Driving south on Albany Post Road in Gardiner, with eyes on the road and preoccupied by thoughts of errands to run, there’s a fleeting impression of picturesque farms and pastoral landscape passing by. Much of it goes by too quickly to appreciate. But look for the sandwich board on the side of the road approaching Brookside Farm, and pull into the parking lot there to find a restful, wide-open bucolic scene backed by the distant Shawangunks that makes you want to forget the rest of what you have to do that day.
The Side Shack at Brookside Farm is a relatively new eatery, a seasonal venture opened last summer for the first time and earlier this month for its second season by Sharon and Drew Sycoff, who’ve been adding on to Brookside Farm’s endeavors since they started the farm eight years ago. First came an onsite farm market, where they sell the organic beef, chicken, pork and eggs produced at the farm, and now The Side Shack, where those same goods are cooked to order to eat at one of the picnic tables.
Everything served at The Side Shack is certified organic, down to the richly creamy chocolate and vanilla Blue Marble brand soft-serve ice cream (more flavors will be added soon). Even the hot dogs are made from organic meat.
Sharon’s recipes are the basis for the food served at The Side Shack. One of her specialties, says husband Drew, is a roast that starts with a dry rub of seasonings, then after searing is cooked for ten hours until it’s so tender the meat falls off the bone. There’ll soon be daily specials, too, thanks to the newly hired Culinary Institute student, Jake Elgart, who will add his expertise to the Shack’s kitchen on weekends. The fries are fresh-cut, there’s a veggie burger option for non-meat eaters and gluten-free sandwich buns and ice cream cones are even available.
It all starts with the animals raised at Brookside Farm — the chickens, pigs and cows that are moved to fresh pasture every day during grazing season and eat a natural diet without the use of any hormones or antibiotics. The free-range egg-laying chickens are Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds, considered the best egg-layers, says Drew, and the broilers are Cornish Cross, the highest quality meat breed of chicken. The two breeds of hogs on the farm are Large Blacks and Berkshires, raised on organic oats and corn and also known for the taste of their meat.
The Sycoffs paid a lot of attention to the genetics of their animals when starting the farm, says Drew, something essential in a grass-fed beef operation. The couple invested in 100 percent Angus Wye cattle, currently the only farm that does so, Drew adds, and they hold the cows for two full years before bringing them to market, which results in more marbling and better-tasting meat.
The beef from those cattle produces a seriously tasty hamburger at The Side Shack, enhanced by its topping of “Shack Sauce” made from a base of Sharon’s dad’s “Granddaddy’s Barbecue Sauce” recipe. The vinegar-based barbecue sauce is tangier and of lighter consistency than the barbecue sauce one generally finds in this region. That’s because it’s typically Southern-style, says Sharon, who was raised on a farm in Heath Springs, South Carolina.
Drew grew up in Melville on Long Island, but the couple met in Manhattan when both were living there years ago. Drew says it didn’t take much persuading to move to Gardiner and start Brookside Farm, and now the couple have three young children — Lily, 8, Hank, 6 and Mack, 4.
The Sycoffs have plans to continue expanding the offerings at the 169-acre farm, adding a tent soon to weatherproof the dining experience with a permanent pavilion perhaps coming next year. They’d like to build a stage and offer live music and have just had their first request to host a wedding on the farm. They already offer children’s birthday parties. And in addition to the onsite farm market — which also features quality products from other local producers like the jams and breads of former Gardiner supervisor Joe Katz’s Bruynswick Farm — the Sycoffs operate farmstands at eight local farmers markets and their products are carried locally at the Newburgh and Kingston Adams Fairacre Farm stores and New Paltz Health and Nutrition.
The Side Shack is located at 1245 Albany Post Road. Hours are Thursday and Friday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (845) 895-7433 or visit www.brookside-farm.com.