Route 212: A Storied Edible Rumble
There’s a short film on YouTube called From the Village to the Basement. It’s a teaser for The Basement Tapes Complete, the 2014 box set that at last unearths all—or so we’re told—of the mythically elusive music recorded by Bob Dylan and the Band in 1967, when they were, in Dylan’s words, “escaping the rat race” by living in the idyllic woods of the Catskills. The three-and-a-half-minute documentary starts out in the West Village, cruises 100 miles up the New York State Thruway, takes a left at the end of the Exit 20 off-ramp in Saugerties and finally delivers you straight into the b asement of “Big Pink,” the house in West Saugerties where Dylan and the Band made the bulk of these influential recordings and for which the latter’s album Music from Big Pink is named. Big Pink sits in the woods between the Village of Saugerties and the Town of Woodstock by way of New York State Route 212. In addition to feeling the wheels and feet of famous musicians, this winding, twolane artery of upper Ulster County is also celebrated for having some of the finest and most varied food anywhere in the world.
Please Let These Crops Grow Tall
Route 212 originates in the Village of Saugerties, which was settled by the Dutch in the 1650s. Food played a bit part in the town’s early history: A loaf of bread was among the goods with which the English purchased the land from the Esopus Indians in 1677. The village’s heart is the intersection of Main and Partition streets, which are lined with brick buildings housing antique stores, a hardware store, an old neon marquee movie theater—and an excellent selection of bars and restaurants.
“Saugerties is a really nice town with a cool vibe,” says Marc Propper, who co-owns Miss Lucy’s Kitchen with his wife, Michelle Silver; the pair ran Grove, a restaurant in the West Village, before moving to town in 1997. Miss Lucy’s, with its countrified interior—wide-plank floors and antique farmhouse tables, features a locally sourced, farmto- table menu that changes daily and features herbs, vegetables and flowers grown in the couple’s garden. “All of the protein items, the rabbit, duck and chicken, come neighboring farms,” says Propper. “The fish is all sea-to-table, which means we order it straight from the dock and it’s overnighted immediately to us here.”
Almost directly across Partition Street is Love Bites Café. A brunch lover’s paradise, Love Bites serves up such innovative dishes as the Filipino beef tapa (sweet soy-marinated sirloin with garlic rice and eggs, pickles and spicy vinegar), spicy sweet potato-tofu hash (with caramelized onions, garlic and wilted spinach) and coconut-carrot French toast (with vanilla-citrus butter and maple syrup). Also on Partition is seasonal barbecue haven Cue, which is co-owned by Propper and a carnivore-pleasing hit thanks to its hickory-smoked, dry-rubbed pork shoulder, ribs, brisket and chicken and homemade sauces. (Try the Carolina Gold.) On summer evenings, the outdoor tables are packed with customers enjoying dinner or dessert and digging the live bands who carry on the area’s musical tradition, especially on “First Friday,” which occurs on the first Friday of each month in Saugerties and gives the town reason to come alive with food, music and festivities.
And when it comes to beer in Saugerties, it’s the Dutch Ale House that’s a true Saugerties tradition. Originally opened on December 5, 1933—the day Prohibition ended—the Main Street tavern is now a microbrewery with 15 craft beers on tap (owner Johnny Pavich brews a selection of the house offerings himself ) and nearly 50 bottled and canned styles in the fridge, as well as wine and spirits. In addition to its constantly changing beer selections, the bistro serves lunch and dinner; the burgers and pub food are the main attractions.
Black-Eyed Suzie’s, which opened in 2015, is a new addition to the Saugerties foodscape offering eat-in options, catering and take-away. Co-owner Cheryl Paff, who until recently managed the farmers’ market in nearby Rhinebeck and helped launch the Woodstock Farm Festival, partnered with Mexican-born chef Juan Tzitzimititila, a Zagat award-winning veteran of top-rated Manhattan Mediterranean restaurant Pylo’s. The modestly priced brunch and dinner menus use local ingredients freshly culled from Paff’s farm connections, as with the Wild Hive cornmeal-crusted chicken or the Meiller Farm beef burger.
If you possess a sweet tooth, head north on Partition to Lucky Chocolates. Started by owner Rae Stang in her home kitchen, Lucky creates small batches of candies made from organic, fair trade ingredients and offers traditional and vegan chocolates, as well as custom batches for special occasions.
This year marks the fifth season of the monthly Hudson Valley Food Truck Festival, which takes place on the third Thursday from May through October at the town’s Kiwanis Ice Arena / Cantine Field recreational complex. “On most nights, we have between 800 and 1,200 people attending,” says co-creator and restaurateur Pierre-Luc Moeys, the founder of Woodstock restaurants Yum Yum and Oriole 9 and current owner of Lekker 209 in Stone Ridge. “We’ve set the number of trucks at 15, to keep the quality level high, and this year we’re partnering with a local brewery and wine distributor. There’s a beer garden, live music, and kids’ entertainment. And it’s free.”
Across the Great Divide
Head west out of Saugerties on Route 212. “Saugerstock” is the unofficial name for the rural area through which the road runs en route to Woodstock. At one bendy spot is Smokehouse of the Catskills, a family-run authentic German butcher shop that’s been in the business for more than 50 years. “All of our products are smoked and cut on premises and totally processed by hand, the old-fashioned way,” explains co-owner Heidi Ferraro. “We use only meat and spices—no fillers.” The facility has a passionately devoted clientele, who faithfully return for its hand-cut steaks and chops and handmade hot dogs, bratwurst, sausage and kielbasa.
Another outlet for interesting edibles is Jolly’s British Food and Good Grub Groceries, located on Route 212 roughly midway between Saugerties and Woodstock. The store, started in 2006 by expatriate Brit couple Helen and Lucinda Wells, carries imported British specialties like meat pies, Walkers Crisps, marmalade, mushy peas, marmite, chutney, Weetabix cereal, biscuits, Cadbury chocolates and jelly babies, and, of course, a staggering selection of authentic English teas pack the shelves, fridges and freezers. Jolly’s does a bustling mail order business online and sells light meals to go (the curried chicken sandwiches are favorites).
Back in the 1980s, before its founding chef and manager, Ric Orlando, became an award-winning TV cooking phenomenon and figurehead of the “Clean Food” movement, the site of New World Home Cooking was the Getaway Inn, a converted barn that hosted performances by members of the Band. New World’s locally sourced menu blends traditional American comfort fare like burgers and barbecue with Cajun, Thai, Italian and other global influences. For many, it’s the lip-smacking pan-blackened string beans that come to mind first when they think of New World; then again, it might be Ric’s Original Purple Haze Shrimp (with habaneros, pineapple, ginger, red cabbage and thyme) or the Ropa Vieja (a spicy stewed meat dish that translates to “old rags” but tastes far better than its name would indicate).
At the intersection of Route 212 and Glasco Turnpike (Route 32), near the site of the Sound-Outs, the concerts that inspired the 1969 Woodstock Festival, is another mainstay: The Red Onion. Opened by chef/owner Kevin Katz in 2002 in a restored, pre-1850s farmhouse, the Red Onion is one of the region’s standard-setters for nightly, casually elegant fine dining. The signatures are the housemade pastas (like the goat-cheese-and-ricotta-filled ravioli) and desserts and the mussels (cast-iron roasted with butter and lemon or steamed Thai style with lime leaf, chilies, coconut milk and mint). The establishment maintains a world-class wine list and a bar dispensing intriguing cocktails like the Necromancer (absinthe, Lillet Blanc, St-Germain, lemon and a dash of gin).
Once it flows into Woodstock, Route 212 becomes Mill Hill Road. The Town of Woodstock has a reputation as a creativity-nurturing community that dates from even before the 1902 founding of the still-extant Byrdcliffe, America’s oldest operating arts colony.
At the intersection of Mill Hill Road and Route 375 (Levon Helm Memorial Boulevard) is Cucina, a restored farmhouse—there are many around here—and a former location of Deanie’s, a hangout for the Band, Paul Butterfield and other local musicians. Cucina is co-owned by head chef Gianni Scappin, who, as the boss of New York’s Le Madri, once employed a young sous chef named Anthony Bourdain. With its country-chic feel and the warm-weather seating on its large wraparound porch, Cucina is popular for its pastas, pizzas, steaks and chops and daily market fish.
A leisurely stroll west finds the family-owned Sunflower Natural Foods Market. In operation since 1978, Sunflower is a one-stop health food supplier stocking fresh, high-quality produce, homeopathic remedies, bulk grocery and frozen foods. The supermarket has weekly sales, a to-go café and juice bar. Neighboring butcher Woodstock Meats has been serving the community for over 50 years and prominently features local pasture-raised meats and other items from the Hudson Valley.
Locally raised themselves are Anthony Heaney and Emily Sherry- Bonilla, the owners of Provisions. The café/deli opened last year and has been slaying taste buds with its sandwiches, which have cutesy names like the Horse You Rode in On (housemade roast beef with housemade pickled onions) and the Bird is the Word (pulled roasted chicken with roasted lemon and dill aioli, arugula and tomato). Heaney himself does Provisions’ butchering on-site, in addition to making the fresh focaccia and mozzarella for the paninis.
Provisions also holds an interesting role in the community, as they have become a trusted hub for outreach to at-risk kids who would otherwise go unnoticed or uncared for. Bonilla, besides running an astonishingly great deli, uses her genial and generous spirit to provide those at need a network to get help, secure employment and, if hungry, Provisions offers a pay-it-forward program where anyone could buy a sandwich or coffee in the form of a handwritten voucher tacked onto a bulletin board that is just teaming with Woodstock generosity.
Also new to the Woodstock scene is cozy hang Shindig, perched right where Mill Hill Road curves to become Tinker Street. Open Tuesday through Sunday and packed on weekends, Shindig has a beer/wine/cocktail bar and does breakfast until 3pm (some favorites are the caramelized banana pancakes; or the breakfast wrap, with egg whites, quinoa, sautéed kale and sriracha aioli), lunch and dinner (standouts include the lamb burger, with harissa-spiced yogurt sauce, arugula, tomato, onion and goat cheese). Yet another new dining option is Rick’s Wood-Fired, which bakes Neapolitan-style pizzas in a brick oven built by master Italian oven maker Stefano Ferarra and makes pastas as well.
On the corner of Tinker Street / Route 212 and Tannery Brook Road is Woodstock institution Joshua’s Café, now in its 43rd year. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week, Joshua’s serves a Middle Eastern–based menu: the falafel, Israeli breakfast (two eggs any style, house salad, feta, olives, pepperoncini, hummus, baba, tabbouleh and pita) and, especially, the Turkish-style coffee, are heartily recommended. (Catty-corner from Joshua’s is the Woodstock Center for Photography, formerly the Café Espresso, where Bob Dylan played and briefly lived upstairs.)
Over by the Wildwood
Just over one mile west on Route 212 is the hamlet of Bearsville, the crucible of the Woodstock-Saugerties area’s emergence as a gastronomic epicenter. It was here that the late Albert Grossman, the manager of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Band and others—and a noted food enthusiast himself—opened the internationally renowned Bear Café in 1971. Co-owner Peter Cantine and chef Eric Mann purchased it from Grossman’s widow in 1988. Cited by The New York Times as the spot where “the powerful and the famous nosh,” the world-class Bear Café features streamside dining and is regarded by many as one of the premier restaurants north of Manhattan. The wine list is premium, from 2014 pinot grigio ($26 a bottle) to 2004 Dom Pérignon ($350 a bottle), and the local ingredients make the award-winning New American/French-influenced dishes representative of the founding Grossman’s gourmand sensibilities: the grass-fed filet mignon (made with port wine and served with garlic mashed potatoes and Stilton butter) elicits undying raves, as do inventive specials like the crispy fried lollipop kale (with whipped chevré, hazelnuts and a balsamic glaze). On the same property is Chinese restaurant the Little Bear and live music venue the Bearsville Theater.
In much the same way that the gorgeous, constantly changing landscape along Route 212 embodies the incredible music it’s inspired, it also mirrors the edible adventure that awaits its travelers. “Route 212 has the best country road dining in America,” says Ric Orlando. “And I’ve traveled enough to know.”
BUSINESSES (In order of appearance):
Miss Lucy’s Kitchen 90 Partition Street, Saugerties 845.246.9240
Love Bites Café 69 Partition Street, Saugerties 845.246.1795
Cue 136 Partition Street, Saugerties 845.246.4283
Dutch Ale House 253 Main Street, Saugerties 845.247.2337
Black-Eyed Suzie’s 230 Partition Street, Saugerties 845.247.3069
Lucky Chocolates 115 Partition Street, Saugerties 845.246.7337
Smokehouse of the Catskills 724 NY-212, Saugerties 845.246.8767
Jolly’s British Food and Good Grub Groceries 1538 Route 212, Saugerties 845.810.0461
New World Home Cooking 1411 Route 212, Saugerties 845.246.0900
The Red Onion 1654 Route 212, Saugerties 845.679.1223
Cucina 109 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock 845.679.9800
Sunflower Natural Food Market 75 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock 845.679.5361
Provisions 65 Tinker Street, Woodstock 845.546.3354
Shindig 1 Tinker Street, Woodstock 845.684.7091
Rick’s Wood-Fired 138 Tinker Street, Woodstock 845.679.2700
Joshua’s Café 51 Tinker Street, Woodstock 845.679.5533
Bear Café 295 Tinker Street, Woodstock 845.679.5555