He traveled far and wide to find the best food on the planet. He supplied and supported Hudson Valley restaurants for decades. Now Jason Bover wants you to discover the food of your dreams here in Ulster County.
He and a thriving community of foodie co-conspirators have created Ulster Eateries Unfiltered, a free, public and fast-growing Facebook Group with over 3600 hungry members. It’s the only place you’ll find a fiercely local crowd having an honest, uncensored (but well-moderated) dialogue about restaurants in our area. If you care about local food, you’re either already a member or you’re likely loading Facebook now to become one.
What makes Ulster Eateries Unfiltered a must-follow? Bover’s passion for great eats is matched by a life of experience in the field. He has built a true community beyond the core group. What started as an online forum for promoting and debating the best food in Ulster County has evolved into an offline community of foodies, restaurateurs and casual diners voting for the best food in a given category and then mobbing the winner’s establishment with hungry customers.
“Every month I pick a topic,” Bover explained. “We did best pizza, best bagels, best wings, best sandwich, best donuts …. We open up the poll to everybody. Whoever wins that month, we visit them next month for the get-together.”
These meetups are more than a fun night of food worship. Restaurants are struggling these days. Thirty customers packing an eatery, celebrating the cuisine, and posting about it to social media is a big boost to an establishment’s morale as well as its bottom line. And the love lasts, with many attendees developing relationships with business owners, becoming regulars.
A donut exclusive
Recently, Bover’s ambition around boosting the best of local dining has reached even deeper than his list of hangouts, into inspiring, one-of-a-kind collaborations with local chefs and owners. “I reach out to the poll winners and ask if it’s possible to do something special off the menu just for Ulster Eateries Unfiltered to try and drum up some business,” he said.
Recently he worked closely with the owners of the Half Moon Cafe Coffee and Donuts in Kingston to produce a spicy honey peanut-crunch donut, an exclusive for his monthly meetup.
“We’re having our next get-together at Urban Fork on June 29th,” he continued. “I put my head together with the owner over there. We came up with a spicy pineapple crack sauce. I actually grow my own hot peppers and make my own hot sauce. So I’ve combined my favorite hot sauce, which is a Trinidad Scorpion pineapple, and we’ve mixed it with Urban Fork’s crack sauce. We’re excited for that.”
Join the club. Literally. Anyone on Facebook can join, no questions asked. Once you see the group’s luscious food photography and passionate reviews, it’s clear Bover’s love of food is contagious and has deep roots.
“I was raised as a child of an eccentric food and beverage distributor,” he said, “making monthly trips to Canal Street and Arthur Avenue, riding in the back of the delivery van, back when car seats were optional. Going to food trade shows across the country … fermented, pickled, aged or vegan – whatever your fancy, it was all the norm.”
Like many culinary aficionados, Bover grew up idolizing Anthony Bourdain, fantasizing about competing on Chopped, and witnessing inventive cooking on Iron Chef and other Food Network shows.
“I started traveling to New York City monthly to hit up as many spots as possible, as I saw my favorite chefs do on TV,” he said. “Once Bourdain showed me how travel can really open up my food experiences, I was hooked. I would frequently travel up to two hours just for lunch in New Jersey, Massachusetts or Connecticut. Since then I’ve food crawled across the Carribean, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Colorado, and up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida.”
This is the kind of person you want curating your food reviews and organizing your local foodie community. Our area got lucky. He’s a longtime local. The coronavirus lockdown nudged Bover to focusing more and more on dining in his native county. He enjoyed the sense of community that quickly built as he met the proprietors of the area’s eateries.
Folks primarily come to Ulster Eateries Unfiltered to post reviews of recent visits to Ulster County restaurants, although Bover and his moderation team also post specials and announcements from area establishments whom he freely promotes and supports. He’s developed a sort of cult following among several local restaurateurs and food retailers who bravely stand behind his decision to tell it like it is, and allow others to do so.
Negative restaurant reviews can be a touchy subject. Yelp reviewers are often seen has having an outsized impact on a restaurant’s bottom line. Fortunately, more and more consumers are savvy enough to recognize the absurdity of entitled Yelpers whining about their unrealistic expectations not being met, fracturing their delicate egos.
Still, undisclosed paid reviews (or, on the flipside, vindictive personal grudge reviews) muddy ratings on Yelp and other sites. Bover sees reviews on their way out anyway, with community and of-the-moment social-media buzz increasingly the deciding factor in dining decision.
Under the spell this negative-review paranoia, other Facebook groups have been known to delete and ban even the slightest whiff of criticism. Some even post sponsored reviews without disclosing that they are paid for, and require expensive membership in a club as a precondition for a review.
Bover started his group partially in response to this fakery. “Some of my earliest supporters and restaurants messaged me and were really thankful for what I’m doing. They all verbalize that one honest review is worth much more than five fake reviews,” he said. “In the restaurant industry, you have to earn respect and pay your dues.”
Knowing the details
He expanded on his views.
“You need to wash the dishes before you cut the carrots,” he said. “You need to cut the carrots before you cook the appetizers. You work your way up and everyone respects you. Restaurants need to pay their dues. They need to work hard over the long run to earn a reputation which precedes itself. You can’t just buy positive feedback and reviews and expect it to last. People are going to come in and say, ‘This isn’t what I read online.’ When there’s a disconnect between their reputation and what they are actually putting out is when a restaurant slowly declines.”
On his thinking, the hunger for authenticity is connected to a hunger for a sense of community.
“Local businesses are having a hard time, and they want exposure and publicity,” he explained. “They want the real foodies. We’re more concentrated in terms of people who really care about food. In some of the other groups, people just want to see a menu and get a pizza on a Friday night. A lot of our people want to know, ‘Is the pizza crispy or is it soggy? Are the fries double-fried or not? Is the chicken organic? Is the fish from the Hudson River? We want to know all the details.”
Bover is sensitive to the needs of local restaurants due to his wealth of experience in the field. “Delivering to the back of hundreds of small cafes and restaurants throughout the Hudson Valley, I have been able to predict whether a restaurant will stay in business a year or two in advance,” he said. “If you’re not well-oiled enough to order in a timely fashion and don’t have money in the register when the delivery arrives, and then take weeks to pay .… If I call to ask for a check and none of the employees have a clue what I’m talking about or where the owner is, that’s a red flag from a mile away.”
Such an unhappy scenario is sadly on the rise. Inflation, supply-chain issues, a housing crisis, and a labor crisis are among the contributing factors.
Just getting started
Bover sees Ulster Eateries Unfiltered as a way to boost the best local restaurants without pulling punches on those that may be overrated.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the quality of the food.
“The one good thing hipsters from New York City have brought to us is the elevated food quality,” he observed. “Now you have to use the freshest local organic ingredients sourced from all over the world. It’s what we expect. And if you don’t meet those expectations, you fail.”
What’s next for Bover and Ulster Eateries Unfiltered? More meetups and more collaborations, for sure. One gets the sense Bover is just getting started. He’s beginning to develop a business around consulting for restaurants, offerimg 360 degrees of expertise, from social media and content marketing to menu planning and reputation management.
Bover is no stranger to running his own business. His husband-and-wife wedding photography operation Above Photography has served as the springboard for business ventures in the food space.
And at least for now, he’s keeping it real, and there’s a growing community of people who are grateful. Are there occasional kerfuffles involving negative reviews lodged by folks with an axe to grind? Certainly. Bover handles these with aplomb, engaging with all sides. He strictly enforces moderation rules to excise anyone overstepping the boundaries of decency.
Ulster Eateries Unfilitered is an inspiring driver of connectivity in our community at large. As locals already know and newcomers are beginning to learn, money cannot buy a sense of community. It takes openness, honesty and respect. Ulster Eateries Unfiltered is striving to dish those traits up daily.