Some of us map out our road trips based on the most efficient route to our final destination. For others, it’s about the journey — and the food we’ll be eating along the way. I’ll go 30 minutes out of my way for great ice cream, and my husband considers a two-hour detour trifling when good barbecue awaits.
For the past few decades, the first place we turn when planning travel anywhere in the United States is Jane and Michael Stern’s guide to un-fancy local eats, “Road Food.” Now we’ve got our hands on the newly published 10th edition (Clarkson Potter, $22.99), which has a couple hundred new listings as well as updates to more than 800 others.
After years of following the Sterns’ recommendations, we’ve learned that while we may not always love the same food they do, we have never regretted a single stop they’ve recommended. At times, the appeal is the physical building (like a shiny old diner with a perfect neon sign), other times it is the people (that waitress with the pencil stuck behind her ear who really did call me “honey”) or a crazy-sounding menu item we just had to try for ourselves (beef on weck). And sometimes, we’re in it for the food: the great burger, barbecue or French dip sandwich.
In the Hudson Valley area of New York, there are an abundance of locally owned, casual, not-to-be-missed restaurants that may be along your route — or the reason for your trip. Here are a few of our favorites.
Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q
1475 Rte. 22, Wingdale
Barbecue is one of the most enduring and universally beloved of cheap, local eats — but good barbecue in the Northeast is a rare find. Make your way just a bit north of Pawling, to the tiny town of Wingdale, and you’ll find ’cue that some aficionados say gives North Carolina a run for its money. As surprising as the location is, pitmaster Warren Norstein’s background in high-end French restaurant kitchens such as Bouley is equally unexpected. In addition to the heaping plates of smoked dry-rub ribs, pulled pork and succulent brisket, don’t miss the tender, juicy slow-smoked chicken. Too much for one visit? Guess you’ll just have to hit it on the way back, too.
INFO 845-832-6200, theforkinpig.com
19 Main St., Millerton
Oakhurst Diner, just a stone’s throw from both the Massachusetts and Connecticut borders, looks like something out of a time warp: a classic boxcar diner with a shiny silver-and-red exterior, turquoise walls, glass-fronted pie cases behind the counter and, of course, the requisite swivel stools. You can get most diner favorites here: hash browns topped with melted cheese and fried eggs, a thick and creamy milkshake, burgers, tuna and patty melts, and meatloaf with mashed potatoes. But make no mistake — this is not your local greasy spoon diner. The beef for the burgers is grass-fed and pesticide free — and hyper local. (It comes from Herondale Farm in nearby Ancramdale.) The menu also includes surprises such as the Vietnamese báhn mì sandwich, and twists on the expected like Justin’s Egger — scrambled eggs and jalapeño with fried ham on a potato bun.
INFO 518-592-1313, oakhurstdinerny.com
49 Main St., Phoenicia
Head just 14 miles west of Woodstock to Sweet Sue’s — but be sure you’re both hungry and patient, because the portions are enormous and the wait is often long at this beloved breakfast joint. Sweet Sue’s is known throughout the region for pancakes as big as the plate, in versions you’ll long for even months later, like the red monkey (banana strawberry), blue monkey (banana blueberry), Hawaiian (coconut pineapple) and four grain; and also for their pecan crunch French toast, and fluffy omelets. Everything in this homey cafe is served in abundant portions, but the magic of Sweet Sue’s is that it all manages to feel wholesome and right. I tell myself the two enormous pancakes on my favorite breakfast, the “Pancake Sundae,” are actually a healthful breakfast because they’re topped with creamy yogurt and fresh peaches and berries.
INFO 845-688-7852, sweetsue1984.wixsite.com/sweetsuesrestaurant
Holy Cow Ice Cream Shop
7270 S. Broadway, Red Hook
Equally beloved by both nearby Bard College students and longtime locals, the cheap, really good ice cream would be reason enough to stop at Holy Cow in Red Hook, but for some of us, the signature Holy Cow flavor — creamy vanilla ice cream swirled with peanut butter and studded with peanut butter cups — would be incentive to drive hours out of our way. Not a peanut butter fan? No worries — the other flavor folks can’t get enough of is the Holy Cow Black Raspberry. When you go, don’t be dismayed when you drive up to what looks like an industrial building with some picnic tables in the parking lot — there is no indoor seating. And do bring cash, because that’s all they take.
West Taghkanic Diner
Route 82 and Taconic Parkway, Ancram
The Sterns have a great story in their “Road Food” guidebook about this iconic 1950s diner: As they made their way in, two women in suits whispered “jitterbug” to them. So when it came time to order, they repeated the word to the waitress, who asked if they wanted their bread toasted. The “Jitterbug,” it turns out, is on the menu with no explanation or description. But according to the Sterns, this juicy burger on bread (or toast) topped with thick gravy and served with mashed potatoes is well worth ordering. The menu includes many diner classics, such as egg creams, meatloaf, pot roast, club sandwiches and all the usual breakfasts.
Love Apple Farms Cafe
1421 Rte. 9H, Ghent
There are many reasons to visit Love Apple Farm: the pick-your-own orchards, the children’s petting zoo and an entire market filled with locally made products. But if none of that was there, we’d still head to the farm for its knock-your-socks-off pork tamales. The tacos and quesadillas are good, too, but the tamales are the best reason to get to the Love Apple Cafe. Should you have picky eaters in the car, no worries: The cafe also serves kid-friendly grilled cheese and hot dogs, a selection of classic panini and salads. And did we mention the bakery filled with cider doughnuts, homemade ice cream, cookies and pies? But seriously: Pet a llama, and make the tamales your priority.