Dixon Roadside has a lot to live up to. Not only is located on the former site of Bearsville’s beloved Gypsy Wolf Cantina, it’s the sophomore effort of Mike Cioffi and the folks who brought you Phoenicia Diner, which has been a runaway success since it opened in 2012. The joint has garnered a dedicated following of weekenders, transplants, and seemingly anyone on Instagram looking to take a photo of a coffee cup on a menu/placemat. And, its elevated diner food is cooked with care, which also explains why there are lines out the door every weekend.
Here’s food writer Jeff Gordinier’s overheated-but-in-the-ballpark blurb for The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook, which was published on March 3 by Clarkson Potter: “The smell of bacon. The sight of pancakes growing golden on a griddle. The sound of gentle conversation at a long counter. If there is a place where just about anyone in this fractured country would feel at home, it’s in a roadside diner, and if you wanted to dream up the ideal version of such a roadside refuge, it would look and sound and smell a lot like the Phoenicia Diner.”
Needless to say, expectations were high when Dixon Roadside opened in December, and on the food front, Dixon does not disappoint.
The menu is a mid-size collection of locally sourced comfort options, like the crispy chicken sandwich ($15) served on a brioche bun with red cole slaw, bibb lettuce, and kimchi mayo. It’s as good a chicken sandwich as you’ll find in the region, the breading flavorful and taut, the meat juicy, the slaw and mayo adding a vinegary/spicy lubrication. There are three other sandwiches: the vegetarian sloppy Jane ($14), grilled fish sandwich ($17), and the BBQ beef brisket ($17). The sandwiches all come with a side dish; I recommend the steak fries (tossed with cumin, sumac, and lime sea salt), buttermilk mashed potatoes (chunky like mom’s), and the sautéed green veggies, braised with a hint of tamari.
The entrees are grouped under the heading Roadside Regulars, and are served with two sides. Options include mac and cheese ($13), BBQ beef brisket ($22), ancho smoked squash ($17) crispy fried boneless chicken ($16), grilled market fish ($18), and rotisserie half chicken ($20). Firstly: the portions are large. In a world of constant complaint about “value,” there is plenty of food on the plate. (Or tray, rather: dishes at Dixon are served nostalgia-style on metal trays reminiscent of Swanson TV dinner containers.)
The mac 'n' cheese was four-cheese gooey and bedecked with crunchy bits of toasty nom noms—a bargain at the price. The rotisserie chicken, which I ordered with rosemary garlic rub, was juicy and crispy in all the right ways. The standout however, was the market fish. On a recent visit, it was farm-raised steelhead trout from Hudson Valley Fisheries in Hudson. The meaty fish—which eats like salmon, not trout—served with crispy skin, was delightfully flaky.
There’s a daily entrée special each night ($22), rounding out the comfort food menu with veggie Frito pie on Monday (roasted root vegetables and mushrooms), baby back ribs on Tuesday, turkey dinner on Thursday, to fish fry on Friday, links and beans on Saturday, and brisket meatloaf on Sunday. The entrees specials come with dessert: Ronnybrook soft serve ice cream and housemade whoopee pie are winners here.
The bar features six local and regional beers on tap ($6 to $8), as well as cider and kombucha. The cocktail program features drinks from $13 to $15, a standout being the golden Paloma, which employs Hudson Standard turmeric shrub to spice up the Mexican classic, made at Dixon with mezcal.
The restaurant’s decor has the industrial optimism of an Automat. In a world where restaurateurs are trying to create artisanal-everything spaces, Dixon’s aesthetic is a throwback to the machine age minimalist chic. Exposed air ducts, a wall of glass (including two roll-up doors which open onto the patio), and metal appointments give it the feel of a gas station of yesteryear, but designed by Eero Saarinen. When I pulled up in the parking lot, I half expected a perky young man in a jumpsuit to pop out and ask if I want him to check the oil, like at an old service station.
The irony here being that the wait staff do wear Dixon-branded work shirts, but the restaurant is not full-service, it’s part of a growing trend of high-end counter-service restaurants.
Here’s how it works at Dixon: You walk in and are immediately faced with a check-in counter where you are asked to order. Once you order and pay for your food, you can go sit down with your number—our food will be brought out to you. If you want a drink, there’s a bar in the back you can go and order at. This multi-counter structure can be a bit confusing, and led one commenter online to write: “Not sure how to order drinks after having already paid for the meal.” Fair point. That said, as food and labor prices continue to rise, we’ll likely see more variants in this genre as restaurateurs seek to control costs. (Kingston Bread + Bar is another local example).
Like Phoenicia Diner, Dixon Roadside is bound for success. Given its location on the Route 212 tourist corridor between Woodstock and Phoenicia, its pedigree, its hip vibe and well-crafted food, it’ll be jammed all summer and fall. Go now and beat the rush.