7 Black-Owned Culinary Destinations in Upstate New York
Put these on your must-eat-and-repeat list.
On a recent trip upstate, we checked in with a few of our favorite Black-owned bakeries and restaurants that are as resilient as they are travel-worthy. In the Catskills and Hudson Valley, amidst spectacular waterfall hikes, artsy small towns, and the vast expanse of open land, these inspiring places and people remind us why we should be celebrating and supporting Black-owned businesses far more than just one month or one trip out of the year.
One business owner we spoke to, Tamika Dunkley, cited the recent New York Federal Reserve report, which showed roughly 41% of Black-owned businesses closed in the first few months of the pandemic as compared to 17% of white-owned businesses. “If you don’t have relationships in banking or the ability to have funds in the bank as a cushion or be able to gain access to capital… it’s hard,” says Dunkley. “There is so much bureaucratic red tape, it’s intentional, it’s systematic, it’s part of the struggle that people of color have been going through since the inception of America."
From Dunkley’s new cafe with a social mission to a Jamaican restaurant with James Beard accolades, these phenomenal destinations are all easily accessible within two hours of NYC. (For more upstate ideas, consult local resources like Hudson Valley Magazine, Chronogram, and Yelp, which frequently update lists of BIPOC-owned establishments). And as always, please wear a mask, social distance responsibly, and tip generously.
It’s rare to step into a cafe, pre-caffeine fix, and feel as energized as you do at Seasoned Delicious Foods Cafe, which opened this past September in Midtown Kingston, an area that’s largely considered a food desert with extremely limited access to healthy food. “One of the reasons we decided to place our store in Midtown—near the Center for Creative Education, which has hundreds of kids going in and out—is because representation is important and minority people, particularly kids, don’t see us owning businesses,” says Tamika Dunkley, owner of SDF Cafe. The popular market and cafe sells more than 60 products from mostly minority-owned companies focusing on vegan, non-GMO and gluten-free items. In addition, SDF Cafe carries its own brand of hot sauces (try the sherry wine BBQ flavor), jams and seasonings, some of which are also sold on Amazon. Customers enjoy Jamaican and Caribbean dishes like the jerk chicken with mac and cheese and the jerk mahi-mahi tacos, but it’s the mission behind the brick-and-mortar that feeds their soul. Dunkley established a mentorship nonprofit in 2019 called Seasoned Gives, which guides BIPOC entrepreneurs through the challenges of starting a business, from developing a marketing plan to providing financial literacy. “I learned the hard way and want to prevent folks from going through that,” said Dunkley, who has personally helped more than 30 people apply for the Paycheck Protection Program loans during the pandemic. Seasoned Delicious also launched the Support Your Neighbor program, which provides free healthy meals and pantry staples for people experiencing food insecurity. “We’ve given away 1,000 pounds of food,” said Dunkley. “It’s a beautiful thing to see the community helping each other out.”
How to get there: One hour, 45 min by car
Top Taste Restaurant
Around the corner from SDF Cafe is a small vibrant restaurant that smells as inviting as it looks. Five years after opening Top Taste, Albert 'Sammy' Bartley received a 2020 James Beard nomination for Best Chef in New York State. His magic combo of hard work and raw talent was nurtured years ago. “I’ve had it in my heart a long time to do something like this,” says Chef Bartley, who grew up cooking with his grandmother in Clarendon, Jamaica, making everything from fried chicken to fish soup, and liver with dumplings, yams and banana. “Right now, I am cooking constantly from Monday to Saturday. We’ve been struggling a bit in the pandemic, but my wife Malenda and I feel a lot of support. I’m not going anywhere; I love what I do.” While there are usually four tables for indoor dining, the restaurant is currently only offering to-go orders, so pick up bright mood-boosting plates of oxtail, jerk chicken, or curried goat with sides of rice, cabbage, and fried (yet tender) plantains. Friday specials may include barbecue wings or pan-seared catfish bathed in a broth of onions, scallions and garlic. Post-feast, drive five minutes down the road to Mt. Zion Cemetery, an African-American Burial Ground that was recently named a New York State Historic Site.
How to get there: One hour, 45 min by car
See and Be Kitchen
Chrissy and Ben Salif Traore’s bakery was just hitting its stride when the pandemic forced them to hit pause. The one-year-old business had become a kind of community hub for locals, who regularly packed into the store for bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches; almond croissants; and meat pies spiced with a peanut-y “Kan kan kan” sauce that brings Salif Traore back to his childhood home in Burkina Faso. The Brooklyn transplants and new parents weren’t going to let See and Be go belly up, especially not when they have been so deeply committed to supporting local nonprofits like the Greene County food bank. In the last year, through the store’s online Second Serving donation program, See and Be has raised $3,000 to feed 50 families. The couple (whose backgrounds include stints at Roberta’s, Bien Cuit, Pizza Moto, and The Dutch) have also helped their bakery stay afloat by offering to-go orders and supplying product to nearby farms and restaurants like Phoenicia Diner and Dixon Roadside in Woodstock. See and Be has also been collaborating with Black-owned pop-ups such as Alima’s West African Cuisine food truck and Hyphen Foods, where you can find chef Bruce Bryant slinging kimchi grilled cheese on See and Be’s delicious Arborio bread.
How to get there: Two hours by car
The quiet hamlet of Cairo has become a magnet for fresh culinary talent. Down the road from See and Be Kitchen is the new Old Factory Brewing Company and Delightful Bites, which pastry chef/owner Nina Heath opened in August 2019 inside a former antique shop on Main Street. Heath grew up in the Catskills baking beside her late mother, whose recipes are among the most popular items on the menu: apple crumb pie, cheesecake, and raspberry crumb bars, to name a few. On your way back from nearby Windham Mountain, stop in to the cozy shop, adorned with plants, drawings by Brooklyn-based artist Tatiana Poblah, and a big display case brimming with baked goods, from homemade Snickers squares to everything bagels. Although the pandemic has taken its toll on the one-woman operation, Heath has thought outside the cake box, offering home decorating cookie kits and selling products to local farms and retailers.
How to get there: Two hours by car
Grinds & Grains
When in New Paltz, come for the world-class rock climbing and stay for the cool restaurants like cereal bar, Grinds & Grains. Started by old friends, Rashid Chambers and Melanie Caron, and opened in the summer of 2019, the cooking duo has braved many storms. “We’re freaking tenacious,” says Caron, recounting the times they didn’t close: not during the toughest winter in 10 years, not during a town water crisis, and not during the pandemic (which throughout, they’ve run orders up and down from their colorfully-designed second floor location to customers on the street). Now open for indoor ordering, people can mix and match their to-go breakfast from 20 different options, making as many cereal combos as they can fit in a bowl. Sure, there are healthy choices like steel cut oats with coconut milk or fruit-topped homemade granola from nearby Raspberry Fields Farm. But Caron says folks keep coming back for the nostalgic bites of Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Cookie Crisp. You can also get a warmed croissant with Nutella, soups, and popular drinks like the new Dirty Coco, which is a gourmet hot chocolate with Ghanian cocoa (made from beans that have been dried between banana leaves) and topped with a double shot of espresso.
How to get there: 1 hour, 20 minutes by car. 1 hour, 35 minutes via Adirondack Trailways bus
The Bee Tavern
Shana Bee reopened her two-year-old bar last month for the first time since the pandemic started. With stringent safety measures in place, The Bee Tavern is offering curbside pick-up and delivery only, which is sweet news for the locals, whose long-suppressed cravings for honey-infused dishes can now be met. Orders have been pouring in for the 8oz Bumble Bee Cheeseburger with honey-glazed onions and a side of honey sriracha fries, as well as wings like the Hennessy jerk wing and honey wasabi. In a small town hit hard by Covid (Bee’s family included), the return of a favorite haunt is a compelling sign for the community—even without the usual live music, comedy shows, and open mic nights. As for having the only Black-owned bar in town, not to mention being one of a few Black-owned hospitality businesses in the entire Catskills, the mixologist-entrepreneur says things are changing. “As a Black businesswoman, I personally receive a lot of support, now more than ever, but we haven’t been recognized and encouraged as other people have—especially in a predominantly white area. But I think the whole Black Lives Matter movement has made a difference. I feel hopeful.” After hiking the waterfall-laden Blue Trail at Neversink Recreation Area, refuel with lunch from The Bee Tavern, where the honeyed cocktails are as inventive as the food; try the whiskey-based Queen Bee Tea dusted with bee pollen or The Royal Honey made with Empress Gin 1908, butterfly pea blossom and, you guessed it, honey.
How to get there: 1 hour, 20 min by car
Sina Clark opened her store a week before the pandemic shutdown. The timing wasn’t great, but customers were lining up for blueberry orange scones and cheesy caramelized onion galettes, and after five years on the farmers market circuit and five years of fighting the system to get a loan or a grant (or any type of assistance), Clark continues to be resolute. “Nobody was handing those things out to me as a woman of color. I can’t tell you, as qualified as I was, how many hoops I had to jump through,” says Clark, who ultimately got her bakery going through the generosity of family and friends. “I wish there were more programs that really help people of color looking to start their own company.” Now open Thursday-Sunday, Violet’s Bakery is named after Clark’s eight-year-old daughter, who does remote schooling from the shop three days a week. Clark moved from Park Slope to Saugerties, where she finds people care for her well-being. She pays the feeling forward by providing a platform for other small local businesses, like Catskill Bread Co. and Rough House roasters. “There are like five Black people in Saugerties, but I love this town. I feel more welcomed here than on the Park Slope playground, where parents mistook me for a nanny because my daughter is white passing. They never bothered to talk to me.”
How to get there: 1 hour, 45 min by car. 2 hours, 40 min by Adirondack Trailways