Mention of New York typically sparks images of taxis, crosswalk signals, buildings, and road rage, but locals know that there’s so much more to this place than just the city. There are the creameries upstate, the vineyards at the tip of Long Island, and the maple tree farms in the Catskill Mountains, and one particular farm-to-table restaurant – Rustic Root in Woodbury – is effectively highlighting all of these lesser-known locations.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with and talking to part owner, Keith Giannadeo. He (along with three other partners: James Rehm, Thomas Gloster, and Joseph Walsh) opened Rustic Root’s doors a little over a month ago in June of 2016, and the response has been phenomenal so far. Good thing, because in my twenty four years living on Long Island, I can safely say that this restaurant is revolutionary in the best of ways.
I fell in love with the mission of this place as soon as I heard it: a small-menu restaurant that uses local and organic ingredients to create fresh, innovative meals, but when I walked into Rustic Root for an impromptu dinner with my father, I fell in love with the whole feel of it, too. The reclaimed wood tables (built by the Amish in Pennsylvania) and the exposed brick walls create the type of comfortably natural ambiance that you’d like to find a mere hour from the most populous city in the US, but very rarely do.
We ordered some wine, a local Long Island beer, and an appetizer of roasted organic beets with feta to start off with, and right off the bat, I could tell that this was not going to be your average pre-prepared middle-of-the-road dinner spot.
According to Giannadeo, part owner and chef Thomas Gloster is one of the most creative and passionate chefs he’s had the pleasure of working with. “Every meal he creates is given so much detail and attention,” he told me, which is a lot of work – especially since the menu changes seasonally, and the chalkboard-written specials switch out every few days. In 2014, Gloster was named champion of the Food Network’s hit show, “Chopped,” during which he won the judges over with his cane syrup and balsamic glazed fig and lemon verbena ice cream.
Gloster’s attention to detail (as well as the restaurant’s dedication to local food) is written all over the menu. Their antibiotic-free lemon thyme au jus chicken breast was cooked to perfection, and the bed of swiss chard paired wonderfully with an innovative side I’d never seen before, but would love to see again – chickpea fries. The restaurant partners with nine local farms and businesses, which is where they get their fresh maple syrup for their homemade glazes, their grass-fed beef for their blue claw crab-topped burgers, and their non-homogenized milk for their fair-trade coffee. Even the sea salt comes from a business of local salt-makers on the South Shore of Long Island. The menu also features vegan and gluten free options for those with dietary restrictions.
Speaking of gluten free, in a moment of weakness, I strayed from my primarily wheat-free diet to try the deconstructed cheesecake – a lightweight and creamy cheesecake that tasted like lemon and cinnamon, sprinkled with crunchy strussel brittle and fresh berries. Hands down, the best cheesecake of my life, and I regret nothing.
Finally, the staff was unbelievably friendly and knowledgeable. General Manager Maurizio Caputi was welcoming, helpful, and so passionate about the restaurant’s mission, and the waitstaff was more of the same. According to Giannadeo, “Everyone on staff is handpicked. They’re given a test with about a hundred questions on it, and they undergo two and a half weeks of training before they start. We want to make sure they know everything there is to know about the restaurant, from the food to the history, so that when they get to the table, you get the best experience possible.”
Rustic Root is open seven days a week for dinner. You can also stop by Monday through Friday for lunch, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons for their carefully-constructed brunch menu. If you’re looking for a place with great ambiance, an incredible staff, and fresh quality food, this one’s definitely worth your time.