The Harvest Café Restaurant & Wine Bar (10 Main Street, Suite 327, New Paltz) is the good ol’ New American hotspot at the Water Street Market. Chef-owner Mark Suszczynski, a 1986 Culinary Institute of America graduate, has a passion for the Hudson Valley which is apparent in the seasonality and freshness of his cuisine. The location provides a view of the Shawangunk Ridge so fine that it must have been premeditated.
I still have faith in this year’s fall foliage — that Mother Nature will once again paint the ridge in orange-red and auburn. On a clear fall day, you’ll find no finer lunch venue than the Harvest Café’s second-story sun deck. It’s family- and dog-friendly. There are about a dozen umbrella-shadowed tables to choose from, but it never hurts to come before the rush.
Ah, autumn: Workers are down in the fields, up on ladders in the orchards; lugs of leafy greens, pallets of pumpkins and an abundance of apples are wending their ways along local roads at all hours, destined for our farmers’ markets and those lucky city co-ops. Suszczynski has his finger on agriculture’s pulse, offering fresh, abundant and simply delicious dishes using the fruits (and vegetables) of Kelder, Phillies Bridge, Saunderskill and Brook farms, as well as his own garden, I once read. The connection is both palpable and palatable.
Each meal begins with a sampling of house-baked breads. Lately, it’s pumpkin and a rustic cornbread, with kernels present. The pumpkin was thick with those heady and alluring autumnal spices that meld and become impossible to distinguish: possibly cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and/or allspice, et al.
The soups I’ve had are universally good. Try the Butternut Squash Soup ($6) with sage cream. The sweetness of the squash with an assertive burst of sage is a combination as sensical as peanut butter and jelly. Black Bean Soup ($6) was paired with cilantro cream and zippy cayenne, lending a Baja lilt to the dish. I caught a hint of red bell pepper — a surprising freshness and lightness to the soup — which I asked my mother to confirm. She said she couldn’t taste anything but beans. “I taste refried beans, mashed up, but better,” she said. And so we know the food critic gene skips a generation.
There’s a solid selection of lunch entrees that will please omnivores and vegetarians alike: omelets, quiche tartlets, salads, sandwiches and wraps. When choosing between the chicken or the egg here, my vote’s for the former. A good chicken is hard to find nowadays, and the ones passing through this kitchen are evidently handled with care. My preferred choice is the Roasted Chicken Salad Sandwich Platter ($12) with Granny Smith apples, golden raisins, honey-maple mayonnaise, baby greens and mini-croissants. The mayo is light; the croissants are toasted; and the generous portion could have easily pleased two (if I hadn’t just come from a particularly trying yoga class). The Roasted Chicken Sandwich ($12) with hickory-smoked bacon, Gorgonzola, onions and chipotle mayo features more assertive flavors: crisp, salty bacon and a real one-two punch of Gorgonzola. Luckily, I’m a lover.
It’s a folly not to explore the beer list, which has several thoughtful New York selections including Mother’s Milk from Keegan Ales of Kingston, Brooklyn Lager and an Ommegang selection. Wines are dominated by the New World, with many selections from the Pacific Northwest, as well as a local Chardonnay, Whitecliff “Reserve.” There’s also a root beer float or Killer Chocolate, Creamy Vanilla Bean or Sweet Strawberry milkshakes. Based on the names, I’m assuming these are made with Jane’s Ice Cream, which makes me want to order one next time I’m out.
Speaking of, the best Harvest Café meal I had this week was not outside. It was in the cozy dining room early one Monday evening, with only a handful of others in sight. I ordered the special, Cider-Braised Chicken ($20) with Asiago polenta and roasted root vegetables.
Well. Let me say that it was memorable, hearty, warming, great. (I had to delete what I originally wrote about it because it was in all caps and contained an unnecessary expletive.) To me, it was a compendium of fall flavors: roots, fruits, flesh and herbs. I’ll return as soon as I hear it’s back on the menu — hopefully before winter’s frost ushers in parsnip season.++