Ace Restaurant Reviewer Finds Good Local Beer Critical
As Westchester Magazine’s restaurant critic, Julia Sexton knows the local dining landscape as well as anyone, and views Captain Lawrence as essential enough to that booming scene to include a profile of the brewery in her new book Hudson Valley Chef’s Table. Full of gorgeous food, chef and restaurant photos, along with profiles and recipes, the book is equally at home on a coffee table or next to the stove, splattered with grease.
Julia describes Captain Lawrence owner Scott Vaccaro delivering beer in the early days in a Volkswagen, and killing it in a fateful presentation before celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer’s management group in Manhattan.
Shaking off a late night at Restaurant North in Armonk, Julia is tasting a few samples, along with pizzas from food vendor Gleason’s/Birdsall House, on the Captain Lawrence patio. Her first selection is the wild rice/wine yeast small-batch brew called Sake Bomb. “More flavor than I would’ve thought, and a good drinking beer for daytime,” she says. “It’s also got this moreishness”—that rare quality that makes one want to take another sip.
Just as Scott was brewing beer at his parents’ house well before he probably should’ve been, Julia was preparing meals for her siblings, standing on a chair to stir the pot. “My parents had five kids before they were 30,” she says. “That was my role.”
As an “extremely bookish” kid, she envisioned a career as an English professor, not unlike her dad, who taught American history. Writing about food, however, perfectly wedded her love of cooking and prose.
Julia started at Westchester Magazine in 2007—just in time, she says, to witness the local dining scene take off. Chefs, priced out of Manhattan, looked to the suburbs. Residents with sophisticated palates, also priced out of the city, moved to the ‘burbs and craved ambitious cuisine. The Hudson Valley has the farms, as well as the Culinary Institute of America that she says “informs the world’s cuisine.”
“The last five years has gotten incredibly sophisticated,” Julia says.
We try some pizzas, including the funky Captain Kucher. Julia knows the Gleason’s/Birdsall House grub; both Peekskill places are featured in the book. “I love the crème fraiche, the dairy notes, and who doesn’t love bacon and onions?” she says. “That’s crack-y, right there.”
The pizza operation arrived on the Captain Lawrence patio a few weeks ago. Pizza and beer, Julia says, is a “beautiful” pair.
We switch to her favorite in the Captain’s lineup: the crisp, summery Kolsch. There is musical accompaniment on a flawless summer day. Josh Casano of Schenectady bangs out tunes on his acoustic guitar, and sings praise for the Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA.
New Rochelle born, raised and residing, Julia declined to be photographed—her policy, in an effort to remain as anonymous as possible while reviewing restaurants.
Hudson Valley Chef’s Table boasts a certain moreishness too, featuring the more intriguing restaurants, and recipes, from Westchester, Columbia, Dutchess, Rockland and Ulster Counties. There’s an outsize number of river-town joints represented, including Half Moon and Harper’s in Dobbs Ferry and Harvest-On-Hudson and Juniper in Hastings. Julia mentions “some sort of strange energy” over by the Hudson, and “a community that supports more ambitious restaurants.”
Under the heading “Hudson Valley Beer God,” Scott Vaccaro is the one brewer who gets a full page in the book. “Scott is a great Westchester story,” says Julia. “He’s been taken up by the best restaurants. The restaurants people come to New York to visit—Ivan Ramen, Momofuko—Scott’s beers are there. That makes me proud.”
Captain Lawrence Brewing, at 444 Saw Mill River Road in Elmsford, is open Wednesday through Friday (4-8 p.m.), Saturday (12-6 p.m.) and Sunday (12-5). The author is paid by Captain Lawrence, partially in India Pale Ale.