There are some places where you can catch a meal or drink that are close to the Hudson River, and some that overlook a bit of it. But few are right on it, up-close and personal like the Poughkeepsie Ice House at the bottom of Main Street. Its dream location is nestled in the middle of Waryas Park, flanked by the Mid-Hudson Bridge and the Walkway over the Hudson. There is ample indoor and outdoor seating right on the water, and a parking area feeds the restaurant directly: no need to wander through the lovely park to get to it.
The Ice House looks like it has been there forever, and I guess in a way it has. In the old days when there was no refrigeration, the river helped out by obligingly freezing over every winter, allowing pedestrian strolls from Dutchess to Ulster Counties. It also provided a harvest of huge blocks of ice that would be hauled to ice houses all up and down the river via steam-powered chain elevators. There it was kept frozen between layers of sawdust until warmer days when it was needed.
The Poughkeepsie Ice House was once one of these, and still charmingly looks the part. After the invention of refrigeration, most ice houses were burned or taken down; but the Poughkeepsie one stayed mostly intact, sitting empty and deserted for years. I remember years ago attending festivals in Waryas Park and not even noticing the barren shell of a building in the middle of the park; that’s how drab it was. But like a phoenix, it was reborn as a restaurant in September 2012, as homage to its previous life.
Owner Michael Lund gutted it all, putting in stamped-concrete flooring, exposing the brick and keeping the beams to enhance the 25-foot ceilings. Up high on the wall at the entry are large brass letters spelling “City of Poughkeepsie 1799.” Vintage photos, porthole shapes, replicas of boats and ships, a giant canoe suspended from the rafters all support a nautical theme. The restaurant has 84 seats, and there is a view of the water from every red-stained table as well as the long wooden bar.
Although the Ice House is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas, catering and other events are a mainstay. So far the largest event that it hosted was for 180, but that was during fair weather; 100 is the maximum the indoor section holds. A recent wedding ceremony took place on the patio overlooking the river, with the reception in an adjoining tent and the dinner indoors.
The menu director and coordinator is Alec Vaughn, his menu American fusion and classic favorites, such as the very popular Seafood Mac and Cheese ($23) with lobster, shrimp, scallops, cavatelli, gouda and cheddar. “We’re a combination of high-value waterfront with supporting local farms, farm-to-table,” explains operations director Jackie Sweet.
There are two seasonal menus each year, with lunch and dinner specials. The winter menu started November 1, developed by Chef Vaughn and his predecessor Ryan Smith who has moved to one of Lund’s other restaurants, The Mill. Now you can nibble on edamame with spicy orange soy glaze and sesame seeds ($8); pork belly arancini with smoked gouda, roasted tomato sauce and shaved parm ($12); house-cut truffle fries with parmesan and horseradish black pepper aïoli ($8); crispy Brussels sprouts and cauliflower with bacon/ranch dipping sauce ($10); shaved Brussels sprouts and radicchio with toasted sunflower seeds, red-wine cranberries and garlic chive dressing ($10); or oysters with cucumber mignonette (market price).
For something more substantial, try the Bridge Music Burger, a half-pound ground Angus with Cajun bacon, cheddar and garlic herb aïoli ($15); the pork chop with sweet potato and parsnip au gratin, root vegetables and Naked Flock apple cider compote ($25); veal and lamb Bolognese over house-made pappardelle ($21); or pan-seared Atlantic salmon with arugula, asparagus, tomato and leek risotto and blood orange vinaigrette ($24). For a sweet ending, try Crown Maple sugar-dusted warm apple fritters with crème caramel and vanilla bean ice cream ($8) or the Mason Jar Tiramisu with mascarpone Gran Marnier cream, coffee-soaked ladyfingers and chocolate ganache ($7).
The Ice House is a participant in Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, which ends on November 16, and won Best New Riverside Restaurant in Best of the Hudson Valley 2013 and Best Waterside/Al Fresco Dining Experience in 2014. Owner Michael Lund also opened the Mill Restaurant and Bar on Vassar Road in May and Twins Barbecue in Wappingers Falls in June.
As the cooler, shorter days set in, stop by the Ice House and warm up with its winter menu, gaze at the river and dream of spring, when you can sit on the large patio and hear the lapping of the current as you dine.
The Ice House is open every day for lunch and dinner and serves brunch on Sundays. Find it at 1 Main Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 232-5783, on Facebook and at https://poughkeepsieicehouse.com. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.DineHudsonValley.com or www.HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com/category/columns/taste/.