One of life’s simple pleasures is having that great little place in your neighborhood to go to for breakfast or lunch. It feels cozy and familiar, with décor that charms and the warming aromas of coffee and comfort foods made with fresh ingredients. You run into friends and neighbors there; people you saw just yesterday and those you haven’t seen in a while, but are happy to catch up with. And you get to know the owners; they’re the ones who welcome you in, stopping by to chat tableside at some point, or at the counter, if that’s where you’ve settled yourself.
Janet and Darryl Greene’s new Trolley Stop Cafe is that kind of place. Located in the heart of the Highland hamlet at 58 Vineyard Avenue, just off of Main Street in the downtown area, it’s a family business, with Janet running the front of the house and Darryl in the kitchen. Daughters Alanna and Geneva provide table service and son Nathan helps out when he can. No strangers to the hospitality business, the Greenes were longtime owners and proprietors of the now-defunct Inn at Orchard Heights in New Paltz, a bed-and-breakfast housed in an antiques-filled, 1888 Queen Anne Victorian in the village
Guests of the B&B often gave the Greenes five-star reviews online for their friendly hospitality and raved about the quality of the hearty breakfasts cooked by Darryl, who began cooking in a local Italian restaurant at age 14 and worked with John Novi at the Canal House back in the day. And the guiding principle behind the menu at Trolley Stop Cafe will be that same focus on quality food prepared with fresh ingredients.
The fries are hand-cut and the sausage and corned beef hash are house-made. There’s even a made-fresh-to-order mac-and-cheese on the lunch menu. House-fermented sauerkraut tops the Reuben, and a red cabbage kraut adds to the “chicken in a biscuit” entrée, also topped with crispy onions, thinly sliced pickle and garlic aioli. Classic BLTs and grilled cheese are on the menu, but so are unique options like the chicken francese dip; thinly sliced, battered chicken with shaved ham and provolone on garlic bread, served with horseradish mayo and francese dipping sauce.
The Trolley Stop Cafe serves breakfast and lunch six days a week — they close on Wednesdays — opening at 8 a.m. daily except on Mondays, when they open at 10 a.m. Lunch service begins at 11 a.m. and breakfast is served all day, until closing time at 3 p.m. Any item on the menu is available for take-out.
The 22-seat dining room is cozy and inviting, with a counter that seats four. The Greenes bought the building in 2018, but Darryl had to do a complete renovation of the space before they could open. Interior walls were covered with wood paneling that when stripped away revealed handsome beadboard original to the building, and the striking front door, with its stained glass insert, was an antique Darryl reconfigured to fit the space. He also made the tables for the cafe from wide planks of pine (milled by his brother C.J., who also milled a black walnut tree felled in Rosendale 20 years ago, which Darryl made into the countertop). Running alongside opposite walls of the interior are salvaged church pews that provide bench seating on one side of the tables. The backs of the pews have been utilized, too, mounted in a hallway as racks for brochures about local attractions. When warm weather arrives, the couple hope to add a few tables outside.
The Trolley Stop Cafe takes its name from the eatery’s location and its role in local history. A century ago, the building at 58 Vineyard Avenue was Frank’s Fruit Market, in front of which the Highland-New Paltz trolley stopped to pick up passengers. The line was in operation from 1897 to 1925, and brought major economic and social changes to the region. It was successful because there was little competition from buses or cars and roads were poor or nonexistent then.
The walls of the new cafe are adorned with framed images of the trolley, enlarged from the vintage postcard collection of local historian Vivian Wadlin (Janet credits Viv’s husband, John, for coming up with the name, “Trolley Stop Cafe”). In one of the images, the viewer can place exactly where they’re standing now in relation to where the trolley stopped.
A number of the passengers were tourists. After disembarking from steamboats at Highland Landing, they took the trolley to boarding houses along its route or continued on to New Paltz, the stepping-off spot for carriage rides up to Shawangunk Mountain resorts. Other riders were locals, who used the trolley as a way to get to work. With the Mid-Hudson Bridge not completed until 1930, a smaller trolley pulled by a locomotive across the Poughkeepsie railroad bridge — now Walkway Over the Hudson — brought passengers from the other side of the river to Highland, where they could transfer to the main trolley. People also rode the line to attend classes at New Paltz Normal School — now SUNY New Paltz — or for evenings out at The Casino in New Paltz (now P&G’s), opened in 1900 and so popular that additional late-night trolley service was added at some point to take guests and the musicians back to Poughkeepsie. Milk was even delivered via the trolley, as was mail.
When the Greenes acquired the space at 58 Vineyard Avenue, it hadn’t been used for anything since 1970. After the fruit market eventually closed, the building housed a penny arcade for a short while, but nothing else for the last half century. The Greene family is getting used to the fast pace of running a restaurant there — “It’s completely different from the bed-and-breakfast,” says Janet — but are looking forward to getting established in the neighborhood. “We have been received by this community in such a big way,” she adds. “We’re very happy about that. And I’m glad we opened in the winter, to have time to get to know the locals before the tourists get here. People are loving our food, and telling us we’re the talk of the town! It’s all good.”
For more information, visit https://atrolleystopcafe.com.