The history of the Callicoon Hills resort begins over a century ago, in 1905, with what was then just a simple boarding house and gristmill on the banks of the Delaware River. Today, the lodging remains committed to being informal (the tagline is “a friendly place for nice people”), emphasizing enjoyment of the outdoors and jovial mealtimes, but boasts 65 rooms across five buildings, a king-sized pool, and carefully cultivated eats. Its restaurant, the Conover Club, is executive chef Jean Paul Medina’s execution of (mostly) New American cuisine that is mouthwatering, locally sourced, and accessibly priced all at once.
“There isn’t an overarching theme, though we’ve played with a couple of ideas,” says Medina. “Mostly we wanted to focus on the farmers around us—the purveyors of the food. The whole menu is really made up of favorite dishes from other restaurants that I’ve worked at.”
Medina, while trained in classic French cuisine, loves the New American style: the pan-roasting, searing, and frying; the local seasonal vegetables; the balanced flavor profile. As a nod to the heritage of the resort’s past owners, the Conover Club also does German and Polish dishes––the menu’s burger is German-style, with whole-grain mustard, swiss cheese, pickles, and broccoli slaw.
Under the stewardship of the Hills family, Callicoon Hills transitioned from a boarding house into a vacation resort in the 1940s. The Hills ran the resort through the Borscht Belt era of the ’60s––the Borscht Belt, or the “Jewish Alps”, is a colloquial term for the proliferation of now mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskills in parts of Sullivan, Orange, and Ulster counties that attracted many Jewish guests.
By the late 1950s, many began closing due to the decline of antisemitism and the rise of affordable airfare, with most gone by the 1970s. Callicoon Hills survived, largely thanks to the Ambrozewicz family, who purchased the resort in 1973 after being told by the chef at the time, “if you like it so much, why don’t you buy it!” They promised to continue the resort’s tradition of warm and personable hospitality. Medina confirms that they were successful.
“It feels like home,” he says. “You come in and you’re comfortable.” The atmosphere of Callicoon Hills is lodgy, with big windows and pastoral Catskill views. The towering central boarding house has the welcome lobby, a coffee shop, and the restaurant on the ground floor, while the second, third, and fourth floors offer guest accommodations. Throughout the aesthetic is a toned-down chic, with earth tones and warm whites, lots of wood, and fun accent pieces. Out back, the midcentury Pool House offers double rooms and accessible rooms plus quick access to the pool; while up a short hill, three more one-story buildings make up the Ridge Rooms with their sweeping views of the property.
Medina, who lives in the town of Callicoon Center, thinks that the rural environment is a big draw for customers. “People are looking for beauty and they seem to find it better here than anywhere else.” Guests at the Conover Club can sit in the restaurant or on the outdoor porch, where they can take in the view.
The food scene is also an attractor––the Conover Club sources almost entirely locally, with what Medina dubs the best farmer’s market in the area. “When you come across the product, you don’t want to go anywhere else,” he says. “It’s not the farm-to-table that everyone says they’re doing but they’re not––it’s real.”
The venison on the menu is from Halloran Farm just a mile away, and a local woman collects and brings them the wild berries they use for the sweet-and-sour sauce that is drizzled atop their pan-seared pork chop ($20).
Other standout dishes include their wings ($11): cured, confited (cooked low and slow), dusted, and dried, ending up crispy on the outside and, per Medina, “fall-off-the-bone-soft on the inside.” The steak is mushroom-rubbed, cured in porcini powder, then roasted with chimichurri and served with a side of herbed fingerling potatoes ($25).
The drink menu offers two dozen or so wines by the glass and bottle, mostly European, bottled and draft beer, and a selection of seasonal and bottle-aged cocktails.
The Hudson Valley’s food culture, specifically the passion of those who cultivate and cook the products, stands out to Medina, who believes it has to do with the strength of the community. “The community up here loves to share, loves to be together, loves to have a good time,” he says. “It’s the quality of the food and having a great time and merging them together.”
Callicoon Hills hosts multiple social events, including the Delaware Valley Opera, the famous Callicoon Center band, and weddings, and has been getting involved in local charity work. “I think Callicoon Hills has the most unlimited potential in a location that I’ve seen in a very long time,” says Medina. “We want to reach out, welcome everybody in, have them feel like they’re a part of this huge site that exists.”
The Conover Club is open Thursday through Monday 5pm-10pm.
Conover Club at Callicoon Hills
1 Hills Resort Road, Callicoon Center, NY 12724