Discover more than a dozen tasty things to do in the Catskills that will make your Hudson Valley getaway extra special. You can do one or all of them while your friends are climbing mountains.
The Catskills is having a moment thanks to its close proximity to New York City and its vast swaths of undeveloped nature. Scores of weekend warriors make the short journey each week, with some ultimately planting roots in the popular Hudson Valley destination.
Popularity isn’t new to the Catskills. Once the home of the famed Borscht Belt, memorialized in both Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel, the region now draws fun seekers more for its hiking trails and ski resorts than for (now deceased) hotels like The Concord and Grossinger’s.
Where Are the Catskills?
Located in southeast New York State and spread over four different counties (Delaware, Greene, Sullivan and Ulster), the Catskills’ key cities include Bethel, Catskill, Kingston, Margaretville, New Paltz, Phoenicia, Saugerties, Windham and Woodstock. The region is approximately 100 miles northwest of New York City and 40 miles southwest of Albany, the state’s capital city.
Our motivations for visiting the The Catskills were different from most who make the hour and a half drive from NYC. We don’t live in Manhattan or Brooklyn and we weren’t looking to hike or ski in the Catskill Mountains. Although we love nature, we don’t generally build our vacation itineraries around it.
Instead, our main goal was to visit Mindi’s sister and explore the area that she now calls home. And, of course, we wanted to experience all aspects of the Catskills food scene.
It didn’t take us long to figure out the three words that best describe food in the Catskills – local, seasonal and sustainable. The region has a lot of farms and that’s where most its food originates.
Accordingly, farm-to-table dining is the norm both at upscale Catskills eateries as well as at down-and-dirty diners. When it comes to shopping, a plethora of independent markets stock raw honey and fresh syrup on shelves next to three figure canvas shopping bags.
Yes, we actually saw a canvas shopping bag with a $105 price tag. No, we didn’t buy it.
Our Favorite Catskills Food Experiences
Eating our way through the Catskills was an ambitious proposition that involved a lot of driving and a well-funded credit card. Not only are the different towns spread apart by great distances, but food prices are the opposite of cheap at most of Catskills restaurants, cafes and bars.
After giving both our car and our wallets a work out, these were our favorite food activities in The Catskills and the ones that we recommend to fellow food travelers:
1. Stop For Lunch At The Phoenicia Diner
The Phoenicia Diner looks like it’s stuck in time but you should taste the food before drawing any conclusions.
Located in Long Island for two decades before it moved to The Catskills, the diner’s building resembles a million diners in New York and New Jersey. However, looks can be deceiving. Current owner Michael Cioffi and his team have created a hip spot where breakfast is served all day and bourbon can be added to milkshakes.
Following the Catskills playbook, this upscale diner sources many of its ingredients from local farms and transforms them into American comfort food favorites like club sandwiches, smashed burgers and breakfast burritos. However, the Phoenicia Diner menu also features trendy avocado toast, New Orleans style po boys and deconstructed pot pies.
During our lunch, Daryl ordered a spicy chicken sandwich loaded with fried chicken, bravas sauce, blue cheese and fixings. Mindi took advantage of the all-day breakfast menu and opted for fruit-topped pancakes with no regrets.
Fresh and tasty, that lunch is difficult for us to forget and not just because of the food. Our host, Mindi’s sister Amy, gifted us with Phoenicia Diner t-shirts and Daryl is sporting his all over Lisbon. Thanks Amy!
Check out the daily specials before you place your order.
The Phoenicia Diner is located at 5681 NY-28, Phoenicia, NY 12464, United States.
2. Eat Awesome Pizza
Ollie’s Pizza operates out of a converted barn that dates back to 1850, has a yard filled with picnic tables and serves pizza that rivals the best pizza in New York City. But it’s not in New York City. Instead, it’s in sleepy High Falls, not far from Accord.
The quality of this pizza is no stroke of luck. One of the pizzeria’s owners, Frank Pinello, operates Best Pizza in Williamsburg. Plus, the restaurant has two different pizza ovens – a tiled wood-fire oven for round Neapolitan pizzas and an electric oven for Roman-style grandma pies.
But pedigrees don’t guarantee great pizza. People make great pizzas. In this case, co-owner Innis Lawrence has led the charge by carefully fermenting dough and sourcing ingredients from nearby farms – something he’s done since Ollie’s Pizza opened in July of 2020.
Since Neapolitan pizza is our jawn, we ordered a wood-fired pie topped with pepperoni and mushrooms. We loved everything about this pizza from its supple center to its charred crust, though we may have loved the generous amount of pepperoni cups, reminiscent of the pepperoni served in Buffalo.
Sadly, we lost the photos of of our first visit and had to return to eat a second pie. Clearly the loss was a happy ‘accident’ and one that we toasted with glasses of natural wine.
Consider ordering sides like wood-oven-roasted broccolini and garlic knots as well as a chicken parmesan sandwich to eat with your pizza. Word on the street is that the chicken ‘parm’ sandwich is a knockout.
Ollies Pizza is located at 4 Bruceville Road, High Falls, NY 12440, United States.
3. Drink Cider At A Cidery
Apple picking is a fun thing to do in the Hudson Valley; however, we prefer to drink locally produced apple cider when given the choice. And choice is the operative word since the Catskills has almost as many cideries as it has orchards.
Ok, we’re exaggerating, but it’s fair to say that locally fermented hard cider is available at many if not most Catskills restaurants and bars that serve beer. It’s also fair to say that it’s more fun to drink cider at the source if the opportunity arises.
Westwind Orchard, located in Accord, is a seemingly simple cidery with a sophisticated beverage program that honors Europe’s cider traditions. It also has a Roman food menu that features classics like pasta cacio e pepe, suppli and Italian desserts like tiramisu.
Choosing among a dozen cider options separated in four categories (still, bubbly, draft and bottle) was a challenge. Pairing the two ciders with an order of cheese-filled suppli was a no-brainer.
Order a cider flight if you can’t choose just one.
Westwind Orchard is located at 215 Lower Whitfield Road, Accord, NY 12404, United States.
4. Chow Down On Barbecue
When we heard that the folks behind the Phoenicia Diner (see above) had opened a barbecue joint in Woodstock, the question wasn’t if we would eat at Dixon Road Side. Instead it was when the fateful act would happen.
As it turns out, we stumbled into the casual shed during a night of grazing. We were too late for the BBQ beef brisket plate which had sold out (oh no!) but just in time for a chopped brisket sandwich (hooray!) and a side of baked beans (yay!).
Once we got over the fact that we’d missed out on the brisket platter, we thoroughly enjoyed our messy but tasty chopped brisket sandwich flavored with paprika and masala spices and topped with onion rings. Even better, we were more than a little bit happy when we realized that our baked beans had both molasses and chunks of bacon in the mix.
This is a Catskills restaurant that sources products from local farms, “slaughters to order” and seasons meat with a simple but flavorful salt rub. It’s also a restaurant that fries chicken to golden crispiness.
Don’t skip the peach hot sauce if you’re a condiment junkie. Not only does the sauce taste good, but it’s also a local Hudson Valley product.
Dixon Road Side is located at 261 Tinker Street, Woodstock, NY 12498, United States.
5. Devour Fried Chicken
Some facts of life aren’t debatable. One of those things is that summertime is the best time to hunker down at a picnic table and devour a plate topped with fried chicken and fixings.
During our Catskills sojourn, we were delighted to eat a box filled with crispy chicken cornbread, smokey cheddar grits and hot honey at Love Bird. Taking it to the next level, we added a generous amount of flavorful Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce, straight out of Brooklyn, for an extra kick.
Discover more great fried chicken in America and around the world.
We were lucky (or should we say clucky?) to eat this fried fowl when and where we did. As it turns out, Chef Holly Sheppard has since closed Love Bird’s brick and mortar location.
In the category of good problems, the CIA-trained chef is too busy running Fig and Pig, a food-focused catering company that operates in Brooklyn, the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. Perhaps it’s time to schedule that birthday shindig or anniversary party…
Love Bird was located at 4728 US-209, Accord, NY 12404, United States. It now operates on a pop-up basis.
6. Take A Burger Break
Millions of Americans are obsessed with hamburgers. They eat hamburgers at fast food chains and at upscale restaurants. No matter how many they eat, they rarely tire of the iconic American sandwich filled with grilled meat and topped with cheese, condiments and vegetables.
It’s not that we’re judging this obsession. In full disclosure, we’re obsessed with burgers too.
While we can easily find hamburgers in Europe, they’re neither as cheap nor as tasty as they are in America. Europeans get the obsession but typically fall short in the execution. We say that after eating burgers in cities all over the continent including Athens, Bucharest, Budapest, Dublin, Helsinki, Lisbon, Ljubljana, London, Lyon, Paris, Strasbourg, Tallinn and Zagreb.
Discover the world’s best burgers.
To say that we were ecstatic to find great burgers at Mama’s Boy Burgers in Tannersville is an understatement. The local roadside stand’s loaded cheeseburger scratched our itch while following it up with a jimmy-coated ice cream cone made us smile.
Mama’s Boy Burgers isn’t the only spot to eat burgers in the Catskills. Diners like the Phoenicia Diner serve great hamburgers too.
7. Guzzle Beer At A Brewery
Taking a beer crawl in the Catskills is entirely possible considering the number of breweries and brew pubs in the region. But, let’s face it, driving from town to town is a drag when you consider the distances between breweries and bars. Plus, drinking and driving is wrong on so many levels, not to mention illegal.
The better option is to pick a destination and make a day or night out of it. This is what we did twice at Arrowood Farms, a self-described ‘true farm brewery’ around the corner from Westwind Orchard (see above).
Arrowood Farms may be the most enviromentally-aware brewery we’ve ever visited. Operating since 2013, Arrowood produces its own grains, hops, fruit and botanicals. Equally important, the brewers don’t add any synthetic ingredients, extracts, refined sugars, added sugars or GMO products.
While that’s all well and good, you’re probably wondering about the beer. Well, we liked our first pints enough that we returned to try a flight of even more brews. We’d tell you which was best except we enjoyed them all. Okay, if we have to pick, Daryl was partial to the smooth Villager Kolsch while Mindi was all about the dark Stout Pig.
8. Splurge On Dinner At The DeBruce
Leave your impressions behind when you think about The DeBruce.
A boutique hotel with just 14 rooms, The DeBruce is the antithesis of bustling Borscht Belt hotels that made the Catskills famous a century ago. Not only is it situated on a secluded plot of land with rolling green hills and charming footbridges, but The DeBruce focuses on food instead of entertainment. At this hotel, the food is the entertainment.
Hotel guests automatically dine in The DeBruce’s intimate dining room while others, like us, can reserve one of the restaurant’s handful of tables. The reward for our effort was a nine-course gastronomic meal featuring locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients like ramps and white asparagus as well as foraged items like tree bark and wild flowers.
Prior chefs, Aksel Theilkuhl and R.J. Corley, put the kitchen on the culinary map and current Executive Chef Eric Leveillee has kept it there. Leveillee honed his skills at acclaimed Philadelphia restaurants including Lacroix and Vernick Food & Drink, a resume that enticed us to make our dinner reservation.
Making the reservation wasn’t an automatic decision since dinner at The DeBruce cost $175 per person, plus extra for drinks, tax and tip, at the time of our meal. Was it worth it? We say yes but with caveats.
Go if you can afford the splurge but bear in mind that The DeBruce was not without service issues during our meal – namely an underage server with little experience and a manager who was unable to describe, even in basic terms, the restaurant’s limited wine menu.
We expect excellent service when we spend that kind of money on a meal. On the upside, the views through the restaurant’s picture windows were stunning and most of the dishes were superb.
The mountain roads between The DeBruce and towns like Kingston and Woodstock are both dark and winding. Think twice before drinking that second glass of wine. Better yet, dine with a designated driver unless you’re staying overnight at the hotel.
The DeBruce is located at 982 Debruce Road, Livingston Manor, NY 12758, United States.
9. Dine At Farm-To-Table Restaurants
Farm-to-table dining is the rage at restaurants around the world. In the Catskills, this type of dining is nothing new. In fact, it’s just par for the course.
This is a region filled with both farms and hipsters. It only makes sense that local restaurants would put the two together in a way that’s good for both the environment and the taste buds.
We first experienced farm-to-table dining in the Catskills when we ate dinner at Peekamoose Restaurant during our mini-moon in 2007. During our more recent visit, we experienced the dining style at almost every restaurant we frequented including hamburger joints, diners and pizzerias.
Most Catskills restaurants proudly display the names of the local farms and breweries from which they source their products right on the menu. They also, for better or worse, use buzz words like sustainable and grass-fed a lot.
10. Eat Like It’s The 1950s
Thanks to artist Edward Hopper and food celebrity chef Guy Fieri, the diner concept is firmly ingrained in American pop culture. However, the concept has only jumped the pond in a limited capacity.
For the uninitiated, this type of eatery is typically inexpensive and casual with a style that we like to call cheap and cheerful. At diners, it’s non unusual for servers to call customers ‘hon’ and for coffee cups to be bottomless.
It’s not difficult to find diners in the Catskills. While many offer elevated dining options, we eschewed those menu items. Instead, we ordered comfort dishes like pancakes, burgers and chili with zero regrets because that’s what American diners are all about.
Request to sit in a booth if one is available.
11. Cool Down With Ice Cream
Eating ice cream is a guilty pleasure that rarely makes us feel guilty. We adore the sweet stuff, especially when the weather is hot, and eat it as often as possible.
In some parts of the world, finding great ice cream is a challenge. The Catskills is not one of those places. In fact, we seemed to bump into ice cream almost everywhere we went during our visit.
Two cones stood ahead of the pack during our culinary tour of the Catskills…
Cherries Ice Cream Bar & Grill, an old school ice cream parlor that serves burgers and hot dogs in addition to sundaes and milk shakes, came highly recommended as did its seasonal blueberry soft serve ice cream. Spending an extra 50 cents to get our cone dipped in chocolate was money well spent.
We visited Mama’s Boy Burger for… burgers. But once we saw the burger shack’s extensive ice cream menu, we couldn’t resist ordering a cone coated with colorful jimmies. It was a spontaneous but savvy move.
Order a cone whenever you see Jane’s Ice Cream on the menu. The Hudson Valley creamery creates dozens of flavors that includes the kitchen sink. Literally.
12. Munch On Chocolate
Chocolate is an ideal Catskills treat. In addition to tasting great, chocolate is great to carry in backpacks while exploring the region’s many hiking trails.
While it would be easy to buy American candy bars at drug stores and markets, the better option is to visit local chocolatiers and bakeries that create a variety of bars, bon bons and dipped treats.
The number of chocolate options is extensive in the Catskills. Two of our favorites are Fruition Chocolate Works for hand-crafted artisan chocolate bars and Hudson Valley Dessert Company for dipped mandel brot.
We recommend trying both to find your personal favorite unless you’d rather eat chocolate ice cream instead.
Double your pleasure at Fruition Chocolate Works by ordering a bourbon caramel latte to enjoy now and a chocolate bar to enjoy later.
13. Dabble In Donuts
What started in early 2021 as a pandemic workaround to keep employees from becoming redundant has turned into a successful business. However, unlike the pub’s main focus, this side hustle involves crafting old-fashioned sour cream donuts and new-fangled mochi donuts.
Tempted to try all twelve flavors including pear champagne and cotton candy, we settled for maple bacon, an old standby, since our eating mission had space for just one donut. It was a solid choice and a sweet start to the day.
14. Get Crafty With Cocktails
Just because numerous Hudson Valley breweries and cideries craft beverages using hyper-local ingredients doesn’t mean that cocktail connoisseurs are high and dry in the Catskills. Au contraire mon frère.
It’s entirely possible to find dedicated cocktail bars in bigger Catskills cities like Kingston and Woodstock. But those are just the tip of the imbibing iceberg. Dedicated drinkers can also order crafted cocktails at diners, pizzerias and even breweries.
Expand your mixology horizons by ordering a cocktail crafted with herbs grown in the Catskills.
15. Snack At A Drive-In Theater
Drive-in theaters were all the rage in the 1950s. Back then, families and dating couples would watch movies on large movie screens from the comfort of their Chevrolet Bel Air sedans. The experience was either fun or romantic depending on the situation.
While we weren’t alive during that decade, one of us (Mindi) has fond memories of watching movies like Bedknobs and Broomsticks at this type of theater when she was a kid. As for Daryl, he never set foot in a drive-in theater until we visited the Catskills.
What Happened to Drive In Movie Theaters?
Due to the proliferation of multiplex theaters and digital technology, drive-in theaters were almost relegated to memory status. But, like the proverbial phoenix, they have risen from near death and are now a ‘thing’ again.
Proving that everything old is new again, various Catskills drive-in theaters are showing movies to a new generations of movie fans. While most of these outdoor cinemas show first-run movies, others like the Greenville Drive-In specialize in showing classics like Grease and Hairspray.
These theaters don’t just show movies. They also serve food ranging from popcorn to elevated fast food. Greenville even has a beer garden since, as it turns out, it’s not the 1950s any more.
Check the internet for current movie schedules for Greenville Drive-In and other Catskills car-friendly cinemas.
Greenville Drive-In is located at 10700 NY-32, Greenville, NY 12083, United States.
16. Savor Third Wave Coffee
After drinking specialty coffee around the world in countries as disparate as Ireland and South Africa, we found it a surprising challenge to satisfy our daily flat white needs in the Catskills. Don’t get us wrong. There are tons of coffee shops in the Catskills, some of which are fully dedicated to coffee’s third wave movement.
The challenge is that most of these coffee shops are only open on limited days of the week. Adding to that challenge, each coffee shop seems to operate on a different schedule. The situation was enough to nearly drive us crazy each day as we drove to different spots to to quench our caffeine thirst.
We drank coffee at the following Catskills coffee shops and recommend them all:
We suspect that more third wave coffee shops will open in the Catskills as more Brooklynites move north. At least we hope so.
Check opening hours before you drive to a coffee shop in the Catskills to avoid coffee disappointment.
17. Burn Off Calories
Hiking opportunities in the Catskills range from the relatively short 2.8-mile Ashokan Reservoir Loop to the much longer 26-mile Catskills Scenic Trail. Then there are Catskills hikes that involve ascending steep peaks like Blackhead Mountain and Ashokan High Point Mountain.
Adventure junkies travel to the Catskills specifically to hike one or more of these trails. As for us, we hiked in the Catskills for an entirely different reason…
Our primary hiking goal was to burn off the calories we consumed from eating burgers, pizza and ice cream during our Catskills food trip. It’s not like we could walk to the different eateries since they were literally spread over four sprawling counties.
However, this motive didn’t stop us from appreciating the innate beauty of sites like Esopus Creek and Crystal Lake. The pastoral pleasures in the Catskills aren’t just difficult to miss. They’re also good for the soul.
Stop at a local market to buy fixings for a mid-hike picnic.
18. Shop At Local Markets
Food travelers won’t want to skip shopping at local markets in the Catskills.
Not limited to picnic fixings, shops like Circle W Market provide retail therapy via a range of local products fit for both vegans and gourmands. They’re also a good spot to pick up basics like coffee beans and fresh eggs.
Originally opened in 1908 as a traditional country store, Circle W Market was purchased by new owners a century later and repurposed to satisfy the modern needs of both locals and travelers. Beyond selling takeaway sandwiches and coffee, the store sells a variety of specialty items including peanut butter cups sweetened with agave and salt caramel marshmallows as well as souvenirs like books and pennants.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a bargain at Catskills markets. Instead, you’ll find a great selection of local products and tasty treats.
Circle W Market is located at 3328 NY-23A, Palenville, NY 12463, United States.
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About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.
We self-funded our trip to the Catskills.
We thank Amy Rosen for hosting us at her cosy Phoenicia home and acting as our personal Catskills tour guide.
Original Publication Date: August 25, 2021