The Hudson Valley Is Where The Food Is
By ML Ball
Photographed by dKol Photography
The mission is simple: serve delicious, affordable food that guests will want to return to week after week.”
So states the Menu page on Brian Arnoff’s Kitchen Sink Food & Drink’s website. Just a brief collection of words but ones that say it all. Mission. Simple. Serve. Delicious. Affordable. Guests. Return.
That pretty much sums up this fairly new but already much-beloved eatery staking its claim in the bustling, booming big-little-town of Beacon, NY.
At Kitchen Sink, where the intimate atmosphere evokes a warm, welcoming kitchen, farm-to-table isn’t a modern catchphrase; it’s literally true. The menu features locally sourced ingredients from the Hudson Valley (many from Arnoff’s mother’s farm in Hyde Park), and continually changes to showcase what’s at peak freshness each season.
The “kitchen” in the restaurant’s name becomes even more apt when one learns that Arnoff’s cooking career began in a kitchen—his mom’s, to be exact.
Growing up in Poughkeepsie and then Hyde Park Arnoff credits his mother with introducing him to the world of cooking and the personal satisfaction that comes from feeding people well.
“My mom cooked all different kinds of things—Jewish staples like challah, mandel bread and matzo ball soup, but also a little bit of everything,” Arnoff said. “When my brothers and I were kids, she would have us all in the kitchen helping her, probably so she could keep an eye on us. And I actually liked doing it. Then when I was 15, I had to get a job because I wanted a car, and I thought I might as well do something that I like doing, so I got a job working at Adams [Fairacre Farms] in prepared food. That was my first cooking job, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.”
That position led to others at Troutbeck in Amenia and Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, followed by a semester abroad at Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy. After earning a degree in hospitality management from Boston University, Arnoff had the opportunity to work for the James Beard Award–winning chef Barbara Lynch at her renowned Boston restaurant, Sportello.
“That definitely had a big influence on my cooking style,” he said. “It was the first time I worked for somebody that said, ‘We’re going to get the best-quality ingredients and make the best food possible.’”
One example of Lynch’s ultimate dedication to quality is having cantaloupes personally driven from Maine to Boston by the cantaloupe farmer himself and hand-delivered to her three restaurants, because to her, that farmer grows the very best cantaloupes around. As Arnoff recalled, “I was 20 and realized, wow this is really different from working at a pizza joint. It’s on a whole different level and definitely leaves an impression on you.”
After two and a half years working under Lynch, Arnoff moved on to The Four Seasons Hotel, first in Boston, then in Washington, DC. Then as luck would have it, it was there in our nation’s capital that he saw a huge opportunity, dove in and capitalized on a fast-growing culinary new wave.
“I started noticing all this stuff going on with food trucks and decided, I’ve got to get in on this,” Arnoff said. Much easier and cheaper than opening a restaurant (which in a major metropolitan area can run millions of dollars), a food truck seemed like a great way to start his first food business.
Thus, in November 2010, Arnoff hit the streets with CapMac, his macaroni and cheese food truck. It soon became a DC institution, earning rave reviews and awards from the Washington Post, the Washingtonian, Southern Living, Zagat and many more. The crowds kept coming, following him from spot to spot and then via social media, telling him where they wanted him to be.
“When we opened our truck, we were the eighth food truck in DC. By the time I sold it three and a half years later, there were 200. We were right on the cusp of the whole food-truck thing. It exploded while we were doing it,” Arnoff said.
But even with the extraordinary success of CapMac, Arnoff and his wife felt something was missing in their lives. Both Hudson Valley natives, they knew they didn’t want to live in Washington forever, so in 2014 they packed up, moved back to New York State and started searching for the perfect spot to open a restaurant.
“I wanted to come back here because for our part of the country, this is where the food is,” Arnoff said. “You can be farm-to-table in New York City but you’re not at the farm. The food is still coming from the Hudson Valley. This is the hub of food for New York. If chefs are sourcing locally, they’re getting their food from here.”
Before long, that perfect spot presented itself. Arnoff explained, “I had heard there was a whole revival going on in Beacon, so I checked it out and said, this is cool, I like what I see, I like the Main Street vibe. There’s foot traffic, there are people wandering around.” To him, Beacon was like a small city rather than being way out in the country, which was a big plus.
“A destination restaurant is tough,” Arnoff said. “Asking someone to drive 45 minutes or so is risky. I’d rather be somewhere that people are already coming to and we just need to get them to walk in the door.”
That door, opened by Arnoff in 2015, is Kitchen Sink. Phenomenally successful from the get-go (Fried Chicken Monday is a huge hit), it was followed a year and a half later by Meyer’s Olde Dutch Food & Such just a couple of doors down, named for Arnoff’s great-grandfather who had a grocery store in Middletown called the Olde Dutch Grocery. “He was the only member of the family in the food business, so I thought I would name that one for him,” he said.
Attracting a diverse mix of locals, regulars, “city folk,” Dia visitors and tourists, both establishments are fiercely dedicated to serving the finest, freshest fare and just as fiercely opposed to being prohibitively fancy or expensive.
“Meyer’s is a vintage-feeling burger joint crossed with a modern craft cocktail bar,” said Arnoff, “and Kitchen Sink is an eclectic menu focused on sourcing local ingredients. Both are intimate and casual, and both are 100 percent local. At Meyer’s, all our beef is local, and our buns and our cheese are produced in New York State. And at both places, we’re focused on making sure our menu stays affordable.”
And just as in Arnoff’s childhood, his mom still plays a big role in his cooking. “She comes in and works with me a little bit,” Arnoff said, “but she’s really the farmer in the family. She operates a little farm in Hyde Park that we get our produce from in season, May through November, and I plan my menus around what she’s growing: tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash, all the herbs, lettuces, kale, peppers and eggplants.”
In the wintry off-season, Arnoff and his mother go through the seed catalogs together, finding ones that will grow well in this area and that Arnoff wants to cook with. They order the seeds, start them in his mother’s greenhouse, and then when they’re ready, transplant them in the ground to finish growing.
By all accounts, their strategy seems to be working. Kitchen Sink has won a regional Best New Restaurant award, and positive word-of-mouth keeps both locations full and bustling.
Could Arnoff be just as successful in another part of the country? Probably. Would he want to? No.
“I love the Hudson Valley,” he said without hesitation. “The food is here, the scenery is beautiful and it’s a great place to live. New York State is the fourth-largest producer of dairy products in the country, the second-largest producer of apples and the second- or third-largest producer of butternut squash. We’re a huge producer of meat and all kinds of vegetables. It’s all right here. That’s why, right now, I’m focused on doing the most and the best with what we have.”
Can’t get better than that.
For more information about Kitchen Sink Food & Drink, visit www.kitchensinkny.com, and for more information about Meyer’s Olde Dutch Food & Such, visit www.meyersoldedutch.com. █