If the most excellent Phoenicia Diner gets any hotter it will start sizzling such is the expanse of its popularity, having been featured everywhere recently in publications like Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Elle and my country’s Daily Mail and Telegraph. I told Mike Cioffi, the Diner’s owner, that he could put ten diners up and down Route 28 and they would still be full to bursting every weekend. I’m sad to say that I’m severely behind in my New Year’s Resolution of eating my way through the outstanding menu and am usually banging my head against the desk on Mondays when I look at my watch and realize it has closed until Thursday.
Former Mayor of Fleischmanns Todd Pascarella is embarking upon a new effort to keep us all in good spirits. Union Grove Distillery in Arkville is due to open this year, producing vodka to start and eventually offering aged rye whiskey and aged rye bourbon.
When did you move to the Catskills?
I moved to the Catskills in Spring 2001. I was drawn here partly because of my experience of going to college down in Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up in Long Island and it was quite a contrast from the life in Long Island to the way things were down there: the natural beauty and the niceness of the people down there. I decided to try and move up here by myself as a yearlong experiment and I moved to MT Tremper. And I started meeting a lot of people who I was fascinated by, so I decided to buy a fixer-upper house in Highmount. I lived in that for a couple of years and that’s when I met Jeanine.
Up the hill behind the train tracks of the DURR opposite The Emerson, a new inn is being fitted out with ten rooms, restaurant, bar and lounge named The Foxfire Mountain House. Most of the furnishings are second-hand items found in the Catskills, with the decorative Moroccan tiling found in a warehouse in Brooklyn. There are still chairs to be sanded, beds to be built and raspberry banquets to be fitted, but proprietor Tim Trojan hopes to be open by June. An adjacent cottage has been ready for a while and has been rented for weekends on AirBNB. Tim owns the inn with his wife Eliza Clark a television producer and Eliza’s daughter Arden Wray, a photographer. He’s been directing the renovation for the past year, but the style has come from his wife Eliza who produced renovation television shows.
The Hubbell Cider Press dates back to the 1880s. The mountain railroad allowed farmers of the Catskills access to heavy machinery left over from the civil war. Chopped apples come down the chute, top left and land in the barrel, bottom left. The mush is then pressed flat between racks on the press in the background. Juice is collected in trays beneath the press running down the centre.
Go to Blue Barn Antiques, in Shandaken/Phoenicia for some excellent bargains on high-quality antiques like this Rockwell-painted plate (above) for $15. There is still a pile left with different Rockwell paintings. Other utterly gorgeous vintage and antique dresses are still there alongside modern artisanal products like Pillowtique’s pillows and handmade crafts.
Christmas is approaching. There’ll be caroling, midnight mass in unheated churches, parties in which you’ll not find the whisky to which you’ve become accustomed and bars wherein they’ll charge you $15 for a thimble-full of Scotland’s finest.
You’ll need a hip flask. Should you find yourself with an empty hip flask but no funnel this season, use a wooden chopstick. You’ll find one stuck between the center console of your car and the passenger seat.
Put the chopstick into the flask pointed side down. Hold the top of the (alcohol) bottle at the flat end of the chopstick and begin by gently soaking the top of the chopstick, then slowly follow this action through, tipping the bottle gently and pouring slowly.
Ensure that the chopstick doesn’t touch the inside of the flask rim when you’re pouring or the booze will spill over the side of the flask. In order to achieve this you can fix the chopstick, without having to hold it between your fingers, by trapping it in a horizontal position between the rim of the bottle and the bottom of the flask. You’re basically using the weight of the bottle to hold the chopstick in place while you pour. It’s easier to do this before you start drinking. A worthy flask should have its capacity stamped on the bottom in ounces or millliletres (see the third image on this post below) but if it doesn’t, a glass measuring jug or smaller bottle containing the flask’s capacity will also do the job.