before he moved up, he practices traditional woodworking from timber framing to cabinetry, skills that show with the work he’s done in the café.
The small menu is dedicated to what Valk-Kempthorne calls “simple” food, but that simple includes her Egg In A Nest, aka eggs baked in a biscuit in a ramekin with herbs and cheese. Pillow-y and addictive would be a better way to describe them.
“We want to use what’s around you,” she says searching for a word for wild edibles and herbs. Soon they’ll also fire up the stone oven for sourdough pizza. The café also includes what the couple are calling a microshop, dedicated to the few things they missed most in the city, including exotic Maldon sea salt, hand dried in Essex on the English seaside and praised by many including the queen and Valk-Kempthorne.
“I know it’s not local,” she laughs, her lilting Dutch accent rising on the words. “I missed it and was bringing it back from the city. On a caramel apple pie, it’s perfect.” She promises just such a pie will be on the menu come autumn.
Buttercup opens in Andes
In Andes a cat gets credit for the new café Buttercup – and gave it its name. Located in the building that once housed the Slow Down Cafe, the cat hated going back and forth to New York City. He’d hide under the bathtub, his owner Victoria Charkut explains. Add to that her finding two abandoned kittens, and going to the city with four cats was too much. So what to do? She and her husband Peter Mullin went into the restaurant business.
The couple had long had a place in Bovina. He has a background in finance and technology and she in theater, starting when she was 18 on the first run of the “Rocky Horror Picture” show in London. Now, though, as she got to thinking about an upstate business, she and Mullin turned their sights on the old Slow Down. She jokes that because they’d kept to themselves so much up here, they opened Buttercup just to have a social life.
Knew where to look
“And, for a chef,” she laughs, “we turned to Craig’s List.”
That chef, Chris McGee, however, is no laughing matter. He comes with a resume that includes some of New York City’s best restaurants. He helped open Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s 66 and Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke and worked at the hip retro-bistro Pastis.
From Kansas City, McGee is also obsessed with barbecue, and to that end had a food truck, that introduced Kansas-City-style smoked delicacies to Brooklynites. This fall he decided to simplify his life and moved to the Catskills. Asked why, the answer to him is obvious. The food.
He bounds around the kitchen ebullient and talks about how cooking here is perfect.
“It’s a no brainer,” he says. “It’s the same clientele I was cooking for in the city without the hassle and a better product.”
To that end he can wax rhapsodic about the eggs that are delivered by a neighbor and goat cheese from Davenport.
“I wanted to lose any kind of pretension,” he explains, “and cook the way I eat at home.” If that’s true and a taste of his buttery pate is any hint, he eats well and cooks even better.
Joining the other restaurants this weekend will be the launch of Two Old Tarts in Bovina. Before relocating to LA for work, the Tarts had long lines at their stall at the Round Barn as dedicated fans queued up for the croissants and, of course, tarts. Now the two Tarts, couple John Schulman and Scott Finley, are taking over the building that once housed the bakery/café Heaven and before that a restaurant.
Jokes are free
Maybe the Catskills are still the Borscht Belt, only now the borscht is being made with heirloom beets and yogurt and goats cheese from local pastured cows and goats. And, given the sense of humor Charkut and Chris McGee have and that you can find in the name Two Old Tarts, you might not get stand up with your salad but probably a joke or two.