129 Washington Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Phn: 845 452 3501
I have wonderful memories of 129 Washington Street. Years ago it housed a great little Italian restaurant called Carmine’s which was down the block from my office. Carm was a retired school teacher who always wanted to run a restaurant. He didn’t want to make a lot of money; he just wanted to have a small local place, serve decent food, schmooze with the local neighborhood customers at his six seat bar, and have something to do during retirement. He built out the space next to his brother’s deli – Assenza’s – and lit the open sign. That’s when his troubles began. Word got around about Carmine’s and before you could “stay standing room only”, Carm was jammed. We made the mistake of giving him a great review in the Poughkeepsie Journal, which only compounded his problems. You couldn’t get near the place. He was so angry he wouldn’t talk to me. He closed up shop and moved to Florida. I never heard from him again.
The new proprietors at 129 Washington Street are going to suffer the same fate if they’re not careful. Crave is, as they say, “the talk of the town”. I can only hope that they are in it for the money. Chef owner Edward Kowalski is no stranger to the area. He also runs Lola’s Catering next door, which quickly established itself as one of the premier caterer’s in the Hudson Valley. At Crave he surrounded himself with a team of Culinary alums in the kitchen – Catherine Williams and Craig Capano. If this seems like overkill for a twenty eight seat dining room, you’re right, but it shows. He moved the bar to the back of the dining room, which makes for a quieter dining experience than Carmine’s. It also offers a really comfortable space to stop for a cocktail or glass of wine before you get started. The ambience is very well thought out. The space is beautifully designed – with just enough lighting and candle lit brick walls in the dining room. The music playlist is as well thought out as the décor. I’ve read that the restaurateurs will design their playlist around the customer age group that they are trying to reach. A professional musicologist will develop the list based upon what the target audience would have been listening to when they were fourteen - a freshman in high school. That is the music that tugs at your heart strings, and I guess, makes you hungrier. I’m not sure what Mr. Kowalski’s a target audience is because the music during the last few visits was classic jazz from the thirties and forties. This is right up my alley, and I assure the reader that it predates my freshman year in high school. All in all, it makes for a wonderful setting.
On our last few visits the dining room was tended to by an old restaurant pro – Al Squillante, who in a former life owned the Meeting House in Pawling, and a really long time ago, ran the kitchen at Ward’s Bridge Inn in Montgomery, Orange County. Ward’s Bridge, circa 1983, remains on my all time “top ten - fun places to eat” list.
We stopped into Crave again on our weekly Wednesday outing. After a glass of pinot at the bar, we settled in to peruse the menu and hear about the specials. The regular menu includes ten appetizers and ten entrees. They usually offer a few specials every night.
Since the restaurant opened four months ago, I think we have tried most of them without a single disappointment. One of the appetizers is a brussel sprout salad ($9), served with Serrano ham, and tossed with pecans and cranberries. The restaurant may not be aware of it, but this has become their signature dish. Very often, when people talk to me about Crave, this is how they start the conversation – “Have you tried the brussel sprout salad at Crave?”, like it is the reason to go there. Go figure. For my money, the signature dish should be the Pork Belly Arepa ($11). Arepa is a traditional Columbian corn meal cake, but that’s the easy part. Making a proper pork belly requires a long, long, very low temperature slow roast to render out the fat that is an integral part of the belly. It is also an integral part of the flavor so you don’t want to waste it, but it takes hours and hours to cook it down and make it right. Crave makes it right. One of my passions is barbecue (see www.northcountrybbq.com), and it can take eight to ten hours at 180 degrees to make this dish right. But it is so worth the wait. For anyone searching for even higher cholesterol content we have foie gras ($15), once banned in Chicago, but perfectly legal in Poughkeepsie. Crave plates it with baby fennel and candied kumquat. Another great dish is the beet salad ($9), served with baby arugula, walnuts, tangerines, with a vinaigrette dressing.
Crave offers three types of fish in the regular menu, and often will serve an additional fish special. Choices include seared wild salmon ($22) served with wilted spinach, or red snapper ($21) with charred fennel. Recently we had a very nicely prepared sea bass offered as a special. The braised short ribs ($25) served with cauliflower puree will make you forget its winter, and they’ll be disappearing soon with the summer menus so we should have our fill now. On our most recent visit I enjoyed one of the better pork chop dishes that I have had in some time. Actually I stopped ordering pork chops in restaurants many years ago. The pork they raise now is so lean that the leaner cuts – like pork chops – are invariably dry and tasteless. The other dishes that I had ordered here were all better than expected, so I took the chance last Wednesday. The chop was a double cut, the rib bones frenched, and the chop seared to perfection with a moist tender flavorful center. Wonderful stuff!
I forgot to mention the wine. Crave offers a very well chosen list of affordable wines. With the exception of a Silver Oak Cab at $92, and a Cakebread Chardonnay at $65, most bottles are priced at under $40, and offer some very nice choices - over thirty in all. We enjoyed two Spanish offerings, a Martin Codax Albarino ($27),and a Rivolo, a tempranillo cabernet blend for $32. Other reds include a pinot noir from Mark West ($30) and Rodney Strong ($38), cabernets from Beringer Knight’s Valley ($35) and, Markham ($46). The only French offering was a Ch Mont Redon Cote du Rhone ($28). I’d like to see a Macon or a Sancerre please, but that’s just me. Space is at a premium I guess.
You must remember that Crave has a twenty eight seat dining room so we can’t all go this Saturday. The outdoor patio will be open soon enough and that will free up some space. Crave is participating in Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, which runs from March 15 through March 28. Reservations are strongly recommended.