Foodies far and near have a whole new reason to rejoice. As of mid-July, the picturesque landmark that is the Accord train station was given delicious new life as Graze Farm-to-Table Tapas Bar and Restaurant, offering a sophisticated take on locavore comfort food and a place to meet and hang out. The community has embraced this new arrival with open arms.
“Call me at three. It should be slowing down,” said proprietor Christine Atkinson—on a weekday, no less. When we called her back, she was still feeding the hungry hordes in mid-afternoon. Not hard to understand, given offerings like brunch sliders featuring local goat meat, a sunny-side-up quail egg, baby greens, and heirloom tomato jam.
How did Accord come to be blessed with the likes of Graze? “It all started with a farm fresh tomato that I tasted at a dear friend’s wedding,” Atkinson says. “Something you just don’t get in Miami. We’d been making trips up north in the summer to beat the heat and chaos. My boyfriend Dylan grew up in this area; I’m a native New Englander. It didn’t take any convincing for me to agree to move to Ulster County —the quality of life here is second to none — and when we found our ideal house, it turned out to be in Accord.”
Happily for the community, the depot offered a venue that met her standards.
During her time in sunshiny Miami, she honed her culinary skills at the side of Chef Michelle Bernstein, a James Beard Award winner and cookbook author famed for simple, elegant dishes and the hostess of the PBS foodie series Check, Please.
Atkinson doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t love to cook. “It all started when I was just a kid, maybe five years old,” she recalls.
“I always wanted to be in the kitchen creating something”
Working in South Florida, she realized that someday she’d have her own operation. “I decided while I was still living in Miami that I wanted to do a restaurant, and I developed my business plan,” she says. “I worked with so many talented chefs and creative forces. It really inspired me.”
Upon moving to New York, she opened her own full-service catering operation, Upstate Events, which will continue to operate, featuring the historic depot as its signature venue. The 1902 building, with its original woodwork, wood floors, and ample natural light, will be available for smaller events of 40 or 50 guests or up to 100 during tenting season. It might just be the only spot around where guests can be served their drinks from an authentic railroad ticket window and have access to a 1940s caboose as a party-within-the-party spot.
“I fell in love with the train station building the first time I saw it,” says Atkinson. “The space has so much character. And what makes it utterly perfect is that it’s in Accord. I live in Accord, and I really wanted to open a business within my own community.”
Her own community couldn’t be happier. Great food and reasonable prices will do that for people. “So glad to have you join the ‘downtown’ Accord community,” says a fan on the restaurant’s Facebook page, while others salivate audibly that they can’t wait to check it out. That support is the wind beneath Atkinson’s wings. “I don’t think anyone is ever fully prepared for a project such as this,” she says. “But I ‘m blessed to have the guidance of chef friends that have done this and an amazing support group of family and other local business owners.”
Her concept is clear-cut and will remain that way. “The simplicity of being able to offer farm-fresh foods is a very natural way for me to operate. It’s how I grew up, how I’ve always eaten. Having the tapas-inspired dishes allow me the opportunity to offer things that may be a bit more adventurous; I want people to explore that side of their palate.”
Atkinson knows she’s in a tough business in a competitive market, but she’s confident that she’s got the necessary fresh ingredients to add to the broth. “This business is so unpredictable; you have to have thick skin and the ability to just roll with things as they come. I know enough to expect the unexpected. But I love the people that I meet doing this. Their ideas and feedback really inspire me to learn, grow, and push on.
“I intend to keep the menu ever-changing,
which is pretty easy when using local, seasonal produce.
And there has to be something for everyone to enjoy. Basically, I want Graze to be an extension and an expression of myself. I try to get out into the dining room as much as possible to say hello; it’s nice when you can put a face to a name. I want this to be someplace where people come to relax, eat delicious local food, and have a great time. I want our guests to feel like Graze is an extension of their homes.”
9 Tobacco Road, Accord NY