Sacrilege! The owners of Farmer and the Fish, the new restaurant that went into the creaky old North Salem farmhouse house formerly known at John-Michael’s (and before that, as Purdy’s Homestead—and before that, yadda, yadda, all the way back to 1775), and stripped off the glass enclosure of the historic house’s 19th-century porch. The owning duo (Edward Taylor and Michael Kaphan) removed Revolution-era walls. They united the structure’s once-small rooms and opened up the base of its staircase. These folks dared to alter history. And guess what? It’s good!
Look, I like old buildings and I also like restaurants, but often it is a struggle to make them work together. Sure, there are European restaurants that date back to the age of Visigoths, but, generally, Europeans are not so precious about modifying their buildings for modern use. The Purdys Homestead was a wonderful old house with wide-plank floors, ancient timbers, and small rooms—but, used as a restaurant, those creaky little rooms could feel claustrophobic. In summer, when the massive 18th-century hearths were unlit, the very few windows (covered against headlight glare) left the rooms feeling subterranean. Plus, that post-1970 enclosure that glassed in its narrow porch had seen better days. How do I know that the enclosure was post-1970? Turns out the ball-and-chain has a PhD in this crap and found this image online. Stripped of its glass, the porch of Farmer and the Fish now reaches out to diners with open arms. And—though its interior retains most of its timbers, floorboards, and all-important fireplaces—the space now makes an uninterrupted circle around a central staircase and a massive chimney block.
Here is the old Purdys Homestead with its glass-enclosed porch.The result is that Farmer and the Fish’s space feels open and welcoming—in fact, when we arrived, we saw one of the owners cheerfully having a beer on the porch. This small, casual act sets a chilled-out tone that seems to be working. When we visited, crowds were literally pouring into Farmer and the Fish and its gravel parking lot was overwhelmed. I was glad I’d worn flats to walk hike across the muddy neighboring field. There was a line to get through the quaint old split front door, but only because people were so eager to snuggle up around those lit fireplaces with a drink. We saw that owner, having stubbed out his cigarette, carrying more tables down from the second floor—which soon may be opened for dining and events.
Besides a fresh look and buzz, Farmer and the Fish offers another welcome allure—generally, its prices are restrained. We sat down to a perfectly drinkable $24 bottle of Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc, and, though raw bars are raw bars (and never cheap), $2.50 per oyster seems about standard. The selection of oysters is vast, plus you can also tuck into $12 steamers, $10 mussels, and $12 calamari. Portions can sometimes reflect the prices—our $12 seared-scallop salad had a few scallops and even fewer slices of bacon, all buried beneath a mountain of frisée and topped with an egg. The same could be said for $16 fish and chips, which yielded five chunks of milky, deliciously battered fish plated besides a haystack of fries. In this case, if the plate were smaller (and didn’t contain so much filler), the fish portion would not have raised alarms.
This is a first taste and not a review. We visited only once, and it is way too early to judge. I can only think that the kitchen was overwhelmed by the crowds that night, but the one-and-a-half-pound steamed lobster in the “boil” (with baby red potatoes, steamer clams, and asparagus) felt smaller than promised and arrived pretty dry; it was tough to separate the flesh that had adhered to the shell. For $25, there were four steamers, some fat-stemmed asparagus (in defiance of farm-to-table claims), and a lot of blah boiled potatoes in the dish. In the restaurant’s defense, I will say that Farmer and the Fish was packed beyond capacity on the night of our visit, and it’s early days for a restaurant that is still finding its legs. And it’s already managed to master the tough stuff—it’s created a happy, pleasing environment that draws the crowds. We can’t wait to go back in a few weeks.
So here’s some stunning news. Crabtree’s Kittle House, Westchester dining legend and Food & Wine magazine’s “Pairing Mecca,” will be opening a second venture in Tarrytown’s Hudson Harbor. Recently, I spoke with Crabtree’s partner Glenn Vogt, whose enthusiasm was palpable. “We’re really excited about this. We think it’s a great opportunity and the space is truly, truly beautiful.” The 67,000-square-foot venture will unite a restaurant with a specialty food store that focuses on Hudson Valley foods. It will also include a wine store with equally green intent and a concentration of organic, local, and biodynamic wines. Glenn was especially excited about the values espoused by the builders of Hudson Harbor. The large riverside development project is LEED-certified and includes geothermal temperature control, green ideals that Vogt plans to echo in the smaller details of the Kittle House’s new construction. Hudson Harbor offers plenty of public riverside walks and parkland, and Vogt sees the development and its panoramic river views as the ideal site in which to celebrate Hudson Valley food and wine.
While plans are still forthcoming, Vogt says that the menu at the new Kittle House restaurant will be more in line with the Kittle House’s current Tap Room menu. The specialty store will offer a shopping hub for locavorian diners, who may be depending on weekly farm market trips (and perhaps, not lasting through the week). The market also will offer house-prepared foods so that, soon, one might drop in on a Wednesday to buy groceries, locally raised vegetables, and a John Boy’s rotisserie chicken to go. Vogt also plans to offer picnic baskets to travelers on RiverWalk, a planned 51.5-mile walking path that parallels the Hudson River and goes right through Hudson Harbor’s pretty waterfront.
There will be plenty more news on this as it develops. Stay tuned to EDP!
Look, folks, here’s what we are talking about. A James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Acclaimed author of Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course and The Ultimate Wine Companion: The Complete Guide to Understanding Wine by the World’s Foremost Wine Authorities. We are talking about a wine-world titan and he will be joining us on May 19 and 20 at Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Weekend to offer two fabulous seminars, “A Tour Through Tuscany” and “Wines of Bordeaux.” Here’s where to get your $25 tickets. But, say you can’t make it? Well, here’s what I have for you on EDP: two passes to Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine School. All you have to do is tell me why you want to go wine school. One winner will be picked at random at noon on May 14 from all responses placed in the comments section below. Good luck!
Purdys’ Farmer and the Fish offers a slew of oysters: West Coast, East Coast, even local (Connecticut-raised). Look for a serious raw bar with a changing roster of bivalvic picks, and, as a bonus, you can even snuggle up with a beer at the hearth-warmed bar and watch the shucker expertly pop those tops. Yum.