by Megan Labrise
Five years ago this October, Dirk Schalle and Elizabeth Steckel bought the Hollywood Bar. For those who don’t remember, the 1830s Greek Revival establishment in Clintondale became, by turns, a boardinghouse, a Depression-era Italian restaurant that sold ten-cent spaghetti dinners and a Jamaican bar and dance club frequented by agricultural workers and Rastafarians. By the time Schalle and Steckel moved upstairs to rebuild and refurbish, there was a lot to do, and it took planning, hard labor, long hours and a little alchemy to achieve this magnificent transformation.
I spent more than a moment marveling from the railing of their stunning new deck at the panoramic valley view featuring apple orchards, rolling hills dotted with residences and the iconic Shawangunk Ridge. There is no better place to enjoy a bitter beer on a hot afternoon – especially on Mondays, when select drafts are half-price.
Gunk Haus, located at 387 South Street in the hamlet of Clintondale, is a culinary oasis off Route 44/55 (turn north at the decommissioned church). Its first two stories are the color of spicy mustard, and a sign in the shape of a pretzel hangs off the building’s southern corner. Inside is spacious, with the exposed rafters of a German bier hall, and a Dutch door to the right allows for peeks into the kitchen. To the left is the bar with its row of taps and a large communal table for regulars. The main dining room has tables small and large, as well as a row of booths terminating beside a big brick fireplace. A door leads to that majestic deck, and undressed square windows let the afternoon sunlight stream right through the tall glass of your India Pale Ale, illuminating the brew like honeyed champagne with ascending parallel lines of tiny bubbles.
Schalle, of Germany, is the biermeister, curating ten taps and a bottle refrigerator, as well as wines and spirits. Bottles of Red Stripe and Peroni honor the building’s Jamaican and Italian former owners. On tap last week were Founders Cerise, Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, Keegan Ales Mother’s Milk, Koenig Ludwig Hefe-Weisse, Köstritzer Schwarzbier, Leffe Brown, Pretty Things Jack D’Or, Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard, Warsteiner Pilsner and Doc’s Hard Apple Cider ($5 to $6.50 per pint). At my two-person table, there was one Loose Cannon and one Arrogant Bastard. The former is a citrusy, effervescent 7.25 percent ABV American IPA; the latter, a malty 7.25 percent ABV American Strong Ale. Designate your driver.
Gunk Haus’s dishes – German, with a twist – are built from the bottom up. Steckel trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and paid for additional schooling by working as a caterer. Everything is made in-house, from the fresh-baked sourdough pretzel buns on which the sandwiches are served to the peanut butter brittle that accompanies one dessert. According to the blog at www.gunkhaus.com, ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible. Suppliers include Elia’s Meat Market, Brotherhood Winery, Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, Whitecliff Vineyard and Winery, Tuthilltown Spirits, Keegan Ales, Monkey Joe Coffee Roasting, Kedem Winery, Hudson Valley Fresh, Minard Farms, Hurds Farm, Little Dog Orchard and Red Barn Produce.
Here, you can’t go wrong with pork. The standout dish for dinner is the Grilled Smoked Pork Chop ($18) with roasted sweet potatoes and sauerkraut with mushrooms and bacon. Oh. My. Goodness. This huge, inch-thick beauty from Elia’s in Highland is brined, smoked and finished with perfect tic-tac-toe grill lines. It’s pink inside, succulent and flavorful – it’s my dream chop. The sauerkraut with which it’s served is my favorite side dish: sour in that way that makes the back of your mouth water, with caraway seeds and nuggets of bacon and meaty mushroom. The sweet potato acted as counterpoint to the savory plate, quelling my desire for applesauce.
For dinner or lunch, try the Weisswurst ($17), two pale, subtly seasoned pork links, served with a traditional Bavarian sweet mustard that doesn’t overpower the meat and a little mountain of garlic/dill-pickle potato salad. There are several vegetarian options, including a thick slice of Sweet Potato Strudel ($16), made with local sweet potatoes, black beans, jalapeños, walnuts and goat cheese, and served with a heap of vibrant mesclun lightly dressed with sherry vinaigrette. Add on the golden-auburn hand-cut French fries ($3.50 as a side), crisp as can be, served with piquant Sriracha mayonnaise, or a pretzel bun ($1.50). There’s a kids’ menu, too.
From the ever-changing dessert menu, try Strawberries and Cake ($5), a cardamom pound cake topped with strawberries macerated in rosewater, accompanied by a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The other day the cardamom cake was out; almond cake was in. The tall wedge soaked up the macerating liquid, and tasted floral and fruity and divine. Next time I want to try the Peanut Butter/Chocolate Pie ($5), with creamy filling, chocolate graham cracker crust, chocolate ganache and that house-made peanut butter brittle. There will be a next time – soon.
Gunk Haus is open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner and closed Tuesdays. For more information, call (845) 883-0866 or visit on the web at www.gunkhaus.com.