In 1969, tens of thousands of young people from across the country gathered on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y., host to the legendary Woodstock music festival.
Fifty years later, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts stands on that spot, inspiring, educating and empowering a new generation through the transformative power of the arts. I was too young to attend the ’69 festival, however, I do remember that summer and the thousands of cars and campers that moved very slowly along the country roads and the droves of people who came to the area. My parents stocked up with food, knowing that getting around would be difficult and the shelves in the stores would be emptied by the festival-goers.
Many people ask me how I became involved in the hospitality industry and food. This is the area where it all began. Think of the movie “Dirty Dancing.” Like thousands of high school and college students, I worked at several of the famous resorts of the Catskills. These resorts were known for the tradition of good eating and plenty of it, too!
Only a little more than two hours from Greater New Haven, the Sullivan County Catskills is the area I call my country escape, my paradise. This part of the southern Catskill Mountains nestles up alongside the Delaware River. You will find beautiful landscape, dotted with pristine lakes, rivers and mountainside retreats.
The grand resorts of the past are long gone. You might remember Grossinger’s and The Concord. Recently opened, Resorts World Catskills and The Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark, located on the property where the Concord once stood, are now the major hotels in the area and offer many restaurant venues to choose from. They will be welcoming the many visitors attending the 50th anniversary events, along with the smaller hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts and campgrounds.
RELATED: Stephen Fries on Resorts World Catskills
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts’ “A Season of Song & Celebration” commemorates the golden anniversary of the greatest festival of all time with a full schedule of exhibits, programs and events.
The venue’s lush, 800-acre campus includes an internationally ranked 15,000-capacity pavilion amphitheater, an intimate, indoor event gallery, an award-winning museum dedicated to the ’60s and Woodstock, plus a conservatory for creative and educational programs rooted in the arts and heritage of the its historic site.
The anniversary weekend features Ringo Starr and his All Star Band (Aug. 16), Santana with the Doobie Brothers (Aug. 17), John Fogerty with Tedeschi Trucks Band & Grace Potter (Aug. 18).
During the concerts there are casual food and beverage options. Yasgur’s Farm Café, just steps from the museum, serves snacks and light fare as well as beer and wine. Enjoy your food and drink outside, overlooking the picturesque grounds. You will see why I call the area my paradise. And, the area according to Lonely Planet’s travel experts is one of the top 10 regions in the world to visit.
When you visit, you’ll need to eat before and after the concerts. Scattered throughout the area you’ll find breweries, wineries, distilleries, cheese makers and other locally produced provisions. New York City restaurateurs who wanted a simpler life and a slower pace have also opened up shop here. You’ll find everything from celebrity chef fine dining to bistros, cafes, bakeries and brasseries.
One of my favorite places to hang out with the locals and visitors is the Bethel Market Café, 2020 Route 17B, 845-583-3130, located just a mile from the entrance to Bethel Woods where mother-and-daughter owners, Tara Brust and Courtney Raven, serve hearty country breakfasts and lunches. The eggs are from right up the road and real maple syrup is served with the French toast. I am never disappointed with the homemade soups and quiches.
A favorite of mine is the chicken quesadilla (marinated grilled chicken, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, tomato and roasted onion, peppers, zucchini in a flour tortilla). And, those cakes and pastries greeting you at the counter are mouth watering.
Reserve a slice of the signature crumb cake before you order your meal ... there might not be any left if you don’t.
The biscuits rival any Southern biscuit I have eaten.
The place will take you back in time, perhaps to your mother’s kitchen — that is, if she was a great baker. Tara, a self-taught baker, is well-known in the area, having been the cake maker for many area restaurants and cafes. Courtney handles the front of the house and has learned from mom how to bake many of her creations.
On a recent visit I tried the Tres Leches cake for the first time. My usual is a slice of Chocolate Dream cake or crumb cake, sometimes both. I am delighted I tried something new. It is so moist and flavorful. Tara mentioned a customer from Texas where this type of cake is popular raved that it is the best Tres Leches cake she has ever savored. I must agree. And better yet, Tara and Courtney gave me the recipe to share with you here. If you come tailgate before a concert, the Bethel Market Café will be happy to prepare the food for your party.
Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Mix well. In another bowl mix sour cream and milk. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the sour cream and milk mixture to the creamed butter mixture and mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix well until all is incorporated. Put batter into a greased 9-by-13-inch cake pan and bake in a 350-degree preheated oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cake cool.
In a bowl, mix the three milks together. Poke holes in the cooled cake with a fork. Pour milk mixture over cake. Let cake absorb the liquid.
Whip heavy cream and sugar, making sure sugar is dissolved. Spread cream over cake and garnish with slivered almonds if desired. Keep cake in refrigerator.
Did you ever meet someone and say, “I know you from somewhere?” This happened to me several years ago, but not with a person. It was a bar and restaurant in Bethel, N.Y. I visited The Dancing Cat Saloon and the adjacent Catskill Distilling Co. the week it opened. I knew I had seen the antique bar and piano in another place and time. I asked the bartender if the bar and piano were from Connecticut, and sure enough it was, as well as the dining room furniture. We’ve all heard the expression, “if walls could talk.”
In the case of this bar, if it could talk, the story would go something like this: “I am a historic bar, manufactured in New Haven in 1897 by the Thomas F. Ahern Co. For more than 100 years, I remained in New Haven, at one time serving as the main bar at the well-known and highly regarded 500 Blake Street in the Westville section of the Elm City. After 500 Blake closed in 2006, I was sold to the owner of The Dancing Cat Saloon and Distillery. For those who fondly recall the good times spent around me, you can come and visit me at my current home (Route 17B in Bethel), right across from where the original 1969 Woodstock Festival took place. I hope to be reacquainted with you during the Aug. 16-18 anniversary weekend or at another time soon.”
It’s going to be 50 years since the half-million hippies left, but come for lunch or dinner at the Dancing Cat and tour the distillery, and you’ll swear you can still feel the reverb from all of the guitars of the Woodstock performers, the energy of those young people and the warmth of their free love. Why? You are sitting across the street from Max Yasgur’s farm, where the distillery infuses “local spirit” into each small, hand-crafted batches of vodka and whiskey. Only local fruits and grains are used in the distillations and byproducts are donated to the local farms for feed. A few favorites; honey moons (battered eggplant with Riverbend late-season honey and fresh mint, Catskill Caesar (hand-torn Romaine, grilled bread, Parmesan Reggiano with a smoked trout dressing), cast-iron cornmeal catfish served with preserved lemon mayo, shaved fennel and greens. A pig roast will be held during the anniversary weekend in the field between the restaurant and the distillery. Call 845-583-3141 for details. Check out the recipes below using the distillery’s Peace vodka.
For each cocktail recipe, put all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
Barbecue lovers will find some of the best slow-cooked meat (pulled pork, chicken and ribs) at Big Kev’s Roadside BBQ, roadside at Route 17 B and Royce Road, 845-798-7395. Eat at the picnic tables or bring along for your tailgate party.
The town of Kauneonga Lake, a couple of miles from the Woodstock site has a few lakeside restaurants.
For more about Sullivan County, visit https://sullivancatskills.com.
“Helping Others Now:” House of Naan, 65 Howe St., New Haven, 203-562-6226; 25 percent of food and bar sales will be donated to different charitable organizations. July 21-27: Bollywood’s Musical Film Festival, benefiting Tommy Fund — Smilow Cancer Hospital. July 28-Aug. 3: Bites On a Board Tasting benefits Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter fund. https://bit.ly/2JsvDjK
Consiglio’s Murder Mystery Dinner: “Deadlier Games” July 26, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.), Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489 https://bit.ly/2O3TQzQ, $65 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening during a three-course meal. Cast mingles table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve. Wear your most outrageous hat.
Kids Culinary Camp — Back to Basics, (ages 5+): July 29-Aug. 2, 10 a.m.-noon. Chef’s Emporium, 449 Boston Post Road, Orange, $55. Reservations 203-799-2665, $250. Your young chef will participate in hands-on classes under the guidance of our expert chef instructors. We will be creating and eating recipes each day that focus on knife safety and techniques; they will practice essential kitchen skills, learn about kitchen equipment and master the fundamentals of cooking. For the week’s agenda and tickets, visit https://bit.ly/2SmqVqw.
Milford Craft Beer Tour: Aug. 3 20, $15 includes shuttle transportation between venues, one free 8-ounce pour each at Tribus and Milford Point and 25 percent off the tab at SBC Three sessions to choose from on each of the dates; tickets must be purchased online at https://bit.ly/2xFvjY7. Other date Aug. 17.
Consiglio’s Demonstration Cooking Class: Aug. 15, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included), https://bit.ly/2Nd0xAg Menu: Homemade pizza with burrata and prosciutto, baby lettuces with feta, strawberries and almonds, pan-seared sea scallops with lemon caper pasta, Nutella cream puff pastry.