Forage Your Way Through New York's Rondout Valley
Caught rather cozily between the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains, New York's Rondout Valley is a scenic sliver of a thing, a mostly rural region rich in agricultural assets, just about 90 minutes' drive from Manhattan.
Quite often overlooked by visitors come looking for the valley's more high profile neighbors, the landscape here is utterly charming—historic farmland interrupted very occasionally by equally historic villages in varying states of repair, all in a compact space that's at times barely a couple of miles or so across, never leaving you far from beautiful mountain views.
So low profile is the Rondout Valley, people can be here and not even know—it is not uncommon for visitors, typically up for the weekend from the city and environs, to say they were in the Hudson Valley (a catch-all designation for the wider region between New York City and Albany) or the Catskills, when they were in fact somewhere else entirely.
Not that mistaken identity, or lack thereof, appears to have held the region back. Beginning not far from the very old (and recently re-energized) city of Kingston, stretching southwest toward what was once referred to as the Catskill region's Borscht Belt, a traveler with prior knowledge of the area will notice subtle changes to some valley towns—Stone Ridge, High Falls, and the beautiful lands surrounding the village of Accord in particular. Charming places all, they are filled with history and lots of distinctive stone architecture, a style passed down from the Huguenot refugees that settled nearby in the late 1600's (yes, it's that old around here), but in recent years, more charming than ever.
Even more important than any uptick in curb appeal, however, is the Rondout Valley's continued status as an agricultural wonderland. Today, more than 60 farms can be found in this fertile floodplain, some of them dating back to the colonial period. All of this history lends an incredible sense of place to the region—that is, if you will slow down and spend some time with it, really get to know it, which is a very easy thing to do, considering that Route 209 runs right down the middle, from Kingston to the center of Ellenville. Along the way, there are plenty of stops worth making; here are just a few of our current favorites.
But first, stop at a farm stand. Buying fresh valley produce can be accomplished rather easily, in season—no shortage of stands and farm shops here—but Davenport Farms in Stone Ridge is so much more than just a place to snag a few tomatoes—this is a community center of sorts, an institution since the 1960's, a must-stop for everything from your morning cup of coffee (and an organic baked good) to local meats for dinner, to a full range of garden solutions. Whatever you're looking for, it might just be stuffed in here, somewhere—they even serve hearty lunches from a convenient hot bar. (Their chicken marsala? Not messing around.) In case you're beginning your valley crawl down at the southern end of things, look for Saunderskill Farms on Route 209, between Kerhonkson and Accord—their expansive market is almost as impressive as the history attached to it: Saunderskill is the second oldest farm in the state, in the Schoonmaker family for 12 (that's right, 12) generations.
Maybe sit down and eat a proper meal? Featuring a menu of health-conscious (and local and organic) comfort food, Page and Shala Moll have hit the nail on the head with Hash, a breakfast and lunch spot offering avocado toasts, coconut curry tofu hash, chicken turmeric broths and falafel wraps. Not that you have to be a healthy-leaning veg to be happy here; they smoke their own brisket, they make a terrific bread pudding French toast, and there is often apple pie—if you have room—for dessert.
Next, try the local beer. Founded back in 2013, Arrowood Farms near Accord brings a passion for terroir to their brewing operation, growing hops on premises, and sourcing high quality, limestone-filtered water from just up the road. The beers are great, as happens, but even if they weren't, people would likely show up anyway—with the brewery, the working farm, fried chicken nights, live music and a beautiful piece of property where it all goes down, Arrowood has become something of a good times destination, and rightly so.
Since you're here, hit another farmstand. While you're prowling these beautiful back roads, right around the corner from Arrowood you'll find noted botanical artist Wendy Hollender's Hollengold Farm—here, in a solar-powered pavilion, you'll find an excellent self-serve stand, open pretty much every day in season. Besides a rotating selection of fresh organic produce, look for raw honey, pesto, preserves and other good stuff; this spring, they held their first-ever botanical drawing workshop pop-up.
Drink cider, and then stick around for pizza. One last stop before you get back to the main road—also right here in this privileged corner of the world is the certified organic Westwind Orchard & Cidery, a popular spot not only for hard ciders (try the raspberry), but also for—that's right—pizza. Not only pizza, served up on weekends, but some of the best pizza around. Pizza that people will wait a really long time for. A pair of accomplished city slickers took over this historic orchard sixteen years ago, gradually building things up to where they are now; they do some very inventive jams, there's raw honey, and an all-natural maple syrup aged in white oak barrels.
Fill your cooler with very good meat. Superstar of the modern butchering movement Joshua Applestone didn't retire to a tropical island when he and wife Jessica sold Fleisher's, which began as a humble shop in nearby Kingston, roughly a decade and a half ago. Instead, they launched Applestone Meat Co. as their follow-up project. Things are a little different at the shop's two locations in Stone Ridge and Accord; for the most part, it's strictly self-service, and they're both open 24/7. That's right—beef, lamb, pork in all kinds of cuts, right out of cool, easy-to-use vending machines, any hour of the day. Want to talk to a human? The Stone Ridge shop has a staff member on hand during regular hours; think of them as your friendly meat concierge. Stock up—for the most part, prices are exceedingly reasonable