Catskills Magic

Rediscover the lure of this once-popular New York destination, with its quaint towns, fine dining and breathtaking mountain views -- all on a budget

$500 Getaway

November 26, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,[Sun reporter]

THINK FARMHOUSE CHIC. Farm stands beside boutiques with New York's finest designer brands. Pricey res-taurants down the street from lawns with rusting cars. Mountains looming over streams in towns with no streetlights. Local residents so against cell phone towers that your mobile just might not work there.

Get over it.

This is the Catskills, that famed resort region between New York City and the Adirondack Mountains, a place with just enough cachet to have trendy shops and fine dining but enough edge and quirkiness to make you feel like you're in a real place with real people and this is your own little secret.

Only it's not. Though the grandeur of bygone days has long faded, the Catskills is back. Only not in a Hamptons, blow-your-$500-getaway-budget-in-a-half-day kind of way.

So my husband, Jon, and I were confident when we set out to the Catskills for our two-night weekend getaway that we would have more than enough to do and would easily stay within our budget (and we did, albeit barely).

We left on a brisk Friday in October, hoping to bypass messy tristate rush hour traffic by taking the longer but scenic route via Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, construction and an accident stretched our 300-plus-mile commute into a nearly six-hour affair. Still, the scenic countryside, blanketed with emerald green fields of grass and colorful marigolds and pastures of grazing cows and horses, made for a pleasant trip. Not to mention the longer route cost a lot less in tolls.

We drove through the quaint downtown of Saugerties, N.Y., and three miles to our hotel, the Bluestone Country Manor.

I was a little nervous about it because I made the reservations that morning after a misunderstanding with another bed-and-breakfast. It was a holiday weekend, after all, and still two out of four rooms were open. But at $119 per night, plus taxes, it was an offer I couldn't resist.

John Lynch, the well-meaning owner, greeted us just inside the door. A musty smell lingered as we walked up the stairs but the impressive view of mountains from an enclosed porch was enough to compensate.

Our room was spacious and clean, but a little worn around the edges. The decor was questionable. (Read: the ratty stuffed teddy bear, not so cute).

We dumped our stuff and decided to take a quick peek at the downtown before venturing off for dinner.

Time to dine

The town of Saugerties is a Mayberry-esque kind of place. Squat, brick buildings house everything from high-end delis and a bookshop to boutiques and a gas station that serves root beer floats.

A few restaurants are clustered downtown but we had our sights set on New World Home Cooking.

Just a 10-minute drive away, the popular restaurant started by Ric Orlando sits between the towns of Saugerties and Woodstock (yes, that Woodstock).

It's famous for its spice-o-meter, known as a Ric-ter scale, where patrons can order food customized to their own taste buds. For me, that's a tall order.

The spacious restaurant has boldly colored tables and paintings, dim lighting and waiters with a bit of that New York edge. The food is creative and fresh, a fusion of Southern, Mexican and Asian flavors. The presentation is elegant and the space funky, making for a festive environment with a diverse clientele. (We were sitting next to a table of what looked like Harley-Davidson motorcycle bikers.)

Our meal started with bread with a delicious white bean dip, and a waiter with a little bit of an attitude. ("Here's a sharper knife, in case you need one," he said with a seemingly sly smile before my main meal came out.)

We started with pumpkin fritters topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fontinella cheese. Delicious.

The Ric-ter Scale ranges from 1 to 10. My husband convinced me that the nine-10, described as "over the top, for aficionados and thrill seekers only!!" wouldn't be a good idea.

So I opted for an eight, described as "authentic Caribe, S.E. Asian or Central American style ... balanced ... the real thing."

Well, apparently I am a thrill seeker as the marinated boneless breast jerk chicken was not too hot for me. (OK, full disclosure, my nose was running a little by the end of the meal but I could have easily handled a 10.)

The chicken was marinated in a sauce inspired by the Arawak tribe in Jamaica, according to the menu. It was served over a generous heap of rice and beans and sweet potatoes and had a nice, flavorful kick to it.

Jon ordered the tropical grilled mahi-mahi fillet with yucca fries, black beans, a tropical fruit salsa and banana rum ketchup. Both meals were large, too big even for our very hungry appetites. The damage: $57.52, tip and all.

We left full and happy, stumbling into a starry sky and winding roads with no street lights.

Busy day

The morning brought with it a stunning mountain view from our room's large windows. A minor problem also arose: the water wasn't working. The owner got the water working for about 30 minutes - just long enough for us to shower - before it stopped again.

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