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At BackBar in Hudson, Pelaccio Returns to the Flavors of His Fatty Heyday

Eater's critic offers his first impressions of the Malaysian-inspired food at Zak Pelaccio and Jori Jayne Emde's new Hudson project

BackBar debuted in August 2015 in the back end of an antique shop on Warren Street — Hudson’s main drag. In case you didn’t know, over the last decade this upstate town has become one of the state’s most important dining destinations, with dozens of restaurants, bakeries, and bars, many of them upscale, and a clientele of visitors who arrive via its Amtrak station, as well as those driving up to their summer houses in surrounding Columbia County. In addition, this bucolic town with a permanent population of less than 7,000 enjoys a scenic location on the east bank of the Hudson River, 40 miles south of the state capital of Albany and 120 miles north of New York City.

BackBar’s webpage features a diapered baby on skis flying through the air, balancing a beer and a glass of wine on opposite hands. Once a gas station, the antique shop is set back a bit from the street; you have to walk among teetering lamps, Greek statues, and miscellaneous glassware and textiles to reach the indoor portion of the bar, a handsome swoosh of antique wood flanked by red-upholstered stools. Mismatched lamps, beautiful in their ugliness, hang from the ceiling. Big garage doors, which will have to be shut once October arrives, open onto a graveled and fenced side yard, where 10 or so picnic tables are set at refreshingly large distances apart.

The new menu, known as Bakar at BackBar, and mainly the work of husband-and-wife- duo Zak Pelaccio and Jori Jayne Emde, and Fish & Game co-chef Kevin Pomplun, has been gradually developing, according to some regulars I talked to, but has only recently been offered in its perfected form. Like the banners hung at intervals around the outdoor space, the menu is Malaysian-inspired and in the small-dish format, though it ranges freely among other Asian cuisines. Prices fall between $7 and $17, with an extra $3 charged for the small bowl of rice necessary to enjoying many of the dishes.

The menu partly reflects Pelaccio’s original efforts a decade previously at Fatty Crab and its offshoots. There was a shaved pork-shoulder laab — a Thai meat salad offered in an almost doctrinaire rendition, sprinkled with toasted rice for crunch and featuring red onions and cilantro as flavorings. Butter-lettuce leaves came on the side for wrapping. There’s fried chicken, of course — boneless morsels that come with a chili honey laced with vinegar (the chicken is good enough you don’t really need it), and a pile of cucumber spears with sesame seeds, onions, and a mild vinaigrette that don’t quite ascend to the level of a salad.

[Clockwise, from the top left:: potato wedges, nam prik pla, fried chicken, pork laab]

The dish we most enjoyed, so that my party ordered a second helping, were some twice-fried potato wedges with a yellowish mayo; though they were not really Southeast Asian in any definable way. Perhaps the dish most reminiscent of Fatty Crab was nam prik pla, a small bowl of chunky fish chutney furnished with chard leaves and shrimp chips as dipping implements. Mapo tofu is simple, soupy, and a brilliant shade of red; along with a bowl or two of rice, it could be an entrée. The only thing we really didn’t like of the 11 selections was skirt steak jin tup — dry tendrils of beef tossed with sambal, celery, and scallions served over rice. It, too, fell into main course territory.

The dishes are small, especially for Hudson, but in general, the execution was impressive and the ingredients fresh.

347 Warren St, Hudson, NY, (518) 610-1702

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