WHAT’S COOKING AT PEEKAMOOSE
it’s hard to imagine a lovelier forty-five minutes of driving than the ride up Route 28 from Kingston to Big Indian. Civilization and traffic fall away as you slip away into the landscape that has inspired a hundred Hudson River School masterpieces. It’s worth the drive just for the drive itself, but up past where the forests deepen and the high peaks take over, you can get both gorgeous scenery and Manhattan-quality cuisine at Peekamoose restaurant.
“We bought this old farmhouse that had been Rudi's Big Indian Country Kitchen in 2003,” recalls co-owner Marybeth Mills. “I recall more than one time when, if we saved $35, we'd have to decide whether to buy food or a can of Benjamin Moore paint. We spent as much time as we could staining, painting, and cleaning; we were completely broke but investing in our lifelong dreams. It was a wonderfully happy time.
"WE WERE INVESTING IN OUR LIFELONG DREAMS.IT WAS A WONDERFULLY HAPPY TIME.”
Marybeth and Devin’s joy has radiated. Peekamoose is known for its inspired and well-executed pairing of favorite-blue-jeans coziness with gastronomic chic, well-seasoned with quirk and served with a generous portion of tenderness by predestined, passionate restaurateurs. “Devin and I both grew up in large Irish families. Dinners at restaurants were extremely rare for us, a special treat. When I was eight years old, I’d play ‘restaurant,’ force my parents to wait to be seated in their own kitchen, hand them menus, and take their orders. The night Devin and I met back in 1997, we stayed up most of the night talking about how we’d always known what we wanted to do for a living.”
Marybeth no longer has to force anyone to wait for anything. The smart ones make reservations on weekends, and eating in the bar, with its craft brews and fine wines, is as lovely an experience as eating in the artfully rustic dining room or on the deck in summertime. “The building doesn't feel like other restaurants,” she says. “From the moment you walk in and see the artwork, the whimsical taxidermy, and the uniquely crafted wall treatments, you know that this is not your typical restaurant.” Shawn Patrick Anderson, a friend who owns ACME Studios in Brooklyn, created that chic, country vibe. He has a wonderful sense of whimsy and fun.”
Whimsy and fun make a stellar setting for a menu full of gems. “One of our farmers has a sign on the wall that says ‘Eat with the Season,’ and that’s how our menu is developed. We are proud of the care that goes into the buying, the preparing, and the serving of our product. The food is truly farm-to-table. We know our famers. We know their children's names. There was one time that we couldn't get pork for our menu because our farmer couldn't catch the pig.”
“ONE OF OUR FARMERS HAS A SIGN ON THE WALL THAT SAYS ‘EAT WITH THE SEASON,’ AND THAT’S HOW OUR MENU IS DEVELOPED."
And it’s safe to say that the bounty of the Catskills has never found itself in finer hands. Both manager Marybeth and chef Devin were already rising stars when they joined forces to create their magnum opus. “We’re fortunate to have worked with some of the top names in the business,” Marybeth recalls. “Devin worked at the Gramercy Tavern and the Michelin-rated Le Bernadin. I honed my managerial skills at the Hudson River Club, Picholine, Remi, Mirezi, and the Atlantic Grill. We both studied culinary arts—Devin at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and I at L'Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne, Switzerland after I got my degree in hospitality management at Boston University. All of our foods are prepared here, on site, with passion and integrity, from freshly butchered whole animals that are broken down in-house to house-made breads and ice creams that are spun fresh daily. We despise pretense, so things aren’t plated with micro garnishes arranged with tweezers.”
It’s that lack of pretense that has made Peekamoose a decade-long chart-topping hit in a challenging, if stunning, location. Devin and Marybeth keep a finger on the pulse of their clientele’s needs and aren’t afraid to switch things up to meet them. “In the early years, we noticed a dangerous trend happening,” says Marybeth. “I'd look over the reservation book and see ‘birthday’ or ‘anniversary’ being written next to all of our weekend reservations. We’re flattered to be a part of such celebrations, but we didn't want to become a ‘special occasions only’ restaurant."
“We needed to modify our offerings so people would come to our place just because they didn't feel like cooking at home, so Devin and I sat down and began to develop our Tap Room menu. We added a fabulous burger, one that was true to our commitment to sustainable farming, with grass-fed beef from Slope Farm, tomato & balsamic onion jam, watercress, and a house-made brioche bun. Then, we added our now-famous beer-battered Vidalia onion rings. Devin began making his own pastrami. Soon, the Tap Room began to fill up as much as the main dining room.”
“FROM THE MOMENT YOU WALK IN AND SEE THE ARTWORK, THE WHIMSICAL TAXIDERMY, AND THE UNIQUELY CRAFTED WALL TREATMENTS, YOU KNOW THAT THIS IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL RESTAURANT.”
“WE MAKE SURE OUR GUESTS GET TO TAKE IN A LITTLE BIT OF OUR MOUNTAIN LIFESTYLE.”
Part of the evolution also involves a catering service. “We didn't want to book weddings on peak weekends and close our doors to our growing and loyal clientele, but there was such a huge demand that we could no longer ignore the market. We developed our off-site catering to be able to accomplish both. We’re truly honored when a couple allows us to be part of their most special day.”
And the Peekamoose team loves to throw pig roasts. “We use an English heritage breed called Tamwort that’s largely ignored by the agribusiness model because it's a slow-growing variety, which gives it wonderful flavor, well-marbled throughout. I like to think that this was the type of animal that Mark Twain would have enjoyed before our food system changed into more of a factory production line. “Not only are we creating a fun event centered around
something as primal as roasting a whole animal, but also we add terrific side dish accompaniments and tasty locally crafted beers. We like to go full circle and take care of our community as a whole, so we take the leftover parts and create stews, soups, and pasta dishes, and we donate them to local food pantries. Nothing is wasted.”
"WE LIKE TO GO FULL CIRCLE AND TAKE CARE OF OUR COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE."
The couple is having the time of their lives, and it shows. “We make sure our guests get to take in a little bit of our mountain lifestyle,” Marybeth says. “We have an indoor tree house playroom for kids; we don't feel that families should be limited to pizza or nuggets at some chain restaurant, nor do we feel that fine dining can't mean family-friendly. We have a nightly bonfire with marshmallows and sticks for roasting. We love seeing a family sitting down together, sharing the stories of their day. There's just something so timelessly wonderful about seeing a Dad teach his daughter the ‘rotisserie method’ of roasting a marshmallow.”
Marybeth and Devin say, “We really are living our childhood dreams come true here. When you’re having fun, so are we.” Boredom just simply doesn’t exist for Marybeth and Devin at Peekamoose, who strive to provide their customers a great experience that is consistent but also constantly evolving to be even better than their last visit. Put Peekamoose on your “to-do” list this spring, and see for yourself all that Peekamoose offers.
PEEKAMOOSE. 8373 RT 28. BIG INDIAN. 845.254.6500. PEEKAMOOSERESTAURANT.COM