Perfect Pairings

New Paltz & Dutchess County

When the pandemic hit, the life we lead even in the last few months leading up to the lockdowns in New York State was completely upended. Working 9-5, we would play hard the rest of the time, fleeing the city we were shackled to 40 hours a week as often as we could. Monthly trips to meet up with friends all over the Northeast, my biannual trips for family events in California, and our big vacation trip once a year to someplace new were completely stripped from our calendar. We were now tethered to a three hour driving distance. We still drove around a lot, simulating the feeling of tired satisfaction from returning home after a weekend away or the anticipation of getting somewhere in time to grab dinner in a new town. Anything to relieve the feeling of prolonged stagnation. But our first real boon from the anxieties and restrictions of Covid came from fully embracing our more casual outdoor hobbies. Hiking and biking, activities we did as occasional weekend gym alternatives, became the thing we did travel out for, seeking out trails with the best views or hitting attractions we had always meant to go to but the allures of a long weekend in Boston or Brooklyn always beat out.

New Paltz was a place we knew from our gaggle of friends still attending or recently graduated from SUNY New Paltz. My partner, C, is a HvZ (Human Versus Zombies) Nerfer, which SUNY New Paltz is actually well known for. Before Covid I had hardly ever seen any of New Paltz in the day time, since the HvZ games would sequester me on campus for most of the day. Then the nights were spent bar crawling on the main drag. There were whole shops and restaurants I had never been in because they were closed by the time they got there. Covid, counterintuitively, opened that world up for me.

1.

River-to-Ridge Bike Trail & Whitecliff Vineyards

Driving around to the various farm stores (have you ever wanted raw milk from cows you can say hi to?) and taking money shots in the sunflower fields, I always noticed people dotted along the fields and I wondered if you could really go all the way from the river to the tip of the indomitable Shawangunk ridge that dominates your sightline. There's a parking lot by the river that fills up fast on the weekends, but it's well worth getting there earlier or taking your chances on a free spot to get on that well-maintained path. The River-to-Ridge Trail is short as far as bike rides go, just over 12 miles and no, you do not get to the tippy top of the ridge where Skytop Tower, the "crown of Mohonk Preserve," presides above the valley. However, it's far from a disappointment (and it's far from easy for the casual bike rider). What looks like gently rolling hills to the passing car is actually heart and leg pumping action to a biker. I was wheezing and cursing as I pedal-struggled by painters with their whimsical, open air easels as they captured the fall landscape. Other than the sheer effort stealing my breath after mounting every hill, each vista that revealed itself was breathtaking. It was like a dream seeing the colors streaking by and the fields and mountains stretched out all around me. When you've been stuck inside for so long, the open sky and seeing as far as your eyes can perceive feels like gorging yourself at a feast. If the 12 miles isn't enough (it felt like plenty to me due to the hilliness), you do have the option to ride past the river and scenic overlook and connect to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Get inspired and check out all the amazing pics people post to the River-to-Ridge Trail tag on Instagram!

October 18, 2020

Coming from the West Coast, I notice I have less of an urgency when I don't have something scheduled or a destination in mind. If I like the view, I'll sit down and just take a minute. I try to absorb the moment, especially in a new place. Seeing something for the first time is an experience I will never have twice. The changing seasons let me expand that novelty even further. But each moment is so different and you yourself are in a different place in life even if you have physically inhabited that space before. The context is different. I'll try to remember the temperature of the air as it passes through my nose or along my skin. C, with the intensity of a New Yorker, will get antsy. He can't as easily inhabit a moment. He wants to be in transit to where we are meant to go or where we're going to eat or getting back to the car. Wineries are the only place he will chill and bask in the moment. He gets it at a winery. That the activity is to sip, chat occasionally about the flavors, and soak up the ambience.

The ambience is why I tolerate New York wines. What can I say, I'm used to Napa and Central Coast wines and my introduction to casual wine drinking was guzzling vin ordinaires in Paris cafes and parks. I'm not so much a snob that I would say the wine out here is garbage. I positively like going to New York wineries and spend a fair amount on tastings and bottles home and for parties. I really respect the regional loyalty and the commitment often shown by these small labels to sustainable farming, eco-friendly practices, and in Whitecliff's case, ensuring their wines are vegan. I wouldn't lie and say they are high quality wines. However, they are good wines, the kind of wines that if you like the taste of it, you will buy and and for the most part they will be decently priced. Who among us doesn't feel gratified procuring a case of crowd pleasing semi-sweet white for the same price as a single bottle of vintage grand cru? Amongst the 10 wines we sampled from the sweet and "Best of" tastings, I felt like three in each selection were strong winners and the other two absolutely vile. The 2017 Cab Franc was easily what I would consider a perfect representative of a table red for the region and 2019 Traminette surprised me with the clear taste of lychee not being overpowered by a syrupy sweetness. The sweet Ridgewine Red was something I would adore introducing to non-wine drinking friends. I would serve the Bourbon Barrel Blond possibly to signal to my guests that the heavy drinking bit of the party was definitively over without being too mean about it. Even though we went with snow on the ground and the tasting room downstairs quite charming, nothing could beat the view toasting to the crisp winter air and the thrill of being alive. After biking to the very foot of the peak, one feels very accomplished while winding down in its benevolent presence in the distance.

River to Ridge Trail
41 Springtown Rd, New Paltz, NY 12561

  • New Paltz Biking has a trailer of mountain bikes located right at the parking lot of the River-to-Ridge trail for ultra-convenience.

  • Bike Rental: $20/2 hours, $60/full day

Whitecliff
331 Mckinstry Rd, Gardiner, NY 12525

  • Tasting: $11-$15 (average $13) with selections of reds, whites, sweet, rosé, and champenoise.

  • By the Glass: $7-$10

  • Bottles: $14-$35 (average $22)

  • Growlers of Sparkling on Tap: $35

  • Cheese Plate: $24 for 2 local cheeses and crackers

2.

Lemon Squeeze & Bad Seed Cider Farm Bar

  • $29/person

Bad Seed Farm Bar
341 Pancake Hollow Rd, Highland, NY 12528

  • Pizza and a Paddle Special: $15 for a pizza and tasting paddle of 4 ciders

  • Tasting Flight: $11, Sharing Flight: $12

  • Short Pour: $3, Tall Pour: $7

  • Pizza: $15, Fries: $5, Smoothies: $8

  • Bottles: $5/each, $60/mixed case

  • Cans: $14/custom 4 pack

I hike a lot. I hike enough that when season opens again I'm heavily considering getting the cost-effective 3-season Empire pass for $205 so I can skip parking fees in my hometown stomping grounds like Thatcher and Grafton during the high season. In comparison, I admit the $29 per person to access Lemon Squeeze and the other amazing hiking trails near the Mohonk Mountain House is highway robbery. Talk about an insult to injury, but the poors who can barely afford the day hike pass aren't even allowed a glimpse inside the Mountain House. Why is this still on my list? It's the novelty. While it's certainly an aspiration of mine stay in the resort or stretch just a teeny bit more for the $100 winter sports pass, I think if hiking is something you derive a lot of value from, $60 for you and a friend to experience what is called one of Earth's "last great places" is worth it (even if a single season Empire Pass that lets you into at least 50 other parks is only $80). Lemon Squeeze is not just beautiful, it's one of the most unique and rigorous hikes ANYWHERE. You'll find yourself scrambling over wooden ladders and yes, squeezing yourself through unyielding rock formations to finally reach Skytop tower. Think of this as a vacation cost. Not everyone would consider a 5-9 mile hike a "vacation," but it is for the people who want to earn calories for dinner afterward and prefer something scenic rather than challenging. And if you can't quite bring yourself to spend that much, Mohonk Preserve's day pass is only $15 and the Undercliff-Overcliff loop will buy you some spectacular views from the top of the ridge. Nearby and equally beautiful, Minnewaska State Park Preserve is only $10 per vehicle. Or if you want to game it further, a day pass that includes those hikes plus access to the Mountain House can be obtained through a dining or spa experience (cheapest being a gentleman's haircut). But if you want to hit it and quit it without further financial exploitation...

There are a couple cider places in New Paltz which are perfect for when the fervor of apple picking becomes too much. Wildly popular Dressel Farms has Kettleborough Cider House, Stone Ridge Orchard has the Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider Bar, and my personal favorite, Twin Star Orchard's Brooklyn Cider House, which makes old world style Spanish cider and a relief since their Brooklyn restaurant was forced to shutter. But for best overall experience, Bad Seed's Farm Bar right in Wilklow Orchard is top tier. It feels unjust to say they just do woodfire pizza and smoothies as specials can range as eclectic as peach jalepeno pizza and apple pie fries. The fields are picturesque and the cider always strikes me of having that old world charm, while also getting the best qualities in craft beer making. The overly carbonated and sugary cough syrup taste of big brand ciders is pleasantly muted by the almost wine-like base of their Flagship Dry Cider. My personal preference is the Raspberry Reserve and I suspect amongst mixed company there will always be a strong preference towards one or the other. Always, always, always try the seasonal small batch offering. Maybe this season's experimental beer bourbon hybrid flavor isn't for you, but the good thing about coming back season after season is finding the one that is. Not to mention the zero sugar added practically makes this a health food.

3.

Paddle/Bike Wallkill River & Coppersea Distilling

October 18, 2020

It's no secret that the one lane traffic on Route 299 over the bridge in and out of the main strip of New Paltz is always a shit show. But one positive of idling on that bridge is watching people paddling underneath, moving blissfully along the river, free of traffic and a confining vehicle. New Paltz Kayaking (New Paltz Biking's sister business) is posted up right at Sojourner Truth Park for your kayaking and canoeing needs. For those of you with your own gear there's also a free DEC boat launch up Springtown Road and another low key boat launch near Perrine's Bridge.

If you aren't one for the water sports and the River-to-Ridge is old hat, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail offers over 22 miles from Gardiner to Ulster, including the stunningly picturesque Rosendale Trestle. If you have some time and the ride is more of a journey than a fitness endeavor, even more endearing than the bucolic ride are businesses like the The Rail Trail Cafe, Coppersea Distillery, and Yard Owl Brewery, which have sprung up right along the trail.

These are truly special, eclectic places that celebrate the area they are in. I stumbled on the Rail Trail Cafe after a full day of biking and blearily googling for a cup of coffee, eventually finding it by following the sound of live music lilting through the trees. It felt like the grown up version of a forest clubhouse, looking cobbled together but an oasis nonetheless. Yard Owl is exactly the type of brewery you would expect when surrounded by farms on all sides, offering Belgian-inspired ales alongside seasonal pickled veggies and eggs or local charcuterie selections. Coppersea looks like a derelict farmhouse from the outside, but what it's done is take the idea of craft distilling and stripped all the hipster branding so all that's left is a heritage method product with a distinctive regional taste. Their Instagrams boasts being a great site for an elopement and after sucking down a whiskey sour and throwing back a class of their Excelsior Straight Rye neat, I wholeheartedly agree.

Kayak/Canoe Rental:
31 Plains Rd, New Paltz, NY 12561

  • 1hr $20/person, 2hr $35, 3hr $45

Bicycle Depot:
15 Main St, New Paltz, NY 12561

  • $40/full day, $27 afternoon (2pm onwards)

4.

Walkway Over the Hudson & King's Court Brewing

July 19, 2020

Walkway Over the Hudson
61 Parker Ave, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601

King's Court Brewery:
40 Cannon St, Suite 1, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601

  • Flight: $12

  • Pint: $7-$10

  • 4 Pack Cans: $10-$17

  • Growler Fill:$9-$20

  • Parking is free in the municipal lots directly across (Cannon Street Lot) and north (Academy Street Lot) of the brewery post-6pm and on weekends and holidays.

Now on the other side of the river in Dutchess County, Poughkeepsie is another upstate town worth doing a day trip out to. The Walkway Over the Hudson is one of those destinations you see listed in an I heart NY listicle and you think to yourself, "What's so special about a bridge?" And there's nothing inherently special about it, but it's something that once you get there, your pace quickens as the expanse of the bridge, the river, and its history overtakes you. Renovations to the park makes the experience spick and span with big, clean bathrooms on both sides, history and fact panels along the bridge railings to educate and entertain as you make your way across, and plenty of sitting areas and picnic tables for when you need that break after going 1.5 miles one way and preparing to go back. Parking is free in the lower lot, but there are also closer, more accessible parking spaces that cost $5 for 4 hours (unless you have the aforementioned Empire Pass). The walkway is also a part of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail and Empire State Trail for intrepid bikers.

My personal suggestion? Park on the Poughkeepsie side, pack yourself a snack and plenty of water, go across the walkway, pass the vendors on the Highland Side, keep walking up past the Haviland West trail parking and up the road to reward yourself with an Italian ice from Frozen Caboose Ice Cream. You may be tempted to get an ice cream, but trust me that is way too heavy to have to lug in your tum back across the bridge and chances are if you go when it's hot, you will need the refreshing freezy goodness of the ices rather than the cream. Then, once you're back on the Poughkeepsie side, go post yourself up on a bar stool because you've earned it!

As evidence of a thriving downtown, Poughkeepsie has three local breweries a stones throw from the Walkway park: Zeus, Mill House, and King's Court. Zeus is large and lavish, Mill House is cozily decorated with plenty of seating, but it's King's Court's neighborhood hangout scene that has my recommendation. A couple patio sets posted up in the back, groovy paint jobs you can pose your beer in front of for an Instagram post, stickers on the wall behind the bar, games stacked by the leather couches, and plants hanging in the window welcome you in and the fruit forward flavors amongst their solid standard brews convinces you to stay awhile. I always admire a brewery that takes chances with off the wall flavors like their Strawberry Milkshake IPA or Tangerine Sour even if I am not always the biggest fan of the flavors themselves. It signals a willingness to take risks on bold flavors and one out of your flight is bound to strike your fancy. The advantage of a smaller place is that they do the most to keep you there, letting you bring your own snacks, getting food trucks to pull up, and local bands booked to play out back. I feel like a regular even when I'm just passing through.

5.

Innisfree Garden & the Dutchess Wine Trail

September 11, 2020

Unable to languish at a coffee shop or bookstore, I made it my mission to drive out to places that were inherently Covid safe, like gardens and parks and outdoor art exhibits. Places I could linger and spread out. To exist freely. I have been to a few Asian-inspired gardens before, like the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park or the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and I can say that the Innisfree Garden is unique in that it takes Chinese and Japanese style principles and applies them to the environment it's in rather than making a replica. There is a flow to the place. The rock placements, occasional sculpture, or intact fragments of what was once an expansive garden terrace are more thoughtful and intriguing than if they filled the place with pagodas and Buddha statues. The fact there are no plaques is a feature, not a bug, and gives you permission to enjoy the place for the sake of it without feeling the need to be informed. This setting is an Instagrammer's dream, but I beg that when you go here, let your eyes and your soul soak up the surroundings rather than your phone. Take a break. Wander. Peer up, then down. Double back. Take the long way. Approach a view slowly and let it unfold before you. Enjoy the subtle changes as you circle around or cut through an area. Focus all of your attention on what's right in front of you and let the more-ness tease in your periphery until your ready to give the next thing your full attention. The park is massive. This is not a stroll, it's a very gentle 1.4 mile hike. Is it the best garden in the world? I'm not sure. It's certainly the biggest green space I've seen that wasn't a famous botanical museum or urban greenscape that leveled neighborhoods. I can totally believe that Martha Stuart would bring her friends from the city here. It feels rich, curated to be wondrous and expansive. They seem to change their admissions and policies each season so be sure to visit their website or join their newsletter, but guided tours are typically $20 and admission is $10/adult, $5 for kids or seniors, and sometimes a parking fee (plus various plants from around the garden for sale at the little stand where you get your guidebooks). Small note, while tucked out of the way for utmost privacy, the only bathrooms offered at the garden are porta potties. Pro-tip, reservations are for 2 hour blocks, so get there early because you have a drive a bit in to get to the parking area from the front gate where you sign-in, and it takes about 1.5 hours to walk the whole garden, so pack a light lunch and leave it in the car so that when you're done and have about half an hour to kill, you can avail yourself to the chairs or picnic tables overlooking the garden and soak up a last view of the pond glittering in the sun.

The Dutchess Wine Trail includes three wineries within a 15 minute drive of Innisfree Garden: Clinton Vineyards, Milea Estate Vineyard, and Millbrook Vineyards and Winery. I had gotten a personal recommendation for Clinton Vineyards from the owner of our hometown favorite, Hudson-Chatam Vineyards. He insisted we try Clinton's Kir Royale Sparkling wine rather than buying one his estate wines and while we sipped the bubbly wine flavored with a kiss of sweet kassis, he told us he went down and met the owner, the grand matron, Phyllis Feder, who still kept the place going and how he was regaled with tales of frantically gluing labels on bottles the night before a reception for Bill Clinton in NYC and sending a bottle of Jubilee Champenoise to Queen Elizabeth. At the time we went you had to book weekend tasting reservations and call for availability on Fridays. I called on a Wednesday or Thursday and still got a Friday afternoon booking, perfectly timed for going after the two hour tour at Innisfree. Now, there's an up-charged option to book a tasting with Phyllis herself. But, if you're very lucky like we were, showing up on a Friday afternoon to an empty parking lot, she'll show up anyway. We had ordered a charcuterie add-on and she brought it to us on a kitchen plate with a paper napkin draped on top, like your grandmother or auntie would. When she set it in front of us and pulled off the napkin with little fanfare, it was to reveal a spread of roughly sliced local cheese and exotic sausage pieces alongside tomatoes and fresh basil, blossoms and all, that she'd picked from the garden herself. I felt like my French grandmother had made me a special snack after coming home from school. She poured us each a welcome glass of Seyval blanc, inquired after our wine preferences and matched each of us to an appropriate tasting. She also graciously split our pours so we could sample both tastings. It was here I was actually introduced to Whitecliff's Vineyards from her Hudson Valley reds tasting. The room we did the tasting in was decorated in a scrapbook of photos and newspaper clippings featuring the vineyard and yes, tucked in one corner, a thank you note penned by the Queen's Lady-in-Waiting for the Jubilee wine. She did tell us many a tale of wine making and trips abroad, but with only us there she also inquired into our lives, asking about my time spent in China or my partner's favorite bread making technique. She puts in mind the classic hostess one would have found amongst NYC or DC socialites from a past decade. She's more than willing to laugh at your jokes or make a witty observation to elevate your dull factoid. She asked tactfully naughty questions about how we met and how we stay together (she was oblivious to what Tinder was but laughed when I said I lucked out on snatching a double bread machine). She can talk about politics passionately without the conversation getting heated. I admired her deftness and our gratitude for the time well taken care of was hopefully shown in our purchasing several bottles to take home, including a Jubilee to pop for some get together or celebration and a bottle of kassis for the occasional boozy dessert. "

Stay awhile," she invited, "Walk the grounds, sit on the bench by the pond." And that's exactly what we did while we waited for our wine buzz to wind down. Her wines invoke the taste of parties in a post-pandemic time and it was delightful to dream and forget everything else for a time.

September 11, 2020

Innisfree Garden
362 Tyrrel Rd, Millbrook, NY 12545

  • Adult Admission: $10

  • Kids/Seniors: $5

  • Guided Tours $20

  • Book your 2 hour Online Reservation

Clinton Vineyards
450 Schultzville Rd, Clinton Corners, NY 12514

  • Tasting: $15-$30

  • Bottles: $20-$40 (ranging from their staple Seyval Blanc to their Seyval Naturel Méthode Champenoise)

6.

The Roosevelt Museums & the Culinary Institute Restaurants

FDR Presidential Library and Museum
4079 Albany Post Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538

CIA Restaurants
1946 Campus Dr, Hyde Park, NY 12538

This pairing is for my 2021 list as neither of these locations were fully opened last year. While you could walk the grounds of Hyde Park, the FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt Museums were closed all last year and CIA wasn't open to the public for obvious reasons. I remember listening to Anthony Bourdain's memoir, Kitchen Nightmares, and him mentioning the student run restaurants where they practiced fine dining and the public could experience haute cuisine for a fraction of the cost. As someone who's a huge proponent of rolling the die getting your hair cut at Paul Mitchell school salons and going to massage school spas, I think this is a fabulous option for those of us who wince looking at the prices for a tasting menu at a Michelin restaurant down in NYC. So what if your cured yellowtail hamachi has a bit of a mangled cut and your server got their wine speech messed up and went to mentally regroup in the hallway near the pass? It's an experience. From what I've gleaned from years past, the pro move would be to do an off-season or midweek three course lunch which will run the cheapest. Although going fancy won't totally break the bank either with dinner entrees spanning from $15-$25 at either American Bounty, Bocuse, or Caterina de'Medici and offering mouth-watering selections like Ora king salmon with saffron butter sauce and herb-rubbed lamb chop sourced from a farm in Germantown, NY, accompanied by a potato-leek gratin. There's also the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe to take stuff to go (namely the $20 assorted box of macarons) picnic on the museum grounds or go more casual at the Brewery at CIA, which is a collaboration with my personal NYC favorite, Brooklyn Brewery.

I bike the old canalway trails and walk over converted rail bridges, passing cities that were once hubs of trade and industry and I wonder what a gilded era in New York's history was like for regular folks. Probably day to day it was drab and difficult. But just like with the bright spots I experienced during the pandemic, there were moments where it was not so tough and I imagine those days are similar to spending a day perusing FDR's Presidential Library, looking through papers—perhaps memos from Frances Perkins regarding plans for social security and less celebratory missives about Japanese internment camps—and going to dine in a restaurant with high windows showing off the natural splendor of Hudson Valley. There's a starched, white linen tablecloth and things to think about, problems in the back of your mind, held at bay by a good day spent going somewhere new and paired perfectly with something to momentarily slake your thirst for more.

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