‘Old-fashioned kind of delicious’ at Monte’s

Posted: Friday, December 26, 2014 12:30 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


It’s the most wonderful time of the year for food, family and friends in the rich Hudson River Valley! Hospitality is Dafna Mizrahi’s middle name — and at the top of her wish list is supporting local agriculture by feeding us all from small scale farms.


Mizrahi’s culinary dream has come true in Amenia, opening Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room two weeks ago which attracted locals, New Yorkers, visitors and farmers alike.


Mizrahi isn’t paying lip service to sourcing local quality food from family farms — together with Chef Licia Kassim and Chef Juan Lopez (all of them CIA graduates), they are crafting fresh food from the farm to your table. The meal is more than meaningful, it’s the old fashioned kind of delicious that makes cooking seem like the second best choice with this new restaurant around the corner in Dutchess County — just in time for a fun night out during the holidays.


A creative force, Co-Founder and Executive Chef Dafna Mizrahi dazzles us all together with the Monte family. Somehow it feels like Dafna has invited you to be a guest at her own table in this super cozy spot.


“Good food and good hospitality are like the salt and pepper of a dish — essential!” she told me with a smile. “In my mind I knew what I wanted to do and pictured all of this — the paintings, rustic shabby chic feel, the menu, the mixology — and why Amenia — because I fell in love with the location and the building …” describing the original Monte’s from 1906 on Carroll Street in Brooklyn.


Her partner Teresa told me, “I’m a Monte!” Together with partners [siblings] Ann Marie, Paul, Phyllis and Angelo. “My grandpa opened Monte’s in Brooklyn before my dad and my uncle moved to Montauk to take over Gurney’s.”


The Monte family owned and managed the landmark Gurney’s Inn Resort & Spa in Montauk for 56 years after closing the 1906 restaurant in Brooklyn called Monte’s Venetian Room, an Italian favorite.


Teresa said her dad and uncle had told Mrs. Gurney, “If you ever want to sell — call us! and when she did, the family moved out east [to the end of Long Island] in 1967.” The family ran Gurney’s until they sold it this year.


Teresa went on to explain, “My dad always wanted us to stay together so when my sister Ann Marie, who lives in Millbrook, saw the building in Amenia, and it was eerily similar to the original Brooklyn ‘Monte’s’, we went all in, five of us and our little Daffy, our goddaughter, who wanted to open a restaurant! It was a good fit because we couldn’t be here all of the time and Dafna made it happen.”


Last Saturday, Dafna greeted us after our long day of shopping and wrapping as though we were home for dinner. A packed house didn’t suppress her enthusiasm to get us fed. Mizrahi’s mom Luisa was also at the front of the house to help out and boasted proudly, “Dafna’s always had passion to take care and please the people. She was very artistic always and set a nice table to eat well. She never stops!”


Dafna added, “When you have food at the table there is always going to be family!”


Indeed it’s a family affair! There’s something for everyone at Monte’s. Mizrahi explained, “We are not over-manipulating food — we cook with salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil — why mess it up if you start with good ingredients. I take every table personally like a guest at my own table — it’s a representation of myself, not a dish off the menu — authentic and seasoned perfectly.”


Chef Licia added, “ If I use local farm products the local economies are better for everyone and it tastes better, I don’t want to manipulate what I cook.”


Eat we did! Northwind Farm chicken house-brined to perfection, local duck and grilled calamari with Four Brothers Goat Dairy Farm Greek yogurt — and fresh Greek feta, also from the same farm — was accompanied by local beets, delectable beet sorbet and pistachio pesto. Served on the menu as sides were many local choices including those we tried — squash spatzle or mushrooms roasted in Staub mini cast iron dishes. The local squash and apple soup made us all swoon.


There is also a selection of fish, flatbreads and a butcher’s plate in the Italian habit of more is more: charcuterie, salame, chutney, pickled bites and bread. Every single thing we ate was not only fresh and delicious but had a creative twist on comfort food and most of the food and spirits were from down the road. We added a glass of wine off the special board — Millbrook Winery Cabernet Franc — and the pairing was perfect!


“I believe the Hudson Valley has the most wide variety and richness of product as well as talent. With all of us coming from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) — why go to New York City or Los Angeles when we have so many quality ingredients in our backyard!” Mizrahi explained. The concept was in her mind for four years, so she stepped up to develop it with the backing of the Monte family siblings — five in total — and support of locals like Robert Trump who told me cheerfully, “I’m not allowed to sit — I’m a worker like the others!”


Marvin Scott told me he came all the way from Edgewater, New Jersey to dine at Monte’s last Saturday night, “So terrific here, we have so many places in the city but we come to the country for fresh, great food and local eating!” Even Farmer Erich McEnroe was at a table eating both times I visited — a testament to practicing what you preach.


We all play a role in local food and the important work of lifting up rural economies with food education, farm preservation and influencing our youth with our actions. It’s vital to revitalize resilient agriculture and build a bridge to urban marketplaces simply by eating. So when you eat today — and every day — thank a farmer!


Celebrate we will on New Year’s Eve at Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room with a menu that makes “local” part of everyday habits and company that makes the evening out in the country sparkle. You are invited to the table! Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too!


Contact the author at tessa@ or on Twitter at @FarmOnFarmOn.


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