My Experience at Damon Baehrel’s Restaurant in Earlton, NY.
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You're Eating Where?
On May 30, 2019 I had the absolute pleasure of being able to fly north and dine with Damon Baehrel in his home/restaurant in Earlton, NY. It was a unique experience that I do not expect to replicate or forget.
But a little back story is in order: Damon Bahrel is a chef/host/server at his home based restaurant about 2 hours outside of NYC. I came across his restaurant one evening while browsing the internet for supper clubs and unique restaurants. I love finding new places that sound like a fun place to check on while on vacation. I sent in the required email requesting a reservation, and then I waited… and waited… and waited….
In the meantime, I became more curious about this place that seemed to have impossible reservations. Is it really that exclusive? Is this not all it’s cracked up to be? Articles from the New Yorker and the Eater seemed to share my questions about this unusual dining experience.
You're Doing What? For Who?
Fast forward 2 Years Later… no exaggeration, I waited 2 years on a reservation waitlist…. I get an email from the restaurant saying they had a few weekday dates/times open up in May for smaller parties with no allergies/dining restrictions. If I was interested I needed to email them with the dates I could attend and go from there.
For once, my crummy work schedule paid off! You see, my work schedule means I am off work most often on the weekdays, so I emailed back 3 Thursdays that I was available that month. They responded quickly and I had a table! Then the fun began of trying to figure out an inexpensive way to fly to New York at the last minute and with restrictive dates/times. I ended up using a combination of points on Southwest and Delta to fly into and out of Albany, NY (a 45 minute drive to Earlton, instead of 2+ hours from NYC area airports).
I flew into Albany on the morning of May 30, 2019, and opted to stay near the airport since I had a very early flight the next morning. I stayed at the Hampton Inn Albany Airport – Wolf Road (also on points). It was was a clean hotel with friendly staff conveniently located near the airport and right next to a gas station. I mention the gas station because that came in handy when I had to fill up the rental car. I opted for a rental car since Earlton, NY is 45 minutes from Albany (the closest airport), and Uber/Lyft is not readily available in Earlton. Most of the Uber/Lyft hang out about 20 minutes from Earlton in Hudson. Plus I knew I would be leaving rather late and was not sure if any Uber/Lyft drivers would be available in the area that late at night.
Luckily, it all worked out! I arrived in Albany, NY and was able to get early check-in at the hotel. I had enough time to take a nice nap and shower before heading to the Damon Baehrel dining experience. I had the rental car so I had no issues getting to and from Earlton. The tolls were easy and not as expensive as I expected in New York. I was able to fill up the rental car that night (around 11:15pm) at the gas station next to the hotel before getting a little rest, and catching the early flight back to Atlanta.
Was it Worth It?
The email instructed us to arrive at 4:00pm at the front gate at the entrance to the 12 acre property that is the home, farm, and restaurant of Damon Baehrel. I arrived just a couple minutes before 4pm and waited at the gate. Promptly at 4pm the gate opened and we (along with one other car that had just pulled up behind us) started the drive through the property to the main house.
Prior to this moment I was not sure how many other people would be dining with me. It turned out to be one other couple, who, to my surprise (considering we waited 2 years for last minute reservations), had dined at Damon Baehrel many years before. Well, they came back… so to me that was a great sign that I was in for a treat. We just had no way to know the level of treat that awaited us inside. We turned off our cell phones (no phones allowed – which is why I have only one picture from this incredible night), and prepared to be amazed.
Damon himself came out to greet everyone as we were getting out of the cars. He showed us into a new patio area that he had just recently completed, where we would be having our first several courses. We were to learn that Damon was severely injured building the new entryway, but somehow that hasn’t slowed him down or dampened his spirit for what he is doing with his farm and restaurant.
Damon tries to do everything he can on the farm himself. That includes building, farming, growing food, making drinks from sap, and running the restaurant – hosting, cooking, serving tables, and cleaning.
Over the next 6 1/2 hours we enjoyed over 30 courses with wine and drinks made from juice and tree saps. Damon was an absolute pleasure. Aside from being a wonderful host and server, he took the time to explain the interesting home-grown ingredients in each dish, and explain the process and often extensive length of time that went into preparing the ingredients. All of the food was absolutely delicious, and mind-blowing when you realized all of it was created with local ingredients – meaning no butter, dairy, or refined sugar. He even creates his own flour from tree bark and makes “cheese” without the use of any dairy.
The unique nature of this experience was one that I will not forget. Damon is a pleasure to meet, and his passion for what he does is evident the minute he walks up. The amount of time, energy, and creativity that goes into his cooking is something I have not experienced before and do not expect to encounter anytime in the near future. My advice to you is… get on that reservation waitlist! This experience is absolutely worth the wait/cost/travel. In the meantime, Damon has a cookbook called “Native Harvest” available online (at the link below or through amazon).