Sunday, March 29, 2009

Burger Joint

If you're a fan of a good old burger, once in awhile, you should give Uncle Chippie's a try. Located in Red Hook's cheap-date quadrangle between Holy Cow and the Lyceum 6, Chippie's does burgers, fries and Cokes. It's a mom-and-pop shop run by Chip and Cathy Slesinski of Tivoli.

Chip is a kid from Brooklyn who grew up on White Castle. Not being from Brooklyn, or anywhere near there, I never acquired the taste, but the Uncle Chippie Slyder is popular with those who did. It's a funny looking little thing. Kind of squarish and flat, as you might have guessed. The little guy loved it. I'm thinking its the "special seasoning powder" which Chip dusts on the thing that keeps kids coming back for seconds.

Bigger people might be better off with a real burger. Chip gets his beef from the local slaughterhouse in Pine Plains, as he says, one beast at a time. If you're eating meat, you may as well know where it's coming from. And certified organic grass-fed beef from a farm in Ancramdale is available, if you ask for it.

The menu started simply enough, but within the year, Chip has added lots of stuff to his burgers. You can get yours with chili, jalapeno, blue cheese, tzatsiki, peanut butter, stroganoff, or chow mein. Yes, peanut butter, stroganoff, or chow mein.

Crazy me. I got a cheeseburger. And it was good. This is not your lettuce-tomato-onion-mayo burger. This is the old ketchup-pickle-onion burger. No messy vegetables to slide out of the bun. Warning, the fresh cut fries are HUGE. A large basket would feed a family of five. And they would devour every last one, quite happily.

Feed your soul. Order a Coke. Or an egg cream. And Chip will have shakes by summer. Just add another day at the gym.

Chip's regulars are a mix of families with kids, high school kids who park themselves in a booth to nibble and giggle, and Bard students who roll in a bit later. The proximity to Holy Cow cannot be overlooked. Make that two more days at the gym.

Chat with Chip a little bit, and you can see this guy really likes food. He is a deli man and was hunting around for a deli location about a year ago. Get him talking about a deli, and you'll get hungry. He imagines great food smells coming out of the kitchen and a big deli case full of beautiful mounds of this and that. He almost went to Tivoli - too bad for us. But, he found this location on Route 9, looked north and south, saw delis all around and settled on burgers (chicken, turkey and vegan burgers also available). Give one a try.

Uncle Chippie's Old Fashioned Burger Shop is located on Route 9 at Old Farm Road. Open Tues. - Wed. 10:30 to 8:00, Thurs. - Sat. 10:30 to 9:00, Sun. 11:30 to 8:00. Summer hours later Thurs. - Sat. 845-758-3070. Free delivery.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Aroi Means 'Delicious'

What's the best meal you ate this week?

Mine was this lovely assemblage from Aroi, the Thai restaurant in Rhinebeck. Squid salad with fresh mint, cilantro, lime and chilis. The sweet-salty-fishy-spicy thing is something Thai people have mastered. It's an acquired taste to some American palates, but acquire it. No American salad will tickle your taste buds like this one.

Since I lived in Thailand for three years, people are always asking me what I think of the food at Aroi. I have to say that I am biased. 1. because the Thai food I ate every day at open air markets and from street carts can never be made here, and 2. because I love Apichart and Suphat, who own Aroi.

What I love about Aroi is that every time I walk in, the ladies from the kitchen come out to take my son into their arms. He is, as my Thai friends say, "luk khern" or a "half-child." He calls himself a Thai boy, and at Aroi he is embraced as all children in Thailand are. When I lived there, pushing my stroller from mango stand to noodle cart, I was regularly stopped on the sidewalk by teenage boys cooing at my baby. Hasn't happened here, I can tell you.

I also love chatting with Suphat and Apichart. They are from Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand. The kitchen is full of their family, and it makes me homesick just to hear their soft voices and sweet sense of humor. As in Thailand, everyone who works in the restaurant lives upstairs. Their son plays with his Legos in the back room. Family life, work, and friends are one big soup.

But, it's the food you really want to know about. Thai people often make a tactical error when preparing food for farang, as they call us. They hold back the strong flavors. In Thailand, you are invariably asked, "Can you eat Thai food?" Literally, can you take the heat? You say, yes. They still take it easy on you. Aroi suffered a bit from this problem when it first opened. Customers complained about fishy-ness, and as a result dried shrimp rarely appear in dishes. Unfortunate, because a lot of flavor is lost. With time, Aroi has begun to trust our ability to "eat Thai food." The flavors are now much closer to "Thai for Thai" as they call it, as opposed to "Thai for farang."

So, what to order? You don't have to be a talented cook to make a decent Thai curry at home, since high quality curry pastes are available everywhere. And, Thai people just don't eat spring rolls and satay. Sure, they can be found, but they are hardly culinary staples. If you want a real taste of Thai food, order salad. The larb at Aroi is divine. Cold chicken, beef or tofu (I vote beef) sliced very thin and tossed with lime, chili, herbs and roasted rice powder. In Thailand, this is so strongly flavored that you'd be inclined to accept the Thai whiskey offered with it. (Thank goodness we're in Rhinebeck.) For soups try Tom Kha Gai, or chicken soup with Thai ginger. It's spot on. Thai people extol the virtues of the herbs in this soup as a cure for all ills.

The desserts at Aroi are fabulous. Thais don't eat chocolate and have only recently developed a taste for coffee, so there won't be anything on the menu to plop a birthday candle into. Thai desserts are SWEET. As we like to say in our house, SA-WEET. Pumpkin custard with sticky rice and mango with sticky rice balance sweetness with coconut milk and a hint of salt. You must. You really must.

And, don't forget to eat your rice. It is polite in Thai culture to taste a spoonful of rice before eating any other dish. The steamed jasmine rice at Aroi is perfect. Don't even think of ordering brown. Eat your rice. Eat lots of it, and you will be happy.

Aroi Thai Restaurant is at 55 E. Market St. in Rhinebeck. Phone 845-876-1114. Hours are Thursday to Monday 11:30 to 3 and 5 to 9; Tuesday and Wednesday 5 to 9. Take-out is very popular.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Boiling Off

If your sap buckets have been running over, this was the perfect weekend for a boil off. The days were warm and sunny. The wood smoke smelled fabulous. And the kids were happy just to roll around in the leaves (and get tangled in the tubing dripping sap into the collecting barrels).

Our friend Craig has been doing this for about a decade, and his system is simple perfection. His evaporation pans are old catering trays. He welded the fire box himself, and the grills inside are from Roger Hoffman's in Red Hook (more on Roger's one day soon). This winter's ice storm provided plenty of downed wood, and Craig's wife Jane cleverly warmed crepes by the fire. Pretty nice way to spend an afternoon.

The boiling requires constant tending. The fresh sap is filtered through a little cheesecloth and runs in a thin stream into the boiling pan. Craig's clever old pot adaptation keeps the cold sap from killing the rolling boil in the evaporator. Still, with four pans, a hot spot on the fire and some skimming of foam once in awhile, it takes a watchful eye to get an even boil and keep the syrup level high in the pans.

The end result is this sweet, slightly smokey elixir of spring. Hope you had some too!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

At Last

Oh, the sweet taste of spring. And, did you smell the mud today? Glorious, earthy mud. The red-winged blackbirds are rustling around in the cattails beside the pond. And, in a couple of weeks the sweet chirping of peepers. Oh, those peepers.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Loop

Around Tivoli, we just call it The Loop. A 2.5 mile circumnavigation of the square-mile Village's north side. Simply put that's Broadway to North Road to Sengstack Lane to Woods Road to Broadway. We keep the water tower over our left shoulder and walk counter-clockwise. Don't ask me why. But, we do. If you go the other way, it's just, well... wrong.

The Loop will take you less than 40 minutes. For me, it's a bit longer. You know me, always stopping for a closer look at some electric green moss or varmint bones. I've seen wild turkeys, a piliated woodpecker, deer (spare me), a couple of snakes and a painted turtle.

All this is lovely, but it is not why we go. You see, this little Village has eyes and ears. Not much goes unnoticed (and if we wanted unnoticed, we'd live in the city). Get yourself out onto Sengstack Lane with nothing but meadow around you. Let the sun shine on your face and the wind whip around your coat hem and your mind opens up. You can say anything out there. Who's to hear?

And then there's the Hemlock Woods. At the end of the meadow. Out of the sunshine and in to woody twilight. Your pace will slow, and your eye will be drawn to the spaces between the trees. You'll hear more clearly than out in the open. And here you will distill the essence of your open air thoughts. This is why we go.