Haven from the storm

Approaching Haven on Route 9W in Middle Hope.

My rain boots rest on the wooden crossbar beneath the table. I see the Friday afternoon deluge pinging off the hood of my car through the front window, and a classic illuminated marquee sign sits just beyond. It reads: “Deep Dark Chocolate Cake, Snickers Cheesecake, Pear Gingerbread,” and “Concord Grape Pie” on the flip side.

The red arrow points to the Haven Coffee and Espresso Bar on Route 9W in Middle Hope. That’s where those desserts and I are hiding out, waiting for the rain to subside. It’s too cozy inside to contemplate a hasty exit. The dining room is painted coffeebean brown with white trim; coffeepots line a high shelf on the roadside wall. There are a couch, a coffee table, dark-brown dining tables with benches or stools. A couple of couples are conversing in pleasant tones. I’m waiting on a couple of poached eggs over greens. Natalie Merchant sings to us out of speakers.

Its name makes it sound like a straight-up coffeeshop – and the coffee and espresso are solid, from beans roasted by Tas Kafé of Beacon – but there’s a full-service kitchen and, in my opinion, the best part about the place is the dessert case: the curved-glass kind with several shelves. It’s filled with treats that look homemade – things that you would bring to a neighbor’s house covered in a kitchen towel or plastic wrap lofted by toothpicks (that is, if you really knew your way around a stand mixer).

Everything’s made fresh by owner Julie Neely, who knows her way around the building. Her family, the Magyars, owned and operated it as the Little Cabin Inn for many years. Neely has no formal cooking training, and it doesn’t matter one bit. “She grew up in the kitchen with her grandparents cooking and parents cooking,” an employee says. “It’s just been a part of her forever and ever.” And so she makes the kind of food that makes you feel like you’re a guest in her family’s home – a feeling that many a famous chef has tried to evoke without success. Neely’s cooking is solid, satisfying, homey and wholesome.

I started my meal with a cup of Pumpkin Soup ($3). It’s got those little filaments to remind you that the purée came from an honest-to-goodness squash. Warm and soothing, its scent is subtle; its flavor is quintessential pumpkin, slightly sweet. Sometimes I forget what it tastes like without a heap of its close friend cinnamon. This reminds me.

My two perfect poached eggs – the kind worked over with a spoon – arrive on a big bed of greens with the last of the asparagus and shaved Parmesan. Dressed with oil and red wine vinegar for bite and accompanied by two toasted slices of Italian bread, Poached Egg and Roasted Asparagus with Salad ($7.95) is an ideal lunch.

I explain that I don’t usually do dessert during the week, and the waitress offers to play angel- or devil-on-my-shoulder. We both know that I’m here for the Concord Grape Pie from the sign ($3.50 per slice). I eat out a lot, but I’d never had, or ever heard of, Concord Grape Pie. Jelly, yes; sorbet, yes. But you know what? Grape pie takes the cake. It’s like blueberry, in that it stains the crust deep purple, and the texture’s similar; but it’s better, headier. Those grapes have their own perfume. The only drawback that I can see is that Concord grape season is drawing to a close.

Never fear: The time constraints of using local seasonal produce abet Neely’s creativity. Honey-Poached Quince Pie (($3.50 per slice) recently made its debut. Here, quince exhibits traits of both tart apple and pear, bringing a subtle spiced sweetness to every bite. Could be even better than the Concord, depending on your preferences. Or try the decadent Butterscotch Apple Crisp ($3) with oats and walnuts, best served warm. There are chocolate chip and Rocky Road bars, chocolate cake, Snickers cheesecake, caramel apples and more in the case; apple cider doughnuts, oatmeal cookies, muffins, quiche and fresh croissants on the counter. There’s bound to be something to tempt you. “As I tell everybody, better to treat yourself to something homemade and wholesome and made from good stuff than Ho Hos out of a plastic package,” Neely tells me.

Pleased murmurs emanate from adjacent tables. “It’s so cute in here!” exclaims one woman, a first-timer. A single man receives a steaming slice of quiche. Looks like ham, cheddar and sun-dried tomato; there was butternut squash, caramelized onion and goat cheese, too.

A waitress peers through the doorway to identify dessert case contents for the table around the corner, which orders the special, Salted Caramel Bread Pudding, warmed up with whipped cream. After delivery, she comes back to check on the table with a question: “Is it special?” It is very special, the man responds. “Told you it was special,” she says.

The Haven Coffee and Espresso Bar is located at 5462 Route 9W in the Middle Hope neighborhood of Newburgh. It’s open Tuesday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information and daily specials, call (845) 561-9685 or visit online at facebook.com/havencoffeeandespressobar. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.dinehudsonvalley.com.

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