It was five short years ago that I started tracking hickster restaurants in the Catskills. Really, they were not too hard to find, occurring with a frequency of one every 20 miles or so. Many were started by hipsters who decided to move to the countryside and become hicks — hence the term hickster. Eschewing the predictable local fare found at diners, pizza parlors, and taverns, they founded cafes that offered fresh baked breads, avocado toasts, main courses with stylish, modern, and multi-ethnic flourishes, and boutique meats and cheeses from organic and otherwise progressive farmers. And they hired waiters who were extensively tattooed. Eventually, the New York Times picked up on the term.
One such restaurant is Blue Bee Café in the town of Delhi, at 114 Main Street. It’s open seven days a week year round, but only between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The menu is calculated to attract late risers looking for good coffee and homemade pastries, as well as lunchers and late lunchers who want a menu unafraid of quinoa or kale. Many customers desire something quick, says owner Stephanie Carter. In adopting a daytime schedule, the cafe bypasses the realm of relatively expensive dinners with flashy modern food that form the pattern for many other hickster restaurants in the mountains.
A decade ago the Blue Bee Café began life as a bookstore called Steinway Book Company that soon began serving coffee and sandwiches, too. Seven years ago, Carter — who moved to the Catskills from NYC because she, in true hickster fashion, “thought life would be much better for the kids” — discarded the book business, and the place had turned into something like the café that’s there today.
The space is large and deep, with a line of vintage wooden booths with stained glass panels along one wall. Opposite is an open counter and kitchen where sandwiches are assembled, espresso shots drawn, and pastries sold — including croissants, sweet rolls, raisin scones, and chunky chocolate chip cookies. Historic art and maps line the walls, including a 19th- century map of Long Island City and hand tinted engravings of buffalo.
The menu is unique, too, eschewing the ambitious and sometimes fussy food of the nighttime and weekend-only hickster restaurants. Rather, it offers four main sections: “old-fashioned” sandwiches, pressed panini, meal-size salads, and omelets. Most mains are priced from $8.95 to $12.95, a price point that is higher than area diners, but cheaper than most hickster restaurants.
I went right for the old-fashioned sandwiches. While meatloaf is something long since forgotten in urban areas, in the countryside it is still very much alive. My meatloaf sandwich came on slices of white bread “made in the area,” according to Carter. The meatloaf was composed of local, grass-fed beef, a little on the crumbly side and garnished with lettuce and ripe tomato. The sandwich was warm, fragrant, and irresistible. It also came with a substantial side, in my case a bowl of dense and creamy potato salad (beet, kale, and orzo salads were other choices).
My companion and I ordered two other dishes, one an avocado tartine, the toasts radiating from a kale salad that made the plate look like a sunflower. The other was one of the gigantic, grain-based salads, some with geographic themes. I picked the Mexican — black beans and quinoa in a chile lime dressing with lettuce, avocado, and sour cream. The grain was more Peruvian than Mexican, but the salad was good nonetheless.
Other dishes that caught my eye included Asian noodles (rice noodles in a sesame-peanut dressing with shredded vegetables); a tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil panino; and the “r bee” (roast beef, Swiss cheese, and horseradish aioli on pumpernickel).
Enjoying a spectacular location on the banks of the West Branch Delaware River, ringed by mountains patchworked with forests and farms, Delhi has a population of 5,000. It also boasts its own SUNY branch, famous for its culinary arts program. These advantages, and also being at the crossroads of highways 10 and 28, through which many summer visitors pass, has made the bustling town something of an informal capital of the western Catskills; though one more charming and bucolic than tourist hot spots like Woodstock, Monticello, and Hunter. Its ideal location has made it a center of the restaurant industry, with 10 or so within the city limits, including a nighttime hickster restaurant called the Quarter Moon. Nonetheless, things slow down after the summer.
“There are plenty of customers now, but how do things look in the winter?” I asked Carter.
“Well, we do see a decrease in business, but we also see customers from nearby ski areas like Hunter Mountain, Windham, and Bellayre,” Carter volunteered.
Indeed, Blue Bee would be a cozy spot with excellent food at any time of the year.