9 Reasons to Drive to the Catskills

By Nils Bernstein  |  June 19, 2014

There’s no real consensus of where the Catskill Mountains, or Catskills, begin and end; drive northwest of New York City until you see a working farmhouse, and you’re likely there. Head a few hours from the city to Delaware, Greene, Ulster and Sullivan counties, and the 700,000-acre Catskill Park at its heart, with 98 mountain peaks dissected by picturesque valleys and waterways. These stops are paradise for lovers of great food and drink.

  • Stay on the Farm

    For those of you that need more than a few hours at a farmer’s market to scratch your homesteading itch, why not move in?  Many Catskills farms offer “farm stays,” where the experience can range from bucolic B&B-style lodging to working in the fields. At Handsome Brook Farm in Franklin (above), you can roam hundreds of acres year-round, including a 20-acre berry orchard. Learn sustainable, organic farming at Stony Creek Farm in Walton, then fix dinner in your private cabin with the farm’s own meat and produce. Stone and Thistle Farm near East Meredith offers a luxe five-course meal to guests, made tastier when you’ve helped harvest the ingredients yourself.

  • Farmer’s Markets

    Whether just looking and snacking or shopping for an epic meal at your rented farmhouse, it’s not a trip to the Catskills without visiting farmer’s markets. Find the one closest to you via the interactive search engine at Pure Catskills. Some of our favorites include the Saturday Pakatakan Market (also known as the “Round Barn”); the Sunday market in Callicoon and the Woodstock Farm Festival on Wednesday afternoons, where colorful characters are part of the local bounty.

  • Craft Breweries

    The New York craft-beer scene got a boost in 2012, when Mario Cuomo signed legislation granting “Farm Brewery” licenses to producers who use state-grown ingredients. Roscoe Beer Company‘s Trout Town Amber Ale is already a Catskills favorite, and look for Hunter Mountain Brewery and Catskill Brewery to open later this summer. For now, you can visit Windham’s Cave Mountain Brewing Company, a restaurant and on-site brewery with the area’s best burger and a wide range of styles that include one-off experiments like peach wheat ale and chai milk stout.

  • Credit: Courtesy of Tuthilltown Spirits

    Small-Batch Distilleries

    They’re not just making pies up here; much of the area’s fruits and grains are made into world-class small-batch spirits. Many producers, like Catskill Distilling Company and Tuthilltown Spirits, offer tours and tastings, or choose from dozens at Catskill Cellars, a regionally focused liquor store (which also claims to have the finest absinthe collection in the US) on the banks of the Delaware River’s eastern branch. Try Delaware Phoenix Distillery’s two acclaimed 136-proof absinthes, made with locally grown wormwood; distiller Cheryl Lins also makes four whiskeys, including the clear, unaged “Rye Dog.” Other unexpected offerings include a buckwheat whiskey and grappa from Catskill Distilling, and Helderberg Meadworks’ Apple Mead made with local honey.

  • Peekamoose Restaurant

    Devin and Maryberth Mills worked at NYC restaurants like Le Bernardin and Gramercy Tavern before turning their sights to a country farmhouse in Big Indian in an effort to close the gap between farms and table. The menu at Peekamoose changes daily to reflect local availability; free-range Snowdance Farms chicken might come with baby carrots and caramelized fennel in fall, peas and shoots in spring. Don’t miss the extensive selection of New York beers in the Tap Room.

  • Phoenicia Diner

    Diners like this feel relegated to memory — the 1960s roadside charmer with food like mom’s and servers who feel like family by dessert. In fact, the Phoenicia Diner’s current incarnation is only two years old, since new owner Mike Cioffi ever-so-gently updated this 1962 stalwart with an eye toward impeccably made basics with personality: fresh-baked biscuits and gravy, a house-cured corned beef Reuben sandwich and the local smoked trout on the bagel plate.

  • Table on Ten

    Relax, you’ve found the rural cafe of your dreams. Bloomville's Table on Ten is both a food-magazine photo shoot waiting to happen and an effortless, welcoming extension of owners Inez Valk-Kempthorne and Justus Kempthorne’s home. Housemade organic granola comes with Cowbella Dairy maple yogurt, and a sandwich of Tilsit cheese from nearby Harpersfield includes housemade pickled onions, safflower mayonnaise and greens that have likely been yanked from the yard. The coffee — their own blend — is perfectly brewed, a "microshop" by the counter sells handmade crafts and edibles from around New York state, weekends feature brick-oven pizzas and the occasional pop-up dinner, and you can even stay in the upstairs rooms via Airbnb.

  • Credit: Torkil Stavdal

    Brushland Eating House

    Sohail Zandi opened Brushland in May 2014, with chef Jordan Terry bringing his experience with elevated comfort food at New York’s Prime Meats and Pulino's to bucolic Bovina. The refreshingly unpretentious menu reflects the melting pot that is quintessentially American: grilled summer corn with mayo and chile, pork schnitzel with local veggies, a meatball sub or hand-rolled pasta with “Grandma sauce” — all paired with an Alsatian Sylvaner or summery Sardinian rosato.

  • Roxbury Motel

    A true getaway, the Roxbury Motel’s whimsical rooms are styled after '60s and '70s movies and TV shows — stay in The Partridge (Family) Nest, George (Jetson)’s Spacepad, or Maryann (of Gilligan fame)’s Coconut Cream Pie room, with its ceiling of upside-down meringue peaks. And you barely need to leave your retro-hipster wonderland: terrific seasonal food and cocktails are available across the street at Public Restaurant & Lounge.