Downstate day trip: Hyde Park

downstate daytrip composite

By Casey Normile

Upstate New York is clearly the most interesting part of the state. Clearly. But, begrudgingly, we have to admit that downstate has a lot to offer as well.

One example: our recent destination, Hyde Park -- pleasantly situated on the east side of the Hudson, just north of Poughkeepsie, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Albany on I-87.

The surrounding area is full of food, scenic views, historical sites, and shopping...

Lunch at CIA

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A pear and blue cheese salad.

Before any history or scenic Hudson views, we wanted to eat. And while many of the restaurants in the surrounding area are owned or operated by alumni of the Culinary Institute of America, we decided to go straight to the source.

The CIA campus itself has five restaurants at which students are both the chefs and the servers. It's kind of like their labs. Make sure to get a reservation. We called in the morning for a same day reservation and managed to get one of the two remaining spots for the day, but that was lucky. Spots fill up fast, so call ahead.

We went to St. Andrew's Café, the "farm-to-table" restaurant on campus. It's a certified "green" restaurant, which basically means they use local ingredients whenever possible, they recycle, compost, conserve energy, and don't use Styrofoam to-go containers.

downstate daytrip cia gnocchi

Oh, and the food? The good thing is that you can expect the CIA students to do their best to impress you. At St. Andrew's, the theme seemed to be "take interesting ingredients to make familiar dishes." For example: I had the house-made butternut gnocchi with roasted butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, sage and Caciocavallo cheese -- it was simple but delicious. I ended up with a little bit of food envy for my sister's dish: the barbecue grass-fed burger. It was topped with bacon and blue cheese on a grilled bun with perfectly seasoned meat. She's a pretty serious meat eater and she said it was one of the best burgers she's ever had.

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But the real highlight of the meal was the maple crème brulee. Everyone should have this dish -- full of maple flavor, but not cloyingly so -- at least once in his or her life.

It's important to note that the servers and hosts are students. And while I'm sure they're extraordinary in the kitchen, out on the floor, some of them are fish out of water. Service is attentive, but awkward. (Exhibit A: A waiter opened a bottle of champagne over a woman's head with terrible results.) But the experience of being in a restaurant where the entire staff is still learning was interesting and humbling.

FDR's home

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For the historic portion of our day, we chose to tour Franklin Delano Roosevelt's home, Springwood. The tour is $14 and is a good post-meal adventure to fight off the inevitable food coma after such a serious lunch.

FDR's home is kept exactly as he left it. The same prints and Revolutionary War cartoons hang on the walls, his collection of birds -- hunted and stuffed -- still stand in a glass case in the foyer, and the head chair at the dining room table is pushed out as it would have been for Franklin to transfer from wheelchair to dining chair.

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Our tour only had about ten people aboard; it's busier during the summer. You see the grounds, his grave, the stables, the house, and can even visit the library and museum afterward. The most interesting part about the tour is that it's not just a house he spent a year or two in. Some historic homes you tour will brag that the famous resident spent an entire decade or even just their summers there. But this was the home FDR was born in, grew up in, where he raised his family, and where he planned to live out the rest of his days after his presidency. It was truly the home he loved. You don't have to be a history dork to appreciate that.

Rhinebeck

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After food and history, there is plenty to choose from in the area. There's the Hyde Park Brewing Company (right across the street from the National Historic Site), other historic homes, the Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, or even the city of Hudson an hour north as a stop on your way back home. But we decided on Rhinebeck.

Only 20 minutes north of Hyde Park, the small town is a great stop for its old homes, restaurants, boutiques, and shops. The hub for all of this is the intersection of Market St. and Mill St. It's pedestrian-friendly, so we just parked and wandered for a while.

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Rhinebeck's shops are full of makeup, perfumes, candles, purses and totes, one-of-a-kind clothing and jewelry, antiques, beautiful stationery, cooking accouterments, and everything nice. (Although it might not be as much fun for male companions.) There are also restaurants, cafes, bakeries and simple pizza shops if you want to grab dinner before you head home.

It's great for gift shopping, but plan carefully -- most shops close at 5 or 6 pm.

Hyde Park is just one stop downstate but it's right at the center of quite a bit of history. The entire area is full of beautiful houses that give away the age of the region. And to fill in the spaces between historic districts and homes, there are great places to eat and Hudson River valley views to enjoy. It's easy to fill a day there.

Comments

This post is wonderfully timed, as the hubby and I have been planning on heading down there in the wake of seeing the movie (even though it was filmed in England-- for shame!). Thanks AOA!

Staatsburgh State Historic Site (Mills Mansion) is just down the road from Rhinebeck on the way to Hyde Park--worth checking out the unimpeded view of the Hudson (no train tracks).

If you're looking for a casual and cheap meal, do yourself a favor and check out the Eveready Diner. I went to college in the area, and enjoyed this establishment immensely.

Funny you call it downstate. I've always consider Poughkeepsie and north "upstate." I went to college here too, and make it a point to visit once or twice a year. I also whole-heartedly endorse Everready! I've spent more money there than at any other restaurant.

Historic site-wise, there's also the Vanderbilt mansion, Wilderstein, and the Eleanor Roosevelt house. Also numerous hiking trails with a plethora of views of the river cover the area. Mills Mansion (Staatsburgh) is my favorite, because there's always very few people there, and the trails lead to some fascinating abandoned buildings.

Although it looks completely unremarkable from the outside, Hyde Park Pizza is fantastic -- better than any pizza I've had in the Albany area. Wonderful crust, quality toppings, and they offer a delicious whole wheat crust, which my whole family loves. And their spinach and feta "pinwheels"....heavenly...!

I like the Vanderbilt mansion next door even better, the grounds and gardens are beautiful.

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