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While you’re driving along Route 28 in the Town of Kingston, it’s easy to miss this group of eateries.

Culinary Corner

Route 28's quiet gourmet gateway

By Deborah J. Botti

Photos by Philip Kamrass

 

THEY'RE LINKED BY ROUTE 28 in the Town of Kingston – as well as their individual commitments to their community and one another.

Still, there’s nothing really notable about this four-lane stretch of highway, other than that it takes a concentrated effort to maintain the 45-mph speed limit.

But upon closer inspection coming from the Thruway, there’s a group of shops on the right, a little more than four miles from the traffic circle. They’re set back a bit and easy to miss. However, thanks in large part to those who travel north from Manhattan to an Ulster County respite, this group of retailers is being coined as Gourmand Alley, offering epicurean delights to weekenders as well as pantry staples to full-timers who have a palate for good things, including supporting local businesses.

Here’s a gustatory glimpse of what’s available en route from the city or just a stone’s throw from where you might be in Ulster County.

Skip Card is the newest tenant of the group; he opened his business, Hookline Fish Co., a couple of months ago.

Hookline Fish Co.

906 Route 28

917-771-6648; skipcard@nyc.rr.com

 

Skip Card’s Hookline Fish Co., which touts Northwest-style smoked salmon made in New York, is the new kid on the gourmand block.

“I was a copy editor at the New York Post. I worked in the features section, which covers entertainment, fashion, food, etc. Our desk also did the proofreading for the Page Six gossip column. I realized at one point that one of my primary duties was to make damn sure that Mary-Kate Olsen’s name was hyphenated.

“And when you realize your journalism career has led to this, then maybe it’s time to go into the salmon business,” he says.

Not that one makes a leap from catching grammatical errors for 22 years to catching fish. Actually, Card was salmon fishing long before he was fishing for snappy words for a newspaper headline.

“I grew up in Tacoma, Wash. My dad was a firefighter and a fisherman. I grew up on wild-caught, Northwest-style, hot smoked salmon. My dad and I fished weekends for Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. … That lifestyle doesn’t exist anymore,” he says. “Lox (which most Northeasterners equate with smoked salmon) is cold smoked. That’s like smoking sushi. It’s not bad, but not what I grew up with.”

So when he, his wife, Jean Margaret Smith Card, and daughter, Julia, started leaving their Upper West Side abode for weekends in Mount Tremper, Card was able to recapture his youth with a hot smoker in the back yard.

“Friends were surprised at how good the salmon was,” Card says of his 10 years as a hobbyist – even touting how non-salmon fans quickly became converts. “They said I should go into business.”

He started researching all the angles of a hot smoked salmon business. In June, around the time of his 50th birthday, forces converged. Julia was older and more independent. The family’s roots in Ulster County had been growing – including the Cards’ support of the Woodstock Land Conservancy – and he was ready to cast into new waters.

“I opened just before Thanksgiving,” he says. “The response has been fantastic.”

He says he would frequent the shops that he now shares a zip code with, and his neighbors were a big reason for his choice of business location. So now, Thursdays typically begin at 3 a.m. at Hunt’s Point Fish Market in the city, on the way up to Kingston. He chooses Atlantic salmon that comes filleted and deboned, and with its higher fat content, is similar to what he grew up with.

By 5 a.m., he’s at his spotless shop. He adheres to strict FDA and state regulations that include precise charting of all the processes, stringent monitoring of refrigerator and smoker temperatures – and even when to change his chef’s jacket.

The salmon is sliced and soaked for at least eight hours in 24-pound batches among three tubs of brine with a specific salt-to-sugar ratio. Afterward, each slice is individually patted dry and checked for bones. Then they’re air-dried on a rack to allow a pellicle – or thin sticky coating – to form, which seals in the moisture.

Card then prepares one of three smokers with two cups of Alder, a Northwest hardwood, into which he can place 24 pounds of fish, and the salmon smokes for five to six hours. The smoked salmon, then, can be sold fresh or vacuum-packed in 4-ounce packets for distribution at local markets.

Depending on demand, Card smokes about 120 pounds of salmon before returning to the city on Sunday.

“My daughter is a big fan,” he says of her lunch that often features a little pasta, cucumbers and salmon. “I think the teachers are jealous. I also sell to parents at P.S. 87. It’s nice to introduce kids to high-quality food.”

Nanci Covello makes a wide variety of pasta, including tortellini and ravioli, at La Bella Pasta Manufacturing.

La Bella Pasta Manufacturing

906 Route 28, Kingston

331-9130

 

Nanci Covello’s childhood Sundays were spent at her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Greenwich Village, making ravioli.

“We’d all go over there,” she says of her parents, two sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. “There’d usually be 15 or 20 people – and a lot of girls.”

The apartment was so small that the cheese ravioli were set to dry on the bed – after clean sheets were placed on it, of course – while the sauce simmered.

Covello’s father was responsible for another influential tradition: He brought his family from the Bronx to spend weekends and summers in Ulster County. Before long, though, Covello was married and living unhappily in Staten Island. She and her husband, Dennis, wanted to move. But where? And how would they live?

“ ‘You could make ravioli,’ my mom told us,” Covello says. “She was making ravioli by hand for the Bazaar in Woodstock. Then she bought the business (which she renamed Maria’s Bazaar), and there was a big demand for ravioli that she couldn’t keep up with.”

So instead of using their savings as a deposit on a home, in the mid-’80s, they bought the building on Route 28.

“My husband and my father went to Italy to purchase all the equipment … ravioli machine, tortellini machine, gnocchi machine, pasta machine, pasta cutter, extruder, mixers … At that time, it was a lot cheaper to do it that way. The dollar was better,” she says.

For the first couple of years, along with supplying her mother with ravioli, they ran a restaurant next door.

“It took a couple of years to get going, and then we went wholesale,” Covello says – although there is a retail shop open weekdays above the 3,000-square-foot pasta factory with a 2,000-square-foot storage area.

The cheese ravioli is based on her grandmother’s recipe and is still the most popular today. Spinach ravioli comes in at number two, and Covello is partial to the sun-dried-tomato-and-ricotta-filling in the light pink pasta, which has also been flavored with sun-dried tomatoes as well. There are about 30 fillings ranging from roasted red pepper-gorgonzola or black bean to vegan and smoked salmon – the latter of which uses her tenant, Hookline’s, product. Because he’s in the city during the early part of the week, she also has his salmon available in her retail space.

“Sometimes we’ll make special orders for restaurants, and if they’re a good seller, we’ll keep them,” she says.

After 28 years, and with five sets of hands on board, the production schedule is streamlined. Monday is tortellini day, and the ravioli fillings are prepared – although not every filling is made each week. Tuesday is devoted to ravioli, and on Wednesday, the pasta is cut. Thursday and Friday the products are delivered throughout the Hudson Valley. Covello handles the business end.

And not only is fresh pasta delivered to various retail sites, but it’s rotated weekly.

“It’s still good and fresh, but we take it back before it expires, give a credit and donate it to food groups in Woodstock, Phoenicia, Kingston. …” Covello says.

The tradition of regularly gathering with family also has remained consistent over the years because when the Covellos headed north, so did the rest of the family, including her husband’s.

But the tradition of the family business probably will stop with this generation.

“My son is getting his master’s in biology and thinking about medicine. My daughter is in college, and loves psychology. Neither one of them will take over. They have to follow what they want,” Covello says.

Ursula Woinoski, right, has more than 15,000 bottles in her collection at The Wine Hutch.

The Wine Hutch

936 Route 28, Kingston

334-9463

 

It takes a little more than a dollar and a dream, as Ursula Woinoski found out.

But the time was right.

She was a baker, and had gained much experience in customer service and management, too. But after 25 years, there was also a sense of restlessness, a need to have something of her own.

Her parents had owned a wine shop, so there had been exposure to the business and a cultivation of an interest in luscious wines. Her upbringing also helped cultivate a sense of community-mindedness; her family doesn’t even exchange Christmas gifts anymore, opting instead to donate the money, she says. The Kingston native knew she wanted to stay put.

A wine-and-spirits shop on Route 28 came up for sale almost eight years ago. She had gone to high school with the owner, whose time had come to open a restaurant in North Carolina.

“I think I can do this,” she recalls thinking. “No, I was confident I could do this.”

There is no way, however, to totally prepare for all that comes with being a business owner.

“You’re responsible for everything,” she says.

The flip side, though, is that all the decisions are your own.

“I have a love and passion for the winemakers and vineyard owners,” Woinoski says. “If a brand tastes the same year in and year out, then it’s being manipulated too much.”

So one decision that sets her apart is to work with 39 or 40 different purveyors, which is not only time-consuming, but generates a blizzard of invoices.

“I’m always looking for the best value in that bottle – beautiful wines at reasonable prices. I have a tempranillo (a red grape from Spain) that’s $9.95. But it should be at least $19; yeah, it’s that good,” says Woinoski, who’s often pleasantly surprised by the offerings found in smaller portfolios, although she also works with larger companies that carry lines from multiple larger vineyards.

“Before I opened the shop, I had the chance to visit the wine countries in Argentina and Italy,” she says, her eyes reverting back momentarily to that peace and relaxation found in a vineyard. “And I’m having a ‘big’ birthday in April that will be spent in California with tastings in Sonoma Valley.”

And tastings are as integral to what she does as weather is to a successful harvest. At 4:30 p.m. Fridays, a couple of bottles will be selected and customers are welcome to sample for free. Not only is it a way to highlight something different, but it allows Woinoski and her staff to reconnect with an old favorite that might have become overshadowed by the inventory of some 15,300 bottles in her unique, eclectic collection.

“I love everything in my store,” she says of the space that doubled in January of 2013 when she took over the tanning salon next door that was going out of business. “My staff also knows the wines. … Michael Rozman, the assistant manager, is my right-hand guy and a former chef. He brings in a younger dynamic.”

Fueled by another business decision that makes customer service paramount, Woinoski and her staff of two attempt to learn their customers’ names. They also try to become familiar with their tastes – as best they can while selling upward of 100 bottles of wine on weekdays and hundreds during the weekend.

“I often will ask if they’re looking for something with a particular food or just to drink,” she says. “If I make a recommendation and they return saying, ‘It was too strong,’ then I go from there.”

Moscato, a sweet white wine, is popular now, and because of the shop’s expansion, she is able to donate a section to this trend.

“It’s an introduction for people who might not have cultivated a taste for the reds,” she says. “I encourage people to drink what they like, and forget the ‘rules.’”

Woinoski also has a “rosé roundabout” that features this category of blush wines, which are not sweet. However, because of limited contact with the grape skins during the winemaking process, a rosé is lighter in color.

Given all the vineyards and influences that determine the taste of a particular vintage, Woinoski’s favorites change regularly, as well as her displays.

“Although my first love is Italian wines because that’s where I first traveled to – and they have gorgeous bottles – I’m also gravitating toward Spain and the fuller-body wines from Southern France such as Grenache and syrah. But I change with the season, and love whites as well.”

The Wine Hutch also has been discovered by weekenders, which is why Woinoski made the decision to stay open until 11 p.m. on Fridays.

“There’s a place to park – without the danger of a $100 parking ticket – to easily pick up a case of beautiful wine for the weekend,” she says.

At Cheese Louise!, Rick Regan and Megan Sam McDevitt offer not only 120-160 different types of cheeses, but have expanded their product line to include jams, caviars, crackers and vegetable paté.

Cheese Louise!

940 Route 28, Kingston

853-8207; cheeselouise-ny.com

 

Yes, it was all about name recognition.

“ ‘Geez, Louise, is Brooklyn-Bronx parlance,” says Rick Regan – and purposeful parlance at that, because it has prompted city customers to stop en route to their weekend getaway. There’s no partner named Louise; actually, the co-owner is Megan Sam McDevitt, an old friend of Regan’s who initially became involved as a consultant back in the fall of 2010 because of her catering experience.

“It was happenstance. She came to help out and never left,” says Regan, who holds a degree in environmental sciences, owned a café and lived in Europe for a dozen years acquiring friends from many cultures – who cooked.

Yes, Regan and McDevitt are cheese mongers, offering between 120 and 160 different types of cheeses on any given day – and they’re not just talking cheddar or Brie. And the cheeses are the hub on the wheel from which many spokes have sprung that translate into the bevy of delicacies offered.

“It gives way to jams, chutneys, caviars, truffles and crackers,” he says, pointing out that more than a dozen brands of crackers are gluten-free. “We put our toes in the water and then began to branch out.”

So there are salts and oils, pickles and olives – and even gift items such as fondue pots and cheese boards made locally from felled trees.

“We’re not a cheese shop alone. We carry an exquisite duck breast, for example, which can be paired with lingonberry jam,” says McDevitt – available at one stop.

Not to mention Fermin’s Iberico de bellota ham, also known as pata negra or the black-footed hog of Salamanca, Spain.

“It’s acorn fed and dried for four years, then hand-carved, or shaved, with a knife,” says Regan of the $125-per-pound indulgence.

“It’s earthy, and doesn’t taste anything like prosciutto,” says McDevitt by way of comparison.

But it does meet Regan and McDevitt’s goal of offering sustainable foods from around the world that happen to pair with cheese.

“We seek out natural and organic real foods,” says McDevitt.

Like the salami from Creminelli Fine Meats in Utah, which is made with Barolo wine.

“His family began making salami in Italy 400 years ago. He moved here and settled in Utah because the pig farms were to his philosophy – and the climate is similar to Tuscany. He imports organic ingredients,” she says.

Cheese Louise! also offers a limited menu of comfort foods such as chicken matzo ball soup, macaroni and cheese and fishcakes, using wholesome ingredients.

“It’s not a huge part of our business, but people started asking,” says McDevitt. “Our focus is to enhance the person who wants to cook and entertain at home.”

And it typically begins with cheese.

“We’re always looking to educate the customer – and ourselves,” says McDevitt. “Different animals in different regions produce different milk.”

So they carry cheeses made from cow, sheep and goat’s milk, raw and pasteurized, local and from around the world.

“Many people who are lactose intolerant don’t have a problem with sheep or goat cheeses,” says Regan.

Some cheeses have bloomy rinds, like Brie or Camembert, which form on their own. Others might have washed rinds, where the cheese is washed with salted water to which wine or herbs might be added. Some cheeses are soft, some are hard and others are in between.

“People know what they like,” says Regan, who is the brother-in-law of Ursula Woinoski, owner of The Wine Hutch. “And without a taste test, they’re only going to buy what they know, missing the experience of the artisan’s craft.”

So learning what the customer likes is a starting point.

“If you like this then you’ll love this,” they often say as they slice off a sliver for a customer to savor. And they’ll even sell slivers to those with small appetites who don’t want to waste. They don’t waste either, donating food before it expires to local pantries.

“We always have samples to taste. Service is important,” says McDevitt. “We taste so often that a month later, I’m not really sure what I’m presently loving.”

What about stinky cheeses?

“Whether a cheese is benign or stinky depends on the starter culture used,” says Regan. “If it’s abrasive or attacks the nose, it can be delightful on the palate – if one can get past that initial olfactory response.”

 

Richard and Mary Anne Erickson say their focus is on local whenever possible.

Blue Mountain

Bistro-to-Go

948 Route 28, Kingston

 

340-9800; bluemountainbistro.com

Chef Richard Erickson proudly says that he’s a graduate of the school of pots and pans.

In his younger days, he backpacked through Europe, selling his return ticket home and funding his stay by working in restaurants. Upon his return, he headed to Manhattan.

“I love the kitchen,” he says. “I keep finding new things to cook. But my first love is Mediterranean cooking. It’s always had a healthy appeal. … And as I get older, eating healthier has worked out great.”

So rather than a lot of butter and heavy cream, it’s olive oil, fresh herbs and garlic that are the mainstays.

“That’s the aesthetic we’ve embraced,” says his business partner, Mary Anne Erickson, an artist who’s been married to Richard for 31 years.

In the ’90s, they ran the restaurant at the Woodstock Golf Club and then opened the Blue Mountain Bistro, a restaurant also known for its catering, which closed in 2005.

“We had the first tapas bar in Ulster County,” she says.

That philosophy of healthy eating is the foundation of their venture that opened in 2007: Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go, with a slogan of Feel Good Food. It’s on their printed materials, on the T-shirts worn by the staff  and reflected in the multitude of appealing selections in the refrigerated cases.

No, Richard can’t get out of the kitchen.

“But we lock the doors at 7 p.m. now,” he says of their store that’s open daily. “And this is more fun.”

“We can even go to a party on a Saturday night,” says Mary Anne. “We offer delicious food at affordable prices that people pick up and take home. There are people who depend on us for almost every meal.”

Although there are a few tables and food can be heated to eat on site, most customers take their purchases with them. It might be lunch for the office or a few sides to accompany the chicken that’s in the fridge for dinner – or the entire meal.

“A big seller is Salmon Dijonnaise,” says Richard. “We go through 80 pounds of salmon a week. … And veggies are one of the biggest things – green beans with mushrooms and shallots or mixed greens. Even people who know how to cook stop in for those things that require too much labor at home.”

A plats du jour is offered weekdays, typically priced between $10.95 and $12.95 and includes the meat, starch and vegetable.

“We’ll sell between 40 and 50 on Friday,” says Richard. “The frozen homemade soups are also a huge part of the business.”

The Ericksons say that their focus is on local whenever possible – including donating food to pantries and shut-ins. For those who find their way to the store, local organic milk, grass-fed beef, locally made sausage and local produce when in season can be found. They also use Hudson Valley Harvest in Kingston, which works with farms so, for example, frozen local corn can be available year-round.

Last year, they added a bakery, which includes gluten-free goodies.

“People like to cut loose with desserts on the weekend,” says Richard.

And they have continued with catering – everything from providing a chef for a private home event to weddings.

“We knew when we closed the restaurant, we wanted something like this,” says Richard. “There’s an open window to the kitchen and people talk to us. ... We know who we’re cooking for.”

“It’s been so welcoming,” says Mary Anne. “And who would think on this busy road … but there is a feeling of a neighborhood.”

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