4 Towns, 4 Tasty New Reasons to Visit

First published in The New York Times on November 17, 2010. Read the original with comments here.

Preston Hollow

Bees Knees Cafe

For nearly 200 years, the old farmhouse on Broome Center Road has been the heart of Heather Ridge, a working farm in the Catskills town of Preston Hollow. For the last year, it’s also been home to the Bees Knees Cafe. Open only for lunch on Saturdays, it is a culinary showcase for local farmers, beekeepers, cheese makers and butchers.


As you’d expect in a farmhouse, service is relaxed. On a visit in July, we placed our order in the kitchen, grabbed a pitcher of fresh black currant lemonade and staked out one of four picnic tables to await our food. Many of the preparations were simple and highlighted the freshness of the ingredients: a panini of thinly sliced, delicious beef, served rare, with a farmstead cheese and grilled onions; a hearty beef and pork chili over a fresh-baked corn muffin. But there was also complexity, as in the smooth summer squash and chèvre custard, which we paired with a refreshing cold cucumber, yogurt and dill soup.

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Carol Clement, a co-owner of Heather Ridge and Bees Knees, made an announcement: “We’ve got five new goat kids.” She invited us to see them after lunch.

When asked what on our plates wasn’t local, it took her a moment to respond. “The lemons,” she finally said with a laugh.

Between Memorial Day and Columbus Weekend, Bees Knees serves food on the front lawn, which overlooks the peaks and valleys of the Catskills. The menu changes weekly. During the winter (or inclement weather), the tables are moved inside, and a smaller menu features a selection of hearty soups, stews and breads. In warmer weather, a tour of the farm is offered one Saturday a month. In the winter, tours can be arranged on an informal basis.

Many of the dishes and their ingredients are available in bulk at the farm store in the same building. We took home a quart of chili, two pints of currants, a dozen eggs and a backpack full of meat. When we exclaimed over the honey-vanilla ice cream that topped a hot slice of blueberry cobbler, Ms. Clement said she could make us a pint if we gave her a day. (Customers can also order ahead via phone or e-mail.)

But one of the most welcome things at Bees Knees is not on the menu, and cannot be taken home with you: there is no cellphone reception. The only buzzing comes from the beehives on the back porch.

Bees Knees Cafe, 989 Broome Center Road; (518) 239-6234. Average meal for two, without drinks or tip, about $25.

New Orleans

Mike’s on the Avenue

Vicky Bayley, a co-owner of Mike’s on the Avenue, believes the New Orleans post-Katrina, post-spill restaurant scene is stronger and more innovative than ever.

“Sometimes when you lose everything, you take more chances, because you’re not afraid anymore,” she said.

If anyone can speak to the evolution of New Orleans restaurants, it’s Ms. Bayley. Together with Mike Fennelly, chef and co-owner, she opened the original Mike’s on the Avenue in 1991 and was credited by many with bringing Asian fusion to New Orleans. After a successful decade, they closed Mike’s to pursue other projects. Now, 10 years later, the two have reunited in the same location, right off the bustling French Quarter.

“It was like coming home,” Mr. Fennelly said. “I had done my wanderlust and ran all over the world — and I got sick of it.”

New Orleans has welcomed them back with open arms — and mouths. Memory, however, exerted a pull. During a visit earlier this year, two months after they opened, they said they still had patrons looking for favorite dishes from the old restaurant. “Where’s your oyster burrito? And where’s the brioche bread pudding?” were common questions, Ms. Bayley said. (They’ve adjusted the menu multiple times, and the bread pudding has mounted a successful comeback.)

But this Mike’s on the Avenue has also evolved. Mr. Fennelly cites his travels, including five years spent in Hawaii soaking up Polynesian culture, as his inspiration for the current menu. The rich sweetness of lilikoi, a Hawaiian variety of passion fruit, is infused in several dishes, including a dense and delicious cheesecake and a green-tea mint-rubbed double-cut pork chop with a lilikoi glaze. And contrary to what you might expect in New Orleans, all of the fish used for sushi is flown in daily from Honolulu.

But while the menu reflects Mr. Fennelly’s travels, it also melds them with the flavors of Louisiana. Mike’s crispy duck may feature shiitake mushrooms, but it’s served over brown rice with chunks of tasso, a Cajun ham, and andouille sausage. And the sushi box appetizer includes a Cajun crab roll.

Although the location is the same, the space, too, has changed. Half of what was once Mike’s is now Twist Cocktails, a bar and private event space. Serving half the number of patrons was a conscious choice, Mr. Fennelly said. “As a chef, doing 100 people at a time versus 200 is much better. We have so much more control.”

Like New Orleans itself, Mike’s is back — just a touch smaller and with a twist.

Mike’s on the Avenue, 628 St. Charles Avenue; (504) 523-7600; mikesontheavenue.com. An average dinner for two, without drinks or tip, is about $70.