Heaven in the Catskills

[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. Today we continue theater legend day with one of the coolest theater folk around, Mr. Kenny Mellman. I still remember the day I discovered that Kenny–who’s appeared on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall as the Herb half of “Kiki & Herb”–was a reader of my blog. It still boggles my mind and humbles me and I’m so flattered he wrote this guest post. So take it away, Kenny!]

For the last several years my partner Brendan and I have gone upstate for the 4th of July. We were actually upstate trying to use the the tinyist amount of Wi-Fi we could find, when I got the email from Adam asking me to write a guest post. I was very excited as I’ve been a fan of this here blog for a long time. But where would inspiration strike? What delicious culinary treat would inspire a whole blog post?

We have the pleasure whilst upstate to stay at the Mountain Brook Inn.

It is run by the delightful Gary Simmons, who I was pleased to find out was the great Wayland Flowers and Madame’s accompanist for many a year. I recently curated a night of queer videos at the 92Y Tribeca and one of the videos I showed was a performance by Madame at Reno Sweeney’s from 1978. Sure enough, there was Madame talking to Gary off camera until the very end when the camera panned past the piano and there Gary was in all his bearded glory. Star struck! As a side note, Madame when she wasn’t on Hollywood Squares was FILTHY. And hilarious.


The Mountain Brook Inn is beautiful, stocked with one dog named Gordon


, two cats, geese, chicken and ducks and Gary could not be a better innkeeper. The mini Bundt cakes he devises for breakfast, left in a basket in front of your door, are perfect specimens.


Now I love going upstate but food is sometimes hard to come by when you are staying in a hotel room without a stove. We stock up on cheese and snack foods and Gary’s breakfast cakes go a long way, but it can sometimes feel like you are camping. On Saturdays Gary usually has a dinner in the converted basement of the Inn. He is a smashingly good cook and the last dinner we attended, he introduced us to something called Rice Sausage. He has people bring it from a Hungarian butcher in the East Village. It is something to seek out. But don’t google the ingredient list if you are squeamish about offal. Unfortunately he took the week of the 4th off from the dinners, but I believe the next week he made Chicken Gumbo. Yum Yum Yum!

The night of the 2nd we had tickets to see Coner Oberst new band in Woodstock. My friend Mike had suggested that if we could we really should try to eat at the Bear Café. Turned out the venue was literally 10 feet from the Bear and in the same complex! Written up in Gourmet and elsewhere, the Bear hit it out of the park. Brendan had a platter of Blue Points and a Lobster D’iavolo that was perfect. I had a grilled Gorgonzola and Carmelized Onion pizza and some of the best ravioli I’ve ever had. St Andre cheese with arugala, pear and pine-nuts. He likes his seafood, I’m a carb man. Delicious. With a glass of Sancerre life was perfect. We kicked a soccer ball around the grounds and then went to the show. Wasn’t a fan of Mr. Bright Eyes new band, The Mystic River Band. Too Cock Rock for my taste. Trucker Hats and all…I think he was exploring his macho side after basically creating emo music. But the area is beautiful and will always try to stop at Bear Café on our way up to Bovina. Sorry there are no pictures of this part of the excursion but I didn’t know I’d be blogging this trip until the next day. So I couldn’t write the blog about eating at the Bear Cafe. Hmm…..

The main event and reason for the season is a party. My friend Ada’s parents have a house near Bovina, NY. Ada lives with her husband Neal Medlyn in our building here in Brooklyn. They in fact found us our apartment after an awful landlord situation in our old building. This is Ada and Neal’s beautiful son Oliver



Ada’s parents throw a huge 4th of July party. When I say huge, I mean HUGE. We think 1000 people were on their property this year. Here the view out of their window.


We had the pleasure of attending with our friend’s Mr. Murray Hill and his partner Johanna, Julian Fleisher, who recently ended a run in Coraline the musical and was spectacular as The Cat, our friend Carmine who I have performed with and is the greatest handyman I know, and new to the party, Adam and Kathleen.


Jo and Julian were I think getting dessert when this photo was taken. Everyone who comes to the party is asked to bring a plate of food. Just think about it…Almost 1000 plates of food? It is crazy. But this year Murray was smart and spotted the first hamburger bun being taken out so we got to the head of the line at the grill and mostly we ate hotdogs and hamburgers. Delicious but not blog worthy..

At around 9, Ada’s father Peter and his cohorts put on a display that really puts Disneyworld to shame. Really. Anarchic, Intense and spectacular.


Adam and Kathleen really had no idea what they were getting into and the look on Kathleen’s face as the fireworks exploded right above our heads was priceless.


I mean look at this. This is not a still from Apocalypse now….


Anyway, the evening always ends with a huge bonfire. We brought Smores makings and almost burnt our faces off trying to melt the marshmallows. Totally worth it. No kids were hurt. Everyone had fun.

The next day Gary told us we needed to stop by Russell’s General Store in Bovina Center. His friend Bea, who we had hung out with previous years, had recently taken it over. Previously It had been operated by the Russell Family from it’s start in 1919 until a few years ago. Bea took it over just a few weeks before we arrived this year.


So on our way to the town of Delhi to get phone service and something to eat, we stopped by and saw this sign.


There is nothing I love more than a breakfast sandwich. Growing up in Los Angeles, the Egg McMuffin was one of the only examples of the breakfast sandwich that I knew. I remember the first time I came to NYC and was astounded at the all the streetcarts serving people bacon egg and cheese on a roll. We didn’t have rolls like that in California. It is still a treat to go to our corner deli here in Williamsburg and get a Sausage Egg and Cheese on a roll. There is just something ineffable about it. None of them are particularly good but they are comforting.

The store inside was amazingly quaint


there was Bea in front of an oven with a griddle on top of it smiling and chatting.


Brendan ordered a BLT and I ordered, yes, a Sausage Egg and Cheese. She told us she would bring it out to us and we sat outside at the only picnic bench and waited. Here is our dog that was waiting next to us:


cute, right?

Anyway, soon our sandwiches were delivered to us. Brendan’s BLT was on some artisinal rye bread that I spied all over the area. Must be a local bakery. It was pretty delicious (Bea said she was still working on it). But my egg sandwich? IT WAS THE BEST EGG SANDWICH I EVER HAD IN MY LIFE!!!


Some ciabatta-esque bread, perfectly toasted and buttered, farm fresh eggs, local chedder cheese and a thick cut bacon, I had really never ever tasted something so perfect.


I thought it might be because we were hungry and had been eating beef jerky and string

cheese at night. So the next day we persuaded Murray and Jo and our friend Carmine to stop by and try it. IT WAS THE BEST EGG SANDWICHES THEY HAD EVER TASTED!


And there and then I knew I had to write this post about that sandwich. That most delicious sandwich.

Bea has only been running the General Story for a few weeks. I expect all of the sandwiches to soon reach this perfection. Who knew that the ultimate perfect egg sandwich was nestled deep in the Catskill Mountains. So if you ever find your way passing through Bovina Center in Delaware County New York, stop by Russell’s General Store. I can not say enough about that sandwich’s perfection! I want one right now but can’t drive for 3 1/2 hours right now. But for me, this is a destination sandwich!

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