J Rocco’s Steakhouse & Speakeasy in Shandaken on Route 28


J Rocco's Steakhouse & Speakeasy in Shandaken

The Mabel Burger--Juicy & Good

Mad Mark's $13 special--Pan-seared Catfish

Charming and airy Catskill charm interior

I have been curious about J Rocco’s Steakhouse & Speakeasy since I first noticed it on Route 28 in Shandaken about a year ago. (It opened in 2010). I had a hunch that it would be Hudson Valley Good Stuff-worthy. When we stopped in around 5pm last Sunday, it was quiet. There was a party of 3 sitting at a table.  The bar belongs in a country song. It’s a sturdy worn bar with a motorcycle hoisted above it for decor. I’m always a sucker for a chalkboard with specials like “Cowboy Steak” and “Key Largo Fajitas” “Key Lime Pie” scribbled on it.

We started with the mango salsa and chips. The salsa was very good though not very spicy.  I had Mad Mark’s $13 special, a pan-seared cat-fish, which came with lemon butter, green beans, and baked potato. It was very tasty. Tom ordered the Ceasar salad with steak. My daughter enjoyed a Mabel Burger with cheddar cheese. We didn’t have coffee or dessert as we were full from dinner, and as we were finishing our meal a large party of 13 arrived along with a few other unrelated parties.

We had a nice dinner, and I love the Catskill flavor here!  J Rocco’s Steakhouse is a very kid-friendly. Our server was very friendly and helpful. J Rocco’s Steakhouse & Speakeasy, 7159 Route 28, Shandaken, NY. (845) 688-5099. No website, but they do have a Facebook page.

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Day-trip idea: Massage, lunch & relaxation at Mohonk Mountain House

Table for one blogger at the dining room at Mohonk Mountain House

A Victorian Room at Mohonk Mountain House

The indoor pool at Mohonk Mountain House (Jim Smith Photography)

A while ago Mohonk Mountain House invited me to try a spa service, lunch, and tour the Mohonk Mountain House, and on a dreary June Wednesday  I finally took them up on their offer. I really enjoyed my morning and feel rejuvenated!

Getting to Mohonk is an easy drive from Woodstock. I avoided the thruway (87), and enjoyed the scenic route via 209 South and Route 213. The road to Mohonk Mountain House is a little hilly, but my old Ford Focus made it without a problem. There is self-parking (free) or valet parking for $5.  I drove straight up to valet parking, which is at the doorstep of the resort where I met Katie Martello, assistant director of marketing, who walked with me to the spa. The spa is the newest amenity at resort. It was added on in 2004.  There was a bit of activity at the spa, but as it was Wednesday, there was no competition for the steam or sauna rooms.  I had a little time before my 10 am massage so I went into the Eucalyptus steam room, and relaxed in stately Women’s Veranda which has really comfortable lounge chairs. I noticed that they don’t have any magazines there, and as iPhones and cell phones are also banned in the spa, I was left unplugged with nothing to read. It was actually very nice to just relax with my fancy tea and stare off into the forrest for ten minutes.

Soon massage therapist, Shiloh came out to greet me, and lead me to the treatment room for my Breathe Deep & Be Well Massage. I chose this massage because my tension creeps up in my neck, shoulders, and chest so I thought this would be extra relaxing, and it was! I started off resting on my stomach, and inhaling the aroma of Eucalyptus, while she massaged my back and arms. She told me that there would be stretching too. Shiloh used Naturopathica peppermint body cream on my hands, which felt wonderful. The 50 minutes went by very fast, and before I could drift away to sleep, it was over. After the massage, Shiloh presented me with a light snack of green grapes and cold Wild Cherry Apple cold drink, and walked me back to the Women’s Veranda. (There is also a co-ed Veranda, by the way).

I brought my bathing suit along so I went downstairs to test out the indoor swimming pool. There were a few women already swimming laps, and young couples lounging in the chairs. The pool is heated, but not super hot so I enjoyed swimming there for 15 minutes, admiring the high wooden beams on the ceiling as back stroked. (If you are not a hotel guest, and just get a spa service for the day, you have the option of purchasing a day pass for the pool and fitness center for an additional $25. This is only possible on midweek days, non-holidays, and off-peak times). Despite the rain, I really wanted to check out the heated outdoor mineral pool. It is about the size of a large jacuzzi, and set right outside the spa among the trees. There were a few women soaking in it, but I just went in for a few minutes. It was lovely, but it started to pour so I went back in to take a shower and get ready for the hotel tour.

Made a few wrong turns in the hotel. (It is easy to get lost here if you don’t know your way around).  I made it to the front desk, and met marketing manager Emily McNamara,  who showed me around the hotel to the conference area, Lake Lounge, a Classic room, a Victorian Room, a Lake View suite which includes 2 bathrooms, and finally the prestigious two story Mountain View Suite. Rooms start at $299, based on double occupancy (not including taxes and gratuity which are added on  so you don’t worry about tipping at all during your stay). The rates include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Afternoon Tea and Cookies, and most resort activities (access to hiking trails, yoga, paddle-boarding, tennis, etc).

After the tour, it was time to enjoy the weekday buffet lunch in the elegant Mohonk Dining Room. Last time I dined here was for my husband’s birthday dinner four years ago. I love buffets, and Mohonk puts on a great one with many healthy options (bean salad, grilled salmon, jerked chicken, skirt steak at the carving station, and my favorite, the soft taco station. It was fun people watching. There were families, couples, groups of conference attendees, and girlfriends seated together. There were a few available tables, but it was pretty crowded.  There were many tempting cakes and pies at the dessert table. I really enjoyed the chocolate dulce de leche cashew cake and the lemon poppy cupcakes. I left with a very satisfied belly, and relaxed back and shoulders. The 145 year old Victorian Castle resort has retained its beauty and charm.
Thank you Mohonk Mountain House! I will definitely be back.

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Amardillo’s Bar & Grill in Kingston: Excellent Sangria, hearty dishes & friendly service

Enchilada del marArmadillo's in Kingston

Black Bean and Jack Cheese Tostada with guacamole

We had a delicious Mexican dinner at Armadillo Bar & Grill restaurant on Abeel Street in Kingston last Sunday for Father’s Day. My husband Tom was in the mood for a very hearty meal, and we hadn’t been to Armadillo in over a year even though it’s one of our favorite restaurants. There are just too many good restaurants in Kingston! I know a few people who go here regularly for Sangrias. I ordered one right away. I think the Sangria was a bit strong, but very good. A server gave us chips and homemade salsa soon after. The owner came by with crayons and a kids menu for my daughter who always loves the kids cheese quesadilla. It’s particularly gooey here.

We started with the charred ahi taquito. Tom had the enchilada del mar, which is a huge enchilada stuffed with shrimp, jack cheese, spinach and salsa verde.   I had the vegetarian tostada with black beans, jack cheese, guacamole and sour cream.  They have a good selection of vegetarian dishes here.

The Armadillo Bar & Grill is perfect for a girls night out in Kingston or a family get together. The outdoor patio is great for kids.  We didn’t have room for dessert, but the Fried Ice Cream was very tempting.

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10 Fun Ideas for Father’s Day Weekend in the Hudson Valley

The Beach at Belleayre Lake

1. Grand Cru Beer & Cheese Market in Rhinebeck has a tasting event with Peekskill Brewery. They will be giving away  2 VIP tickets (which are now sold out) to Hudson Valley Brew Festival Beer Bourbon and Bacon Festival. It’s a Dads only give-a-way.

2. Umami Cafe in Croton opens at 1 pm. They will be roasting a whole pig in a”caja china,” slow, moist caribbean style, served with crispy cracklings, black beans, rice and homemade chimichuri sauce. $18 per plate. Dad will like the flan de queso for dessert.

3. Taste of Country Festival in Hunter Mountain–Does your father like country music and mountain air? Check out the Taste of Country Festival taking place in Hunter Mountain, which runs Thursday, June 12th through June 15th.

4. If your father loves a real sushi dinner then make a reservation at Sushi Makio in Kingston. Read my review of Sushi Makio’s Omakase dinner on HVGS.

5. For the outdoorsy Dad, how about the Kingston Kayak Festival happening on Saturday, June 14th from 10 am-4pm. $10 suggested donation or a thrilling 3 hours ziplining at Big Bear Ziplines in Hyde Park.

6. Make Dad jump on the jumping pillow at Kelder’s Farm in Accord.

7. If you want to have a memorable Father’s Day brunch, go to Duo Bistro in Kingston.

8. If Dad isn’t up to sweating by the BBQ, take him out to a barbecue lunch or dinner at the Hickory BBQ Smokehouse on Route 28.

9. If you love Indian cuisine, visit The Red Hook Curry House in Red Hook. The Sunday night buffet starts at 5pm.

10. The weather looks perfect for the weekend so why not take Dad to the Beach at Belleayre Mountain? Paddle boat rentals available. Bring a picnic as food items are limited to kid snacks (chips & ice pops).



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It’s the season for outdoor yoga at Woodstock Shakti Yoga!

Poolside yoga provided by Shakti Yoga in Woodstock

I tried outdoor yoga for the first time last summer with Woodstock Shakti Yoga. During the Summer months, Woodstock Shakti Yoga offers a 9:30 am pool-side yoga Level I/Level II class on the grounds of The Enchanted Manor Inn in Woodstock on Friday mornings. (This was on my Summer wish-list, but there are still quite a few things on my 2013 wish list that I haven’t done. (See the HVGS wish-list or 25 Fun things to Do in the Hudson Valley). It was about 64F when I arrived so I chose a sunny spot next to the pool. I regret that I forgot to put on sunblock because the sun felt strong after a few poses. There were shady spots available, but I wanted to be in the sun. The class flowed just right for me. With the exception of the headstand which I don’t do, I could do all the other poses. Linda Winnick is a straight shooting yoga instructor with a racy sense of humor that helps you get through the challenging poses! As promised to her, I won’t reveal all the yogi jokes. You will have to take a class with her and find out for yourself.  There are no props at the Poolside Yoga. “This is Raw Yoga!” said Winnick when a student asked for a block. Winnick suggested she use one of the potted plants. I think she was joking. Winnick praised one student who used the deck rail for support during a pose. (There are yoga mats available if you don’t have one though).

I really enjoyed this outdoor yoga class. I expected it to be a bit buggy since I have to spray myself with bug spray when I’m out in my yard, but there were only a couple dragon flies, and that was it. It’s a very cool feeling to see nothing but trees when you’re in a back-bend.  Unfortunately, I ran out of the house without thinking about taking my bathing suit. I didn’t know students were allowed to swim in the pool after class. Next time I’ll be prepared. Tip: Bring or wear your bathing suit, put on a bit of sunblock, and bring a water bottle. Class is $16 and you can book it online.

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Tenth Annual Mountain Jam begins!

Gary Chetkof checks out a video clip from Mountain Jam #1

Gary Chetkof, organizer of Mountain Jam

I visited the Radio Woodstock studio last week to interview Gary Chetkof, organizer of Mountain Jam on the celebratory Tenth Annual Mountain Jam Music Festival at Hunter Mountain. It is crunch time-phone calls, staffers stopping to ask questions that only Gary can answer. Chetkof conceived the idea of Mountain Jam when Radio Woodstock was turning 25, and he wanted to throw a one-day concert to celebrate the milestone. He looked at different locations and Hunter Mountain seemed perfect. Back in 2004 about 3300 people came to see 4 bands perform at Hunter Mountain. “I sort of remember when it was over with so many people came up it to me and said you should do this next year. Just evolved spontaneous. It was never like let’s do a big music festival,” says Chetkof.

This year there will be 40 bands, and 15,000 people per day during the 4-day event. The Allman Brothers Band are the big buzz because they are breaking up after 45 years, and plus the festival was named after their great song Mountain Jam.  Chetkof is especially excited about The Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Avett Brothers, Damian  Marley, and Chris Robinson from the Black Crows. For the full line up and schedule visit MountainJam.com.

He works with singer/guitarist Warren Hanes of Gov’t Mule to select the line up for Mountain Jam. “We try to mix and match, the old favorites with the new cutting edge bands so that there is something for everyone. The big thing about Mountain Jam is we go for the real serious musicians, people who can improvise too,” says Chetkof.

There are improvements this year–better camping options, better RV options, VIP perks. “It’s grown to a different level, and it’s exciting to see it all come together. It’s also the most exciting line up we’ve ever had. We’re having a fireworks celebration on Saturday night. There will be collaboration happening between different bands. There’s spontaneity…a band will say, ‘Hey, I see you are playing today, let’s rehearse this song in the dressing room for half an hour,” adds Chetkof. While there are other bands that are planning collaborations ahead of time. (He wouldn’t divulge which bands were already talking).

What is the most important thing for a new Mountain Jam concert go-er to know? “”Come to have a really good time. You’ll meet all kinds of people, people in their 60s, younger people, a really diverse group comes. Be prepared for how you’re going to dress. You can get all 4 seasons in one day at Hunter Mountain,” advises Chetkof.

I asked him if he had any predictions for the 20th year? He laughed. “I just hope it’s still around.  I couldn’t even phathom what the 20th year is going to look like.” The planning is all consuming, and he describes Mountain Jam as “the best and the worst 4 days of my life” as he juggles socializing with people, schmoozing with the bands, and communicating with his team on the ground. “It happens 20 hours a day for 4 straight days. It’s exhilaration, this thing you imagined is happening. That’s why I can’t sleep. I don’t want to miss anything,” says Chetkof. You won’t want to miss it either. Get more information and tickets at MountainJam.com.

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A delicious lunch in Rhinebeck: Review of Gigi Trattoria’s new Spring Menu

Roasted Eggplant with Tzatziki sauce

Ultra Greek Salad

The patio at Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck

Grilled GAMBA shrimp

Chef Wilson Costa & Chef Laura Pensiero

Last week Chef Laura Pensiero, owner of Gigi Hudson Valley invited me to taste Gigi Trattoria’s new Spring menu. I love their pasta dishes, but it was nice to taste lighter dishes as I’ve been trying to cut down on carbs. We started with the Ultra Greek salad appetizer, a fresh take on Greek salad with bulgur, local feta, mint, and olives.  Next we shared a sumptuous side of roasted eggplant with tzatiki sauce.  (I like eggplant, but I’ve never come close to making it taste this good). It melts in your mouth. I asked Pensiero what the secret is. She uses ample olive oil and roasts the eggplant on low heat.  Next came the Gambas Large Grilled Shrimp with smoked paprika, lemon, and Romesco sauce. After enjoying the shrimp, a tuna entree arrived, the Tunisia Abel (corriander and caraway) spiced Ahi tuna, with roasted tomatoes, grilled fennel, fresh herbs, citrus gastric. The tuna, which was served a perfect medium rare, was very tender and delicious. I’m glad I came hungry because after the tuna, came a Half-Roasted Harissa Campanelli Farm Chicken with Morroccan fregola and tzatiki dipping sauce. The chicken skin was crunchy, and nicely spiced.

During the harsh winter, Pensiero and her staff finally had time to catch their breath and focus on how to better serve the growing demand for their catering.  They created the Easy Entertainment Order form so customers can now order ready-to-serve appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, and entrees in half-pans or pans to be delivered to their homes or party location. This is perfect for small groups of 8-20 people. You can also order grill-ready meats or meats that arrive cooked.  Pensiero says many weekenders like the service because it saves them time, if they don’t feel like shopping or cooking. Gigi Hudson Valley also partnered up with event planner Cassandra Ruff, who helps her make the catering “one-stop-shopping” for her clients who want to have beautiful Hudson Valley wedding, but don’t want to spend a year organizing it.

After lunch, I met Executive Chef Wilson Costa who has been with Gigi Trattoria for 9 years.”He and I work in synergy to keep the menus fresh local, and deliciously healthy and relevant,” says Pensiero.

For those who want to get in shape this Summer, Gigi Hudson Valley and Body Be Well Pilates have teamed up to create the 30-Day-Lifestyle Challenge, a pre-paid program that includes 6-days of healthy nutritionally balanced lunches and dinners with “smart carbs” combined with weekly pilates training. (Check out Gigi Hudson Valley’s site for details on pricing). A pilot program received a great response, and 6 people have signed up so far for the current month.

All this to say that whether you are looking for a healthy lunch, indulgent pasta meal, or a catered meal at home for friends, Gigi HudsonValley has you covered! Tell them Hudson Valley Good Stuff sent you. Thank you for the wonderful tasting!

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The Woodstock Farm Festival 2014 season begins

Baked goodies and local tomatoes for sale at the Woodstock Farm Festival



Load up on vegetables at the Woodstock Farm Festival

Woodstock Farm Festival Wednesdays started on May 28th and will run until October 22nd for the 2014 season, from 3:30pm until dusk.  It’s a lovely community scene, and as one vendor says, it seems to get bigger and bigger every month.  If you drive by, it just looks like a small farmers market, but there is large area behind the market that has a few more vendors, a few restaurant stands, a live band, and a dozen or so picnic tables to dine at.  It’s very relaxed and kid-friendly.

Last summer, on a hot August Wednesday, the scene was chaotic at 6pm.. I felt like I was on one of those chef shows where the competitors are thrown into a camping setting and are scrambling to put the finishing touches on rustic dishes. There were 3 teams: Chef Curt Robair, executive chef at Menla Mountain Retreat, Chef Kiran Ramgotra-Sancious,, and Chef/consultant Ritchie Kim. These were all talented local chefs, who each had a sous chef, were taking part in the Chef Challenge for local bragging rights, fun, and to entertain shoppers. (The Chef Challenge is an annual event at the Woodstock Farm Festival market).

The chefs were given 15 minutes to spend $50 at the farmers market for food that would used in their dishes. Categories to be judged: most creative, most economical, best use of market ingredients, favorite dish among the judges, easiest, and most family friendly. In October, the farmers market hosted a pumpkin pie contest. Seven pies were entered, and for a few dollars you could get a small bite of each of them and cast your vote. Sign up for the newsletter to get the scoop on what kind of contests or events they have planned. Yesterday they had a Rhubarb contest!

If you happen to be in Woodstock on Wednesdays from  3:30 to dusk, you should defnitely check it out. WoodstockFarmFestival.com.

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Enzo’s Ristorante & Pizza in Kingston: Gluten-free goodness, yummy salads & friendly service

Enzo's Ristorante & Pizza in Kingston

Yummy 10 inch pepperoni pizza

Grilled Chicken Salad

Chicken Manhattan

Enzo’s Ristorante and Pizza at 207 Boices Lane is one of those places that I have driven by a million times, but I had never there until last Sunday. Last month I went to a kids birthday party at MAC Park and pizza was served. Just as all the kids were getting their slices, one mom presented her son with his very own personal pizza which looked really good. Her son has a gluten-allergy, and she told me that had stopped by Enzo’s Pizza to pick a gluten-free pizza for her son so he wouldn’t have to miss out on the pizza. She told me to check out Enzo’s for their food too so I made mental note to try it next time we had a craving for a family pizza night out.

Last Sunday, we finally made it to Enzo’s. It was very lively and crowded so I was happy that the server was able to seat us in a large booth in the back where it was quiet. It’s a very spacious and welcoming dining space.

We ordered a medium pepperoni pizza, Chicken Manhattan for my husband, an antipasto salad, and a grilled chicken salad, and two cups of soup. (I tasted 27 cupcakes at the Gardiner Cupcake Festival as a media judge a few hours prior so I was not very hungry, but I was craving a savory dish). The grilled chicken salad with Sante Fe rolls was perfect: fresh guacamole, very tender chicken over greens. I gave the egg rolls to my husband. We had plenty of pizza to take home as it is thick crust style and filling. Our server was very friendly, and our food came out quickly. While we didn’t try the gluten-free pizza, I have heard that it is very good, and the menu also offers other good gluten-free options. I’d recommend Enzo’s if you are looking for a friendly pizza place with gluten-free options. They also have a micro-brewery there. The bill came out to $41 which I thought was very reasonable considering the amount of food we ate and the good quality. Do check them out!

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12 Fun ideas for Memorial Day Weekend in the Hudson Valley

The Sky Ride at Hunter Mountain

Memorial Day Weekend is 4 days away. Thankfully it is finally starting to feeling like it’s almost summer time in the Hudson Valley. Here are 12 ideas to help you get your holiday weekend and unofficial Summer off to a good start.

1. Belleayre Beach in Pine Hill opens up May 24th for weekends only until June 14th. The beach will be open 7 days a week beginning June 14th. You can rent a paddle boat here too. The snack bar is pretty limited (just chips and ice cream pops) so if you are hungry, bring your lunch in a cooler.

2. Hunter Mountain’s Scenic Sky Ride will be opening on Memorial Day Weekend. $11 for ages 13 and up. $7 for kids 7-12. The ride takes 11 minutes each way, and operates weather permitting.

3. Jump on a Jumping Pillow at Kelder’s Farm and pose with the World’s Second Largest Garden Gnome.

4. Coming up for the weekend in the Rhinebeck/Kingston area and want to eat in, but don’t feel like cooking and shopping? Gigi Hudson Valley has a new online catering form that lets you order grill-ready meats, delicious hot and ready-to-serve gourmet mediterannean dishes, and can deliver it right to your door. There is delivery charge that goes by GPS distance, and online orders should be made 4 days in advance.

5. The Trolley Museum of NY (Kingston Trolley Museum) will be open Saturday, Sunday, and Memorial Day from 12 noon – 5pm. Great family fun for young train buffs. Regular admission includes trolley ride and museum exhibits. ($6 for adults)

6. The Kingston Farmers Market in Uptown Kingston will be open on May 24th from 9 am -2pm on on Wall Street in Kingston. Afterwards you can walk over to Duo Bistro for a gourmet brunch or lunch.

7. If you are in the Woodstock area, check out  the annual Bob Dylan’s birthday celebration to benefit Family of Woodstock Crisis Hotline at Bearsville Theater on Saturday, May 24th at 9pm.

8. Go to an old fashioned Memorial Day parade in Rhinebeck on May 26th, starting at 9:15 am.

9. Hang out with very very huggable rescued farm animals at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. They are open on Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm.

10. Looking for really good restaurants to dine out during the holiday weekend or for date night? Check out my Date Night reviews in the “EAT” section for ideas. These are restaurants I would eat at every week if I could!

11. Rent a Harley at Woodstock Harley Davidson! (They are closed on Monday).

12. Simone Felice is having a record release concert party at BSP Kingston on May 24th, with Simi Stone opening up for him. This is going to be a great show!

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