A friend with long experience in every corner of the Catskills predicted the rise of hickster restaurants as the wave of the future. "What the hell is a hickster?" I inquired. "Well," he said with a knowing smirk, "a hickster is just a hipster who decides to become a hick, who finally gets driven out of the city by high rents and relocates to the countryside. And then he thinks about starting a restaurant."
I immediately thought of Hudson, New York, which is on the Hudson River two hours north of the city. There, along its main drag of Warren Street, are several restaurants where you can easily drop $75 or $100 for an elaborate meal. The most famous is Zak Pelaccio's Fish & Game. However, since these are full-service restaurants founded on city restaurant principles, ones like you could find in Williamsburg or the East Village, I hesitated to apply the hickster tag. Also, Hudson is hardly rural.
So I set about searching the web and asking friends if they'd ever heard of a place that fit the description, and soon stumbled on Table on Ten. Open three years, it's located in Bloomville, NY, a tiny hamlet on the banks of the West Branch of the Delaware River. If you got in your car it would take four hours or so to drive there, and the closest bus stop is in Stamford, 15 miles north.
When I arrived, I found a town with only four streets, a tree-shaded place with a curving main drag that held perhaps ten businesses, most farm-related. The most significant landmark was a 19th century barn at the north end of town with a plaque that boasted it was the first place milk pasteurization was accomplished, in 1893. Two blocks south a four-story house is one of the town's major edifices. The sign on the side has faded to unreadability, so I had to drive by a few times to realize this teetering dilapidated structure was indeed Table on Ten (the number referring to the highway that runs past it).
I walked up the curving exterior stairs past a wood-burning oven that protruded awkwardly from one side of the house. Inside were a couple of rustic dining rooms bedecked with wildflowers and hung with artworks. Despite the decrepitude of the exterior, the rooms looked like pages torn from Country Living magazine. To the left of the front door was a room with a counter laden with plates of cookies and slices of pie, behind which a chalkboard detailed a rather limited menu. The place is open only from Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., plus Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
"This café is not knocking itself out," I whispered to my companion, as I ordered half the things on a menu that offered a couple of topped toasts, a couple of baguette sandwiches, a couple of salads, and a couple of egg dishes baked in muffin tins. Plus those pastries, which prominently included slices of pie identified as Four & Twenty Blackbirds. "You mean you use Four & Twenty's recipes," I said to the countergal, who was wearing a spotless white apron, her hair neatly tied in a scarf. Behind her I could see two other women working in the kitchen. "No, we get them directly from Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn," she said with a smile and vigorous nod of her head. I smiled, too, because I believed I'd finally found my hickster restaurant.
Not to bore you with too many culinary details, but we ate a toast made with very nice, though very dense, homemade white bread smeared with Marmite and topped with mashed avocado and crumbled feta, and another spread with Meyer lemon preserves, priced at $9 and $5 respectively. They were edible, but both seemed oddly un-locavoric in their ingredient choices. (Roadside farm stands were brimming with tomatoes, summer squashes, and eggplants). Which suggests a salient hickster principle: You are actually living in the country, so you don't have to worship it. Getting ingredients from the city is considered hip.
Better than the toasts was "egg in a nest" ($4.50), a single ovum baked in a muffin cup with what tasted like Thanksgiving stuffing and perhaps an inch of bacon. Another lure of the place is odd sodas, including one laced with turmeric and ginger, with an eye-searing yellow color. The multi-floor restaurant (Principle #2: space is not at a premium) was nearly empty, even though it was prime lunch hour. The two of us had dropped a mere $35, including a couple of farewell cookies, and were not even slightly filled up. We resolved to come with a bigger crowd on Saturday night, and see what Table on Ten was like when it was crankin'.
Our party of four city slickers arrived to find the dirt parking lot completely full. Inside was a polymorphous crowd of what appeared to be urban folks in ironic country dress, but were they up for the weekend or did they live in the vicinity? The main menu item is small pizzas that might have come from Roberta's, some conventionally topped, others with a more unusual selection of ingredients. The outdoor seating area, and the indoor ones on the main floor, were completely occupied, so we were exiled to the basement. A pair of diners next to our table looked us over, and then loudly snickered. Indeed, most of the patrons seemed to be eyeing each other skeptically.
It turned out the tiny wood-burning oven was only capable of doing two pizzas at once, so our wait was a long one. We appetized with a $9 salad of lettuces that tasted freshly picked and a chicken soup with wide papardelle noodles. It seemed to be missing something and tasted like bouillon. We drank muscadet and rosé by the glass ($8 apiece). When the pizzas came, the crusts were very good and nicely browned, but the toppings just OK. The special ($14) had leeks, fingerling potatoes, gouda, and basil, and appraisals at our table were mixed, running from "loved it" to "meh." Next was a so-called margherita that, instead of fresh tomatoes or sauce made therefrom, was flooded with a dense and strongly flavored "four-hour marinara" that might have been spaghetti sauce. Not a margherita pizza, but not bad. A pepperoni pie was just about the same thing, but with pepperoni. Three other pizzas were also available.
We didn't really relish eating a piece of pie for dessert that had labored overland from Brooklyn, but got into our car and went back to our borrowed summer house in Jefferson, NY, where we made s'mores. "If that wasn't such a long drive, I might go there more often," one of our party exclaimed. "What you mean is, if it wasn't so expensive," another countered.
But yes, there are such things as hickster restaurants — or at least one.
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