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New Paltz and Gardiner 

Delicious and Daring

click to enlarge The gunks viewed from the rear of minnewaska lodge in Gardiner. - DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM

A drive through the town of Gardiner provides many views typical of other Ulster County locales—bucolic fields, winding roads, looming mountains—with one unique exception: You might see people falling from the sky. Thrill seekers and nature-enthusiasts flock to Gardiner to take part in the vast array of outdoor activities available, including skydiving. On a sunny weekend, The Ranch hosts up to 250 tandem jumpers. But with the Shawangunk Ridge watching over the town, hiking, biking, and climbing reign as top heart-pumping activities.

Those who are less inclined to scale rock faces, however, have plenty of options for ground-level activities. There is a small but interesting row of shops along Main Street, including Hi Ho Home Market and Antique Center, one of the coolest home-goods stores in the area, with two floors of vintage and contemporary wares. Items for sale are set up in themed rooms with scenes so perfectly designed that you feel as though you’re walking through a dollhouse. There’s even a Christmas room, guaranteed to bring out your inner 12-year-old with sparkly ornaments, faux trees of various sizes, jolly Santas, and other red-and-green merriment.

Just across the street is the Village Market & Café, the sort of hometown joint where nobody’s a stranger. They offer a varied menu of sandwiches, salads, and baked goods, plus a case containing some less-expected options—lime and cilantro slaw and veggie burgers, for instance. Not to mention, tasty treats baked so fresh they put grandma’s brownies to shame. “We really try to accommodate our customers with both great food and great service,” says Karen Schneck, who co-owns the café with her husband John Reilly. “We’ve been mom-and-poppin’ it for about two and a half years and our focus is on creative, delicious, fun food that’s always fresh and local whenever possible.”

Winelovers will want to taste the award-winning Reisling at Whitecliff Winery, or at least tour the grounds and facility. Aptly named for the towering Shawangunk Ridge’s white, quartz-rich conglomerate face, this winery and tasting room is owned by a husband-and-wife duo who happened to meet while climbing the Ridge. Not a wine person? Local beer enthusiasts dig the Mountain Brauhaus restaurant, which offers savory German and American entrees and hearty brews. Not far from there is the Tuthilltown Distillery, maker of Hudson River Rum, Baby Bourbon, and other spirits. Originally a gristmill in operation about 220 years ago, the property was converted into a distillery in 2001 and has steadily gained acclaim and recognition; just last year it was named American Craft Whiskey Distillery of the Year by Whisky Magazine.
click to enlarge Looking at the Gunks from the intersection of Routes 299 and 44/55. - DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM

click to enlarge Outside of Village Hall in New Paltz. - DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM

All Grown Up
While Gardiner is bigger than it seems, the neighboring town of New Paltz offers an even wider assortment of outdoor activities, eateries, shops, and farm stands. With its constant evolution, New Paltz is too multifaceted to be simply labeled a college town. During the daytime for instance, Main Street is rife with shoppers, tourists, and the occasional protesters with rotating causes. An entirely different pulse controls the evening, with an intense nightlife that has been known to last as long as legally possible during the weekends. There is a diverse mix of shops to explore, from contemporary housewares at Cocoon to vintage collectables at the Antiques Barn; from women’s highfashion and trendy jewelry at Rambling Rose to all-ages tie-dye outfits at the Groovy Blueberry. Within the nucleus of the village, there are two record stores, a few indie bookshops (secondhand shoppers must stop by Barner Books, constantly stocked with tomes that once belonged to philosophical college kids, homesteading farmers, and admirers of beat literature), a couple of art supply shops, and a handful of java joints that stand completely unintimidated by the Starbucks a few doors down. But there is only one heavy-metal thrift shop—perhaps in the whole region. Crazy Dan’s Secondhand Hardcore and More, formerly Déjà vu Thrifts, offers new and used shirts, records, CDs, jewelry, and more for those into heavy metal and punk culture. While it might seem out of place in a “hippie town,” it only adds to the increasingly eclectic culture. “I get a surprising amount of people who stop in and go, ‘Finally! A metal store!’” says owner “Crazy” Dan Chisena. “There’s nothing like this around here and New Paltz seemed like the best place for one. The people are very accepting and the customers appreciate the shop. Even people who aren’t metalheads.”
click to enlarge DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM

Most likely inspired by the multicultural student body at the college, dining options are impressively varied for such a short distance. Go around the world in 80 plates with Greek meals at Yanni, Thai dishes at Lemongrass, sushi and Asian cuisine at Neko Sushi or Gomen-Kudasai Noodle House, falafel and Mediterrranean fare at Anatolia, A Tavola’s Italian dishes, Eastern options from Suruchi and the New Paltz Indian Restaurant, Caribbean from Jamaican Choice, and others. And of course, American fare can be found at Zagat-rated 36 Main, the award-winning Main Course, and Main Street Bistro, where there’s guaranteed to be a line out the door on weekends, but it’s worth it for their make-your-own omelets and savory jambalaya. Even the smaller eateries are worth a visit: There’s a vegan café with killer smoothies (Karma Road); a gluten-free haven, Rock Da Pasta, with funky rock décor and groovy rainbow cheesecake; Hudson Valley fried-chicken chain Kennedy Fried Chicken, plus almost 10 pizza joints within a two-mile radius.

But one of the most beautiful things about food in New Paltz is that the town is abundant with accessible farm stands, orchards, and CSAs; it’s hard to not find fresh produce. During the summer, Phillies Bridge Farm Project, Taliaferro Farms, and other CSAs provide helpings of fruits, vegetables, and flora to its members in exchange for a monthly fee and occasional helping hand on the farm. In autumn, New Paltz has cemented itself as the place-to-be for apple picking, hayrides, and fall foliage drives. There are a number of apple orchards that allow visitors to load up on fruits—locals know them as “U-Pick-’Em” spots—such as Apple Hill Farm near the college and the tucked-away Minard Farms, which is famous for its bottled cider sold in stores around the Valley.
click to enlarge DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM

Truffle Shuffle
And when you eat enough apples, it’s okay to splurge on decadent chocolates, right? (Maybe just a little truffle?) In the last year or so, a collection of chocolate shops have nested in town. While the shop Sweet offers chocolates of various bold flavors at Water Street Market, a spacious outpost of the popular Saugerties-based Krause Chocolates has opened just off Main Street. There you’ll find everything from fruity truffles, to handmade gummies, to chocolate Darth Vaders (dark chocolate, of course). Lagusta’s Luscious makes you feel even less guilty about indulging in a chocolate fix: Everything chocolatier/owner Lagusta Yearwood creates is vegan, organic, and sourced via fair trade. “We believe that both the people who produce the chocolates and the earth from which the cacao beans come should be treated fairly and with respect and sustainability,” Yearwood says. Her chocolates have been for sale online for almost nine years, but she purchased a storefront (formerly a rundown laundromat) in March 2011 and has attracted a steady combination of locals and out-of-towners with unique flavor combinations. Try the Rosemary Sea Salt Caramels or the New Paltz Truffle, made with local black currant brandy and blueberries from the Shawangunk Ridge. “We’re passionate about using local ingredients in our chocolates, and New Paltz really respects and loves our local farmers, so it’s a natural fit,” she says. “We love New Paltz with our whole hearts. It’s the weirdest, most awesome town I’ve ever been to.”
click to enlarge Outside the Minnewaska Lodge. - DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM

While it’s easy to spend a full day wandering in and out of shops, dining in town, and drooling over the sugary pastries at The Bakery (a must-see for any sweet tooth), one would be remiss to not take advantage of the numerous outdoor activities New Paltz allows. The Wallkill River runs right through town and is usually in ideal condition for kayaking or canoeing. The stunning Mohonk Mountain House allows tours of its grounds and hikes of various levels; rumor has it author Stephen King has been seen here. One could also do a moderate trek to view the Awosting Falls, swim in Lake Minnewaska, climb the Trapps—the most commonly scaled part of the Shawangunk Ridge—or bike along Route 299 when the road is lined with stalks of sunflowers, then meet back in town for a pint at the Gilded Otter Brewing Co. and swap stories about your adventures with the wide-eyed folks sitting next to you. Then get ready for that nightlife.

click to enlarge Inside the Minnewaska Lodge. - DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM

Speaking of...

  • Skydiving, sweets, sunflowers, and the Shawangunk Ridge—all found in these communities.

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