I love being in New York, but like every city resident, there comes a time when you need to ditch the asphalt jungle for a bit of leafy serenity. So Sarah and I borrowed my aunt’s red Toyota convertible (wouldn’t you?) and we hightailed it with the top down from Hoboken up the Hudson River, across the Jersey state line to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Piermont in New York’s semi-rural Rockland County.
Piermont is like an oasis of calm within an easy 50-minute drive (give or take) from Manhattan, and sits comfortably on the eastern banks of the Hudson River. There’s not much to do here, save a scattering of restaurants, a café, some twee boutiques and a bike shop, but that’s the point. You just grab a copy of the New York Times, slurp on a cappuccino and watch as time slows down to its natural state. Road cyclists also have made Piermont a stop on their regular long-distance workouts from Manhattan, spinning over the George Washing Bridge stopping en route to Nyack – either as a caffeine stop, or as a piker’s early turnaround point.
I had gotten good feedback on an upscale eatery in Piermont, Freelance, but it was too dark inside for the rare sunlight of this ever-raining June in New York. So instead, we opted for the sprawling sidewalk tables of the – who’d have guessed? – Sidewalk Bistro, on the main drag through town, and were warmly greeted by the familiar, but not fawning, staff.
We weren’t starving, having enjoyed coffee and the newspaper at the nearby café, so we merely shared an order of onion soup gratin and the Kobe beef hamburger with frites. Yes, it wasn’t a gourmet meal – it could have been if we had ordered elsewhere on the menu – but we weren’t in for a grand dining experience. It was about simplicity today. And the food met the brief: no more, no less. The soup was topped with the requisite bubbling cheese (Swiss) without overdoing it, and the broth and soaked crusty bread were flavorsome without breaking any new bounds; just what I’d expected. The burger was maybe a touch beyond the medium I ordered (more medium-well, where I would have been happier with medium-rare), but it wasn’t a deal-breaker and the well-executed, thin frites kept things honest, even if I would have suggested more salt.
It took a trip to the spacious, almost luxurious bathroom for me to discover that there’s another, even larger outdoor area in the back of the restaurant. It was closed for the day so that lights could be installed to allow for late-night outdoor dining. Next time, I’d be temped to hole myself up in the rear expanse, where it’s well-protected from the noise of the main street. Of course, there’s not a lot of noise in Piermont, save the occasional visits by passing motorbike posses, but I’ll take all the extra serenity I can get.
So, no, this isn’t a detailed review of the Sidewalk Bistro, but I found it an enjoyable low-frills getaway. It’s also worth noting that they’re hosting a large-scale Bastille Day bash held every years on July 11th, where the local stretch of Piermont Avenue will be closed to traffic and filled with even more festive tables. During our visit, the diners next to us described a recent celebration where the owners pulled out absinthe and were pouring the traditional method: flaming, over a sugar cube resting on a slotted spoon, into a glass. The owners, they said, are extremely generous people, and poured the alcohol without asking for a single penny.
Now, I can’t promise that they’ll bestow the same treatment on Bastille Day, but it might be worth finding out. It is also unlikely that it will be as serene as on a typical weekday, but the neighborhood atmosphere will probably make up for it while you knock back some absinthe with your new best friends at the table next to you, have a long yarn with the wait staff, shmooze with the French patrons who apparently go out of their way to come here, and soak it all up with some classic French comfort food.