Mercato Osteria & Enoteca
61 East Market St.
Red Hook, NY 12571
Dinner: Wednesday through Sunday
Lunch: Friday through Sunday
Mercato Osteria, in the village of Red Hook, NY, has been on our list of Hudson Valley favorites for many years. We try and stop in whenever we are going to be in the area, which more often than not means to see a play by one of our favorite performing arts groups, Tangent Arts at the Carpenter Theatre in Tivoli. Mercato is a tiny little place, with a cozy wine bar that seats a grand total of eight patrons, and a main dining room that seats a few dozen more. An adjacent dining room is called The Pasta Shop. When they first opened it was ……..a pasta shop(!), but more seats were much in need and the retail shop space was sacrificed to make room for more diners. There is a reason that more space was needed. The food here is fantastic.
We first visited Mercato back in 2010, which you can read about here. The chef-owner, Francesco Buitoni, has, one would assume, a genetic predisposition for making great pasta, but but his talents were also recognized by the folks at the James Beard Foundation in 2013 when he was named a finalist for best chef in the northeast. On our last few visits, he was not in the kitchen, but the good news is that his absence was not at all noticeable, which is a credit to his staff, and to him. The place now runs on auto, and continues to put out some of the best rustic Italian food in the valley. I count Mercato among the Four Horseman of Hudson Valley Italian, along with Aroma Osteria in Wappingers, Il Cenacolo in Newburgh, and A Tavola in New Paltz. It doesn’t get any better.
Mercato is decidedly different than the other three restaurants, though. Mercato really is just the small local village eatery and wine bar in Red Hook. It just happens to be Italian, and it just happens to serve phenomenal Italian specialties, particularly pasta. Their selection of Italian wines is also one of the best in the area. The restaurant was not designed to be a destination, or a special occasion dining experience. It just serves rustic Italian fare like mom used to serve at home. Well, not my mom, or your mom, probably, but definitely Francesco’s mom.
It is not a coincidence that Mercato also makes great octopus, an Italian and Iberian delicacy, which is a regular item on the menu, and one of my most favorite dishes. (See the preceding paragraph for the Hudson Valley restaurants that also make a great octopus.) On our last visit we were the only people in the restaurant, so I poked my head in the kitchen, which is open and easily accessible from the dining room, and asked them how they do it. I have put the same question to the kitchens of all four restaurants (along with countless others). The answer in common is a long poaching time before the final grilling, but in Mercato’s case, they use olive oil as the braising medium. The results are outstanding – tender and sweet and as tasty a cephalopod as you will find in these parts.
The other standout menu items that I heartily recommend that you try are the pastas. As you might expect from a Buitoni, they make great pasta, and know how to use it in combination with the local Hudson Valley produce and creamery products. On our last visit we sampled two – a bolognese sauce made with grass-fed beef, pork and veal, braised in Chianti and tossed with tagliatelle, and a carbonara that was as good as any I have ever tasted. A bucatini (very thick spaghetti) was tossed with Grana Padano (the other Parmigiano), pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, egg, and guanciale (cured pork cheeks). Decadently rich, as in – pass the Lipitor rich – and just fantastic, and the reason that you come to Mercato.
The other pre-requisite for Top 10 Italian is a great cup of coffee, which Mercato brews from their back bar espresso machine. A highly rated dessert puts the machine to good use, topping the house made gelato with a cup of espresso. Alas, no sambuca to accompany it, as the restaurant only serves beer and wine, but their extensive (Italian) wine list offers a selection of dessert wines to help you finish your meal.