Gabriel’s Café gained a following for its healthful, locally sourced cooking and intimate café setting during the many years that it was located on John Street in Uptown Kingston. But when a new landlord raised the rent 40 percent, the restaurant had to move. Now reopened after a yearlong hiatus at a new location at 316 Wall Street, just around the corner, Gabriel’s has reinvented itself as a South American eatery. It’s unique in the area for its servings of Peruvian roast chicken, Yucatecan pork (braised in orange juice, cumin, allspice, garlic, oregano and onions), Cuzco vegetarian stew (with quinoa, onions, greens, squash, potato and tempeh), Chilean pot roast, vegetable feijoada, Brazilian seafood stew and the Columbian Platter (brown rice, black beans, seasoned ground beef, chicharrones and sweet plantains, topped with a fried egg).
Entrées range from $9.75 to $15.50. Smaller servings of empanadas, arepas (meat, salsa criolla and a fried egg over corncakes topped with melted cheese), Brazilian black-eyed pea fritters or sandwiches of sliced pot roast, salmon, tempeh or tofu, served with onion, pepper and lime salsa, cater to the lunch crowd and are priced even less. Vegan and gluten-free dishes are also available, and the greens served on the side are wonderfully fresh and flavorful.
Owner and chef Gabriel Vesquez continues to build his menu around fresh ingredients, including organic grains, flours and breads and grass-fed beef from Fleisher’s Grass-Fed and Organic Meats, located across the street. In the summer and fall, he will use local produce from the Kingston Farmers’ Market, right outside his Wall Street door.
Originally from Colombia – Vesquez immigrated to New York City in 1978, when he was 17 – he’s certainly familiar with South American cuisine, although he earned his culinary chops at a natural gourmet cooking school, focused on health food and macrobiotics. Vesquez said that his longtime business partner, Susan Dixon, suggested that they focus on South American dishes at the new locale as a way to establish an identity and fill a gap in Kingston’s burgeoning food scene.
The new space, which long ago was a shoe store, is much larger than the old Café. Last occupied by Asian specialty store Kimm’s, the space has been transformed, with the high ceilings, gleaming hardwood floor (long buried under layers of plastic tile and plywood) and brick walls exposed. Several monumental abstract paintings by Marko Shuhan, full of contrasts and moody intensity, look fabulous on the walls, and a partitioned area, managed by Dixon, sells Asian foods, continuing the cherished tradition of Kimm’s. Vixon said that she also plans to sell South American foods, in harmony with their new menu.
Vesquez purchased the building in June 2011 and spent a year renovating the space, working within a limited budget. Friends and family pitched in. Whenever possible, found materials were utilized, such as the dismantled pine shelves discovered in the basement, which were crafted into tables, and the planks from a friend’s sawmill, which serve as benches; the counter is a slab of polished cedar. An ancient barn door embellishes one wall, and the antique bathroom door was sourced from the Zaborski Emporium, located in Midtown Kingston. Vesquez said that he plans to convert the three parking spaces out back into an outdoor seating area, which faces the verdant yard of the historic Senate House on Fair Street. He installed a wide, arched wooden double door from an old school in the cinderblock back of the restaurant, which opens up the wall and pours in light.
Vesquez said that the kitchen is still bare bones, with additional shelving, refrigeration and other functions to be added in the near future. He attributed the success of his business partly to his low overhead: He does all the cooking himself and employs his own and Dixon’s daughters as waitresses. Gabriel’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.
Not surprisingly, Saturday night is usually the busiest time – Vesquez credited the Stockade Tavern and BSP as attracting the weekend crowds – yet lunch can also be surprisingly busy. With such long hours, he’s glad to be living on the top floor with his family (formerly, he commuted to his home in Stone Ridge). He loves living in Kingston, where he can walk to so many places.
But it’s the community spirit of Uptown that touches him the most. “I can’t believe the amount of people who helped me out, from the builders, plumbers and electricians to my sister, brother-in-law and friends,” Vesquez said. “Everybody wanted to make it happen. Everybody, including the neighbors, helped.”
Gabriel’s Café is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and makes its South American entrées with all-natural and organic ingredients.
Gabriel’s Café, 316 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 338-7161, www.gabriels-cafe.com. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s dinehudsonvalley.com or hudsonvalleyalmanacweekly.com.