It irks me when people use the word “palette” (a board where artists mix paints) when they mean “palate” (the roof of the mouth/taste for food), and I see it all the time in print. But chefs Charles Fells and Megan Kulpa Fells took advantage of this similarity in the two words when they named their Poughkeepsie restaurant, linking two very different items to create a successful concept in their approach to dining.
Combining unique, eclectic and sometimes-adventurous takes on cuisine in their elegant space, or at catered events on-site or outside it, this pair of lauded chefs seems to have it right.
People had mixed reactions when in 2005 the Fellses bought an abandoned, gutted storefront in a part of town that some might call “rough” – once M. Schwartz & Co., a clothing store where Charles bought his first suit – with plans to turn it into an upscale eatery. During a 13-month renovation, designers created a lovely and elegant spot in gray and tan, with the high ceiling still the original tin, and the original floors and some of the brick walls. A use of recycled materials helps to give the Artist’s Palate plenty of character and history. Now the adjoining Canvas, also theirs, provides a place for some of the events that they cater: a more intimate spot perfect for events too small for large venues, like birthday parties, rehearsal dinners and business events.
The Fellses’ menu doesn’t merely change with each season, like many restaurants, but every two weeks. This is necessary, says Charles, for the chefs and staff. “If you cook the same thing all the time,” he adds, “you’re nothing more than a robot.”
But it’s a big challenge to create and recreate dishes constantly. Part of what makes the menu unique is the nod to “unusual proteins,” in Charles’s words. “I wanted a place that would challenge the customer,” he says. The menu has offered offal like lambs’ kidneys, and meats like kangaroo, antelope, elk and Burmese python, which was still tough after 18 hours of cooking, Charles says. A current menu features duck hearts, and there will be a trio of deviled duck eggs, house-cured duck ham and grilled and marinated duck heart with pickled green tomato.
Most menu items are sourced locally, and when that’s not possible, then sustainably. “The operating model is ‘80 percent within 80 miles,’ he says. As we move into cooler weather, you’ll see more braises, shanks and starches on the menu, he says, moving away from the more fish/less meat/raw vegetables menus of summer.
Although the menu changes every two weeks, certain favorites are always on hand: Roasted Four Onion Soup, Crispy Fried Tofu, Maine Lobster Mac and Cheese with a Pedro Jimenez Sherry Drizzle, Caesar Salad, Penne Pomodoro (pasta with tomato) and an Artist’s Plate with an assortment of charcuterie, cheeses, vegetables and legumes.
Both Fellses are accomplished and experienced chefs (Megan has appeared on the Food Network show Chopped), so the division of labor is a question that comes up. “We both like to interact with staff and customers,” Megan says, explaining that currently she is often on the line and Charles is focusing on paperwork and business aspects, drawing up contracts for catering jobs and so forth. They have a toddler daughter who has to be at school at 8 a.m., so that complicates things as well, necessitating early risings for Mom and Dad.
Charles grew up in the area and has seen downtown Poughkeepsie change a lot through the years. With crime activity in Poughkeepsie, some people are afraid to go there to dine; but the Fellses believe in Poughkeepsie and are doing all they can to help revitalize the area. Since they opened the Artist’s Palate, more upscale places like Bull and Buddha and Brasserie 292 have come on the scene to help make the area a dining destination with multiple draws. “Poughkeepsie is like a well-worn book,” says Megan. “The cover may be ratty, but it’s still a good book.”
“It’s like a roller coaster,” she adds. “Things get better for a while, then worse. But it’s getting better. We still feel the city is great. It’s all perception.”
And that name? When they were first searching for a location, they looked at a spot on the 200 block down the street that had been a gallery. When they found their current location they decided to keep the gallery concept, with exhibitions by artists that change regularly. And yes, they are pretty used to having the restaurant’s name misspelled.
On Monday through Friday, lunch service begins at 11 a.m., and on Monday through Saturday, dinner begins at 5 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. Find the Artist’s Palate at 307 Main Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 483-8074 or at www.theartistspalate.biz.