For sentimental reasons, a dish that arrived early in the meal at Feast & Floret was my favorite. Truffled egg toast ($16) is a gloriously gooey square of bread with a raw egg yolk planted in the middle. Melted fontina cascades over the sides, two crisp asparagus spears act as sentries, and the plate comes showered with a flurry of fresh truffle shavings, exuding a luxurious odor.
I remembered this dish as one of the best things I ate in 1998 at ‘Ino, a 400-square-feet wine bar on lower Bedford Street in Greenwich Village. No food that couldn’t be made with just a cutting board and a toaster oven was served there. Then, the dish employed truffle oil rather than actual truffles, consistent with the bargain nature of the place. The guy responsible was Jason Denton, who went on to be involved at New York City restaurants such as Lupa, Corsino, and the ‘Inoteca chain of Italian wine bars, as well as Hudson, New York’s Fish & Game.
Soon after that decade-old upstate restaurant closed last October, after it went dark in March just as the pandemic set in, Feast & Floret opened in its stead. The ownership group remains the same: Whalers & Merchants, whose partners are currently florist Lavinia Milling Smith and her husband, Broadway producer Patrick Milling Smith, in addition to Denton.
The two-story brick building lies just off Warren Street, Hudson’s Victorian main drag, still looking like the 19th-century carriage house and blacksmith shop it once was. There’s a covered courtyard in front, now a well-ventilated and comfortably heated outdoor dining area where a companion and I chose to eat.
But the interior of the restaurant is worth noting, as it strikes contrasting notes with its brooding and more aggressively masculine predecessor. Where once there was a stuffed pheasant, bighorn sheep head, and other displays of taxidermy, sprays of dried flowers are placed here and there, and a leafy mural makes it feel as though you’re climbing a tree. The layout features a now-cozier barroom on the left and a woody dining room with a flaming hearth on the right, leading to a tucked-away open kitchen. The atmosphere is less high-octane and more serene.
The focus of the menu is modern Italian food, with locally sourced materials and a seasonal bent. When it comes to meat, steelhead trout, and winter vegetables, there are lots of great farms around Hudson, and the bill of fare proves it. The hands-on manager is Denton, and I asked him who the chef was. But, as it turns out, unlike Fish & Game, which was presided over by Zak Pelaccio, Feast & Floret does not have a head chef. “Zak Pelaccio loomed so large over Fish & Game [that] we wanted the new place to be less chef-driven,” Denton said. “We wanted a place people came to for itself.”
The menu is divided into four sections: antipasti and salad, grains and pasta, vegetables, and meat and fish, with smaller dishes handily winning the war against larger dishes in number, if not in quality. Since I ate only one meal at Feast & Floret — though a very large meal, to be sure — I set about sampling all of the sections.
A chicory salad ($12) matches the bitter green with gorgonzola, hazelnuts (native to New York), and apples, reminding us that when spring finally arrives, Hudson will be surrounded by white blossoms from the many apple orchards in the vicinity. This purplish salad is dense and delicious, calculated more as a substantial repast than a featherweight course.
Another wintery green, kale, figures in a deep green pesto that comes with grilled sourdough flatbreads, pliable and chewy and tasting of smoke from the grill. “The hundred-year-old sourdough starter came from my grandmother,” Denton told me when he appeared to check on our table. A less-sentimental bread-baking friend, whose house my dining companion and I were borrowing in nearby Claverack, offered a rejoinder: “A sourdough is only as old as the last time you fed it.” The otherwise-conventional pesto benefited from its kale, rendering it more subtle and earthy.
Three pastas constitute the core of the menu. The one we tried was mezze maniche ($17), al dente cylinders with creamy gigante beans that sometimes lodged somewhat comically in the interior of the grooved tubes, making for some spectacular bites. The dish smelled of sheepy pecorino and a strong variety of oregano, presaging a bright taste like farmyard musk. Other choices included tagliatelle ribbons with Bolognese, and a squid-ink soprese (like unfilled tortellini) sauced with the liquid salami ’nduja.
Among the larger dishes, which also included steelhead trout, a grilled half chicken, a 14-ounce rib-eye, and an octopus tentacle, which we also tried, we picked the pork ribs ($24). From a local farm, they were distinguished by a crust that was almost crunchy and utterly enjoyable, and a walnut-amaro reduction which gave them a sweet and nutty flavor. The nearly blackened romanesco side we ordered ($9), littered with tiny tart capers and spritzed with lemon juice, was just as wonderful, and maybe even more so. There are lots of surprises on this menu.
The mainly Italian wine list has a refreshingly large number of by-the-glass choices, and will be familiar to those who once dined and drank at ‘Inoteca on the Lower East Side. My own familiarity made the choices easier for me: I started with a white Orvieto from Palazzone ($11) far better than the bargain bottles usually found in that D.O.C.; once the pasta and pork ribs arrived, wanting something saturated and deep red, I lit into a glass of aglianico from Azienda Agricola San Martino in Basilicata. Grown in the crumbly volcanic soils of Mount Vulture, it acted as a foil to the richness of the food with its dry and tannic tones.
Desserts are another bright spot, and we readily wolfed down a satsuma olive oil cake and chocolate budino littered with pumpkin seeds. The well-dressed clientele, spaced far apart in the warm dining room for a leisurely lunch, looked up at us curiously as we traipsed through the interior, dressed from head to toe in winter clothes, for a look at a restaurant that had provided an especially agreeable meal outdoors in the dead of winter.