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Valley Gal

Take a journey to the Hudson Valley with legendary food writer Ruth Reichl
Tasting Table's Hudson Valley Roadtrip
Photo: Courtesy of Dave Katz

“Red, yellow, gold leaves gently drift onto emerald lawn. Wind rustles. Baked apple: brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, cream. A new day.” —@ruthreichl

Turning Tweets into poetry isn't something a writer typically gets away with—unless you’re Ruth Reichl, the pioneering food writer who needs no introduction. A few hours after sharing her lovely fall vision, Reichl met TT for lunch in Hudson, New York, where we got a firsthand look at the beauty of the area. As her carefully chosen words convey, it was one of those picture-perfect days that makes you wonder how you ever thought summer was your favorite season.

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At her suggestion, we met at Backbar, a recently opened Malaysian spot by James Beard Award-winning chef Zak Pelaccio, of the now-closed but fondly remembered Fatty Crab in NYC. He’s also the chef behind nearby Fish & Game, which attracts a regular stream of out-of-towners for its acclaimed farm-to-table fare. Backbar, on the other hand, is for locals—a fitting place for Reichl, who has owned a house in the Hudson Valley for 20 years, to give us a taste of her world upstate.

Sunglasses. Dark, long hair falling over a charcoal-gray turtleneck. Smiling. Elbow perched on a sunlit picnic table. (See? It's impossible to make 140 characters sound good as she does.) From the minute we sat down together, she was as welcoming and disarming as her writing—poetic Tweets and all.

As rounds of shaved pork shoulder laab (see the recipe) and fried potatoes appeared on the table, we got to know the former New York Times food critic and editor of Gourmet, who’s currently working on a memoir about the latter. We discussed the oddly satisfying ritual of self-imposed, crappy airplane food. We talked about the perpetually changing New York restaurant scene and the unyielding increase of already-impossible rents. We hung on every word as she alluded to a night with Barbara Lynch, when she learned all about the Boston chef's life story over oysters and Champagne. And we talked babka. Reichl’s favorite used to come from a now-closed Lower East Side bakery, so she's turned to Breads Bakery, which she first heard about from an exuberant Mimi Sheraton. You don't ignore a recommendation from Sheraton, Reichl noted, even if the babka is untraditional. And when we asked if she ever missed being a restaurant critic, she answered with a definitive "no."

We also heard about life in the Hudson Valley—how special it is to have food like curried crab soup and fish balls coming out of Backbar's kitchen. Or Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions and Bonfiglio & Bread. With gems like these opening up alongside old favorites like Serevan—a Middle Eastern restaurant in Amenia, New York, that Reichl recommends—it’s easy to see why she doesn’t miss a thing. The Hudson Valley is a treasure map for food lovers.

After lunch with Reichl, we spent an epic afternoon on our own exploring the region.

Next stop: Matchbox Cafe in Rhinebeck—home not only to the red velvet cake Oprah calls one of her Favorite Things, but also to a Butterfinger brownie so decadent it's labeled "banned by Bloomberg," NYC's trans fat-fighting mayor. The biggest surprise at this tiny roadside spot, however, was the burger, which put many a New York City pattie to shame.

After feasting on desserts and burgers (otherwise known as a post-lunch snack), we headed to Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, the first place in the Hudson Valley to grow vinifera grapes, which are used in most of the world’s wine. Pro tip: Snag a table on the balcony of the second-floor tasting room, where you can gaze out over rows of grapevines and the picturesque valley below.

With the sun setting, it was time to scramble to the beloved Fishkill Farms to pick apples and eat apple cider doughnuts. The intoxicating smell of doughnuts frying greeted us immediately as did the view of rolling orchards for miles.

With so much to do, see and taste all in a setting this beautiful, it’s not hard to understand why many are trading in their MetroCards and heading upstate. Just take it from Reichl:

“Pork filled fish balls with fat noodles in intense curried crab broth. Back bar in Hudson. So good!” —@ruthreichl

  • Team Tasting Table with Ruth Reichl at Backbar in Hudson, New York.

  • Backbar, Zak Pelaccio’s Malaysian restaurant in Hudson, New York.

  • Curried crab soup with pork-filled fish balls at Backbar.

  • TT’s Devra Ferst with Ruth Reichl at Backbar.

  • TT’s Alison Spiegel, Jake Cohen and Abby Reisner at Backbar.

  • TT's Jane Frye enjoying turmeric-marinated squid and bok choy at Backbar.

  • Matchbox Cafe in Rhinebeck, New York.

  • Joann Cohen at Matchbox Cafe in Rhinebeck, New York.

  • One of the best burgers in the Hudson Valley, from Matchbox Cafe in Rhinebeck.

  • The infamous “banned by Bloomberg” Butterfinger brownie and red velvet cake, a favorite of Oprah’s.

  • Grapes on the vine at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

  • A collection of wine bottles at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

  • TT’s Jane Frye, Alison Spiegel and Jake Cohen soak in a lesson on Hudson wine at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

  • Wine tasting at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

  • TT’s Abby Reisner feelin’ festive at Fishkill Farms.

  • Pumpkins on pumpkins at Fishkill Farms.

  • TT videographer Margaret Lunetta hard at work at Fishkill Farms.

  • Apples to apples at Fishkill Farms.

  • Part of the sprawling apple orchard at Fishkill Farms.

  • TT’s Jake Cohen getting the perfect apple cider doughnut shot at Fishkill Farms.

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