There’s more than one way to Santa Fe. It’s now double the fun, with two to chose from: the long-popular Tivoli institution or its newer little brother Santa Fe Uptown across the river. Both restaurants germinated more than a quarter-century ago, when their young creator David Weiss traveled around Mexico, meeting locals and soaking things in, absorbing an approach to food that lets simple fresh ingredients shine.
Shortly thereafter, in Tivoli in the northwestern reaches of Dutchess County, the recent Bard grad opened a small Mexican restaurant to offer the authentic flavors of the Mexico that he loved to visit. Over the years since, Santa Fe has been a favorite gathering place for Bard students, locals and visitors.
“I want to credit David for creating the whole concept,” says Annie Demosthenes, who in July 2012, with husband Jim and Weiss, opened the newer Kingston eatery (Weiss remains sole owner of the Tivoli venue). “After traveling around Mexico he brought back the idea of using fresh local ingredients, from the farm…and the menu is pretty much unchanged. Since Day One we’ve had a very authentic type of Mexican food – not what people might think of as Mexican…. we are not Americanized. The menu is limited so we can really concentrate on the individual ingredients, so the guests can really taste everything, not loaded down with sauces and cheeses…David created a menu that reflects fresh, healthy food.”
Annie Demosthenes worked for Weiss for a few years in the 1990s, but when life got busier for her she still stayed a loyal customer, her favorite menu item the Oaxacan tacos: char-grilled chicken with homemade mole poblano, caramelized onions and white cheddar cheese ($14.95). Later, with husband Jim – who co-owns Kingston’s Hillside Manor – Santa Fe was their favorite restaurant. “We’d always joke about bringing Santa Fe to the other side of the river,” she says.
And then they started to think about it more seriously. “We started looking at locations,” Annie says, “and we were watching Uptown Kingston being revitalized, and we wanted to be part of that. We found a spot there with great historic value: the old City Hotel building at 11 Main Street.” It had been a restaurant for 60 years, one incarnation being Conca D’Oro, another Ugly Gus Café. Then, with Weiss, they opened Santa Fe Uptown.
“We have a very authentic type of Mexican food,” says Annie. The menus at the Tivoli and Kingston branches are essentially the same but not absolutely identical, she says – understandable considering that one is a college-town institution and one a relative newbie in a historic spot in an up-and-coming section of a city. The Kingston restaurant has some items that began as specials, were much-requested and are now mainstays on the menu, like the lobster quesadilla with lobster, cilantro, lime, white cheddar, green chilies and Spanish onions ($10.95; it can become an entrée with mixed organic greens, seasoned rice and black beans for an additional $5), which you won’t find in Tivoli.
These days Demosthenes’ favorite is the fish tacos, “maybe because my tastes have changed, maybe because I’m more health-conscious,” she says. Ahi tuna is marinated, seared and grilled, elements being red onion, cilantro, guacamole and white cheddar cheese. The fish can vary according to what’s freshest, and a grilled Baja-marinated shrimp version is available as well ($16.95 for either).
There are starters like blue masa-encrusted calamari with a chipotle/caper aioli, or a salad of sliced avocado over mixed greens with nopalitos (cactus paddles), arugula, tomato, cucumber and queso fresco with honey/lime vinaigrette. Or move into sopa del día or salads like the one with skewers of grilled shrimp marinated in cilantro and garlic over mixed organic greens with toasted pepitas and mango chipotle sauce ($16.95), a grilled chicken with fresh guacamole, queso fresco, sweet almonds and fresh tomatoes over greens ($14.95) or a roasted beet salad with warm goat cheese, grilled red onion, toasted pepitas and candied mango over greens with a mango vinaigrette dressing ($13.95).
Dinner items are served with the mixed organic greens, seasoned rice and Santa Fe black beans, and could be slow-cooked pulled pork in tacos with caramelized onions and white cheddar cheese ($15.95), enchiladas típicos with achiote-grilled chicken, baby spinach, fresh tomatoes, queso fresco, salsa verde and white cheddar cheese ($14.95). Steak-lovers will appreciate the Black Angus New York strip, char-grilled and served over caramelized onions with a guajillo chile sauce ($26.95).
There are many items to appeal to red-meat carnivores, chicken or fish aficionados and especially vegetarians, like the enchiladas de San Miguel with stacked blue-corn enchiladas with mushrooms, spinach, fresh tomatoes, queso fresco, salsa verde and white cheddar cheese, as well as an assortment of burritos and chimichangas. A no onion/no chiles menu is available for kids, and there are many gluten-free options available. “We’ve been mostly gluten-free from the beginning, even before it got popular,” says Demosthenes. “I would say about 75 percent of our menu items are gluten-free.”
Drink options include specialty margaritas: “We’ve been having fun trying different flavors,” Annie says. Try El Corazón in Kingston, with blood orange, passionfruit and pomegranate, or the popular Frozen Modelo, in Kingston only as well. It’s half Negra Modelo – dark Mexican beer – and half margarita. “People love it,” says Demosthenes. “It goes like gangbusters.”
Negra Modelo is always on tap, along with Dos Equis Amber, Pacífico and Keegan Ales’ Old Capital, and there is a mind-boggling array of tequilas – dozens! – to sample, from simple, clear, unaged silver to honey-colored, oak-aged beauties. Try, for example, the roasted pineapple/figs/cedar aromas of Cuervo Platino ($11), or añejos like 1800, caramel/vanilla/toasted coconut ($8); Herradura, chamomile/cinnamon/pear ($9); or Don Julio, wild honey/vanilla/butterscotch ($11).
Design elements in the two spaces are similar, yet slightly different. “David designed the Tivoli Santa Fe originally, and then Kingston, too,” Annie says. “He has an eye for bright colors, like pink, and how to work other colors with it.”
“Santa Fe in Tivoli holds about 30 more people,” she adds, with three rooms as opposed to Kingston’s cozier two, which still holds 80 diners. Uptown, however, has a big historic U-shaped bar from the 1950s that seats 20 occupying the entire middle of the restaurant. Tivoli’s bar holds about ten, but there is an open-concept kitchen where diners can watch the chefs cook. This past summer Kingston added an outdoor deck on the side of the building, with room for six or seven tables. “We were so excited to do that,” Annie says. “It helped in the summer, when people who might have otherwise passed Santa Fe by if they wanted to sit outside came in.” Tivoli also has a deck in the front, but with fewer tables.
“We’re really excited to be a part of what we see happening Uptown these days,” says Annie. “Kingston is poised to have a revival, and we’re so happy to help add to the appeal of the area… It was a destination when I was a kid growing up, then later with the malls not so much. Now it’s back, and coming full circle.”
Santa Fe, 52 Broadway, Tivoli; (845) 757-4100, https://santafetivoli.com. Santa Fe Uptown, 11 Main Street, Kingston; (845) 339-7777, https://santafekingston.com. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.DineHudsonValley.com or www.HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.