And a not-so-secret success story in Poughkeepsie
When The Artist’s Palate opened on Poughkeepsie’s historic but dilapidated Main Street in April 2006, it was a hopeful pioneer in terms of the location and ambitious restaurant concept. Six years later, it has established itself as one of the area’s premier culinary destinations, anchoring a slowly gentrifying Main Street, and an improving Poughkeepsie dining scene.
The secrets behind its success? A striking modern space, fashioned from the historic, turn-of-the century M. Schwarz building; a creative, seasonally driven menu; a gallery space for local artists; and a community-focused, “Field of Dreams”-type commitment from the husband and wife chef-owners, Charles and Megan Kulpa Fells. It was built with a huge leap of faith and lots of local good will, and the people have indeed come. We saw this for ourselves on a recent Saturday evening, when at 9:30pm, the restaurant was packed, with patrons still arriving with reservations.
Charles, a Hudson Valley restaurant and food service veteran who happens to be a Poughkeepsie native, remembered the past glory of Main Street, and wanted to help bring it back. He found a willing confederate in Megan (his then-girlfriend), a CIA graduate who had been cooking in the area since 2000, and who was undaunted by the edgy urban locale. They believed they could attract enough customers from the surrounding courts, state office buildings, Vassar Hospital and performances at the historic Bardavon Theater around the block. And they have. [After opening the restaurant – and managing to stay together during the process – the couple married in 2007, deepening their "joint venture."]
Conveniently, the restaurant’s location is only about five-minute drive from the Poughkeepsie train station. We were immediately taken with the modern, yet warm and inviting décor – a smart mix of exposed brick and wood, along with a completely restored press-tin ceiling, flattering lighting and a wall-length mirror, white tablecloths (at night) and gallery space along the restaurant’s walls.
A long, attractive bar at the entrance is made from locally reclaimed materials. The dining room is spacious and airy, with an open kitchen in the back. Art is everywhere. Some pieces are playful and whimsical, like a painting of the Fells in their chef togs, and full-length portraits James Beard and Julia Child gracing the restroom doors. On our visit, Steven J. Weinstein’s compelling still-life photography of fruits and vegetables was on view.