It’s unfair to review a restaurant less than a month after opening. It forces you to say something priggish like, “I must note that they were out of the kimchee omelet,” when of course they’re going to be out of the damn omelet! No new restaurateur knows what the scene is going to be. Will the people come? Will they kimchee? It must be terrifying to open a new restaurant.
Deena Rae Turner and Daniel Gilhuly have got a lot of nerve. The couple just launched Café East, Uptown Kingston’s newest breakfast and lunch joint, at 243 Fair Street, across from the County Office Building in the space once occupied by Ashley’s Café. It’s the kind of stumble-in, short-order diner that compels one to come in and set a spell, but the fare has got a twist. Turner’s cooking background is in classic French takeaway, so you’ve got your Julienned Carrots, all right, but they’re pickled for Bánh Mì. French and Asian influence with American soul: The “s” in “East” is slightly elevated in print, leaving “EAT,” a nod to all those Art Deco diners dotting Eisenhower’s interstates.
Turner started out last year with a Woodstock food cart, East, that in one memorable hour cranked out 38 orders of Pad Thai and a torrent of tacos. The sweet success led her and Gilhuly to seek a set space in Saugerties or Red Hook, but Kingston proved the perfect fit. Their happy spot right across from the DMV balances the feng shui of Fair Street. Inside it’s inviting, with rich navy-blue walls and a bluestone counter set against a sea of silver textured metallic panels and the great gray hood hiding powerful fans over a griddle and stove. Classic stools, sticking up in a line like typewriter keys, are topped in bright red. There’s table seating, too, indoors and out on the sidewalk.
But you want to be inside, where the action is. Turner, with hair tied back and patterned apron tied at waist, comports herself with that winning North Carolinian combination of mystery and manners, segueing from agitating a stovetop wok to making easy conversation between the breakfast and lunch rushes. We talked for a while.
“I don’t usually yap this much about my personal life,” I said.
“People say I have that effect,” she said without judgment.
From what I gathered, a combination of curiosity, health and economics led to the love of Asian food reflected in most dishes. Her Pad Thai, the dish that sold so swiftly in Woodstock, is back in Uptown ($9), Shrimp or Chicken ($12) versions, and it’s unlike any that I’ve eaten. I got mine with chicken to go, and damned if it wasn’t piping hot 40 minutes later, jammed into a Chinese takeout container. It’s got a lot of flavor going on, tastes like the best brown bits from the wok, with organic and hormone-free meat, tofu and a gentle dusting of peanuts.
I got it to go because I ate breakfast in. There was plenty to choose from – Asian-style marinated steak and eggs, slab bacon sliced on the premises, toasted baguette with butter and fig or pepper jam – but the omelet with homemade kimchee was out. Breakfast Bánh Mì ($9) was a solid stand-in: scrambled egg, pickled veg and cilantro on a soft baguette section, served with a small bowl of rice crackers of assorted shapes, colors and textures.
Then there was sweet to eat. Gilhuly makes most desserts, including gluten-free lemon/walnut torte, cookies and specials; but Turner makes the Saffron Rice Pudding ($4). Ramekin-sized servings are presented bottom-up in a stemmed sundae glass, arriving steaming, topped with chopped toasted almonds. It’s thick, not custardy, with that unmistakable saffron-yellow hue, coconut and vanilla-bean specks. It’s familiar and exciting.
Right now, while they’re feeling it out, Café East is only open Monday through Friday. But once May comes and the farmers’ market hits the streets, they plan on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For fine fare weekdays, stop by from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you want to shoot the breeze and drink cup after cup of organic coffee, come in between meals. There’s also a serious-looking machine up front pulling espresso shots for cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos, too. So stop by and give Café East a shot. I’m pulling for them.
Café East, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., starting Saturday service in May, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 243 Fair Street, Kingston; (845) 331-2043, Café East on Facebook. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s dinehudsonvalley.com or https://ulsterpub.wpengine.com/category/columns/food.