New York

Hudson: Bringing the Table to the Farm

by Christopher Kompanek  |  Published July 6, 2016

Hudson is saturated with ingestible culture that’s as local as it is artisanal. Much of it is within walking distance of the Amtrak station, but where to begin?

A scenic stretch of Warren Street, Hudson. (Photo: Teri Tynes via Flickr)

A scenic stretch of Warren Street, Hudson. (Photo: Teri Tynes via Flickr)

Located just two hours north of New York City on the river that gave it its name, Hudson, NY blends the sophistication of big city tastes with a small town feel. Farms and mountainscapes dominate the land and provide local ingredients for its many fine restaurants.

It’s easy to while away a day here doing little else but eating and drinking. The streets are covered in freshly fallen leaves that crunch underfoot as I shuffle along Warren Street. This is the main commercial drag in town and is filled with as many antique stores as bars and restaurants. Turn the corner, and you’re likely to see dilapidated buildings or renovations in progress, a reminder of the decades-long economic depression that afflicted Hudson and many neighboring towns.

The late folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, who led the fight to clean up the Hudson River in the 60s, lived half his life in Beacon, a river town with a similar history 60 miles south. The famed grounds of the Woodstock festival are across the river midway between Hudson and Beacon and an artistic vibe can be felt throughout the region known as the Hudson Valley.

Uniquely Hudson

Out of all its towns though, Hudson is the only one the feels like an entity onto itself. Helsinki Hudson, which does double duty as a concert venue and a fine locally sourced restaurant, offers a twice-baked grit soufflé with Hudson Valley foie gras along with acts like Roseanne Cash, Yo La Tengo, and Okkervil River.

Just around the corner, local brasserie Swoon Kitchenbar is a perfect place for a midday meal. Their egg sandwich comes with pickled chilies and their bacon wrapped dates are served with maple syrup. Crispy artichokes are another must from James Beard nominee Jeffrey Gimmel’s eclectic menu. Crowds can form for dinner but tables abound during the day. The décor is equal parts smart and homey, melding the urban and rural sensibilities that give Hudson its sophisticated serenity.

There are seven different kinds of hot chocolate to choose from at nearby Verdigris Tea and Chocolate Bar. After looking over the list for about twenty minutes, I choose the simply named Hudson Hot Chocolate, which is described as “a rich ganache of melted dark chocolate blended with milk, whipped cream and chocolate shavings.” Those shaving sit meticulously on top of a mound of foam in a way that signals the exacting way the drinks are made here. As rich as it is subtle, the cup of cocoa proves a nice palate cleanser before I venture back down to the river.

Promenade Hill Park is perched high above the Hudson River offering an expansive wash of mellow colors that’s cut only by the blue-gray stream. It’s hard to believe it’s the same one that runs down south all the way to Manhattan just a couple blocks from my apartment.

As I walk off my meal with a stroll through the park, I notice a defunct lighthouse, specks of kayakers and the historic village of Athens. Just a ten minute car ride away, this village looks like a movie set for a colonial period drama with endless rows of historically preserved houses and little else accept an excellent craft brewpub.

As their name implies, Crossroads Brewery makes all their own beer, including the Black Rock Stout, which won a 2014 World Beer Cup Gold medal. With 6.8% ABV, it’s a hearty brew but is as robust as it is nuanced. Their long comfortable wood bar encourages lingering as does a thoughtful seasonal menu sourced from the area’s many farms. Unfortunately, I have but one stomach

A lively scene at Spotty Dog Books and Ale. (Photo: Spotty Dog Books and Ale)

A lively scene at Spotty Dog Books and Ale. (Photo: Spotty Dog Books and Ale)

Books and Ale

I head back across the river to Spotty Dog Books and Ale, which makes a compelling argument for beer in bookstores. On my visit, I spot Claire Danes and her husband Hugh Dancy at the bar. If anyone else notices, they’re not letting on. Hudson might feel like it has the makings of a city, but there’s a stillness here. Whether sipping a local beer or browsing, you’re left alone here, so much so it takes a while to get the bartender’s attention even though there’s only a handful of people.

Unless it’s a weekend night, even most of the best restaurants are half-crowded. That’s the case a few blocks up on Warren Street at the abstractly named Hudson Food Studio, which puts a Vietnamese twist on the local bounty of produce and meats. Their steamed pork belly buns are almost as good as the ones at David Chang’s Momofuku empire. Roasted Brussels sprouts with a nam pla aioli and bird chili are quite satisfying as well.

On the rare night when it is too crowded, I like the casual atmosphere of Wunderbar Bistro, which is to be expected of a place with billiards and darts but stands out here amongst the more curated offerings. The bacon wrapped shrimp are served with nothing but a plate and you can order chicken wings – though there are six kinds to choose from.

In warmer months, food trucks gather in a concrete enclave that could be a corner in Brooklyn if you don’t glance up to the majestic hills. The Savory Delicatessen makes a mean Reuben (a New York staple sandwich consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing) and other trucks offer pizza, tacos, and burgers – all of which have tempting aromas.

For a glimpse of what Hudson was like hundreds of years ago, head to Olana. Located on the edge of Hudson with commanding views of the river, this 250-acre historic estate was home to Frederic Edwin Church, one the most important of the Hudson River School painters. The Persian-inspired mansion looks like a cross between a castle and an ornate church with many steeples and archways. Victorian in stature and style, the extensive grounds served as inspiration for many of Church’s paintings, which now fill the house. If you begin to fall into a culture coma, the grounds double as hiking trails and kayaks can be rented in Athens. After all, this is the country.

The main house at Olana, perched above the Hudson River, Hudson. (Photo: Stan Ries)

The main house at Olana, perched above the Hudson River, Hudson. (Photo: Stan Ries)