Leave the city, start a family, open a small-town cafe—every part of the Cavallos’ country dream is coming to fruition. In 2018, the couple left New York to move to Dutchess County. They became friendly with the brothers who owned the Schultzville General Store, a small roadside provisions market at a busy crossroads in the middle-of-nowhere Clinton. When the owners were ready to close up shop they reached out to Craig and Jenny Cavallo, knowing they’d been on the hunt for a space.
“My husband Craig has worked in food and hospitality for most of his career—both front of house in restaurants and food and wine travel writing,” Jenny says. “I worked in hospitality for many years and did business management and HR. So with our powers combined—Craig as a cook and me baking and doing operations—we were confident we could make it work.”
In July 2019, Golden Russet Cafe & Grocery opened as a small, cozy breakfast-and-lunch joint with a selection of pantry staples from flour and sugar to local eggs and milk. The short, affordable menu is made up of familiar comfort food selections, what Jenny calls, “really good iterations of the classics.” Cheeseburgers, fried chicken, breakfast sandwiches, turkey melts, and the like. “It’s simple, wholesome food that is approachable and priced fairly for the quality, the quantity, and the fact that everything is handmade,” Jenny says. “We wanted to continue to appeal to the people that had been coming to the store forever.”
The storefront, located 15 minutes outside of the Village of Rhinebeck was built in 1930 on the spot of another c.1809 building that perished in a fire. “It’s a very legacy spot,” Jenny says. “There has always been a little store here—a grocery or cafe. Even though there’s not much around, people know about the space.”
Though their original dream did not include a marketplace, Golden Russet decided to honor the history of the space and provide a much-needed provisions pitstop in a relatively remote location. Now, Golden Russet stocks over 200 items of dried pantry goods, produce, wine, and cider. “It’s the type of place that’s great if you live up the street and you realize, ‘Oh shoot, I need this for my recipe,’” Jenny says.
Craft hard cider is a big selling point for the market, with a curated selection of over 20 New York and Northeast brands. As an experienced food and beverage writer, Craig Cavallo was asked by friend and cider advocate Daniel Pucci to collaborate on a book about the history of cider in the United States and its current renaissance. (American Cider: A Modern Guide to a Historic Beverage comes out March 2.)
Research for the book took Craig on a three-year discovery, visiting hundreds cidermakers around the country, tasting endless variations, and diving deep into the rich culture and tradition of the beverage. “He just fell in love with cider and really wanted to champion it,” Jenny says. “There is such a bounty in the region, but we saw a hole [in retail]. There are some places to get cider, but we think we have the best cider selection in the Hudson Valley.” Some of the couple’s local favorites include Metalhouse Cider in Esopus and Rose Hill Farm in Red Hook.
For the past two falls, the Cavallos have collaborated with Rose Hill to produce a community cider, made with apples collected by their customers from backyard and abandoned trees. Proceeds from the sales go back to a community project. This past year, they donated over $1000 to the Clinton Library.
“We made a lot of cider—a barrel, or 25 cases,” Jenny says, still surprised. “Last year’s was amazing—a sparkling natural cider made in the style of Rose Hill. It had an amazing reception.”
When COVID kicked off last March, the Cavallos decided to switch to a takeout window service, which has been busy ever since. “It just kept going,” Jenny says. “People were just so supportive. If anything, groceries and cider sales improved because people trusted us and used us as their local grocer. It’s wild that we’ve been doing window service longer than we were doing dine-in.” Last summer, they set out two picnic tables at the edge of the parking lot, which were in near-constant use. There is still one out there “for brave souls,” and it does get used on sunny days.
Jenny, 39 weeks pregnant with her first child when we spoke, is due any day now. When the baby comes Golden Russet will close for about three weeks, so be sure to check their website or Instagram before heading over. “The doctor said there is no good time to have a baby,” Jenny says with a laugh. “We’re so happy, we can’t wait.”
This summer, they’ll experiment with weekly pizza nights using the onsite oven. “There’s nothing out here besides us, so people are hurting for a dinner option,” Jenny says. “We did a trial run right when COVID was starting in march, and it went really well. We sold out of pizza. So that is something we would love to get going once we have more bandwidth and are settled with the baby.”
Piping hot pizza and a cold cider—now isn’t that the picture of summer? Something to look forward to.
835 Fiddlers Bridge Road Rhinebeck, NY 12572