Tiso’s Trattoria, the popular Mount Tremper restaurant, closed in December 2015 after five decades of operation by Joe and Marge Tiso. The eatery is about to reopen as The Pines under new owner Jeremy Bernstein, a Woodstock-born musician who performs as Burnell Pines.
The restaurant will begin serving in April with a limited schedule, partial menu, and admission by email invitation only. To join the email list, visit http://catskillpines.com. The official opening, with regular Thursday through Monday hours, will occur sometime in May.
Bernstein, whose parents established the school that later became the Woodstock Day School, has a deep attachment to the region. After touring for years with his Catskills brand of “mountain rock,” he’s looking to settle down and establish a hangout where both locals and visitors can eat, have a few drinks, and, on some nights, enjoy musical entertainment.
He zeroed in on the location last spring, when he was driving by with a friend, and the car began to make an alarming sound. They pulled over in front of the shuttered restaurant, and Joe’s brother Chuck appeared, offering to give them a tour. After a number of visits, research, and discussions with the Tiso family, Bernstein decided to take the plunge. With his extensive experience as a woodworker, including renovation of old buildings, he said, “I wasn’t deterred by what challenges the building would throw at me, like having to get under floors and strengthen them. There isn’t a corner of this building I haven’t been intimate with.”
He is happy to honor the history of the structure, which dates from the 1880s, while revising it to suit his needs. Tiso’s had only a service bar, but Bernstein has constructed a sit-down bar in a room off the kitchen. He stripped several layers of wallpaper to get down to the original wood walls and multiple layers of linoleum to expose a handsome floor. “I let the building talk to me,” said Bernstein, seated in the main dining room. “I sit in here and look around. It has a lot of history and a good energy. I was fighting the urge to put in a long table.” Then he spoke to a Woodland Valley resident who remembers the place from when her grandmother owned it, from the 1930s to the 1960s. At the time, a long table dominated the dining room.
The former service bar now stands at the end of the room, a massive mahogany piece with a mirror, built in the 1800s for a restaurant in Tannersville. He plans to take out the cabinets underneath and install amps, alongside drums and a piano. There’s already a player piano with half-hour-long rolls that might provide dining music. The entertainment schedule is still in the works, with plans to call on Bernstein’s musician friends and the pool of local talent. Mount Tremper has long been a relaxing annex for the Woodstock music scene. At the former Whitewater Depot, a quarter-mile down Route 212, “all the Woodstock musicians played in the 60s and 70s,” said Bernstein. Many of them — Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, John Sebastian, and others — also hung out at Tiso’s, where the family atmosphere made them feel comfortable.
Woodstock artistic talent is also part of The Pines, with the input of Will Lytle, who’s been drawing Bernstein’s album covers, as well as the sign and logo for the restaurant. Lytle is covering the walls of the bathrooms with murals depicting pine woods, featuring the quirky details he’s known for — an arrow stuck in a stump, a chickadee at child’s-eye-level. Step inside the one toilet stall he’s completed so far, and you’re in a dilapidated cabin, looking around for more fun details.
The building was originally constructed as a boarding house and has always had a few rooms set aside for short-term lodgers, a tradition that will continue once Bernstein finishes sprucing up the bedrooms, hopefully by Memorial Day. He’ll have three rooms sharing a bath, plus one self-contained suite.
The Tisos, who still live nearby, have stopped in to see the renovations. “They’re excited that I’m keeping true to the building they were in for so many years, but with my own take,” said Bernstein. “Joe came by to teach me and my chef some of their recipes. We’ll pay homage to them with signature dishes people here loved.” The Italian specialties will be a rotating part of a cuisine Bernstein calls “rustic country tavern food,” revolving around Old-World recipes. The menu will reflect Bernstein’s eastern European Jewish roots, the Italian heritage of chef Liz DeSiena, and the influence of Bernstein’s partner, Stacia Bolina, who is half-Mexican. Expect such dishes as pasta with Swiss chard and potatoes, big salads, stews, and burgers. “I didn’t want to do burgers,” said Bernstein, but everyone insists. We might give it a twist, put a burger on a homemade English muffin.” He has been tasting local brews and liquors and researching New York State bourbons and wines as he decides which brands to offer at the bar.
Other plans call for guest chefs who will take a night once a month to serve their own special recipes. Mor Pipman of Glenford is planning a Middle Eastern theme, with assorted small mezze dishes. Barbecues will be held in the back yard, and Bernstein hopes to develop the natural amphitheater at the back of the property for summer music.
“The goal,” he said, “is to have a welcoming community space.”
The Pines, on Route 212 in Mount Tremper, will be inviting guests to dine in April. To join the email list for notifications, visit their website at http://catskillpines.com. The official opening, with full dinner menu and hours from Thursday through Monday, will occur in May on a date yet to be announced.