R5 A Peekskill Locavore and Cocktail Connoisseur Haven in Gleason’s

Gleason’s   ★★★
911 South St, Peekskill
(914) 402-1950; gleasons-peekskill.com
Hours: Mon to Wed noon – midnight (kitchen closes at 10 pm);
Thurs to Sat noon – 2 am (kitchen closes at midnight);
Sun noon – 8 pm
Appetizers: $8-$12; entrées: $12-$18; desserts: $7

   ★★★★—Outstanding      ★★★—Very Good 
   ★★—Good                       ★—Fair

In the dining world of glitzy PR launches and “hosted,” first-in-the-door bloggers, it feels like some restaurants underestimate the value of stealth. This is foolish. It’s far better to surprise diners with unexpected charms than to disappoint them with hyped, yet unfulfulled promises. In Peekskill, Gleason’s is an object lesson in stealth. This bar/pizzeria appears to be a modest, neighborhood joint, but it surprises with delicious food and fabulous, on-trend cocktails.

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Walking through the doors, it’s easy to take Gleason’s for a townie hangout. It’s loud and, on the weekends, thronged with happy drinkers and a few barflies. The crowd is mixed—it’s composed neither of grizzled day drinkers, nor wall-to-wall hipsters (but both are welcome). This lends Gleason’s a cheerful sense of inclusion; you will be embraced whether dressed in a fashion-forward romper or your worst pair of mom jeans. Even better, this is no beer/vodka-rocks/Jäger bar. Gleason’s serves carefully crafted cocktails—thankfully, without any of that increasingly obnoxious, arm-garters-and-Snidely-Whiplash-facial-hair stuff.

There are 10 or so carefully crafted pizzas offered at Gleason’s; the Margherita, shown here, has roasted tomato sauce, basil pesto, and fresh mozzarella. Photo by Michael Polito

On one December visit to Gleason’s, we were lucky enough to catch a cask-aged Negroni. The drink’s month-long rest in a five-liter Tuthilltown Spirits oak barrel lent the summery, gin-based refresher a winter-appropriate toastiness. Other experiments abound. Soon after the Negroni, Gleason’s launched a cask-aged Americano; meanwhile, the restaurant is currently mellowing Buffalo Trace White Dog Rye Mash in a different Tuthilltown cask. Besides specials, Gleason’s basic cocktail list offers excellent twists on classics. We liked The Black Dahlia, a cravable take on the Manhattan made with Rittenhouse Rye, Meletti Amaro, and house-made bitters, and finished with a curl of flamed orange zest.

But the kicker is that even with such evident care (and often elite, small-batch spirits—the Negroni used Greenhook Ginsmiths gin from Brooklyn), Gleason’s drinks are offered at the bargain price of around $10 per. For the uninitiated, this is about what you’d pay for a dated Bluetini made with no-name booze and artificially flavored schnapps. Plus, it seems that Gleason’s owners have learned something from the furor generated by limited-release beers. When Gleason’s aged cocktails are gone, they are gone until a new one debuts (and that makes them exciting). Also, expect a short, 14-bottle wine list and eight taps of not particularly geeky beer with 15 or so more in bottles and cans. Wisely, Gleason’s doesn’t compete with the stellar beer list of nearby Birdsall House, which is owned by Tim Reinke and John Sharp, who are also behind Gleason’s.

The Black Dahlia, Gleason’s impressive version of the Manhattan. Photo by Michael Polito

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Chef March Walker, also head of Birdsall House’s kitchen, devised a menu for Gleason’s that straddles the happy place between financially approachable and locavorian cuisines. Despite its cocktail list, Gleason’s is a democratic restaurant whose bare tables and baseline menu of pizza and pasta make it family-friendly. In the bright, cheerful room beyond the bar—which is papered with gorgeous vintage movie posters—you’ll find stellar starters like a comforting minestra soup loaded with umami-rich Parmesan cheese. Its surface bore a homey lashing of oil, while its poached egg and cannellini bean crostini meant that it could have made a light meal. Servings are, on average, large at Gleason’s. We might have done with a smaller bowl of rather dense and sweet squash and sage soup. Salads may be ordered and shared, while an antipasti plate is perfect for a quartet of diners to enjoy as they finish their cocktails and peruse the rest of the menu.

While the orecchiette we sampled (with lamb ragu, red wine, rosemary, Grana Padano, and whipped ricotta) was perfectly tasty, we found it tough to order another pasta in lieu of Walker’s delicious pizzas. Taken on average, they bore an ideal balance between crackly, coal-y char and an intriguing, chewy bite. The dough is a novel recipe that blends artisanal commercial yeast with yeast that Walker cultured himself from Belgian ale. It’s given a slow, two- to three-day proof in the refrigerator, which allows it time to develop that complex tang. Sadly, the pies can be inconsistent. On one night, each was perfect, but, on another, our otherwise delicious Margherita was cooked until the dough was desiccated.

In-house, cask-aged spirits are part of the drinks program. Photo by Michael Polito

Pay attention to your server when he or she recites the specials. (They’re also chalked in on a board.) While Gleason’s base menu is fairly small and is restricted to about six appetizers—which include soups and salads—and two seasonally changing pastas and about 10 or so pizzas, these are only a backdrop for quirky, quickly changing specials. We lucked into a delicious pizza of porky, spicy coppa, fontina, and Brussels sprouts and a homey main of braised veal breast served in its braising liquid with Wild Hive polenta. Much of Walker’s produce is sourced from Hudson Valley farms, including Red Jacket Orchards, Wild Hive Farm, Hilltop Hanover Farm, and Red Barn Produce.

To end, tuck into trios of ever-changing gelati or split the dense and indulgent chocolate olive oil cake topped with white, sticky, ricotta-cheese icing. Or, simply slide into another of those excellent cocktails.

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