By Don Rosendale
Ann Marie Pallan thinks maybe it was the flat roof, or perhaps the corner location. Or maybe the ugly pistachio paint job that made her fall for the building on Mechanic Street in Amenia. Whatever it was, it reminded her of Monte’s, her family’s iconic Brooklyn restaurant.
Anne Marie is, after all, a Monte, and the Monte family is synonymous with hospitality. At the drop of a table napkin, she will tell you that the original Monte’s was Brooklyn’s oldest Italian restaurant — its first pasta served in 1906, that it survived Prohibition as a speakeasy, and that Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. used to eat and sing there. In the 1950s, the Monte family also took over a sleepy motel in Montauk and turned it into Gurney’s Inn, which they ran for 50 years.
Though the family has been out of the restaurant business for a couple of years, extra virgin olive oil still flows in their blood. So now, because the building reminded Ann Marie of the family’s place near the Gowanus Canal, there is a Monte’s
in Amenia, its décor a wall of family photos with rarely one of its 50 seats unoccupied even during the January restaurant doldrums. Only this Monte’s doesn’t serve red sauce over spaghetti with a side of garlic bread, but what Ann Marie and her crew term “Hudson Valley farm to table."
The Mechanic Street building has been a restaurant for as long as anyone can remember — a cafe with rickety tables called the Cozy Corner, whose 15 minutes of fame came when Town and Country
told the world that it was a quaint country nook worth a journey. Then a local contractor bought it, gutted it and proved that hardhat to toque blanche is a difficult transition.
Enter Ann Marie, who was looking for something to do after moving to Millbrook with her significant other, Robert Trump (brother of “The Donald").
While Robert Trump, nearly tall enough to play for the Knicks, towers over the pub area on Friday nights, Ann Marie is quick to point out that there’s no Trump money in the restaurant — the owners are five Monte siblings and an “adopted" Monte, Dafna Mizrahi.
Manager Dafa Mizrahi and Executive Chef Licia Kassin.
This Monte’s is the embodiment of what Dafna, a Culinary Institute graduate, says is a concept she’s been developing for years, what she calls “farm to table, chic and rustic." The feta, she says, comes from the owners of the Four Brothers pizza parlor a block away, the “toussaint," a cow’s milk pecorino, from Sprout Creek in Poughkeepsie. The chicken, she says, rattling off a list of local purveyors, is from North Wind Farm in Tivoli and the strip steak from Sugar Hill in Pine Plains.
Not surprisingly, with Monte family roots in Montauk, the restaurant offers fresh seafood. Licia Kassin, the executive chef and like Dafna a CIA graduate, explains that the grilled swordfish comes with a fennel gratin, fennel orange salad and blood orange beurre blanc ($26). For carnivores, there’s a 10-ounce rib eye steak ($32) that comes with a potato pancake-like dish that Licia explains is a smashed fingerling potato fried in truffle oil. I never had the steak, but on one occasion, Licia prepared the pancake dish for me and it was well worth the calories.
For a restaurant that serves such substantial fare, Dafna says that two of its most frequently ordered dishes are the roast beet salad with a beet sorbet, feta and pistachio vinaigrette ($12.50) and the Hudson Valley kale salad with autumn squash and candied pepitas ($12).
I’ve been eating at Monte’s once or twice a week, as a customer and not intentionally researching this piece, after accidentally becoming its very first patron (I showed up an hour before the official opening). They’ve only let me down once, with a squishy hamburger at the bar.
But how can you not adore a place where the staff remembers what you drink, and if there is still food on your plate at the end of your meal, it goes into a doggie bag marked “take home for Sadie," my Australian cattle dog?
Monte's Local Kitchen & Tap Room
3330 Route 343, Amenia, NY
Wednesday -- Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
Sunday, 12-5 p.m.