Where to Eat, Sleep & Explore in the Hudson Valley

The waitress took this one. | Quaker Diner, West Hartford, CT
The waitress took this one. | Quaker Diner, West Hartford, CT

Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like to be married to a pragmatic engineer:

Earlier this summer, we received an invite to a friend’s wedding in Bedford, New York. I’m one of those people who loves weddings. Traveling for a wedding? Well, that is the holy grail, especially if the bride or groom is from the area. It can be an incredibly immersive experience– you get to know a few locals, party at a [hopefully] cool venue, and bum around in between wedding events.

My husband likes weddings too, but when it comes to traveling for one, he’s not always as enthusiastic. He asked me to “put together a proposal,” highlighting flights, accommodations, and potential activities (along with pricing… obviously).

Instead of opting for the most obvious route (flying in to JFK/Newark/LaGuardia), I went for an only slightly less convenient option that allowed for some serious historical sightseeing and even more serious pizza eating. He liked my proposal so much that he signed off on the whole deal. I did a happy dance. This must be what it feels like to work in corporate America!

Here’s excellent three-day adventure from Connecticut, through the Hudson Valley, then back through Connecticut.

Day One

We arrived in Hartford, CT late on a Thursday night, crashing at a Hampton Inn in because Hampton Inns are inexpensive and pretty nice, and they serve free breakfast and offer coffee in the lobby all day long!

Of course, I wanted nothing to do with their breakfast because I’d already scoped out an amazing diner.

Breakfast at the Quaker Diner – West Hartford, CT

The Quaker Diner in West Hartford, CT
The Quaker Diner in West Hartford, CT

I’ve never met a diner I didn’t like. This 80-some-year-old one didn’t disappoint. The food was nothing special (precisely why I loved it), the waitress actually sat down and ate pancakes next to us at the bar (loved it!) and coffee refills-o-plenty, in thick diner mugs to boot (loooved it!).

Pancakes at Quaker Diner.
Pancakes at Quaker Diner.
I mean, how adorable is that?
I mean, how adorable is that?

No matter where I’m eating breakfast, I hardly ever order anything other than a classic American breakfast with over-easy eggs, bacon and hashbrowns (preferably crispy ones). Some days, I believe I’m an old man, stuck in my ways.

Classic American Breakfast, the way it's supposed to be!
Classic American Breakfast, the way it’s supposed to be!

If you’re one of the jerks that takes time to write a Yelp review of this place stating the decor is “dated,” then you simply do not understand life. On a related but tangential note, never use Yelp unless you absolutely must. Try Eater instead. You’re welcome.

Me-n-my boo
Me-n-my boo

Tour Winding Roads in an a Ridiculous Rental Car

Obligatory photo on the hood. 
Obligatory photo on the hood.

Whenever we rent a car, Josh and I try to single out the most ridiculous option. Thank you, National, for your Emerald Aisle and its inclusion of a bright blue Jeep Renegade.

Bonus points for it being from New Hampshire, which clearly has the best state motto of all!

Our big, blue Jeep Renegade.
Our big, blue Jeep Renegade.

This blue beast took us all the way from Hartford, CT to Hyde Park, NY– about two hours. I knew the Hudson Valley was supposed to be pretty, but was blown away by the beauty. Between the leaves just starting to turn, the for-real elevation changes, idyllic little towns, narrow roads straight out of a car commercial (more like a fancy convertible commercial, not a Jeep commercial), it was the exact thing anyone would want on a fall road trip.

Because we’re always eating, we stopped at a quaint farmstand and bought honeycrisp apples, which actually come from Minnesota. I can’t blame these New Yorkers for copying our style; they’re delicious.

This was not our rental car. 
This was not our rental car.
A taste of MN in NY. 
A taste of MN in NY.

Say Hi to Our Friends, the Vanderbilts

Ding dong! 
Ding dong!

We didn’t have enough time to go inside the 54-room Vanderbilt mansion. The building dates back to 1896, and was primarily used as a vacation home. So it’s just a cabin, basically. Today, the Vanderbilt Mansion is a part of the National Parks Service and you can tour it at your leisure instead of waiting for, say, Anderson Cooper or Gloria Vanderbilt to send you an invite.

Hang Out with My Pal, Eleanor

It's Eleanor Roosevelt's place. Fdhjskalfhdjakfhdjskal!!!
It’s Eleanor Roosevelt’s place. Fdhjskalfhdjakfhdjskal!!!

Surprise! I was so thankful that this out of town wedding just so happened to be one hour from Val-Kill, also known as the ONLY place Eleanor Roosevelt ever considered home. We spent a few hours here during the course of the weekend (this gets its own post at a later date), but if I had to sum up the experience, it would be this: humbling and inspiring.

So I Guess the FDR Library Isn’t Really a Library

Wait a sec... where are the books? - FDR Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY
Wait a sec… where are the books? – FDR Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY

Because I’m under the age of 62, I’ve never been to a presidential library. I honestly believed that there would be, like, books and stuff here.

Au contraire!

Instead, this was the most kick-ass exhibit about the life and presidency of FDR. Everything was incredibly well executed, informative and well-designed. Josh and I were blown away at the attention to detail and amount of memorabilia.

This was by far my favorite thing in the whole joint: Eleanor on one of her many “official business” trips, carrying her own tiny suitcase. You know Michelle Obama doesn’t do that.

Before rolling suitcases and Secret Service for former First Ladies were invented. 
Before rolling suitcases and Secret Service for former First Ladies were invented.

We snapped a quick photo with E & F. They are super photogenic, and very tan!

Just reading a few books (?) with our friends Eleanor & Franklin.
Just reading a few books (?) with our friends Eleanor & Franklin.

After the library, we did a spin through the Springwood grounds– the fancy name for the fancy house where FDR grew up and lived for most of his life (except for when he was at the White House).

Quaint Springwood.
Quaint Springwood.

FDR was the guy that started this whole presidential library thing. What might surprise you is that he opened his library, which is adjacent to his house, while he still lived on the property… while he was president!  I mean, can you imagine the Bush or Obama family being like, “yeah, anyone, come on our to our estate and hang out in my library?” FDR’s actual office was in the same building as the library (!). His office, now enclosed in glass, remains largely untouched and can be viewed while touring the library.

I’m not 100 percent sure how this all actually worked in the 1940s, but I do think it was open to the public. Long story short, times have changed.

Pay Our Respects

There's E & F, one of the greatest American partnerships of all time.
There’s E & F, one of the greatest American partnerships of all time.

Eleanor & Franklin are buried at Springwood, surrounded by a stunning rose garden.

While these two didn’t exactly have a storybook marriage (infidelity, over-bearing mother-in-law, stressful jobs, out-of-control kids, chronic illness… the usual), their relationship was monumental. Together, they led the country through the Great Depression and a World War. In some ways, I’m heartbroken for what they missed out on personally, but am incredibly grateful for what they accomplished together.

The USA wouldn’t be as great as it is without Eleanor & Franklin, so if you have a moment and you’re so inclined, send them a nice mental note of gratitude. I am right now!

Eat Crab Cakes

River Station - Poughkeepsie, NY
River Station – Poughkeepsie, NY

All this history was making us hungry. We knew absolutely nothing about River Station in Poughkeepsie, other than it looked kind of divey, served beer and had a great patio.

So imagine my surprise when this beauty arrived at our table:

Crab cakes at River Station - Poughkeepsie, NY
Crab cakes at River Station – Poughkeepsie, NY

Unbelievable.

Dinner at the Culinary Institute of America

The Culinary Institute of America - Photo by Jiashiang
The Culinary Institute of America – Photo by Jiashiang

We took it easy at River Station because we’d made reservations Ristorante Caterina de Medici at the Culinary Institute of America. This is the premiere culinary school in the country, and lots and lots of famous chefs studied here. I’ve heard about the CIA for years and was so excited for the opportunity to go.

The food was good, not amazing, but it’s pretty impressive that the whole thing is run by students (with a few accomplished chefs overseeing the whole shebang). It’s fun to support young people looking to launch careers in the food business. Tuition here is sky-high, and most entry-level kitchen jobs are measly hourly wages (or unpaid), so I’m always impressed by a culinary student’s ambition to just go for it (well, either that, or they’re very bad at numbers).

Apparently, my husband leaves his phone on the table. Shameful.
Apparently, my husband leaves his phone on the table. Shameful.

Day Two

Can you believe we fit all that into one day?! Me neither. We slept in a little on Saturday morning, but we still had lots to check off our to-do list.

Take a Walk with Eleanor

Just little ol' me on Eleanor's daily walk.
Just little ol’ me on Eleanor’s daily walk.

The previous day, I’d noticed a walking path at Val-Kill, and asked (begged) Josh to go back. So we did, and thus began the coolest non-wedding thing I did the whole trip. There’s a wooded, mile-and-a-half loop on the Val-Kill property where Eleanor walked daily, usually with a few dogs in tow. It was here she thought about topics for her nearly daily newspaper column, My Day, and took breaks from the lite task of writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It reminded me a lot of the area around my family’s cabin. Woods, dirt paths and the occasional pond. Just regular stuff. That’s one of many reasons I love Eleanor– she’s so relatable, and enjoyed simple stuff like tea, hanging out with her friends, and walks in the woods with her dogs.

Hurry Up and Gussy Up

Me & Mrs. Dixon!
Me & Mrs. Dixon!
Babies always steal the show.
Babies always steal the show.

Because our walk went a little longer than normal… and because we met friends for lunch… and because we didn’t quite realize just how far we had to drive for this wedding, Josh and I arrived at the Hyatt in Greenwich, CT literally five minutes before the wedding shuttle left.

Whoopsies!

I’d put on my makeup in the car, so all we had to do was 1) check in; 2) run about a quarter of a mile to our room; 3) change; 4) flag down the shuttle as it was exiting the parking lot.

No sweat.

We made it to the wedding on time to see Harmony and Kayser tie the knot. Everything was beautiful.

Day Three

Hungover Pizza Eating

Frank Pepe's: Apizza Apilgrimage 
Frank Pepe’s: Apizza Apilgrimage

I’m not going to name names, but someone in our group of two drank a lot of Manhattans at the wedding. I wasn’t worried about this person’s ability to rally: I’d designed day three of our trip around eating pizza.

In fact, Frank Pepe is the entire reason I wanted to fly in and out of Hartford, CT.

Located in nearby New Haven, CT, Frank Pepe is basically the dude who brought neapolitan pizza to the states. So you can go ahead and add him to your gratitude list (right after Eleanor & Franklin). This place has been open since 1925 and still serves Frank’s delicious coal-fired pizza.

The line is nothing to sneeze at, but typically moves fast. There’s two Frank Pepe locations right next door to each other. One is “the original,” but only technically– this is the spot where Frank first opened a bakery. The traditional pizza spot is the one with the big, sexy sign. Both serve the same menu, but my advice: skip the original for a more fun experience.

The original Frank Pepe. Well, kinda.
The original Frank Pepe. Well, kinda.

We ordered their signature garlicky clam pizza, as well as a pepperoni. Maybe it’s my Minnesota roots talking, but I didn’t love the clam. (Please don’t murder me).

Frank Pepe's clam apizza
Frank Pepe’s clam apizza
Pepperoni apizza.
Pepperoni apizza.

Filled with pizza, root beer and incredible post-wedding aches and pains, we returned the blue beast, took the shuttle to Hartford-Brainard airport and headed back to Minnesota.

While I’d put Minnesota apples up against New York’s any day, there’s something special about the east coast that you simply don’t get in the middle. Everything is so much older and steeped in American history. The best part? It all so close! This is the perfect trip for a long weekend.

Especially because this one ends with pizza.

* * *

Big thanks to Dutchess Country Tourism for showing me all the goods (this post wasn’t sponsored by them, but they did give me some excellent direction!).

Want to read about other fun road trips? Glad you asked! Here’s the time my hubby and I drove from Minnesota to Vermont and back in 4 days. Also, the time we drove from Minneapolis to Indianapolis on a motorcycle. Here’s Sarah Von Bargen talking about the 6-week road trip she took solo last summer; and Caitlin talking about driving across the country all by herself.

I’m always looking for cool trips– what’s your favorite road trip destination?

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Comments (8)

  • Kelly 2 years ago Reply

    Hudson Valley, represent! I live just across the river from where you visited, and I’m so glad you enjoyed our little neck of the woods. It’s especially beautiful this time of year. P.S. I had no idea honey crisp apples are from MN!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    It was beautiful. I can’t wait to go back! And yes, come to MN for the Honey Crisp apples 🙂

  • Kate 2 years ago Reply

    Not to be that person, but I’m totally being that person 🙂

    "Vanderbilt", not "Vanderbuilt"

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    ha! I kinda hate "that person," but I often am "that person," too.

    Fixed it– thanks for the note!

  • Ashley 2 years ago Reply

    As a born and raised (Upstate/Capital Region) NYer who now lives in CT (right by New Haven in fact) I was so so thrilled to see you on this trip! I think you hit a great time of year and made great use of your time. I honestly forget how close I still am to the Hudson Valley and need to plan a weekend trip. Without traffic everything is very close.

    PS – I’m also not crazy about the clam pizza. I’m a margherita gal. ;P

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    It was perfect and you should definitely retrace our steps 🙂 So lovely.

  • Ringing Dinnerbell 2 years ago Reply

    If poss, check out a book called ‘Watch it made in the USA’ – a list of factory tours categorized by state.
    Years ago my sister and I drove from Mpls>NYC – hitting up every factory tour on the way. From beer to Jello to ice cream to crayons.
    WONDERFUL!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    UM, that is AMAZING!!! Checking that out asap.

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