By Don Rosendale
Photos by Jim Henkens
A gent at Charlotte’s Restaurant outside of Millbrook who wishes to wash his hands before dinner will find just off the left of the tin horse trough converted to a sink, the 1960s menu from The Silver Horn, offering steaks for three dollars and a double cut lamb chop for 50 cents more. The entrecote in those days came from Rally Farm, a brisk hike up the Shunpike.
While for the last 17 years, the sign outside has advertised Charlotte’s, some things haven’t changed from The Silver Horn. The hamburger comes from a dairy farm across the road and the rack of lamb from Finnsheep Farm in not-far-away Stanfordville. The tab is a tad steeper: A $22 hamburger and $48 lamb.
Alicia Moller, who runs the front of the house while her late husband Mikael oversaw the kitchen, is swift to point out that those prices cover the full palette of food, no “extras” for the carrots unearthed that morning.
Charlotte’s is my “local,” and given regular Friday night dinners, I must have enjoyed 500 meals there. Several superb, mostly very good, and not a single disappointing.
What is today Charlotte’s, Alicia explains, was once a church of unknown denomination in 1836, for a while a theatre, followed by The Silver Horn, then a Texican restaurant with tacos, chili relleno, and guitar-accompanied folk singers. In the 80s it was Allyn’s, noted for vodka martinis for the two percenter weekenders arriving on the 6:05 from Grand Central on Friday night. Alicia and Mikael sought local in Dutchess County because their son was at an Amenia school and they liked living over the kitchen. (Running a restaurant, she offers, is a “24-hour-a-day job.”)
Alicia and Mikael were a contrasting couple. She from her elocution, likely a debutante from Long Island’s north shore with friends like Sacha Lichine of Whispering Angel, her husband a Swede who never quite perfected English. They met and married at the eponymous Charlotte’s Catering in Manhattan, and to this day dispatch crudité and crepes down Route 22 to diners in the city. She professes no formal training: “I don’t need it, I married the genius.” She strikes a balance between the restaurateur seeking a good review on Tripadvisor and your mother worrying that you get a good meal. When the couple at the next table from our interview exults about the flawless plate offered, she says: “That’s what I like to hear.”
While with Mikael no longer searing the free-range chicken, the hand at the griddle is Kevin Abrams, wearing a CIA baseball cap instead of a toque blanche, who has been at Charlotte’s since day one. “I inherited him from Allyn’s,” Alicia explains.
As a neighbor who carried fraise du bois from his own gardens and asked Mikael to fashion a dessert, I am hardly a mystery reviewer behind oversized sunglasses, and so while I expected, I was merely there to scribble notes, Alicia produced the Finnsheep lamb, Asian sauced Brussels sprouts and bread pudding from the spring menu.
The lamb pink as I had asked, and as they say, the meal worth a trip. —charlottesny.com