Sizzle and swizzle

New Paltz’s Rock and Rye combines tavern with fine dining

by Megan Labrise
June 09, 2011 01:22 PM | 2 2 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rock & Rye Tavern co-proprietors Cassie Fellet and Sue Biolsi (second and third from left) are pictured with manager Matt Sweeney, chef Jeremy Kolakowski and pastry/sous chef Jillian Weissenrieder.
Photo by Lauren Thomas
Rock & Rye Tavern co-proprietors Cassie Fellet and Sue Biolsi (second and third from left) are pictured with manager Matt Sweeney, chef Jeremy Kolakowski and pastry/sous chef Jillian Weissenrieder. Photo by Lauren Thomas
In a 300-year-old stone tavern, Cassie Fellet, 33, mixes potable portals to the past. Rock and Rye Tavern isn’t old -- it’s old school. The newest incarnation of Huguenot Street’s Locust Tree restaurant is owned by Fellet, formerly of Beso and New Paltz Wine & Spirits, and partner Sue Biolsi, a Woodstock veterinarian who moonlights as hostess. Their updated cocktail classics, fine wines and craft beers are paired with locally sourced fine dining fare crafted by Chef Jeremy Kolakowski. The hybrid historical space -- half 1759 stone tavern with original locust-wood beams, half circa-1830s Victorian addition -- complements both drinking and dining. The building accommodates 99 guests, and an additional 40-50 outside on a bluestone patio with a stunning Shawangunks view.

“We’re definitely trying to bring the true tavern culture back. It’s that communal experience -- a place people want to keep coming back to keep tabs on their friends, and a place where a wayfarer can stop by and feel welcome as well,” said Fellet. “We also want the element of fine dining. We all have fine dining backgrounds, but don’t like to make a huge show of it. We want people to feel very relaxed and not even realize that we folded their napkin while they were away from the table. We want a place where they can feel comfortable coming back, even for a burger or brew.”

With service led by manager Matt Sweeney, Rock and Rye opened for dinner, Wednesday-Sunday, in May (and recently added brunch on Sundays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m). Kolakowski’s appetizers range from $6-11, including a spring vegetables minestrone, basil coulis ($6) to crispy pork belly over toasted brioche and spicy tomato jam with a slow-poached egg ($11). Entrees, $14-27, include hand-cut parpardelle with Rykowski Farms beef Bolognese, Parmigiano-Reggiano ($21) and La Belle Farms duck breast and leg confit, wild rice, macerated figs ($27).

CIA-trained, Kolakowski worked for Four Seasons Hotels in Washington, D.C. and Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Mohonk Mountain House, before joining Fellet at Rock and Rye. A fan of classic French bistro flavors with a modern twist, he seeks out seasonal ingredients from local farms whenever possible.

“There are so many great, small local farms around: Rykowski Livestock [of Rosendale], Taliaferro Farms, Huguenot Street Farm. You can find just about anything, and it’s beautiful stuff,” said Kolakowski. Cheeses come from The Cheese Plate at Water Street Market; fair-trade coffee from the Mudd Puddle Café is served in individual French press pots.

Some hyper-local ingredients may join the menu as the growing season unfolds. Pastry and sous-chef Jillian Weissenrieder raided the seedling sale at Four Winds Farm in Gardiner to create Rock and Rye’s own backyard garden.

“I grow pretty much everything I can. That’s my haven over there. We’ve got tomatoes, chard, a whole bunch of peppers, three types of zucchini, everything,” said Weissenrieder.

Behind the bar, Fellet incorporates local spirits and sprigs. A recent cocktail special featured chocolate mint from Sweeney’s garden, and craft beers on tap include selections from New York State breweries Southern Tier and Captain Lawrence. Working with Tuthilltown Spirits of Gardiner, she plans to host a bourbon-pairing dinner later this year. On July 9, she will launch a series of Saturday afternoon Spirit Education Seminars. For $35 each, participants will taste six different iterations of one spirit to learn the differences between makers’ marks.

“I want people to move beyond the marketing, to start understanding the difference in spirits, why one is a better choice for a certain scenario. I think the more you learn, the more you can enjoy,” said Fellet.

She sets the bar for Rock and Rye high. For hopheads, Fellet is adding cask ale to the bar program (as soon as the cask engine arrives from the U.K.). Cocktails, $7-10, include the light-and-easy Gin Gin Mule, created by Audry Saunders of Pegu Club, NYC -- Beefeater, fresh lime juice, muddled mint, simple syrup and ginger beer ($9); the sour Ramos Gin Fizz (1880s) -- Plymouth Gin, fresh lemon and lime juice, cream, Rykowski egg whites, club soda and orange flower water ($10); and for “something a little stronger,” the Red Hook -- Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Punt y Mes, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur ($8). It’s a long way from Indiana, where Fellet mixed her first drinks at a mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant.

“It wasn’t quality, but it lit the fire. I got interested, got a copy of Dale DeGroff’s first book, The Craft of the Cocktail. Beyond the college drinking mentality, I saw a whole new world, and it’s been a slow evolution, through different restaurants, ever since,” said Fellet, who had the opportunity to make a drink with DeGroff at a Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans.

Whether her guests like to imbibe or designated drive, Fellet hopes that all will feel welcome at Rock and Rye.

“I think the passion is the balance of everything. Our niche is offering top-notch food accompanied by top-notch drinks, wines and beers. Our energy and passion is the key driving force. We’re a fairly young crew, but we’ve got a lot of experience and we care very deeply about what we’re doing,” she said.

Rock and Rye is located at 215 Huguenot Street in New Paltz. Phone 255-7888. Open Wed.-Sat. for dinner, 5-11 p.m., and Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for brunch; 4-10 p.m. dinner. For more information, e-mail or visit

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July 10, 2011


Amber V.
June 16, 2011
I had the unique pleasure of experiencing several selections of the plates listed above, prior to the opening of the Rock and Rye Tavern. This was the "rehearsal" dinner, as it were. I was blown away! I knew the bar and cocktails would be fantastic because Cassie Fellet has mixed several drinks for me in the past, but I didn't know what I was in for when it came to Jeremy Kolakowski's colorful, deeply textured and delectable dishes! Amazing. I don't doubt that Rock and Rye will be beyond successful.

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