I receive many, many breathless press releases about new restaurants opening all around the world. I read them, but mostly they don't mean that much to me.
Why? I probably shouldn't be admitting this, but I'm incredibly turned off to restaurants when they're at their shiny trendiest. When everyone who cares about the "foodie scene" is clamoring for a reservation, I would rather pick my eye out with a rusty fork than join the tumult.
I don't hold it against the restaurant, I just don't want to be around that kind of clientele. What I care about is a restaurant/chef that's doing interesting things with food with at least a serious intent of doing it for a while, and I'm willing to wait and see how it shakes out once the scenesters have moved on to the next big thing.
Living in Manhattan for most of my life, I didn't realize that my policy only applied to restaurants in big cities. In fact, I didn't realize that until today, when I raced to make the first lunch service at CrossRoads Food Shop, a new restaurant in Hillsdale, NY. Now, I don't live in Hillsdale --I'm one town over -- but in rural Columbia County, where I've vacationed for many years and recently made my permanent home, that's close enough.
Hillsdale is where the Hudson Valley meets the Berkshires -- a big tourist and city weekend destination, which is what accounts for the interesting restaurants or farms or markets in basically every direction from Hillsdale. But while Hillsdale itself is on the map -- it's home to the only ski resort on the New York side of the Taconics -- it's become a curiously stubborn culinary blank spot.
Until today. CrossRoads chef/owner David Wurth is basically a celeb chef in these parts. He was the founding chef at Local 111, a terrific farm-to-table restaurant that's made a national name for itself, one that I'm sure is more recognized than that of its teensy little village, Philmont.
It's obviously the early going for CrossRoads, but the start is very promising: I thoroughly enjoyed my sandwich of sweet peppers, escarole and herb butter, and a perfectly chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. I started with a soup of chicken, escarole and celery --also good, but didn't quite come together for me. (I felt like I wanted to bring it home, let it sit in the fridge overnight and reheat it tomorrow. But I never explored the availability of to-go containers because by the time the thought occurred to me, I'd finished it.) I'm looking forward to trying more of the breakfast, lunch and eventually dinner menu when that becomes available.
But here's the weird thing: Instead of being annoyed by the people I saw checking out this new restaurant, who were there definitely there because it was new, and probably were drawn by the reputation of the chef, I was pleased. The people sitting next to me confessed that they'd been there for both breakfast and dinner. "We have to support this place," one lady said.
I quite agreed. I felt no urge to stab myself in the eye.
On my drive home, I pondered whether this country landscape -- all the rolling ridges and corn fields and cows and pigs and pretty golden light -- had made me mellow, or even more tolerant of people, as a general category. Probably it has, at least a little. But mostly I think that there's a difference between people who are trying to get another notch on their culinary belt and will soon rove on to the next big thing, and people who genuinely want to support a new restaurant in their community, and who show up in the beginning because they want to stay there all the way through.
It's a new thing for me, being around these genuine supporters. It's rather nice. At the risk of going too far, I might even look forward to receiving local press releases.