Escape to the Catskills
They Might Be Giants' guide to the best eats in Upstate New York
Tasting Table, June 30, 2015
by Vanita Salisbury
With a 30-plus-year career including songs like "E Eats Everything," videos like the one for "You're on Fire" (in which, fun fact, the foods are actually wire-strung puppets) and a Wiki page dedicated entirely to the culinary references in their songs, it's clear that John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants delights in food. Further evidence? "I'm fat," he says, laughing. "I've been accused of being a foodie. But I think that's like somebody who doesn't care accusing you of caring."
Flansburgh is spending his summer in the Catskills, keeping busy with the band's Dial-a-Song project, which debuts a new song every week. Of his picturesque location, Flansburgh says, "It's two hours away from New York but feels worlds away," while still reminding him of his home base in Brooklyn.
If you're stuck in the city this summer, you can catch They Might Be Giants at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on July 26. But should you head upstate, take heed of Flansburgh's suggestions for where to eat and drink, including the best barbecue, local ciders and freshly caught trout.
Breakfast: Tilly's Diner
"Tilly's is a classic American diner from 1940, mostly metal on a concrete slab. [Editor's note: It's an O'Mahony roadside diner, one of about only 20 left in existence.] It's just excellent, straight-up diner food served as well as anywhere in the U.S. Inside, the vibe is all rock and roll: It's like they took somebody's record collection and staple-gunned it to the wall. The thing that makes it worthwhile is that there're so many customers, so the food is just impossibly fresh, which is not a given in a diner that doesn't do a brisk business. The breakfast burrito is filled with stuff that got chopped up 15 minutes ago--not stuff that's being pulled out of the freezer."
Lunch: Big Kev's BBQ
"There is a BBQ stand called Big Kev's, which is operated by two brothers and named after their father. It's in Kauneonga Lake, on 17B near Bethel, which is where the Woodstock festival happened. This is a seasonal place, but it's a fantastic place. It's so funky and cool. They have an enormous smoker--this thing is the size of a VW bus. They smoke their meat with a dry rub all day long, all through the summer, which is just the best. Another thing is that they have homemade lemonade, which is delicious and as real as any lemonade you've ever had. And it's made to order!"
Dinner: Henning's Local
"There's a fantastic chef named Henning Nordanger who runs this place, which just moved to the Cochecton Center. He's very resourceful and uses only very fresh ingredients--so fresh that they don't even have a freezer. So they tend to run out of things as the weekend goes on. There's a sinful Caesar salad and a great steak Diane that's just off-the-charts tasty. They also have trout, which is all local, and they do it three different ways, including some exotic stuff, like mocha-searing it. Whichever way you go, the trout is delicious, and it's a sustainable fish for the area."
Fancy Dinner: The Settlers Inn
"If you're looking for a place to take your parents, do it at this historic old restaurant in Hawley, Pennsylvania, which is just across the gap from here. Hawley is a big antique-slash-junk store town with this beautiful Arts and Crafts-era hotel that has never been renovated, so everything looks frozen in the 1920s. They have a live piano player during the summer season, and they do a lot of weddings and such there. I've had some great meals there, and I've had some very weird meals there. It's got that old-fashioned, Mad Men-era bar thing about it, too."
Cocktails: The Heron
"Narrowsburg's an up-and-coming town, known for its high concentration of bald eagles. There's a restaurant--it's not called The Eagle; it's called The Heron--right on the main drag in town, and it's fantastic. They do upscale comfort food, like a really extraordinarily well-made macaroni and cheese, but the other thing that I love about The Heron is all these custom-made cocktails. There's one called the Captain Ron, which is named after the guy who runs the wine shop down the street. It has fig-infused vodka, ginger beer and lime. It's an absolutely delicious drink. It doesn't seem to have any booze in it, except if you have two, you suddenly find yourself making friends. They also have all of these hard ciders from New York State, some of which are from very microscopic suppliers. There are lots of apple orchards up here and lots of people making cider, so it's a very nice thing to do."