While seeking to win the presidential nomination in 2007, Barack Obama stood beside a cornfield in Iowa and did his best to relate to the farming world. “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?” he asked. “I mean, they’re charging a lot of money for this stuff.”
Minor snag. Back then, there were no Whole Foods in Iowa. And arugula has never exactly been Middle America’s salad green of choice.
Address: 200 North St., Kingston, N.Y. 12401
Hours: Dinner, Thursday-Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m.; brunch, Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Prices: Starters $14-$24; pizza $20-$26; entrees $22-$42; desserts $15; cocktails $14-$18; wines by the glass $9-$16; bottles $34-$155
Info: www.huttonbrickyards.com; reservations via OpenTable; 845-514-4853
Etc: Free hotel parking; wheelchair-accessible
The incident quickly became labeled Arugulagate, an indicator of Obama’s out-of-touch elitism. And arguably arugula has never recovered, trailing in popularity to such leafy green heavyweights as romaine, spinach and even kale (a member of the cabbage family masquerading as a stalwart of the salad brigade.)
But one thing you can say about River Pavilion — the stunningly situated open-air restaurant at the Hutton Brickyards resort in Kingston — is that its menu is attempting to propel this cruelly underappreciated ingredient into the limelight. On a recent visit there, three-quarters of our savories came liberally strewn with fistfuls of the 44th President’s favorite fancy-pants salad leaf. The restaurant stands no more than a lazy stone’s throw from the Hudson River, but we were swimming in arugula.
Unfortunately, back in December 2022, the Hutton Brickyards itself was swimming in the Hudson after a storm surge caused flooding all across the resort, forcing its lengthy closure. When it opened again on April 6 this year, it was under a new management company, Waterford Hotel Group, which brought in a fresh female-led culinary crew. The restaurant reopened on May 5.
In December 2022, a storm surge caused massive flooding all across the resort, forcing its lengthy closure.
Provided by MWest Holdings
Executive Chef Paige Rodano is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked at California’s famed Chez Panisse and Poughkeepsie’s Lolita’s Pizza. Executive Sous Chef Lily Burns learned the culinary ropes in her family’s restaurant Stella’s in Kingston and was later personally trained by Chef Dan Silverman at Hutton Brickyards and Millstream Tavern in Woodstock.
There may be new captains at the helm of River Pavilion but the restaurant still looks the same as it did before the Hudson breached her banks — which is to say, spectacular. Housed in a former kiln shed (the resort stands on the site of The Hutton Brick Works Company, which operated from 1865 to 1980), River Pavilion’s sides are open to the elements. One of its widescreen flanks offers a picture-perfect view of the Hudson, the water no more than 50 yards from the nearest tables. This waterside eatery is so close to the Hudson, in fact, I once saw a couple arrive for dinner in a canoe!
The interior, meanwhile, is divided by metal cages stuffed with bricks, wall-like structures that reference the site’s former industrial incarnation. The floor is concrete, the tables stained black or gray and those fairy lights (the ones you see everywhere these days) sparkle overhead.
Our meal started with the only arugula-less savory of the night, an appetizer of roasted oysters. At $20, this plate of five crustacea (odd choice of number) was a slightly parsimonious portion, especially given that two of the oysters were barely more than thumbnail-sized. But the flavors were excellent, the warm shellfish both saline and tart, bathed in citrus butter and Meyer lemon zest, five small slurps that tasted of summer.
Next, we tucked into a fig and brie wood-fired pizza. (Most of the restaurant’s food is cooked in wood-fired ovens and grills.) The pie was a plate of perfectly proportioned pleasure. Atop a floury crust, the fig was reduced to a jammy, sweet essence that complemented the melty cheese, a bracing shot of balsamic vinegar playing along nicely with these flavors.
So far, so delicious — but not exactly unusual. What brought a unique spin to this pizza, however, was a kale and cashew pesto, which sounds suspiciously like health food, but added an extra hearty dimension to a familiar combination. Also, perhaps feeling jealous of kale’s lurking presence, arugula had strewn herself all across the pie’s surface — pretty enough, but superfluous.
With the pizza greedily dispatched, our server (perky and personable) whisked two mains to the table. A fillet of trout leaned up against a small salad heap of fennel and — you guessed it — arugula. The fish’s flesh ranged in color from coral pink to salmon roe orange and tasted desirably creamy and sweet, although its skin was perhaps a little flaccid for some tastes. Beneath all the arugula there was a small scattering of fregola (a spherical Sardinian pasta), not a belly-filling plate, more like a modest portion of bright and luscious diet food.
A dish of lamb chops was at the opposite end of the hunger-sating spectrum: three generous ribs served with an ethereal cloudlike polenta cake. The lamb (American), clinging to its gracefully sweeping arc of bone, came heavily charred outside and delicately pink inside, each chop providing mouthful after mouthful of meaty joy. The accompanying sauce was a simple and satisfying mix of lemon, garlic and olive oil, given the Italian name salmoriglio on the menu. It didn’t need to sound so fancy — the flavors spoke their own exotic language. And forgive me for not having mentioned the arugula yet — because obviously there was a small thicket of leaves tucked up against one side of the dish.
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The evening was nearing its pristine end and the Hudson blinking her wide blue eye — which meant it was a shame that dessert ended up being the bummest note of the night. According to the menu, the olive oil cake also contained buttermilk. Olive oil and buttermilk are two ingredients that generally lead to a moist-crumbed sponge. But that night the cake was crumbly and dry, and the accompanying figs were watery and bland. What a shame. At least the ice cream was decent.
And thankfully a world-class view can paper over the small cracks of an almost majestic dinner. Just one or two tiny tweaks could elevate the dining at River Pavilion to something worthy of its surroundings — utterly peerless, the kind of vista and grounds that might make the competition jealous.
Ah, jealousy, the green-eyed monster. Although is the monster’s iris really green? Or is it just the reflection from a fearsome mound of arugula?