When fans of bygone Duo Bistro stroll into 299 Wall Street these days, they’ll be pleased to see that not much has changed. “I love what the last owners did with it. They owned me with the exposed brick wall,” says Jennifer Cruz, owner of the space’s new occupant Grainne Tavern. “I didn’t even have to paint. I loved the color palette they used.”
While the lion’s share of the businesses that opened in the past year were plans hatched pre-pandemic, Grainne was a response to COVID’s circumstances. When lockdown hit, Cruz had been working as the pastry chef for a food co-op in the Berkshires, commuting daily from New Paltz. When the co-op laid off her and her coworker, Chris Campbell, they rallied together. Both had nursed dreams of owning their own establishments and decided to take a glass-half-full approach to this unexpected opening in their professional lives. “We just thought this would be so great if we could do it now,” Cruz says.
After two spaces fell through, they found the former Duo location almost by accident. “We were feeling completely defeated and dejected. I was just scrolling through Loopnet, then this popped up,” Cruz says. “The pictures were amazing.”
Cruz and Campbell, who is no longer involved with the project, made the owners of Duo a turnkey offer—tables, dinnerware, kitchen equipment, everything. “We said, ‘Don’t even worry about coming back in unless there is something specific you want. We’ll throw stuff away, we’ll clean stuff,” she recalls. It was an arrangement that worked for both parties—easy out, easy in. “We got the space in early November and opened two weeks later. Everyone who knew us at all was in here doing something. It was a huge team effort.”
If the restaurant’s logo reminds you of a pirate flag, you’re not off-base. The tavern takes as its mascot Grainne O Maille, AKA Grace O’Malley, AKA Dark Lady of Doona, AKA the fearless and famous 16th-century Irish pirate queen. (It’s pronounced grenya, like the New Age singer Enya). “She was this extremely powerful woman in a male-dominated society,” Cruz says. “Chris and I were both women chefs in a very male-dominated field, so it felt like the perfect metaphor.”
The menu at Grainne brings together an eclectic mix of comfort food dishes that must pass a straightforward “Oh my god that sounds delicious” test. The lunch menu features a burger with mixed greens, a housemade bacon onion jam, and marinated tomato ($15); two chicken sandwiches; steak frites, if you’re feeling fancy ($22); a wild mushroom pho, which you can customize with chicken, salmon, or steak ($14-$21); and a range of seasonal soups and salads. Pro tip: pay the extra fee to level up your hand-cut fries from plain to truffle parmesan.
The nascent to-go dinner menu repeats many of the lunch stars, with the addition of a seared and oven-roasted Faroe Island Salmon dish ($24). There is also family-style takeout, where you can pick one entree per person and two sides per group, with entree selections like roasted lemon herb cornish hens or sauteed shrimp with garlic and herbs, and sides like risotto and glazed root vegetables (two for $40, four for $70). There’s also a non-age-discriminating kids’ menu, with smaller $7 portions of crowd favorites like mac ‘n’ cheese, buttered noodles, and chicken tenders.
But, like Duo before it, where Grainne really shines is brunch—no surprise for an operation helmed by a CIA-trained pastry chef. An AM crisis may ensue when you have to decide between beignets with house-made chocolate and raspberry sauces or the fresh cinnamon sugar doughnuts ($5). We recommend going with friends and skipping the hair-pulling. There are also daily baked scones and muffins with housemade jam ($5), shakshuka ($12), shrimp and grits ($20), corned beef hash and eggs ($10), chicken and waffles ($17), and the list goes on and on.
Of special note: Bennies, a potato-parsnip pancake topped with Canadian bacon, house-cured lox, or Florentine-style spinach, poached eggs, and a dill hollandaise sauce ($14). Firmly straddling the breakfast/lunch divide, the brunch burger is basically a bacon, egg, and cheese with beef on a brioche—we’re not mad about it ($16). When Grainne gets its liquor license (July is an optimistic guess), bottomless mimosas, draft beer, and local craft spirits will be welcome additions to the menu.
“I’ve always had a bent toward comfort food,” Cruz says. “And it’s really timely—even more so because of COVID. Everything in the past few years has been ‘comfort food this’ or ‘something comfort.’ It’s clearly a trend. And even more now that people have gotten to the point where they don’t wear anything that’s not elasticized.” Truer words… Though she’s moved away from local sourcing to conserve cash in the slow winter months, Cruz intends to return to Veritas, Farmstock, Hudson Valley harvest, and other local sources for her produce come summer.
Next door in the former Duo Pantry space, Grainne has its bake shop, where you can buy pastries like the scones and breads, alongside pies, cakes, cupcakes, jumbo cookies, and other delicacies Cruz dreams up. Apparently, Grainne is already becoming “known for the scone” Uptown. (Merch in progress.) The shop also stocks local provisions like produce, honey, maple syrup, and cheese.
Grainne is currently open Thursday through Sunday for eat-in brunch and lunch, with takeout dinner available from 4-7pm Thursday through Saturday. On nice days, Cruz sets up a select few outdoor tables and is in the process of applying to take over a few Wall Street parking spots for additional outdoor seating. She’ll also be launching delivery through GrubHub soon.
So make like a new age pirate queen and sail away, sail away to Grainne.
299 Wall Street, Kingston
Thursday and Friday, 11am-7pm, Saturday 10 am-7 pm, Sunday 10am-4pm. Dining room closes at 4pm; open for take out 4-7pm Thursday through Saturday.