Christmas in the Catskill:

I like surprises.

The best part of Christmas beyond the presents no doubt are the little treats in the stockings left for holiday morning.

Normally if you’re not a few tatters short of a bushel you have developed the skills needed to determine the quality of a gift between three layers of wrapping and the cardboard box by age seven.

The stockings however are much more difficult to secure the identity of their treasures, most from the local dollar store; in the day it was called the five-and-dime.

After our visit to the hamlet of Woodstock, New York and its trendy tie-dye shops clumped together with CIA quality restaurants jammed with shoulder-to-shoulder visitors it was time to look for a holiday surprise and we made the loop back to State Route 28 through the Catskill State Park.

Blinking is forbidden as you near the town of West Hurley so you don’t miss the small sign pointing the way to “The Reservoir Inn” located on Basin Road at the Dike Road split.  

The Reservoir Inn the hidden jewel of the Catskill.

The Reservoir Inn the hidden jewel of the Catskill.

The Inn is like a brand new shinny Western Flyer two-wheeler with silver bell only wrapped in a 1905 rustic; in need of paint; two story structure that houses some of the finest food this side of Hyde Park.

Having just come off a three thousand mile road trip from California to New York I am a self-proclaimed expert in Drive-ins, Diners, and Dives.

The interior is early 1900’s backwoods lodge comfort with a small bar that makes you want to start your breakfast on the corner stool.

The chalkboard menu is just about as tall as the hard working waitress and offered everything from seafood to a wonderful 8oz. burger and ham and cheese melt sandwich that could not have been prepared with more care or flavor.

 Several other reviewers have likened the restaurant to the show “Cheers” where everyone knows your name.  Given the number of local’s at the tables, it makes this a plausible thought. 

As a former resident of Redlands, CA where the creators of “Cheers”, Glen and Les Charles attended the University of Redlands and would take up space at “Jerseys” a local pizza joint just blocks from the college…I say, roll me in beer batter and fry me a golden brown if this isn’t the real deal!

The story behind chef-owner, Shawn Keiser and his partner Edward Henry borders on disbelief.

The two boys, both fourteen years-old, lived a short distance from the restaurant and walked down for a bit of chess one afternoon.  Overhead the clouds formed into a typical New York thunder buster and the lighting took out a transformer along the route. 

Then owner and good soul, Tony Russo drove the boy’s home.  On the way he offered both kids jobs as dishwashers.

Shawn worked at the restaurant off and on over the years perfecting Tony’s style both in and out of the kitchen but had a love for the weather and ended up working as a meteorologist for the Weather Channel in Atlanta.

Missing his home in the Catskill he honed his people skills as a circulation manager for local newspaper.  This is a damned if you do, and damned if you don’t type of job that will either kill you or make you stronger, but you learn to take care of the customer.

When it was time for Tony to retire there was only one person he could think of that was worthy to watch over his life’s work and that was the boy’s of thunder.

Shawn’s sister, who is just one of many in the area that have San Diego connections, returned home to help out on the floor and produces a smile wider than the ocean worthy fish mounted on the wall.  When hearing of the up-scale quality of her brother’s food from customers she touches on gitty.

I can only suggest that you leave the cuisine in Woodstock to those who just think they know food and rock music and drive back towards State Route 28 to nurture your palette.

Old time charm at the cafe at the Roosevelt Inn at Hyde Park.

Old time charm at the cafe at the Roosevelt Inn at Hyde Park.

Think about a drink and music on a Saturday night and if you  need a close place to stay, it’s the “Roosevelt Inn” in Hyde Park where Karen Rudowski, also a student from San Diego, returned to her roots to help carry on the family’s thirty plus year-old lodging business.

Presents?  You can’t eat the wrapping; the best part of the holiday is the food.

Family tradition at the Roosevelt Inn in Hyde Park, NY

Family tradition at the Roosevelt Inn in Hyde Park, NY