The Catskills: New York’s Culinary Retreat
Luring acclaimed chefs away from the city, this meander from Manhattan is one of America’s most impressive culinary outposts.
Follow the Hudson River north out of New York City, and within a few hours you’ll be driving through the natural beauty of the Catskills — upstate New York’s popular long-weekend getaway.
With serene views of rolling farmland and mountain peaks, plus a burgeoning farm-to-table food movement, the region offers a taste of ‘pure’ Americana that has sparked a tourism revival, with hipsters eagerly transforming into ‘hicksters’ for a weekend.
Now, top chefs are flocking to the destination in a bid to establish themselves outside the city, while further shortening the distance from farm to table.
DEER MOUNTAIN INN
Chef Ryan Tate was the holder of a Michelin star before he made a decision to switch out the hectic pace of manning the burners in NYC for the tranquillity of a mountainside hunting lodge, taking the helm at the Deer Mountain Inn. It’s a Catskills culinary favourite, complete with rustic suites, sweeping views of nature and roaring fireplaces. “Leaving the city is a lifestyle choice,” says Tate. “Here we have [the] chef’s garden, herb garden, 170 acres of woodland, and we work closely with local farmers.”
His seasonal menu aims to capture the history of the area, reflected in dishes such as marinated beets served with a smoked Catskill trout, and milk sorbet with forest honey and honeycomb for dessert.
A similar philosophy is in play at Prospect, overlooking Hunter Mountain. The new arrival’s playful take on alpine cuisine has been a hit with blow-in foodies and locals. Chef Joseph Buenconsejo left the city in hopes of spending more time foraging and hiking and brings his love of nature to the menu. “Everything is made in-house. We make our bread, we culture our own butter. What’s on the menu is what I can find around the area, and what’s available at the farms,” he explains.
One delicious example is spruce frozen yoghurt, made from the aromatic tips of the spruce trees surrounding the restaurant. Another highlight is corn custard with puffed barley and fennel, showcasing the region’s agriculture.
For husband-and-wife duo Devin and Marybeth Mills of Peekamoose, Big Indian —who previously worked at some of NYC’s top-rated restaurants — the region’s farm-to-table movement has marked an “exponential increase” in tourism during the last couple of years.
“We’ve seen an incredible shift. And it’s wonderful to have so many people visiting, and supporting responsibly sourced food,” says Marybeth. Try the signature slow-braised beef short ribs, cooked for three days for melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.
The Catskills are best enjoyed via the open road, taking in quaint picture-postcard towns boasting exotic names (such as Andes and Delhi) and a range of culinary hotspots.
Kick off your day with brunch at the Phoenicia Diner. This Catskills institution serves classics with a modern spin, using farm-fresh ingredients at affordable prices. The breakfast skillets are a delicious menu highlight, including duck and grits.
From Phoenicia, take the Old Route 28 to 212 towards Woodstock, known for the historic music festival of 1969 (which actually took place 80 kilometres down the road in Bethel). Spend the afternoon visiting shops, cafes and art galleries. Stock up on treats and gifts in Shop Little House.
TO THE HILLS
If hiking’s more your thing, take a trek up Mount Tremper. Climb its fire lookout tower and take in the fresh mountain air. Alternatively, the trail from the Tibetan Buddhist monastery to Overlook Mountain culminates in 360-degree views of the Hudson River and surrounds.
Before you leave, make sure you stop off at some of the roadside farm stands to stock up on local maple syrup, crisp apples and heirloom tomatoes for delicious memories of the Catskills.
FOXFIRE MOUNTAIN HOUSE
Cosy down for the night at Foxfire Mountain House, a revamped inn tucked away on four hectares of Mount Tremper. Designed with vintage furniture pieces and having nightly bonfires, it’s a snug spot to relax and while away a chilly evening.
For a more stripped back style, check in to Scribner’s, a hipster ski lodge in nearby Hunter. A Brooklyn design firm is responsible for the minimalist aesthetic of the bedrooms, while the front desk will provide marshmallows to toast on a campfire beneath the stars. Visit in winter to experience one of the best upstate ski terrains, Hunter Mountain, which conveniently lies just across the street.
Deer Mountain Inn - www.deermountaininn.com
Prospect - www.scribnersprospect.com
Peekamoose - www.peekamooserestaurant.com
Foxfire Mountain House - www.foxfiremountainhouse.com
Scribner's Lodge - www.scribnerslodge.com
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