Old Chatham Country Store and Café Lights Up the Night
Six years ago when Brian Albert and Peter Trump bought the Old Chatham Country Store, all of northern Columbia County, where nothing much ever changes, was on the edge of their seats. The store, which had been there forever, had recently been the scene of a cause celebre. The previous owners had wanted to play recorded music outdoors on summer nights. Their elegant residential neighbors were suitably appalled. So the erstwhile restaurateurs fled, and the place was dark for an entire summer.. Now the new owners had slipped in quietly and immediately launched a massive renovation, which was considered both a good sign and cause for concern. Clearly they were committed, but would they mess it up?
For residents of the many Chathams and well beyond, the upshot, after five months of suspense, was love at first sight. The sign, the open shelves, the counters, even the rest room, looked as if they could have, should have, always been that way. One taste of the food sealed the deal. Soups, salads, and sandwiches, simple, yes; but there is nothing old school about the way these fellows cook. Everything they make betrays their credentials—both are CIA graduates with many years of restaurant and catering experience behind them. When Jane Roy Browne, writing for the Boston Globe, declared, “Old Chatham Country Store and Café presents an affluent slice of country life,” she only got it half right. Everyone, from the hippy with a hammer to the master of the hounds, instantly became habitues.
The only snag: By 4 p.m. the place was closed up tight; if you wanted dinner, you had to order it in advance to take home and heat up. “As early as the second year, we came up with an elaborate dinner menu,” Brian Albert says, “then we decided it was too soon. It was just the two of us at that point; we didn’t have a team in place.” In the intervening years, every once in a while, Albert and Trump would cater a private party on the premises, and anyone driving by, seeing the building aglow, would sigh with envy and regret. In the sunshine, the place is charming, with flowers spilling from window boxes and pots on the patio. At night, all lit up, it is so warmly welcoming, that to not be permitted entrance felt almost like a snub.
Not any more. Old Chatham Country Store and Café now serves candlelit dinners on white-clothed tables to sell-out crowds every Friday and Saturday night. “This is what we always wanted to do with the store,” Albert says. “Now that we have help who have been with us for several years, we felt ready. But it got complicated.”
Staying open at night and serving wine (they had long since gotten a license), signified a substantial change of status to the zoning board. “We were a Country Store, and we had to become a Neighborhood Commercial Facility. It took several board meetings to get our approval. For the last one, we had a petition with 500 signatures.” Optimistic, Trump and Albert still were unprepared for what happened next.
Apparently, many of the five hundred supporters felt a signature was not enough. “At the final board meeting, the room was full. In fact, they couldn’t all fit. I turned around and saw doctors and lawyers from New York, customers of ours who had come up mid-week to show their support. There were people standing, people in the hallfway, people outside.” Albert, who has “lowkey” mastered, allows, “It was a very good feeling.” The motion passed.
Now, on Fridays and Saturdays, the Old Chatham Country Store and Café lights up the night at a quiet country crossroads. The bistro menu has some always-welcome standbys—Wellington Farms pan-roasted chicken, $19; steak frites, $22—plus an element of surprise—first courses such as duck and spinach-filled wontons, $9; Asian cabbage salad with crispy calamari, $9; an entree of braised lamb shanks with red wine and figs, $20— and every night a different fish and vegetarian option. The value is remarkable and extends to the wines. An $8 glass of Ferrari Carono Merlot (their most expensive by-the-glass red) comes in a goblet so large it contains the equivalent of two.
Alas, after they serve dinner on New Years Eve, Albert and Trump intend to close for vacation. They will reopen for breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, January 27, but won’t start serving dinner again until February 5th. They already have some reservations for Valentine’s Day. Asked if they expect to be open more nights come summer, they say they might, if they can hire sufficient staff and demand warrants. All bets are it will.
The Old Chatham Country Store and Café
639 Albany Turnpike
Old Chatham, NY 518.794.6227
Tuesday - Thursday & Sunday
7 a.m - 4 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 7 a.m to 4 p.m. & 5 p.m. - 8 30 p.m.