Every summer I spend time criss-crossing the Catskills. Usually, I stay at a friend’s house in the small farming town of Jefferson in the region’s remote northwest, where the main tourist attraction is a 13-sided barn. Six years ago I noticed that restaurants appearing here and there among the mountains seemed more like modern Brooklyn bistros than the diners and red-sauce Italian spots that had been the norm previously. Turns out many were founded by New York City defectors fleeing the city’s high rents and wanting to get closer to the origin of their meats, dairy, and produce.
For better or worse I applied the term “hickster” to describe these expats, and used as my first example Table on Ten, a wood-oven pizzeria located in a teetering wood-frame house in Bloomville that also sold avocado toasts and turmeric sodas. For dessert it offered pies acquired from Brooklyn’s Four & Twenty Blackbirds. Everyone hated the term, but now we’re stuck with it.
In subsequent years I sampled the food at some amazing places in a similar vein, including Brushland Eating House in the hamlet of Bovina Center. There I ate a perfect pork schnitzel carved from a neighborhood pig. At the now wildly popular Phoenicia Diner, southeast of the region’s canoeing mecca of the same name, I wolfed down a trout from a nearby hatchery.
But few of the 30 or so new establishments I’ve visited can match in excellence Solinsky’s and its intriguing selection of cured and smoked meats. It’s located in Stamford, a commercial center at the headwaters of the Delaware River with a line of storefronts that include a supermarket, of which many towns are deprived. I’d driven past Solinsky’s on the town’s main drag soon after it opened the previous autumn, but hadn’t taken note, since there was nothing to identify the nature of the business from the sign swinging outside. It looked like a hardware store.
The owners are Caitlin Clare Grady, known as Grady, and Michael Solyn. He turns out to be a Culinary Institute of American grad, and has also studied cooking in Sichuan and worked at Daniel and Bouley. She is a native of Jefferson, six miles distant, which partly explains the store’s unexpected location in the Catskills. Grady attended Hampshire College, where she received a degree in anthropology.
The couple met while working at restaurants in New York City, and found they shared a love of Colombian bakeries, where “we ate bunuelos, deditos de queso, morcilla, all with hot sauce and short strong coffees. We have been together ever since,” according to Solyn. He grew up in a Hungarian Jewish family in Youngstown, Ohio, where his grandparents owned a deli called Solinsky’s, which was his family name before it was Americanized. “Youngstown has a really eclectic food scene from all the immigrants there. Heavy on southern Italian.”
How to describe Solinsky’s? It is a “charcuterie house and salumeria,” according to the Instagram account, but is described elsewhere as a smokehouse. In fact, the first thing I ordered when I stepped up to the window after standing in a socially distanced line for 15 minutes was a pound of smoked brisket. It came thickly sliced and glistening, and proved every bit as good as any barbecue I’d eaten in Texas. I’m not kidding.
The place occupies a wood-frame house, and is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., which makes it seem like a New York City pop-up. (They consider themselves still in the soft-opening phase, even after almost a year, the couple told me.) Every Friday a menu is posted on its Facebook page, listing the products which will be available, and encouraging preordering. The list runs to 20 or 25 items, changes gradually from week to week, and is not all meat.
On a recent weekend, there were gallons of A2 milk in glass bottles from a local dairy, splotchy with cream; spectacular baguettes that arrived precisely at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday; Sunday-only round loaves of sourdough that had to be preordered and proved wildly sought after in this bread-challenged region; black cans of smoked sprats from Latvia; boutique chocolate bars; kosher dill pickles from a big jar; lapsang souchong tilsit; and packaged pancake mix. Everything else is cured or smoked meats.
Even in New York City, Solinsky’s would be considered a rather odd and quirky store. In the Catskills, it’s a sensation.
Solyn acknowledges the eclectic nature of the charcuterie, and credits small-scale village butcher shops in Italy as his inspiration. Grady more often conceives the sausages. From Solyn’s bailiwick came a smoked bacon sliced thick, a smidge better than what one might find in a good New York City butcher, and slightly fattier — isn’t that what we buy bacon for? Capicola reproduced the Brooklyn Italian-American favorite, a streaky, neck-meat ham. Once you have a bite and taste its rich porkiness, the whole order will be soon be gone.
Another revelation was the pate, a boxcar of pale beige delectability, so coarsely textured it reminded me of head cheese. When I asked about it, Grady replied, “Oh, we sometimes make head cheese, too, just not this week.” On her end, there was a Philippine sausage called longanisa, with a stunning appearance: a series of short, fat links held in queue with butchers twine. The flavor was sweet and anisey, “just the thing to cut up and use in fried rice,” a Filipina friend of mine back in the city noted.
I didn’t get the kabanosy, a slender dried and smoked Polish sausage. But I did acquire a couple of “hot links,” which were more like pepperoni than the Texas sausage of the same name. And that was how we used it — atop a barbecued pizza — as some friends and I sat around a fire pit in the house’s back yard back in Jefferson.
Flames flickering on our faces, we marveled that, with a century-old Italian deli in Windham 30 miles distant, farm stands selling corn and tomatoes, apple orchards and vineyards, cheesemakers and maple-tree tappers and meat lockers with small-scale butcher operations, a handful of good restaurants, and now, a deli like Solinsky’s, life could be very good in the Catskills.