So what’s for dinner? How about a bowl of lobster bisque, followed up by a feta mushroom lamb burger with yogurt mint sauce and a side of house-made gaufrettes, or a serving of almond-crusted goat cheese with roasted garlic and wine-poached pear followed by a grilled-to-order NY strip steak? Welcome to Seconds, a delicious outpost of casual fine dining in the charming river town of Athens.
“We like to have fun here,” says proprietor Denise McCarroll. “We’re located directly across the street from the Athens Cultural Center, and they change their exhibit the first Friday of every month, so we coordinated with them and had block parties. They actually blocked off our block so people could dance and sit in the street, and we had a really good summer. Then in October, we’ll be having a Moroccan night, when we have Gabriella Cucolo perform. She’s from Saratoga Springs and does authentic Egyptian-style belly dance. This will be like the fourth time she’s performed here, and it’s really magical.”
McCarroll grew up in Greene County and in the restaurant world. “I started in the food business when I was 14. My aunt was in the business; she kind of took me under her wing and I got into it and just loved it. I mean, I’ve done a few other things in my life’s seasons, raising my kids and stuff, but once my last one graduated high school, I said that’s it. I’m getting back into the food.”
Welcome to Seconds, a delicious outpost of casual fine dining in the charming river town of Athens.
Now she’s back on her home turf serving up fine American cuisine with a strong Mediterranean flair, courtesy of her longtime partner, Chef Salah Alygad, whose resume reflects 32 years of experience, including cooking at the United Nations.
“Casual fine dining is just our sweet spot, it’s who we are and we don’t pretend to be anything else.” – Proprietor Denise McCarroll
“I had worked in a restaurant where he was part owner and one of the chefs, and that’s where we met up, and it just kind of evolved from there,” says McCarroll. “Before coming upstate, he had been a banquet chef at the United Nations, so he knows people from all over the place. Consequently, I have gotten the privilege of making these connections also, and yeah, my horizons have been quite broadened and I just absolutely love it. Here I am, just an upstate country girl, and I’ve made all these amazing connections and friends without having to go all that far from home.”
Since the duo teamed up, their adventures have included running the beloved Friends and Family II Hillside restaurant in Accord for 14 years. In their hands, the restaurant was a beloved destination, but McCarroll is happy with her shorter commute. “So we were in Ulster County for 14 years, then in Catskill for three, and now we’re in Athens,” she says. “We just keep moving closer and closer to home. And at this point we’ve built a great following. Just this weekend we had guests come up from Ulster County—they find us wherever we go now. Last summer exceeded our expectations.” Seconds has been open for a year now, and visitors and locals in Athens are indeed thrilled to have them in town. The restaurant has a solid five stars on Google.
“Seconds was SO GOOD!” writes a reviewer. “The hummus, beef stroganoff and Moroccan salmon were delicious and the atmosphere was lovely! We also ordered the gelato for dessert and it was the best gelato we’ve ever had, especially in the affogato!! Cannot wait to go back and try more dishes and get the gelato again!”
As many dishes as humanly possible are locally sourced; McCarroll shops locally every day for fresh ingredients for that night’s menu, orders liquor and wine for the full bar, and (like most owners) basically does whatever needs doing. “I’m always here,” she says. “I think customers like that, knowing I’ll be here, knowing they’ll find a familiar face.”
The team takes a break twice a year to replenish their energy and craft the upcoming season’s menu. “Casual fine dining is just our sweet spot, it’s who we are and we don’t pretend to be anything else,” says McCarroll. “We love what we do—he loves to cook, I love people. We’re both passionate about it and enjoy it enormously. It’s funny because when we opened, everybody who came in kept asking, ‘Where did you come from?’ and the answer is, right here in Greene County. And I think it has a little extra pull to it, because the locals are happy to see a fellow local doing something like this.”
Happy—and exceptionally well fed. McCarroll and Alygad couldn’t be happier with their cozy nest. “This will be the last stop—he just turned 70, and I’m turning 67,” McCarroll says. “So we really do pour all the passion and expertise and love into what we’re doing here, and we just want to stay here and keep having fun.”
7 2nd Street, Athens