In the last 15 years or so, a growing number of people have come to see the Hudson Valley as more than a beautiful place to visit. They have moved there full time, joining those who have long made it their home.
The population grows even more on weekends, and the influx becomes especially heavy in the autumn when visitors flock to see the verdant hillsides turn a riot of fall colors.
A host of new cafes, coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants cater to this rising population tide. Farms and farm stands provide great local ingredients, as do local cheese producers and bakers. It’s become a great place to eat and to drink good wine.
On a recent trip to the Hudson Valley, I made my base near the small city of Hudson, N.Y., which has the greatest concentration of destinations in the area, though I explored places within a 30-minute drive.
The valley obviously extends beyond my arbitrary radius. More great places can be found in other towns, like Woodstock and Kingston on the Western side of the Hudson River, or Beacon and Cold Spring to the south. That’s for another trip.
One thing to keep in mind: Because many customers come from somewhere else on the weekends, a lot of restaurants tend to close midweek. Plan accordingly.
Here are seven places I loved, in no particular order.
The Tavern at Rivertown Lodge will fool you. The small dining room and bar in the bright white hotel, which stands out on Warren Street, Hudson’s main drag, looks like just another burger-and-beer joint. But it is instead a haven of creative cooking and natural wines, most well under $100 a bottle. Aurora, a pétillant naturel from the Hudson Valley’s own Wild Arc Farm, made with hybrid grapes, was fresh and floral, a delicious aperitif, while a 2021 Trebbiolo Rosso, a red blend from the excellent La Stoppa in Emilia-Romagna, was deeply aromatic and alive in the glass. These wines were terrific with dishes like charred broccolini with bottarga and bay leaf oil, a lovely combination that brings out the flavors of the vegetable; a beautifully textured, Japanese-accented take on cacio e pepe made with thick strands of rye sourdough troccoli, sea beans and dashi; and tender, meaty pork ribs with pickled celery.
731 Warren Street, Hudson, N.Y., rivertownlodge.com/tavern
This restored 18th-century tavern, now run by Clare de Boer, a chef and owner of King and Jupiter in New York, feels like fall even in the middle of summer. Almost everything is cooked in a wood oven, and an appetizing aroma of smoke permeates the small, intimate dining room with low ceiling beams and a handsome bar. Beyond the main room is a warren of smaller dining nooks and a banquet room. The menu is American, with a touch of English gastro pub, and changes with the seasons. In August, I had excellent coal-roasted scallops; a superb salad of tomatoes, peaches, feta and dill; crisp, meaty fried quail; and roasted wild sea bass with chanterelles and succotash. If you’ve got a mind for it, the rabbit-tarragon pie for two is terrific in cooler weather. The wine list, focused on well-chosen classics from France, Italy and the United States, offers opportunities to splurge on slightly older vintages, like a floral, uncharacteristically delicate 2014 Gevrey-Chambertin from Philippe Rossignol. Good, less expensive options abound as well, like 2020 Collines Rhodaniennes from Jean-Luc Jamet for $75.
7801 South Main Street, Pine Plains, N.Y., stissinghouse.com
How many wines must a list offer to be taken seriously? This idiosyncratic, inspiring restaurant, open only for brunch (except for dinner Friday nights), used to have just three, though they were perfectly chosen. In August the list was up to nine, equally well chosen. Mutton does not take reservations. You line up for a table, a line that on Sundays might stretch into the street, place orders at the counter, and a server will bring it to you. If you consider brunch a bore, Shaina Loew-Banayan, the chef and owner, will convince you otherwise. Pungent lamb belly, with two perfectly cooked sunny side-up eggs and potatoes with salsa verde, is an uncommonly good dish. The porridge, currently oat and mutton, is an exhilarating take on a generally mundane dish, and buckwheat crepes, served with butter and maple syrup, are ideal: simple, fresh and delicious. A sparkling Crémant du Jura from Bénédicte et Stephane Tissot or a 2022 albariño from Do Ferreiro would be excellent accompaniments. Café Mutton also will remind you of how good a well-made Bloody Mary can be.
757 Columbia Street, Hudson, N.Y., cafemutton.com
Feast and Floret, in Hudson, is an unusual combination: Italian restaurant and flower shop. The flowers are pretty, but I’m attracted more to the excellent food and the reasonably priced, largely Italian wine list. Housemade pastas are especially good, whether a perfectly sauced amatriciana, summery whole wheat lumache with corn and Pecorino Romano or a special of spaghetti in a peppery tomato sauce with crab meat. If you are in the mood for chilled reds, you would be hard-pressed to beat a grignolino from Cavallotto, which also makes excellent Barolos. Other terrific options include a lively Torrette from Grosjean in the Vallée d’Aoste or a floral rosso from COS in the Vittoria region of Italy. Feast and Floret is also a rare Hudson Valley restaurant that’s open for dinner nightly.
13 South Third Street, Hudson, N.Y., feastandfloret.com
In 2004, long before Hudson became a popular destination for escapees from New York, Jeff Gimmel and Nina Bachinsky Gimmel opened Swoon, a pioneering institution that’s still going strong on the basis of solid bistro fare and a wine list with a wealth of older vintages that have not been marked up to going rates. I was thrilled to drink a 2010 Côte-Rôtie Ampodium from René Rostaing for $145, with complex, savory flavors, the sort of mature wine that is hard to find in restaurants except at exorbitant prices. We also had an excellent white Burgundy, a 2017 Monthélie from the rarely seen Domaine Changarnier for $84. Dishes included piquant fried artichokes with pungent black-garlic aioli, tender kale salad served over a layer of tahini and well-composed main dishes like rare duck breast with sweet corn, mustard greens and pickles.
340 Warren Street, Hudson, N.Y., swoonkitchenbar.com
On menus, signs and T-shirts, the exuberantly kitschy Lil’ Deb’s celebrates queer culture and all points on the gender spectrum. Walls are adorned with beads and neon colors, and tables are bathed in purple-tinged lighting. It’s all great fun, but the menu of what Lil’ Deb’s calls tropical comfort food and the extensive list of natural wines are seriously good. Savory, beautifully cooked vegetable empanadas are a great starter, while a basket of crisp roasted potatoes, chopped hot dogs and chiles drenched in mustard-mayonnaise was delicious, like an American version of poutine. Whole fried sea bass tinged with coconut was full of flavor, while fried chicken legs, a rare special, were excellent. We drank Bum Bum Cha, a typically electric rosé pétillant naturel from Milan Nestarec of the Czech Republic, and a fresh, focused sauvignon blanc from Little Trouble Wine Company, a tiny but superb California producer. By the way, Lil’ Deb’s tasting notes for each wine are highly entertaining. For the sauvignon blanc, it read: “Ladybugs, bike chain, interactive percussion room, X-Files theme song.” Exactly what I was thinking.
747 Columbia Street, Hudson, N.Y., lildebsoasis.com
Every train station should have a quirky cafe like Kitty’s. It’s a glorious antidote to the franchising of depot eating. Kitty’s is actually across the street from the small Hudson station, but it’s a lunchtime destination for the entire town. The menu is tiny but the ingredients and preparation are excellent: fried chicken and pickles on a sesame bun, an egg-and-sauerkraut sandwich and great rotisserie chicken. The short list of natural wines, as with Café Mutton, is a model of concision, including a terrific Nieva York pétillant naturel from Microbio in Spain, the savory, fruity Reddish from Halkia in Greece and the structured orange Malas Uvas from La Perdida in Valdeorras, Spain. Kitty’s also serves terrific local beers and good cocktails. Next door is a sort of bougie bodega for just arriving passengers in search of provisions for their rented houses.
60 South Front Street, Hudson, N.Y., kittyshudson.com