SUNY is like a giant squid stretching its arms across the towns and cities of New York, touching each of them with the infectious ink of college life. My favorite SUNY to visit is SUNY New Paltz, because it has a beautiful surrounding town that manages to be both artsy and truly local in ways which are, unfortunately, difficult to find around Ramapo.
Climb some apple trees after the break…
When you first drive into New Paltz you may feel like switching your iPod to “American Beauty” or another Grateful Dead album, as it’s full of hippies playing Frisbee (sorry Ultimate kids, “disc”). College hippies. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to rely on about college hippies it’s that they always know where the best food around is. One thing they always love is fresh produce. With that knowledge I set out to a local apple orchard where I filled my bucket with Cortland, mackintosh, and golden delicious apples for an extremely minimal price. As I wandered through the fields picking apples I could really feel the connection to nature that agriculture brings a community. Even in the wet weather this weekend I was running around orchards catching frogs and picking perfect fruit off of trees. Capping off the apple adventure with fresh, unpasteurized apple cider and apple cider doughnuts,we set off to explore the town. On our way in, we almost picked up a wayward, dread locked hitchhiker, but that’s a story for another day.
Wandering through the rock climbing shops, the record stores, and the tye-dye boutiques, we eventually ran out of town. Hungry and noticing a restaurant full of people my age, we decided to check out The Gilded Otter. The Gilded Otter is a microbrewery, one which specializes in making sure everyone is happy, even those under 21 or who choose not to drink. They have not only beer on tap but also home made root beer.
Indeed, The Gilded Otter is a true college restaurant in a great deal of ways. Specializing in appetizers, fusion cuisine, and burgers, there’s something for nearly everyone. Even vegans could look forward to a vegan ravioli dish that I didn’t order. Not because I’m not vegan, because I had my eye on an adorably named appetizer—“If Otters had Wings”—that was most certainly not vegan.
These wings were one of the more unique plays on Buffalo wings I’ve ever had. If I was guessing the secret recipe, I would say that it was an equal amount of Frank’s Red Hot sauce and tamari, a Japanese soy sauce used extensively by natural foods types. This sauce is known for having an “umami” taste, which essentially makes anything it touches richer and meatier tasting. This led to some really awesome wings. They were served along with a blue cheese dressing that while chunky was a little too oniony for my taste; I could see onion lovers enjoying it quite a bit, however.
For my lunch I got a steak with a Madiera demi glace. A demi glace is essentially boiling down a flavor until it is thick, syrupy and the entire essence of a flavor. One can do it with stocks or broths or also with alcohols and juices. This was done with madiera wine and provided a rich accent to the beef. This beef was, I believe, grass fed or organic as it had the flavor of lamb or goat. In my opinion, the average meat one buys at the supermarket is inferior in flavor to meat raised in good health and compassion. It was a very New Paltz steak.
What really made this restaurant for me was not just the food but also the interior, which is a blonde-wood log cabin studded with outdoorsy ephemera like skis and rock climbing gear. Usually bars and restaurants influenced by drinking are dark, musty, and uninviting. The Gilded Otter was much different, seeming to want to let nature inside to visit. Between the food, shopping, and proximity to nature, New Paltz has been my favorite town to visit thus far. Depending on your interests, you can find almost anything there and definitely find a great time with friends.